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Update on Central Union Mission Plans for Georgia Ave. Location (from the chairman of anc 1a and the rep for 1a08) and a response from the Mission

by Prince Of Petworth September 13, 2009 at 10:04 pm 41 Comments

IMG_1592, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

An update from the discussion we had last week about the plans for 3500 block of Georgia Avenue.

“Dear PoP,

Thank you for posting information about the Weds, Sept 16th Special meeting of ANC1A. The meeting will start promptly at 7pm at the Park View Recreation Center located at the corner of Warder and Otis [From Kent Boese: Just for clarification on the location of the meeting, the address of the Park View Rec Center is 693 Otis Place and it is located on the northwest corner of Warder and Otis Place (entrance on Warder)].

I want to make sure all of your readers are aware of the facts as they stand right now, and make sure people don’t confuse past plans with current plans – as well as what our legal rights are as a community if we support or reject this proposal so I am hoping you will post this asap. I’ve also received a ton of emails and the following should help address those and the comments in your last thread on the topic. I have copied representatives from Central Union Mission on this email as well.

Here are the facts: In the missions application to receive a special exception they have abandoned the plans for a CBRF (or 250 bed mens shelter per the past proposal). They are proposing a mixed use with 100% affordable low to moderate income housing, and 3,576 square feet of office space that will be used by the mission and/or possibly a third party. This housing will consist of 37 units (21 one bedroom, 10 2 bedroom, and 1 3 bedroom). Continues after the jump including a comment from Council Member Graham and a response from the Mission

Ultimately, representatives from the mission have publicly agreed that a homeless shelter on Georgia Avenue would not be a good for the area. This has been stated at meetings and even in the Washington Post. It is still possible that they will end up at the Gale School downtown, but they did choose to walk away from the deal Councilman Graham and Mayor Fenty set up to trade the properties. They say its because of a lawsuit brought by a separation or church/state group, but city attorneys believe the supreme court has already determined the trade would be legal because of past rulings. The mission attorneys believe it is a 50/50 chance they will loose.

If they loose then the mission will be responsible for several hundred-thousand dollars in back taxes. This is also the case if they do not get the special exception they are seeking.

The mission says they are actively looking for another site to build a mens shelter somewhere else. So they want to build this affordable housing project, and a shelter somewhere else.

The problems: We are being asked to waive many elements of what the neighborhood has deemed important to the successful development of Georgia Avenue as laid out in several plans, including the Overlay District. We need to give the mission credit for being willing to step back and explore other options, however, it is hard to trust the mission because:

* If ANC1A and the BZA support this special exception nothing can stop them from changing the use of the building to a CBRF (mens shelter) after construction is complete.
* When they wanted to build a men’s shelter they went back and forth with specifics regarding to their intentions. With this newer idea we have gone from mixed income housing to low income, and from private developer to the mission being the developer. This continues to make it hard to trust that we will get what they say in the end.
* The fact that they will owe several hundred thousand dollars in back taxes should be a motivation for them to pursue the Gale School deal. Once the Special Exception is granted that negates the motivation for them to move to the Gale School. Pursuing the Gale School or pursuing the special exception have equal risks for the mission.
* How can the mission afford to build an affordable apartment building and a mens shelter somewhere else in the city if they are so strapped for cash? This helps raise suspicions that they may be trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
* ANC1A only received the amended application this week for a hearing on Sept 22. This puts added pressure to analyze this plan and its impact on Georgia Avenue into an unrealistic time frame.
* The application does not say the target market for the apartments is 50 – 80% average media income, but they did verbally state that at the ANC meeting. This means that for the 1 bedroom units a person cannot make more (roughly) than $35,000 to live there and use section 8 vouchers or other federal/local money. A person making 10,000.00 a year would. The thing people get confused on with affordable housing is figuring out how federal dollars fit in.
* Every new residential building planned and approved for Georgia Avenue south of the metro station is 100% affordable, urban planners recommend no more than 1/3 should be geared toward a specific economic group or it negatively impacts employment opportunities, and social services.
* Concerns about the commercial requirements of the overlay, as a few other items we have objected to, do not appear to be addressed. The wording of the application allows the commercial ground floor to be 100% use by the mission, and has no specific retail or non-religiously affiliated use specified.

