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Just weeks after New York-based developer Marx Realty postponed plans to transform a historic site in Dupont Circle into a nine-story, mixed-use building, the gas station operating there has shuttered unexpectedly.
For the last year, Hamood Abutaa, 33, ran the Sunoco gas and service station at 2200 P St. NW, which is a landmarked limestone structure built in 1936. A D.C. native who manages auto shops across the District and the region, Abutaa says Marx Realty’s decision to terminate its lease on the property came as a “complete surprise.” While he had kept abreast of the development proposal—one that neighborhood commissioners unanimously expressed concerns about in November, and that local historic-preservation officials recommended against last month—the businessman says he’s “shocked.”
“Closing this down abruptly shows how insensitive they are to the community,” Abutaa, who had hoped to improve the site, contends. “I could be completely wrong, I’m just theorizing, but maybe they want to make it look like resuscitating the business is irreversible” by gating off the land and emptying it of use.
“I can only assume they want to gain some leverage: The neighbors will think it’s a lost cause [to resist the site’s redevelopment] and zoning [officials] will get behind them,” he explains. “It’s rolling the dice.”
Abutaa made monthly rent payments for the space to Woodbridge, Va.-based Petroleum Marketing Group, an oil distributor that in turn leased the property from Marx Realty. In early December, he received a letter from the developer notifying him that the business had to vacate by the end of that month. Despite his and PMG’s efforts to negotiate with Marx, Abutaa says, the firm was not responsive.
City Paper has reached out to Marx for comment and will update this post if we hear back. After D.C.’s Historic Preservation Office found that the proposed redevelopment was “incompatible” with its context, the development team said in late November that it would work with officials to resolve pending issues.
Marx and architect Shalom Baranes Associates’ most recent plans had called for 34 residential units in a new high-rise building that would also contain 3,000 square feet of retail. In order to fit the project on the site, they had offered a handful of alternatives involving the reorientation of the historic structure. It is known as the Embassy Gulf Service Station, and preservationists say it evokes the style of a “classical temple.” The plans did not include a future gas-station use, according to a Marx representative.
A PMG spokesman says the site is closing as a gas station “as a result of a normal lease expiration.” PMG is responsible for clearing the site of gas-pumping equipment and underground storage tanks by February. The station’s canopies and Sunoco pumps have already been removed. A fence now encloses the property.
Alan Rueckgauer, who lives in the Westpark Apartments located across 22nd Street NW from the site and heads his building’s tenant association, says tenants were “perfectly happy with the service station as a neighbor” and didn’t want the site to change. There hadn’t been any complaints about it, he adds.
“The other thing we were looking at, too, is that this is one of the last open spaces where it’s completely unobstructed: You see sun and sky and trees,” Rueckgauer says. “You don’t have to build on every inch of the city. West Dupont is so special, tons of open space, and we don’t want that character destroyed.”
Others in the neighborhood say they would like to see more housing and commercial options available. A historic carriage house just south of the Westpark Apartments that served as an LGBT club in recent years is being redeveloped into office or retail space. Meanwhile, one block east, a row of three vacant houses between P Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW has raised eyebrows after drawing squatters.
For Abutaa, who believes a gas station could easily be reinstalled at the venue, it seems plausible that Marx might be considering to “turn around and flip” the property after it’s been cleared and remediated.
“Hell, I’d love to buy it from them,” he says. “It could completely sustain itself.”