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

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Responding to the growing controversy surrounding the city’s selection of a developer for a valuable property near the U Street corridor, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham sent a letter this morning to Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins requesting a more detailed explanation of the city’s decision.

“I have rarely experienced in Ward 1 such a widespread and negative community reaction to a development decision,” Graham wrote in an email to Hoskins and several community groups. “Clearly there are a great many neighborhood people who are disappointed and unhappy with the choice and justification that has been offered thus far.”

This week, Hoskins’ office chose a team led by MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group to develop the city-owned parcel at 965 Florida Avenue, selecting the team’s proposal over one from the JBG Companies that included a Harris Teeter supermarket and had considerable local support. JBG questioned the city’s reasoning; Hoskins justified his decision by stating that the MRP-Ellis plan had more “real” affordable housing and offered more money to the city, and implied that the JBG plan merely looked “good on paper.”

In his email to Hoskins, Graham compared the controversy over the Florida Avenue parcel to public outcry against a contract awarded by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s administration in 2009 for the Stevens School in Foggy Bottom. Like the Florida Avenue parcel, Graham wrote, that decision required D.C. Council approval, and public opposition led it to be reversed. Implicit in Graham’s message is the threat that if Hoskins doesn’t appropriately explain the Florida Avenue decision, this contract could suffer the same fate.

Graham’s full letter is reprinted below:

Dear Friends:

I have been paying close attention to the dozens of emails objecting to the recent award of 965 Florida. I have carefully read the recent email from Mr. DeWitt as well as the statement by Deputy Mayor Hoskins (see below). I am also now responding (via Bcc’s) to my Ward 1 constituents who have written me. Thank you for writing me.

I have rarely experienced in Ward 1 such a widespread and negative community reaction to a development decision. Clearly there are a great many neighborhood people who are disappointed and unhappy with the choice and justification that has been offered thus far.

This is a major decision affecting the future of development in the eastern sector of Ward 1.

I am also sensitive that the legal process requires a decision to be made at this stage by the Mayor and his advisors. I also know that this decision will, in the future, require Council approval. That would include the property disposition.

But this does bring to mind the Foggy Bottom outcry to the initial decision by the Fenty administration to award the Stevens School contract in 2009. That Ward 2 property prompted the expression of strong views by my Council colleagues including CM Jack Evans and others. Ultimately, the following year, the award was vacated, in substantial part, on the grounds that there was so much community opposition.

I appreciate the statement that has been issued by Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins.

But, as a first step, I think more detailed explanation of the rationale for the decision is necessary.

I am now requesting that detailed justification including documentation appropriate for release (not involving proprietary information) .

Bests Councilmember Jim Graham