1550 Penn Ave SE Project: March 25th Meeting Recap

On Monday night, NOVO Development and representatives from the District Department of Transportation participated in a second community meeting to discuss plans for a 80-84 unit residential building at 1550 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Though it was rainy, we had a great turnout. A big thanks to Paul Williams and the staff at Historic Congressional Cemetery for hosting the meeting in the cemetery chapel.

In previous posts, I’ve detailed the project,  the zoning relief being requested by NOVO and concerns voiced by neighbors and others. The following is a recap of new information from Monday night’s meeting.


NOVO Development is asking the Board of Zoning Adjustment to grant a parking variance for the building. NOVO plans to provide 31 spaces – 11 short of the 42 required under current zoning regulations. NOVO’s transportation consultant, Bill Schulteiss of Toole Design Group, shared data on current vehicle traffic in the neighborhood and usage of on-street parking. According to the traffic study, Kentucky Ave and Freedom Way see very little traffic (15 cars per hour on KY Ave, 3 per hour on Freedom Way) though neighbors suggested that the measuring device should have been placed further north on Freedom Way. And while on-street parking is tight on G and H Streets SE and the 700 block of KY Ave, the study found a good number of spaces available on the 800 block of KY Ave and the 700-800 blocks of 17th Street SE. 

Residents asked Greg Selfridge of NOVO Development how NOVO planned to address neighbor concerns about parking. Selfridge said that he and his team are developing transportation demand management plan and exploring carshare and other options to attract tenants who do not own cars. Selfridge said he plans to provide additional information when the case is in front of ANC 6B.

Loading Dock

The current plans place the building’s loading dock off of Freedom Way, near the existing ninety degree turn in the alley. Neighbors voiced concern that trucks will be unable to maneuver safely into the dock and questioned whether trucks would block the alley. Jamie Henson, a DDOT project review manager, said that the agency will not allow trucks to back into public space to enter the loading dock. The developers will have to provide enough space so trucks can drive forward into and out of the dock . Henson also made it clear that DDOT would not approve a loading dock off of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Selfridge said that NOVO is continuing to work on the design of the loading dock.

Parking Garage

Neighbors also voiced concerns about vehicles entering and exiting the building’s parking garage. Henson said that DDOT would be open to having vehicles enter the building’s parking garage off of Kentucky Avenue. This could be accomplished by expanding the existing narrow Freedom Way curb cut to accommodate both the garage entrance and vehicles exiting the alley. The garage entrance could be designed to make it extremely difficult or impossible for vehicles traveling south on Freedom Way to enter the garage.


Neighbors requested that NOVO provide shadow studies that demonstrate how the building will impact light for the rowhouses on the 800 block of Kentucky Avenue SE. Selfridge said the studies would be provided during ANC consideration. Selfridge and building architect Eric Colbert also said that the building’s design was a work-in-progress and that they would share final design plans with neighbors once plans were finalized.

Traffic Flow and Impact of Barney Circle Project

We had a good conversation about options for improving traffic flow around the site and mitigating the potential negative impact of DDOT’s plans to introduce a full traffic circle at Barney Circle.  Currently, the 700 & 800 blocks of Kentucky Avenue SE enjoy limited traffic mainly due to a one-way configuration and restricted access off Barney Circle. Under the current configuration, drivers wishing to access the 800 block of Kentucky Avenue SE have two options:

  1. travel east on Potomac Ave SE, south on 17th St. SE, west on Barney Circle and north on Kentucky Avenue SE, or
  2. travel south down the extremely narrow Freedom Way.

The limited traffic flow on KY Ave will likely change with the completion of the Barney Circle project. Drivers traveling around the full circle will have access to KY Ave and the current two lane, one way north configuration, which will likely lead to a significant increase in traffic volume on the corridor.

In the spirit of trying to solve these potential problems, I asked attendees to consider the pros and cons of four potential options for Kentucky Avenue:

  1. Status Quo – KY Ave remains two-lane, one-way corridor. 
    • PROS – strong neighbor support, prevents cut-through traffic from north
    • CONS – Freedom Way sees increased traffic, KY Ave sees increased traffic coming off of new Barney Circle, two lanes encourages speeding, no additional on-street parking, no access to new building from north
  2. Maintain One Way, Add Angled Parking – Narrow the 700 & 800 blocks of KY Ave to one-lane and add angled parking on one side of the street.
    • PROS – keeps KY Ave one-way, narrows the street to reduce speeding, adds significant on-street parking, option preferred by  majority of residents on KY Ave
    • CONS – Freedom Way sees increased traffic, additional parking may encourage new building tenants to own cars, DDOT may not approve angled parking
  3. Convert Southern Half to Two-Way, Keep Northern Half One Way, Add Roundabout – Portion of KY Ave between Barney Circle and 16th Street SE would convert to two-way while portion north of 16th Street would remain one way with angled parking. To further calm traffic, a roundabout would be added at the intersection of KY, H and 16th
    • PROS – gets traffic off of Freedom Way, provides access to new building, limits cut-through traffic on KY Ave , roundabout makes 16th, H and KY Ave  intersection safer and calms traffic. If  DDOT approves angled parking, adds on-street parking a good distance away from the new building
    • CONS – changes KY Ave from one way to two-way, DDOT may not allow angled parking, could add traffic to 16th Street.
  4. Convert to Two-Way north of Freedom Way, Maintain One Way south of Freedom Way – KY Ave between Potomac Ave and Freedom Way would be two-way, but traffic off of Barney Circle could only proceed one-way north.
    • PROS – gets traffic off Freedom Way, provides access to new building, limits cut-through traffic on KY Ave by preventing access to Barney Circle from north.
    • CONS – changes KY Ave. from one way to two-way, no additional on-street parking, creates potential U-turn situation at Freedom Way, KY Ave intersection

