ANC Opposes Two Massive Maine Ave. Developments

ANC 6D Report

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A rendering of the massing of 899 Maine Ave. SW. Courtesy Jair Lynch.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D (ANC 6D) met on Sept. 12 and Sept. 21 via Zoom. Commissioners Dr. Marjorie Lightman (6D01), Jared Weiss (6D02, secretary), Ronald Collins (6D03, treasurer) Andy Litsky (6D04), Fredrica (Rikki) Kramer (6D05, vice chair), Edward Daniels (6D07, chair) were in attendance for both meetings. Rhonda Hamilton (6D06) was absent from the Sept. 16 meeting.

807 Maine Avenue SW PUD

The commission weighed an endorsement of Mill Creek Residential’s request for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to develop 807 Maine Ave. SW, currently the site of the Disabled Veterans Association. Mill Creek envisions a 110-foot building with 20 additional feet of penthouse and mechanical space with a Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) of 87 percent. The site is currently zoned MU-12, which allows for 65 feet of height if there is Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) and a FAR of 80 percent.

Commissioners Lightman, Litsky and Kramer had been tasked with negotiating with the developer for the previous several months. Lightman placed a motion on the floor opposing the project. 

The commission had historically supported such developments, citing its role in The Wharf, she said. However, that support was predicated on the applicant demonstrating an understanding of Southwest’s unique character and embracing the community’s vision incorporated in the Southwest Small Area Plan (SW SAP, www.planning.dc.gov/publication/southwest-neighborhood-plan). In addition, the commission expected all such requests to be accompanied by a proffer of substantial community benefits. This particular PUD “violates” the “spirit” of the SW SAP.

The height of The Wharf properties located across Maine Avenue to the south, the developer argued, justified its request for equal development on the avenue’s northern side. As the largest private development in DC, The Wharf, Lightman explained, was a special circumstance resulting from years of community engagement, no fewer than eight related PUDs and three separate Acts of Congress as well as more than $80 million dollars in District financing. As a result, it was specifically excluded from the SW SAP, whose southern border was drawn at Maine Avenue SW.

There are no buildings of height comparable to The Wharf on the northern side of Maine Avenue SW. Between Ninth and Seventh Streets SW, there are low rise office buildings and Jefferson Middle School. The Riverside Church and the Waterside Towers townhomes occupy the space between Seventh and Sixth Streets. These lower scale developments and substantial green space provide relief, preventing Maine Avenue SW from turning into a high-rise tunnel, she pointed out.

It is a landscape with intentional variations in scale and height, which is an essential component of the modernist vision which defines Southwest and is enshrined in the SW SAP. Moreover, its mix of market rate and affordable housing cements the demographic diversity that is an essential character of this neighborhood, Commissioner Kramer added. 

The SW SAP is “memorialized in the Comprehensive Plan and represents the voice of the Southwest community.” It must be honored,” stated Kramer. “If we allow this type of height and density to go forward, we put a huge number of other parcels at risk. If you start to allow the redefinition of the north side of Maine Avenue, it can snowball. It becomes a free for all,” she stated.

Holland & Knight Attorney Kyrus L. Freeman, representing Mill Creek, disagreed strongly with Lightman and Kramer’s comments. “We have an eleven page document explaining how the project is consistent with the plan,” he stated.

“We have ample market rate apartments. We do not need this building.” Litsky summing up the commissioners’ opposition. “The main feature of the SAP was that everyone gets to stay here. This project does nothing to support that,” stated Commissioner Collins: “We must follow our own SAP. The height and density issues are important to our community,” Commissioner Jared said.

Mill Creek offered a set of community benefits as part of its PUD application: a $100,000 contribution to Jefferson Academy; the provision of a Pickup/Dropoff Zone (PUDO) on Maine Avenue on the project’s southern side, the creation of increased green space between 7th and 9th Streets SW, a contribution to the SW BID’s Micro Mobility Project and an increase in affordable residences over the Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) requirement.

Both Kramer and Lightman decried the community benefits proffered by Mill Creek. The green space was actually already public space. PUDOs are provisioned not by developers, but the DC Dept. of Transportation (DDOT). The SW BID is governed by a board of property owners including Mill Creek. So, any contribution to its mobility project was simply moving money from the developer to another entity that they control, Lightman observed wryly. Lastly, the proposed contribution to Jefferson was both “paltry and insulting” given the project’s profitability, Kramer observed. She termed the project’s IZ component of under 20 percent as insufficient.

