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“What’s happening to the Sunoco at P St NW?”

by Prince Of Petworth January 5, 2017 at 3:30 pm 37 Comments

westpark-tenants-embassysunoco-evicted-by-marx-realty
2200 P Street, NW courtesy Westpark Tenant Association

From the Westpark Tenant Association:

“Here’s the story so far:

At the end of November, DC’s Historic Planning Office (HPO) issued its recommendation to the Preservation Review Board (HPRB) to decline Marx Realty’s plan to convert the landmarked service station into a MUD. The extant structure would have been relocated on the site and become some form of retail. (The Fine Arts Commission had previously given its approval.)

December 6, Marx tells the Sunoco to get out.

Yesterday (Tuesday 1/3) it’s emptied out and fence up. I haven’t been over there yet today to see what kind of progress has been made. A neighbor sent a video from this morning showing the canopies over the former pumps being demolished.

I spoke with the station owner and he as pretty upset. He said the word was this was retaliation for the community opposition winning out. “Let them look at holes in the ground.” He speculated that if remediation is not required, the land will be back on the market: With a non-functioning service station.

The scuttlebutt after Marx withdrew their presentation from the December HPRB hearing, they were on the warpath and out for blood. This is clearly a giant “F* You!” to the residents of the neighborhood who successfully opposed the project. The DC Dept of Energy has still not responded to the ANC’s inquiry regarding the Gas Station Advisory Board, which by law must approve closure of any full-service station (but does not exist so it cannot issue a ruling). There is some loophole allowing closure if there is another full service station within 1 mile. Supposedly the station at Wisconsin & Q meets that criteria. Whether this is actually legal or not doesn’t matter. Embassy is out who knows how long this will drag on. The intent is without question to force the neighborhood to capitulate. Why Marx would literally throw away the $400K of annual rent and property taxes the Sunoco was paying makes no sense.

This is likely to get even uglier.

J. Alan Rueckgauer
President
Westpark Tenant Association”

marx-realty-vacate-dec-31-2016-letter (PDF)

2016-10-06-u-s-fine-arts-submission-(PDF)

hpo-recommendation-2200-p-street-nw-embassy-gulf-service-station-hpa-(PDF)

  • Disgusted in DC

    I question whether gas stations should be protected under historic preservation laws. By way of analogy, my grandfather grew up on the 700 block of 15th Street, SE in the early 20th century. When he was a boy, there was a wagon repair shop on or near the corner of Penn and 15th. That no longer exists as far as I am aware. There was no need to preserve it for historical purposes, and there likewise is no need to preserve the gas station. I admit, it is nice looking as far as gas stations go, but if it is not needed, and the property can be put to better use, then that’s what should be done.

    • ZetteZelle

      It’s not the gas station as a whole that’s been designated a historic landmark, it’s the little neoclassical building. HPRB didn’t say that no new development could go in, it just constrained the owner’s plans to move the little building. (This is the first I’ve heard of any of this–I just read the HPRB ruling on it. It is a striking little building…)

      • Anonamom

        But the little neoclassical building was purpose-built as a gas station. So, yes, it is the gas station that is being preserved. I tend to agree with Disgusted in DC on this one. I don’t get preserving a gas station. But, democracy in action. But the owner is certainly under no obligation to do anything they don’t want with the property. Might be a dick move from the neighbor’s perspective, but then one could also say it’s a dick move for the neighbors to block development. Either way, this ‘out rage’ seems to be standard in DC now a days.

        • anon

          The building may have been purpose-built as a gas station, but its purpose is not being preserved. The building does not need to remain a gas station. It appears clear that OP wants a functioning gas station to remain, or at least is willing to leverage policies (specifically the Gas Station Board law) that are meant to actually preserve gas stations (not just the buildings that house them). This is much dumber than historical preservation of a building, since we should be moving away from fossil fuels as a society and certainly shouldn’t stop the market from spinning down our supply of gas stations naturally.

