Housing Complex

Big K Plans Draw Jeers From Anacostia Crowd

01_Cedar Hill Flats-FI-08-28-13

The developer of Anacostia's Big K site unveiled plans last night to turn the unused property into a six-story, mixed-use, residential-retail building. And neighbors were none too pleased with what they saw.

A team led by Tim Chapman, the developer selected by the city to develop the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE property, described the future site as home to five stories of apartments, about 140 units, atop retail that will include a "tablecloth-style restaurant" as the anchor tenant and other "higher-end retail" along the lines of Starbucks. The design is "a commercial style of Italianate architecture," according to PGN Architects' Sean Pichon, with the appearance of several distinct buildings of varying heights from the outside that will be connected on the inside.

The two historic, vacant houses on the site will be moved several blocks away, from the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue to a city-owned parcel on the 1300 block of V Street SE.

The apartments, dubbed the Cedar Hill Flats, will be a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, offered to people making up to 60 percent of area median income. One-bedrooms will rent for between $1,149 and $1,189 a month, while two-bedrooms will be in the $1,300 range. The building will form a U shape around a courtyard.

Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry praised the project, saying it would help "transform Martin Luther King into a grand boulevard, at no one's expense." He said he'd have preferred ownership units rather than rental apartments—in keeping with his stand against new rental properties in Ward 8—but reiterated, "I support this project."

Few in the crowd at the Department of Housing and Community Development's Anacostia headquarters agreed with him.

"You think you can come in and give us any kind of bullshit?" shouted one man.

Greta Fuller, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Historic Anacostia, stood up as the question-and-answer session began and asked angrily why she wasn't given a chance to "speak for the community."

"I think that you blindsiding us with what you're going to do does not help us," she said, echoing a complaint several community members have made in letters they've sent me in the past few days, that the community has not had adequate input into the process.

Kelly tells me that this is not yet a fait accompli, and that the community will have further opportunity to provide suggestions after the Historic Preservation Review Board weighs in on the preservation elements of the project. He also says that the elements of the project that may seem out of character with the neighborhood now won't once other planned development projects in Anacostia get underway.

"Blink twice and it won't look surprising anymore," he says.

A rendering of the restored historic houses, moved to V Street SE.

A rendering of the restored historic houses, moved to V Street SE.

But Fuller argued that six-story buildings have no place in Anacostia, and she drew applause when she urged Chapman to reduce it to four or five stories. "You say that you're bringing historic character to our community, but that doesn't look anything like Anacostia," she said, gesturing at the rendering. "Is that... Columbia Heights?"

Fuller and other audience members also complained about the amount of affordable housing planned for the building, saying that Anacostia has enough low-income housing and needs more market-rate units. Chapman countered that the income cap for residents—about $43,000 a year for individual renters—is well above the neighborhood and Ward 8 average. "When the average apartment rents for $800, and we're renting apartments for $1,140, that's not low-income," he said, growing visibly frustrated with the heckling from the crowd.

Chapman's frustration appeared to grow when Stan Voudrie, a developer with Four Points who's active in Anacostia, suggested that maybe an office building would better serve the community at that location, even if a market study had found a residential building to be the "highest and best use" of the site. Chapman said the market study had concluded that without a presigned government tenant, he wouldn't be able to get financing for an office building.

"The last time we spoke, you wanted to be a partner in this deal," Chapman told Voudrie.

"I'd love to be a partner in this deal—" Voudrie began to say, before Chapman cut in, "I don't want you to be a partner in this deal."

The next step in the process is a public hearing before the Historic Preservation Review Board on Sept. 26.

Rendering from PGN Architects

  • GoldCoastKid

    of course it drew jeers. They complain about everything. I say just build the thing and tell those people to shut the F up. And for the record I am black and a DC native (that's for noodlez and all of the other idiots that post here regularly)

  • Lynn

    People complain about everything these days. I live in Bethesda and happen to be a DC native. People complain in Bethesda too. Who cares if you are black -- that has nothing to do with the issue. In a democracy, people are allowed to complain.

  • NE John

    Sounds like the same kind of bullshit complaints raised in opposition to the 901 Monroe Street project in Brookland. Cancel it and let them remain in the desert.

