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Depending on how you date it, the planning process for Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 goes back either to 2000—when then-Mayor Anthony Williams chose a development team—or even 1989, when residents started pushing for a new shopping center. Last night, deliberations came to an end: After the fourth and final hearing since the PUD application was filed last April (good background from DCMud here and here) the Zoning Commission decided to consider the application for proposed action on May 24th, and for final action on June 28th.
“We’ve been having meetings about this for many years, and we’re hoping for something very positive to come out of it,” said commission chairman Anthony Hood, who seemed eager to make this hearing the last.
Before just a handful of members of the Hillcrest community, the development team—represented last night by Rappaport Companies and the W.C. Smith Company—made final rebuttals and wrapped up their case. Part of their presentation was a rundown of community benefits: A $5.2 million package, including enhancements to neighboring parks and libraries, support for the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative, build-out assistance for retailers, and funding for job training and housing counseling.
The local ANC has been supportive of the project. But the developers’ offering didn’t quite meet their requests, and during cross-examination, ANC 7B Commissioner Robert Richards asked W.C. Smith lawyer Steve Green if he was aware that the ANC was not in support of something the community benefits package does include: A commuter store for bus travelers.
“Yes, but it was high on someone else’s list,” Green answered.
Green’s response illustrated how it’s sometimes difficult to present a solid community front in such negotiations. “We don’t seem to have the unanimity of thought that we used to have,” remarked Franklin Senger, former leader of the Hillcrest Civic Association.
Another group, the homeowners of Fort Baker Drive, has remained in complete opposition, saying that the development poses a threat to their properties. Part of the problem is an increased amount of runoff from parking lots—Developer Gary Rappaport testified that the two potential anchor tenants, Wal-Mart and Target, both demand a minimum of four parking spaces per 1,000 feet of retail space. That’s calculated on the basis of need during the three-month stretch between back-to-school season and Christmas; many spaces would be unneeded for the rest of the year.
Green promised that erosion could be contained by stormwater management, and the developer would monitor the properties to ensure that they would not be affected by the development. “We are very concerned about those houses,” he said. “We’re not going to enter into something that would be a risk to our reputation.”
Gary Puckrein, a Fort Baker Drive homeowner, wasn’t so sure about taking the developer’s word on it. “It’s an impossible situation,” he said. “They’ll keep you in court for the rest of your life, while your house is slipping down a hill.”