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Adams Morgan’s Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Confronted With a Third Controversial, Planned Unit Development Project Plan

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

By Anthony L. Harvey

Dupont Circle-based DC developer Triangle Ventures, LLC on June 2nd filed a Planned Unit Development (PUD) application with the DC Zoning Commission for a project calling for six levels of residences above a “re-established commercial street frontage and existing parking levels of the present three story Verizon parking garage” facing Florida Avenue between Champlain Street and Ontario Road in the Reed-Cooke Zoning Overlay District and across the avenue from the Stivers Row Historic District. Also occupying a portion of the building is Planet Pet, the doggy day care center.

The applicants for the project, established by the developers as the 1711 Florida Avenue LLC, are requesting 80 feet of height, rather than the zoning overlay district’s restriction of 40 feet; 5.8 floor to area ratio (FAR), rather than the restriction of 3.5 FAR; no rear yard, rather than the requirement of a 15-foot rear yard; further, they are seeking removal of the project’s .6-acre site from the remaining restrictions of the overlay district, claiming in their application that this additional height, FAR, and rear yard requirement removal, and rezoning of the site would, they contend, better serve the purposes of the overlay district than the overlay district itself.

The 1711 Florida Avenue PUD application follows two other Reed-Cooke PUD proposals — that of the former Italian embassy redevelopment project, to be called “Il Palazzo,” at 16th and Fuller Streets and Mozart Place, and the soon to be filed PUD for the First Church of Christ, Scientist building to be incorporated into the Adams Morgan hotel project at Champlain and Euclid Streets. (See, “Old Italian Embassy 16th Street Site Redevelopment Plan Proceeding Apace; Adams Morgan Hotel Plan Has Way to Go,” InTowner, June 2011, PDF page 1.)

The zoning relief being sought for all three of these PUDs would add immensely to the value of the respective properties, and the points at which their respective heights and penthouse setbacks are being determined would add to each of their overall building heights, especially the two on the slope of the hill that descends from Euclid down Champlain to Florida Avenue. Allowing a hotel and alcohol serving restaurants and bars in the First Church redevelopment, and retaining a grandfathered, prohibited use parking garage and only covenanting against a tavern’s liquor license in the 1711 Florida Avenue project would, in the view of many residents, do further violence to the community’s hard-fought restrictions in the current Reed-Cooke Zoning Overlay.

The June, 2011 meeting of the Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association (RCNA) focused on these PUDs, especially the prospective community benefits and amenities that might be offered and proposed for the former Italian embassy and the  Florida Avenue projects. Given that PUD applicants are required by the District’s zoning regulations to provide these community benefits and amenities in exchange for being granted their respective zoning relief petitions, Reed-Cooke’s Billy Simpson is spearheading an RCNA effort to articulate general criteria to use in negotiating with project applicants for specific, tangible items which would specifically serve the Reed-Cooke neighborhood.

With the proposed Florida Avenue project towering over the adjacent Strivers Row Historic District, a new neighborhood organization in Adams Morgan called Square 150 has come into being, particularly in response to the prospect of a seven-story behemoth to be constructed across the street from this historic district of small, two- and three-story row houses on V Street and Seaton Street

Viewing Florida Avenue elevations of the proposed 1711 building — where one would be looking north and up the hill — versus looking south and viewing the modest, late 19th century houses of Strivers Row, one is provided with dramatically different perspectives. The immediate question thus raised concerns the issue of compatibility of the proposed new building’s height and massing with the existing topography and built environment.

Patrick Landers, for Square 150, reported during the Reed-Cooke meeting that a survey of affected residents found 13 in favor of the Florida Avenue project, 53 undecided, and 34 in opposition. Those opposing the project, Landers continued, specifically identified the project’s proposed height, its glass façade, and its prospective impact of traffic and noise on the neighborhood as being of major concern.

As far as PUD-required amenities, those proposed by the applicant in its  initial filing with the Zoning Commission and repeated in a more recent summary, are presently in discussion with Reed-Cooke and Square 150 members and center on such issues as additional affordable units in the six floors of 125 to 130 residential units in the project, very general expressions by the applicant of “enhanced recreational facilities at the Marie H. Reed School, Park, and Playing Fields” and a pledge to enter into a jobs agreement with the District’s Department of Employment Services and “encourage local ownership of ground floor retail.” The high quality of the architectural design by the well-known Washington firm of Bonstra Hairsign Architects is also offered as a community benefit, as well as that of the equally well-known Grove Slade’s traffic analysis and traffic management plan.

At a subsequent, well-attended public meeting on the project held on June 22nd at King Emmanuel Baptist Church in Reed-Cooke, according to Landers, most neighbors were not opposed to some development at the Florida Avenue site but there was unanimous opposition to the current PUD application and to any development proposal that was not in accordance with the Reed-Cooke Zoning Overlay. A later June survey by the Square 150 Neighborhood Organization of residents on both sides of the proposed PUD found that 52 percent of respondents opposed to the 1711 Florida Avenue PUD; 24 percent were in favor; and 24 percent were undecided. The Adams Morgan ANC’s Planning, Zoning, and Transportation Committee will consider this proposed PUD at its August 1st monthly meeting.