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African-American Civil War Museum Project Now in Jeopardy

 Accompanying images can be viewed in the February 2015 issue PDF

By David McAuley*

At the regular monthly meeting of the Shaw-U Street Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 1B) on February 5th, Marc Bleyer, Senior Project Manager at the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) explained Mayor Bowser’s decision to put the disposition of the historic former Grimke School building (located on he eastern side of the African-American Civil War Memorial plaza at Vermont Avenue and U Street, NW) on hold.

[Ed. Note: At the time we published our lead story about the plans for the African-American Civil War Museum’s expansion as part of this Grimke redevelopment project, there had been no expectation of even a possible reversal of the outgoing Gray Administration’s decision to proceed with submitting to the City Council for final approval. (See, “African-American Civil War Museum Expansion Part of Grimke School Building Re-purposing,” InTowner, January 2015 issue pdf, page 1.)]

The ANC commissioners and some audience members told Bleyer they were not pleased with the decision to put the project on hold after the ANC and the community had spent a long time pondering the best use of the property.

“This is causing some unintended consequences,” said ANC Chair man James Turner. “What we’ve really done here is devalue the property.”

“We were really excited about our tenants,” said Comissioner Ellen Nedrow Sullivan). “The Grimke project needs to be special use. There’s a lot of concern because it was a use we were really excited about.”

The proposal now on hold was awarded on the last day of the Gray Administration to the development team of Sorg Architects and Roadside Development to turn the long-vacant school and nearby parcels into an expaned home for the museum, along with dance and entertainment spaces, plus a mixed-used building with retail and residences.

The New Law That Now Governs

Bleyer’s explaination for why the project has been put on hold was because of the enactment by the City Council on November 27, 2014 of the “Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Amendment Act of 2013.” As with all local legislation, Bleyer reminded the commssioners, the law went to the U.S. Congress for the required 30 legislative days review period, which commences when the Council actually send it forward (which in this instance was on on January 26th). It is anticipated there will no objection to this law in Congress, and is expected to come into effect on March 10th.

As of that date, Bleyer said: “Any property that has not yet been approved by council is subject to this law.”

The law, as it applies to this project, because it contains a housing element, requires at least 30 percent of the housing units must be allocated to “affordable housing,” according to Bleyer. Of this 30 percent, there will be two categories of affordable housing — those deemed affordable to those earning 30 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) and those deemed affordable at 50 percent of AMI. (Latest AMI for Washington, DC is $107,5000.) A two-bedroom apartment at 30 percent AMI might rent for about $725 per month, while a 50% AMI apartntment might rent for a maximum of $1,200/month.

Next Steps for the New Mayor’s Team

Now, the Bowser Administration has reviewed the Grimke proposal and has gone back to the two developers who made it to the final round of the previous bidding process for a new “best and final offer.”

“This is the first I’ve heard of a ‘best and final offer,'” Turner said. “We should have been notified.”

*The writer, a Logan Circle neighborhood resident, is a former contributor to the now discontinued Borderstan blog and since that time has been writing the highly informative Short Articles about Long Meetings blog (http://tinyurl.com/k8pvwnb) which reports mostly on meetings of the Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, U Street, and Shaw ANCs.

Copyright © 2015 InTowner Publishing Corp. & David McAuley. All rights reserved.