  • Will

    I think the building looks great. It's too bad it drew jeers. Clearly the single family homes need to be moved if MLK is going to be an appealing modern main street, so kudos to DC for committing to keep and renovate them, albeit a few blocks away.

    As a DC resident, I also have a stake in this development of public land (I also travel through the area regularly), and the city and developer have done a good job of shepherding a pretty compelling project to this stage. They shouldn't cut down the height at all, there are tons of tall buildings in the vicinity, some starkly popping out of the forest (Naylor Gardens) and others being overshadowed by hillsides (Stanton Apts), it will all feel fine when people aren't critically focusing on it.

    As for the affordable component, it just shows what a farce the whole affordable housing system is. The AMI is based on the region, and we know that most households in Anacostia are earning something like 35 - 50% AMI, so when the developer comes in and says there will be affordable housing to win his gold star, using the 60% threshold puts it at the very top of the Anacostia market! Ridiculous, and all the informed parties know it, they're just using the housing NewSpeak to pat themselves on the back, and it looks like it kind of backfired on them. To paraphrase a wise man, "[affordable housing]... I do not think it means what you think it means".

  • J. Martin

    I live in Fair lawn which borders An a ostia. I say don't complain and let them build it. That place is an eye sore get rid of it and make it productive. Be a part of the process instead of trying to stifle it.

  • NE John

    No, they should cancel it and then let the elected idiots suffer the consequences. This is a long range "teaching" moment.

  • DC Guy

    Nice design, it fits with what is there and it is a good resolution to the dilapidated bungalos. Bringing new residents and new retail to the strip is a major improvement.

    Why are the residents complaining?

    Because they can.

  • histanares

    Why not have income-capped units mixed in with market-rate units? Isn't that urban development 101?

    As someone who's rooftop view will be blocked by a six-story building, I'm disappointed, but I see the writing on the wall about the future of my city view.

  • Carlene

    I'm a Historic Anacostia resident and I complain because why have a historic district when you can just do whatever you want with it. The front door on my little home was not in compliance historically and I changed it when I received complaints (6 panels instead of 4)...so I don't understand how a developer can just move the homes somewhere else, but keep the land on a historical site and do whatever they want with it. I moved to Anacostia with hopes that the historical character of the neighborhood would be preserved alongside of development. I enjoy walking through economically vibrant yet historical communities like Old Town Alexandria and would like to see that East of the River. Historic Anacostia has that potential and I think people are looking for a quick fix financially versus taking their time to develop something unique.

  • Mes

    Anacostia, and MLK Blvd need more businesses for it to be "grand" not crappy cookie cutter apartments that have ruined other historic areas of the city.

  • SEis4ME

    Those who question why residents wouldnt be elated over the lack of input do so with the belief that the people who live there should be happy with whatever comes their way.

    Besides, its EOTR...not like anyone "there" would have legitimate concerns.

  • AnacostiaWatchDog

    Did someone say Plagarism? I bet you the community would love this proposal

    See slides 13-18

    http://www.peopleplandc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/June-9th-Big-K-Presentation-Anacostia.pdf

  • AnacostiaGuy

    If this were facebook I would "Double Like" Carlene's comments. You can tell she is one who actually lives in the neighborhood and can feel the potential of this site!

  • ComeOn!

    Again, you can tell that most of the folks don't live in Anacostia and have never even driven to the neighborhood. This site as a ton of potential and what was present last night was wack and lazy! This proves my point that the city is loosing its imagination when it comes to development and wants to make everything the same = Office Space on top, with Retail on the bottom....BORING!

    I think if the Office of Planning gets involved and uses it creative thinking, the neighborhood can experience something awesome. DHCD has no imagination!

  • DC’s Baby

    I think it's beautiful and is DESPERATELY needed on this stretch of MLK. And Yes Fuller, it looks like a building in Columbia Heights or Brookland and last time I checked those areas are quite vibrant, unlike Anacostia. With that being said, the design still fits in with overall character of the neighborhood. If anything it will make it better. Who would be opposed to that? Oh, I forgot...folks who don't want change. Also where was all this fervor when they built that God-awful Salvation Army building or that new-aged medical building across the street? Was it because they were bringing social services to the neighborhood so the commissioner(s) overlooked it? I'm in agreement with Councilmember Barry on this one. Time to move Anacostia FORWARD!!!

