POLL: Do You Support Plan to Put Building on Adams Morgan Plaza?

by Andrew Ramonas March 7, 2016 at 2:40 pm 27 Comments

(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) A property developer’s proposal to construct a seven-story building on land occupied by a large outdoor plaza in Adams Morgan is getting a mixed reaction in the neighborhood.

PN Hoffman’s plan to build on the SunTrust plaza at 1800 Columbia Road NW has picked up backers and detractors after community leaders revealed the proposal last week.

Billy Simpson, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C member, on Wednesday said PN Hoffman didn’t present a “reasonable development” when it created renderings that showed only a small section of the current plaza open to pedestrians. Rather, Simpson has said he wants PN Hoffman to renovate and beautify the plaza, not make it smaller.

But not everyone had a problem with the developer’s plan.

A Borderstan commenter who goes by “scooterj2003” was among several people who voiced support online for PN Hoffman’s proposal. The individual called the plaza “a blight.”

“It does occasionally hold a farmers market that can and should be located across the street,” the commenter wrote. “However most of the time it is empty.”

PN Hoffman representatives initially were scheduled to attend an ANC meeting on March 16 to discuss their plans. But they backed out, saying they will reconsider their plaza proposal, Simpson told locals in an email over the weekend.

“To PN Hoffman’s credit, upon hearing strong negative reactions to the plan, they have agreed to cancel coming to ANC1C’s Planning, Zoning, and Transportation Committee in March while they assess alternatives,” Simpson said. “They have indicated that they will connect with Commissioners later in March.”

Monty Hoffman, chief executive officer of PN Hoffman, said in a statement:

“PN Hoffman has a longstanding track record of working with the community, and a vested interest in the neighborhoods where we build homes and retail options. Our approach will be the same for this site in Adams Morgan. We should also recognize that the plaza area is privately owned and taxed land with no deed restrictions. That said, at the request of the ANC Commissioners, we have postponed our presentation to the ANC’s PZT Committee to further study implications of their concerns. There are also many in the community who are unhappy with the corner’s current barren condition and would prefer improvements and activation. There is much to consider, and we look forward to working with stakeholders and community members to reach a suitable outcome.”

Do you think PN Hoffman should construct a building that takes up much of the SunTrust plaza? You can weigh in through the poll and in the comments.

Images via ANC 1C/PN Hoffman, Google Maps

  • Chinarye

    I live around the block and have always thought that the plaza and the bank are a horrible use of space. The plaza is just barren concrete most of the time with the exception of the farmers market. I totally agree with this project. What is there now just looks so out of place and uninviting. I’m happy there are plans to redevelop it.

  • “with the exception of the farmers market” is a pretty big exception! I’ve seen this space utilized in many ways. I’d rather see bad AM buildings restored than put a new one up.

    • meh

      It’s not that big of an exception, actually. The farmers market is there for a very small portion of each week and there are multiple nearby locations to which it could be relocated.

  • anonymous

    I do sort of see the objection – the proposed building is pretty bland. But the existing structure is an eyesore, the space is wasted, and the farmer’s market – evidently a main point of concern, despite its small size – can easily be moved across the street or up to the plaza by City Bikes. Can someone please explain why local residents think they can block this development? The developer already owns the land, so can’t it be developed by right?

  • ggm18

    It’s true that the plaza is not incredibly beautiful, but it is heavily used by a wide cross section of the neighborhood. I live a block away and walk through it frequently and there are always people there. The farmer’s market and other events are an important site for community building.

  • D_Rez

    Does PN Hoffman own the land or is it public property? This is reminding me of the Church Street Park argument.

  • Je t’aime DC

    Right now there are 2 bad underused plazas right across the street from each other. Better to have one good plaza than 2 bad ones. So let’s let this developer build on this property, and in exchange they can help pay for improvements to the one across the street.

  • A

    There are many reasons. Right now it’s useless land—land that is increasingly dirty with tons of litter on it. It makes walking through there, especially with a dog, pointless and dangerous for my pup when their are chicken bones strewn everywhere.

    Furthermore, I want more people living in my neighborhood. I want more places to live, which should love the cost. But by increasing the amount of people we should be able to support better restaurants.

    I’d hate to lose the farmer’s market as people seem to like/rely on it, but there have to be other solutions for that—what about kalorama park?

  • Popeye

    The current bank building there is hideous. That said, I don’t know how it can be argued that the property owners can’t do whatever they want with the property, as long as they comply with zoning regs.

    Maybe the building could be redesigned to provide space for a farmers market, but if I’m the owners I’d want to be compensated for that.

