Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. Matthew's Residential Project Meets Resistance

It was a rough Monday night for CSG Urban Partners and their proposed 11-story, 210-unit residential building on the former site of St. Matthew's church at 222 M street SW, as a large number of neighborhood residents showed up to voice opposition to the project over the course of an occasionally heated four-hour hearing.

The hearing started on a moderate note, as board members from the nearby Carrollsburg Square condominiums voiced qualified support for the project. "This is not the perfect project," said resident Jonathan Beaton, before going on to say that it's "likely better than future projects that will be proposed."

But the testimony took a negative turn from there. One resident said the proposed building "doesn't match the existing development pattern," describing a "wall-like effect from over 200 feet of unbroken frontage along the street." A representative of a senior housing complex at 1241 Delaware Avenue said the new building will block natural light and accessibility for ambulances. Others said that mature trees adjacent to the development will be killed by construction, and that toxic mold could harm some residents. Still other residents complained that the developers had told them they wouldn't be allowed to use the swimming pool in the new building (pond would be good for you, Carl).

Criticism reached a peak when a local doctor said the building would turn the 3rd Street extension into a "darkened alley of high crime," that the loss of views would cause "mental anguish," and that the arbitrary changing of zoning standards represented a "bait and switch" for local property owners. ("Which is punishable by law!")

Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge, who lives nearby, was one of the sharpest critics of the project. Herridge passed out a packet illustrating the neighborhood's "
severe doubling parking problem," and provided the night's finest unintentional comic relief when she fidgeted and glared and grimaced through the previous testifier's speech with Chaplinesque intensity. (She did everything but take out a huge hammer and bonk him on the head with it.)

On rebuttal, it was revealed that the developers had actually made an unusual concession on the parking issue, promising that no residents of their building would be eligible for residential parking permits. (The plans also call for 150 below-grade parking spaces.) Architect Shalom Baranes defended some aspects of the design, saying the "darkened high crime alley" would actually be well-lit, and have units looking onto it. Josh Dix, representing the developers, pointed out that the previous design had been much denser with much less greenspace. "We've been meeting with the community since 2004," he said. "At this point, does it satisfy everybody? Probably not. But the pros outweigh the cons."

The board didn't vote, instead asking for more information, and putting off a vote until the April 30 session. The tone at the hearing verged at times on contentious, and the mood seemed unencouraging. But Simone Goring Devaney, who's spearheading the project for CSG Urban, was unperturbed when I talked to her the next day. "The zoning board requested more information, and we're going to get them the info they requested," Goring Devaney said. "We're feeling very positive about the project's future."

Goring Devaney added that, if approval comes through as planned, construction should begin in early 2013 and conclude in about eighteen months.

Washington D.C. real estate development news


Bob See on Mar 21, 2012, 10:36:00 AM said...

"doesn't match the existing development pattern,"

Among a host of absurd objections (see what sticks huh?) this takes the cake. SW is a landmark of 50s-70s "urban renewal" that devastated countless cities' cores, is regarded these days as a failure and was a large factor in starting the preservation movement. If they want to keep it a car-oriented, sprawling “garden community” they should move to the burbs. This proposal fits, not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that every single project in DC is fought with this same level of hate/fear inspired opposition. How is DC ever going to meet the high demand for housing, affordable rents, better retail options and grow our tax base with this nonsense.

RR said...

Let's hope it doesn't match the existing development pattern. What a moronic thing to say in southwest.

Spencer said...

As a resident of southwest, I am for the development, and I am for making it as dense as possible. I should have passed out copies of The Rent is to Dam High by Matthew Ygelesias.

danmac said...

As a former SW resident for many years I find these objections silly. Poor St Matthews they've een trying for years. These fools want their suburban little car centric enclave to stay just the way it is and to hell with the city it is part of. DC needs more taxpaying residents and this housing will provide this while giving the church a much needed boost to remain financially viable,

Anonymous said...

What's up with the complaint that "neighbors won't be able to use the new building's swimming pool?

Is this how development works? Somebody pays for land, builds a house, and then invites everybody else over to use their stuff? Seriously?

