Big K Plans Draw Jeers From Anacostia Crowd
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.
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