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How much is a roughly 12-by-10-foot plot of dirt near Logan Circle worth nowadays?
Somewhere around $200,000, if it sits in the middle of a luxury apartment complex.
Until just a few weeks ago, it seemed no price was high enough for 64-year-old Tommy Robinson, whose family runs Monarch Novelties on 14th Street NW. Tommy held the title to a vacant slice of land that sat inside the future site of a 10-story, 292-unit apartment building called the Jefferson at Logan Circle. Tommy never sold his property to the developers of that building, who were forced to design and then build their project around him starting in February 2004 (“This Land Is My Land,” 3/11/2005).
For about a year and a half, Tommy sat on a bucket on his land as the rising building enveloped him, documenting with his camera any perceived invasions of his property by the construction crew. He guarded the land for about eight hours most weekdays, including during rain and snow. He and his brother William Robinson filed a suit in D.C. Superior Court seeking $10,000 in damages for each day of construction.
A Dec. 28 settlement ended the sit-off. All told, the Robinsons stand to rake in roughly $200,000 for transferring the plot and dropping their lawsuit.
Tommy packed up his bucket and ended his watch last July, when his lawsuit against the developers went to mediation and he was barred from the area. He said he doesn’t miss the long, often confrontational days at the construction site, where he and at least one worker engaged in a camera war to further their respective causes in court. “I haven’t been back there in months,” says Tommy.
A lawyer for the developers says his clients are gagged by a confidentiality agreement, and Tommy won’t discuss his feelings on the case. Asked if he felt the contract was fair, he responds, “We signed the thing, didn’t we?”
The Robinsons cashed in at more than $1,600 per square foot, a rate high enough to make any D.C. real-estate developer blush. Although neither side will discuss earlier negotiations, some workers at the site insist that the Robinsons’ settlement was in fact substantially smaller than what they’d originally been offered by the developers—a claim that would stand to reason, considering that the family’s bargaining power diminished greatly once developers decided to design the complex around their parcel.
As expensive as it proved for developers, the parking-space-sized lot appears to serve no major function for the apartment building. Perhaps the real value lies in knowing that Tommy won’t be able to camp there when owners of the Jefferson try to fill their apartments.
Before they start their marketing blitz, the developers will likely remove the last vestige of Tommy Robinson from his former land: four steel I-beams, which the Robinsons had installed in the ground in the mid-’90s to discourage would-be parkers. The beams still stand there today, and two of them bear what could have been Tommy’s motto: “NO TRESPASSING.”CP