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What Used to Be at 15th and V

by Borderstan.com November 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm 15 Comments


Borderstan: News from Dupont-Logan-U Street

From Michelle Lancaster. Follow her and tell her your news on Twitter @MichLancaster or email her at [email protected].

With all the construction around Borderstan lately, it’s sometimes easy to forget that every house, parking lot and retail store had a previous life, if not several. DCmud has a great blog post recounting the history of the parking lot of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Apartments at 2001 15th Street NW. The buildings were formerly Campbell Heights Apartments (until recently), before that they were called the Portner Flats (a luxury apartment building) and before that the Dunbar Hotel.

The Dunbar Hotel was the elite black hotel (when Washington was very much segregated) in the heydeys of U Street’s jazz scene and Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr. and other performers were regular guests. The space will begin a new life as the Jair Lynch apartment project at 15th and V Streets NW after much redesign and consternation.

Tom Hay reported back in July about the project. Jair Lynch Development Partners, headquartered at 1508 U Street, worked with the residents association of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Apartments to recapitalize and renovate the 171 unit building. The deal preserves its status as affordable housing for senior citizens under a covenant which will last for 30 years.

Going up just north of the current senior citizen apartments is a 95-unit rental building by Jair Lynch; DCMud has a great rendering of the building.

  • Lance

    Is this the large development which the neighbors are really upset about? When are we going to realize that we don’t need to build over every open/green space in this city? That open space is a human requirement AND very green!

  • minnesota60

    First of all, the space is a PARKING LOT. Second, the most green thing we can do in America is to have greater density. I really get tired of DC people who running around screaming about how GREEN they are, then they oppose every new residential and commercial development. Third, real estate is sky high here. The only way to bring down prices is to build more.

    • Lance

      There are vast areas of the District of Columbia (not to mention adjoining counties, cities, and towns) that could use more new people to rejuvenate them. Is there some requirement amoung new people looking for housing that it MUST be where there are already a lot of people and prices are high? I can think of many neighborhoods in DC that are both near transit and very affordable. When you say ‘the only way to bring down prices is to build more’, what you’re really meaning is ‘The only way I can afford to live where everyone else wants to live is to build more there.’ The problem with that though is once it gets overbuilt, the very livability that attracted everyone is gone forever. Overcrowding isn’t what makes a good neighborhood.

  • minnesota60

    DC had 800,000 people in 1960. We are nowhere near comfortable capacity. As for forced relocation to the countryside, I believe that was tried once. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pol_Pot

    • Lance

      Who said anything about the countryside?, Why not build more on H St NE? Or Anacostia?

      • Since when is H Street *not* the focus of considerable development? The Rappaport project alone is hoping for 400 residential units and over 50K sq ft of retail space, directly on H Street, in addition to a long list of other projects across the neighborhood. Quite honestly, Lance, if you assumed the asphalt parcel at 15th & V NW to be “open space” representing “a human requirement AND very green,” then may I encourage you to explore and better familiarize yourself with other neighborhoods on which you offer development opinions, in addition to the facts around those just a few blocks from home?

        • I believe what Lance meant to say is “let the ‘others’ deal with the riff-raff.” It’s tough to say something offensive directly these days.

  • Lance

    No … I meant what I said, and not what you want to think I said.

    I’m honored that people like my neighborhood and want to move into it, but let’s not change it from a medium density, low height neighborhood into a high density, taller-height neighborhood just to get everyone in here that wants to live here … ‘Cause then it won’t be the neighborhood it is today.

    • I will admire, at the least, Lance’s willingness to state clearly his view: not only that a parking lot is “a human requirement AND very green,” but that the parking lot at 15th & V that used to house a building of middling height should somehow be opposed in hosting a new building of middling height, and furthermore it should be opposed that the neighborhood continue on its trajectory to, heaven forbid, simply hosting the density it held shortly after 1950.

      • Lance

        Joel, Please don’t put words into my mouth. The issue here isn’t the simplistic ‘hosting a denity it held shortly after 1950’. The issue here, in this historic designated neighborhood, is compatibility with existing ‘contributing buildings’ (contributing to the historic district’s period) in ALL respects including density and height. There’s a push out there currently to do away with the height limit, rear and side set back requirements, and all manner of current constraints which keep the neighborhood at the human scale which evidently to draw people to it. (I.e.. It’s not a concrete jungle.) What the immediate neighbors in this case opposed were what they viewed as impinging on those things and NOT the increased density per se.

        • Lance

          i.e., Density is part of the picture but not all of it. As I heard the neighbors tell it, they were concerned that the building was being built to take every available cubic foot of the lot without regard to their by far lower, and humanly-scaled, rowhouses immediately adjacent to it. Think about what attracts you to live in this area verse, for example,the area down by 20th and L or 18 and K. Those area used to look like here. But by building into every available cubic foot, the streetscape down there gradually changed to where it is no longer what we’d call human scale … or where we’d want to live. And that’s what they’re wanting to prevent from happening here. I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. And yes, putting another big block building on a lot designed for the building already there is ‘building out every cubic foot’. Wallach and 14th faced a similar situation, however in that case the developer addressed the neighbors concerns and revised the ‘big block’ concept down to something more human scale. It’s not just density. It the bigger picture. I.e., low rise and medium density as we have now, and NOT high rise, high density, and pack them in by any means as many are pushing for.

        • I appreciate your latest rhetorical ingredient: concern for people in three-story townhomes having to look across the street at an 8 or 9-story building, which will be built upon the parking lot you lauded as “a human requirement AND very green,” which used to house a building of very similar height and massing (7-story Victorian, most likely with higher ceilings per floor than the replacement). I disagree that a parking lot is green space, and I disagree that replacing one middling height/mass building with another creates the caverns of Lower Manhattan, and I disagree with your earlier concerns over density (as the city has not even reached its density of post-1950), and I disagree that the exciting future of this neighborhood is inhuman. I recall 14th and U in the late 1980s. I see its future unfolding. I know what I would term a more human landscape.

        • Lance

          Joel, That’s right. 14th Street is a great example of a street where the infill is appropriate and in keeping with the existing contributing buildings and the street’s historical scale and massing. And that success isn’t an accident. It’s a result of very involved neighbors and neighborhood organizations (both ANC and civic) on both sides of the street. The development on 15th Street was left orphaned by any organizattions (and the ANC) which may exist near it. The affected neighbors living there, who have expressed the most concerns, but have received no greater community support, actually belong to the very civic organization you used to head. But given that that area lies outside of its jurisdiction, and the ANC gave an okay to the project before the neighbors even knew of its existence, the result is by all accounts a building that is very inappropriate for the street and will ‘fill the block’.

        • Your commentary continues to ignore the facts of the location. One look at the map demonstrates that the townhomes you wish to defend from 7-9 story buildings have, in fact, been surrounded–for nearly 100 years–by historic buildings of that height:


          This new building would, as reported and discussed repeatedly, simply replace a building of similar height and massing that existed on the parcel previously (in the image, the parking lot at lower left-center). I agree with the HPRB’s unanimous decision in approving the building.

        • Joel: You’re trying to talk sense with Lance. That’s not possible. Let me show you how his brain works.

          2-3 stories good. More bad! Me go club saber-toothed tiger now. We fear change!


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