Residents Consider Redevelopment Proposals for Eastern Branch Building

The Eastern Branch Building, located at 261 17th Street SE. Photo by Century Associates.

The Eastern Branch Building, located at 261 17th Street SE. Photo by Century Associates.

Around 50-60 residents attended the Jan. 20 DC Department of General Services community meeting to review two responses the department received to its recent Request for Proposals for the Eastern Branch Building, the city-owned, vacant former Boys & Girls Club Building at 261 17th Street SE. At the beginning of the meeting, which was held at Payne Elementary School, Michelle Chin of DGS announced that the department hopes to make an award decision by the end of February.

Below is a brief summary of each proposal. You can view the full presentations on the DGS website.

Proposal 1 – Dantes Partners & The Menkiti Group 

Dantes Drawing (2)

  • 49 units of senior housing, 100% affordable (priced at roughly $1,000/month). All one bedroom units of roughly 600-800 square feet.
  • Preserves existing building facade but add a two-story addition. The addition would be set back from the existing facade.
  • Includes 5,000 square feet of community space. Open to working with the neighborhood on potential uses for the space. Building owner would operate and manage space.
  • Preserves key features of existing building, including the autograph wall and dance studio.
  • Parking would be provided within the building. Envision 10 spaces accessed off alley.
  • Working with the Departments of General Services and Public Works, would work to enhance Spielberg Park across the street from the building.
  • Financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). Can work with 25-year lease requirement in DGS RFP.

Attendees asked Corey Powell of the Dantes/Menkiti team a number of questions about their concept, including:

  • Is the development team open to making the building more mixed income versus 100 percent affordable? Powell responded yes, though noted the need to comply with a new law that requires up to 30 percent of housing developed from DC-owned land and property to be affordable.
  • Is the addition necessary? Powell responded yes to make the project financially feasible and to support the community space.
  • Could the units be larger? Powell open to considering this but feel unit size is appropriate for target population (seniors).
  • Would the development team need zoning relief to construct the addition? Powell replied yes and are confident the relief would be granted.

Proposal 2 – Century Associates

Century Floor Plan (2)

  • 27 market rate units of senior housing (25 apartments plus 2 caregiver units). Open to co-housing or greenhouse concept (private units with shared common areas).
  • Maintains current building facade – no addition. Inside of building would be gutted.
  • Includes office space. Conversations ongoing with Capitol Hill Village about potential use of space.
  • Former gym would become a children’s play space (4,200 square feet). Space would be open to public but fee based.
  • Would add an amenity to the existing roof such as gardens for tenants.
  • As with Proposal 1, parking would be provided in building with access to garage off alley. Still working on number of parking spaces.
  • On the financial side, confident that project is feasible without the use of government funds. Seeking a 99-year lease on the building.

Here are some of the questions attendees asked Joel Kelty of Century Associates:

  • Can the financing for your project work without an addition? Kelty responded yes and emphasized they felt the building should maintain its current height and footprint. They also questioned whether an addition would be possible due to an existing cell phone tower lease on the rooftop.
  • What would be the average rent for a unit? Kelty responded around $3,000/month. Felt that RFP was asking for more mixed income senior housing versus 100% affordable senior housing.
  • How will the presence of significant hazardous materials in the current building affect your plans? Kelty replied that abatement will be challenging but believe their plan is feasible.
  • Is there anyway to include affordable units? Kelty responded that this would be very difficult to do financially and keep the building at its current footprint and height.
IMG_2707 (2)

Attendees listen to presentations at the Jan. 20 DGS Eastern Branch Building community meeting.

Unfortunately, the question and answer period resulted in more questions than answers, mainly for DGS. Kelty questioned whether LIHTC funding was prohibited by the RFP, noting that the RFP states that development teams can not seek public funding from the city. While LIHTC is federally funded, it is administered by DC. Century/Horizon also questioned whether the Board of Zoning Adjustment would approve the Dantes/Menkiti two-story addition and whether it was even feasible to do an addition given the existing antenna lease. Another question was whether the new 30 percent affordable housing requirement for DC-owned land applied to the RFP or not since the law was passed after the RFP was released.

