Friday, October 26, 2007

Office of Planning to Release Tenley RFP

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development will release the final Request For Proposal (RFP) for the Tenley-Friendship Library (old library pictured) and adjacent Janney School site on Monday, October 29. The solicitation for design plans will come more than a week after the library was demolished and several years after its closure for upgrade.

The RFP is the third stage of an arduous process for Tenley Library. Roadside Development, a DC-based development firm, had been approached by the community back in 2005 during its work on the CityLine project next door, and began to work on initial concepts. Toward the end of 2005, the public library agency (DCPL) claimed it already had a plan for the project and requested that Roadside suspend its work on a design plan so as not to impede the timeliness of development. Yet the DCPL project moved at such a dial-up pace that by the time a contractor was chosen and the designs had been completed, costs were much higher than originally expected and the entire project was scrapped.

Roadside came in for a second time, late in 2006, to approach the community and work on the project, but the community decided it was best that a competitive process ensue, for the betterment of the dual locations. Armand Spikell, a principal at Roadside, reflected on his early involvement in this process: “In the end, most of the community were in favor of a public-private partnership that would result in something better for both the library and the school, and there could be benefit from taking value of the air rights of that location.”

The site, located at 4450 Wisconsin Ave NW, is roughly 158,000 s.f., with the Janney School occupying a majority of the land – the school building itself consumes about 43,000 s.f. but the most recent draft of the RFP appeals for the school size to be doubled during development and that it be “[brought] up to current building codes…bringing it into compliance with ADA.” As it stood before, the old Tenley Library was only 18,000 s.f. – the solicitation will call for the addition of 2,000 s.f. of space for the new building, as well as the addition of a residential portion over the library. The Office of Planning has not determined whether the public land itself will be sold, maintaining a provision within the draft RFP which states that the District will enter into negotiations for the disposition “either through sale or a ground lease.”

Although each draft has been full of design guidelines for the library and school site, it has left the residential portion of the project undetermined – definitely the most controversial appendage to the public property given the stiff resistance the community has shown to nearly any type of development, such as the Maxim condo project next door which got downsized past the point of feasibility and now sits boarded and undeveloped several years after approval. The Request did outline an Affordable Housing element, requiring that 30% of the units be designated as affordable, with 15% priced for people at the 30% AMI or below and another 15% designated for residents earning 60% AMI or below.

The Public Schools district has apportioned a separate budget for capital improvements, however those resources will not be available for six years – posing a “time lag” problem for the immediate needs of Janney. While DCPL did not disclose the budgeted amount for capital improvements, this much is clear: the Public Library system will be seeking reimbursement for surrendering the air rights to the site. The surrounding community is divided in its views about the project – many have used the objectives of the Smart Growth Network, an EPA-funded developmental planning initiative of transit and pedestrian-oriented development, as a launching pad for their justification of the Metro-centered site.

Ward 3 Vision, a partnership between the residents of Ward 3 and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in most cases looks favorably upon development projects that are transit-oriented. Tom Hier, chair of Ward 3 Vision, stated that he supports the RFP process "to learn how a public-private partnership may creatively achieve increased density, while potentially benefiting the library, Janney School and the community,” adding that “The city has invested millions of dollars in metro stations and we want to take advantage of that.” Opposing residents, including the Advisory Neighborhood Council, raise the usual red flags of density, over-development, and increased traffic congestion, though the site sits over the Tenley-AU Metro station. In addition, the ANC has recently passed a resolution stating that the land has not been designated as surplus, and that an RFP at this stage in the game is pulling the proverbial cart before the horse. Developers will have six weeks from Monday to submit their design plans for the site, and while some members of the community have raised concerns as to whether six weeks is enough time, the Office of Planning responded that an adequate window of opportunity has been provided for submissions.


Anonymous said...

Roadside has done an awful job at the Cityline and residents have many complaints about unfinished tasks that Roadside has neglected. Roadside gets an F. They have a bad reputation.

IMGoph on Oct 26, 2007, 10:12:00 PM said...

well, hopefully SOMEONE will be able to come forward with a great plan for the site. there should be housing there, period. we need to increase density around transit. the dinosaurs who complain otherwise are holding the city back, period.

