Photo caption: A rendering from the new 2017 PUD of the proposed development.

Author’s note: This is part five 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 where this story has been in the last two years.

STC and Erkiletian are now presenting the third edition of a proposed unit design (PUD) for this site. The PUD has been altered since the last submission in early 2016, which was withdrawn in July of that year. Some changes are obvious, such as height differences (2016 PUD: highest point was seven stories at 73’ 2” and the lowest point was four stories at 41’ 11”; 2017 PUD: highest point is five stories at the northeast corner standing at an even 50’ and the lowest point is now four stories plus an inhabitable penthouse at 48’ 9”) and number of units available to the public for rent (136 to 85). Other adjustments are less obvious, such as zoning. (In 2016, the PUD asked for SP2, a zoning designation that serves as a buffer between adjoining residential and business spaces and is now asking for MU-4, which allows for moderate density of mixed use.) Among the biggest changes are the proposed materials and facade, including the option for a mural of Shakespeare himself. Even with these changes, the building still does not house public art or theater space. Rather, it will serve as office space for STC, rehearsal spaces, and costume space. Additionally, it will serve as housing for actors, in addition to residential units for the public.

Much like the 2016 PUD, the 2017 PUD provides three-bedroom units for families, though it is still unclear exactly how many of the units will be this size. The new PUD includes a commitment to a single three-bedroom unit as an affordable unit. This unit is a part of the 10,396 square feet at 60% MFI and 987 square feet at 50% MFI. As in the 2016 PUD, two units would be set aside at 40% below market rate for the first 10 years of the project for teachers and staff of Amidon-Bowen Elementary School and Jefferson Academy Middle School. According to the PUD, there will be 39 parking spaces on-site, with an additional 15 offered off-site. (Zoning requires 31 total spaces.)

Over the past 26 months, immediate neighbors have come out in strong opposition of this project. They have posted signs, held community meetings, and even hired a lawyer and architecture firm to provide alternative options for single-family townhomes for the development of this site. They have formed a group called the United Neighbors of Southwest. The group calls for additional homes, like those already in place in the immediate surrounding area.

Peter Eicher, who lives across the street from the site, said, “The new proposal misses the key point that the community has been making for three years: We don’t want a zoning change or a large apartment building on the site. … The site is the last undeveloped plot in all of Southwest DC that’s zoned for townhouses. If the zoning is changed, there is virtually no chance that we’ll see more townhouses in SW, which means less family housing and less diversity of housing.” The site is now zoned for R-3, which allows for low-density residential homes, such as townhomes. 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.

Community benefits continue to play a role in the PUD process, and include those from the 2016 PUD, such as the 100 tickets and transportation for the schools to one STC performance annually, and access for community groups to use spaces in the building when not in use by STC. The current PUD also highlights scholarships for Camp Shakespeare, a $7,500 contribution to the Southwest Duck Pond for arts programming, and Southwest Night at Sydney Harman Hall for 200 residents of ANC6D once a year. In the letter of intent included with PUD, STC states that it will continue to work with the community to flush out these benefits during the PUD process.

At time of print, there is no date for the Zoning Commission, but STC and developers want to break ground on the now vacant lot in 2018, with a goal of finishing construction by 2020. After so many iterations, many are left to wonder just how far STC is willing to go to make this project happen. The Southwester will continue to follow the story.

By: Katelynd Mahoney Anderson

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