Latest proposed designs of The Bard project looking southeast across 6th St.; Photo from the PUD submission
Author’s note: This is part six 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, begun in Sept. 2015, follows the proposed redevelopment of 501 I St. SW. Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) and Erkiletian Development Group have proposed the development of a mixed-use building to be named “The Bard” after William Shakespeare. Past articles can be found on “The Southwester’s” website for those who are interested in how this story has evolved over the last three years.
STC and Erkiletian are now presenting the fourth edition of a proposed unit design (PUD) for this site. The project, originally calling for apartments as a part of the larger mixed-use, was supposed to have broken ground this calendar year. However, this project has now taken a complete 180-degree turn to have condos instead of apartments.
According to documents filed with the Zoning Commission (Z.C.) on Sept. 27, not only is the project now for-sale-condominiums, the overall unit count for this project portion has been reduced by 16 units. It is down from approximately 85 apartments to approximately 69 condominium units, due to the larger size of the individual units that will be for sale. In regards to changing the project from apartments to condos, Chris Jennings, Executive Director of STC, says: “(T)his significant change will create homes that will attract residents more likely to become invested in the neighborhood.” The documents filed also state that “(T)he project will now provide approximately 6,088 square feet of affordable housing, with approximately 5,378 square feet (or approximately six units) set aside at 80 percent of the Median Family Income, and approximately 710 square feet (or one unit) set aside at 50 percent of the Median Family Income.”
Under the previous PUD when the units were to be rented units, two would have been set aside for teachers at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School or Jefferson Academy Middle School. Unlike past applications, this application lays out no specific community benefits, even related to the schools. Rather, it states that it will work with the ANC to define “the public benefits and project amenities.” It also states that STC and Erkiletian are “working actively with nearby schools to further define and enhance the education-related public benefits, which are a cornerstone of the proposed benefits package.” This aligns with what Jennings told this publication, saying that he is “…also thrilled about some great conversations with the three neighborhood schools learning about their needs and how we can help support their teachers and students.”
Amidon-Bowen parent leaders expressed optimism that the companies would continue their engagement with the school. Allison Harvey, Co-PTA President, says, “We appreciate the initial outreach, and look forward to further engagement with administrators, teachers and parents in the near future. It is our hope that we can work together to ensure a meaningful partnership for the school that leads to tangible opportunities and improvements for our students.”
According to the application, the STC portion will continue to feature “a mixture of office space on the ground floor, rehearsal, education, and costume shop space in the lower level, and housing for both actors and fellows,” though the housing component has been reconfigured to 18 single room occupancy beds (instead of larger four-bedroom apartments) and reduced from 20 to 18. Other changes include the addition of a delivery area in the garage for the STC costume shop, to decrease the amount of deliveries at the ground level, as well as an increase of 38 spots in the garage (two surface spots and 15 offsite spots bring the total of the project to 55).
Erkiletian and STC are once again looking to have the parcel rezoned—this time to MU-4. According to the DC Office of Zoning, this type of zoning is intended to “permit moderate-density mixed-use development; provide facilities for shopping and business needs, housing, and mixed uses for large segments of the District of Columbia outside of the central core; be located in low- and moderate-density residential areas with access to main roadways or rapid transit stops, and include office employment centers, shopping centers, and moderate bulk mixed-use centers.” The site is currently zoned for R-3, which allows for low-density residential homes. The Southwest Small Area Plan, which was adopted unanimously by the City Council in 2015, did not recommend changing from the R-3 zoning, until STC had addressed community concerns. It also recommended that the zoning be changed to something for arts and culture, as it would continue to compliment the already strong arts scene in Southwest.
The rezoning request also comes with three variance requests: rear yard flexibility (the project currently provides a rear yard of 8 feet 4 inches which is 6 feet 8 inches less than the 15 feet rear yard required for the MU-4 zoning request); side yard flexibility (order to accommodate windows at the ground floor along the eastern property line); and lot occupancy (the ground level occupies 79 percent of the lot, which exceeds the 75 percent maximum). The request to rezone and to rezone with variances has been a constant throughout the last three years of this project, and it has been at the core of the objections from the surrounding townhome neighbors, who have organized into an unincorporated group called the United Neighbors of Southwest (UNSW). Peter Eicher, one of these neighbors, says, “There should not be a zoning change, and the proposed building is simply too massive and too tall for the site.” Eicher also states that “the ‘redesign’ has changed the look of the building—which was never our primary objection—but the overall height and square footage are exactly the same as the previous plan, and the building’s footprint has actually increased.”
The redesign that Eicher is referencing are the changes to the façade along 6th St., which has been designed to appear as though it is seven townhouse-scaled models that are each three stories in height, similar to those townhomes to the immediate north and west. According to Jennings, this change, along with changing the project to condominiums “are just two of the changes that have been made that are a direct result of what we have been hearing.” The fourth story and penthouses are designed to be behind the cornice line. The public facing courtyard, which was previously west facing on the ground level, is now on the second level and faces the east. Additionally the balconies, referred to as “penthouse amenity space,” all face the southeast, as does the rooftop terrace. In total, the building itself will be 58 feet. The annex will stand at 47 feet 2 inches to the roof of the five floors (when the mechanical items are added, it will stand at 55 feet 6 inches). It has been shortened to align better with the main building, and also been moved to better align with the southern property line. It is also made of the same materials as the main building, and will feature the same punched windows.
As of the date of print, there was no date set for the next Zoning Commission hearing. Without this hearing, it is hard to tell what the next chapter has in store for this project. However, it is clear that both sides are planning to continue their respective pursuits of this project. “The Southwester” will continue to follow the story.
BY Katelynd Mahoney Anderson