Housing Complex

NIMBY Rewards: Substation Instead of Housing at Friendship Heights Metro

When the news first broke that developer Akridge had sold its site at 5220 Wisconsin Avenue to Pepco, I withheld judgment, hoping that Pepco would find a way to incorporate some housing or retail into its contemplated substation. But the Examiner reports today that the worst is true: The site, where Akridge had planned a good-looking mixed-use project, will indeed become a single-use power generation facility. That doesn't speak well for the residents (and councilmember Kwame Brown) who bitterly opposed Akridge's plans.

  • Tom M.

    Uhmmm. A "substation" is part of the electical energy DISTRIBUTION system. It is Not a "power generation facility". Even when you cribbing from another source, you need to READ....

  • RT

    What an unbelievably bad use of utility-payer dollars? How can you justify $14.5MM for the land ALONE? Surely this can be put underground or in less pricey real estate??

    Something reeks of local residents on the Pepco board making this happen to scuttle the mixed-use project... Either that or pure incompetence.

  • JustMe

    I think this is a sign that we really need to "give up" on transit-oriented development and economic development around transit infrastructure.

    If you can't build significant mixed-use residential and retail development right on top of a metro station, then it's clear that we are culturally and politically too dysfunctional to handle this.

  • Sarah

    "NIMBY Rewards" may be clever spin, but didn't Akridge have regulatory approvals to proceed with their mixed-use PUD project? So why didn't they? Seems like the market went south on Akridge and/or PEPCO made an offer they couldn't refuse.

  • Stefano

    @Sarah: The NIMBY component comes in that the NIMBYs made the project dramatically more expensive, while reducing its size (and therefore income). Akridge may have had permits, but they were for a project with greatly reduced economic viability--recession or none.

    I hope that NIMBYs will learn of this case and understand that there can be a "moral hazard" to their completely unreasonable demands. If you reduce the value of a project sufficiently, it may become viable for "Lulu's" (Locally Unwanted Land Uses), which otherwise would be priced out.

  • JustMe

    I hope that NIMBYs will learn of this case

    Yes. They will learn that they can succeed in heading off these kinds of projects. They never wanted to "improve" the project. They wanted to kill it.

  • Michael

    @Stefano, The Akridge application was for a building of 118,125 square feet on 22,500 square feet of land, with a height of 79 feet, covering 100% of the site, including 70 housing units and ground floor retail. The application included 1.2 parking spaces for each housing unit, three visitor spaces, 2 car-sharing spaces and 15 retail spaces.

    The zoning grant was for a residential project with 60 to 70 units with ground floor retail, approximately 118,125 square feet of gross floor area, a maximum height of 79 feet, coving 100% of the lot. The zoning order included 1.2 parking spaces per housing unit, three visitor parking spaces, 2 car sharing spaces and 15 retail spaces.

    Exactly how was this a reduction in its size and therefore income?

  • rip off the rich

    Congrats to the idiots who headed off the development of a well placed not outrageous mixed use building a couple of years back. You will get what you deserve , 1 million megawatts of electrical "ZZZZ' noise and a the electro magnetic health impact that you so richly deserve. OY what a town

  • DC Guy

    I hope people like Marilyn Simon, who is quoted in the article, are happy with the pending blank wall substation instead of the "overwhelming" mixed-use building that was proposed.

    In this case, you get what you wish for.

    Sadly, DC residents lose, because of the lost income tax, retail tax and property tax income that the parcel would have generated.

    On the other hand, there should be plenty of street parking on Wisconsin Avenue there.

  • John Dollop

    For those of you that find this upsetting - look at what a select few Capitol Hill residents are trying to do with the transit oriented Hine School Project. Several residents are trying to stop the project because of concerns over density even though it is directly across from a Metro station. This is craziness...too many NIMBYS!

  • curious

    So what are the tax consequences for DC? Wouldn't the city benefit from property taxes on all those condos and retail as compared to a substation. It seems a terrible long-term consequence. Can't Pepco find someway to bury or hide the substation on that site and build on top? Or else develop the Wisconsin Ave. frontage for commercial/residential and put the substation on a piece of the bus garage lot. This does not bode well for the DC side of Friendship which has become THE destination shopping area for Maryland.

  • Sarah


    Michael seems to have hit the nail on the head. Your argument that regulatory review (even when the developer gets most of what it wants) is somehow "development-killing" reminds me of the simplistic right-wing arguments on Obama's "job killing" regulations (when, as even David Brooks writes in today's NY Times, Obama's approach has been moderate and balanced)

  • DC Guy

    I agree with Michael and Sarah - the NIMBYs didn't force the reduction of the project. Although, one has to admit that fighting over whether a building is five stories (matter of right) of seven stories (PUD) when the parcel is on top of a metro station, is silly. The problem with the NIMBYs in this case is that they dragged the proceedings on so long with minutia and appeals, that the developer found it to be untenable.