          • Anonamom

            Anon, no matter which way you cut it, you are preserving a gas station. You may not be preserving the pumps themselves, but you are essentially preserving a Dash In, or a 7-11. Saying it’s a “little building (…which used to be a gas station)” makes it even more ridiculous to me. If you read the last document linked in the original post, there’s a great explanation. I think the history is fascinating, and it’s a cute building. But, it’s still just a gas station. I don’t get why some people feel the need to hold on to ‘history’ in favor of progress, and this is coming from a former archaeology and ancient history major. This is also why Europeans look at up like we are bat shit crazy when we talk about historical significance of ‘historical’ landmarks.

          • Anon

            Not quite – Europeans laugh at our highly compressed history as compared to theirs, and thereby laugh at our notion that something can be considered “historically significant” when it’s only ~50 years old.

    • AMDCer

      While I am not arguing that we should save this building in particular, I push back on the notion that all preservationists are anti-progress/anti-development. I am a preservationist because I want the place where I live to have character, diversity, and variety. I don’t want to encase the city in amber, but there are buildings worth saving/reusing, even if they aren’t particularly “historic,” simply to maintain a neighborhood’s/city’s/region’s distinctive look and feel. If I say “New Orleans” or “South Beach” or “Santa Fe” – what images spring to mind? Why can you immediately identify these cities when you see a photo? This blog is often filled with comments lamenting the latest boring glass box office or beige condo under development, but when someone pushes back they are called anti-progress…? And yes, Europeans do scoff at our “history,” and 50 years is not a long time, but if we don’t save the buildings that are 50 years old now, how will they ever make it to 100, or 200, or 500?

      • houseintherear

        Well said!

      • kwillkat

        Not just buildings but open spaces, and a variety of building heights. Otherwise the entire cityscape becomes a monolith of looming facades. If this station/building were not preserved, you can bet a behemoth condo would go up using every bit of allowable space, right up to the sidewalk.

        • AMDCer

          Agreed!

  • neighbor

    I think this is a fantastic move by the gas station. Historic preservation of gas stations is beyond stupid and the bizarre constraints placed on landowners are the service commission are onerous. The neighbors who supported this insanity of regulation should be ashamed.
    .
    I wish more gas station owners would stand up to DC government overreach.

  • Irving Streete

    What’s a MUD (mixed use designation)?
    .
    Preservation of this gas station as some sort of “landmark” is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a while. Everything old is not worth saving. I’m vindictive enough to understand that the developer’s actions, though poor enough question their sanity.

    • anon

      MUD is basically first-floor retail. While I think at first glance saving a gas station is ridiculous, this particular gas station is actually a beautiful little building that would be incorporated into the design of the new development. Could be worth saving for future generations; remember it’s not always about us and our current preferences.
      .
      On another note, good to see the developers standing up to irrational resistance to new development.

      • The King Ad-Hoc

        “remember it’s not always about us and our current preferences.”

        Oh please help, my Irony-Meter just broke.

        • anon

          Yeah, seriously.

        • anon

          ok ok, that came across as too earnest, but c’mon, it’s the point of historic preservation (even though it’s abused all too often). development, on the other hand, is exactly about our current preferences (and our needs), and that’s why we have historic preservation to begin with.

          • The King Ad-Hoc

            Seems like we have two types of personalities, call them “the creators” (which includes developers) and “the keepers” (preservationists). Society can’t progress without the creative types while the preservers slow the pace of change while preserving the status quo. The two forces are in constant conflict as the pendulum swings back and forth.

            /end philosophical musings

          • Khris

            +1 Million. The historic preservation process is especially pertinent in cases such as this, since the knee jerk Munchian scream reaction to anything car related (until you need a ride to the airport or the bar) is so trendy right now.

      • kwillkat

        It is not “standing up to” if they are being spiteful. That is called being petulant.

