Housing Complex

Walmart’s Coming to Skyland, Which Means Skyland Development Will Go Forward

At long last, Skyland has an anchor tenant.

At long last, Skyland has an anchor tenant.

From the start, there was doubt. Walmart wasn't planning to open a store at the Skyland Town Center, the perpetually in-the-works mega-development at the meeting point of Alabama Avenue and Naylor and Good Hope roads SE, until Mayor Vince Gray issued an ultimatum in 2011: Include a location in his home Ward 7 or forget about the rest of the planned stores in the District. Then, last year, when Walmart threatened to scrap three of its six planned D.C. locations if the city enacted a living-wage law, there was speculation that the company was simply looking for an excuse to can the stores it never really wanted to open in the first place. The entire Skyland project hung in the balance, with its developer saying it would be put on hold unless and until Walmart, the anchor tenant, signed on.

Gray vetoed the living-wage bill and plans for Walmart's stores were back on, except there was still no lease at Skyland. A year passed. More than 90 percent of the site has been demolished. Still no news on the Walmart lease.

Until today. Gray announced this morning that the Arkansas-based retail Giant has finally signed a lease for Skyland. The project—planned for over a decade, with $40 million in city investment—is back on.

And Gray, just 10 days before he leaves office, gets to celebrate a long-awaited economic spark on his home turf. "I am delighted," he said in a statement, "that Walmart has committed to opening a store in a neighborhood that has been underserved for too long.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

The Plexies: The Winners and Losers in D.C. Real Estate and Development in 2014


Each year, Housing Complex awards prizes for the best, worst, and weirdest in D.C. development in the past year. Between the mayoral race, the mega-stadium deal, and the 50-plus cranes dotting the skyline, there was enough action in 2014 to yield a whole lot of contenders for the awards. But here are the best of the best—the fourth annual Plexies.

The “Told You So” Award: Doug Jemal

Jemal won the 2011 Plexy for Ballsiest Move after dropping $20 million on the former Hecht Company Warehouse on New York Avenue NE. I was more than a little skeptical when he told me last year that the property would soon be worth $200 million and that the area would be D.C.’s Meatpacking District and “the coolest part of town.” How could Jemal attract top retailers to a long-vacant warehouse in a poor neighborhood with poor transit access? Fast forward to today. An organic grocery store has opened at Hecht’s. A gym is on the way, as are three restaurants from the owner of Logan Circle’s Ghibellina. Busboys and Poets is in negotiations to join the party. Maybe Jemal’s latest ballsy move—buying another long-vacant site just a little farther up New York Avenue—will look equally prescient in a few years.

Most Successful Neighborhood Activism: Anacostia

It’s rare for a big development proposal to go through without some degree of neighborhood opposition, but residents of Anacostia have been more successful than most in getting their way. Their first big boost came in late 2013, when historic preservation authorities agreed with them and rejected plans for a major redevelopment on the site known as Big K. (The Vince Gray administration later gave special approval to the project.) But their biggest triumph came over an unlikely foe: a public art installation. A seemingly random assortment of detritus in vacant storefront windows on Good Hope Road SE, part of the citywide 5x5 Project, stirred outrage among neighbors who thought the trash-like display would hinder community efforts to improve Anacostia’s reputation. Citing “the community reaction...that the work is not suited to the location,” the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities decided to remove it in September, then reversed course, before the fire department deemed it a hazard in October—possibly under political pressure—and ordered it dismantled. Now Anacostia residents, organized as the Concerned Citizens of Anacostia, have chosen their latest target: a big mixed-use development planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE that they consider architecturally unsuited to its surroundings. We’ll see if 2015 brings them as much success.

Best International Moneylender: China

If 2010 belonged to Qatar (whose sovereign wealth fund invested more than $600 million in CityCenterDC) and last year to South Korea (where a team of investors bought Georgetown’s Washington Harbour), then 2014 was China’s year. The Marriott Marquis next to the convention center and the Cambria Suites in Shaw both opened on May 1—financed in large part through the EB-5 program. The federal program grants green cards to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in American projects. The overwhelming majority of EB-5 participants, nationally and in D.C., come from China. And they’re funding projects under construction all across the city. There’s $65 million for the Hyatt Place in Southwest, $55 million for Skyland Town Center, and $39 million for a Hilton on New York Avenue NE, among other developments. Chinese investors don’t get a great return on investment, but they do get the truly coveted prize: permanent U.S. residency.