  • WStreet

    I also am an Anacostia resident who understands development and economics (I know, Anacostia doesn't have educated people... right...). I agree with Carlene. We are trying to develop a commercial corridor on MLK and Good Hope. You can't do that with low income housing on the commercial strip. It makes no sense. As a matter of fact, the neighborhood provided its input via a survey, of which none of the feedback made it into the developer's proposal. The developer is looking for profit only, and does not care about the neighborhood and its future. That's where we draw the line. Anacostia is going to blossom, but its going to happen as WE THE RESIDENTS AND HOME OWNERS want it to and not as some profiteering developer wants. Until developers come wanting to be partners with our community, we will not accept them.

    Victor McFarlane worked for two years to become a partner with the community to build a development plan for Poplar point, and everyone was on board. But then Fenty killed the project just to give it away to some outsiders who "borrowed" McFarlane's design and then they pulled out citing the economy. So much for the Government looking out for our interests...

  • LTW

    This project should include mixed income not just more low income properties. How is the neighborhood ever going to attract more retail if we don't have housing for middle income people to purchase? This is a historic district for a reason. Stop taking away historic properties because it's the cheaper way to do things.

  • DC Guy

    Comparing Historic Anacostia to Historic Old Town Alexandria is a red herring. Alexandria is many times the size and residential density. Hence there are people who can live and work there, making a vibrant 18 hour streetscape.

    Until there is more residential density in Anacostia to support retail, the neighborhood is going to be faced with the same challenges it has been dealing with for the past 40 years.

    Either residents will be foresighted and see where there is investment and opportunity, or else it can remain the sleepy, underutilized community that exists today. Sounds like Ms. Fuller and others would prefer the status quo, which is a shame, because there is so much positive to embrace in both historic Anacostia and Ward 8 in general.

  • City Planner

    Yes, Anacostia needs more density to be able to support the retail it needs...but it also needs some quality planning to design the future of the neighborhood. Right now there is no vision from the District Gov't to make this happen so thats why you get lazy lack-luster development that was presented last night.

    I don't live in Anacostia, but I visit the neighborhood often. The Community needs to lead the conversation on development and the district government should work closely with them to guide it. DHCD has no vision. If it did they would consider purchasing all the property on that single block. There are several historic homes on that square block. Building a six story bldg all in the name of density would destroy the potential of the other houses.

    The community is right to be in oposition b/c this site is in the center of the neighborhood and what ever is built there will guide future development. DHCD hit the pause button, press re-wind and re-issue the RFP. You would do a huge favor for yourselves and community.

  • Objective Observer

    I was at the meeting last night. A few observations:

    1. Original Request For Proposal

    When the city sought community feedback about what should go into the RFP the community explicitly stated no residential units, retail, and maintaining the historic integrity of the neigborhood.

    2. Contract Bids

    The city only received one bid (Chapman) on the original RFP. This RFP specified renovating and making use of the historic homes where they stood.

    3. Revised RFP

    Somewhere outside the realm of direct community involvement the RFP changed to allow the buildings to be moved to another location clearing the way for a large development.

    4. No new Bids Allowed

    Despite the substantive change in the RFP there was no new bidding period granted. According to a city official who was a panelist at the meeting no new bidding period was granted because after a consultation with the DC Attorneys office it was decided that the change was not significant enough to necessitate new bidding.

    5. Actual Development

    140 units of low income housing. No residents who make over 40k can rent in the building. The units rent for about 1200.

    6. Financing

    Chapman stated the endeavor would not be profitable without Federal tax credits granted for making the unit 100% low income.

    7. Analysis

    The RFP and actual development is completely different. The communities wishes for non residential units were ignored and probably doomed from the beginning. One wonders if Chapman ever had intentions of fulfilling the original RFP. He had to know the project would not be profitable without tax credits necessitating housing, low income housing at that. However one feels about the development the process for community stakeholders has been unfair and if not illegal, an indictment on elected leaders.

    Further, Chapmans comment about the apartments rent precluding it from being low income is untrue. 1200 is high rent for someone making 40k a year. In practice the only people below the income max who will be able to move in are people who have government assistance in paying rent or section 8 tenants who make way below 40k as a single person. These are not people who traditionally can support retail. Nor are they new residents. Most likely the tenants there will be displaced Berry Farm residents.