The commission voted unanimously to oppose the project and authorized Commissioner Kramer to testify before the Zoning Commission on the matter.

899 Maine Avenue SW

A week later at its Special Meeting, the Commission took up the matter of 899 Maine Avenue PUD. Developer Jair Lynch has proposed rezoning the parcel to MU-9. This would allow for the construction of a mixed use project of roughly 500 apartments, a supermarket and a bank. 19% of the residential component (75 units) would be affordable at 60 percent of Average Median Income (AMI), including three large family sized apartments. The design is LEED Platinum with all loading on a new alley constructed on the east side of the property boarding Jefferson Academy and Jefferson Playing Field. The project would rise 130 feet on Maine Avenue and taper down to 110 and 90 feet on Ninth Street and G Street SW respectively.

Commissioner Lightman began the discussion by placing a motion opposing the PUD on the floor. The proposal, much like the one proposed for 807 Maine Avenue, violates the spirit and intent of the SW SAP by contributing to gentrification in two ways, she argued. First, it would establish a height and density standard on Maine Avenue that would threaten existing low density affordable housing to the east by increasing land values. Secondly, the addition of this number of market rate apartments would seriously change the demographics of the neighborhood making it both economically and racially less diverse.

The project would significantly exacerbate the area’s traffic congestion, Commissioners Lightman, Kramer and Collins stated. The alley behind it would become a cut through for cars heading to the highway, since the curb cut on G Street SW would serve as both an exit and entrance, while the one on Maine Avenue was restricted to north bound traffic, they argued. Lastly, supermarket deliveries would further complicate an already dangerous situation on G Street SW.

Jair Lynch Development Manager Malcolm N. Haith took issue with the commissioners’ criticisms. We have had over 50 meetings with the ANC and neighborhood stakeholders, he stated. The project will fund significant traffic improvements on Ninth Street SW mitigating its impact. The height and scale are responsive to Southwest’s unique design. Neighborhood-serving retail and varied unit mix reflect Southwest culture, especially given the provision of three affordable family sized units,
he said.

Goulston & Storrs Urban Planner Shane Dettman echoed Haith. SW SAP only supplements Comp Plan. It should play an advisory role, he argued. In fact, the Council enacted the SW SAP on July 14, 2015.

“We know what our own Small Area Plan is. This does not comport with it,” retorted Commissioner Litsky.

The increased density, Dettman argued, is justified by the community benefits offered. These include public art, electric charging stations, improvements to Ninth Street SW crosswalks and sidewalks, new dedicated bike lanes, 19 percent affordable, larger sized affordable units, increase benches, improvements to the Maine Avenue streetscape, a transparent ground floor, LEED Platinum design, a supermarket and a bank. Moreover, the project’s 75 units exceed the requirements of IZ, he stated in conclusion.

Litsky took issue with Dettman. The developer had said nothing, he pointed out, about the impact of the massing on the townhouses to the north. Where is the traffic study that justifies a grocery store? Where are signed letters of intent from the bank and supermarket tenants? “What bank in its right mind would locate there?” he queried.

“You have too big a building in too small a spot in too dangerous a place,” Litsky stated
in summation.

To say that the small area plan is merely advisory is “a slap in the face to the community,” stated Chair Daniels. Grocery stores create massive traffic congestion, he pointed out, citing the situation created by the Navy Yard Whole Foods.

“This doesn’t look like Southwest. It is supposed to look like Southwest, not The Wharf,” Kramer echoed. The project, she further argued, undermines the neighborhood’s economic and demographic diversity. By violating the small area plan on this site would place at risk affordable housing located to the east, she continued.

“For this building to be accepted, everything else is at risk,” Kramer stated.

The building would change the proportions between market level and affordable housing in the surrounding neighborhood, stated Commissioner Lightman. 

“It is not simply a tall building, it is an egregiously tall building,” Lightman said.

The criticisms of commissioners were echoes by the project’s neighbors.

“This part of Southwest is NOT The Wharf,” stated Erin Berg of the Capitol Square HOA. She complained that Jair Lynch had fought their party status. There is already a chaotic traffic situation in which 9th and G Streets are often completely blocked, stated neighbor Gustavo Pinto, displaying photos of the streets in question.

