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Though some in the neighborhood prefer a lower-density alternative, the mayor’s office is backing a 10-story commercial/residential complex for the now-vacant city-owned Thompson Dairy site at 12th and U Streets NW. Like the proposal to build an office building on city land at 59 N St. NW, the development plan is an “unsolicited proposal” that—despite a competing scheme—doesn’t involve competitive bidding. The mayor has submitted the plan to the D.C. Council, and Council Chair Dave Clarke introduced it as legislation Dec. 5.
The “Lincoln Plaza” development —to be designed by architect Eric Colbert and developed by AMB Enterprises, a minority-owned corporation—would involve three linked structures to be built in phases. When completed, the project would include 369 one- and two-bedroom condominium apartments for “moderate income” residents, priced between $130,000 and $176,000. It would also have 6,386 square feet of retail space “that would be leased to jazz and blues establishments,” thus meeting the requirements of the “Uptown Arts District” zoning that means to recreate U Street’s glory days as black Washington’s entertainment strip.
The developer estimates that Lincoln Plaza will produce about $1.2 million in annual property and sales taxes for the District. AMB would also pay $650,000 for the land, but with a significant caveat: Because the property contains landfill that may be contaminated, the developer would reduce its purchase price “up to $649,999, based on the cost of any environmental remediation.” In other words, if the 57,644-square-foot parcel is a toxic nightmare, the city only gets a buck for it.
Assuming the city decides to sell AMB the land, there are few roadblocks: The scheme meets the existing zoning, and would require no variances or alley or street closings. It could, however, clash with a historic district currently being considered for the neighborhood; that possible conflict may explain why the project’s backers are in a hurry to get city approval.
Except for a small existing building at the corner of 11th and U, the structure and its courtyard would fill the entire square bounded by 11th, 12th, U, and V Streets NW. That’s too big for some potential neighbors, like local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Norman Wood, who prefers the alternative plan advanced last month by Peoples Involvement Corp. (PIC). It would yield a three- story complex with 19 town houses, nine condominium apartments, and three times as much office and retail space: 19,600 square feet.
“The density of the PIC project would fit U Street perfectly,” Wood says.
Town-Gown Debate Although he’s announced that he won’t run again for D.C. office, At-Large Councilmember John Ray hasn’t slipped back into his pro-development ways of old. Last week, he led the fight against a Comprehensive Plan provision, proposed by outgoing Ward 3 Councilmember Jim Nathanson, that would give the city less leverage over universities that violate their campus plans.
“We didn’t make a mistake,” insisted Ray, supporting the stronger provision, which was added to the plan by Nathanson himself just a few months ago. Ray was echoed by Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith, who cited Howard University’s aggressive expansionism: “We need all the law and regulation we can get,” he argued. Nathanson’s change prevailed, however, even if his own support for it was tepid. “My community gut says [the more stringent approach] is the way it should work,” he said, “but I’m afraid it won’t hold up [in court].”
Clarification This column last week misinterpreted the effect of the National Capital Planning Commission’s (NCPC) tie vote on the planned United States Secret Service (USSS) headquarters at 930 H St. NW. If the proposed development were private, the split decision would have ended the commission’s consideration. Since this is a federal project, however, it needs actual approval, not just a lack of disapproval, to proceed. According to NCPC General Counsel Sandy Shapiro, that means USSS will have to return to the commission to seek a majority vote in favor of the scheme.