Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Douglas Scales Back Tenleytown Plans

Weeks after floating a plan for increased density at the Babe's Billiard site, Douglas Development has told the local ANC that it has scrapped plans for a multi-family development in favor of a single-story restaurant. Originally purchased at auction for $5 million in 2009, Douglas Jemal voiced his intention of reestablishing the former Babe's Billiards site as a viable retail corner in the center of Tenleytown. Jemal's aggressive bidding on the property had some speculating that the fix was in for a big name retailer. But nothing materialized, and more recently it was understood Jemal's ambition for the site had grown. Just last month the Washington Business Journal ran a headline reading "Tenleytown warms to higher density developments," citing Jemal's aims to construct two floors of residential atop three floors of commercial/retail. But attendees of ANC 3e's most recent meeting witnessed the presentation of Jemal's "radically reduced" plans, reports the local ANC's Secretary Jonathan Bender.

Indeed, the proposal has reverted back to a simple retail project, likely "a restaurant with lofty twenty foot ceilings," says Bender. Shalom Baranes will trash their sketches of a multi-story addition but continue to work with Jemal on the design aspects of the now much smaller development plans. While the dream of increased density at the site is dead, the shrinkage is reportedly financially-driven, not a result of the perceived difficulty of earning community support, as many may assume. Tenleytown has earned a formidable reputation for harboring a relatively small but vituperative group of NIMBYs, routinely cited for extinguishing developer's hopes of high-density development in the area. The group's most recent victims include the currently stalled seven-story Akridge development at 5220 Wisconsin Avenue (deceased) and the Tenleytown Safeway development, which remains indefinitely motionless in planning approval-limbo. Surely, American University students, faculty, and staff are trembling at the thought of receiving the reaction from the Tenleytown ANC when they explain their 2011 Camps Plan and their wish to relocate their Washington College of Law to Tenley Circle.

But according to Bender, Jemal's plans for a six story mixed-use development had not drawn the ire of Tenleytown residents. In fact, the project had the ANC's support, he says. But the necessary PUD approval process, sometimes costing developers upwards of a million dollars, was not financially feasible, compelling Jemal to pursue a more modest project. While the rumors that Tenleytown now has a more nuanced and friendlier attitude towards development may be true, the economy remains decidedly less charitable.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News


Anonymous said...

Tenleytown NIMBYism: 1
Rational smart growth: 0

Critically Urban on Dec 1, 2010, 9:45:00 AM said...

A million bucks just to get approval? I mean I know this probably means paying for architects and engineers, but wow. That's just too much.

Anonymous said...

Babe's got their PUD (and renewal); ditto Akridge. And the ANC was eager to accommodate Jemal. Safeway put its plans on hold when critics started demanding more density (and housing) at a site where they just wanted to rebuild their grocery store. It makes no sense to blame NIMBYs for developers' decisions not to build any of these projects.

re the million bucks. Could Jemal have lied about that? Nah, never...

Ben said...

@Anonymous 3:49PM

This is simply not ture. Vocal opponents of any development along Wisconsin Avenue circulated a petition ( against the Akridge project that helped derail this.

Anonymous said...

All I know is that I'm happy Babe's is about to reopen in Silver Spring.

Anonymous said...

Ben, The Akridge PUD was granted in October 2007, with an approval that was valid until June 2, 2010. On July 27, 2009, the Zoning Commission granted Akridge an extension, and the PUD is valid until June 2, 2012, by which time Akridge would need to file a building permit and construction must commence by June 2, 2013. ( As noted in that zoning order, FNA did not file an opposition to the request for an extension. However, Jon Bender signed an ANC resolution requesting that the Zoning Commission delay the extension of the PUD ( That request was denied.

The Babe’s PUD was approved and later granted an extension ( that would have required filing for a building permit by November 18, 2009. Jemal did not file for another extension, although it seems unlikely that such a request would have been denied.

Brooks Butler Hays on Dec 1, 2010, 5:18:00 PM said...

anon, the PUD your referring to was not Jemal's, but awarded to Clemens Construction. Jemal never applied for a PUD for this site, giving the financial burden that I reference in the post. Furthermore, getting permission from Zoning does not necessarily mean you've won the battle, as you can read here ( about how that aforementioned project eventually died despite earning the ZC's approval.

There certainly may be a more dynamic voice at the Tenleytown Community development discussion table these days, but if you think their well-documented stringent NIMBYism hasn't played a role in downsizing, delaying, and deleting projects in the past, then you're mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Brooks isn't going to let facts get in the way of his opinion...

Ken on Dec 1, 2010, 11:49:00 PM said...

Brooks is correct on that. Further, the Akridge project was fought at all levels, very vocally, and despite fending off the opposition from the ANC Akridge was in fact granted its application by the city. That grant, however, was appealed by a single party, with a single-sentence filing of opposition, which Akridge would have had to fight in court. The ability of a single applicant to stop a project that had been through all levels of review with a letter of opposition, without justification, is an anachronism found in few places but the District.

Akridge, meanwhile, had to bear the continuing carrying costs plus the legal fight, which moved the project beyond the realm of feasibility, thus halting the project. There is no question that it was stopped by a minority of anti-development forces.

Anonymous said...

Did you actually read the ZC order 5:05 posted? Akridge couldn't get financing for the project. That's why it hasn't been built.

