If local developer JBG has its way, a Harris Teeter may be coming to a parking lot near the 9:30 Club. The proposal is only in the preliminary stages and requires the District to sell an unused parking lot to the company.
JBG owns the lot immediately to the south of the District property and would like to combine them into a single project. The two adjacent properties are labeled “DC Gov” and “JBG” on the middle-left portion of the map below. While JBG does not yet control the District-owned site, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development will offer the site, along with several others, for sale this fall. For all we know, the District could select another developer.
As you may recall, Chevy Chase-based JBG is one of the biggest developers on 14th Street and U Street. They’re current constructing or entitling (seeking permits, zoning relief, etc.) several nearby projects. At the southwest corner of 14th and U, the company is currently building a multifamily project that will include a Trader Joe’s. On the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida Avenue, the company is preparing to build two modernist multifamily buildings. On the northwest and southwest corners of 8th and V Streets, the company recently revealed its drawings for a condo building and an apartment building.
Besides JBG, many new developers are including grocery stores in areas that have long suffered a lack of good grocery options. The forthcoming Giant at 7th & P Streets will become our closest supermarket when it reopens next year. If the proposed Harris Teeter ever gets built, it will be the second closest supermarket to LeDroit Park:
|Giant (opening 2013)||7th & P Streets NW||0.6|
|Harris Teeter (proposed)||Florida & Sherman Avenues NW||0.7|
|Trader Joe’s (opening 2014)||14th & U Streets NW||0.9|
|Safeway||5th & L Streets NW||0.9|
|Harris Teeter||1st & M Streets NE||1.0|
|Whole Foods||1400 blk. P Street NW||1.1|
But wasn’t Howard Town Center, about a block away, supposed to include a grocery store? The proximity of a Harris Teeter might scare off a competitor from signing on with the still-unbuilt Howard Town Center. This could further delay the long-stalled project.
Developers like to have leases signed before construction since the leases show investors and lenders that the project will produce an income to repay the loans. For some development proposals, the lack of a lease can scuttle the project entirely.
JBG’s announcement of its agreement with Harris Teeter is somewhat unusual. National grocery chains typically keep their prospective sites secret. That JBG announced the agreement without even controlling the land is unusual.
Another interesting twist to the case is that the District used to own the Howard Town Center site and Howard used to own the parking lot JBG wants to buy. The District and the university swapped the properties many years ago out of convenience to each other. How ironic it would be if the government-owned site is the site that gets redeveloped faster.
The LeDroit Park Civic Association will meet tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 22 at 7 pm in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church.
Tomorrow’s agenda includes the election of officers, an update on the JBG development for the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida Avenue, and a public safety update.
Please remember that only paid members may vote for officers or any civic association motion, so be sure to bring your $15 if you need renew your household’s membership.
The JBG apartment project on the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida Avenue NW moved forward last week when the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) gave partial approval to the project. The modernist design will likely have to endure a few more refinements before the board grants its final approval for the site.
Building alterations, additions, demolitions, and construction in historic districts are subject to review by the Historic Preservation Review Board. Since the site sits in the U Street Historic District, it must also gain HPRB approval before it can receive building permits.
Though we are supporters of historic preservation, we can see why this extra level of review frustrates builders and property owners. The main problem is that historic review requires property owners, architects, and developers to adjust their designs based on subjective judgments of historic compatibility.
The historic review process is less predictable that the typical building process, which simply requires that a builder meet unambiguous zoning regulations and building codes. For instance, the JBG site is zoned C-2-B, which permits residential projects to rise to 65 feet or to rise to 70 feet if they include affordable housing.
Distances are easy and unambiguous measurements, but how does one determine if a proposed design is historically compatible?
As in most cases where subjectivity needs analysis, you can easily define the extreme cases. The Weaver Building (HUD’s headquarters) is undoubtedly incompatible with the Victorian rowhouse architecture of the U Street area. Likewise, a good number of preservationists despise projects that attempt precise replication of historic structures. The right answers lies somewhere between aping historic forms and shunnig them all together.
Modernism, a 20th century invention, can work well in historic districts if done right and Miller Hull has worked to refine its designs to pass HPRB muster.
Though the HPRB asked for further refinement that will have to go to the board again, the board did support the design on six features so far:
- Relocation of the front, original section of 1933-35 9th Street to the southern portion of the site, adjacent to the row of similarly-sized and scaled historic buildings, and removal of the later rear additions
- Reconfiguration of the alley on the western parcel to exit on 9th Street
- Subdivision to allow lot combination on both the west and east sites
- Overall site organization of the new construction
- Height and massing along Florida Avenue
- General architectural direction, subject to further development and material selection.
Here are the concept designs the board reviewed when it reached this decision:
WMATA owns three vacant lots on the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida Avenue NW on the east end of the U Street corridor. The agency has just put the lots up for sale for the fourth time in 9 years. Judging by the brief sales window and by developer JBG’s previous hefty offer, we suspect the lots will be sold for a mixed-use development quite soon.
First let’s revisit this 9-year saga.
The agency acquired the lots decades ago to build the Green Line and the lots have remained vacant, save for weekend flea markets, ever since. The agency first tried to sell the lots in 2002 and tentatively set a deal with Howard University in 2003. The university already owns the lot occupied by the CVS and its surface parking lot on 7th Street between Florida Avenue and T Street NW.
Litigation brought that Howard deal to a halt and WMATA offered the lots again in 2007. Banneker Ventures LLC, infamous for its park contracts, won that round and aimed to lease the land for redevelopment into apartments and retail space.
Then came the recession and the agency lost patience with Banneker’s inability to get financing for the deal. Last year the WMATA board voted to end its engagement with Banneker and put the lots out for bids yet again.
U Street land barron JBG offered WMATA $11.5 million, by far the highest offer, to buy the lots. The agency recently determined that in Act 3, none of the bids were “technically compliant” and so no sale could be completed.
Now, nearly nine years after the agency first tried to dispose of the lots, WMATA is requesting sale offers again. These will be due May 2, leaving a 3-week window for offers. We assume (and hope) this fourth act is a formality so WMATA can properly sell the land to one of the third-round bidders.
* * *
WMATA parcels should be developed to include active, ground floor arts and retail with offices and residential above. Preference may be given to projects which include specialty restaurants, a small-format anchor and/or a cluster of retail shops, small clubs, and/or museum uses themed to the African American culture and experience of the district.
Furthermore, WMATA has requirements for design, too:
- Any building rising to the maximum permitted by-right height of 65 feet should provide a meaningful cornice at 65 feet. A one to one setback from the cornice should be provided for any building height above 65 feet (to a maximum of 90 feet) if requested through a planned unit development.
- Provide a minimum of 14’ ground level floor to finished ceiling clear height.
- Parking should be below grade. Please note that below grade parking will be limited by the presence of WMATA’s train tunnel directly below the Property
- All buildings are to be set directly on the front and side property lines.
The tops of the Green Line tunnels are about 30 feet below the surface, thus limiting the size of any underground garage. Since the lots are with within 900 feet of two metro stations, the parking demand for any project will be low.
WMATA’s requirements are good in that they mandate design features that create vibrant streets. Ground-floor retail (or cultural space) and the fact that the buildings will go up to the sidewalk are requirements that will enliven the sidewalk, especially at night. Prohibiting above-ground parking will prevent unsightly parking decks and will limit the ability for projects to induce car traffic.
We hope this last round will finally get these vacant lots into productive uses that enhance, rather than detract from, the area. With Progression Place and the Howard Theatre already in the works and with Howard Town Center just a few years off, these blocks are slated for some much-needed rejuvenation.