A Few Answers on the D.C.-JBG Disagreements Over 965 Florida Avenue
After the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development selected a team of MRP Realty and the Ellis Development Group over the JBG Companies, a DMPED spokeswoman told me there were three reasons the MRP-Ellis team was chosen. First, the team offered more affordable housing. Second, its proposal required a planned unit development (PUD) process because it didn't conform to existing zoning requirements, meaning that city agencies and the community would have greater input. And third, MRP-Ellis offered more money for the land than JBG.
Yesterday, JBG responded with concern over the city's reasoning. A company executive challenged all three reasons. On the first, he said, the city had it backwards: JBG offered 80 affordable units, to just 58 for MRP-Ellis. On the second, the city's solicitation expressed a preference for a plan that complied with the zoning regulations over one that would require a PUD. And on the third, because the JBG plan had more density, it would bring in greater tax revenue.
A city official with knowledge of the selection process called me last night to respond to these points. While JBG's proposal might have more affordable units, the official said, many of these are micro-units that are cheaper simply because they're smaller. As for the solicitation, it stated no preference for a matter-of-right development over a PUD—a fact I confirmed on a second read of the solicitation. And finally, MRP-Ellis offered the city much more money, "millions more."
In the latest stage of the back-and-forth, a JBG representative makes a couple of clarifications. Of the 80 affordable units in the company's plan, which are set aside for tenants capped at a range of 30 to 80 percent of area median income, 35 are micro-units. These micro-units are between 400 and 1,000 square feet and include studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom apartments. Because the city's guidelines on affordable housing don't specify size, these micro-units qualify—though you may quibble about their relative value as affordable housing.
On top of these units, JBG planned 195 market-rate micro-units, which would be about 20 percent smaller, and 20 percent cheaper, than typical apartments in the area. And JBG's plans for the adjacent parcel it owns included 21 affordable condos.
The JBG representative acknowledges that the city's solicitation did not in fact specify a preference for matter-of-right development, but because the JBG proposal complied with zoning and with existing neighborhood plans, it could have moved six to 12 months more quickly than the MRP-Ellis plan.
Update 7:10 p.m.: Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins issues a strongly worded statement defending his selection of MRP-Ellis and implying that JBG's proposal simply looked "good on paper," lacked "real" affordable housing, and might not be able to deliver on its promises, including a Harris Teeter supermarket. The full statement is below.
To begin, I want to thank you for your continued interest in the future economic development of your immediate community and the District of Columbia.
Our development proposal decisions are based on our analysis of the facts presented and the real prospect of economic opportunity for the affected community and the city, and not just on a “proposal” to provide certain amenities. In the final analysis, a proposal has to be backed by demonstrated viability and economic feasibility.
Accordingly, with regard to the 965 Florida Avenue NW Project, since MRP presented a development plan that will, among other benefits, (1) pay the District millions more dollars than the other bidder for District property, (2) create real affordable housing, (3) undertake a PUD approval process that will ensure responsible, predictable development, and (4) retain the ability to attract and secure a big grocer, the District decided that MRP's plan presented the most realistic opportunity for true economic enhancement to the community and the District.
To be clear, our decisions are based on a systematic, stringent economic analysis of the facts presented in each developer proposal and the real prospect of economic opportunity. Often, developer proposals are submitted that look “good on paper.” However, when subjected to diligent economic scrutiny, often-times, the developer’s ability to actually deliver their projected economic results is questionable.
Accordingly, given the major factors provided above, the District selected MRP. The District believes that MRP’s development proposal provides the best opportunity for the District and the community to realize real economic prosperity.
Victor L. Hoskins
Image courtesy of Ellis Development