Hostility to Adams Morgan Plaza Face-Lift Remains Despite New Plan

by Andrew Ramonas April 11, 2016 at 9:45 am 32 Comments

The latest proposal from a property developer looking to build on a large Adams Morgan plaza has failed to win over a key community leader who has pushed to keep much of the outdoor space open to the public.

PN Hoffman on Friday released updated renderings of a seven-story mixed-used building it plans to construct on the SunTrust property at 1800 Columbia Road NW. Although the new design leaves more outdoor space than an earlier proposal, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C member Billy Simpson wrote in an email to locals that the developer “need[s] to do better.”

“The project is located within the Washington Heights Historic District which raises a number of concerns about the scale of the proposal under the Historic Preservation Guidelines,” said Simpson, whose district includes the SunTrust property. “And while the revised plans preserve a small plaza, that space will be used primarily by PN Hoffman’s own commercial tenant, and does not leave adequate room to host Adams Morgan’s weekly farmers market or the other community uses to which the space is put from time to time.”

Shawn Seaman, PN Hoffman’s senior vice president for acquisitions and development, said in a statement that his company has “diligently maintained a track record of working with communities” for more than two decades.

“Our revised concept design sets the building further back from the corner and provides a more generous outdoor plaza,” Seaman said. “Specifically, the project will activate the corner with the addition of complementary street-facing retail and vibrant landscaping, an amenity which the current condition of the property does not provide. In addition, PN Hoffman remains committed to identifying a location for the farmers market and assisting in its relocation within the neighborhood.”

In the revised renderings, the revamped plaza includes large planters, benches, chairs and an outdoor cafe space for a tenant.

Despite Simpson’s opposition to PN Hoffman’s plaza redevelopment plans thus far, the company has backers.

More than 64 percent of respondents in an unscientific Borderstan poll on the developer’s initial plaza renderings expressed support for the construction of a building that takes up much of the space that is open to pedestrians today.

PN Hoffman representatives are scheduled to attend an ANC meeting on April 20 to discuss their plans. The meeting is open to the public.

Images of renderings via ANC 1C/PN Hoffman

  • Eli Glazier

    Can the farmers market not be held across the street instead? https://www.google.com/maps/@38.9227507,-77.0428682,130m/data=!3m1!1e3

    • gbrown

      Or the park bounded by Euclid/Champlain/Columbia…

  • anonymous admo resident

    I love this new design. This would be such a nice addition to the neighborhood. Also, once again, I don’t understand Simpson’s logic. First, the farmers market on that corner isn’t really a market for farmers; I’m pretty sure no bananas or mangoes grow around here. Second, said farmers market operates only 2/3s of the year, on one day of the week. Third, there are lots of other places for it (see the two other comments thus far). Fourth, this is private property! I don’t understand why protectionist local representatives are so dedicated to making it painful to do business in this city! Don’t hold Adams Morgan back!

    • Ted

      Unfortunately your assertion regarding the farmers market not benefitting local farmers is incorrect. Mike and Esther from Licking Creek Bend Farm, located a short distance from the District, have supported our neighborhood with locally grown produce for decades. They have become part of the Adams Morgan community for many residents and have themselves made the farmers market a neighborhood destination. Perhaps actually going to your local farmers market and engaging with the community that you so strongly support could give you some perspective and help you avoid making false assertions online. Unless I’m wrong and another cookie cutter apartment complex truly is what’s holding the neighborhood back from reaching its full potential.

      • meh

        Would the farmers market be harmed by moving a block or two away from its current location?

      • Anonymous Again

        There are farmers markets – like fresh farms – that require produce to be local. The Adams Morgan farmers market doesn’t, which is why you can buy incongruous things like bananas and mangoes there. So while I am sure there are some great farmers there, it doesn’t serve the purpose of helping residents know that they are helping local farmers and not just paying more to buy grocery store produce outside. For what it’s worth, the nearby Mt Pleasant market, does actually limit to local farmers. But this isn’t the point. The point is that that space is underutilized and the farmers market makes for a poor excuse to stymie development, especially since there are other open spaces nearby that would do just as well.

      • A

        How about, instead, I go to Smucker farms…or the Dupont farmers market and i enjoy hanging out in Kalorama park instead?!? This small concrete open area serves no purpose. Absolutely none. Who are all these people that hang out there? I never see them. There are two gorgeous parks with actual grass ~2 blocks from the site…go hang out there, like everyone else does. Lets get some more people living in the neighborhood to support better restaurants and retail.

      • Millions of the people who make this city work, including me, live in “cookie cutter apartment complex”es. People are what make great neighborhoods and great cities, and people need places to live.

        I’m pretty sure that Mike and Esther and their fellow vendors can find their way to a farmer’s market located in the larger, sunnier plaza across the street.

