Shedding Light on Congress Heights’ Mysterious Development Project
In November, I wrote a column about the mysterious sale of a 59-lot site in Congress Heights at an auction. The neighborhood, south of Anacostia, is one of D.C.'s poorest and receives little attention or investment (although plans were released this week for a new residential building). And here was a substantial chunk of the neighborhood, auctioned off for just over $4 million to a man whose plans for the site were completely unknown.
Now we know more. A bit more.
The Congress Heights on the Rise blog spotted a press release announcing a $5 million loan for a Congress Heights project that sounded a lot like this one, which is called Congress Heights Vistas. The loan, the release stated, came from LYNK Capital, and was being issued to "Woodcrest Holdings, LLC which is a subsidiary of Capitol Real Estate Development, LLC."
Capitol Real Estate Development LLC has no Internet presence, and no LLC by that name is registered in the District. But Ben Lyons of LYNK confirmed that the project in question was indeed the Congress Heights Vistas site. LYNK, says Lyons, sees economic opportunity in the long-neglected neighborhood, especially now that the nearby St. Elizabeths redevelopment process is underway and Ballou High School across the street is being rebuilt.
"The conservative investors and the conservative lenders, it’s easy for them to avoid risk by certain economic demographics," says Lyons. "The key is that there’s money being spent and there’s revitalization happening all over that area."
Lyons pointed me to two leading players on the project: Mike Hughes of Blaco Construction, who declined to comment, and Roger Black, the man who won the auction for the property before becoming impossible to reach.
Today, I succeeded in reaching Black, who says he plans to build the project out as it was originally planned. The original developer of the site, UniDev, started construction in 2005 before running out of money and bailing on the project, leaving a work in progress. The Bernstein Companies picked it up and completed 18 townhouses and an additional eight stacked units in four houses before auctioning off the property. The plan is for a total of 94 units.
Black says the final product will be a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, although he's not sure how it will break down between the two. He saw value, he says, in Congress Heights that others may have overlooked. Asked if he'd like to elaborate, he says, "No, not really."
The plans, according to Black, are still evolving. But according to the LYNK press release, the developers will put the finishing touches on the 26 existing units as the first phase of the project before embarking on the remaining 68 homes in the second phase. Eventually, there will be 70 condominiums and 24 townhouses, with prices expected to be between $240,000 and $360,000.
Photo by Aaron Wiener