Chris L on Oct 27, 2007, 11:22:00 AM said...

Tenleytown NIMBYs annoy me. They need to wake up and realize they live along the major corridor between Georgetown and Bethesda...not in some sleepy suburban hamlet.

Anonymous said...

RE Maxim condos. Community groups supported the PUD issued for that site and the Maxim folks bought the parcel (with the PUD already granted) from IBG. IBG, incidentally, made a few million dollars just flipping the land after getting it upzoned.

So Maxim bought in knowing exactly what it could build and believing it could make a profit, even after paying an insane price for the land. And, interestingly, IBG bought at a time when it was concerned that it might be stuck building matter-of-right and it exercised its option on the property anyway, because it had a profitable model for redeveloping that site without upzoning. So two developers both believed the site was developable within the zoning envelope allowed by the current PUD and they believed that strongly enough that each voted with its checkbook.

But the Maxim group deviated from IBG's model. Both planned small condos but Maxim wanted to Manhattanize them, whereas IBG was looking at a price point at about 300,000, because that looked like a price point that would be scarce and desirable in this location.

After spending too much for the land and discovering (quel surprise!) that Tenleytown was not Manhattan, the Maxim folks seem to have been unable to get financing for their project (presumably because they haven't been able to pre-sell enough (any?) units.

Why blame the neighbors for a novice developer's miscalculation?

Anonymous said...

Hmm. If you had a choice, would you bet on Allen Lew or Roadside to deliver your school project? I look at O Street Market (how many years has that been delayed and didn't they, once again, just get shot down by a zoning board?) and there's not a chance I'd choose Roadside.

Didn't know about the Cityline complaints. I thought that was their big success story.

Anonymous said...

I am with Chris. Where else in the western world do you have smart, educated people saying that density on a metro line is a bad thing.

Enough already, unless we want that part of the city to retain the title of Matress Center, DC.

Anonymous said...

No one is saying density on a Metro line is a bad thing. They are saying that residential units/acre isn't the only (or best) way to measure density.

The block in question is already densely populated (700+ kids each school day, teachers, library patrons and staff, 1000 parishioners on the weekend) and it provides facilities people can and do access using Metrorail or the bus system.

It's TOD. It's just not commercial or residential development. It's predominantly institutional. Why is that a problem? There are a couple hundred condos directly across Albemarle Street and storefronts on every other corner of that intersection.

Anonymous said...

Except that the people you are talking about are not pumping in new monies to the DC Coffers, the people you are talking about are not utilizing the matress stores and other crap available to them in the neighborhood, and most of the parishioners are driving to the church.

TOD in this sense necessitates residential or mixed-use development in order to maximize urban space. It doesn't take a PhD in ureban design to see that.

This is an opportunity, if I am reading this correctly, to expand the DC Tax base, provide for a better library (albeit later) and a better school facility sooner. The trade-off appears to be air-rights behind the library for residential space, some of which would be inclusionary housing, something that is woefully lacking in that part of town.

The arguments made by the ANC and other local activists in that part of the city simply do not hold any credibility with impartial people reading this.

It is obvious that the NIMBYs in that part of town have been successful for too long in stifling a better gateway and broader tax base in upper Northwest.

I am glad to see the Coalition for Smarter Growth and neighborhood residents provide a voice of reason to the hystrianics.

Anonymous said...

You may be reading correctly, but the blogger got the facts wrong. At this point, both public facilities are to be built to DC's specs. No one has proposed (or required) that a better school or better library will result from this joint venture.

In fact, Roadside's proposal was for only about a third of the necessary facilities for the school. It was the ANC whose insistence led to the requirement that the project involve full modernization.

While public schools themselves do not directly generate tax revenue, good public schools increase the attractiveness of neighborhoods, the property values of local homes and, thus, over time, the average income of local residents (because those who buy in later generally have higher incomes). Janney contributes, even if your only values are economic.

But I gotta say, we're living in a really fucked-up world when people start thinking that schools, churches, and libraries are a waste of land and what we need is more condos and more shopping.

Tenleyites are fighting for something real and important. They have a community that is anchored and integrated by public institutions. They don't want to be Friendship Heights, where commerce is king. More power to them!

Ken on Oct 29, 2007, 11:27:00 AM said...

