Housing Complex

Why Is St. Elizabeths Such a Snoozer?

A map of the first phase of development at St. Elizabeths. Five teams submitted proposals by the June deadline.

A map of the first phase of development at St. Elizabeths. Five teams submitted proposals by the June deadline.

The results are in: Five teams are officially interested in developing a key portion of the city-owned St. Elizabeths East Campus near the Congress Heights Metro. A couple of the firms have extensive experience east of the Anacostia River, but what's conspicuous is the lack of heavy-hitter development firms in the mix. Where are the likes of JBG, Akridge, Douglas Development, MRP, Hines, and Donatelli Development?

St. Elizabeths is one of the city's signature mega-development projects, a 183-acre Metro-accessible site full of lovely historic buildings that the city is hoping will transform neighboring Anacostia and Congress Heights with a mix of residences, offices, and retail. Compare its roster of small to mid-tier respondents to the nine firms that expressed interest in developing the Walter Reed site along Georgia Avenue NW, a list that include major players like Douglas, Hines, Roadside Development, Forest City, and Western Development.

So why didn't these firms bid on St. Elizabeths? There are a few reasons they chose to remain on the sidelines.

One is the city's mixed messages. The city initially issued a solicitation for developers of a portion of the site back in 2012, but rescinded it shortly thereafter and decided instead to begin with a search for an academic anchor. "We looked at it and considered it the first time it went out, but not this time," says a senior official at a leading D.C.-area development firm, who, like the other sources quoted here, was granted anonymity to speak freely about the project.

Just five days before the city released its solicitation for St. Elizabeths proposals—and six days before the mayoral primary—Mayor Vince Gray announced his plan to build a new hospital at St. Elizabeths. That surely sowed doubt among developers who may have been interested in St. Elizabeths. After all, the hospital was set to be located on some of the very land that was part of the city's March 31 solicitation for St. Elizabeths developers. (The D.C. Council later voted not to fund the hospital proposal.)

"Those [hospital] parcels are the most economically viable, with limited historical restrictions and adjacent to the Metro," says a D.C. Council aide. "Why would a busy development team submit a proposal when the availability during the response period of the most valuable land was iffy?"

Read more Why Is St. Elizabeths Such a Snoozer?

Update: That May Not Be Sewage on Kennedy Street NW, After All

kennedy 1

Update: D.C. officials said this morning that tests late last week showed the discharge is not sewage. See bottom of post for full update. The original post is below:

Residents of the area around Kennedy Street NW have been pushing hard recently to revitalize the once-bustling retail corridor. They've tried to attract investors who can bring new restaurants to the street. They've pressed members of the D.C. Council and the District Department of Transportation for streetscaping work to make Kennedy Street friendlier to pedestrians.

But there's still not much they can do about the raw sewage bubbling up from the ground.

Neighbors first noticed the stinky nuisance in early 2010, after the troubled apartment building at 809 Kennedy St. NW was demolished. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was notified of the problem in February 2010, when it issued its first fines to the property owner, Richard Deeds of Vienna, Va., for standing water and "an accumulation of human or animal waste or other filth." Deeds was fined $600 and given seven days to fix the problem, which he did not do, according to DCRA spokesman Matt Orlins.

So the city had to hire a contractor to excavate and pump the site. DCRA issued Deeds a special assessment for the cost of the work, which with interest came out to more than $58,000. Further assessments were issued, but the fees were never paid, says Orlins. And the problem came back.

Four years later, it's still plaguing Kennedy Street.

A group of neighbors bought a testing kit from a local hardware store and applied it to the sewage. They found, unsurprisingly, a high level of bacteria contamination, as well as a high pH. And so they once again tried to get the District government to address the problem, emailing every member of the D.C. Council.

"Our children are playing in the streets, our pets are walking through this sewage, we have an adjacent restaurant serving food with liquid sewage running down their sidewalk," neighbor Earl Biglow, who's led the campaign to get the sewage problem fixed, wrote in an email to councilmembers on July 7. "We are not living in a 3rd world country, we are in the nations capital, Kennedy Street is not 3rd World and our kids should not have to be running and playing in liquid sewage. A potential for diseases and sickness, this is a threat to our homes and our health."

