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New Apartments Slated for 15th & S Streets; Developer Seeks Controversial DC Tax Break

[Updated 10/25/18: report of community opposition inserted following copyright notice at end. *]

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the October 2018 issue pdf

 By William G. Schulz

 A community meeting to discuss plans for a 150-unit apartment building on a vacant lot behind the iconic 16th Street, NW Masonic Temple will be held on October 18 at 7 pm in the ballroom of the Chastleton Apartments at 1701 16th Street. Anyone concerned about the project, or who would simply like more information, is invited to attend, says host ANC 2B 04 Commissioner Nick DelleDonne.

DelleDonne says the gathering is an opportunity to hear about building plans directly from the developer, Perseus, which recently submitted a project design concept to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The Masons are hoping that the apartment building, in one of the city’s most sought-after neighborhoods, will provide a long-term income stream to support their own activities and operations.

HPRB will hold a public hearing on the project sometime before the end of the calendar year. Detailed plans for the project are available on the Perseus website.

The Masons are seeking a $22 million tax abatement for the project in order to offset maintenance and repair bills for the existing temple building. The request, formally opposed by ANC 2B in a 2017 resolution, has also met with scorn and skepticism in the wider Dupont Circle community.

In a city where developers continue to pour billions of dollars into new residential real estate projects, tax abatement opponents say they hardly seem necessary and that community benefits negotiated with developers rarely offset the tax abatement windfall. In the Mason’s case, even the DC Office of the Chief Financial Officer has deemed a tax break for them to be unnecessary.

But the Masons and Perseus have not given up. As reported by DelleDonne, “Last week, I met with the project developer’s representative, former Councilmember John Ray. He is asking the ANC to reconsider its resolution based on their updated plans. saying the current resolution is not valid.”

In a written response to our questions, Adam Peters, head of development and construction at Perseus, responded that “[t]he Tax Abatement is a separate matter that the Scottish Rite is pursuing. There are a number of community benefits that come with the application that will be discussed when that application moves forward. We are a party to that application, as well, but it is not on the agenda for the meeting on the 18th.”

The meeting agenda circulated by DelleDonne lists the tax abatement as topic number two; conversation on neighborhood listservs indicate that some community members want the tax abatement issue to be agenda item number one.

Copyright © 2018 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved.

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* Editor’s Note: Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Nick DelleDonne, who, as reported above, convened a community meeting to discuss the development plan, provided his notes to us the next day summarizing the expressed opposition of neighbors and next steps to be taken.

Neighbors Forcefully Reject Masonic Temple Development Plan

About 70 vocal neighbors from around the Masonic Temple at 16th and S Sts. NW, heard a presentation last night, Oct. 18, by the developer Perseus for 150-unit apartment structure on the Temple’s rear lot, and for 2 hours they said they did not like it.

Hosted by ANC2B04 Commissioner Nick DelleDonne, the meeting at the Chastleton, next door to the Temple, was loud and insistent in its opposition to the plan. Most emphatically, constituents concluded with a unanimous voice vote against the bill pending in the City Council for a $22 million tax abatement for the Masonic Temple.

n a repeated refrain, constituents said they did not like the design of a proposed building, and could not see how it was ‘in any way’ historically compatible with the neighborhood. “It looks like recent developments on 14th St.,” one said.

They voiced objection to the inevitable hike in property values and taxes which the proposed luxury building would bring to the whole neighborhood and the subsequent displacement of residents — residents who are black, the last vestige of a once thriving black professional community. Residents recalled the history of the Temple buying all the rowhouses on S and 15th St. behind the Temple 40 years ago and displacing the black residents. The land has since remained undeveloped and unoccupied, depriving the city of tax revenue the whole time.

Residents noted the project plans for two subterranean levels of apartments and two underground parking levels going down 40’, and raised questions about the disruption of underground aquifer and the myriad streams which mark the region.

Residents voiced alarms for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in front of a building which will open on 15th St. to a protected two-lane cycle track. “You may as well put out the white bikes now because people will die,” said one.

When asked directly, the Perseus spokesman would not deny that it would have [to] renegotiate with the Temple were the Council to reject the $22 million tax break.

Residents lingered to talk and agreed on a course of action, formation of a committee this weekend, preparation of a petition and for the presentation of the project to the whole ANC2B and the Historic Preservation Review Board in November. They plan to visit Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie who introduced the abatement bill.