Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tenley/Janney - More Controversy Over RFP

Loyal readers of DCMud know that back in November the District government issued an RFP for the Tenley Library/Janney School at 4450 Wisconsin Ave, NW after a contentious battle with neighbors over development rights. Now the DC government has changed the scope of the RFP, post RFP, piling yet more controversy on the project.

The site will house a new library (rendering pictured), and Janney School needs a renovation and expansion pronto, so the RFP sought a builder that could quickly provide both. In exchange for their public contributions, the developer would be allowed to add another element to the library site, presumably housing, to make it worth their while. The Office of Planning and Economic Development received three bids by the January 4th deadline, with LCOR, Roadside Development, and the See Forever Foundation responding to the RFP. Now comes the wrinkle.

The Office of Planning, no doubt for reasons wholesome and honorable, changed the scope of the bid requirements on February 1st, dividing the site into two separate proposals, forbidding housing to be added to the library site on Wisconsin Avenue, and opening the possibility that housing be built on the same lot as the school. The amendment disqualified all submissions that do not meet the revised qualifications. According to the RFP addenda: "Any proposal that include (sic) a development program that integrates the Library within the larger redevelopment footprint will no longer be considered responsive."

DMPED notified two of the three certified developers of the change, requesting they re-submit their bids with solely the Janney school in scope. Although this does not take the residential aspect completely off the table, it does make things rather difficult, leaving bidders to work with only half of the site, with the possibility of condos on the same lot as the school. Sources claim that the new wording could allow for residential to be built above the library, such as cantilevering a residential structure to hang over the library, technically conforming to the new RFP.

Ross Little, Development Director at LCOR, told DCMud "It's clear that the Deputy Mayor's Office is trying to take full and proper analysis of the neighborhood's concerns." Charitable intentions and diplomacy notwithstanding, District officials are giving the initial developers two weeks to submit their reconfigured bids, a daunting task for a complex plan to hang 100 condo units from an offset core over a $16 million library. Speculators suppose that this change will in fact expedite the fruition of the new library, much sought by some members of the neighborhood, since that half of the project is fully funded by the city, which will cough up roughly $16 million to build it. The library site is being excavated now and construction is scheduled to finish in late 2009; all the books and pencil-sharpeners should be ready for a 2010 opening.

ANC 3E will be considering the issue at 7:30 PM on Valentines Day at St. Mary’s Church at 42nd and Fessenden Streets, NW. A community meeting will be held on February 28 at the Janney School for the invited respondents to present their plans to the public.


Anonymous said...

Decoupling the library from the broader proposal simply kills the project. A shame for the community (except the NIMBYs) not to have workforce/IZ housing on the site and in the community.

The beauty of the original RFP was the consolidation of parking from three areas into a single facility under the library. This would have enable the school to move its ball field to the rear of the property, thus opening the way for a library/residential structure across the street from the west entrance of the Tenleytown metro.

The other benefit was, of course, the acceleration of the school rehabilitation.

Way to go ANC 3E (and isn't it telling that they are having their meeting on Valentines Day when most people, particularly with kids, have plans)?

Anonymous said...

The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development took the library out of the project at DCPL's request. The ANC wasn't involved.

ANC 3E always meets on the second Thursday of the month. It's not some evil plan to discuss the issue while everyone is busy celebrating Valentine's Day.

The project is still alive -- witness the community meeting. Whether it should be killed at this point is a separate question.

And the library land isn't half of the site. It's 15,000 SF of an approximately 3.5 acre parcel.

Anonymous said...

anc3e reps mean well, they're just provincial, unwise, and fail to grasp the concept of a walking community.

I can't wait to help vote them out of office.

without involving the library the project is certainly dead, unless they allow the developer to go twice as high as cityline in whatever they build. a prospect that anc3e will again fight bloody on.


Anonymous said...

Another content-free jab at ANC 3E.

To see their work on this project, go to and check under meeting minutes. You'll find detailed analysis of the project as well as notes/minutes from meetings with DCPS, DCPL, OCFO, DMPED, OPEFM.

The neighborhood doesn't become any less walkable if condos or apartments aren't built on the school/library campus. There are hundreds of condos just across the street. Meanwhile, two blocks down a condo project (complete with PUD) has gone unbuilt for lack of purchasers.

Anonymous said...

A couple of corrections to the blog entry. Wasn't it the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development that amended the RFP at DCPL's request? I don't think the Office of Planning was involved at all (it hasn't played a role in this project). Supposedly the change came out of a meeting between Neil Albert and Ginnie Cooper, John Hill, and Richard Levy.

Also, building the school and library shouldn't really be called the developer's "contribution" since, in both cases, DC government's capital funds were to pay for the public facilites projects (although the developer might have to front construction funds for the school.) Basically, profit (for the developer and/or whatever construction company the developer hires) was built into both of those budgets.

