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Bard Development Plan Resurrected

One year after withdrawing their planned unit development (PUD) application for The Bard, Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) and Erkiletian Development, the team behind the redevelopment of the Southeastern University site at 501 I St. SW, are trying again to get their project approved by the Zoning Commission.

A Little History
The original PUD was withdrawn after the Office of Planning recommended a set-down hearing not be scheduled for the project since the proposal was inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and the Southwest Neighborhood Plan. It included 93 market-rate units, nine inclusionary zoning units for households earning up to 80 percent of area median income (AMI), and 29 housing units for actors and five for fellows (each fellow’s housing unit would have had four bedrooms, which accommodating up to 20 fellows), with the remaining 43,100 square feet dedicated to STC artist studio space, nonprofit office space, and educational use. STC’s costume fabrication studio would have been located on the first floor, which would have art panels along I Street depicting quotations from William Shakespeare.

When the PUD was withdrawn in July 2016, the development team released the following statement: “The Shakespeare Theatre Company and Erkiletian Development is committed to staying in the District of Columbia and Southwest DC, and will continue working with community leaders and neighbors on a building that meets the requirements articulated through the planning process.”

Judging by the reaction of the neighbors to the new development proposal at a community meeting held on June 22 at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, it is not going to be easy to get community support.

The Latest Vesion
The newest proposal for The Bard, presented at the community meeting, reduces density by more than a third from the previous design, to a floor area ratio (FAR) of 2.89, and lowers the height to a four-story building with a penthouse level set back 11 feet on all sides. In addition, the number of apartments has been reduced to 112 units, with 27 of them set aside for use by STC as housing for actors and fellows. The main building will be in the shape of the letter C, and the annex building on the north side of the site will no longer have a ground-level connection to the main building. However, an underground connection will remain. Shalom Baranes Architects has designed the project.

On the ground floor of the main building, there is space set aside for Shakespeare’s administrative offices and seven actors’ housing units, as well as the lobby of the rental apartment building and amenity space. The entrance to Shakespeare’s portion of the building will be located off a courtyard facing Sixth Street. A water feature and landscaping will fill out the courtyard. The lobby entrance to the rental apartment building will be along I Street SW. Shakespeare will have its costume design shop and rehearsal space in the basement level along with a 39-space parking garage (17 spaces would be used by STC) and storage for 70 bicycles.

Floors two through four of the building will contain 75 rental apartments, and an additional 10 units will be located on the penthouse level. Each penthouse unit will have a private terrace. The annex building on the north side of the site will contain five duplex units for fellows and 15 additional actors’ apartments on the upper three floors.

The residential entrance to the building would have been at the corner of Sixth and I Streets, and a courtyard on Sixth Street would serve as the entrance to STC’s space. Building heights ranged from 73 feet at the corner of Sixth and I Streets SW down to about 42 feet on the northwest side of the site. A total of 70 below-grade parking spaces would have been provided, accessible from Sixth Street, and 85 bicycle parking spaces (75 long-term and 10 short-term).

Zoning Change Needed
Despite the reduction in density and height from previous versions of the plan, the development team is still requesting a zoning change, which has been a sticking point with the residents of neighboring townhouses. There has been strong opposition to the project from those who live closest to the site. One resident went as far as creating a blog to vent her frustration with the development process. A group of neighbors has collected more than $20,000 to hire an attorney to oppose the project as it goes through the PUD process. They also engaged a firm to design an alternative development plan for the site.

During the community meeting, neighbors stated their preference for no changes to zoning for the site and for the developer to build townhouses instead. A petition was circulated around the room to present to the Zoning Commission, maintaining the current zoning for the site, which is R-3. The current zoning permits matter-of-right development of single-family residential uses (including detached, semi-detached, and row dwellings). During the meeting, several signatures were secured.

A board member from STC was present at the meeting. He pleaded the theatre’s case with the audience, stating the organization is a non-profit and cannot afford to continue renting space for their administrative needs. He also stated his belief that Shakespeare’s presence in the community will be a positive one, pointing to the successful experience of Sidney Harmon Hall at Sixth and F Streets NW in Chinatown.

The development team intends to file a revised PUD within the next month and will work with the community to try to reach a compromise. The attorney who was leading the meeting did not want to “put words in the mouth of the Office of Planning,” but intimated its support for the revised proposal. It should be an interesting next few months in Southwest.

William Rich is a blogger at Southwest … The Little Quadrant that Could (www.swtlqtc.com).

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