Monday, March 16, 2009

Tenley-Janney Loses Apartments, Gains Consensus

In a surprise announcement from Mayor Adrian Fenty at Janney Elementary this afternoon, the ongoing battle between the Tenleytown community and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development over the mixed-use redevelopment of the Tenley-Friendship Library seems to have drawn to a close. The District announced today that it has split with developer LCOR Inc., which had previously been awarded rights to construct the library at the site, along with 174 rental apartments, by the Fenty administration this past July.

The District’s relationship with LCOR, however, went suspiciously unmentioned by Fenty or his staff during the duration of the press conference - an especially conspicuous omission, given that Deputy Mayor Neil Albert had previously reaffirmed his office's commitment to moving forward with the LCOR-led redevelopment as recently as January. Off-the-record sources from inside the District government confirmed that the change of direction at the Janney site had little to do the contentious war of words between the Tenleytown community’s reps on the DC City Council and ODMPED, but that instead, LCOR has been forced to the sidelines due the company’s inability to secure financing in the troubled credit market. For the District’s part, they’re leaving the door to mixed-use development open for the near future.

“There is the possibility that after the library is built, sometime in the future, there may be additional mixed-use on that site,” said Fenty, to a mixed reaction of both applause and boos – an illustration of just how divisive the residential component of the school/library redevelopment had become, even among Janney staff and parents.

With LCOR out of the picture (for now) and no residential units stacked atop of it, the library over the metro station will top out at a simple two stories and measure in at 22,000 square feet, based on designs by the Freelon Group. Forrester Construction has signed on as general contractor and the building will seek a LEED silver certification.

Whether today's deal is a bow to market forces or just public relations peacemaking (or both), ODMPED didn’t end the goodwill there; the schedule for construction of the new library and concurrent renovations to Janney Elementary, it was announced, has been significantly accelerated. Fenty pledged that the new library will be open by the end of 2010, while renovations to Janney, once scheduled to begin in 2014, “could begin as soon as December.” Both Fenty and Allen Y. Lew, Executive Director of Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, agreed that an architect for the renovation will be selected by June; other details, including whether the school will remain open during construction, had yet to be confirmed. According to Lew, the renovation could take as little as thirteen months.


Anonymous said...

Someday, someone will write a book about how to work with a community on good development. The chapter about this project will be "What Not To Do".

It is a wasted opportunity for good transit oriented development that was completely sandbagged by ineptitude.

Mike said...

What a waste. I live in the neighborhood, and can say that ALL my neighbors support more development in the neighborhood. The few noisemakers have won against common sense, which would tell anyone with an ounce of urban planning sense or sustainable development that you should not live in the city on the metro line if you hate development. Too bad DC caved to the neanderthals.

Que said...

Damn, thats an ugly building does everything have to be made of glass

IMGoph on Mar 16, 2009, 11:23:00 PM said...

here's hoping it's truly upwardly expandable (they can add housing above) once the economy swings upward.

Anonymous said...

Hooray -- common sense finally prevails! The school keeps its soccer field and the library re-opens sometime in the foreseeable future.

No lost opportunity for residential here -- there are plenty of other sites in the vicinity that are zoned for mixed-use and where building residential wouldn't sacrifice our school and library facilities.

And it was funny to watch Fenty basically abandon DMPED's face-saving script during the question period and acknowledge that residential is highly unlikely to be added to the site in the future.

Financing has always been an issue for LCOR (they acknowledged as much back in September), and that never phased DMPED, so I don't think that was the dealbreaker. Frankly, it doesn't look like DMPED and LCOR ever reached agreement on a termsheet, even after 8 months of negotiations. DMPED made increasingly unrealistic claims about how much $$ the project could generate for the city and LCOR held firm with respect to what it would take (land/# units) to make this project worth their while.

Cheh and Brown's Roundtable would have exposed the fact that the developer still hadn't reached even the most basic agreement with the city, so DMPED and LCOR decided not to show up. When Cheh and Brown declared the deal dead, Fenty decided to claim credit while he still could, rather than suffer a bruising loss in the Council.

