Shakespeare Theatre’s Agreement with SWNA: A History of Broken Promises

Three years have passed since the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) withdrew its historic preservation application for the 501 I Street SW site in exchange for a package of community benefits from Shakespeare Theatre and $60,000. A copy of that agreement is here. Shakespeare Theatre made many promises in the agreement and did not keep them. The number of promises broken continues to grow with the new PUD submission.

Below is a list of Shakespeare Theatre’s broken promises from the agreement and the reality of their conduct.

Section R5. …STC is committed to engaging with the Southwest Community as STC develops its plans for the Property…

Section R6. …In consideration of STC’s commitment to engage the Southwest Community in a collaborative process as STC develops its plans…SWNA is willing to withdraw the Nomination.

Status of R5 and R6: NOT DONE. STC continues to fail to engage fully with the community. Instead, communication over the last two years at public meetings has been led by Erkiletian Construction Corporation, staff from the numerous law firms STC and Erkiletian have hired, and a public relations firm. Often, when STC does engage the community, it is in a secondary capacity, and those STC representatives also sit on the Erkiletian Board of Directors. This happened most recently in the June 2017 public meeting.]

Section 3. Demolition. …Upon issuance of the Raze Permit…STC shall coordinate with…immediate neighbors to minimize impacts of demolition on…residents. [Status: NOT DONE. No coordination with the residents occurred at all.]

Section 4. Security of Site, Cleanliness. Upon acquisition of the Property, and notwithstanding the demolition of the Existing Building, STC shall immediately secure the Property, remove all trash and debris, clean out landscaped beds, and maintain the site free of all trash and debris. STC shall monitor the property and conduct trash removal and/or repairs necessary to keep the Property secure and free of trash and debris on a bi-weekly basis throughout pre-development and construction of the Development. [Status: NOT DONE. In the last 3 years, immediate neighbors and even those farther away have had to contact the developer repeatedly to get them to maintain the site. Often, a month or more would go by without any maintenance being done on the site, including snow not being cleared from several hundred feet of public sidewalk. At times, the lack of maintenance has been a physical hazard to Southwest residents.]

Section 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 new PUD doesn’t include the 70 off-street parking spaces promised. No mention is made of trying to ensure residents of the proposed development will not be allowed to participate in the Residential Permit Parking program]

Section 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. I am one of the people named in this section. Shortly after the SWNA agreement was signed, I stopped received communications from Shakespeare Theatre and Erkiletian. The other person named in the neighborhood also saw this promise broken.]

Section 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 a three-dimensional model of the proposals, the community has never seen one for either PUD. At one point, the STC/Erkiletian lawyer and PR team told the community that 2-D renderings were what they meant. That is ridiculous.]

Section 6.c. Community Engagement. Prior to filing a PUD application, STC shall hold at least two community meetings open to the general public at which STC will share its plans for the Development and process/timeline for construction. These meetings shall be advertised…by direct e-mail notification to neighbors…[Status: NOT DONE. With the first PUD, STC’s architectural firm and PR firm held one meeting the day before the PUD was submitted, at which point they were not making any changes to the design. The second PUD was submitted a few weeks ago. No public meetings on the new PUD have been held. Neighbors were not directly notified of the new PUD.]

Section 6.d. Community Engagement. Prior to filing a PUD application and after the Charette, STC shall hold at least one meeting with the Townhouse Residents to present its Development plans and discuss impacts and concerns of neighbors in the respective adjoining and confronting townhouse communities. SWNA and STC hereby acknowledge that although one such meeting has already taken place, STC shall be obligated to hold at least one additional meeting in accordance with this Section 6(d). [Status: NOT DONE for either the first PUD or the second one.]

Section 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.]

Section 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.]

Shakespeare Theatre hasn’t kept the promises they made three years ago in the SWNA agreement. It’s little wonder the community has no faith in Shakespeare Theatre now.  

Another Year, Another Bad PUD from Shakespeare Theatre

On November 8, 2017, Shakespeare Theatre and Erkiletian Construction Corporation filed another Planned Unit Development that proposes to change the zoning at 501 I Street SW. The new plan is just as bad for the community as the old one was.

The community doesn’t want a zoning change at the site. We want townhouses on the only Southwest parcel of land that does not yet have a plan for development. It’s not just the neighborhood talking.

