Congress Heights Residents Voice Concerns Regarding Future Development

Pedestrians wait for the bus outside the Congress Heights Metro Station. During June's Congress Heights Civic Association meeting, Geoffrey Griffis of City Partners LLC presented plans to develop the area, surprising many residents. Photo: Charnice A. Milton

It was not until Sharece Crawford received a Congress Heights Civic Association (CHCA) meeting notice along with a pamphlet that she.found out about an upcoming mixed-use development anchored by the Congress Heights Metro Station. “When I saw the plans, I had a lot of questions,” she said. “Has this already taken place? What are they looking for?” As the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) for the area (single-member district 8E04), Crawford is concerned for her constituents; therefore, she and other residents are making their opinions known.

Congress Heights Town Center

During the June 10 CHCA meeting, Geoffrey Griffis of City Partners LLC presented plans for the new development. City Partners and Sanford Capital LLC, known collectively as Square 5914 LLC, have purchased three parcels of land on the corner of 13th Street and Alabama Avenue, and plan to bring a town center-style environment to the area surrounding the Metro station's southern entrance. The development has two components: an eight-story building and another with over 200 residential units. A large courtyard surrounded by ground floor retail, along with wider sidewalks would make the area safe for pedestrians and Metro customers. 

In May, the partnership submitted a planned-unit development (PUD) application to the Zoning Commission. If the Office of Planning approves, then a public hearing could be held sometime in the fall. However, to make a better case, Square 5914 needs the community's support. 

Informing the Community 

According to the DC Home Rule Act, “...timely notice shall be given to each advisory neighborhood commission of requested or proposed zoning changes, variances, public improvements, licenses, or permits of significance to neighborhood planning and development within its neighborhood commission area for its review, comment, and recommendation.” This means that developers are required to discuss new projects with the affected ANC. Griffis said that he emailed ANC 8E, but never received a reply. He did send each Commissioner a package explaining the project, which Crawford said she received around June 2, although the material was dated May 2. 

“After that meeting, I realized there were people that were actually still living in the properties in question,” she said. “I knew that if I didn't know, nine times out of ten, the people who lived there didn't know either.” Crawford went door-to-door, passing out fliers informing residents on the potential plans and future meetings (including one held on June 21) with Square 5914 and other partners. “The development isn't the worst thing from my perspective,” she said. “I think that fact that no one knew about before it hit the media is the problem.” 

Two Different Opinions 

For Ruth Bowell, a 40-year resident on Alabama Avenue, the news surrounding the development was not a surprise; it was how quickly the process was moving. After hearing about the project through word of mouth, she attended the informational meeting. “No question was answered,” she said. “They didn't discuss issues like moving the current residents.” She also accused Sanford Capital, who owns the apartment buildings surrounding the Metro station, of neglecting its properties, leaving grass uncut and using it as a dumping ground. “I talked with the owner and he said that it'll be taken care of,” she said. “Two weeks later, it hasn't been taken care of.” Carter Nowell, Sanford's founder and principal, stated that there will be plans to move current residents to new spaces in the neighborhood and give them special consideration if they wanted to move back. However, Bowell does not expect this to happen, saying, “They'll just buy you out.”

While many residents are frustrated with Square 5914, others, like Khadijah Tribble, have a different perspective. “I don't think Ward 8 residents will be pushed out of the process,” she explained. “However, we can't keep pushing developers away. We can't always look at things from an either/or perspective. There's always an opportunity for common ground.” Tribble did acknowledge that displaced residents could have a hard time moving back if they cannot afford the new rates. “I would like to see most of that time and energy against the developers towards learning about home-ownership and finding better housing values,” she said. Tribble is not the only one that showed support for the development; some audience members voiced appreciation for the architecture and small business opportunities.

Moving Forward

With more meeting opportunities in future, ANC 8E and Square 5914 are working towards a more collaborative relationship; recently, they began discussing potential contingency plans for displaced residents who want the option of moving back without a change in rent. Griffis already stated that their plans will change according to the community's needs. However, Crawford stated, “My concern is not in regards to development. We want development; we want to see our community grow...What we don't want is for the residents that live here to be pushed out of the community. And we don't want to be treated as if we don't live there.” 

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