Once again, Fenty really shafted Cheh. Probably didn't help that her press release re the death of the deal went out late Friday afternoon and got little or no press coverage. That gave the Mayor an opportunity to exploit and a short window in which to do so.

Anonymous said...

Re the mixed reaction of both boos and applause.

There were maybe 2 or 3 of each.

Ultimately, this wasn't a project on which the community was divided and, at its essence, it wasn't a debate about development.

It was a debate about the provision of public facilities and whether they should be compromised and delayed in order to satisfy an ideological agenda.

A clear community consensus emerged that the answer was no.

In cyberspace it's easy for a handful of people to produce the impression of a deeply divided community, but on the ground, the reality was quite different.

Janney parents opposed this project by at least 5:1, the Janney SIT opposed it, the Friends of the Library opposed it, the ANC opposed it, all the local civic groups opposed it, 95% of the individuals who wrote to DMPED found all three developer proposals unacceptable, etc.

Anonymous said...

This project was not about "good" development. Most people in the neighborhood familiar with the site and the intersection thought it was crazy from the start to try to jam a large residential building there----especially since it would delay the library at least yet another two years and would limit the Janney School campus. Not to mention the craziness of putting a nine-story apartment building right next to little children.

The people who pushed for this project at the beginning didn't want to try to capitalize on the fact that there was a new school governance in place and didn't beieve that a real opportunity existed with the new Master Facilities Plan to get this overcrowded school expanded and modernized quickly. Instead, they wanted to be "players" and to jump start their place in line by hooking up with a developer. It backfired, and in the end, the school got put to the front of the line based on its real needs. Sometime the good guys win.

IMGoph on Mar 17, 2009, 11:14:00 AM said...

i love how every time there is a thread somewhere about tenleytown, all the commenters are "anonymous"

don't any of you know how to use a pseudonym? get with the program, people!

anyway, i like the latest comment about how a 9-story building would somehow harm children due to its proximity. alright, let's carry that loony logic out to its conclusion, shall we? are kids who grow up in a loving family in a 40-story new york city apartment building really, really screwed then?

c'mon, you can come up with better pap than that...

Anonymous said...

I am extremely pleased that our library will be open to its patrons "only" six years after it was closed (i.e., closed in December 2004 and re-opened in December 2010). It would have been delayed several more years had the PPP been pursued further. The real bonus here is that the grossly overcrowded Janney Elementary School will regain its rightful place in the modernization queue and its soccer field will be preserved.

My thanks to the many community members who fought the Deputy Mayor's and LCOR's plans for this site. Future generations will benefit from this victory.

Anonymous said...

Councilmember Cheh conducted herself terribly here. In the beginning, she pressed hard for intense developoment on this site and even acceded to the loss of Janney's soccer field. She made little effort to learn the complex details of the PPP and how it would or could work from the vantage points of the library, Janney, St. Anne's Academy, the developer, the city's tax base, etc. She also did little to push Deputy Mayor Albert to make the process transparent -- which it most certainly was not.

Eventually, the community pressure to build our long closed library forced her to finally do what her constituents were clammoring for in the first place. Councilmember Cheh is responsible for a year or so worth of delay in the reopening of our library. That won't be a good platform for reelection.

IMGoph on Mar 17, 2009, 12:22:00 PM said...

I'm betting that the off the record sources that told you this had nothing to do with the conflict between the Cheh/Brown and DMPED are from DMPED.

HE'SNOTGoph said...

Sorry, couldn't resist!

Anonymous said...

Mary Cheh was up front with the electorate with respect to her views on "smart growth". She said that more density at this location made sense (and only the strident NIMBYs can claim that it doesn't).

She never said that taking up the Janney soccer field was a good idea (please link a statement to that effect).

Further, the logic behind the site is such that if you create underground parking for both the library AND Janney faculty, you are actually GAINING greenspace.

The only way this was going to be achieved is by selling the air-rights to the to the library.

The area is well served by the interim library on Wisconsin Venue (which has a higher patronage than the old library did) and by the Chevy Chase library. It is not like there are zero libraries in the area.

It's water under the bridge at this point.

Daniel said...

"Not to mention the craziness of putting a nine-story apartment building right next to little children."