I appreciate the comments on this, and to bring things back to center I would add that this blog is not saying that there SHOULD be condos there, but we disagree with people that say there SHOULD NOT be condos there. The person or group that spends their time and efforts to develop the site will do what is in their best financial interest, i.e. what sells the best. I'm sure we can all come up with a list of things that would be nice there, but we're not investing our livelihoods in this project. To those who say we don't need more condos, I would say that if such were the economic reality, a developer would not build them.

Nor are we opposed to community improvement and interaction, but it is counterproductive for everyone involved when the project is held hostage by individuals that have little stake in the matter but want to control the process.

David on Oct 29, 2007, 11:30:00 AM said...

Anonymous: I apologize if I didn't provide enough factual justification within the article to show how DC wants a better library and a better school to result from the joint venture. Let me first say that the draft RFP referred to within the article was released by the Office of Planning and Economic Development, thus any requirements within the solicitation could be characterized as "DC specs." At this time, allow me to quote from the draft RFP to clear things up:

"Development plans are already underway to replace the old 18,000 s.f. Library building with a modernized 20,000 s.f. facility to be occupied by the DCPL."

"The Janney Elementary School building is currently 43,4000 s.f....[it] is proposed to be increased in size to 82,500 s.f."

In addition, all of the following requirements were listed in the RFP for the Janney School:

"modernization of the existing Janney School building, bringing it up to current building codes and improving its electrical system, heating and cooling systems; bringing it into compliance with the ADA; and increasing the number of school bathrooms."

Please keep in mind that it is possible that some things have changed with regards to the final RFP which was reportedly released today. I apologize for any vague or imprecise language in the initial story and I hope this clears things up.

Anonymous said...

David --

I can see why you said what you did. But both sets of numbers compare existing (or prior) conditions with future conditions/requirements.

Those future requirements reflect what DCPL and DCPS are already committed (and budgeted) to build at the site. Thus the developer is just being told to match what the city agencies will do (or are already doing in the library's cases) -- not to do something better.

David on Oct 29, 2007, 2:36:00 PM said... I understand - my apologies if I made it seem as if the developers were going beyond the scope of what was projected, and thank you for the input.

Anonymous said...

Presumably, truly impartial readers won't dismiss the ANC has a group of hysterical (or histrionic) NIMBYs without bothering to read what they've actually written about the project.

Luckily, there's a fairly extensive archive of their work available online. It's under the Meeting Minutes tab at

Anonymous said...

Ken --

When you say this "it is counterproductive for everyone involved when the project is held hostage by individuals that have little stake in the matter but want to control the process" whom do you mean and what leads you to this characterization?

Anonymous said...

The reason the ANC asked that financing be a pre-condition for an LDA is precisely because if there's no market for condos, they may not get built. But it's not always developers who draw that line; it can be financiers (see the Maxim discussion above).

If the city makes a deal with a developer who wants to undertake the project but who ultimately can't get the financing for its residential component, then Tenleytown is in a situation where its public facilities are being held hostage to the condo market. And it could be a couple of years down this PPDP path (e.g. after the developer obtains a PUD) before that day of reckoning arrives.

In other public-private partnerships involving DCPS, the private partner came to the table with financing for the project in hand. Roadside did not.

Anonymous said...

Why is there an assumption that Roadside is the only developer in this process? That is why there is an see what creative thinking different development groups bring to the table for the betterment of the community.

Let's circle the wagons and see how many roadblocks the community can throw at change.

This is must be why Tenleytown lags other communities around town.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that Roadside has been doing PR on the project and that skews coverage of the issue.

The ANC's proposed revisions aren't roadblocks -- they are ways of increasing the odds that viable proposals emerge and of making the process more competitive. Why shouldn't the developers be given better descriptions of the site including surrounding uses, hydrology issues, topography? Why shouldn't Lew's office vet the timelines and the CFO vet the financials? Why shouldn't Janney do an inventory of existing conditions so developers understand the scope of the work and any constraints on what can go where?

It's a small site and a ridiculously short window for developing a proposal (35 days for anyone new to the project vs. almost a year for Roadside) -- if you want anything meaningful (or workable) to come out of the RFP, more needs to go into the RFP.


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