Of all the redevelopment efforts this city has undertaken, Georgia Avenue is the one that was left behind. I remember seeing spreads in the Washington Post of a revitalized Georgia Avenue back in 2002. During that time nearly all of the main corridors through DC have been improved. Look at the way support for Great Streets has waned off or how hard it was to get a senior center built, or the fact that Park Morton is still basically at a standstill. With the economies boom years behind us it makes thoughtful planning and analysis of development on Georgia Avenue more important than ever.

The goal of Weds meeting it for the ANC to restate what its position is on this latest plan. I hope we get a lot of people to this meeting who will comment on all of the items above. Our choices are to oppose the plan, support the plan, or to take no position at all but we need the publics help to do that. If anyone wishes to contact me, please email [email protected] , and contact information for other commissioners is available at www.anc1a.org.

Thanks,
Cliff”

From CM Jim Graham:

“Let me add something to this. First, thanks Cliff for your very helpful review of the background of all of this.

Financing in this economy is always a problem, but I don’t this has so much to do with being strapped for cash.

The problem with the Gales school deal (which we labored mightily to achieve) was not so much the money…In fact it was an attractive financial proposition since it included significant DC gov funds. The problem was the legal conclusion, provided by the Mission’s lawyers, that the deal would not survive a court challenge on the First amendment grounds. You will recall that the ACLU and perhaps others promised such a lawsuit.

WE disagree with that legal conclusion. However, there is apparently no convincing the Mission lawyers (Arent Fox). So the Mission is uncomfortable proceeding with such a prospect in sight.

What we need is a clear assurance that the Mission will not be providing overnight, low barrier homeless services at this Ga Ave location.

That has been out whole point. I think, I hope we are very close to getting that airtight assurance.

We certainly welcome a mixed use, retail residential development with affordable housing on Ga Ave.”

The Mission’s response from the Law Firm, Arent Fox:

Councilmember Graham’s response is, for the most part, correct.  However, with respect to the Gales School deal, he left out a very important detail.  While the District and Arent Fox disagree with the analysis over whether the ACLU’s challenge to the transaction will be upheld by the courts, the Mission was willing to move forward with the transaction, provided that the District include certain “unwind” provisions in the contract that would relieve the Mission from the obligation to move to Gales in the event that the court ruled that the deal was unconstitutional.  The District was unwilling to agree to such language, and the deal stalled and ultimately died.  The Mission is hopeful that we might still be able to come to a deal, but must have some assurances that it will not be stuck with both Gales and the Georgia Avenue property, which it cannot afford to sustain.

  • If ANC1A and the BZA support this special exception nothing can stop them from changing the use of the building to a CBRF (mens shelter) after construction is complete.  This is not correct for several reasons.  11 DCMR § 3125.8 states that “An Applicant [before the BZA] shall be required to carry out the construction, renovation or alteration only in accordance with the plans approved by the [BZA], unless the [BZA] orders otherwise.”  Special exceptions run with the land and are entered into the master address  repository at DCRA.  No building permits or certificates of occupancy may be issued by DCRA unless they are in accordance with any special exceptions or variances which have been approved by the BZA for the property.  The Certificate of Occupancy for the building as proposed would be for a 37 unit apartment building with retail and office on the ground floor.  If the Mission wanted to change the use to a CBRF, it would need to get a Certificate of Occupancy to do that, and DCRA would not grant a Certificate of Occupancy that is inconsistent with the BZA approval without modification of that approval by the BZA.  Any change in use will require a trip back to the BZA and a public hearing process.  The Mission has gone on record repeatedly stating that it will not building a shelter on the Georgia Avenue properties.  It cannot make its position any clearer.  There will be no overnight shelter of any kind on this property.   
  • When they wanted to build a men’s shelter they went back and forth with specifics regarding to their intentions.  With this newer idea we have gone from mixed income housing to low income, and from private developer to the mission being the developer.  This continues to make it hard to trust that we will get what they say in the end.   

