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.

 

 

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.