    They will deny that their appeals and delays impacted the project, but that is their own opinion. Others disagree.

    So at the end of the day, the friendship Heights neighborhood is left with the potential for a blank wall for the better part of 80 feet along what should have been a bustling retail strip.

    I can see the tumbleweeds now!

  • Michael

    @DC Guy, Your claim that the project was not developed as proposed due to appeals and delays has already been clearly rebutted in comments on the Nov 14 story on the Pepco purchase of the site. However, Akridge did, through its submission of flawed language – allowing renters to obtain residential parking permits -- cause an extra 2 month delay.

    As to your claim that the issue was simply whether it is a five-story project or a seven-story project, that is clearly inaccurate. The case was about whether it was appropriate to approve a building that was nearly triple what had been planned for that site, over 50% taller than allowed and occupying 100% of the land. However, none of the opponents objected to a zoning change that would have allowed ground floor retail, provided the scale of the project was appropriate to the site.

    This site currently sits between the existing Pepco substation and the back of the WMATA bus garage, which presents a long blank wall along with some bicycle lockers to the sidewalk.

    @rip off the rich, There actually is a Pepco substation next to the site. According to Pepco, that substation needs to be upgraded to meet increasing demand. Perhaps, the “smart growth” advocates see a future with constantly increasing density, but no need to upgrade the infrastructure, including the Pepco distribution system.

  • DC Guy

    I cannot speak for the smart growth advocates, but from a common sense standpoint, while infrastructure is obviously important, the placement doesn't need to be facing a major arterial on top of a metro station.

    Perhaps the Friendship Heights NIMBYs think otherwise?

  • DC Gal

    @Michel "However, Akridge did, through its submission of flawed language – allowing renters to obtain residential parking permits -- cause an extra 2 month delay."

    Renters are also residents :-) Restriction of residential parking on public streets to the subset of 'residents' who arrived first is a misguided attempt to placate the nimbys! It is not one's right to park in front of their house. Residential permit prices should reflect the cost of the benefit.

  • JustMe

    According to Pepco, that substation needs to be upgraded to meet increasing demand.

    The point of the development of increased retail and residences is to exploit the proximity to a metro station.

    This is an unmitigated disaster. If you can't build significant residential development on top of a multi-billion-dollar piece of mass transit infrastructure, then these transit expenditures have been for nothing, and we have to resign ourselves to increased car traffic, poor development patterns, and other infrastructure problems, all because DC is a politically dysfunctional culture.

  • Michael

    @DC Gal, As part of the PUD application, Akridge offered to stipulate that residents of the building would not be eligible for residential parking permits. When Holland & Knight submitted language to the Zoning Commission, the condition that they included was only that owners would not be eligible for residential parking permits, thereby allowing renters to obtain RPPs. They also left out a limit on the size of trucks that could use the loading facilities. The Zoning Commission used the language that they submitted, and the language did not reflect the condition that they had offered, a condition which is standard for the area and supported by all groups, including Ward 3 Vision. Correcting that language resulted in a two-month delay in the official approval.

    @DC Guy, Are you proposing that the existing substation be moved and expanded elsewhere? If so, where?

  • curious

    I agree with JustMe, but what can we do? Occupy PEPCO?

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    It is possible to have mixed use electric power infrastructure. There is a Pepco facility on the back side of 1628 L St. NW, which is an office building. Clearly the facility predated the building. I don't have a photo.

    On the 400 block of 8th St. NW there is power station infrastructure adjacent to other buildings, but it isn't mixed use -- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/298657459/

    In various places in the city, there is power distribution infrastructure duded up in art deco style buildings, such as at NJ Ave. NW and E Street. I'll have to try to get a photo some time when I am around there.

    It's not mixed use though. But the 1628 L St. NW building shows that it is possible.

  • Michael

    @Richard Layman, Pepco has not released any plans for this half-acre site. Some of the reactions above are based on speculation and a failure to recognize that power distribution infrastructure is found throughout the District, including some of the locations that you list which are also near transit.

    BTW, the existing Pepco substation, 5210 Wisconsin Avenue, is one of the ones you describe as “duded up in art deco style,” and it is connected to a BB&T Bank building to the south.

  • DC Guy


    I would propose something akin to what Richard Layman describes - place the substation at the rear of the property or underground and let the streetfront serve the purpose of being an active street front. I am not suggesting moving the existing substation, unless it is to combine it with the existing at the rear or the property or underground, thus potentially freeing up more potential street frontage for activation.