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WC Smith Development Ignores Affordable Housing

At the Sept. 13 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D, representatives from developer WC Smith asked the commission’s endorsement of their plans for 850 South Capitol St. SE, just north of the Novel South Capitol. Irritated commissioners said it was the developer’s ‘moral responsibility’ to include affordable housing in the project.

Due to its location in the Capitol Gateway Overlay District (CGOD), the parcel is subject to design review by the DC Zoning Commission (ZC). Zoned D-5, it is exempted from the requirements of Inclusionary Zoning and permitted to tower over 100 feet in height. Smith envisions a high end apartment building with no ground floor retail oriented towards South Capitol Street.

Smith has recently purchased the adjacent Splash Car Wash property for its project. That parcel includes a narrow right of way behind the Novel that permits access from I Street SE. Smith plans to use that for southern, mainly pedestrian and bicycle access.

The roof will be reserved for residential amenities. Windows on the building’s eastern side remain at risk if development proceeds on the neighboring coal yard. No neon lighting accents are planned. Space under the freeway will be used for a public dog park, stated the Smith team.

The Smith team provided no details on the unit mix. They assured commissioners that studios would not form a significant element, pointing to the company’s historical preference for larger apartments in their developments. But they would not move on the discussion of affordable housing.

Attorney Leila Battles of Holland & Knight led the Smith team’s presentation. The building will be built as a “matter of right” and is not subject to the requirements of inclusionary zoning, Battles stated. Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) is a land use technique for developing diverse mixed-income communities by requiring each new residential development make a percentage of the new units affordable to targeted incomes.

Only matters related to the structures design can be raised as part of the commission’s review, Battles argued. To buttress her contention, another team member detailed the specifics of zoning law and the limitations placed on commission objections. Only the project’s design components merit comments, he opined.

The Smith team’s presentation incensed the commissioners. “Thank you for that diatribe on affordable housing and IZ. We so appreciated it,” observed Treasurer Ronald Collins (6D03) with some sarcasm.

“Understand that you are part of the problem by offering no affordable housing,” stated Chair Edward Edwards (6D07). Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton (6D06) agreed. “You are flaunting this project as if it is doing something for this community. It is not,” she said, calling the presentation “disrespectful.”

“There is no benefit to the community. None! None! None!” added Commissioner Litsky. “I appreciate your schooling us on what are legal responsibilities are, but that ignores your moral responsibilities to help solve this community’s affordable housing crisis,” he added vehemently, calling for full details on the proffered dog park. “What we don’t want is a proffered community benefit that isn’t delivered,” he added.

The commission took no vote on the matter. The Smith team was welcome to return to the October meeting with more details, the chair said.

ANC 6D meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of every month. The next meeting of ANC 6D is for Oct. 18 via Zoom. For more information and links to join ANC meetings, visit anc6d.org.

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