    I don’t blame people for being upset at the possibility of losing their farmers market space but I don’t see what can be done about it.

  • oat327

    I’m of two minds of this… Sure, this plaza is pretty bleak and underutilized as-is, but it could be such a resource for the neighborhood if it was renovated. But it is private property: a private owner was kind enough to let their neighbors freely use their front yard as a public space for decades. Why should they be punished now (in the form of diminished property rights and land value) for decades of generosity?

    That said, there are ways to make everyone happy. Maybe give the builder clearance to make this building 8 or 9 stories, if they agree to give it a smaller footprint? Maybe the city could offer to buy the land containing the plaza?

    Side note, regardless of whatever happens, that new building’s design needs serious help. This is such an iconic piece of property: it really should be a show-stopping design that becomes synonymous with Adams Morgan. As is, the building is almost a satire of Arlington.

  • I should note that PN Hoffman proposed moving the farmers market to the BB&T Bank plaza across the street. https://www.borderstan.com/2016/03/03/developers-plan-to-build-on-adams-morgan-plaza-irks-locals/

  • guenna77

    the farmers market is great. the open space is great. they can redesign the plaza – the point is simply to have it. that’s what makes a neighborhood worth living in.

  • meh

    I strongly suspect those who want to keep a plaza at this location are pigeons, since those are the only living things I ever see at the Suntrust plaza.

  • gretchen

    replacing an eyesore with a bland and boring building is a big disappointment. An exciting building would be a real joy and so far the city’s development craze has not yielded much. If the owners were to rethink the plaza so that there was a neighborhood farmers market/concert space, it could yield both excellent architecture and neighborhood satisfaction and appreciation. I hope the owners would like the idea of perpetuating and being associated with a long tradition like the plaza or as we called it decades “the

  • badkitty

    What a lot of people don’t know is that this lot was also the site of the Knickerbocker Theatre disaster, in which 98 people died in 1922: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/2787/lost-washingtonthe-knickerbocker-theater/. I think of this often when I pass by, and have always thought it was a shame that the space was not better used and that the history is largely forgotten. It would be great if future development included some sort of park-like space for the community, the farmer’s market, etc.

    Incidentally, the building that followed the Knickerbocker, The Ambassador Theater (later the The Psychedelic Power and Light Company), had an interesting history of its own. Jimi Hendrix even played a few nights there. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambassador_Theater_(Washington,_D.C.)

    So given the history, I just think it would be a shame to put up one more generic condo building, especially when the opportunity exists to create something that could be the center of the community and even provide some historical context to the neighborhood.

  • Cory

    I do not understand the debate – this is private property, and the redevelopment has the potential to bring in new residents at a major commercial intersection, which would benefit local businesses both existing and new. The farmers market is small and could be relocated to many other different sites within the neighborhood, some of which offer additional space to expand. Also, judging from the voting results, there is considerable support for the redevelopment, which begs the question – what are the majority interests that these ANC commissioners are representing? Or are the ANC commissioners just capriciously using their power to thwart development? It’s frustrating no matter how you slice it. I would very much like to see that parcel redeveloped in a way that adds density and contributes to the vibrancy of the neighborhood. I’m not a huge fan of PN Hoffman’s designs, but I am not sure that should be the purpose of this debate.

  • A Montague Fitz

    A few things:

    1. The plaza is used as both a thoroughfare and as a staging place for the farmers market as well as other events.

    2. A large building on that site would cut off and isolate the stretch of Columbia Road that is just as much a part of the neighborhood

    3. A new building like the one in the proposed design does not fit at all with the classic eccentricities of the neighborhood. The contrast of that across the street from Madams Organ does the neighborhood no favors.

    4. WHO in their right mind would want to live there? I guess if you’re into just not sleeping two nights a week, then sure but the location as a residential building really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    5. It goes directly against the suggestion of the AdMo planning vision which called for an open park to better connect the neighborhood.

    6. Just because “it’s privately owned so you can’t do anything about it,” doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing whether residents oppose it or not.

    • D1983

      Ahh NIMBYs…people who hold passionate views about other people’s property and who can’t even come up with rationale reasons to oppose a development. Lets go through this:

      1. Its used for “Staging” and as a “thoroughfare”…aka….its a piece of concrete that people sometimes set up shops at and sometimes walk though. The current use is irrelevant — it is also private property and they have no obligations to provide that access to you. We all will also benefit from another coffee shop, grocery store, retail store, WHATEVER… Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that the neighborhood improves when we get new developments like the Adamo? Can’t you see that the Cleveland Park Giant by the Cathedral is 1000 times better than the place that existed before? UGH..