What would happen? Would they melt? Turn in to ax murderers? Come on, if you hate taller buildings than just say so. Quit using children as an excuse.

monkeyrotica on Mar 17, 2009, 2:34:00 PM said...

What if you hate tall buildings and children?

Anonymous said...

GREAT news!!!

Anonymous said...

I love the recent comment on the Tenleytown listserv which suggests that now the PPP is dead, the city should pay for underground parking.

Wasn't that the whole point? Without a PPP there is NO money for underground parking.

Anonymous said...

Talk about perverse -- you mean the logic was that we sell off a piece of Janney's campus the size of Janney's parking lot to get money to put Janney's parking lot underground? And delay the library for years to accomplish that goal?

There must have been more to it, because that would just be plain stupid.

Anonymous said...

To Sue, Marilyn, David and the rest of the Tenley NIMBYs (I know you monitor this blog) - CONGRATULATIONS! You succeeded in screwing our neighborhood once again. So, now we have a huge lost opportunity of not putting more residents at the Metro, added to the list of other disasters you have inflicted on us --- 4 townhouses where there should have been an apartment building, big box retail where there should have been local retailers, empty storefronts (where there aren't mattress stores) and, of course, a black box where Babes Billiards was (because you all fought and killed a more feasible, larger project there). THANK YOU!!! You guys are a real asset to our community. Not!

Anonymous said...

I am not in Washington, but I have had a chance to read up on this issue between this blog and the neighborhood Yahoo Group.

All I can say is that this kind of thinking that blocks this kind of transit oriented development in the Obama era is simply outmoded.

I would have thought that District residents were more progressive and forward thinking about the broader societal issues, the broader environmental issues, broader social justice issues.

Anonymous said...

It's precisely because I lead (and hope to continue leading) the life that TOD-oriented planners want to incentivize that I opposed this project. I'm carless, live in urban infill construction that tripled the density of the lot, and chose a location within walking distance of two major commercial strips.

It makes no sense to compromise public facilities in TOD neighborhoods like Tenleytown. The only effect it will have is to encourage families to move to the burbs (where their homes will consume more land and they will drive more often) rather than the city.

Janney Elementary's campus is already less than half the size of most Bethesda/Chevy Chase Elementary Schools (and about a quarter of the recommended size of a new campus in MoCo). To ruin its only playing field by putting apartments on top of half of it is insane, especially when there are other sites nearby where multifamily residential can be built without depriving the school of land that is actively in use almost every day of the year (not just the school year).

I wish "Smart Growthers" would take more time to understand the details of particular disputes rather than just adopt this "more progressive than thou posture" when they don't know squat about the situation or people they are characterizing. "If metro station, then apartment/condo building and as dense as possible" is a gross oversimplification of transit-oriented development.

The Black - Washingtonian in Exile on Mar 25, 2009, 9:58:00 PM said...

Once again the Government and the players in Washington DC have lived up to my expectations, and turn a Gold mine site for development into Crap. Not only has the City lost an opportunity to get a great development on a prime piece of land that it already owns, and across the street from a prime Metro station in this great neighborhood. To add insult to injury it now has to pay to build a Library, had it engaged in a proper public private partnership in a timely manner, another issue here, that if managed right should have bought a great library resource for Tenley Town, and this corner of the city, along with housing, and an improved tax base, with little cost to the city other than its land input. What a sad sorry loss for the city.

The one great thing about the coming voting seat in the House of Representatives is that it will make the city a real contesting point for ideas, for those who do not except the sad status quo that passes for discourse here.

Anonymous said...

The land is worth less than it will cost to build a library and, of course, if the library is located on the land, the land wouldn't be unencumbered, further reducing its value.

Anonymous said...

To 9:58PM, do you mean school size standards that yielded this:

Anonymous said...

I moved from the AU Park neighborhood 5 years ago to Logan Circle primarily because of the lack of a real neighborhood feel. It's amazing that the "No" people are still squashing any development plans to attract more residents and better retail and services. That stretch of Wisconsin Ave is a blight of empty space and ugly buildings. No wonder people joke about that stretch that you have to get through in order to make it to Friendship Heights. It's a waste to have put a metro stop there. Glad I left!


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