Best Homeless Advocate: Melvern Reid Read more The Plexies: The Winners and Losers in D.C. Real Estate and Development in 2014

Morning Links

trinidadD.C.'s hottest housing market in 2014: Mount Pleasant. [UrbanTurf]

Rent Adrian Fenty's old Crestwood home for $4,700 a month. [WBJ]

Fewer D.C.-area motorists are dying. Cyclists and pedestrians, not so much. [DCist]

Rich and poor people bike more than those in the middle. [GGW]

Demolition underway, L'Enfant Plaza begins its major overhaul. [SWTLQTC]

Got a question about D.C.? We'll answer it. [WCP]

Today on the market: Renovated corner house in Trinidad—$749,900

Appeals Court Upholds Homeless Families’ Right to Private Shelter

The city has already placed around 60 homeless families at the Days Inn on New York Avenue NE this winter for lack of other shelter space.

The city has already placed around 60 homeless families at the Days Inn on New York Avenue NE this winter for lack of other shelter space.

The D.C. Court of Appeals today affirmed homeless families' right to shelter in private rooms during freezing conditions, rejecting an effort by the city to overturn a similar court decision in March.

Last winter, amid an unforeseen spike in the number of homeless families seeking shelter, the city began placing some of those families in recreation centers, where they slept on cots in partitioned spaces, after the traditional shelters and supplemental motel rooms filled up. D.C. law requires the city to shelter homeless residents when temperatures drop below freezing, and stipulates that the shelter for families must be in private rooms. A group of homeless families placed in the rec centers sued, and a D.C. Superior Court judge sided with them in March, issuing a temporary restraining order and later a preliminary injunction that compelled the city to move them to more appropriate shelter.

The city appealed, and today the D.C. Court of Appeals rejected that appeal. The Vince Gray administration had challenged the right of the families to file the suit, and had questioned the reasoning of the D.C. Superior Court. "We disagree that the meaning of the entitlement-to-sue provision plainly precluded the homeless families' suit," writes associate judge Catharine Easterly in today's ruling. "Moreover, from our review of the statute as a whole and its legislative history, we conclude that the plaintiff families were empowered to sue in severe weather for the full measure of the statutory protections afforded them—protections which are an integral part of the Council's continuing effort to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of homeless families in the District."

Read more Appeals Court Upholds Homeless Families’ Right to Private Shelter

D.C. United, Buzzard Point-Area Neighbors Strike a Deal


Among the many hurdles to the successful completion of a deal to build a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point has been the attempt by D.C. United and neighbors of the stadium site to reach a community benefits agreement. Neighbors and organizers initially sought a package of community benefits that would total more than $5 million at the start, and potentially more over the ensuing decades, to fund job training, street improvements, housing preservation, and other projects. The team and city officials rejected the idea of such extensive (and expensive) benefits, leading Near SE/SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council coordinator Felicia Couts to call the response a "slap in the face."

Two months later, the two sides have reached a deal.

It's not quite what the neighbors requested. According to team spokesman Craig Stouffer, D.C. United has committed to continuing its soccer program at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, partnering with local organizations to distribute game tickets to local children, buying ads in the Southwester newspaper, and making the stadium available for community use three days a year. The team will also try to create a summer job program for teens and young adults and work on vendor partnerships for small businesses in the community, among other targets in the deal.

"In the end, I think we found different ways to help serve the needs of what they’re looking for," says Stouffer. "It was a process that we had to go through to make sure that we helped educate them on the kinds of things that were in our wheelhouse, the things D.C. United does best and can help with. We were trying to do things in that manner, rather than create things that weren't core to what D.C. United does."

Separately, as part of the broader stadium deal, the D.C. Council yesterday passed a package of community benefits from the city, providing funding for additional Circulator service, a renovation of the Randall Recreation Center, and a workforce intermediary for jobs connected to the stadium construction and related development.

Couts says that by separating the negotiations with the team and with the city, neighbors were able to get more of what they wanted. "We didn’t get everything we asked for, but we still were able to get some benefits from the District of Columbia, which I see as a win," she says. "Is it a big huge $5 million deal? No, not necessarily. But the aggregate of it is quite valuable in our eyes."