The commission voted unanimously to oppose the project and authorized Commissioner Kramer to testify on its behalf.

1301 South Capitol Street SW

Rich Markus, the architect behind 1301 South Capitol Street SW project, presented its current configuration to the commission. It is scheduled to before the Zoning Commission on Oct. 3. The project has been redesigned with the curb cut for loading in the back. But, that alteration faces a difficult path to DDOT approval. If the curb cut application is unsuccessful, the project will go forward with a loading zone on N Street SW, Markus stated.

“This project is going into N Street, an extremely narrow street. This is going to worsen as development progresses. Whatever you see now is only going to get worse. There are only two parking spaces to service this building,” Commissioner Litsky tardily retorted.

The commission voted unanimously to support the project predicated on the proposed pedestrian alley being widen to create an off street loading zone, authorizing Commissioner Kramer to testify.

The plan for 1301 South Capitol St. SW. Courtesy Architect Rich Markus.

ABC Matters

The commission voted unanimously to protest Solace Outpost, 71 Potomac Ave SE, on the basis of peace, order and quiet. The restaurant wants to increase its summer garden from 350 to 861 seats. There will be no outside TVs. Commissioners differed over whether the expansion would adversely impact neighbors. Chair Daniels urged continued negotiations.

The commission voted to unanimously protest:

• the Blue Jacket, 300 Tingey Street SE, on the basis of peace, order and quiet;

• the Silver Diner, 1250 Half St SE. The request was for additional summer garden seating.

The commission took no action on either Kaliwa, 751 Wharf St SW and on The Bullpen, 1201 Half St. SE.

The commission voted to unanimously to file a petition for review for dismissal of the Pendry Hotel and Hell’s Kitchen Protest.

The commission voted unanimously at Commissioner Litsky request to write a letter to the Office of the Attorney General clarifying the protocol for protest.

Nats Park Certificate of Occupancy

Events DC, manager of Nationals Park, has requested a modification to the stadium’s original PUD regarding its retail development requirements along First Street SE. Since the stadium’s opening, a series of temporary certificates of occupancy have issued due to a failure to comply with the PUD’s terms. Events DC is requesting PUD be revised to eliminate the issue and allow for the granting of a permanent certificate.

Events DC proposes simply to finish the buildout of the existing retail bays. The requirement for expanded retail envisioned in the original 2006 zoning order would be abandoned. Events DC has filed for a Modification of Consequence (MOC) to accomplish this, which would not trigger a public hearing.

The commission voted unanimously to oppose the MOC. The matter, a number of commissioners stated, should be handled as a Modification of Significance, which requires a hearing before the Zoning Commission, authorizing Commissioner Litsky to testify.

Events DC, manager of Nats Park, wants to modify the PUD requirement for expanded retail at the Park. The ANC opposes this. Photo: Events DC.

Other Matters

The commission opposed a proposed modification to the RiverPoint PUD, 2121 First Street SW, allowing the creation of a new mezzanine level that would provide a 46-seat summer garden for a future restaurant tenant due to noise concerns, authorizing Commissioner Kramer to testify.

MPD First District Captain Kevin Harding and Lieutenant Megan Mulrooney briefed the commission on public safety. Violent crime down 50 percent overall in the last 30 days, they stated, but robberies are up 56 percent.

The commission decided to form a committee to assist in the distribution of $70,000 of funds for community benefits negotiated by the DC Dept. of General Services are part of lease renewal for its buildings on the 1100 block of Fourth Street SW.

The ANC commissioners had a productive three-hour walk through with DDOT relating to the I Street Bike Lane in July. The agency will return in October with an updated plan, reported Chair Daniels.

DC Water gave an update on its Potomac Tunnel Project related to the installation of supportive utility ducts along Independence Avenue SW. This will be completed by August 2023. The construction of the tunnel itself will begin in December of 2023.

ANC was approved for release of its 2022 Q3 and Q4 allotments, reported Collins.

The commission unanimously to:

• Corrected agenda approved;

• Tabled its approval of the July minutes;

• Approved letters of support for the Wharf Ice Rink, The Mutt Strutt and the Susan B. Komen Walk

• Approved continuing resolution for spending until the FYI 2023 budget is approved at its October meeting.

ANC 6D meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of every month. Their next meeting is Oct. 11. For more information and links to join ANC meetings, visit www.anc6d.org.