From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.
See list of related stories on JBG Cos. projects and development in the area at the bottom of this story.
Nearly 50 people turned out Tuesday evening for a community forum at Busboys & Poets on 14th Street to hear the latest plans for the development at the southwest corner of 13th and U Streets NW. The presentation was by the developer of the project, JBG Cos. and the architect, David M. Schwarz Architects.
Things heated up a few weeks ago when JBG announced at the March meeting of the U Street Neighborhood Association that they were indeed going forward with a plan — originally presented back in 2008 — for a boutique hotel at the site. About a week later information was circulated that suggested a hotel was off the drawing board and the building would instead be residential.
The hotel concept is indeed off the drawing board. JBG’s James Nozar explained that the proposed 250-room hotel would not be financially viable given the pressure from neighbors to reduce the size of the building. JBG is exploring other sites in the area for a hotel.
Not entirely surprising for JBG; the nimble developer has been known to react quickly to market demands. Late last year JBG announced that they were changing course on the 14th and S project and would market the units as luxury apartments rather than condominiums.
History of the Site
The site is a one-story commercial strip built about 20 years ago at the corner of 13th and U. The corner is anchored by the Rite Aid drugstore and sits opposite the Ellington Apartment building. The last storefront impacted on the western end of the site would be Al Crostino restaurant at 1324 U Street NW, which is about mid-block.
The back of the site faces the rear yards of the residential row of two-story townhouses on Wallach Place. James Nozar of JBG, and now a frequent fixture before Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and community groups, started things off with an update on their plans. The hotel concept is indeed off the drawing board. Nozar explained that the proposed 250-room hotel would not be financially viable given the pressure to reduce the size of the building. JBG is exploring other sites in the area for a hotel.
Plans for Residential Building
The residential design presented Tuesday night would have 138 units, 72 underground parking space and ground floor retail. Rite Aid would remain as the primary tenant at the corner. The floor plans would be a mix of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with potential to combine units. No efficiency units are planned. The overall building height would be 90 feet with an 18-foot mechanical penthouse.
Many people inquired about the possibility of an office building for the site; given the need for more daytime foot traffic to support businesses. Apparently the lot dimensions would not allow a floor plan suitable for office suites.
The plan will allow for a 20-foot alley along the rear. David Schwarz, the architect, said the facade of the building will have the same spirit and character of the earlier hotel design, with a few changes to the overall massing. Specifics on the material and color are still being developed. Schwarz explained that the building will have almost have three front facades given the site — U Street, 13th Street and the alley-facing facade, since it would be so visible as you head north on 13th Street.
Residents Wary of Project
Attendees asked pointed questions to the presenters — some barbs were even directed at other attendees. Only a few people asking questions identified where they live, but it was obvious residents from Wallach Place and the adjoining blocks of 13th Street were well represented. Questions were raised about the building’s alley access, planned retail tenants, roof deck and affordability.
Many people inquired about the possibility of an office building for the site; given the need for more daytime foot traffic to support businesses. Apparently the lot dimensions would not allow a floor plan suitable for office suites. There were grumbles of protest when Schwarz suggested that the new building is better than the current uninspired strip of retail with a row of dumpsters along residents rear yards. The new building will have an enclosed loading dock in the rear for deliveries, which only seemed to impress a few people.
Many inquiries concerned zoning variances that JBG will need to proceed, the presenters explained that they will pursue a Planned Unit Development (PUD). for the project. The DC Zoning Commission defines a PUD as “a planning tool which allows a developer greater flexibility in site planning and building design. This flexibility permits the developer to incorporate amenities in the project that exceed those that could have been achieved under the general provisions of the Zoning Regulations.”
Other Nearby projects in Pipeline
Wallach Place residents and nearby community groups went through several rounds of negotiations with another developer over the appearance and size a planned residential building on the stretch of 14th Street between Wallach Place and T Streets NW. Plans were eventually downsized by about 10 units.
The effort and surrounding development in the area even prompted the creation of a new neighborhood blog, U Street Dirt. JBG is embarking on a building frenzy in the blocks surrounding 14th and U. At least five projects are either underway or in the development pipeline: The District apartments at 14th and S, The Louis at 14th and U NW, an unnamed project at 8th and Florida NW, the 13th and U project and another planned for the “Atlantic Plumbing” lots near the 9:30 Club.
The developer will continue to make the rounds of neighborhood meetings and DC agency reviews, and adjust plans to respond to the recommendations.
- JBG Cos. Developing All Around U Street Corridor (Hotel or No Hotel?)
- Plans Unveiled for the Louis at 14th/U; Will Remake Famous Corner
- Feb. 2: ANC 1B Takes Closer Look at Florida Avenue Development
- Developer Changes Course: Rentals Not Condos at 14th & S NW
- U Street Dirt: “NOT Ballston” for 14th & U
- In Pictures: Development Projects Line the 14th Street Corridor