So it's not as if DC govt would "owe" the developer for building the library and the school on DC's dime. In fact, the developer would owe DC government for land/air rights at the site devoted to the commercial component (presumably multifamily housing but the RFP may not have specified that). How much it would owe and how the profits generated from allowing private use at the site are, presumably, questions to be answered in the selection process.

Most likely scenario seems to be that the land value is a few million and that those funds would go toward subsidizing the affordable units in the project.

David on Feb 15, 2008, 3:05:00 PM said...

Anonymous - it was the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development's office the gave the amendments, I simply shortened their title because it is a mouthful (and annoying to write) - shortening it to simply Office of Planning and Economic Development, and then eventually it became Office of Planning later in the article. Sorry for the confusion.

Anonymous said...


A few corrections. There aren't 'hundreds' of condos next door. And the condos that "didn't sell", whether you are referring to the Babe's site or the flower shop at 5220, were in fact never marketed or placed for sale, because in both cases a few self-interested neighbors took it upon themselves to torpedo the projects. Both are now stuck without a chance of going forward, clearly sales are not the issue.

And obviously you don't understand a 'walkable community' in the city, which requires density. So yes, multi-family residential is a requirement, otherwise you don't have the density for retail, which is why the retail now in the neighborhood - Best Buy, fast-food delivery, Mattress Discounters, insurance agencies and computer repair - is not neighborhood serving, it is 'opportunistic' commercial, seeking non-location based cheap rent. Pity for the neighbors.

Note the sign on the door of the Left Banc when it closed its doors last year, lamenting that the "density we expected never came" in sufficient scale to support a locally owned and operated cafe. That, and neighborhood self-interest, is why the block is building upon a large vacant parcel, not retail, but a bank with drive-in window. The appallingly bad architecture of Tenleytown gets worse, and continues to serve the cars that make Wisconsin such a traffic trap.

Why people such as you - often in the luxury of a house - continue to hate people that live in condos and those that build them, is of constant wonder to the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Cityline, next door, has 204 units.

The ANC and local groups supported the PUD issued for the Babe's site. The original developer was then able to flip the property for millions more than he bought it for. In part because of the PUD, in part because of increasing land values, and in part because of the stupidity of the purchase who was caught up in the boom and didn't have experience, financing, or a viable plan for the site. The orginial developer, IBG, exercised its option to buy the site at a moment when it looked like there would be no PUD. That developer ran the numbers and realized even matter-of-right at that location could be profitable in the right market niche. That niche was small units under $300,000. The purchaser wanted to sell the same sized units for more than double that. No luck, despite years of marketing, detailed in their recent request for an extension of the PUD.

And the Left Bank story is recirculated time and time again, but it neglects the fact that a block away there's been an independent coffee shop for years (changing ownership but continuing use). About half of all new businesses of this type fail -- and Left Bank (which didn't open until 9am (often without food ready) and often closed before 5 pm, certainly fell in the deserves-to-fail category, despite the fact that the owner was a decent cook.

There's no drive-thru bank yet -- the community as a whole is opposing it. And the demise of the Outer Circle and adjacent restaurant we're due to lack of patronage. The landowners forced them out, thinking they could do better. Notice the increasing number retail storefronts occupied by banks and drug stores and the declining number of movie theaters citywide? This isn't a T'town-specific phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Typo -- it's probably clear from context, but the demise of the theater and restaurant were *not* due to lack of patronage...

Anonymous said...

re neighborhood-serving retail.

Depends on what you consider the neighborhood, I suppose. It's a combination of schools and residences.

Doesn't surprise me to see a Best Buy, Container Store, CD Exchange, lots of pizza places, Robeks, Subway, Starbucks, Hudson Trail Outfitters, a comic book store, etc. located between a university and two high schools.

Similarly, I'm not surprised to see Middle C, Yong Studios, Neisha Thai, Guapo's, Whole Foods, Starbucks, CVS, drycleaners, etc. in an upper-middle class family-oriented neighborhood.

Tenley has more interesting and varied restaurants than Friendship Heights (where almost everything is chains) because of lower rents, but that's a good thing, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

This situation just gets more farcical each week.

The latest news is that at Thursday's community meeting, DMPED plans to censor both the developers and the public. Developers are required to submit their presentations for approval by DMPED a day in advance and have been instructed not to present financial information about the project.

And it looks like community members won't even get to speak. They may submit questions or comments on index cards and DMPED will choose which to read!

This kind of BS only happens when government knows that the more you know, the less you'll favor their plan. If a PPP at this site was a great idea, then there would be no need to prevent a candid conversation between developers and citizens.

Anonymous said...

ANC 3E, the Janney SIT, and the Friends of the Library Executive Board have all come out in opposition to all three proposals received in response to the RFP.

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