Read more Update: That May Not Be Sewage on Kennedy Street NW, After All

Watch Metro’s 38 Years of Growth in This Interactive Timeline Map

metroTomorrow, for the first time since 1991, a new Metro line will open. In a sense, the start of passenger service on the first phase of the Silver Line isn't quite as momentous as the advent of the Green Line 23 years ago, since the former largely duplicates the Orange and Blue lines and the latter opened up impoverished and previously isolated sections of the city to the subway grid. But remember, when the Green Line opened, it initially had just three stations that hadn't been served by Metro, compared to the five the Silver Line will bring.

Don't quite have your Metro history straight? David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington has you covered. He created this interactive timeline of Metro's growth over the years. Watch the system grow, from its birth in 1976 to the Silver Line's opening tomorrow and eventual expansion:

Read more Watch Metro’s 38 Years of Growth in This Interactive Timeline Map

Morning Links

spring valleyAfter overhaul, tax lien sale brings in much less revenue. [WBJ]

Administration pushes developer to include nonresidential uses at Reeves Center replacement. [Post]

Now that Donald Trump's here, D.C. has finally arrived. [MarketWatch]

Logan Circle Station, and other Metro routes that never materialized. [GGW]

"Tiny houses" leader critiques Office of Planning's alley-camping proposal. [Boneyard Studios]

Photo: Eckington in a very different era. [Ghosts of DC]

D.C.'s tallest tower is not what you think. [GGW]

HPRB approves Museum of the Bible and Park View church conversion. [UrbanTurf]

This is what's replacing the Deep Throat parking garage. [Curbed]

One-fifth of D.C. homeowners are "equity rich," the opposite of underwater. [WBJ]

Today on the market: Spring Valley colonial—$950,000

Five Developers, But Few Heavy Hitters, Submit Proposals for St. Elizabeths Project

www.stelizabethseast.com wp content uploads 2014 03 RFP St Elizabeths East Phase I Master Dev.pdf

Five development teams have submitted proposals to kick off the reinvention of the former mental hospital at St. Elizabeths near Congress Heights, Interim Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Jeff Miller announced today.

There was some question as to the level of developer interest in the mega-project, which city officials hope will transform a neglected section of Ward 8 with a mix of residences, offices, retail, and community spaces. The city rescinded its initial request for developers after deciding that starting off the process with a search for academic anchors might make the remainder of the site more attractive to would-be developers.

Now it appears that the interest is there—to an extent. The five teams that submitted proposals don't include any major national developers, or any of the top developers of large-scale D.C. projects. These teams submitted proposals by the June 27 deadline, following the city's March 31 solicitation:

·         Anacostia Economic Development Corporation and Flaherty & Collins Development (Master Development Partners); Bob Geolas of Research Triangle Park Foundation (Innovation Advisor); and Scott Sklar of George Washington University (Academic Advisor)

·         Four Points LLC (Master Developer); The Warrenton Group (Residential); Capitol Services Management, Inc. (Academic and Innovation Manager); Consortium of Universities (Academic Advisor); Washington Business Group (Community Outreach and Small Business); and Congress Heights Main Streets (CDC) (Community Engagement & Workforce Training)

·         Partnership for Collaborative Innovation, which includes Thoron Capital (Managing Partner); Gordon Jones, Founding Director of the Harvard Innovation Lab (Innovation Partner); and Creative Opportunities Venture, Inc. (Community Partner)

·         Redbrick LMD (Master Developer); NVR, Inc. (Residential); Consortium of Universities and TenSquare LLC (Charter Schools), DC Innovates and Capital E (Academic and Innovation Partners)

·         St. Elizabeths Collaborative, which includes Friedman Capital Advisors (Master Developer) and NVR Inc. (Residential)

Read more Five Developers, But Few Heavy Hitters, Submit Proposals for St. Elizabeths Project

D.C. Housing: Not As Good an Investment As It May Seem


How often, in the past year or two, have you heard Washingtonians wish aloud that they'd bought a house back when they were cheap, around 2008 or 2009—or that they'd had the means to buy one? With the median single-family home in D.C. selling for $573,000 in April according to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer—and the average sale, pulled up by high-end properties, topping $749,000—homes are now out of reach for many District residents, and a top investment choice for the wistful time-travel set.

But how good an investment have home purchases really been in the past five years? Capital Market Appraisal crunched the numbers using data for the D.C. metro area from the S&P/Case-Shiller Washington, DC Home Price Index. The results are somewhat surprising.

