Housing Complex

A Few Answers on the D.C.-JBG Disagreements Over 965 Florida Avenue

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The winning proposal for 965 Florida Ave. NW.

The disagreements over the merits of the two proposals for development of a city-owned parcel at 965 Florida Ave. NW are far from resolved, but I have some more clarity on a few of the points of contention.

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

  • pat b

    best apartment i ever had in college was a 216 SF studio.
    Little kitchen, open floor plan, tiny little bathroom, but, i had some wonderful times there.

    Most americans used to live in very small apartments and houses prior to the 50's. and heck even prior to the 80's people lived in small houses. I look at the houses we had growing up in the chicago contact communities, they were small.

    But they were affordable to one income, they were walkable to the train, and it wasn't too hard to get to school.

    Whats' the point of a giant house where you need a giant car to get anywhere.

  • charlie

    What is the point of getting a higher bid if the bidder can't get financing, and once again turns to housing trust fund to get this project funded -- as they did last time. See Progression place.

    I agree the micro apartments don't make much sense except as, I don't know, housing for students. Of which there seems to be a lot next to a university.

    And you want a project to be delayed for 12-36 months though a public series of meetings?

    No sense.

  • Economist

    How much were they offering to give the community through the PUD? Why didn't the CityPaper supersleuth dig that up? I bet it was puny.

  • AP

    "Real affordable housing" as opposed to what, fake affordable housing?! Affordable housing is affordable housing. The District should be focused on the absolute number of units that will benefit the most people, not the size of the units. Beggers can't be choosers.

  • tntdc

    So Hoskins is saying MRP has a track record of timely delivering on their promises while JBG doesn't?

  • U Street Resident

    Please sign the petition below if you're a U Street resident who would like the Deputy Mayor to reconsider his decision to develop the JBG/ Harris Teeter at 965 Florida Ave. Thank you for your support.


  • Daniel

    DMPED did the right thing. A PUD will be better for the community.

  • Martin

    Many posts here sound like sour grapes from JBG.

    Area residents and businesses alike recognize that DMPED's choice of developer, using a systematic approach with an emphasis on maximum benefits for the community, is sound.

  • U Street Resident

    The response below from Councilmember Jim Graham:

    Dear Friends:

    I have been paying close attention to the dozens of emails objecting to the recent award of 965 Florida. I have carefully read the recent email from Mr. DeWitt as well as the statement by Deputy Mayor Hoskins (see below). I am also now responding (via Bcc’s) to my Ward 1 constituents who have written me. Thank you for writing me.

    I have rarely experienced in Ward 1 such a widespread and negative community reaction to a development decision. Clearly there are a great many neighborhood people who are disappointed and unhappy with the choice and justification that has been offered thus far.

    This is a major decision affecting the future of development in the eastern sector of Ward 1.

    I am also sensitive that the legal process requires a decision to be made at this stage by the Mayor and his advisors. I also know that this decision will, in the future, require Council approval. That would include the property disposition.

    But this does bring to mind the Foggy Bottom outcry to the initial decision by the Fenty administration to award the Stevens School contract in 2009. That Ward 2 property prompted the expression of strong views by my Council colleagues including CM Jack Evans and others. Ultimately, the following year, the award was vacated, in substantial part, on the grounds that there was so much community opposition.

    I appreciate the statement that has been issued by Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins.

    But, as a first step, I think more detailed explanation of the rationale for the decision is necessary.

    I am now requesting that detailed justification including documentation appropriate for release (not involving proprietary information) .

    Bests Councilmember Jim Graham

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