Author’s note: This is part four of a series on the redevelopment of the old Southeastern University site in Southwest. These articles will serve to provide information for the greater community, and not to take a side on the development debate.
This series, started in Sept. 2015, continues to focus on the site at 501 I St. SW, for which plans were submitted to create a mixed-used development by a joint venture between Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) and Erkiletian Development Group. This project was named “The Bard” after William Shakespeare. The Planned Unit Development (PUD) submitted for The Bard, originally submitted on Feb. 3 of this year, had sought to rezone the parcel of land from R-3 “Institutional” to “SP-2.” The building would range in heights from 73’2″ (seven stories) at the corner of 5th and I Streets to 41’11” (four stories), along the 6th St. SW side as well as a portion of the H St. SW side of the development. The proposed development would be 2.29 floor area ratio (FAR) denser and 33 feet taller than what is permitted by the site’s current R-3 zone.
Two major developments have occurred since the last article of this series: First, an amendment was submitted to the original PUD offering more community benefits and Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) units. Second, the PUD was withdrawn in its entirety, with the intention of resubmitting in fall of 2016.
On June 29 2016, an amendment was submitted, and would change the PUD to provide for additional community benefits and increased IZ units to 11 (up from nine), which represents 8% of the total number of units in the building, for those households who earn 80% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI); two units for top teaching and leadership at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School and Jefferson Academy Middle School at 40% AMI for period of 10 years, with these units being in addition to the 11 IZ units; a long-term curriculum for both schools, which will be created by STC, including two live performances a year at each school and also after school programming twice a week; and STC will provide a production and transportation for up to 100 students and teachers to one STC production each year at no cost, and will include a preperformance workshop, teacher preview performance, and professional development in advance of the performance (PUD pages 1-4).
In response to a request for comment on the new benefits, Lucy Rojanksy, Amidon-Bowen PTA president, said, “STC and Erkiletian have committed to some major, tangible investments in the future of Amidon-Bowen and Jefferson Academy by offering two apartments at 40% off market rate, and $10,000 per year for six years into each school’s PTA account.” Rojansky also noted that the partnerships with the local schools on “curricular enrichments and cultural opportunities” is an opportunity for local students who may never otherwise have access to this type of programming and experience. “I’ve been very impressed,” Rojansky continued, “with the president of Erkiletian’s commitment to education and I think The Bard would be a boon for our neighborhood and our schools, and could serve as a model for the city for how development can make a positive difference for our kids.”
Surrounding neighbors, however, had a differing opinion than that of the PTA president. Peter Eicher, whose townhouse overlooks the development site, called the benefits “far less than meets the eye.” He notes that the benefits related to the production and transportation to the production is already offered by STC. In fact, on their website, STC has a section devoted to education and theater benefits for DC public and public charter high schools. This program is currently offering the same benefits to 8-12 graders within the DC Public Schools system. STC’s proposed benefits would extend this program to the local elementary and middle school.
Eicher also notes that the two additional units for the 80% AMI brings the project up to the minimum 8% requirement under DC law for new residential development projects of 10 or more units for IZ units. The Office of Planning, in a memo concerning the office’s recommendation on the project released June 30, said something very similar: “The applicant is now complying with the IZ requirement for determining the minimum IZ square footage.” (It is worth noting that the PUD as originally submitted calculated 8% of the total number of units available to the public for rent, which is 93, rather than the total number of units within the project, which is 136, as 34 units are for actor housing.) The new number of units, 11, brings the total number of 80% AMI units to 8% of the total project.
Despite these additional community benefits, however, the Office of Planning did not recommend that the case be set down for a public hearing with the Zoning Commission, an important step to this project coming to fruition. In the same memo released the day after the amended PUD, the Office of Planning noted: “The proposed PUD is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, with respect to both use and density. It is also inconsistent with the Southwest Small Area Plan approved by the Council of the District of Columbia in July, 2015.” The Office of Planning recommend that STC continue to discuss the use of the land “through the Comprehensive Plan review process, as recommended in the Southwest Neighborhood Small Area Plan.” The Office of Planning also noted the continued concerns of the community and nearby residents as to why this parcel was not included in the recommendations for land use changes for the Southwest Neighborhood Small Area Plan.
Seven days after this memo was released, STC and Erkiletian Development announced their decision to withdraw the PUD in its entirety. In a joint press release by STC and Erkiletian Development, and submitted to a request for comment by The Southwester, Chris Jennings, managing director for STC, said: “The Shakespeare Theatre Company and Erkiletian Development is committed to staying in the District of Columbia and Southwest DC, and will continue working with community leaders and neighbors on a building that meets the requirements articulated through the planning process”. STC and Erklietian Development plan to resubmit a new PUD in the fall, according to the same press release.
The Office of Planning’s memo and recommendation is leading many to wonder just how different the new PUD will be, and what changes, if any, will come to the community benefits. The Southwester will continue to follow the story and provide updates as they come forth.
By: Katelynd Mahoney