Big K Development Opposed by Community

Historic Review Board Rejects Latest Plan

Nearly a dozen residents offered public testimony in opposition to a proposal to develop a six-story building on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Subsequently, on October 3rd, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), by unanimous decision, denied the culmination of a three-year effort by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to develop the Big K parcel on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.

Community opposition to the development plan presented by Reston-based Chapman Development, with design drawings rendered by PGN Architects, was two-fold; an outright rejection of a new building that would permanently alter the streetscape of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, and the stipulation that to develop the Big K parcel the two existing homes at 2234 and 2238 MLK would be moved to a nearby city-owned lot on V Street SE where the homes would finally be restored.

“I’ve never seen a historic District move to a side street,” Greta Fuller, ANC 8A 06, said in her impassioned public testimony to HPRB at October’s hearing. Since DHCD acquired the Big K parcel in the summer of 2010, citizens of the Anacostia Historic District have been under the impression that the city would preserve and restore the three historic homes at 2228, 2234 and 2238 MLK and incorporate them into their development plan, Fuller said, but instead the community has been misled.

During her presentation Fuller showed slides that have been previously shared with the community over the course of three years which argue for a low-scale development plan which included the three restored homes and the former Big K liquor store at Morris Road and MLK.

Shareema Houston, a resident of Pleasant Street SE who previously served on the Anacostia Historic Design Review Committee, asked why the third home of 2228 MLK, which was demolished more than a year ago, had been forgotten and lost from the current discussion. “We were promised that a replica of 2228 MLK would be rebuilt after the city catalogued the molding, the cornices, all the exterior details of that home,” Houston said. “My concern is we are going to put a massive building here that does not compliment the historic district and we are not talking about trying to preserve what is already there.”

Members of HPRB were clearly moved by the outpouring of community support, one HPRB member said she would hereafter refer to the Big K liquor store as “Conway’s Grocery store,” in reference to James Conway who built the original store in 1906.

The Big K lot is no newcomer to the attention of Tim Dennee, of the Office of Planning’s Historic Preservation Office (HPO), who researched and wrote the latest staff report on the site and the deliberations of HPRB, who have heard cases involving the site for years.

The denial by HPRB of the proposed development followed a contentious meeting in early September at DHCD’s headquarters at MLK and Good Hope Road in which residents of Anacostia spoke out against the lack of transparency and consultation with the community in creating the development plan. Tim Chapman, principal of Chapman Development, said few words at the HPRB hearing and had a lone witness -- former Marion Barry staffer Brenda Richardson -- speak in favor of his proposed development. At September’s community meeting Councilmember Barry drew the ire of the crowd when he said, “Not all developers are bad,” and subsequently offered his support of Chapman, who developed the Grays building in the 2300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Barry did not attend October’s HPRB hearing.

As DHCD and Chapman Development presumably return to the drawing board, Fuller says she is not discouraged. “Now that the ruling has been made and for once the community’s concerns have been listened to, I look forward to sitting down with DCHD and Chapman Development and supporting a project that honors and preserved the integrity of the Anacostia Historic District, the only historic district in Ward 8.” 

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