Wednesday, December 10, 2008

JBG's Unrequited Love for 14th Street

Washington DC commercial real estate It just isn't easy being a developer these days. Don't get us started on the state of the housing market. But developing in a neighborhood where the city government and locals have pushed further development should not be so thankless. Case in point: The JBG Companies went before the DC Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) on December 2nd with their plans to redevelop the current Whitman-Walker Clinic headquarters at the intersection of 14th and S Streets into a seven-story, mixed-use housing complex with street retail, and received little love from the community for their efforts. JBG Smith 14th Street project, Whitman Walker clinic, Historic Preservation Review Board, HPRBComplaints voiced at the BZA meeting fell into two general categories - one being the impact on the community of a mid-rise development on the fast-growing 14th Street corridor, the other being zoning exceptions to the amount of on-site parking offered. Ever since, there’s been buzz about the lack of both community and ANC support for the project – and even speculation that JBG might be forced to be holster the 120-130 unit project for the foreseeable future.

As anyone who has ever dipped their toes into the murky pool of Washington DC development will tell, community objections to projects are a very nearly unavoidable part of the business. But some testimonials at the hearing cut deeper than others, with one witness attacking JBG for “fattening their wallets” at the expense of the neighborhood. The BZA was also forced to consider zoning exemptions allowing JBG to include 18 fewer parking spaces instead of minimum 108. The Cardozo Shaw Neighborhood Association has also voted to forward their list of community grievances onto the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), the project's next stop - probably one of the reasons the developer decided not to get full height out of the space with a P.U.D., which would have taken longer and required more community input.

Furthermore, one month prior to the BZA hearing, JBG also made their first presentation to the local ANC2B – where all four of their requested variances were voted against, despite the initial support of ANC Chair Ramon Estrada, and similar residential projects like Matrix, View 14, and Nehemiah Center, just around the corner. Although the ANC poll is a non-binding advisory vote, a nay from the ANC has traditionally not helped chances with the zoning authorities, and woe betide those that don't have ANC approval in their pocket.

Despite these setbacks, Andrew McIntyre of JBG informs DCMud that the developer is nonetheless on track with their proposal, and that any rumors of the project’s demise are at least somewhat exaggerated. And though a BZA ruling will not be issued until at least January, the development team will go before Mr. Estrada and his ANC board tomorrow, December 11th at 7 pm, for a second crack at "appeasing the natives." The meeting is to be held at DC Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q Streets NW and will be open to the public. Following that, the project then goes before the HPRB on December 18th.

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Anonymous said...

Many community members support this project. See these comments and my own testimony.

Here's more about the ANC 2B debate. Estrada and several other commissioners initially supported the variances, but all (including Estrada) voted against them after hearing community complaints about JBG not engaging with community members until the last minute.

CSNA's post seems to mostly reflect design concerns, which I share, but which shouldn't kill the project. The post makes it sound like everyone's opposed, but while the nearby neighbors are opposed, many comments are just comments.

Anonymous said...

This is absurd. Underused piece of property on one of the largest commercial/residential corridors in the city, and they oppose it. Where's the common sense? This is no different than any number of other projects that have been built in the area. It's 14th Street people, not some quiet single-family thoroughfare.

Do we really want 14th Street, with the lots and empty storefronts, to continue to look like the ghetto?

Anonymous said...

Sloppy reporting. As D.A. pointed out, Estrada voted against the project along with the others and then testified in opposition at the BZA early and often.

And if you actually read your link to CSNA, you would see that they voted to support the project, not oppose it.

Nope on Dec 11, 2008, 9:38:00 AM said...

"CSNA voted by a vote of 13-2-2 to forward specific comments and concerns discussed during this presentation to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and to the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA). The letter to HPRB would address the massing and design concerns, while the letter to BZA would address the general support of the four variances and concern with parking."

Anonymous said...

Trust me -- you do NOT want JBG in your community. They completely tell you what you want to hear and then don't fulfill any of their promises. Just ask the condos in Penn Quarter and Mt. Vernon Triangle.

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