Last time I checked, there are public pools in all of DC's wards, which are open to the public. Do we now live in such an upside down world that I would have the right to waltz into the Watergate or any other ritzy West End building and demand to take a swim?

Payton on Mar 22, 2012, 12:38:00 AM said...

Sigh. People in 8- and 9-story buildings are complaining about an 11-story building, across the street from 12-story buildings. They're complaining about (shriek!) a church and a coffee shop. This sort of development should be as-of-right.

As for parking, my building (just blocks away, and more expensive) has about 40% fewer garage-parked cars than we have residences (and that's counting the cars that are just in long term storage). I bet that there will be empty garage spaces once they're done.

Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily agree with the concerns of the residents (or at least not all of them), but think it is ironic so many people are complaining about the "Urban Renewal" of the 1960's and 1970's (because it ignored the concerns of local residents), while at the same time saying "we know better - this is the kind of development that the area should have" - ignoring the concerns of the current local residents. Anyone else see a parallel?

I think the biggest issue is the building is simply too large and bulky for that part of Southwest (south of M street, east of 3rd Street were it continued south). An 8 or 9 story building would be more appropriate for that area. And no, I'm not a local resident concerned about protecting my view. But we certainly don't have to have 12 and 14 story buildings everywhere.

Alex B. on Mar 22, 2012, 11:39:00 AM said...

An 8 or 9 story building is appropriate, but an 11 story building is not?

The person walking down the street wouldn't even notice the difference unless they stopped to count the floors.

Payton's right - this should be by right. And it mostly is, from what I can tell of the setdown report. The area is zoned R3/CR, and the density and uses are well within the parameters. They went with a PUD to add more height in front in order to avoid encroaching on existing townhomes in the back.

It's an example of how our zoning is broken. This is a good project, the developers are jumping through hoops in order to make it better, while what they could build by right would make the neighborhood worse off.

phuber on Mar 22, 2012, 2:54:00 PM said...

Many thanks for all of your comments. Obviously we feel that the project is appropriate and we have literally spent years talking and negotiating with our neighbors in trying to find a design that meets people's needs. I can't think of any other project in SW that has engaged the community as much as we have.

Contrary to the article, we were very encouraged at the hearing on Monday. The more than a dozen people who testified on our behalf made a very strong witness to the importance and commitment that St. Matthew's has had to our SW community. I think it was very clear that we are, and have been, a very integral part of the fabric of SW.

I look forward to sharing a cup of coffee with all of you in "Sacred Grounds Cafe"

Pastor Huber
St. Matthew's Chuch

SWag on Mar 23, 2012, 11:26:00 AM said...

Most of the people leaving comments are excited to see development in the city. I am as well. But I live in the heart of SW. This building truly is out of character with SW. Many of you would not know that unless you not only visited SW, but LIVED there. There is a very neighborhood feel and this would certainly ruin that. There is PLENTY of underdeveloped land in near SE. Go there. And I know St. Matthew's has been here forever and a day, but do we really need ANOTHER church. There are 2 RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from each other ONE block to the north. Team up with them or something.

I like the idea of a coffee shop, but what about people of different faiths. Could a religiously affiliated coffee shop deter some patrons? idk

And let's not forget about the parking situation. I remember growing up in upper NW near a really prominent church and on Sunday's you couldn't move. People double parked everywhere. NO parking spaces and traffic congestion. Where will these church goers park in SW? There is already a major need for more parking (SERIOUSLY!) And let's be real. Do you really think people are gonna metro to church? lol. Take a survey, how many district residents metro to church... None. Many are older... no offense.

SW and the rest of the green line areas are seeing a new boom of residents that are in the younger, working class. I really just don't see how St. Matthew's fits in at all..

My objection is not to the residential portion, but more St. Matthews. Everyone has something to gain from an apartment building. Everyone has something to gain from a grocery store. NOT everyone has something to gain from a church.

Sorry St. Matthew's :( hope you guys find a nice new home somewhere, but NOT on 3rd and M.

