Shakespeare and Erkiletian Make a Change No One Wants

IMG-2976
Situation-appropriate quote found attached to the 501 Eye Street fence.

At the Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting on September 11, 2017, Erkiletian’s lawyer and the developer’s architect presented a change to the 501 Eye Street SW plans that they said the community requested at the June 2017 meeting. Another pedestrian entrance was added to plans for the development. In fact, no one in the neighborhood recalls such a change ever being requested. Ever. Going back 3 1/2 years since all this started.

So the developer made a change that no one wanted and presented that change as being responsive to the community. These are not actions on which a trusting relationship with the community is built.

Further examination of the developer’s revised plans boggles the mind. The main building is now right up against the sidewalk on the 6th Street side. Several years ago, the neighborhood let the developer know that the lot they purchased did not go all the way to the sidewalk on 6th Street.

Worse, the second floor of the I Street side of the development actually overhangs the sidewalk. The developer confirmed that fact at the meeting. The sidewalk is a public space. It seems incredibly unlikely a developer would be allowed to build a structure that overhangs public space.

And then there is the equal-height  annex building being wedging into a tight spot between the townhouses and the main building. Rarely spoken about, the annex lurks on the sidelines. It’s like they don’t want to draw attention to that significant structure in the plans.

The developer group also spoke briefly about identifying off-site parking for Shakespeare Theatre. No details were provided. The number of spots they were talking for Shakespeare staff pales in comparison to the unmet need for the apartment dwellings they are trying to entice into the building.

Per the usual, no one from Shakespeare Theatre appeared to be in attendance. Instead, the community continues to interact with the developer, their latest lawyer in a string of lawyers, and a public relations firm or two.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission noted the sorry state of the site, which had seen little or no upkeep throughout the summer. The green fence lining is tattered in places and seems completely unnecessary. Brown and yellow weed patches were grown up all over the lot to above the height of the fence. The developer promised to get someone on that situation right away, which apparently meant five days later. The lot is still in a pretty sorry state.

It’s as if Shakespeare and Erkiletian don’t have a plan. They don’t seem to understand how important public space is to D.C. residents. They aren’t being responsive to requests from the community. Shakespeare and Erkiletian continue to demonstrate that they don’t know how to be a good neighbor, and they don’t know how to build trust with the community.

 

 

No, Shakespeare Theater, You Don’t Have the Office of Planning’s Approval (or the Neighborhood’s)

Despite a quote from a Shakespeare attorney to the media implying that the DC Office of Planning supports the revised high-rise plan, the Office of Planning does not!

A member of United Neighbors of Southwest contacted the Office of Planning about Shakespeare Theatre’s characterization in the media of the Office’s support. The Office of Planning confirmed it has not met with the developers for many months, and the Office of Planning has not even seen the proposal much less taken a position on it. The last time Shakespeare’s proposal came up before the Office of Planning, the Office said the developers need to demonstrate community support for any proposal.

Community support for Shakespeare Theatre’s plan does not exist. Shakespeare Theatre continues to scheme about ways to parlay their (formerly) good name into a cash cow that ruins the very neighborhood it looms over. Shakespeare Theatre shouldn’t put words into the mouth of the Office of Planning.

The battle to preserve our community continues on many fronts. It’s not yet clear if Shakespeare Theatre will be presenting their latest high-rise plan to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission at the September meeting. We’ll keep you posted!

Neighborhood Rejects Same Old Shakespeare Plan

A new building design was presented at Shakespeare Theatre’s community meeting today, but it was really the same old story.

Once again Shakespeare’s latest lawyer showed off a design. Once again community member after community member pointed out how the design would harm the neighborhood. Once again nobody from the community expressed any support for the new design. A snap poll of the audience found the neighborhood opposed to the new design by a margin of over 30 to 1.

Once again Shakespeare Theater promised unnamed “community benefits” that they apparently thought would win the neighborhood over. Once again Shakespeare Theater had no answer when it was pointed out how they had reneged on their previous promises. (See our June 28, 2016 post here for some examples.)

Once again Community members asked Shakespeare why they didn’t just sell the property at a profit and erect their hi-rise in one of the many DC areas zoned for large buildings. Once again Shakespeare had no answer.

Once again it was clear that Shakespeare was only holding this meeting to be able to say they had talked with the community. They weren’t interested in listening to us – they were interested in checking a box so they could move on to try to get the zoning changed.

The community is not going to let that happen.