Read more D.C. Housing: Not As Good an Investment As It May Seem

Morning Links

16thWatch D.C.'s bike lanes proliferate, starting on the Hill and extending to Northwest. [GGW]

Union Market developers spread their tentacles with new purchase. [WBJ]

D.C. is a food co-op desert. [OPinions]

Streetcars have arrived on H Street, for good. Still no opening date. [DCist]

Developer buys historic black church in Georgetown for residential conversion. [WJLA]

Here's what the city has planned for Buzzard Point. [SWTLQTC]

As the national housing market improves, affordable housing isn't keeping up. [CityLab]

Today on the market: 16th Street NW studio—$239,000

Uppers and Downers


Denis Suski gestures at his backyard, at the ample greenery and the picnic table and the two yellow hand-shaped chairs that match his house’s yellow back walls. “This is my concern,” he says, “is losing things like this.”

All around him, things like that are being lost, at least to the sun’s rays. Throughout his neighborhood of Lanier Heights, developers are buying up two-story townhouses and building an extra floor or two, additions that are known as pop-ups. They’re also extending the structures as far back as allowed, to within 15 feet of the property line, obliterating backyards in the process.

A few doors down from Suski in one direction is a house whose elderly owner died several years ago; the family sold it to a developer who converted it to four units, at a healthy profit. (The house sold in 2011 for $755,000; one condo unit in the renovated building sold earlier this year for $760,000.) A few doors down the other way is a deafening construction site, where a single-family home is being turned into eight units, taking full advantage of what was once the backyard.

Suski and like-minded neighbors, of course, aren’t concerned about other people’s backyards so much as their own, which stand to lose sunlight and airiness if they’re boxed in by these metastasizing condo conversions. And so in front of Suski’s house on Lanier Place NW, where he’s lived for seven years, stands a white yard sign bearing this exhortation: “Save our neighborhood. Support zoning reform. Stop pop-ups.”

Perhaps a third of Suski’s neighbors on Lanier Place, and many more around the neighborhood, have joined in the effort he spearheaded, displaying the same white signs. One on Suski’s block supplemented it with a two-page, text-heavy explainer on exactly how these expanding properties are destroying Lanier Heights. These neighbors advocate changing Lanier Heights’ zoning, or “downzoning,” from R-5-B to the more restrictive R-4, which would limit property owners’ ability to chop a house into multiple units or develop as much of a lot’s square footage, and prevent them from building higher than 40 feet, as opposed to the currently allowed 50.

But these aren’t the only signs cropping up in the neighborhood. Other front yards sport signs imploring “Save homeowner rights: Don’t downzone Lanier Heights” and “Lanier Heights needs to grow...up.”

Read more Uppers and Downers

Donald Trump’s Luxury Hotel Officially Breaks Ground


Heaped with praise from city and federal officials, Donald Trump officially broke ground this morning on his $200 million project to convert the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW into a luxury hotel.

"I promise you, this will be a great not only hotel, but economic development project," Trump proclaimed at the ceremony.

"Today, we're shovel-ready," said Trump's daughter and executive vice president Ivanka Trump. "Now the fun and the hard work begins."

The Trump International Hotel will feature 270 rooms that the Trumps say will be the largest in the District, averaging more than 600 square feet, with presidential suites of 3,500 and 5,000 square feet, in addition to a grand ballroom and meeting and event space. The Trumps hope to complete the hotel in time for the next presidential election in November 2016.

Executive Vice President Eric Trump, Donald Trump's son, says construction will begin "almost right away," and certainly within a month's time.

Mayor Vince Gray enthused about the economic benefits the hotel will bring the city, including an expected 700 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs, and $100 million in tax revenue over 10 years. "Not to be mercenary," he said, "but we look at those numbers every day."

Read more Donald Trump’s Luxury Hotel Officially Breaks Ground

Morning Links

deanwoodShould the city block multi-unit conversions when neighbors support them? [GGW]

Blagden Alley development hits a snag in historic preservation review. [UrbanTurf]

Howard University interim president is now Howard University president. [DCist]

This is what Anacostia revitalization looks like. [CHOTR]

Park View church-to-residential conversion, held up by historic status, gets zoning OK. [UrbanTurf]

The bicycle lobby strikes. [Streetsblog]

Today on the market: Deanwood 4BR house—$349,500