        • anon

          well, if you call this spiteful, i’m scared to hear what you think about the HPO and the opponents of this development.

          • AMDCer

            But the HPO’s reason for wanting to save the building is not out of spite. You may not agree with why they think the building is worth saving, but they are not being spiteful.

          • anon

            the developer is saving the building. HPO rejected the plans allegedly on historic preservation grounds (the building could have been relocated to be in a shadow, thus not historic enough?), but really it’s just a pretext. it is petulant and spiteful.

    • dcd

      “Preservation of this gas station as some sort of “landmark” is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a while. Everything old is not worth saving. I’m vindictive enough to understand that the developer’s actions, though poor enough question their sanity.”
      .
      This is an excellent description of my feelings on the matter.

  • JS

    The reason Marx will throw away 400K a year is both simple and obvious. They expect to win approval for their redevelopment proposal within the next few years. Eating 400K for a few years in order to put up a project worth 10 figures is quite rational.

    • Anon

      This seems to be the correct response: seems perfectly rational to me given the developer’s apparent optimism and access to capital.

    • ClevelandDave

      A billion dollars? It is a nice piece of property but not that big. Why not just preserve the facade and incorporate it into the design of the new building, like they do around town so much? I mean the historical review board can’t be looking to preserve the lifts etc or the interior…

      • Anon

        That’s exactly what they tried in their previous attempt to push this through, but the neighbors weren’t particularly keen on their ideas, deeming the proposed residential building to be incongruent with its surroundings (mostly RCP). My guess is that the developer is going to have to eat into their hoped-for profits (by building smaller) if they are to gain much traction with the neighbors.

        • Anon

          Oops – missed Ampersand’s comment below. Guess they were more worried about casting shadows on the little gas station that could.

      • anon

        the hrc denied one of the options bc the gas station was in a shadow. you can’t negotiate with an irrational entity, so the developer did the right thing in going nuclear.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    It’s a darling little building, built to service automobiles. I lived around the corner and in the 20+ years I lived there, I used this station once. It was overpriced and hard to navigate in and out. The building is mostly out of character for the rest of the neighborhood – for example my apartment building is 10 stories with 109 residents. Yes, it will get uglier before it gets resolved. There’s also a nice modern (Exxon maybe) station a block south on M at 22nd.

    • Atlas

      Amen. I live in a row house a block away and am thrilled to see that service station closed. I don’t own a car, but my girlfriend does. And she has never once used this place. I’d much rather have 50+ new neighbors than an ugly waste of space for visitors and “visitors” to buy tobacco and fuel. Good riddance.

  • GGW had a story about this last month. Here is the honest-to-God actual quote from the HPRB’s ruling:
    .
    “The disparity in height between the nine-story new construction and the one-story landmark is stark, discordant and incompatible, and would result in the gas station being left in shadow. While the open lot site to the south is under separate ownership and apparently not available for development, its presence adds to what is an unsatisfying urbanistic solution in which the weight of the new tower is pushed uncomfortably close to the landmark while a large open parking lot would remain on the other side.”
    .
    Yes, they turned it down because the “landmark” would be “left in shadow”. This city, man.

    • neighbor

      They should just knock it down and deal with the fallout. Probably easier/cheaper than fighting it out. It worked for bens on h street. They even got to keep their preservarion subsidy.

  • HillM01

    Well I for one will miss this station, because it had diesel fuel. :(

  • Reality

    This city needs to stop trying to protect EVERY structure. Allow them to move it, turn it into retail or a coffee shop, and build the condos or whatever.

  • ZetteZelle

    A search of the HPO website shows that the building was added as a historic landmark in September 1993, and the real property sales database shows that it was sold in 2011. It seems to me that the owner knew/should have known six years ago that the designation was there, and it might affect what could be done with the property.

    • anon

      Of course the developer anticipated having to work with the HPO. But it wasn’t unreasonable to expect some sort of building would be approved. HPO is just killing things now for no good reason.

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