  • Yeah_I_said_it

    This building is too big. The plaza will be taken up by a restaurant according to article. No bueno.

    • meh

      Why is the building too big? Why does there need to be a bigger plaza there?

    • Skidrowe

      So, did you bother to look at the rendering of the plaza? The restaurant tables are a single row lined up against the building, leaving the other 90% of the plaza for public use. For which it appears to be designed — hard to see how a sidewalk cafe would fit into the benches/planters shown. When there’s a huge discrepancy between a drawing that you can review with your own eyes, and the statement of a politician, who do you believe?

  • Todd Krainin

    Big thumbs up from this Adams Morgan resident. This is obviously an improvement over the bank that occupies the spot. DC needs more residential development, the retail extends the commercial character of 18th street, and the whole look fits the neighborhood nicely. Don’t let an imaginary ideal development be the enemy of the very good.

  • asaf reich

    Especially with the revised plan, this looks like a good project to me. Most buildings would be better than the current bank, and DC needs more residential units so badly. Look, if Simpson/ANC 1 is really obsessed with having a farmers market in the plaza, why don’t you just figure out how tall/dense the building on the rest of the site would have to be to make Hoffman agree to leaving the plaza, and then offer to allow them that density?

  • Nine Years in Adams Morgan

    I feel better about this new design. There is more plaza space, including for patio dining, and the landscaping is attractive. The style of the building is a mix of classic and modern, which I think works for that space. I would prefer a six story building, but seven is acceptable. Sure, there is no space for the farmer’s market, but I have not heard a good reason why the market could not be moved kitty corner to the plaza next to Southern Hospitality or up Columbia Rd to the triangle park near the new hotel. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but the farmer’s market is a small and poorly attended event that could be moved without disturbing the “soul” of AdMo.

    I can’t overstate how happy I am to know that the godforsaken Sun Trust building and plaza is being redeveloped. I think we can all agree that they are ugly as hell.

  • 40yearAMresident

    I normally agree with Billy on most issues, but not this one. I support the project and think the romanticizing of the site is absurd. The plaza? EMPTY almost every day. Used 6 hours once a year for the almost defunct AM Day. Farmers market? Almost a joke compared to Dupont, 14th & U or even CoHi…oh, and Dupont closes off an entire block or two! This project is a matter of right…..my only hope would be the design would be tweeked where adjoining 18th street and Columbia Road townhouses, perhaps dropping a story adjacent to both to segue more smoothly into the surrounding area. Otherwise a fantastic addition to an area that has been declining for way too long.

  • AMDCer

    I like the redesign. I had commented somewhere (maybe Popville?) that making the side facing the corner concave would improve the sight lines and make the plaza area more open/welcoming. Like it or not, the plaza (as well as the one across the street) make that intersection unique, and I think many folks wouldn’t realize that until it’s gone.

  • Josh gray

    Ugly ugly building. On that well traveled corner, it should be possible to build something beautiful. In contrast, this proposal looks like the mediocre architecture of commercial developers seeking maximum square feet. Iron is that square feet are more valuable if they are scarce and beautiful….

  • Buddy

    I’m with Billy on this one. I used to work at a bar across the street from the plaza, and the plaza is used for many more social events than the farmers market. The real question is, why is everyone anti-open space? Just because we ask to preserve some of the plaza for public use (more than the new design) doesn’t mean the builder, or another builder, isn’t going to develop that lot. It will get done and I agree that it needs to be rebuilt. But the builder is doing what ALL builders do – they’re showing residents their best-case scenario knowing that they’ll have to compromise somewhere in the middle, which is where their expected profit margin is. We’re no where near that middle point yet so don’t be fooled into thinking the builder is going to back out of this. I personally would like to have some community green space there. And – who ever wrote that DC needs more housing, you’re so far off the mark with that comment. Lastly, after these luxury condos are built and providing much needed shelter for the city’s upper class, we’re going to hear complaints like this – “18th St. is too loud. We need to close the bars.” The Plaza will get developed. Lets do it right.

    • meh

      I’m sorry, but I’m confused by your assertion that DC doesn’t need more housing.

      Also, could you give any example of social events at the existing plaza? I only ever see pigeons there.

    • A

      All i hear about in DC is the lack of affordable housing. You know how to get more affordable housing? With inventory!

      Also, aside from the farmer’s market, the plaza is literally never used. I walk by it every day and, at most, there are a few pigeons eating discarded chikcen bones and jumbo slices. When do people actually hang out at this “plaza” please give me a day and time and i’d love to see people actually using the concrete monstrosity.

    • therealurbanette

      Between 2009 and 2014, DC gained 67,000 new residents but only 17,000 additional housing units. Economic 101: when demand outstrips supply, prices go up. DC needs additional housing to meet the demand and prevent the displacement of lower income households.