    Chapman said without the tax credit for low income its not profitable. However Sheridan station had market rate units which sold and is a model of mixed income usage. Cedar flats is a step backwards in that regard and it begs the question how can sheridan station pull it off but cedar flats which is in a more desirable location cannot.

    Also the construction is very tall and does not resemble any of the architecture in the area. The homes moved also do not fit within the aspirations on the historic community. Legally a hearing should be granted on the matter before a final decision is made and residents should push for one.

    8. Additional Commentary

    The meeting was a mess. The community needs more organization to effectively fight unwanted development. Chapman is not a bad guy, he is a developer. He would build a veiny dildo if it made him money and could get past zoning and that's not to say it wouldn't be a well built one. A lot of the concerns voiced at the meeting are better directed at elected officials imo.

  • Darin

    As a general matter, I don't mind the building or the general concept of mixed-income developments- I will be moving to one in a few months. My question is how will the developer attract the higher-end retail he wants when the building houses tenants whose incomes are capped at 60%of AMI? Would Starbucks really find that demographic financially attractive? Does it have to have such a low cap? Why not cap out at 80%? Wouldn't you attract a more diverse (and professional tenant population) if you raised the cap?

  • Darin

    I didn't see Objective Observer's comments before I posted. His/Her comments answer a lot of the questions I had (some of which I didn't post). I am moving to Sheridan Station and wonder why this development can't be more like Sheridan Station. I intend to voice my concerns to our elected officials. Barry supports this development as it is? Why?

  • Objective Observer

    I think Barry supports it because it is politically expedient. He represents all of Ward 8. His main constituents are not the younger educated black and white people buying homes in historic anacostia. They are the people in berry farms and other areas of the ward. I'm sure he'd prefer homeowners, but he also does not want his constituents displaced which would lead to his ouster. To his credit, he appeared at the meeting and stayed the whole time despite it being apparent from teeth sucking and peanut gallery commentary that not many people there liked him.

    Also I neglected to mention the market analysis which was the basis of the developments funding and ultimate direction was published in 2011 and probably contains info from before then. Undoubtedly Anacostia is better off and probably could support more mixed income and retail now than a few years ago while in the depth of the recession.

  • sbc

    All this worrying about market rate v. 60% of AMI is silly. $1100 1 bedrooms in Anacostia ARE market rate if not more. There aren't a whole bunch of rich people champing at the bit to move there right now.

  • Objective Observer

    Touche sbc! Only nothing about capping income is market no matter how you play with semantics.

    Also there is some nice middle ground between 60 percent ami and the rich people you reference who may not be chomping at the bit to move to Anacostia but may be pioneering enough if not for this cap. To say nothing of those enthusiastic to move to Anacostia like our friend Darin up above.

    But I think you raise an interesting point that deserves discussion. Say the market can't support market rate units and retail? Honestly no one really knows that answer as the last study was done years ago during a recession which hit the area particularly hard.

    At the meeting there were a lot of suggestions about what should be put in that very desirable location should Anacastia really revitalize. However, no one mentioned what may be the most viable alternative. Leave the spot empty.

    If market can't support what the community envisions for itself wait until it can instead of mortgaging the future by using government dole to half heartedly develop a strategic location in any future development of the area. I think alot of the residents were frustrated because they believe it sets the community on the wrong path. Instead of diversifying with mixed income the development concentrates more poverty. And as sheridan station shows its not necessary, mixed income can work.

    Additionally a community should reflect the aspirations of its residents to some degree and not be completely hijacked by outside monied interests. However you feel about the development whatever backroom shennanigans took place to foster this deal do not in the least represent the communities vision and that is enough to be a "big deal" whether you are for the development or not.

