Developer Responds to Concerns and Clarifies Plans for 11th and Rhode Island Ave, NW

11th and Rhode Island Ave, NW

“Dear PoPville,

While we usually try to stay out of the blogosphere commentary, I felt compelled to simply clarify the facts and circumstances of our project and the vision we are trying to execute.  Also, I would like everyone reading to understand that we are local residents and tenants as well.  The majority of our team (including the owners) live within blocks of this site and our corporate offices are located literally across the street.  We have completed 3 projects in the neighborhood in the last 2 years and fully embrace and appreciate the balance of great design, appropriate scale and community impacts – which I believe our previous approval processes represent well – we always attempt to garner as much neighborhood feedback as possible.  The bottom line is that in these relatively tight urban sites, the 50 year old zoning regulations are not always contemplative (that would be impossible) of every possible building design or scope that makes a project both physically and financially viable.  And while I wish our requested variances were giving us some sort of financial windfall, they are not.  We are simply trying to develop a high–quality neighborhood asset that is financially viable and works within the unique site constraints, shape and environmental issues that exist there today.
Below is a summary of the questions looming by the community, which hopefully at least provide some factual clarification as to our plans:
  • Project Scope
    • Unit Count – 30–40 Units (not 40-50 as stated online).  We will likely end up with 36-38.
    • Retail – 2500–2900 SF.  This will be a single retail user, not 2 retailers.
      • NOTE:  It is important to understand that retail in this location is financially negative.  We CHOSE to add retail to the corner because we believe it makes for a better project and “Place”.  The 11th Street corridor is lined with little retail, yet has a great location for neighborhood serving uses (think Café/Bistro with umbrellas, etc).  If we were to build a 100% residential project, we would make more money in the short run, but we believe that this important corner deserves to a real anchor for this part of the neighborhood and is perfectly positioned between the 14th Street and 9th Street corridors, which are getting all the attention.
    • Height – 50′ and in compliance.  This is the same height as most multi-family buildings in the surrounding area.
  • Environmental Remediation 
    • Like many urban sites, this site has environmental contamination, which we knew about well before going under contract to purchase the property.  We are very experienced with these types of sites and have been working with the various regulatory bodies in order to develop a remediation plan – we are close to getting those approvals.  We will be remediating the property per all applicable laws, regulations and our plans will be vetted by the DC Government.  An example of this is our recent project at 1250 9th Street, NW – which had a similar level of contamination – which quite frankly is on the very low end of the scale vs. MAJOR HazMat type issues.  That being said, the cost of this remediation is significant and does effect decision making on the project.
  • Variances (we will present our burden of proof arguments this evening, but below are the basics of the practical reasons why we are requesting our 4 variances)
    • Parking
      • This is obviously the most sensitive issue in the neighborhood.  The facts are as follows:
        • We have maximized the amount parking that will physically fit on a single level of parking.  This has nothing to do with adding units, environmental contamination, etc.  The site is an odd shape, with alley access (which is required by DDOT) and we have done the best we can.
        • Is a second level possible? – yes, technically, but would make the project unviable financially and more importantly, due to the inefficient site layout, we would only add about 4-5 spaces due to the fact that the zoning required drive aisles would eat substantially into the existing parking configuration.
        • Developer Opinion – with 14 spaces (we believe we have added one since our BZA submission), we believe that this is more than adequate to serve demand that this building will create.  We are all bikers, walkers, etc and while we appreciate the concern if we were asking for NO PARKING, we believe our parking ratio will likely meet the demand.  And we agree with OP that the old minimum parking regulations are appropriate for today’s urban lifestyle.  That being said, we are conducting a parking study by a 3rd Party Traffic and Transportation Consultant to confirm these assumptions.
    •  FAR and Lot Occupancy
      • This will hopefully make more sense this evening with visuals, but we are NOT asking for more “saleable/leasable” density.  The additional FAR and Lot Occupancy 100% relates to our parking garage (ironically the Catch 22 of the debate above).  There is a courtyard design, which due to clearance issues for the required Handicap Van in our garage, the “roof” of the garage is technically “above-grade” by a matter of a few feet, which triggers it to both count as FAR and Lot Occupancy.  This “roof” will be a vegetative green roof, which 1) helps us achieve the new Stormwater Management requirements 2) Green Area Ratio requirements 3) Reduces noise, car exhaust, pollution 4) Is a more pleasant visual appearance for our building and neighbors and 5) is simply a better building design.
      • Options:
        • No Roof on Garage – we could simply remove the roof outlined above and be in compliance.  Again, like the retail, we are attempting to spend more money to “do the right thing”.
        • Design As-Is – to create a better and more sustainable design.
    • Penthouse Setback
      • While this one has not been for debate, this issue is solely relating to existing physical conditions.  We will be in 100% compliance with the required 1:1 Setback on both the 11th Street and Rhode Island Ave frontage (which are the areas which will really impact the scale of the building), but on the courtyard side we don’t have enough depth in the design of the building to achieve a viable penthouse with compliant stairs, access, etc.
We look forward to seeing everyone this evening and I hope that this clarifies the facts of the project.  And while we certainly will continue to work with the ANC, neighbors and OP to finalize the plans – we generally hope that people will believe that this project will serve as a great addition to the neighborhood and we welcome their support.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team this evening and we are happy to listen to and all concerns related to the project.
Kevin Riegler & the 1101 Rhode Island Project Team”

44 Comment

  • I just skimmed through the original thread – and certainly understand why you want to avoid the blogosphere!
    This sounds like a good and conscientious development. And the whole required parking space business could be solved by the city simply capping the number of residential parking permits. Don’t issue any residential parking permits to occupants of new construction buildings. Then developers & potential homeowners will establish the true market value of dedicated parking.

    • Good idea. If this developer is sincere in their statement that they are all “are all bikers, walkers, etc” they should have no opposition to that.

      It shocks me that this post attempts to make the city’s requirements on parking seem unreasonable. There are other developments on similar sized lots that are able to comply.

      They should NOT be exempted to the parking regulations. If they are, they should sign a covenant to sell their units at a below-market price to compensate.

      Poor developers. Everyone is SO mean to them.

      • So, given the choice between a few more cars on your streets, and a desolate empty lot that attracts crime, you’d prefer the crime. Thanks, neighbor.

        • Such an obviously biased comment. LOL. Nice work developer employee.

          What a silly question. Who would prefer crime. I’d prefer a sustainable building plan that complies with city regulations. NO VARIANCE FOR THIS PROPERTY.

          • city regulations provide for seeking a variance.

          • Not a developer employee. Just a neighbor.
            The developer has clearly stated that this project is not financially viable with the amount of parking that zoning requires. Given the choice between five extra cars on the street, and no development at all, I think the choice is obvious.

          • Here’s a suggestion….put your money where your mouth is and start construction business that uses sustainable building plans and complies with all city regulations. And make sure you ask for no variances. Good luck with that.

      • some buildings with zero parking are doing that. This building will NOT have zero parking. So why should they forego the RPP’s?

        • Those buildings (I only know of one, look it up on PoPville) was in Tenley. They determined that there was ample OPEN street parking in the area.

          Tenley is very different than Logan.

          They’re not just removing the requirement. That is why it is a “variance”.

    • why not just put RPPs up for auction, and see what the market will bear?

      • That sounds like a terrible idea, because it would be bought up by only the very wealthiest residents.

        • So? It’s not like most folks would be able to afford these units anyway. I don’t see a particular problem here.

        • Hmm. I have an idea then. Lets give everyone a residential residence pass, for $35 a year. It gives you the right to occupy any empty house. But as soon as you step outside, someone else can occupy the house. You can circle around the neighborhood until you find an empty house.

          If anyone suggests this is a bad idea, we just tell them that actually granting ownership of houses and allocating them by price, would mean only wealthy people could live there.

        • OK – grandfather in existing RPPs – all sorts of ways to work this out. But the main thing is that new construction should not be stopped by parking requirements. Just pass legislation that prevents new construction homeowners from getting RPP. If there is enough value in parking, developers will produce it. If not, new owners will do without it.

          • And the granfathered RPP properties get exponentially more and more value as the on-street parking gets scarcer? Nice way to treat everybody in the city equitably while simultaneously promoting a black market for RPPs.

    • I don’t think that’s appropriate for condos. Apartments, yes….condos, no. People’s life circumstances change, especially as homeowners. I don’t find parking so bad in the area (I’m at 11th and P), but we have a parking spot. There should be more parking for developments in my opinion.

      Now, about the shit at 11th and P….how can we get rid of that?

  • It’s nice to know that the neighbors care so much about keeping housing unaffordable.

    • How will housing be more affordable if the variances are granted? The developer will charge what the market will bear whether there’s more parking or not.

    • I don’t think that the developers are selling these units ‘at cost’. In fact, I bet they will be marked up 60% above cost, each. How is this affordable or considerate to the cities residents?

      • the units are not at cost (why would someone sell them at cost when the going price is higher?) However adding more units will effect prices across the whole market.

      • If you think the margins in residential construction are 60%, you are smoking something.

  • On parking – The developer can put his money where his mouth is and ask the DC government to not issue residential parking permits to any of the residents. If demand really matches supply, that won’t be an issue.

    • Why should he, when he’s building a parking garage?

      Parking – more important than housing or retail, more important than bike lanes – its truely the most important right we have.

  • I hope that this is built. I do. But the part here about environmental remediation is hopelessly vague.

    • No it’s not.

      You can Google the DC govt and find out about what the laws and permit requirements are. Or you can call them and talk to them about it. The developer was very clear – they will follow the letter of the law. Read the law and it will tell you what they are going to do. Nothing vague about it.

      Environmental remediation is extremly complex and comes with significant oversight (from govt agencies that are independent of the development ones). I never would expect them to write out a page of checklist items on this specific issue.

      Now, if you watch the building take place and see them cutting corners and handing envelopes of cash to the inspectors then you have something to say. But these developers have been nothing short of forthcoming and clear with what they are going to do – follow the law. Until they don’t why are we doubting them?

    • That is exactly what I thought when I read it. A non-answer on what I found the most concerning.

  • A very sensible response to the “What about the children” tone in the first posting on this project.
    Good luck – appreciate developers that add density to neighborhoods that need it.

  • The one thing they didn’t address in their carefully worded letter was whether they’ll be offering small plates.

  • I live very close to this project, and I think the assumption that about a third of the new residents will have a car and decide it’s worth it to pay for a garage space is pretty much spot on. Parking isn’t as bad on this block, because the schools and the dog park and the skate park and the basketball courts across the street take up the whole block – no residents at all on that block to park anywhere.
    I support the project 110% and I’m emailing my ANC Commissioner in 2F to tell them so right now.

  • I also recently moved within a block of this development, and I support it 100%.

  • The people who are supporting this 100% have not read or seen the BZA application and the details of the 5 exemptions and special exception (for height) that the developer is requesting.

    Parking is just the tip of the iceberg here. They want to fill the lot to 90% occupancy vs zoned for 60% — that is a significant increase in density, and all precedent in this city would be for something that is going to take up 50% more space that it was zoned is into entire into a PUD with the ANC.

    There is also the precedent of the Logan ANC rolling over for all a developer’s requests. If all the developments that are coming to this corner receive the same variance, then we’re talking about 120-150 units where today there are zero. Fair better for those of us who already live near this intersection would be 90-120 which is what the zoning code would dictate.

    Developer presentations to the contrary every variance they seek either reduces their construction costs or increases the number and type of units they can sell. Zoning variances are not intended to increase a developer’s profits…they are intended to allow for common sense modifications to the law when something about the building site, the designer’s plans or the neighborhood makes building on a site an “undue burden or hardship” on the developer.

    They have completely failed to meet their burden of proof. Please read the BZA application and environmental report.

    • The lot at one time before Diamond went in had a building that occupied about 90% of the lot. Are you suggesting that the developer build a new building on only the footprint of the Diamond Cab building and keep a parking lot in front?

      • +1. It makes me laugh when people use “more density” as an argument AGAINST building something in the very center of the city. People who live here, in general, will be able to bike/walk to work, and will encourage more businesses to open downtown. Remember how dead it was down there 10 years ago? I do, and I much prefer how it is now. Bring on the density.

  • Don’t understand this. We recently lost several bids due to higher bidders, including Cas Riegler. The reason we lost is because our pro forma is based on no variance.

    I guess a developer can do the bidding regardless of the zoning law, and then ask for variance, claiming without it the project is not financially feasible? How convenient is that.

Comments are closed.