- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Dupont Circle activists yesterday won a zoning board delay on the Phillips Collection's plans to expand its facilities in the Northwest neighborhood.

The D.C. Bureau of Zoning Adjustment put off until March 27 a hearing and a vote on the art gallery's request to buy and demolish an adjacent apartment complex and build the Center for the Study and Appreciation of Modern Art.

The Phillips, at 1600 21st St. NW, plans to build the 39,000-square-foot center, which would increase the art museum's total square footage by 70 percent. The center would include a 60-seat cafe and a 255-seat auditorium.

Some residents fear buses, valet parking, catering trucks and other vehicles would further clog narrow streets and alleys and add to the nighttime din.

The Washington Times first reported the Phillips' plans and residents' outrage yesterday.

Attorney Stephen N. Gell, who represented residents against the Phillips' plans, asked for a continuance during a hearing yesterday. He said neither he nor his clients had a chance to review the D.C. Office of Planning's 47-page report that endorsed the expansion plans.

"The Office of Planning report was very late. It's supposed to be [submitted] a week in advance or more," Mr. Gell said after the hearing.

The report was released Monday evening.

Phillips' attorney Michael A. Cain went along with the delay, but said it was unnecessary. "We have just received the report today. However, the conditions the Planning Office is recommending … have been in the public domain since at least October," he said.

The Phillips' expansion would dislodge several residents in the adjacent 15-unit apartment complex.

Mr. Gell and Mr. Cain said they hope to strike a compromise between residents and the museum before the March hearing.

"We're willing to [compromise] if there is a chance to negotiate an agreement," Mr. Cain said. "Nothing is off the table."

The Phillips Collection, which was founded in 1921 as the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery, expanded its facilities in 1960, 1984 and 1989. The gallery has been known as the Phillips Collection since 1961.

Residents attending yesterday's meeting said they are concerned the larger and busier facilities will increase traffic and noise.

"You consider what's coming you are talking about space that can be used for large events," said Vic Micone, commissioner of Dupont Circle's Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B.

Last fall, the ANC unanimously rejected the Phillips' application to expand, citing a negative impact on the neighborhood. The Dupont Circle Citizens Association also has shunned the plan.

Mr. Micone said an expanded museum would open the gallery to more dinners and parties, adding to the museum's already busy schedule of events, thereby creating more congestion in the neighborhood.

If the gallery wins the right to expand, corporations would be able to rent some of the new space for receptions and dinners, as they do now, but with greater capacity. The museum would be able to accommodate 500 people at a cocktail reception and 350 at a sit-down dinner.

Lynn Rossotti, the Phillips' director of public relations, said the planning office's report shows the museum is making concessions and addressing residents' concerns.

Ms. Rossotti said the Phillips has agreed to nearly every one of the conditions set by the planning office, including limiting the number of large events and building an underground garage to accommodate any extra vehicles.

"We are really trying to do these things" that will benefit residents, Ms. Rossotti said. "We have talked to residents repeatedly."

To allay residents' concerns about increased activity, Ms. Rossotti said, the museum has agreed to allow only corporate donors and members to rent its facilities. It also will limit the number of large, evening events to 70 per year.


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