What It Looks Like for a Developer to Be a Good Neighbor and Still Make a Profit at 501 Eye Street SW

Two years ago, the Shakespeare Theatre Company purchased the land at 501 Eye Street SW, which is part of a neighborhood the city reserved for single-family homes and non-commercial institutions over fifty years ago. 501 Eye Street SW is the last undeveloped plot of land in Southwest D.C. zoned for single family homes, and it is zoned as R-3. This zoning designation restricts the height of buildings to 40 feet and specifically prohibits commercial establishments.

Shakespeare Theatre Company, however, in purchasing the 501 Eye Street SW property was planning a building that would tower 90 feet or more above street level and serve a variety of commercial purposes, including over one hundred rental apartments; temporary actor housing; and office, storage and rehearsal spaces for an additional seventy people. None of these usages are compatible with R-3 zoning or with the character of the neighborhood. Shakespeare Theatre Company demanded that the zoning be changed to something that would permit a 90-foot tall building with a commercial purpose.

Long-term neighbors and those who recently bought townhouses near 501 Eye Street SW objected to Shakespeare Theatre’s plans for a zoning change, particularly since Shakespeare Theatre Company’s large apartment building and commercial facility would abut the Amidon-Bowen Elementary School playground. Neighbors saw that Shakespeare Theatre’s apartment tower and commercial facilities would destroy a safe and quiet neighborhood. Shakespeare Theatre Company wrongly countered that if they weren’t allowed their 90-foot commercial and apartment building, 501 Eye Street SW would deteriorate and become a public nuisance because no developer could make a profit by building within the current zoning.

Neighbors had no choice but to refute Shakespeare Theatre’s baseless claims. We commissioned Ernst Valery Investments, a respected East Coast developer, to examine what is possible at the 501 Eye Street SW site in the context of R-3 zoning. Ernst Valery Investments determined that interested developers would definitely find construction of town houses and other uses permitted by R-3 zoning at 501 Eye Street SW to be profitable. The Ernst Valery Investments report is here. A developer interested in being a good neighbor to the existing homeowners and renters and to the elementary school could easily make a profit within the context of R-3 zoning. That same developer could find themselves contributing in a positive way to the vibrant Southwest neighborhood the city established over fifty years ago.


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