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The D.C. Historic Preservation Office sent out its regular “raze applications” email yesterday afternoon. But this edition of the email was dominated by addresses on Alabama Avenue SE, Good Hope Road SE, and Naylor Road SE—-all part of the long-anticipated Skyland Town Center development.
The city selected a team led by the McLean-based Rappaport Companies to develop Skyland all the way back in 2002. More than a decade later, does Rappaport’s raze permit application, filed in conjunction with the city, mean the project is finally about to get underway?
Not quite, says Rappaport CEO Gary D. Rappaport. The expected anchor of the development is one of D.C.’s six planned Walmart stores. But with Walmart threatening to scrap plans for at least three of its stores, including the one at Skyland, if Mayor Vince Gray signs the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013—-which would require big retailers like Walmart to pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour, minus benefits—-Rappaport said last month that the whole project would be put on hold if Walmart pulled out.
Rappaport says that raze application aside, that’s still the case.
“We do absolutely believe that if this Large Retailer Accountability Act gets passed, Walmart will not be there,” he says. “We don’t know what that means for the project, but surely it wouldn’t start anytime soon.”
The city still owns the land at Skyland and will have to sell it to the Rappaport-led development team before demolition can begin. But with mounting evidence that Gray may be leaning toward a veto, the raze application allows the developers to get things ready for an eventual bulldozing. Rappaport says he was planning to break ground next April, but that that date will likely be pushed back because Walmart has stopped doing any planning work on the project.
As long as Skyland’s lead tenants is up in the air, Rappaport says, the city won’t transfer the land to the development team. “They’re not going to do that until we have a viable project, and right now we don’t have a viable project,” he says.
Rappaport says his company has “invested a lot of money” in the site over the past decade-plus, without even owning the land. He remains optimistic that the project will happen. “We’ve always believed that it’ll get done,” he says. “We’re developers. We’re optimistic people.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery