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
- 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
- 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.
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.