Read more D.C. United, Buzzard Point-Area Neighbors Strike a Deal

Real-Time Bus Arrival Info, Coming Soon to a Stop Near You

The real-time bus display in D.C.'s Chinatown

The real-time bus display in D.C.'s Chinatown

Put away your Next Bus app: Real-time bus arrival info is coming soon to a Metrobus stop near you.

Metro is currently installing signs at four D.C.-area bus stops that tell passengers how many minutes it will be before the next buses arrive. The beta-testing locations are at H and 7th streets NW in D.C., Viers Mill and Randolph roads in Montgomery County, the Pentagon Transit Center in Arlington County, and Silver Hill Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in Prince George’s County.

In the event of service disruptions, the displays can also show emergency messages, detour information, and detour advice.

The installation is being funded in part through a federal TIGER grant. If the four experimental displays are successful, Metro hopes to install up to 150 additional displays throughout the D.C. region this spring.

Photo via Metro

Morning Links

h stEverything you need to know about D.C. in 2014. [WCP]

The D.C. Council approves the D.C. United stadium deal... [LL]

...and the Hill East and 5th and I NW developments. [WBJ]

The Farragut "virtual tunnel" is a success; do we need more? [GGW]

A big-name partnership at the Old Post Office: Donald Trump and José Andrés. [Y&H]

A big-name partnership in D.C. real estate: JBG and CBRE. [WBJ]

Today on the market: Renovated house off H Street NE—$749,000

Water Testing Reveals Petroleum Contamination; Four Schools Closed (Updated)

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Some of DC Water's tests on the water in parts of Shaw and Logan Circle have come back positive for petroleum, and a Do Not Drink Advisory remains in effect.

After two reports of a petroleum smell in the water yesterday, DC Water issued an advisory against using water in the area shown on the map above for drinking, showering, washing dishes, and other purposes. The cause of the possible contamination was unknown. Four D.C. public schools were closed today due to the advisory.

DC Water crews flushed the water distribution system last night by running large amounts of water out of the fire hydrants in the affected area, and collected samples for laboratory testing. If the tests had concluded the flush was successful and the water supply wasn't contaminated, DC Water had hoped to lift the restrictions this afternoon.

D.C. Public Schools announced this morning on Twitter that four schools in the affected area will not open today. Cleveland, Garrison, and Seaton elementary schools are closed today, as is the Garnet-Patterson Campus of Duke Ellington High School. All Duke Ellington students will report to the school's Meyer Campus today. All other schools are open. Read more Water Testing Reveals Petroleum Contamination; Four Schools Closed (Updated)

If You Live in This Area, Don’t Drink the Water


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If you live within the blue area on the map above, avoid drinking your tap water unless you have a hankering for petroleum.

DC Water just issued a Do Not Drink Advisory for a portion of Shaw and Logan Circle, based on reports of a petroleum smell in the water. The water authority also cautions against using water to shower or bathe, brush teeth, or wash food within the affected area.

"We got two reports of a petroleum smell in the water," says DC Water spokesman John Lisle. "One came from Cleveland [Elementary] School on 8th Street NW, and the other was on the 1600 block of 13th Street."

DC Water and the District Department of the Environment are currently taking samples and assessing the water quality and the causes of the potential contamination.

"The most likely culprit would be some sort of cross-contamination," says Lisle. "The pipes are pressurized, and the water flows in one direction." But if the system malfunctions, it's possible for wastewater to enter the clean-water system, potentially with contaminants like petroleum. It's possible, Lisle says, that the situation is related to a water main break earlier today on 15th Street NW.

"If you notice a petroleum smell from your drinking water, please do not consume the water and do not use it for bathing or other hygiene activities," DC Water cautions in an email. "PLEASE NOTE: Skin and eye irritations may occur if water is used for bathing and other hygiene activities."

Read more If You Live in This Area, Don’t Drink the Water

Morning Links

deanwoodSo far this winter, D.C. has sheltered 59 homeless families at the Days Inn, and counting. [DCist]

Administration's plan calls for double the debt of Council's to fund stadium deal. [WBJ]

Troubled Howard University Hospital will partner with troubled United Medical Center. [Post]

How the Southeast Boulevard looks now, and how it could soon look. [JDLand]

Bike lanes coming to Florida Avenue NW near the 9:30 Club. [WashCycle]

GGW renames cycletracks. Now they're protected bikeways. [GGW]

Furnished micro-units are the boldest new concept of 2014. [UrbanTurf]

Today on the market: Deanwood rental property—$270,000