Attendees weighed in on these various options, some voicing support for keeping KY Ave one way and others voicing an openness to considering two-way options. I made it clear that 1) this was the beginning of the conversation 2) the list of options was not exhaustive – there are certainly other options that should be considered, and 3) decisions would ultimately be made during the Barney Circle project. I’m grateful that attendees approached this conversation in a constructive and thoughtful way.

Upcoming ANC Consideration 

NOVO Development will present their case for zoning relief in front of ANC 6B”s Planning & Zoning Committee on Wed., April 3, 7:00 pm at St. Coletta of Greater Washington (1901 Independence Ave SE). The committee’s recommendation will then be considered by the full commission during ANC 6B’s April meeting on Tues., April 9, 7 pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave SE). I encourage residents and neighbors to attend one or both meetings – attendees will have an opportunity to share their views and concerns at both meetings.

Again, thanks to everyone who attended Monday’s meeting. I thought it was very helpful.

Whether you attended the meeting or not, please post any comments and questions below.

6 Responses to 1550 Penn Ave SE Project: March 25th Meeting Recap

  1. Eric says:

    I have trouble believing any promises from the city. I hate to call Mr Henson a liar, but I’ve been held up on PA Ave more than once from trucks backing into the loading dock of Harris Teeter. Whose loading dock is, by the way, on PA Ave. So, why allow a loading dock on PA Ave for a grocery store, who I’d have to believe gets far more deliveries than an apartment building, and not this building?

    “Jamie Henson, a DDOT project review manager, said that the agency will not allow trucks to back into public space to enter the loading dock. The developers will have to provide enough space so trucks can drive forward into and out of the dock . Henson also made it clear that DDOT would not approve a loading dock off of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Selfridge said that NOVO is continuing to work on the design of the loading dock.”

    • bflahaven says:

      Thanks for comment Eric. In fairness to Jamie Henson, he did say at the meeting that there had been exceptions to the rule in the past. He didn’t specifically cite Jenkins Row/Harris Teeter but I think DDOT views the Jenkins Row loading dock location as a big mistake, particularly since 55 foot trucks block traffic backing in and usually end up on the Penn Ave median. I also think the Jenkins Row loading dock location was a mistake, not to mention the lack of any retail frontage on the Penn Ave side of the building.

  2. Evan Handy says:

    Evidence suggests that two-way streets may be safer than one-way streets.

    • Eric says:

      If the rate of cars remained constant I think that’s likely correct. I can’t say based on any evidence provided, but my guess is if made two way the number of cars traveling on Kentucky will increase exponentially. I think that would be true whether the apartment building were there or not.

      So, I don’t believe, making Kentucky two way will increase safety one bit. I think it will radically increase the number of vehicles traveling on it and significantly decrease safety.

  3. Sean says:

    Gotta say.. I am a fan of the development.. I mean something is way better than nothing although I am not sure I want (84) 23yr old neighbors. With nothing but 1 bdroom and 2 bedroom apartments you are going to see much of the young population that is normally in Arlington, and Dupont moving to the area, especially due to the proximity to the new DHS HQ. Face it, if people can avoid living in Congress Heights by living on Capitol Hill instead, they will.

    I know the developer said they can’t find renters for two and three bedroom places… why don’t they consider putting in some commercial space in those first three zones instead of the apts, or vice versa? Obviously it’s their call but it makes me not want to support the parking variance as a control mechanism to change the unit construct.

  4. anon says:

    they want lots of small units becuase the demographic is favored by developers — singles/couples/dinks with time and disposable income. The corresponding commercial development will be entirely food/drink attracted to this area solely to serve this demographic. There are plenty of families who may favor apartment living, but the dearth of viable units and focus on singles/couples/dinks shuts them out. The rentals vs. condo/coop also shape this dynamic.

    I don’t know that much about this project, but I’m guessing all rentals, not owners? Please correct if I’m wrong. I don’t mind the development or even the scale of it or the parking — it’s just so predictable and heavy handed throughout DC. It dictates related development in a way that may not best serve the existing community.

    I know there are some who will reflexively support any new development, but it doesn’t mean we have to like everything proposed. They’re asking for a lot on zoning variances.

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