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Will this lot ever be filled? (Lydia DePillis)

In 2007, it looked like two long-debated empty lots right next to the Shaw metro station could finally see some action, as the city pulled together a deal with developers and anchor tenant Radio One to build offices on one plot and affordable housing on the other.

Three years later, the office project—also known as Parcel 33—has died and been reborn, as the United Negro College Fund stepped in after Radio One backed out. But the other empty lot, known as Parcel 42, has lain fallow. Parcel 42 Partners, a group composed of Metamorphosis Development Group, Metro Partners, and Sunrise Development Corporation, originally agreed to build 94 units of rental housing priced in tiers below 50 percent of area median income, along with a few thousand square feet of retail, with the District kicking in $11.5 million of the $28 million budget.

Then…nothing. The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development’s page for the project still says the project will break ground in winter 2009. That’s obviously not happening, and now the city and the developer have drastically scaled back their plan: Five floors instead of eight, 52 apartments instead of 94, 7,000 square feet of retail space instead of 7,600.

“Those requirements were going to relaxed in order to get the project built,” said Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans at a recent community meeting.

Importantly for the developer, it’s also now a matter-of-right development instead of a planned unit development, which shaves months and thousands of dollars off the approval process. And importantly for the District, the project would now require only $6.5 million in subsidies.

But it’s not good enough for the people who fought for years to get the bigger project. ANC 2C Commissioner Alex Padro tells Housing Complex that community leaders have unanimously declined to support the new plan.

“It really is such a dramatic scaling back from the original project,” he says, “that most of the community leaders feel comfortable waiting another decade if necessary for the market to bring us the kind of project that we thought we were going to get.”

As a compromise, Padro has proposed constructing the smaller building out of concrete, which would allow for expansion when more financing became available, along with more parking to accommodate an eventual addition. The developer ran the numbers and found that the alternative proposal would cost an extra $4 million, which they would look to the District to support. If not, it’s back to square one.

“If they don’t have community buy-in, they’re not gonna move on it,” Padro says. “It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this, but when you have a public asset that folks have been watching for so long, a prominent location, you don’t want to put something that’s going to be so underscaled and limited that people say, why did they build that there?”

The community organization OneDC, which backed Parcel 42 Partners and worked hard for the affordability levels outlined in a memorandum of understanding with the city and the developer, isn’t happy either. On July 10th, the group will be holding a

What the project was initially supposed to look like. (Image from DCMetrocentric)

block party and political teach-in on the 600 block of S Street on the issue of affordable housing. Soon after, they’ll hold a more specific action to dramatize the Parcel 42 situation—details here, with time and location redacted—which they see as a broken promise.