In September of 2009, Washington DC's Office of Zoning (DCOZ) drafted its final approval for the Lessard Group-designed development. But six months have passed and the final order had not been released. "It's not supposed to take this long," Willco Residential President, Gary S. Cohen lamented earlier this week. "Usually after the Zoning Commission approves [a PUD], it only takes a few months" for a project to garner its final official approval. The delays have left community members scratching their heads.
ANC3D Chair Betsy Sandza says she has "heard rumors that the developer has cooled off." Canal Parc "has fallen off the face of the map," says Palisades Citizens' Association President Spence Spencer, who speculates based on conversations he had with Cohen that money for construction may have dried up and that Willco and development partner, Athena, may have parted ways.
But according to Cohen, rumors about financing and a developer split are "absolutely false." Cohen told DCMud, "Bottom line: every thing is in the District's hands, "adding that he and Athena are still partners on Canal Parc and that the "project is still moving forward as planned."
So even if the project hasn't changed development hands, the Palisades community would like to know: What was the hold up?
Though Cohen had a draft approval, he could not apply for permits until the DCOZ issued a final order. And before that could happen, the Office of the Attorney General reviewed the draft order, provided by the developers, to make sure the legal language expressed the decisions of the DCOZ. The AG looks for inconsistencies, vague language and loopholes to ensure the developers' promised park benches and scholarship funds are included in the final order.
Prior to today's official green light, Cohen admitted that the project has been a sensitive issue within the community, but he said he was hopeful that the DCOZ was just working to "make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed." Consider them dotted and crossed.
As ANC3D Chair Betsy Sandza tells it, "density and height were our two biggest concerns" within the neighborhood surrounding the development. In light of these concerns, Willco and Athena changed their design to reduce the number of brick townhouse units from 41 to 34.
But in August of 2009, Sandza combined forces with Spencer and submitted a letter to the Zoning Commission, arguing that the reduction of units was not enough to bring Athena and Willco in line with the designated Floor Area Ratio (FAR) (i.e. density) on their lot. In the letter, Sandza and Spencer further charged Athena and Willco with miscalculating the FAR for the project so that it appeared to be within the limits allowed by law, arguing that "the Zoning Commission should approve this project only with the condition that the applicant eliminate at least 7,220 square feet of gross floor area...to bring the FAR into appropriate scale."
The good news for Cohen could be overshadowed by an appeal concerning the FAR. Cornish Hitchcock, an attorney representing two families on the SE corner of the project, expected today's approval, but could make things difficult for Cohen. An appeal would delay Cohen's ability to apply for permits and start construction.
For now, though, Canal Parc has momentum behind it and, according to Cohen, he will forge ahead.
Washington DC Real Estate and Development News