      • Buddy

        It’s actually Economic”s” 101, if you’re trying to sound smart? Listen, I’m not going to get into petty argument over this issue on Borderstan, but the fact is that DC suffers from uneven housing inventory AND employment opportunities. Listen up “A” and “meh” – you can’t just toss out a statement like “we need more housing” without qualifying your statement. What you meant to say was – we need more affordable housing. Adding a handful of “luxury condo” to an already heavily saturated area does not help the average citizen. Solving the economic diasparity in the city is a totally different issue – why even add that to the argument? We’re talking about the amount of plaza space left after adding the new structure. And I say we need more. The current plaza functions as an free community center and park. There are impromptu events all the time and I will not sit here and list them off for the people who admittedly only “walk by” the park and never spend time actually being in the area like I have. Just because YOU don’t see anyone using the plaza does NOT give you the right to vote to take it away from others. A little preservation is all we’re asking for. Not the destruction of Admo. Get a grip people.

        • therealurbanette

          Actually, luxury condos do help the housing market, in that they increase the total supply of housing, which pushes costs down. And because I sometimes forget an ‘s’ on words, I may not be believable, here are some numbers from people who study this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/costar-increased-supply-of-apartments-pushing-rents-down-across-all-building-classes/2015/01/02/4c50f348-9056-11e4-a900-9960214d4cd7_story.html
          It may seem to you that the area is highly saturated, but the demand is still high, which is evident in how quickly the buildings are leasing up. Sure, one building won’t make a difference, but increasing the housing supply is a public good.

        • Skidrowe

          “A little preservation,” or control of the process that you have no right to control? Because your stridency sure comes off as the latter. The lesson you and Commissioner Simpson are sending to private landowners is: Fence it off and don’t let anyone in, lest the public decide that your land rights have become theirs, even as your land expenses remain yours.

          • Buddy

            Let me clarify, again, that I am in favor of building on the lot and I also agree that the current plaza is an eye sore. What I don’t agree with building over it just because. The new rendition left a good amount of space open on the corner – sure, it’s private but it preserves some of space for outdoor seating or whatever. I would like to see more space or at least wider sidewalks with benches, maybe some greenery. That’s my argument. That corner could be really nice. Why build over it?

            I’m still at a loss for why people keep being housing into the issue. This is a conversation about space.

            As for there being plenty of parks around the neighborhood, sure, but that corner is special and a prominent feature of the neighborhood.

        • meh

          Don’t put words in my mouth. When I said DC needs more housing, I meant DC needs more housing. We need more housing of all kinds – and yes, that *includes* “affordable housing” (which has an extremely wide variety of definitions).

        • If you’d like some more background on why “we need more housing,” here’s a thoughtful article from a magazine by and for affordable housing advocates.

    • Jay

      We have plenty of open spaces and I mean plenty. I’ve lived in Adams Morgan 20 years and have not once sat in that plaza. HATE it. It’s a disgrace and needs to go. It is only used for that market (which could be moved across the street) and by others that just hang out and feed the birds or as a dumping grounds for pizza boxes by drunks on Friday/Saturday. The city could spend more money improving the many, existing park spaces. If the city would make the triangle at 19th, Columbia, and Kalorama–which is always empty–into a nicer spot those displaced by the plaza construction could hang out down there. The people against this are probably the same ninnies in the neighborhood who successfully blocked the new hotel from having a rooftop bar/restaurant because of noise concerns. Now they are trying to screw this up to. We need nicer places to go to in Adams Morgan. If you don’t like noise move to a quieter neighborhood. And if you think we need more park space you need to explore the neighborhood just a little bit more. It’s there.

  • Maria L. Guevara

    Excellent addition to the neighborhood. Beautiful!

  • miglewis

    If we’re going to preservationist, this spot wasn’t meant to be open, it was the Knickerbocker Theater which went right up to the sidewalk. Open areas are good and necessary but they are supposed to enhance the community, not be detrimental to its growth and development. There is event space across the street, or in the public square 400 feet up Columbia, or 600 feet away in Kalorama Park or in Pierce Park 800 ft away or Marie Reed 1,000 feet away. Between this ridiculous opposition and the negative review of AGU’s very good plan for their new net-zero design being shot down, I’m beginning to think the review process in DC needs an overhaul.

  • Sonia

    This building does not belong in AdMo. Go to Clarendon, Arlington or Bethesda where everybody loves these modern gigantic kind of buildings. We like our neighborhood where SMALL, beautiful, row houses preserve the character and history of the city. We don’t want these type of constructions here.

    • nevermindtheend

      You must go around with blinders on to avoid seeing all of the other equally tall – or taller! – apartment buildings in Adams Morgan.


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