Shakespeare next hopes to present their new design at an upcoming Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting. We’ll be sure to let you know if and when that gets scheduled so the community can turn out in force.

Why Can’t Shakespeare Theatre Plan a Decent Meeting?

Repeatedly over the last 3 years, Shakespeare Theatre has provided inadequate notice of proposed meetings, and it has happened again with the Theatre’s planned community meeting on June 22 at 7pm at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School. Shakespeare Theatre should provide at least 2 weeks notice of a meeting, and they have repeatedly failed to do that.

Shakespeare Theatre has also repeatedly failed to make materials available ahead of time. The lack of information ahead of time leaves residents struggling to understand complex plans on the fly, and forces the neighborhood to argue from a disadvantageous position with Shakespeare’s phalanx of zoning lawyers and expert planners.

Over and over again, Shakespeare Theatre has attempted to put the community at a disadvantage over an issue the Theatre has disingenuously pursued since May 2, 2014, over 3 years ago. Shakespeare Theatre’s behavior continues to be a breech of faith with the community. Meetings should be scheduled at least 2 weeks in advance, and Shakespeare Theatre should provide materials to the community at least 2 weeks in advance.

 

 

In Bad Faith: Shakespeare Theatre Still Isn’t Fullfilling Its Obligations According to the SWNA Agreement

On September 17, 2014, Shakespeare Theatre Corporation (STC) made a series of promises to the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) in return for SWNA’s withdrawing their Historic Preservation Application for the 501 Eye Street SW site. Nearly two years later, Shakespeare Theatre has failed to fulfill many of the promises it made in the SWNA agreement. On the back of these unfulfilled promises, Shakespeare Theatre is now making new promises to community groups.

In the long list of Shakespeare Theatre’s unfulfilled promises in the SWNA agreement, some commitments were for items to be completed immediately or to be enacted continuously, and others were for items to be completed within a year of the agreement. Still others were to be included in the Planned Unit Development for 501 Eye Street SW. Below is a list of  STC’s unfulfilled promises by section in the SWNA agreement:

R5. …STC is committed to engaging with the Southwest Community as STC develops its plans for the Property, to minimizing the impact of the Development on the Southwest Community, and to addressing, to the greatest extent possible, the concerns that a redevelopment of the Property poses for SWNA and surrounding residents. [Status: NOT DONE]

3. Demolition…Upon issuance of the Raze Permit…STC shall coordinate with…immediate neighbors to minimize impacts of demolition on…residents. [Status: NOT DONE]

5. b. Off-Street Parking…A minimum of 70 off-street parking spaces shall be provided on the Property for use by STC and residents of the Development. Residents of the Development shall not be entitled to participate in any existing or future Residential Permit Parking program…[Status:  NOT DONE. STC’s PUD includes 70 off-street parking spaces but also proposes to reserve numerous spaces of on-street parking for itself]

6. a. Community Engagement…STC will be responsive to and communicate regularly with Townhouse Management III, Inc., and Townhouse Management I, Inc., and a recognized group of residents thereof who live in houses surrounding the Property…regarding all aspects of the development process that will impact the Townhouse Residents, including but not limited to the demolition and construction schedule. STC will also fulfill its promise to make available to the Townhouse Residents all studies commissioned by STC related to the Existing Building, Property, and surrounding infrastructure, including, but not limited to, goetechnical, shading, utility, and transportation studies…STC will continue to provide the Townhouse Residents with further studies as they are completed. [Status: NOT DONE]

6. b. Community Engagement…Within thirty (30) days of Effective Date [September 17, 2014], STC agrees to organize a charette with SWNA and the Townhouse Residents at which three-dimensional models of the proposed massing concepts for the Property will be presented and discussed with meeting participants (the “Charrette”). [Status: NOT DONE, despite repeated requests for the three-dimensional model]

7. c. i. B. Public Benefits…Beginning on the Effective Date [September 17, 2014] STC shall reserve tickets and gift certificates for adult Master Acting Classes and Camp Shakespeare for Southwest Community special events and raffles…[Status:  NOT DONE until 2015 and then only in part.]

7. c. i. C. Public Benefits…Beginning on the Effective Date [September 17, 2014] STC shall coordinate with SWNA and/or ANC 6D to distribute free tickets to Ward 6 Night Free For All performances at Sidney Harmon Hall. [Status: NOT DONE.  For the first time, free tickets suddenly appeared on Thursday June 23, 2016, for a Saturday June 25, 2016 production. Few in the community were aware of the opportunity. A Ward 6 Night Free For All performance has not been established.]

