Not coming to 965 Florida Ave. NW
Not coming to 965 Florida Ave. NW

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There will be no Harris Teeter on Florida Avenue NW just north of the U Street corridor. There will be no extension of W Street to connect the street grid. And, for now, there’s not much clarity as to why.

Yesterday, the city announced its decision to award the rights to develop a city-owned parcel at 965 Florida Ave. NW to a team led by MRP Realty and the Ellis Development Group. Losing out was the JBG Companies, considered by many (including myself) to be the favorite, given that JBG’s proposal incorporated an adjacent parcel owned by the company—-something the city had listed as a priority—-and included a Harris Teeter grocery store, which got neighbors excited.

“We’re definitely shocked,” says JGB Vice President for Development James Nozar. “When you look at the programs side by side, it was pretty clear in our minds that our program was superior.”

Chanda Washington, spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, told me yesterday that the city chose the MRP-Ellis team because its proposal had more affordable housing—-“twice the number of subsidized affordable housing units”—-because it required a planned unit development (PUD) process that would mean collaboration with city officials and the community, and because the team offered the city more money.

But Nozar questions these reasons—-at least the first two.

On affordable housing, Nozar says JBG’s plan actually offers more affordable units. “We’re very confused by that, because they were very clear in their presentations to the community that they had 58 units in their plan, and we had 80,” Nozar says. “I’m not sure if the District was confused or something.”

Ellis President and CEO Chip Ellis says his team’s proposal, which has not been released publicly, has “approximately 60” affordable units, but he says many of those units are larger than the “micro-units” proposed by JBG, allowing families to stay in the neighborhood. An MRP representative declined to comment. Nozar says the micro-units include two- and three-bedroom units “specifically designed to appeal to couples and families.”

Nozar is also confused by the PUD factor. A PUD is required when a development doesn’t conform to existing zoning requirements. Nozar says the city expressed a preference for plans that complied with zoning in its solicitation to developers, and so that’s what JBG provided.

“We could’ve [proposed a PUD],” Nozar says. “We chose not to, because as the [request for proposals] outlined, they were looking at speed to market and something that complies with the current zoning.” Nozar says that even if it’s not required, JBG was planning an extensive community outreach process for the site plans.

And even on the money front, Nozar says the JBG plan, with its additional density, would bring the city much more tax revenue—-an extra $16.5 million over 10 years from the 965 Florida Ave. parcel.

Now that JBG won’t be developing 965 Florida Ave., it turns its attention to the adjacent parcel it owns, and 945 Florida Ave. JBG’s proposal for 965 included plans for 945, featuring a new block of W Street to connect the grid, a hotel, offices, a condo building, and retail. With the 965 bid lost, Nozar says there isn’t room for a Harris Teeter at either parcel, nor will JBG be able to connect W Street.

“The idea of a full-service grocery store now is pretty much impossible because they’re both too small,” he says. “The idea of W Street is pretty much gone at this point.”

But the loss of the W Street connection does free up some room for JBG to add density to its 945 Florida Ave. site. Nozar says the proposed uses for the 945 parcel won’t work on their own, and JBG will have to draw up new plans.

“In isolation, the office and hotel and small condominium building don’t make economic sense,” he says. “We can’t make it work. We’re evaluating a whole slew of options.”

Rendering courtesy of JBG

This post has been updated with more information about the micro-units in the JBG proposal.