Five major development projects in the District could undergo substantial changes or be forced to start from scratch as the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser reviews her predecessor’s selection of developers for the projects and new requirements for affordable housing.
Two highly anticipated projects could be under the greatest threat of revocation. A year ago, Mayor Vince Gray chose the Institute for Contemporary Expression to take over the vacant Franklin School building on 13th Street NW, with a promise that the crumbling facility would become an art museum. Now, however, the Bowser administration has pulled the land disposition agreement from the D.C. Council, where it was set to receive a vote, due to concerns over lackluster fundraising for the project. “They are nowhere near their goal,” says an administration official, “and there’s no reason to think that would change.”
The administration is calling for a full do-over for the Shaw project known as Parcel 42, at the corner of 7th Street NW and Rhode Island Avenue. In 2013, the Gray administration awarded the development rights to a team led by the Tensquare Group and Chapman Development. But last fall, Chapman left the team and was replaced by the Bozzuto Group—a change that has prompted the Bowser administration to vacate the award of the project due to “material changes” to the team, say administration officials. Because this is the third time a solicitation has gone out for that long-vacant site, the administration will review the issues with the project and then issue a new solicitation.
And on three other projects, the administration is putting the brakes on development to make sure that the affordable housing components of the projects conform to a new law, spearheaded by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, that requires an affordable component when city land is used for development. The law stipulates that 20 percent of housing units in new projects be set aside for households making under certain income levels, or 30 percent when the projects are near Metro stations or major bus lines—a far higher requirement than the 8 to 10 percent typically required for new projects under the city’s inclusionary zoning law. All three of these projects fall under the 30 percent requirement, and because their land disposition agreements have yet to be approved by the Council, the plans need to be reworked to conform to the law.
One of these projects is the former Grimke School near the U Street Metro station, for which Gray awarded development rights to Roadside Development on his last working day as mayor. The second was also awarded to Roadside: a parcel at 8th and O streets NW that was set to become retail and 70 residences. The third, at 965 Florida Avenue, has been the subject of contention since being awarded to MRP Realty and Ellis Development in 2013. The shape of that project is still up in the air, and MRP was planning to submit a plan to the Council on Feb. 5.
Administration officials presented these developments in a press briefing this morning. They requested anonymity to avoid making official statements on the projects before Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Brian Kenner starts work next week.
For the projects that need to be reworked to meet the affordable housing requirements, the administration hopes to renegotiate the deals to include the proper number of low- and moderate-income units. But one official says, “We always reserve the right to issue a new [request for proposals]” if no deal can be reached.
Roadside, ICE, and Tensquare did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Julie Chase, a spokeswoman for MRP, says MRP will be able to accommodate the changes at 965 Florida. “They completely support the goals of the mayor’s office for affordable housing and they will continue to work closely with the deputy mayor’s office,” she says. “They understand that there will be changes with that new law.”
Upon taking office, Bowser pledged to review the last-minute development awards made by Gray. These five projects may be just a start. Days before leaving office, Gray selected a master developer for the first phase of the massive St. Elizabeths project near Congress Heights. And in 2013, Gray chose a team led by Hines and Urban Atlantic to build a new community on the Walter Reed campus along upper Georgia Avenue NW. Both projects, say an administration official, are “under review” and could receive the same type of reworking later to which these five projects are now subject.
Renderings from DMPED, Ellis Development