God Bless

Becca on Mar 23, 2012, 1:28:00 PM said...

The people who say that this building will be too large and bulky or won't fit in with SW clearly haven't been paying attention to what sort of buildings are planned to be put along the rest of the waterfront. This will fit right in with the rest of the planned development and will match the Waterfront Towers/Sky House/The View glass look. It is Tiber Island that will be "out of place" in a few years, not the St. Matthews residential project.

Furthermore, as far as I am aware this is the only slated new/refurbished housing project that will offer condos, which will be a much-needed counterbalance to all of the apartments that are currently planned.

SpenceHeckwolf on Mar 24, 2012, 5:55:00 PM said...

I hope it does not match the character of SW. The character of SW is awful. I live right down the street from this proposed development. Bring on density, amenities and housing supply that DC so desperately needs.

Payton on Mar 29, 2012, 2:16:00 PM said...

@SWag: I live in Southwest and am a lifelong atheist. Although you claim that you know all about "the character of" Southwest, you apparently don't realize that St. Matthew's knows more about that than you; they've been part of the neighborhood for generations, and you apparently don't remember that they had a church on this property for 45 years -- long before you or I ever had any claim to "know" "the neighborhood feel."

First of all, there are at least two "religiously affiliated" coffeehouses in DC (Ebenezer's and Potter's House) which both seem to do pretty good business.

Second, the First Amendment prevents DC from "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion, and that includes banning churches, new or old. Again, I've never been to a religious service in my entire life, but I have attended public meetings and enjoyed concerts at Southwest's churches.

Third, you say "There is already a major need for more parking (SERIOUSLY!)" -- and I say that there is plenty of parking on Sundays (in fact, any day) at Waterfront Station, there is plenty of street parking to the east, and there is "a major need" to have fewer cars. This is a city with many transportation options, transit, walking, carpooling, etc. -- not a suburb with few options -- and if we work together we can all encourage more people to make use of them.

Indeed, I think that having a coffee shop within walking distance (an amenity that's currently sorely lacking) would do a lot to improve "the neighborhood feel" of Southwest, and make walking along M Street that much more pleasant.

I look forward to toasting the new church, and apartments, with a cup of coffee at Sacred Grounds once it opens.

SWag on Apr 6, 2012, 2:12:00 PM said...

@Payton - first off, based on your post I don't believe you live in SW. Sounds like you live in near SE, really close to the SW border or something.

Second you say that St. Matthew's knows more about the feel of the neighborhood because they were there 45 years ago. Ok... And your point? Is SW the same neighborhood now as it was then? Are you the same person as you were 5 years ago. No. The neighborhood has changed - and apparently left you and St. Matthew's in the dust. Being in SW for a long time has nothing to do with how the "new" SW will look and feel.

The other coffee shops that you named prob do fine in business - but as a Hindu, would you really want to spend your hard earned money there? Doubt it. Just something to think about. I'm all for a coffee shop. My gf is addicted to them, but I don't think we will patronize this one.

And I hope you are not talking about those 8 parallel parking spaces that are in Waterfront Station (outside of the Safeway, CVS, etc.) - Sure they are available now... You clearly have not thought about what happens once new development is constructed with NO parking spaces. You have to plan ahead young man. Development 101

Payton on Nov 20, 2012, 9:33:00 AM said...

Woah, you know nothing about me. I am not a Hindu, and actually I do spend money at Ebenezer's even though they are evangelical Christians and I am avowedly atheist. Since I live several blocks west of South Capitol and south of M, this is the only coffee shop that I could walk to that doesn't require crossing any major streets -- you can bet that fact, and not its ownership, will be the basis for my business.

The Waterfront Station parking *garage* is mostly empty on Sunday mornings. There's plenty of parking in the neighborhood if you're willing to turn off the big streets.

Also, as I stated earlier, there is absolutely NO scope under the First Amendment to limit the location of a church. Where they locate is a constitutionally protected decision. The church already will be making hundreds of housing units and a coffee shop available to the wider community. They were here before you or I, and they will be here after you and I.

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