Sights have been set on revitalizing O Street market (pictured, looking north) as a retail anchor for Shaw since the idea hit Roadside Development back in 2002 when it acquired the property. But the Planned Unit Development application has been held up with the Zoning Commission due to height problems, and residents are getting anxious to see their commercial hub come to life. Now, thanks to some design modifications, Zoning has finally designated the project for public scrutiny, but has yet to schedule Roadside and its supporters on their agenda.
Initially, Roadside slated the market for renovations to accommodate new retail space, but heavy snow brought the roof down both on their plans and the building itself in February of 2003. Since then Roadside formulated a $250 million revised plan to not only bring the historic market back to its original splendor but to fill four acres of land between 9th, 7th, P and O Streets, NW with residential and commercial space.
"Our goal is to create a high quality, interesting project that will be the centerpiece of a great neighborhood," said Armand Spikell a principal at Roadside.
In August, the Historic Preservation Review Board approved revitalization of the site and the Mayor's agent for historic preservation ok'd partial demolition because of the development's special merit, leaving the Zoning Commission as the only entity standing between Shaw residents and their commerce. But a lack of agreement between Zoning and the developers led to three months of hearings; an October 15th meeting ended with Zoning's complaints about the 110-ft. building height, and despite fervent support from Councilmember Jack Evans who called upon the Zoning Commission to "Reconsider their decision and approve this project as proposed," they sent the project back to the design phase again on November 19th.
"Our patience is running out," wailed Evans after Zoning's decision, and who could blame him - the community has been patiently waiting since 2003 for their 70,000 s.f. Giant grocery store and more than 12,000 s.f. of commercial space. Add to that a mix of roughly 650 condos and apartments (80 of which will be affordable housing for seniors), two levels of underground parking, a 180-room hotel (not yet flagged) and the grand reopening of 8th Street, and Shaw would truly have its anchor...and some very happy campers.
But size matters. In the October hearing, Commissioner John Parsons was quoted as saying "I just think these 110-foot buildings are just totally out of scale with this community." Either Parsons' had never looked across the street at the three-block long, 110-foot Convention Center and the neighboring 108-foot residential building, or he chose to ignore them. According to Spikell, Zoning justified the adjacent 108-foot building because its livable area ends at the 90-foot mark, whereas Roadside would have used their upper two floors for residents.
Members of the DC Office of Planning appeared at the Zoning meeting in November to argue for the project, noting its proposed LEED certification, traffic alleviation in the form of underground loading docks and truck courts, and overall consistency with the community's desire to have a retail anchor. More importantly, they reasoned that the building is graded, and that the highest points of the buildings sit back from the street.
Finally, zoning approved the project for "set down" at the December 10th meeting - meaning it will be open to public participation, but it ended up costing Roadside. In order to get past Zoning's disapproval, developers nixed the residential space planned for the top two floors. In order to compensate for that loss of potential income, Roadside deleted 100 parking spaces and 20 affordable housing units from the overall scheme to reduce construction costs.
The next step is Zoning's public hearing which has not been scheduled - but it will be at least thirty business days from now due to statutory laws requiring advanced notice to relevant parties. Roadside hopes to be in the ground by late 2008, but with Zoning delays some will be happy to get CityMarket at O by the turn of the century.