MRP's planned development at 965 Florida Ave. NW needs to be retooled to meet an affordable housing requirement.
MRP's planned development at 965 Florida Ave. NW needs to be retooled to meet an affordable housing requirement.

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When the city announced its decision to award valuable city-owned land to an underdog developer in late July, neighbors and local elected officials demanded a full explanation of the surprising move. Nearly three months later, they’re still waiting for answers.

The JBG Companies were thought to have the leg up in the competition to develop the vacant site at 965 Florida Ave. NW, just north of the U Street corridor, because the firm promised a Harris Teeter supermarket (something neighbors wanted) and owned an adjacent parcel that would allow it to reconnect the street grid (something the city wanted). Yet the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development instead awarded the right to develop the site to a partnership of MRP Realty and the Ellis Development Group. The decision disappointed some neighbors and led to calls for an explanation from Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

Tony Norman, the chairman of ANC 1B, says he still hasn’t gotten the answers he’s sought from DMPED. “We requested them to come to our ANC meeting the last two meetings,” he says. “They didn’t show up.”

Norman says he’s reached out to Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins and the project manager for 965 Florida, but he’s been told they can’t share more information because of “confidentiality issues.”

“I get a lot of emails and calls about it all the time, from commissioners as well as residents,” says Norman. “That’s why I want them to come to our ANC, which I think they’re required to do. They’re required to explain why they didn’t give great weight to the ANC position.” Generally, if the city awards public land to a developer other than the one the ANC endorsed, it’s required to explain its decision to the ANC.

DMPED spokeswoman Chanda Washington says her office plans to present more information to the ANC before taking the project to the D.C. Council for approval.

Graham, who sent a letter to DMPED in August asking for an explanation and stating that he’d “rarely experienced in Ward 1 such a widespread and negative community reaction to a development decision,” likewise says he hasn’t gotten an answer. The issue was “shortcircuited,” Graham says, by JBG’s decision not to protest the city’s award of the parcel. But he says he believes there’s an ongoing negotiation between JBG and MRP to collaborate on making the most of their two adjacent parcels and potentially bringing a supermarket to the site.

JBG and MRP representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Image courtesy of Ellis Development