And if you look at the project Akridge proposed for that site
(100% lot occupancy for a luxury condo project overlooking a bus lot, abutting an electrical substation, and with one wall of windows at risk for being bricked up if/when the adjacent parcel is redeveloped), you might question whether it'll get financing even in a better market. Or whether the PUD's function was primarily to position Akridge as the best candidate to redevelop the WMATA property in that block.

Bottom line, this "no question -- the NIMBYs prevented development" mantra is just naive. And/or sycophantic. Face facts -- developers fuck up. Clemens did. Jemal did. Both overpaid for the Babe's site. Neither could get financing for his project. Had the financing been secured, the projects would have been built. IBG was the only owner that actually had to battle NIMBYs over that site and it resold the property at a profit.

Anonymous said...

The original post characterizes the Akridge project at 5220 Wisconsin Avenue as "deceased." I read that to mean the project is dead and cannot be built. That characterization is factually incorrect. The Zoning Commission granted Akridge's request for an extension of time, until June 2012, to obtain its building permits.

Ken on Dec 2, 2010, 9:52:00 AM said...

We didn't say developers never screw up, to paraphrase your argument. They do, more often than we would like. And note that the story said it was not Nimbyism that killed the Babes deal now, just financial feasibility. We do cite the instances where locals have fought all attempts to develop, which has been prevalent in the community.

Anonymous said...

To the extent that the story is that market conditions are such that Jemal is now planning to build retail rather than a project with a multifamily residential component, the NIMBY-bashing in the article is especially gratuitous. And when you get the facts about previous projects (Akridge, Safeway) wrong, then it your editorial stance seems to be that you're not going to let considerations of accuracy or relevance get in the way of your pre-scripted diatribe.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like after all the comments back and forth, that the article was written accurately and correct from the beginning. Apparently some people read what they want it to say.

I guess there is a lot of denial by NIMBY's. Why do NIMBY's get offended by people pointing out what they are? Just accept you are anti-development and move on to having a rational discussion of progress and compromise. The more irrational you act, the more people will not listen to you.

I bet most NIMBY's would balk at someone telling them what they cannot do on their own property.

Anonymous said...

How is it accurate to say, as Brooks does, that the Akridge project is "deceased"?

Anonymous said...

If that's what it sounds like, you're not reading closely.

The article claimed that two recent projects -- Akridge/5220 Wisconsin and Safeway -- weren't built because NIMBYs blocked them.

The URLs posted indicate that Akridge didn't build because of lack of financing. And that Akridge has had the authority to build its project on that site for a couple of years now. That PUD was recently extended so unless the reporter has other undisclosed info the project is not "deceased." (And if it is now dead, that would be as the result of a developer decision rather than any legal obstacle resulting from neighborhood opposition.)

Safeway put its renovation on the back burner after smart growthers demanded more development (multifamily residential) at the site -- not less.

Subsequent commentary gets other details wrong (appeal from administrative agency decisions to courts is routine in most jurisdictions, the appeal was filed not by some random individual but by an association that had been given party status by the Zoning Commission, 500 signatures were collected from among neighbors within a few blocks of the project, the petition itself had no effect -- the Zoning Commission gave Akridge what it wanted regardless, etc.)

And, yes, homeowners routinely assume and accept that what can be done with their properties is regulated by the zoning code whose function, in part, is to balance the rights and interests of neighboring property owners. There's no hypocrisy in insisting that commercial property owners should be constrained by the same set of rules. No homeowner expects to be able to build something 3x as large as what the regs permit; but developers routinely ask to do so.

JJ said...

Many aspects of this discussion do not add up.

1. If Jamal has $5M into it already, he could more easily recoup his investment with a larger project than a smaller one.

2. Every single development project has nimbys trying to block them. The people giving approvals must listen to them, that is the democratic process, but their selfish gripes rarely have any impact on the final decisions, even if they are given minor appeasements.

3. Developers just want to make money, nothing wrong with that. When a project doesn't pan out, it is usually access to financing that stops it and that is usually caused by the general economy, not the project specifics.

Brooks Butler Hays on Dec 3, 2010, 11:51:00 AM said...


I appreciate the even-keeled nature of your comment. I do not disagree necessarily with what you say, but I think your points need clarifying.

A bigger project is clearly riskier, and also costs more upfront. It seems Jemal's issue is lack of cash flow/credit to go through with the PUD process, etc. So a long term retail lease makes sense, it is a quick and secure way to line up revenue.

Secondly, yes, developers want to make money, I believe that is very obviously the nature of capitalism, but many developers also want to do a smart, responsible, unique, on and on and on project. Some developers are very genuinely interested in sustainability, transit, smart urban infill, historical reuse, etc, etc.

But most importantly, while finances or lack of it may be the final nail in the coffin for many developments, its their inability to maximize density on a site that inhibits them from getting a return on their investment. So if a community forces a developer to compromise its scope and scale, then they in in turn are crippling the developers ability to be financed.

Ben said...


"2. Every single development project has nimbys trying to block them. The people giving approvals must listen to them, that is the democratic process, but their selfish gripes rarely have any impact on the final decisions, even if they are given minor appeasements."

The problem with Tenley and Friendship Heights is that, until recently, the NIMBYs were also on the ANCs which review and approve the projects.

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