Another large project for Pike-Pine

For many, the block defines the social feel of Pike-Pine. With the Manray Video Bar, the Cha Cha Lounge, Kincora Pub and the Bus Stop, not to mention Bimbo's Bitchin' Burrito Kitchen, the 500 block of East Pine Street serves as a nightlife nexus in a neighborhood well known for its social scene.

That scene seems destined for change. While the wrecking ball won't swing in the immediate future, the block's days as a collection of mostly single-story, independent businesses are numbered. A large, mixed-use development is planned for the block, one similar in concept to numerous other developments sprouting up in Pike-Pine and along Broadway. In this case, the developers are planning 96-residential units on top of 6,000 square-feet of commercial or retail space. Below-grade parking for 120 cars is also planned.

Last week, a crowd of more than 30 attended an Early Design Guidance meeting and heard some early details about the project. Architect Peter Graves, representing Weber+Thompson architects, gave a presentation outlining the basic ideas being considered. No firm plans were presented, but an overall concept of the design was put forward. The architect said the project will fit in with the overall feel of the neighborhood.

"This is an active, pedestrian neighborhood, but also a neighborhood in transition," said Graves.

Graves referenced the block's topography and the challenges it would present. But, he said, an 11-foot height difference between the site's western border on Summit Avenue and its eastern border of Belmont Avenue enables the project to be broken up visually. The result, he said, will be a project that will not have the appearance of a uniform, monolithic block.

"We have tried to take advantage of the topographic change. There is an opportunity here to step the retail spaces, also a chance to create a small, southwest facing plaza," he said. The retail spaces will front East Pine Street to a depth of roughly 30 feet. "We are trying to create a pedestrian realm, and the topography helps break the building into three pieces, which blends well with the neighborhood."

Graves said the plan is to avoid what has become the generic vision of a five- or six-story mixed-use development.

"There is more of a vertical emphasis on the residential pieces - the building is modulated vertically. We want to avoid the wedding-cake effect," he said. Garage access will be on Summit Avenue, the building's west side.

Reaction, based on public comment following the presentation, was civil, if reserved. Not surprisingly, there was great concern that the building's future economic climate not preclude the survival of the smaller, independent businesses that give the block its character. It was a point of view the design review board appeared to appreciate.

"The small businesses look like something that will be lost with this building," said one board member.

"From what I can see, it looks like the Pine Street frontage will have a tendency to larger commercial or retail spaces," said Becki Frestedt. "It would really be a shame to lose the smaller retail character we have now."

"I think this building itself is beautiful. But the last thing we need is another condo building around here," added one man. "You need to take into consideration that this will destroy the culture and nightlife in this area."

"It's really imperative that Pine Street keeps its character," one woman told Graves during the public comment period. "I encourage you to think about that we can lose this part of Capitol Hill."

The construction timeline will depend on how soon the developers apply for permits. At least one additional public meeting will take place after that application has been submitted.

There were voices of concern over traffic, parking access and the variety of materials to be used in the project. Weber+Thompson designed the 700 Broadway project at the north end of Broadway; that building was not met with universal acclaim in part because of the large number of materials and design elements that were used. But the greater concern by far was over the potential loss of some of the small, independent businesses that give the street its character.

"Let's not pretend that this isn't a large, monumental structure," said another woman who lives near the project. "We're hoping for many store fronts. There will be a great deal of pressure on smaller businesses. The last thing we need here is the neigh-borhood's first Starbucks."

Becki Frestedt, commenting several days after the early design guidance meeting, said she thought the project did not fit in well with the surrounding community.

"I would prefer to see a design that invites the colorful character that currently exists on that block, such as the bright and colorful facade of Bimbo's and Bus Stop and the funky design of Manray's facade. It seems to me that the proposed larger spaces will attract a very different commercial base and will price out the current (or similar) commercial tenants," she said. "I think the general trend throughout the neighborhood is toward large-scale, homogenous design that is slowly eroding the characteristics that make this neighborhood special."

More information is available by contacting Department of Planning and Development planner Bradley Wilburn at 386-4039 or

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor@capitol or 461-1308.

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