City Paper Widget

Monday, December 1, 2014

9th & L Street PUD: "You'd Have an Attitude Too If It Were Your Money"

A committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle, the developers of a large parcel of land at 9th and L Streets NW, and various community members took a first crack at hammering out some sort of deal at its November 19 meeting. The deal would take the form of a Planned Unit Development (PUD), in which the developers would give money to certain community and school groups in the vicinity of the planned development. In return, the developers would be able to forego the long and uncertain process of applying to the DC government for many individual instances of zoning relief.

Artist's conception of the development (photo credit below)
It will be difficult to come to an agreement that pleases all parties, if the lengthy discussion at the last meeting of ANC2F's Community Development Committee (CDC) is any indication. From the summary of the meeting on ANC2F's website: "Several members of both the Committee and community rebuked what they felt was a closefisted $15,000 in financial support..."

The developers did not think they were closefisted. A leader of the development team -- Robert Knopf, Senior Vice-President of the Quadrangel Development Company -- said: "I think we've gone out of our way to accommodate everyone's request."

A few minutes later, a committee member told Knopf had an "argumentative attitude".

"You'd have an attitude too, if it were your money," Knopf shot back.

Jockeying for a piece of the PUD

PUDs are complex animals governed by a bewildering variety of laws, regulations, and customs. Lawyers get paid handsomely to understand them. My understanding, by comparison, is rudimentary.

However, I believe that the money or other benefits that developers are supposed to hand over to the community as part of a PUD are in theory supposed to defray or help repair damage that the proposed development will cause. For example, this development may render one or two small parks nearby (specifically, 10th Street Park and Samuel Gompers Park) less inviting during construction and more in need of cleaning up after the construction is finished. 

So, groups of "friends of" these parks came forward to ask for a contribution to upkeep and improvement as part of the PUD. At the meeting, a representative of the developers said that a group that supports one of the parks asked for an annual contribution of $500. The developers consulted with DC zoning officials and discovered they don't like open-ended commitments of money. So the developers are now offering a one-time payment of $2,500 to each park. The supporters of Samuel Gompers park have accepted the offer, the developers reported. But there was some confusing talk later in the meeting about whether this was really the case.

The developers seemed less enthusiastic about supporting other groups who wished to claim some PUD benefits. In one case, a community association in Logan Circle wished to get a contribution toward the maintenance of streetside tree boxes. Discussion at the meeting indicated the developers considered supporting this request until they discovered the tree boxes would not be anywhere near the site of the development, and therefore would not compensate for damage to the community. In at least one case, they said, the tree boxes to be beautified would be in front of a competing hotel. The developers cut this project out of its proposal.

Another group pursuing financial support from developers was from Thompson Elementary School (1200 L Street). This request seemed to greatly raise the ire of Robert Knopf of Quadrangle Development, because the school asked for $2,500 to fund a ski trip for the school. He said at the meeting that a ski trip was an inappropriate use of PUD money. Some members of the community reminded Knopf that some of the children who go to the school reside very near the site of the construction. In addition, the ski trip is a opportunity to get urban-dwelling kids out of the inner-city. Knopf gave no indication he was convinced by these arguments.

After much debate, CDC Chair Walt Cain (Commissioner for district 02) asked the developers to consider what was said at the meeting. He said the developers should come back with their "best and final offer", identify specifically what public benefits are on offer, and show comparisons with other projects with PUDs.

"We're giving you an opportunity to take the feedback and respond to the feedback," Cain said.

See explanations of the PUD process -- one by the U Street Neighborhood Association here and another by the blog Greater Greater Washington here.

This project has already cost developers more than anticipated (they said at this meeting) as they are obliged to partially salvage, renovate, and integrate a handful of historic buildings into the city-block wide development. The developers made an unsuccessful attempt to get permission to demolish one historically protected building on L Street. This was the subject of SALM blog posts on September 30, October 21, and October 28.

(Photo credit: from publicly-available documents of DC's Office of Planning. Please note that the image is not the latest iteration of the design, specifically, it does not include historic buildings that were originally slated to be torn down but now will be preserved.)

No comments:

Post a Comment