For OGB, four bad Apples don’t spoil the bunch

February 12, 2009

More than a year after purchasing the space at 1229 Wisconsin Avenue, Apple is still working with local government boards to develop a design that will harmonize the company’s modern aesthetic with the Georgetown neighborhood’s historical preservation standards.

Although Apple’s fourth proposal was approved by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission on February 2, it ran into trouble three days later when it came before the Old Georgetown Board, a committee of three professional architects appointed by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts that reviews designs to make sure they fit in with Georgetown’s architectural style.

While the OGB was generally pleased with the design, it expressed reservations over a 35-foot pane of glass which would constitute the store’s first-floor façade. According to Thomas Luebke, the Secretary of the CFA, every design Apple has submitted has included this unbroken expanse of glass, which the OGB feels butts up against the architectural cohesion of the neighborhood. The board recommended that Apple include elements that would “modulate” the uninterupted glass.

“The board has never taken any action denying anything [from Apple],” Luebke said. “There’s one particular area [the board is] asking them to revise … The concern is not about the modern style, but the scale of the pieces … [The board] asked if they thought it was advice they could work with, and they said ‘yes.’”

Apple Public Relations Representative Amy Barney declined to comment beyond quoting the company’s official statement, saying that they are “looking forward to bringing the unique Apple experience to Georgetown.”

Apple will have to produce a new design to present at the next ANC meeting at the beginning of March. If the ANC grants its approval, Apple will get another chance to pitch their design to the OGB.

Even if the next design Apple presents is fully approved by both the ANC and the OGB, it will take a considerable amount of time for the store to open. In addition to getting the architectural plans approved by the CFA, Apple will have to go through the more thorough permit application process.

“We still have a few months to go, even if everything gets approved, approved, approved,” ANC Commissioner Tim Birch, who chairs the ANC’s Historical Preservation Committee, said.

The issue has attracted serious attention from local media and the tech community, much of which has been critical of the ANC and OGB. Luebke, Birch, and Aaron Golds (COL ’11), who represents the University’s district on the ANC, all said that the approval process for Apple is standard and the only reason the case is attracting so much press coverage is that the company has such a high profile.

Given the difficulties Apple has faced in getting approval from the OGB, some in the local media have speculated that the company may look to other neighborhoods in the District. However, Golds said he did not think this was likely.

“Every conversation I’ve had with Apple is that they’re still very interested in Georgetown,” Golds said. “They bought the property already and I think they really want to develop that property.”

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