  • http://ruseriousingme.blogspot.com/2012/04/prince-georges-pinkskins.html ruSERIOUSINGme

    @ Objective Observer - One note of clarification: The market study referenced was done in May 2013. http://dhcd.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dhcd/publication/attachments/Big%20K%20Highest%20and%20Best%20Use%20Study.pdf

    You may be looking at the Commercial Market Analysis DHCD commissioned a few years ago, which is different from the new market study the developer used to determine the "Highest and Best Use"

  • SW,DC

    I don't live in Anacostia, but like many other readers I frequent the neighborhood and really enjoy it and see it's potential. I admire the neighborhood feel of the area. But I am torn - to keep the historic, calm, neighborhood vibe AND spur development is going to be tricky. One will have to bend to the other, and in this case, as bad as Anacostia needs life, I say build it. With that being said though, I think the developer owe it to the residents to not only listen to, but use their input in the development. And on the flip side I think the residents need to work with the developers to get the wheels rolling. Because if nothing happens... well you see what you are left with...

  • tim

    People are complaining about 6 stories as TOO TALL??

    When we periodically have the height limit debate, supporters always trot tout out Paris. Paris shows a world class city doesn't need skyscrapers. DC should model itself on a European model.

    Then somebody comes along a proposes a Parisian-style 6-story and it's attacked as too tall.

    So we can't have a dense mixed-use downtown like Chicago or San Francisco and we can't have the consistent density like Paris or Berlin? Sort of sounds like a recipe for more suburban sprawl.

  • Objective Observer

    Thank you ruSERIOUSINGme. I am going to take a gander. An updated market study certainly could alter the terms of the debate. If the earlier study and the later one are very similar it might undercut some of the community's arguments about a hotel or office space. However, I don't see it changing the calculus for mixed income much especially considering Sheridan Station found buyers at market.

    Several people at the meeting complained about not having access to the study. I assume this is the one they were referencing.

    @Tim
    At least from my vantage, height seemed like a secondary concern. The primary issue that really seemed to upset people was the all low income provision. Height and historical integrity will rear its head however because legally, if it comes to that, its their best shot at stopping the development.

  • Tyro

    Then somebody comes along a proposes a Parisian-style 6-story and it's attacked as too tall.

    DC is more of a sleepy southern town than Paris, and its residents' aspirations are more about having suburban single-family homes than living in a city with active retail and commercial activity.

  • Pingback: The Wal-Mart debate jumps the shark

  • Objective Observer

    I just looked at the developers study.

    I can only assume the conclusions it drew are based on data from the earlier 2011 study. I didn't see any new data regarding income and demographics. If that's the case the new market study could be based on inaccurate information and updated data might alter the 2013 analysis.

    2011 Commercial Market Analysis if anyone's interested:

    http://dhcd.dev.dc.gov/dhcd/frames.asp?doc=/dhcd/lib/dhcd/pdf/Final_Anacostia_ Commercial_Market_Analysis.pdf

  • G

    The writer never mentioned anything about historic district regulations....never mentioned anything about the RFP being totally rewritten and no other developers allowed to bid

  • Objective Observer

    @G

    It's always funny having first hand knowledge of something then reading how it is reported in the press. Often it makes me wonder about news I read where I do not have first hand knowledge and how comprehensive that news may or may not be. I tend to forgive reporters because they often lack background information and have deadlines. This story is curious in what its missing and what it highlights however. Especially considering everything you referenced was discussed at the meeting. Writer just had to report it. I guess the feud between Voudrie and Chapman is more newsworthy? It was one of the more entertaining moments, I must admit.

  • Fred Douglass

    @Objective Observer -- can you explain how the community can push for a hearing even though their Councilmember stated he was in favor of the development?

  • Objective Observer

    @ Fred Douglass please find legal precedent for a public hearing when historic buildings are removed or demolished below. Pay attention to footnote 24 in the second paragraph.

    Dupont Circle, 455 A.2d at 419, 421-22 (association of resident property owners in Dupont Circle HistoricDistrict had standing, where association alleged that proposed building design would harm character ofhistoric district)

    [24] We note that in drafting this legislation the City Council chose to separate the treatment of permit applications for new construction from those which seek to demolish, alter or modify existing structures within a historic area. This distinction is mirrored in the "Presumption of Issuance"....it appears to us that there is an inherent logic in mandating the scrutiny, provided by a public hearing, of a permit application which seeks to remove or change a building or buildings within ahistoric district. Presumably, demolition of a building will permanently alter a portion of the very reason for which an area has been deemed a historic district.