Given these uncertainties, I stated my discomfort with having ANC 6B and neighbors weigh in on the proposals without further clarification from DGS. I certainly would not want the commission to support a proposal that was later disqualified due to the affordable housing requirement, zoning issues, etc. DGS responded that they may go back to both development teams seeking Best and Final Offers with all of the outstanding issues clarified. My inclination is to ask DGS to delay their award decision until March while the development teams seek clarity and the neighborhood can better consider what is and what is not possible on the site.

What do you think of the two proposals? Post your comments and feedback below.

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9 Responses to Residents Consider Redevelopment Proposals for Eastern Branch Building

  1. 16th says:

    First and foremost, neither proposal properly address parking. While one proposal is “better” in relation to number of units and parking spaces, neither will provide enough spaces for the number of units, let alone the visitors coming to see occupants of the building.

    I am happy to see the inclusion of children’s play space in one proposal, but do not like the idea of fee based entry. Plus the description and specifics of the space are vague., I’d also like to see some type of child care option. The proposals without clarification or specifics of the uses, fees, etc. should not be considered until they have denoted the type of community space use.

    I’d very much favor the proposal that does not alter the building facade and has considerably less units. That said, this may be the lesser of two evils as solely senior housing in the building is not ideal. See above desire for child care, and other potential uses.

    Finally, I’d refer the project not use public financing. I’d also be curious of any relationships between the developers using public financing and government officials. Possibly an assignment for the media.

    Overall I fear this being rammed through the process and without sufficient public input, or consideration of that input.

  2. Neighbor says:

    Concerns:

    1. Since the beginning, I’ve thought a sale of the property would be preferable, but barring that it needs to be a longer term lease. It’s absurd to think someone would drop that much cash into rehabbing the building with such a short amount of time to recoup those costs or turn a profit. It’s like the city is looking for a handout.

    2. I would prefer something ownership based. I’m not an expert, but believe coops are on leased land/buildings. I have no core objection to a portion of the building being affordable, but think individuals with some pride in ownership will be better neighbors.

    3. Parking and trash. Traffic through that alley. People using the private parking lots off the alley as turnarounds or waiting areas. I understand the alley is probably the most feasible for garage access built into the building, but this will have an impact on the neighbors. I’d like to kick around the idea of controlling access to the alley as a whole so perhaps only residents can pass through. If the city can come up with a million other requirements and tailor an RFP so narrowly as to only get two responses, surely they can come up with something here.

    It’s clear based on the response that the community isn’t exactly going to get its full wish list (we suspected that before), so it’s time to consider the impact on the people who live nearby. “Community space” is great, but like it or not this building is going to serve primarily the renters who move in from elsewhere.

  3. Pierz says:

    I am concerned that neither group is proposing mixed-income housing. And I am also concerned that both proposals envision seniors-only occupancy. This type of housing is inappropriate in a racially mixed neighborhood of people of all ages — many children, many working-age residents, many seniors.

    Especially I am concerned that the proposal of Dantes Partners & The Menkiti Group would house 49 senior singles-or-couples in small apartments in this building. Is there any space for social activities? Is there any provision for basing senior services in the building? Would this building become an isolated low-income ghetto, remote from shops and such public services as libraries and internet access.

    Is this proposal for a building of exclusively single-income, low-income rental units a misuse of public funds (namely “Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)? The federal government is the source of LIH Tax Credits and the federal government’s goal is the creation of mixed-income housing. Dantes Partners and The Menkiti Group could have proposed a renovation in which only 20% to 40% of the rental units would be low-income housing, and the proposal would still qualify for LIH Tax Credits. Why are they proposing that 100% of the units be low-income rentals?

  4. eaimhoff says:

    Low-income senior housing is the right solution for Hill East, given the changing demographics in the area. The “gold-plated” option would be a slap in the face for the folks who cherish Eastern Branch memories. How can anyone contemplate converting this icon of a building to a symbol of gentrification?

    That said, it is impossible to allow a 2-story pop-up on top of the building. It already towers over the neighbors. Can the project be economical with fewer low-income units? Clearly the artificially short lease is a big part of the problem.

    Indoor kid play space is a great idea from the other proposal. If it is for-profit, that could help the economics. A market study is clearly needed.

    The parking issue is largely a red-herring. I counted at least 13 open parking spaces around the park when walking home after the meeting. There are far fewer houses around the park than there are parking spots. The only day parking needed is for staff. Remember also that 17th Street parking and crossing 17th Street will be much easier by the time this conversion is done. Parking right in front of the entrance may even be allowed then.

