When R. Donahue Peebles pitched a development concept for a city-owned parcel at 5th and I streets NW, he framed it as a win for everyone involved. The Mount Vernon Triangle would get a luxury hotel, condos, retail, and a renovation of two small parks. The city would get more tax revenue than from the competing proposals—-plus Peebles offered the city $10 million more than the property’s appraised value. Peebles would maximize the value of the property by locating an affordable-housing component elsewhere, in Anacostia. And low-income residents would benefit from 61 units of affordable housing, much more than the seven units that would have been required at the 5th and I site through the inclusionary zoning law.
The city agreed, awarding the land to the prominent developer in May. Anacostia neighbors did not.
At a D.C. Council hearing yesterday, Peebles justified his decision to locate the affordable housing in a mixed-use building he’s constructing at 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, a site he has owned for decades. Simply building seven condos for low-income residents at the Mount Vernon Triangle site “wouldn’t move the needle at all in solving the affordable housing and workforce housing issue that we have in the District,” he argued. “I felt we’d get more bang for the dollar in Anacostia.”
He added,”I felt that bringing economic development activity and jobs east of the river would be a greater benefit to the District. … I felt that was socially and economically a better decision.”
But Anacostia residents have long complained that the city dumps low-income housing in their neighborhood, which already has an excess of it. They fought against the all-affordable Big K project on MLK, scoring an initial victory before the project was eventually approved. They’ve been contesting a Four Points development on the same street, which also consists mostly of income-restricted housing.
The Peebles project, to some, is an even bigger slap in the face, because it seems to send the explicit message that high-end development belongs west of the Anacostia River, while affordable housing can be shipped to Ward 8, where it’s cheaper to build.
Anacostia Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Greta Fuller complained at the hearing that no one reached out to residents about the project, and that her concerns went unheeded by Peebles. “Affordable Housing should be spread across every ward in the city and not just east of the river, especially Ward 8,” she testified. “This project limits the diverse housing types available in Ward 8, which needs and deserves market rate, mixed income and mixed use buildings. If this is project is allowed, it would further concentrate affordable in one quadrant of the city.”
Anacostia residents and workers took to Twitter during the hearing to air their grievances. Nikki Peele, Ward 8’s fiercest defender, who works in Anacostia and lives in neighboring Congress Heights, tweeted more than two dozen times during the hearing in opposition to the Peebles proposal. A sampling:
Wait a minute. Why not put low-income housing next to the hotel IN THIS PROJECT?! This is the foolishness I am talking about.— Nikki Peele (@TheAdvoc8te) December 9, 2014
If these developments are so awesome why can't we see any of them in Ward 8? How about SE gets the hotel & NW gets the low-income housing?— Nikki Peele (@TheAdvoc8te) December 9, 2014
God bless Anacostia residents for not falling for this. Now if we can get the council on board…— Nikki Peele (@TheAdvoc8te) December 9, 2014
You can't watch this hearing and not see how east of the river is always sacrificed for the needs of west of the river. 🙁— Nikki Peele (@TheAdvoc8te) December 9, 2014
And one Anacostia resident was so bummed by the hearing that he threatened to move:
Cannot listen more to the hearing. Will make me move out of lovely Anacostia. And DC— Dobromir (@DobromirV) December 9, 2014
The hearing, convened by Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, concluded with the promise of further study and debate. The Council needs to approve the sale of the 5th and I land before the development plans can go forward.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, this post initially stated that the Four Points project was entirely affordable housing. In fact, 14 of the 71 units will be market rate, without income restrictions.
Rendering courtesy of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development