City Paper Widget

Monday, March 3, 2014

1450 V Street (Portner Place): Tepid Endorsement by ANC1B

The vote was 2-1 in favor with five abstentions.

It was not a resounding vote of confidence for the proposal by Somerset Development Company to develop a two-part apartment complex on the current site of Portner Place apartments (1450 V Street NW). Portner Place abuts the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets) to Portner's east.

Eric Colbert presents
The Design Review Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street, meeting on February 26, was skeptical about the size of the building. In addition, a committee member said the project "implied segregation" because the 96 units of affordable housing would face V Street on the north side of the lot, while 270 units of market-rate housing would be in a building facing U Street on the south side of the lot. The two buildings would share a common wall but not a common entrance.

Nancy L. Hooff, Principal of Somerset Development Company, led the presentation team, which included architect Eric Colbert from Eric Colbert & Associates. They seek ANC1B endorsement of the project before they present to D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The project must go before the HPRB because it is located within the boundaries of the U Street Historic District.

Rich housing, poor housing

As it stands now, Portner Place is 48 units of Section 8 (i.e., low income) four-story garden apartments. It was built in 1978-79. It is located midblock between the Reeves Center on 14th Street and the Dunbar Apartments facing 15th Street.

Representatives of the tenants of Portner Place appeared at the meeting to confirm the tenants were on board for the renovation and understood the details. The tenants, it was reported, willingly gave up their rights under D.C. Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) so the project can move forward. As proposed, the eight-story, 70-foot-tall V Street apartment building will double the number of available affordable housing units. The units will be priced to be affordable for a family of four whose income is about $52,000 a year. 

The U Street side will be 11 stories, or 105 feet, high. There will be retail space on the ground floor of this side only, according to project drawings.

Each side will have separate underground parking -- 24 spaces on the V Street side, 172 spaces on the U Street side.

Committee unenthusiastic

The developers promised to find 48 housing units for the currently residents of Portner Place, to help them move, and to help them move back once the project is finished. They said they were currently looking at housing in Ward Four.

ANC Commissioner Tony Norman (district 10) was skeptical. 

"I don't know of a project yet where they've moved the residents and they've returned back," he said.

Norman and several other members of the committee disapproved of the height of the building.

"The height is a little bit worrying," said ANC Commissioner Zahra Jilani (district 12). Portner Place is in Jilani's ANC district.

The presenters pointed out that existing neighboring buildings were taller.

Another committee member worried about "implied segregation".

He said: "You have wonderful intentions but I have to sit to get used to that," meaning, the separation of the affordable and market-rate apartments.

Presenters defended their choice saying each building would have a different set of amenities for different types of tenants. For example, the affordable half would have a roof-top playground and a computer center for residents. They also said they had given residents several options and the tenants had agreed to this design. Tenants' representatives at the meeting confirmed this claim.

"We gave them all the options. They chose that option," Nancy Hooff said.

There was a motion to endorse the concept and massing, but not the detailed design, of the project. There were only two votes to endorse, but since there was only one "no" vote, the motion carried.

The project is scheduled for a hearing before the HPRB on March 28, the presenters reported. The presenters may have to appear before the Design Review committee again for endorsement of detailed design and then appear again before HPRB. They will likely have to request ANC endorsement of zoning variances and/or special exceptions as well.

Meanwhile, this recommendation will probably come up for approval by the full ANC at its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, March 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center.

The Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association (MHNA) heard a presentation from Colbert on Portner Place at its January 21 meeting. Details are available here. MHNA also posted the project's HPRB documents (including drawings and artist's conceptions of the buildings) online -- an 11-page .pdf available here.

The blog District Source has also reported this story.


  1. No more apartments. Please open some office space in teh neighborhood to create some foot traffic during the workday

  2. The Committee is not the ANC, which would have to have a quorum(at least six commissioners present at a public meeting) in order to do business. Outcome could be completely different.

  3. Jim Crow is alive in 2014! Wake up tenants, you are turning the clock back.

  4. The District generally requires that those units be spread around a building and identified ahead of time on building plans. Affordable units don't have to be located on the top floor — the point isn't to create subsidized penthouses, or to wrest from developers their most profitable real estate. But they can't be clustered on the bottom floor, either.
    In theory, this ensures that affordable units, for which the public has paid a price granting the developer some concessions, aren't just wedged next to the laundry room or the back door. But the hope is that less tangible benefits will emerge, too, in the interactions among residents of different backgrounds and income levels.
    Porter Place, wake up! Separate is never equal. If it was, it would NOT have to be separate! The tenants will get the short end. All of you have step on the faces of all the people and blood that was spilled for the 14th Amendment!