The Mission’s original development plan was consistent from day one.  Insinuations that slight-of-hand changes occurred are simply not true.  Any changes that occurred were driven by input from neighbors and public officials.  The Mission  has tried for several months to market its property for development by a private developer, with no luck.  Because of the accruing property taxes, which the Mission cannot afford to pay, it must develop the property for an active, tax exempt use.  The Mission continues to look for a development partner or purchaser.

  • The fact that they will owe several hundred thousand dollars in back taxes should be a motivation for them to pursue the Gale School deal.  Once the Special Exception is granted that negates the motivation for them to move to the Gale School.  Pursuing the Gale School or pursuing the special exception have equal risks for the mission.   The back taxes have nothing to do with Gales School.  They are real property taxes accruing on the Georgia Avenue property.  Selling the property to the District or to a private developer will require payment of the taxes, which would be built into the deal.  The Mission is adequately motivated to make the Gales School or any other location work for them because they are under contract to sell their 14th Street location and vacate that property no later than October 2011. 

  • How can the mission afford to build an affordable apartment building and a mens shelter somewhere else in the city if they are so strapped for cash?  This helps raise suspicions that they may be trying to pull the wool over our eyes.   Do not attribute speculative ulterior or nefarious motives to the Mission.  This faith-based organization has been providing essential social services to the neediest of the District’s residents for 125 years, at no cost to the tax payers.  The Mission has fundraising options and will attempt to finance construction once it has its entitlements in place, and again, remains actively looking for a development partner who may help fund the project.   The Georgia Avenue Property cannot be put to any use, and cannot be sold, until the tax burden is relieved.  The only way to do that is to move forward with entitling and building a tax-exempt use.  The Mission has already sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars (over and above the purchase price of the real estate) into planning for development of the Georgia Avenue Property and in studying the feasibility and negotiating over Gales School.  Leaving the Georgia Avenue Property vacant means that the  Mission will face a property tax burden of between $250,000 and $400,000, which threatens its financial stability and the future of the Mission as a provider of services to the homeless of the District of ColumbiaThe Mission must be good stewards of its financial resources and paying unnecessary taxes and development costs when it shouldn’t have to is unfair to a respected not-for-profit organization.

  • ANC1A only received the amended application this week for a hearing on Sept 22.  This puts added pressure to analyze this plan and its impact on Georgia Avenue into an unrealistic time frame.   The Mission has been in communication with the ANC and Councilmember Graham (who supports the proposal for affordable housing on the site) since April regarding this plan.  As stated at the ANC meeting, the Mission has spent the intervening months searching for a development partner who would take over the application and pay the design and development costs.  The Mission waited as long as it could but no developer emerged.  The BZA has postponed the case 3 times, and is not likely to do so again.  To withdraw the case and refile later risked losing the tax exemption the Mission applied for (and has not yet been granted) when it acquired the property.

            Unfortunately, the Mission had no choice at this point but to spend more of its own money to finalize the drawings and that would comply with the requirements for the BZA hearing.  The Mission filed the actual drawings showing changes to the proposed building design as part of its Pre-Hearing Statement to the BZA, which is due 14 days prior to the hearing date.  It sent courtesy copies via electronic mail to Mr. Valenti and CM Graham, and copies via U.S. Mail to each and every ANC Commissioner. In addition, the Mission has stated that if the ANC needed more time to provide comment to the BZA than is currently allowed under the rules, it would waive any objection to the ANC’s report and recommendation coming into the record late.  The ANC and surrounding community have had the same amount of time to review this proposal as interested parties in any case before the BZA have under the procedural rules of that body.  Nonetheless, the Mission has attempted to provide as much information as possible, to provide courtesy copies, and to be as open and transparent about its plans as possible so that the ANC could provide meaningful input to the BZA in this case.  The building footprint and aesthetic have changed little since the Mission filed the application, and it meets all of the design requirements of the Georgia Avenue Overlay.