501 I Street SW is part of the Neighborhood Conservation Area. The Zoning Commission says that Neighborhood Conservation areas are expected to maintain existing land uses and community character over the next 20 years.  The PUD that Shakespeare Theatre and Erkiletian Construction propose would change the land use and the character of the surrounding community, in contravention of the law governing Neighborhood Conservation Areas. The Zoning Commission also says that if change occurs in a Neighborhood Conservation Area, it will be modest in scale and will consist primarily of scattered site infill housing, public facilities, and institutional uses. Major changes in density should not be expected.

The new PUD violates the Neighborhood Conservation Area by changing the land use, altering the character of the community, and vastly increasing population density when compared to the surrounding neighborhood.

What a terrible PUD.

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!

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?

 

 

 

Stop Trying to Buy Us Off

Instead of accepting offers to relocate their project, Shakespeare Theatre is renewing its efforts to buy off the neighbors around 501 Eye Street SW by hosting a community benefits meeting on Thursday, May 19th at 6:30pm at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School. We don’t want their “community benefits.” We want 501 Eye Street SW construction of within-zoning housing for families who want to live in Southwest D.C.

But Shakespeare Theatre still isn’t listening. They’re still trying to buy off the neighborhood by building a high-rise apartment that isn’t in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.

Shakespeare Theatre’s first foray into buying off the neighborhood occurred on September 17, 2014. At that time, Shakespeare Theatre agreed to pay a Southwest organization $60,000 to withdraw their historic preservation application for  501 I Street SW as part of a package of “community benefits.”

Leaders of the Southwest organization that accepted the funds subsequently resigned their positions.

The neighborhood, local officials, and many others have tried to help Shakespeare Theatre understand how inappropriate their proposal for the 501 Eye Street site is. It remains a mystery why Shakespeare Theatre is continuing to pursue its zone-busting apartment tower in a 3-story townhouse neighborhood that abuts a 2-story elementary school property.

Other more appropriate development sites for Shakespeare Theatre exist in Southwest and near-Southeast. Those are sites already zoned for what Shakespeare Theatre wants to do. Some of those spaces are already built. Instead of continuing to pursue plans opposed by the neighborhood, Shakespeare Theatre could sell the 501 Eye Street property and get started consolidating their administrative operations elsewhere.

The United Neighbors of Southwest commissioned a study showing that building townhouses on the 501 Eye Street SW site still makes money for a developer. Other developers are interested in purchasing the site and putting townhouses there. The solution is not only clear, but it’s also feasible: Sell the property to a developer with plans that don’t change the zoning.

For some reason, Shakespeare Theatre is choosing not to pursue the clearest, most feasible way forward.

Instead, Shakespeare Theatre’s actions beg numerous questions such as…

  1. Why isn’t Shakespeare Theatre selling the 501 Eye Street property at a profit?
  2. Why isn’t Shakepseare Theatre putting funds from a property sale into a move-in-ready  site already zoned for what they want to do?
  3. Why does Shakespeare Theatre refuse to admit that the only thing the neighbors want for the 501 Eye Street site is construction within the current zoning?
  4. When is Shakespeare Theatre going to stop trying to buy off the neighborhood?
  5. How much D.C. taxpayer money accepted by Shakespeare Theatre over the years is now being used to hire public relations firms and law firms to fight those same taxpayers? 
  6. Is D.C. taxpayer money being used to subsidize Shakespeare Theatre’s “community benefits” offers?

 

Developing Alternative Options for 501 Eye Street SW

In February, advocates for neighborhood-appropriate development at 501 Eye Street SW organized as the United Neighbors of Southwest (UNSW) and subsequently established a fund to pay for legal advice and expert studies.

We’ve been able to do a number of positive things with these funds including hiring lawyers and a company that analyzes traffic and parking issues. We also hired a firm to conduct a professional study to demonstrate that a low-rise building option would be economically viable at the 501 Eye Street SW site. The study included a conceptual budget, possible sources and uses of funds, and a returns analysis.

Of course, the alternative development option is just that – an option. But with it, UNSW proved that development at 501 Eye Street SW can meet current zoning requirements, conform with the existing character of the neighborhood, be amenable to members of the community, and still be profitable for a developer. This option was produced in a tight timeframe. With more time, no doubt other options that meet the criteria above could be identified.

UNSW still has a lot of work to do to encourage smart development at the 501 Eye Street SW site. If you’re interested in contributing to the fund or in putting a pro-neighborhood sign in your yard or window, feel free to contact me at eyeon501sw [at] gmail.com, and I will put you in touch with the right people.