      2. “Cut off” and “isolate” Columbia Road? Give me a break. It’s one building, the rest of Columbia Road turns at a more southerly angle right at Biltmore just beyond this building. That area is no more “cut off” than before, and it will be even more lively with more retail options here. This is a BS reason and you know it.

      3. The new building doesn’t fit….says who? Is this a design competition? Does Madam’s Organ fit with the dumpy Sun Trust? Why should a building not “contrast” with others? I completely disagree with your value judgment here, and so do many others — the Adamo, the new condo’s and Champaign, the new Line Hotel, all look great. Your value judgment means no more here than mine.

      4. Who would want to live there? Lot’s of people. PN Hoffman is run by a bunch of businessmen who are out to make money. If the building won’t rent, they will lose. They are smart enough to know where to take a gamble. And if they are wrong — sometimes businessmen are! — then the rents will have to be deeply discounted in order to get tenants, which is a GOOD thing. I love how wanna be architecture critics/pearl clutching NIMBYs always suddenly become real estate development experts who are *deeply* concerned with whether or not a given building makes money. That’s not your concern and not your expertise.

      5. Did the AdMo Planning “Vision” provide funds for a park? That’s nice…where’s the money? Go ahead and buy the plaza — it will be worth several million — probably not worth it for such a tiny plot of land at a commercially vibrant intersection. And by the way, for every park you build, there is less and less of a property tax base, which is already a big issue in this city with all the non-profits and government buildings.

      6. Go ahead and discuss. No one is trampling your precious free speech rights here …but we get to mock your poor reasoning abilities, especialyl by pointing out that yes, this is totally privately owned and the public has little say here!. There’s a reason why we typically allow private property owners to do what they want with their property absent significant externalities. Would you buy a run-down property if you knew that a bunch of NIMBYs were going to prevent you from ever developing it? And let’s also not forget to discuss and value the interests of the residents that your position would exclude–how many additional people will find housing thanks to a new apartment building? Are you listening to their voices? Or are you just concerned with letting more “new” people in?

  • dmitriii

    All for more population density, but dang, get a proper architect, especially in this iconic part of town. Preserve something that is special for once.

  • smoke11

    The plaza is a mess. The existing building are terrible and have ruined that corner. Yes, the open space is used for the market but it’s not a big market. It can be relocated across the street.

    Nobody uses that plaza otherwise. There are no trees. There’s no effort to landscape. It’s inhospitable. It subtracts, it does not add, to the neighborhood.

    The knee-jerk opposition is normal for the neighborhood and I hope the developers hang on.

    Instead of blind opposition I hope the ANC members pause and reflect a little. I truly think that there are many people in the neighborhood who see this building as a major improvement to what’s now there.

    There are benefits as well. Adams Morgan needs more first floor retail space. The apartment complex in the former gas station is a great addition. It also needs more density, people to give the restaurants and businesses more local businesses.

    I would hate the see the ANC kill this project before they take a pulse of the neighborhood.

  • Admiral

    The lot is privately owned. The owner is not responsible for providing the community with a free slab of cement of host a market. Density and ground floor retails are what build great neighborhoods. Let’s work with PN Hoffman and get a few nice amenities for the area, not fight them.

  • Lisa Drazin

    Adams Morgan Vision Framework, with greater than 500 respondents to the Office of Planning’s 2015 survey, fully supports this plan. Adams Morgan is in desperate need of infrastructure replacement- water, storm and sanitary pipes are greater than 100 years old. PN Hoffman is addressing what Adams Morgan needs- good water quality and fire safety. Good water quality and fire safety can only be attained through economically feasible new development. Respect the past, meet current neighborhood needs and provide for a sustainable future PN Hoffman.

  • ANC 1C commissioner Billy Simpson has a piece on Borderstan today about the plaza: https://www.borderstan.com/2016/03/09/opinion-adams-morgan-can-work-with-developer-on-plaza/

    • A

      And it’s terrible….no details…

  • Ddeek

    I wonder if a re-design could create a street level space for a covered farmers market. Maybe the farmers market could be daily. Maybe give the developer a bit of bonus density in exchange for this community benefit.

  • Neighbor Susan

    The two plazas across from one another bring light into the area, and create a central focal point for the entire Adams Morgan neighborhood, contributing to its unique appeal.

    The community, and building residents, would benefit from larger spaces within the Sun Trust Plaza so it can be still be used for small gatherings and not just casual seating by
    plantings as pictured.

    I’d like to see the bus stop remain on the block for the benefit of riders. The sidewalks are not privately owned.

    • nevermindtheend

      The bus stops will remain, which you would know if you had actually looked at the plans.


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