An Inauspicious Start for Columbia Heights Apartment Project
Last Thursday, residents of the blocks surrounding Carlos Rosario International Charter School on 11th Street between Girard and Harvard got wind of a potential new addition to the neighborhood: a Planned Unit Development (PUD) with two 60-foot-tall apartment buildings on what is now a parking lot, as well as an addition to the school. According to a notice of intent to file a zoning application, the towers would include affordable and senior housing, and require a zoning amendment to get around the area’s occupancy and height restrictions.
Almost immediately, a group of neighbors circulated a letter to area residents raising questions about the project’s impact on traffic, crime, property values, and “character.” Then, the issue hit Prince of Petworth and neighborhood listservs, giving rise to long, impassioned comment threads—much of which exhibit a sense of discomfort with the idea of building more affordable housing in the area. According to an email from the neighborhood group, Councilmember Jim Graham has "concerns about the presentation of the proposal." But little more information was forthcoming, officials from the Carlos Rosario School were unavailable, and Housing Complex’s calls to the lawyers listed on the notice were met with a “no comment.”
Then, this afternoon, the lawyers from Holland and Knight released this statement of contrition, which will be emailed to area residents:
We have heard from a number of you concerning the recent Notice of Intent which was distributed concerning a proposed planned unit development. As a result of the response, we are not proceeding further. We do want the opportunity to sit down and meet with you, either individually or in groups, to discuss your concerns with the school and its property so that areas of mutual interest may be addressed. We recognize that we should have engaged in substantive discussions with the neighborhood stakeholders before our lawyers sent out the legal notice.
According to community members, there was no notification or outreach to the community or local government before the notice was filed. Rosemary Akinmboni, the single member district ANC commissioner for that block, was unimpressed. “The person who is representing [the school] doesn’t know how to go about it,” she told Housing Complex. Now, Akimnboni said, the developers will not be doing anything until they have presented to ANC 1B—but they’re not yet on the agenda for next month’s meeting, which might mean waiting until June or even July.
So, what do we know? The land is owned by the city, but the school–which runs adult education programs for low-income immigrants–has a long-term lease. The architect is Shinberg.Levinas, which has done a number of projects in the DC area and tends towards the sleek and modern. The developer is listed as Community Capital Corporation, which as far as I can tell is based in South Carolina, a private 501(c)(3) organization that holds the school's lease. They’re going for a zoning category that's 20 feet higher than the surrounding houses—and they might not have anticipated what they were getting into.