Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mayor Predicts Lift Off for Skyland

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray predicted on Tuesday that the contentious development of the Skyland shopping center will be underway as early as September. News of the impending construction caught its developers and occupants by surprise, but both seemed to take announcement of the project's birth in stride.The foundering Southeast D.C. shopping center has been in the government's crosshairs for more than a decade, with Washington D.C. planners dreaming of Skyland Town Center, an economic nativity centered around big box retail and new mixed-use, 18 acre community. Planning for the site began more than 20 years ago, and rather than buy out the owners individually, in 2005 the city began eminent domain proceedings against its many owners, and has since claimed title to the property with the intent of handing it over to developers to redo. But jettisoned owners, backed by property rights advocates, have fought tenaciously to reclaim their titles they say were wrongly seized.

Meanwhile, erstwhile developers Rappaport Companies and William C. Smith & Co. et al have continued to promote the expected vitality from a redesigned building despite the lapse of time and lack of forward motion. For several years promoters and the District government maintained that Target was on board, anchoring the project, lubricating capital, and ensuring success. With Target now officially out, Walmart has become the dream (potential) anchor. But with a thicket of legal challenges, no signed tenants, financing uncertain and lack of a land agreement with the District, the project seems much the same as it did 5 years ago, excepting approval of plans by the Zoning Commission last summer.

Despite the Mayor's confident prediction, the developers are sanguine, noting that much work remains even if some demolition takes place on the Mayor's schedule. "There are still eminent domain issues" says Sheryl Simeck, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Rappaport. "The next step is for the District of Columbia to own all of those parcels. We've taken it as far as we can." Lawyer Elaine Mittleman, representing several owner-tenants, agrees, and says the transfers of title were not only unconstitutional but ineffective, making demolition unthinkable. Mittleman's suits have been denied by the courts, but other suits continue to work their way through the legal dockets, and Mittleman points to a variety of ailments to the District's claim to clear title.

Still, the government might win by attrition, outliving tenants slowly driven out by uncertainty and by a neglected shopping center that becomes ever more decayed. Some tenants have paid rent to the District government, others have not done so for years. "It's a tragedy" says Mittleman. "There's no funding, no agreement, no title, no tenants. It's the opposite of economic development." Mittleman says the government has stonewalled her FOIA requests and has failed to provide answers to many procedural requests, complicating representation of the owners. Still, having seen eviction deadlines come and go, tenants remain more frustrated than fearful, and yet none seem to doubt the ultimate resolve of the government to see the project through.

The development team also includes Harrison Malone Development LLC, the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization (MHCDO) and the Washington East Foundation, Silver Spring based architects Torti Gallas, and Washington D.C. based WCS Construction.

Washington D.C. real estate development news


Anacostia Doesn't Want Nice Things said...

I know there is 20 years of history ehind it - but what is so improtant about this property? It is not even close to a metro. Why not focus your energies on building a nice development in an area that actually wants it? If Anacostia wants to stay poor, miserable, and blighted - let them. Bring the investors and developers to an area that wants to see change like Georgia Ave or H St NE. You could give East of the River a big gold brick and they would complain about how heavy it was (same issue with street cars as well).

Critically Urban on Apr 14, 2011, 5:21:00 PM said...

Trying not to get too upset at these all-too-common ignorant comments concerning east of the river, but I have to let this one loose.

Wow "Anacostia Doesn't Want Nice Things". That was such an ignorant statement, I don't know where to begin. The most important thing to understand is that the neighbors are awaiting this project with bated breathe. Take a moment to skim the article again. Where in it does it say that neighbors don't want this? It is the PROPERTY OWNERS who are holding out for proper payment via eminent domain--most of whom, I would bet, aren't local to the neighborhood.

The second thing to understand is that this is NOT Anacostia. It is called the Skyland Town Center for a reason, and is a good mile to the east of the Anacostia neighborhood. You're in Hillcrest, the cream of the economic crop east of the river. (See a photo of the typical Hillcrest home: Hillcrest Home)

The third thing to understand is that there is an extremely successful strip mall across the street from this development that basically refutes your claims in and of itself. Safeway, Starbucks, banks, Negril (yum!), clothiers--all in a well-kept, recently renovated shopping center that I've been to numerous times.

The fourth thing to understand that not being near a Metro station does not mean that the neighborhood's commercial heart should not be redeveloped. The H Street you refer to is the area around its intersections with 12th and 13th Streets. Guess how far that is to the nearest Metro station--1.3 miles. Guess how far Skyland Town Center would be to Anacostia Metro station--1.5 miles. I don't see a significance here. Georgia Avenue: the only station on or near Georgia Avenue between U Street and downtown Silver Spring? Petworth. Columbia Heights and Takoma are a good walk away. I think you can see my point here. Investment in DC's neighborhoods, while important around Metro stations, should not be dependent upon them. There are plenty of buses that run through this area, and definitely the density of people to support it.

To top it all off, I'm from a relatively affluent part of Montgomery County--and I'm white. I spend a good amount of time in the area near where Skyland Town Center would be because my significant other lives there. But other than that I have no reason to defend the neighborhood, the residents, or to try to educate others like you who know nothing of it. In fact, I don't even know if I'm a welcome sight in the neighborhood. But it is what it is, and your comments are not helpful.

Critically Urban on Apr 14, 2011, 5:21:00 PM said...

*bated breath

Anonymous said...

critically urban-

i was with you all the way until that self-righteous and pandering last paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Get 'um Critically Urban. You are so right!!!

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