   

  • The application does not say the target market for the apartments is 50 – 80% average media income, but they did verbally state that at the ANC meeting.  This means that for the 1 bedroom units a person cannot make more (roughly) than $35,000 to live there and use section 8 vouchers or other federal/local money.  A person making 10,000.00 a year would.  The thing people get confused on with affordable housing is figuring out how federal dollars fit in.   The Pre-Hearing Statement does say that “the Applicant now proposes to construct a mixed-use building providing ground-floor retail, 37 units of housing, 100% of which will be reserved for low- to moderate-income households, and first-floor office space.”  The Zoning Regulations define “low-income household” as a household earning 50% or less of the Metropolitan Statistical Area median income, and “moderate-income household” as a household earning 51% to 80% of the Metropolitan Statistical Area median income.  We define “low- to moderate-income households” as households earning between 50% and 80% AMI.  The 2008 Metropolitan Statistical Area median income for Washington, D.C. was $102,700.00 for a family of four.  Thus, a family of four would have to earn between $52,377-$82,160 to qualify as “moderate-income” or below $51,350 to qualify as “low-income.”  The Mission has not yet defined how it will handle qualification of income, but in order to qualify for a tax exemption for affordable housing, it must either be approved through HUD or through DHCD, and will be required to participate in programs run by either the federal or local housing agency to qualify prospective tenants and administer the leases in the building.

  • Every new residential building planned and approved for Georgia Avenue south of the metro station is 100% affordable, urban planners recommend no more than 1/3 should be geared toward a specific economic group or it negatively impacts employment opportunities, and social services.   Not entirely correct.  The Heights DC, being developed by the Neighborhood Development Corporation at 3232 Georgia Avenue, will not be 100% affordable.  NDC’s project webiste states that “At least 50% of the units will be affordable at 60% to 80%.”  As many of the commenters have acknowledged, and as pointed out by reference to the Zoning Regulations, “affordable” housing has many different meanings: workforce, subsidized, low-income, and moderate-income.  The District of Columbia, in its proposal to “swap” the Georgia Avenue Property for the Gales School, would have developed the Georgia Avenue Property for affordable housing.  The Mission is following the recommendations of the District, and does not believe that the development of this proposal would result in an imbalance of uses in the surrounding area.

  • Concerns about the commercial requirements of the overlay, as a few other items we have objected to, do not appear to be addressed.  The wording of the application allows the commercial ground floor to be 100% use by the mission, and has no specific retail or non-religiously affiliated use specified.   The ground floor contains four apartment units.  Due to the requirement to provide retail on Georgia Avenue and the ability of the neighboring property owner on the south to build to the property line, it would not be appropriate to fill out the entire first floor with residential uses, as we cannot provide adequate light and air into the space in the southern portion of the building behind the retail.  Any windows we placed along the property line would be at-risk of loss upon development of the parcel to the south, and limited light and air available to units along the southern open court, given its proximity to the property line and the maximum permitted height in the zone.  From a programming standpoint, this space is more appropriate for office or “back-of-house” for retail uses.  Our Pre-Hearing statement notes that this space may be used for the administrative functions of the Mission (such as accounting and fundraising) or leased to a third-party for office space.  We would like to reserve the right to place the Mission’s administrative functions in this property, because many of the properties the Mission has looked at relocating to are not large enough to handle both the shelter operations and administrative offices.  For example, if the Mission relocated its shelter to the Gales School, it would have needed approximately 15,000 square feet of space at another property for its offices, which would not fit at Gales.”

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