A rendering of the project from Roadside and Sorg
A rendering of the project from Roadside and Sorg

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Shortly before leaving office, Mayor Vince Gray awarded development rights to several major projects in the District. Then came new Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s patented “top-to-bottom review.” She’s applied the term to just about every project under her purview, but in the development sphere, it’s become something of a death sentence. First, she scrapped the contract awarded to the Tensquare Group and Chapman Development to build on Shaw’s vacant Parcel 42. Then she nixed the planned Institute for Contemporary Expression on Franklin Square.

Among the other projects on the chopping block was the old Grimke School. The historic 1887 school building at 1923 Vermont Ave. NW and an adjacent parcel at 912 U St. NW went up for bids last June, and three teams submitted proposals. Days before handing his office over to Bowser, Gray picked a team of Roadside Development and Sorg Architects to redevelop the site.

Now Bowser has concluded her top-to-bottom review of the project, and like a Roman emperor giving a gladiator the thumbs up on a particularly lenient day, she has decided to leave the contract in the hands of Roadside and Sorg. But first she imposed a new condition: more affordable housing.

Under the agreement between the administration and the developers, the project will include three times as much affordable housing as originally planned, in order to comply with a new law requiring affordable housing in developments on city land. That’s in addition to a rebuilt African American Civil War Museum, 20,000 square feet of office space, 7,500 square feet of performing arts space, and 3,300 square feet of retail.

But the actual number of affordable units is still modest. Under the old proposal, four out of 44 units would have been restricted to residents making below a certain income threshold. Under the new agreement, 13 out of 42 units will be affordable. In the context of the hundreds of homeless families staying in motels on the city’s dime and the more than 40,000 households on the waiting list for housing assistance, it’s a small number, if still a boost from the earlier plan.

“I’m very encouraged that today’s announcement includes an expansion of affordable housing units from the previous administration’s plan,” Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau said in a statement. “Creating and maintaining affordable housing options is a top priority for residents of Ward 1. I look forward to the Grimke School becoming a permanent home for the African American Civil War Museum and a cultural destination for the community.”

This post has been updated to include a reference to the new affordable-housing law.

Rendering via the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development