South by West
The Bard Developers File PUD Application
The development team behind The Bard, a mixed-use arts/residential project planned for the former Southeastern University (SEU) campus site at 501 I St. SW, intends to move forward. The Bard, as planned, would include a costume design shop and administrative, educational, and rehearsal space for Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC), with actor and fellow housing and market-rate apartments to be developed above STC's operations by Arlington-based Erkiletian Development Company.
The Bard is nearly three years in the making. Back in the fall of 2013, STC had the site under contract with the Graduate School USA. The campus building had been vacant since the Graduate School USA absorbed SEU and the university lost its accreditation in 2009. At first, it was thought that the Graduate School USA would expand its L’Enfant Plaza campus to Sixth and I streets SW. Then it was announced in 2011 that the school would become the anchor tenant at The Wharf (a deal that has been cancelled). Afterwards the SEU campus was put on the market. Suitors for the campus included Apple Tree Early Learning Public Charter School, which wanted to renovate the building for a school, but that proposal never resulted in the sale of the building. Ironically Apple Tree will now be expanding at The Wharf instead of the Graduate School USA.
Then in the spring of 2014, a raze permit was filed for the campus building, which spurred the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) to file an historic landmark application for the property. The building was first constructed in 1948 for the Metropolitan Police Boys Club No. 4, with a brick exterior in a smaller footprint than what it ultimately became. The building was one of the few that survived urban renewal. Then in 1961 the Hawthorne School (a private coed high school) purchased the building, expanded it to the north and south, and clad it in concrete in a brutalist design done by Charles Goodman, the same architect who designed River Park Cooperative Homes. Declining enrollment and financial difficulties at the school caused the sale of the property to Southeastern University, which operated at the site until 2009. SWNA eventually withdrew its historic landmark application, but in exchange STC agreed to several community benefits as well as a $60,000 payout to SWNA. The property then was sold to STC and Erkiletian in the fall of 2014.
During the Southwest Small Area Plan process community members expressed a preference for keeping the zoning for the SEU campus as R-3, which permits matter-of-right development of single-family residential uses (including detached, semi-detached, and row dwellings), churches, and public schools. After the Small Area Plan was developed by the Office of Planning, the owners of 501 I St. lobbied the DC Council without success to rescind this portion of the plan. That left them with the option to file a planned unit development (PUD). The one-acre Southeastern University campus building was demolished last summer and the site cleared in anticipation of development. Several forums have been held with the community over the past three years to gather input, which resulted in changes to the development plan.
Some neighbors of 501 I St. from Townhouse Management I and III have mobilized efforts to try and stop the development, which would replace a two-story building under R-3 zoning with a much denser project (under SP-2 zoning) and has the potential to block sunlight to surrounding residential properties and Amidon-Bowen Elementary School. Yard signs can be found along Sixth Street deriding the project, and a blog called “Out, Damned Developer! Out!” has been developed in opposition to The Bard. Andrea Pawley lives across the street from 501 I St. and is the author of the blog, through which her vociferous opposition to the project is channeled. In late January more than 50 neighbors signed a letter sent to the attorneys representing the development team asking for a delay in submitting the PUD application. This letter did nothing to dissuade the development team, since a PUD application was subsequently submitted in early February. Here is an excerpt from Pawley’s blog in reaction to the PUD submission: “Shakespeare Theatre is NOT responsive to community concerns. Shakespeare Theatre’s Planned Unit Development application is an attempt to gloss over the community’s numerous deep concerns. Shakespeare Theatre’s application also attempts to subvert the Office of Planning’s work with the community to help shape the future of Southwest D.C.”
The neighbors are now in the process of hiring a lawyer to formally oppose the project as it winds its way through the PUD process.
According to the PUD application the redevelopment of the property into The Bard will “complement the existing arts uses along I Street SW, serving as a bookend to the burgeoning I Street SW arts corridor.” The project includes 93 market-rate units, nine inclusionary zoning units for households earning up to 80 percent of area median income (AMI), 29 actor and five fellow housing units (each fellow housing unit will have four bedrooms) that will accommodate up to 20 fellows, with the remaining 43,100 square feet dedicated to STC artist studio space, nonprofit office space, and educational uses. STC’s costume fabrication studio will be located on the first floor, which will also have art panels along I Street depicting quotations from William Shakespeare. The residential entrance to the building will be at the corner of Sixth and I streets, and a courtyard on Sixth Street will serve as the entrance to STC’s space. Building heights range from 73 feet at the corner of Sixth and I streets to about 42 feet on the northwest side of the site. A total of 70 below-grade parking spaces will be provided, accessible from Sixth Street, and 85 bicycle parking spaces (75 long-term and 10 short-term). The Bard will be designed to achieve LEED-Silver status.
Two meetings were held in February to inform the community about the revised plans for the project, which includes the reduction in size by two stories to a maximum height of seven stories; a reconfigured unit mix to increase the number of larger units and reduce the number of studio apartments; reducing the number of planned units from 177 to 136; and moving some of the massing from the north side of the project more toward I Street. The meetings were held on Feb. 1 and 16 at Blind Whino SW Arts Club. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D will have its say later this year on whether it supports the project before The Bard goes to the Zoning Commission.