Neighbors oppose hotel’s request to keep illuminated sign

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Florence Harmon, center, said the light from an illuminated Hilton Garden Inn sign shines into neighbors' homes. Max Wang | Hatchet Photographer
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Florence Harmon, center, said the light from an illuminated Hilton Garden Inn sign shines into neighbors’ homes. Max Wang | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by reporter Marisa Sinatra.

Members of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously voted to oppose a modification that would allow the Hilton Garden Inn in Georgetown to have an illuminated sign on their property.

Community members said they have been arguing against the sign at the hotel since 2008 when the hostel was first established at the corner of 22nd and M streets. Commissioner Florence Harmon said residents opposed the sign during the original hearing for the sign because they did not want to have a bright light shining into their homes.

Harmon referenced a zoning commission order from Nov. 28, 2008, where it agrees with the ANC that the sign cannot be illuminated in order to respect the residents in the community.

At the monthly meeting Wednesday night, Harmon argued on behalf of the residents of the neighborhood, emphasizing that the light from the hotel sign was intruding on their homes and that the decisions made by Hilton Garden and its team were damaging to the community.

In front of representatives from the hotel and the hotel’s layers, the firm of Holland and Knight, Harmon said the legal tactics made by the Holland and Knight team were “very questionable” in getting the zoning commission to agree to the sign.

Harmon said the hotel’s counsel went behind the ANC to the zoning administrator and got an order saying that a sign on the exhibit from the zoning commission allowed them to install the sign anyway.

“The sign was illegally installed,” Harmon said. “It was installed in violation of the express terms of the zoning commission.”

Harmon added that the Holland and Knight’s actions would not facilitate trust and community engagement for the business.

“It is really important for any business owner in this community to build goodwill and build good trust,” she said. “Some of the tactics that have been done by Holland and Knight are not the kid of tactics that would build goodwill and build good trust with the community, because a lot of your business will be community-based.”

Jessica Bloomfield, a representative from Holland and Knight, said the sign in question is located at the top of the hotel’s facade facing east. It is horizontally mounted, backlit, shows the name and logo of the hotel, and is about 3.5 by 12 feet in size, she said.

Bloomfield said she believes the sign is smaller and less intrusive than other signs in the neighborhood and that it is consistent with designs approved by D.C.’s zoning commission.

“Having that sign is essential to the success of the hotel,” Bloomfield argued. “It was designed specifically for that building.”

Shaun Burchard, who was at the meeting representing the hotel, said he did not have much to do with the sign because he just came into ownership of the hotel this year, when the sign was already in place.

“We’ve partnered with Hilton and obviously, the identity package that goes with being a branded hotel is significant to our customers to feel comfortable with what they are buying,” he said.

A resident from the community, Sarah Maddux, said she was at the meeting in which the signage was initially discussed.

“I would like for you to know that I was in the room with the architects when it was designed and discussed,” she said, “From the very first day, we were emphatic about not having that sign there.”

She also argued that the hotel did not accommodate the residents in other ways in which they requested. She said the neighbors requested to use one of the meeting rooms in the hotel for free, a chance they did not get.

“If you want to be a part of this neighborhood, take that sign down,” she added.

Patrick Kennedy, the chair of the ANC, said the community put a lot of time and money to enforce not having an illuminated sign in that Georgetown hotel.

“I have never had an ordeal like this for any other project that has come across our desk, and that’s where my frustration comes from, a lot of it,” he said.

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