  • Objective Observer

    I am uncertain if a hearing has already been held on the matter. Maybe someone whose been following this longer can chime in.

  • SEis4ME

    Enjoying ObjObs commentary here.

    I also imagine the story was written in the manner it was to elicit the commentary found at the start of the posts...none of whom seem to live in the area whose residents they criticize.

  • Objective Observer

    @SEis4ME

    Thanks

    @Fred Douglass

    I want to further clarify the case law and citation I gave you. I do not know if Chapman has gotten a permit to move the structures yet. If he has not the community must request hearing during thay process if one is not granted. If he has the community should still request one and if it is denied go through the courts to get one because that would be a due process violation. If he has gotten a permit and a hearing has already been granted it may be too late.

    If the community does get a hearing it is very important they focus on historic integrity. Not low income or office space etc... May want to find minutes from hearings or court cases with similar circumstances where the historic community received favorable dispositions and use their arguments to supplement and help inform the community's. May even want to form a community organization and retain zoning counsel, there may be an attorney that takes the communitys case pro bono.

    From what I saw at the meeting the community needs more organization.

  • Fearing Dystopia

    What is underway with "Cedar Flats" is all too typical of how residential neighborhoods fare when various city agencies take an active hand in how new development will be integrated into the existing built environment.

    I do not wish to fault city staff in either the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development or the Development Review function of the Office of Planning. I do think it is appropriate to point out that all of these decision makers can reliably anticipate that developers will eventually be bringing flocks of specialized development lawyers into the process and community interests will not.

    That being the case, it is not surprising that the somewhat opaque thinking behind what these agencies propose or approve often seems to end up supporting the interests of the developer.

    Recently informal community groups in Brookland and in Capitol Hill begged and borrowed the money to sue the Zoning Commission, ODMED, and the developers over decisions to permit the construction of too large, too looming, too architecturally anomalous, too close to the sidewalk Planned Unit Developments (PUDs)in their respective neighborhoods. Both suits slowed down the projects and thus cost the developers money, but in terms of outcome, the people who could afford to keep paying lawyers until the cows come home largely prevailed.

    Until there is the equivalent of a "people's counsel" at the disposal of private citizens who wish to help shape new development in their communities, the developers will continue to prevail. OP staff will continue to argue blandly that a 65-foot tall building is a terrific buffer between a 70-foot building and a group of 25-foot bungalows across the street, because all challenges will come from the developer's team.

    Something has been broken here for a long time. It affects rich and poor neighborhoods alike in all parts of the city, and it requires all of our attention.

  • Objective Observer

    @fearing dystopia

    Wow. A dose of reality.

  • Chatham

    "Enjoying ObjObs commentary here."

    Same here. Much better than the original article.

  • Objective Observer

    As the article noted there indeed is a hearing before the Historic Preservation Review Board on September 26th to determine whether moving the historic homes can be moved. At the end of the meeting someone who has worked with them gave a stump speech about how they rubber stamp what's brought before them. I don't know if that is true.

    If you look on the notice the community can delay a ruling at the request of the affected areas Area Neigborhood Commissioner for "lack of information". Might be the community's best bet to regroup and come up with some cogent and focused arguments against the development. Might want to start digging through the minutes looking for effective arguments and which board members are sympathetic. Also showing up in numbers as well, speaking in one voice in as much as that is possible. This is last ditch.

    http://planning.dc.gov/DC/Planning/Historic+Preservation/About+HPO+&+HPRB/Who+We+Are/Historic+Preservation+Review+Board/Monthly+Public+Notice/HPRB+September+2013/Notice+of+Meeting+and+Public+Hearings,+September+26+and+October+3+2013

    @chatham
    Thanks. My heart went out to the community members when I was at the meeting. It seemed like a confluence of factors was making them voiceless in their own community. Quite unfair.

  • Jinx

    I have been following this for a while. It does seem like DHCD made representations to the community, and to other potential developers, about a vision for the block that was other than what has now been proposed.

    The city bought this property at a considerable price and paid considerably more for building stabilization and demolition. I think we ought to be asking how much the developer is paying us back for this property, and to what extent is the city backing the new construction financially?

    Further, what use will the developer or the city make of the moved buildings on a new site and what are the direct costs and opportunity costs (how much is that land worth) of putting them there?

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