The full SWNA agreement can be found here.

 

 

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.

 

Community Benefits Meeting Crumbles Over Shakespeare Theatre’s Refusal to Listen to the Community

At the community benefits meeting on Thursday, Southwest residents reiterated our position:

  • We want construction of within-zoning housing at 501 Eye Street SW.
  • Nothing Shakespeare Theatre has to offer is worth compromising our neighborhood for.

Southwest spoke loud and clear. And Shakespeare Theatre again refused to listen.

Approximately seventy Southwesters attended the meeting. Approximately forty were from the four townhouse management areas surrounding the property. The remaining attendees generally consisted of neighbors from Harbour Square, Tiber Island, Waterside Towers Townhouses, Waterside Towers Commons, The View, Carrollsburg, 700 7th Street, and Amidon-Bowen Elementary School parents.

Sadly, some of the attendees from outside the townhouse management area got their first taste of how little interest the Shakespeare Theatre has in listening to the community.

The meeting, which occurred in the Amidon-Bowen Elementary School cafeteria, was moderated by the former President and now Treasurer of the Amidon-Bowen Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Martin Welles. Neighbors sat at seven tables with ten people at each table plus a table spokesperson that Shakespeare Theatre insisted be a Shakespeare Theater representative. If Shakespeare Theatre consulted any best practices related to community engagement, that wasn’t evident at the meeting. Shakespeare Theatre dictated the ground rules, and the first one was to “obey the event format.”

Conversation doesn’t occur when one party is obeying and the other is dictating.

Under DC law, public benefits [community benefits] are features of a Planned Unit Development that would benefit the surrounding neighborhood or the public in general “to a significantly greater extent than would likely result from development of the site under the matter-of-right.” Community benefits are not supposed to be a way to circumvent zoning requirements or sidestep the need for community approval of the overall project. Time and again, the community has said Shakespeare Theatre’s plans for the site are inappropriate. On Thursday night, all the tables made clear that no zoning change was desired at the site, and no benefit could be offered that would compensate for the damage to our neighborhood, including the school, as a result of construction of a large office/apartment complex at 501 Eye Street SW.

With one exception, the Shakespeare-appointed table spokesperson refused to record neighbor comments about keeping the zoning the same. At least four-fifths of those present found their voice silenced, dismissed, or altogether ignored. Even at the table where the table moderator reluctantly recorded neighbor comments, those comments were ultimately rejected by the overall Shakespeare Theatre representative.

After the false discussion phase, former PTA President Welles noted that his own suggestions had largely been turned down, and he said he understood others had been subjected to the same refusals. He wanted to know whether the participants thought it was even worthwhile having the benefits listed by the STC moderators read out aloud.

The response from the assembly was a single loud “NO!”

Given the lopsided response, Welles said he would not go through with the reading of requested benefits. He relinquished moderation to Shakespeare Theater. Welles, along with approximately 60 neighbors, walked out of the meeting.

Shakespeare Theatre’s shameful conduct begs the question: What was the purpose of the meeting? The only answer can be: Another false attempt to show that Shakespeare Theatre is listening to the community. They are not.

An organization that is listening wouldn’t have dictated ground rules and put their own lackeys at each table. They would have let each table appoint its own spokesperson. An organization that was listening wouldn’t refuse to acknowledge the vast majority of requests from the community. An organization that was listening wouldn’t dismiss repeated, vociferous, widespread neighborhood concerns and requests. Shakespeare Theatre hasn’t done anything to show that it cares about being a good neighbor.

On July 28, 2014, at a meeting at Arena Stage with the community, Chris Jennings, Shakespeare Theatre’s managing director, said that Shakespeare Theatre would not proceed with their plans if the neighborhood objects to the proposal. We object. We object. We object. We don’t want the zoning at the site changed. Shakespeare Theatre can sell the site at a profit and build elsewhere.

Where is the accountability at Shakespeare Theatre? How could the neighborhood ever trust an organization that went back on such a public statement from its managing director? How could the neighborhood ever trust an organization that paid $60,000 to a non-profit in return for a historic designation being removed from 501 Eye Street SW so building demolition could begin? How could the neighborhood ever trust an organization that purports to be listening, when in fact all we see them doing is attempting to silence, dismiss, and ignore the community they want to be part of?