  5. dlg says:

    The property should be sold and preferably demolished. If that’s not going to happen, then condos are the best bet. I am not concerned with community space – but would rather the building be as beautiful as it can be with enough parking to support the residents so there is minimum impact on the neighbors. If that means an additional or two – fine.

    If the (hopeful) condo association plants more trees and maintains the curb of the bldg with attractive plantings that would be a significant plus.

  6. Pierz says:

    In considering the proposal of Dantes Partners & The Menkiti Group for renovation of the Eastern Branch Building, the following information may be useful.

    At the January 20 meeting at the Payne School held by DSG, you mentioned favorably The Hodge, the building of senior rental apartments built by Dantes Partners & The Menkiti Group. You said you had gone to see it and thought well of it.

    At the same meeting the Dantes Partners presenter also mentioned The Hodge several times. The presenter said The Hodge is evidence that Dantes Partners, et al, construct attractive buildings of rental units for low income seniors.

    After these positive mentions of the Hodge, I was interested in learning more about it. What I have learned is that the siting (in a mixed-income, intergenerational planned community in a commercial/shopping area) and the government subsidies to The Hodge — also known as the senior housing at O (7th & P St. NW) — could not be more different than what Dantes Partners & The Menkiti Group are proposing for the Eastern Branch Building. Here’s a description [http://audubonenterprises.com/?p=158]:

    Senior Housing at O will rest on top of the 75,000 SF flagship Giant food store, and consist of 90 units on 6 floors located on the prominent corner of 7th Street and P Street, NW. The 90 one bedroom units will feature amenities that include community activities space, a management office, social-centric laundry facilities and lounge spaces on each floor. Meeting DHCD’s affordable housing priorities of elderly housing, the units will be rented exclusively to seniors 55 years and older earning no more than 60% of Area Median Income.

    The concept of this development is to have the senior population of the community be seamlessly and wholly integrated into the greater, Master-Planned community of CityMarket at O that will be a mixed-use, mixed-income, intergenerational community.

    The above amenities are further complemented with the existing presence of Emmaus Services for the Aging, the project’s non-profit partner. Emmaus Services for the Aging will be compensated as part of the project’s operating budget to provide senior specific services for the tenants that reside at the property.

    The government subsidies for the planned community at CityMarket at O were large. A $7 million block development grant from HUD and a 128MM FHA insured mortgage .

    The only government subsidy for their Eastern Branch proposal is Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). It would be a “stand-alone building of low-income rental units for seniors” with limited social space for the 90 units and no provision of
    senior specific services for the tenants that reside at the property.

    • “Success in securing community support in conjunction with zoning approvals and dispositions” — so touts the Menkiti Group, one of the developers bidding on the Eastern Branch Building re-development project. Suffice to say, the Menkiti Group uses very aggressive tactics to “secure success” and overcome neighborhood criticism. I was President of the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association when Menkiti and several developers sought to build a large apartment building with a significant up-zoning (from C-1/R-2 split zoning to C-2-B) in Brookland. The Civic Association voted to support a less significant upzoning (C-2-A). When it came time to vote on the overall project, the Menkiti Group launched an aggressive campaign to stack the voting membership and pack our meeting with supporters. They prevailed with two votes: 51-49. In my over 20 years in Brookland, it was the ugliest, most divisive thing I’ve ever experienced in the neighborhood. They never did secure the support of the neighbors most adjacent to the project. The “200-footers” have brought several successful lawsuits and have stalled work on the project now for over two years.

      • Pierz says:

        In conjunction with Caroline Petti’s comment above:
        Neighbors of the East Branch Building will find this web page interesting — re the appearance of impropriety in the approval of Low Income Housing Tax Credits for a group of developers in which Dantes Partners are partners.
        First read this blog post on Capitol Hill Corner: http://tinyurl.com/nnboyu6
        Then, on the same web page, page down to “Library” to read
        “Letter of Attorney Oliver Hall to HUD Inspector General Re Hine Eligibility for LIHTC Program”

  7. […] development teams presented their proposals to the community in January. The two options are a 100% market-rate senior housing proposal from Century Associates / Horizon […]

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