Zoning Commission Approves Set-Down Hearing

After much discussion, the Zoning Commission approved a set-down hearing for 501 I Street SW, which is case file 17-21. As part of the discussion, Commissioners noted that they were only allowed to review certain government documents and not others already included in the case file.

Commissioners voted to approve a set-down hearing in part to explore the issue of whether the Planned Unit Development (PUD) that Erkiletian Construction and Shakespeare Theatre proposed is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. The Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and United Neighbors of Southwest contend that the PUD is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan. The Office of Planning, which has had some staffing changes recently, altered their position and now contends the PUD is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioners said the only way for them to explore the issue of consistency with the Comprehensive Plan was to have a set-down hearing, which was approved as a contested case. Here’s a link to the most recent ANC opposition letter.

This is not the only issue where Office of Planning and the ANC are at odds. Certain elements within the city are currently proposing to strip the ANCs (and by default the communities they represent) of their say in community issues. This gutting would happen by a wholesale rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan that would essentially hand developers the keys to the city and remove many protections from communities. The issue of changes to the Comprehensive Plan is being taken up by the City Council in a March 20, 2018, public hearing.

The bill appears custom-made for developers. Here are just a few examples of concern:

  • Any plot in the city not built to the maximum allowable height in its area would be defined under the new bill as “underutilized” (213.4).
  • The Future Land Use Map would no longer “express public policy” but instead only “generally depict public policy” (225.1).
  • The current land use definitions would be eliminated and replaced by general descriptions open to subjective interpretation (223, 224, 225, 226).
  • Neighborhood Conservation Areas would apply only to low density residential areas (223.4) – generally only the city’s richest neighborhoods – and would no longer be intended to conserve other, less affluent, established neighborhoods (223.5).
  • Historic districts would be seen to have “unique opportunities for growth” (205.3).

Here’s a link to the text of Bill 22-663 “Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2018.”

This bill is part of an extremely worrying shift in the state of affairs in Washington D.C. over the last few years. It’s heartening to know that the Committee of 100 is completely against the changes proposed in 22-663, but individual voices must speak out against these changes, too.

Once Erkiletian Construction and Shakespeare Theatre meet certain preparatory conditions, a hearing date will be set to review their Planned Unit Development proposed for 501 I Street SW.

Zoning Commission Offers a Rebuttal to Erkiletian and Shakespeare Theatre

Amidon-Bowen with Flowers 1On Monday January 29, 2018, the D.C. Zoning Commission declined to vote on a set-down hearing at 501 I Street SW. Instead, the Zoning Commission told Erkiletian and Shakespeare Theatre to work with the neighborhood on a more agreeable way forward at 501 I Street. Members of the Zoning Commission expressed concern that Erkiletian and Shakespeare Theatre were requesting a zoning change that the Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously opposed.

Depending on the amount of progress made, the issue may be taken up again at the next Zoning Commission hearing.

The neighborhood remains committed to maintaining the site’s current R-3 zoning. In December 2017, we presented our Advisory Neighborhood Commission with a petition signed by 244 local residents who opposed a zoning change at the site. Other places exist in Southwest where Erkiletian could build its family-unfriendly apartments and where Shakespeare Theatre could meet its costume factory, actor housing, and rehearsal space needs. For example, literally two blocks from 501 I Street, a 10,000-square-foot black box theatre is being built that could be used to address rehearsal space needs.

The neighborhood knows that the 501 I Street property could be sold at a profit to other developers who have already expressed interest in buying it and putting in housing that maintains the character of the neighborhood.

When are Erkiletian and Shakespeare Theatre going to stop wasting their money and using up everyone’s time on such a poorly-conceived project? They need to do the right thing and sell the property to a developer who will enhance the neighborhood instead of attempting to despoil it.

 

 

 

 

 

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.