WC Smith Development Ignores Affordable Housing

ANC 6D Report

78
A rendering of the proposed design of 850 South Capitol St. Courtesy of WC Smith

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D met on Sept. 13 over Zoom. Commissioners Andrew Bossi (6D01), Jared Weiss (6D02, Secretary), Ronald Collins (6D03, Treasurer), Andy Litsky (6D04), Fredrica (Rikki) Kramer (6D05, Vice Chair), Rhonda Hamilton (6D06) and Edward Daniels (6D07, Chair) were in attendance.

Representatives from developer WC Smith (www.wcsmith.com) asked the commission’s endorsement of their plans for 850 South Capitol St. SE, just north of the Novel South Capitol. 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. This 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.

Attorney Leila Battles of Holland & Knight led the Smith team’s presentation. The building was being built as a “matter of right” and was not subject to the requirements of inclusionary zoning, Battles stated. Only matters related to the structures design could be raised as part of the commission’s review, she argued. To buttress her contention, another team member lectured the commissioners at length on 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 Collins sarcastically. “Understand that you are part of the problem by offering no affordable housing,” stated Chair Edwards. “You are flaunting this project as if it is doing something for this community. It is not,” observed Commissioner Hamilton, who termed 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, stated the chair.

Full Service Grocer on Buzzard Point?
The completion of the new Frederick Douglass Bridge has increased development pressure on Buzzard Point. In particular, developer Steuart Investment Company is moving ahead with its plans for the Superior Concrete property on Square 662. In phase one, the company plans to build 451 apartments, 300 below grade parking spaces and 15,986 square feet of retail. The second phase includes a full-service grocery.

The developer asked for the commission’s support for a public space application to allow the creation of a 30-foot wide alley between South Capitol and Half Streets SW that would bisect the site. This would require two new curb cuts. The developer applied for an additional curb cut on R Street SW as well.

After some discussion of the safety arrangements for truck traffic in the alley, the commission approved the application unanimously and authorized Commissioner Kramer to testify before the Public Space Committee in support.

801 Maine Ave SW
Senior Development Manager Keleena Francis Lee of Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners briefed the commission on the firm’s plans for 801 Maine Ave. SW, the site of former offices of the US Department of Agriculture. The developer acquired the triangular property, located at the corner of Maine Avenue and Ninth Street SW, in August.

The site is complicated to develop. Located at a busy pedestrian corner across from The Wharf, it sits astride a WMATA tunnel and abuts both Jefferson Middle School and Jefferson athletic field. It is zoned MU-12, which permits mixed use development and limits the structure to 50 feet in height with a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 3 if Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) is provisioned. The property currently has only one existing curb cut on G Street SW.

Lee asked for the commission to support up-zoning the parcel to MU-10. This would increase the allowable height and FAR to 100 feet and 7.2 respectively if IZ is implemented. A 20-foot rear yard would also be required between Jefferson Middle School and the new building.

Jair Lynch plans a 13-story building with 530 apartments and 6,000 square feet of ground floor retail on the site, Lee stated. In return, the developer would designate 15 percent of the units at “affordable,” although the definition of affordability remained unresolved. Lynch prefers to employ a “zoning map amendment” to up-zone the parcel rather than a more complicated “Planned Unit Development” (PUD) process to speed the project’s time to market. Lee was open to increasing the percentage of affordable units to 20 percent.

The developer presented very little detail on the project. There were no renderings and no details on the proportion and sizes of the residential units. Nor was any information on loading access, entrances or construction traffic provided.

“I see how using a map amendment benefits you, but I fail to see how it benefits our community,” said Commissioner Litsky, who then stated his opposition to the up-zoning method. A number of commissioners joined him, also terming the percentage of affordable units insufficient. No vote was taken on the matter.

Capitol Riverfront BID Mobility Project
Ted Jutras, vice president for Planning and Development at the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (Capitol Riverfront BID) briefed the commission on the organization’s “Mobility Project,” which is studying travel along M Street SE. A survey of roadway conditions, he stated, found conditions for pedestrian and cyclists generally unsafe, the bus infrastructure insufficient and the quality of the public realm poor.

The Capitol Riverfront BID is working on two concepts for M Street’s redesign and the feasibility of north/south transit. The first includes a two track protected cycle track on the road’s south curb. There would be no loss of parking. Pickup-drop-off zones would relocated to side streets. Option Two is similar but divides the protected cycle tracks between the northern and southern curbs.

In addition, the study is exploring micro transit and traditional mass transit options for north/south travel to Buzzard Point.

Commissioners expressed concern about the narrowing of M Street car traffic to a single travel lane in each direction. What about the impact of stalled buses or slow traffic on the environment, pondered Commissioner Hamilton.

Jutras promised a final draft of the study in early December. For more information, visit www.capitolriverfront.org/mobility.

Other Matters
Commissioner Bossi resigned his seat due to plans to move out of his single member district. A special election will be held to replace him.

The commission voted unanimously to file an appeal with the DC Housing Authority as a follow up to its June 26th FOIA request for the technical proposals for the Greenleaf redevelopment including best and final offers. Commissioners stated their concern about the developers’ plans to use 90 market rate condominiums in the Westminster project to satisfy build first requirements. “We need a clear understanding of what is being proposed,” stated Commissioner Litsky.

Ralph McLean, the new First District Commander, briefed the commission on public safety. The last 30 days witnessed a single homicide, one sex offense, 28 robberies, he stated. The persons of interest have arrested in the recent ATM robberies, he added. Commissioner Collins asked that officers be on the lookout for orange cones being used to illegally reserve public parking on curbside. US Attorney Douglass Klein, who joined the briefing, opined that 2021 homicide cases would top 200.

Under Alcohol Beverage Control matters, the commission decided to:

  • protest a license for Swingers at 1250 Half St. SE on the grounds of “Protest Peace Order and Quiet;”
  • protest a license for Grazzi at 85 District Sq. SW on the grounds of “Protest Peace Order and Quiet;”
  • protest a license for Courtyard Marriot at 140 L St SE due to the absence of a signed cooperative agreement;
  • protest a license for Citizen M at 550 School St. SW due to the absence of a signed cooperative agreement;
  • authorized Commissioner Litsky to continue negotiations on the matters above and represent the commission in front of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

Commissioners took the following unanimous steps:

  • approved the agenda and July minutes;
  • authorized Commissioner Kramer to testify on the commission’s behalf at Westminster Zoning Hearing;
  • supported the DC Bike Ride and the Run for the Badge 5k;
  • authorized the formation of a subcommittee to investigate land trusts.

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.