Last week was hard.
The deaths of Dave Salovesh and Abdul Seck hit close to home. While I only knew Dave from crossing paths at events and some interactions on Twitter, he had deep relationships with many neighbors here in Dupont and across the District, especially with those working to make our streets safer. I attended events memorializing Dave and Abdul on Easter Sunday, Wednesday in Anacostia, Wednesday evening at Glen’s Garden Market, and I participated in the rally at the Wilson Building on Friday. For me, it was a time to reflect and to listen.
One thing that struck me were the reactions from neighbors who don’t identify directly as safety advocates or part of a pedestrian or bicyclist community, all of whom have their own stories and experiences on our sidewalks and streets. Thank you, everyone who has emailed me and other elected officials to share these stories.
In the last week, I have communicated with the mayor’s office, council members, multiple ANC commissioners, and DDOT on road safety. I anticipate there will be legislation introduced soon that takes a serious approach, with notable changes from the status quo.
I want to thank Dupont neighbors Rudi Riet and Matthew Sampson especially, who through pain, grief, and loss, brought so many people together across boundaries to remember and reflect. Collectively, we now have a renewed, heightened focused on how we can make our neighborhood, and the District, a better, safer place to live.
A couple quick restaurant links this week:
There are two meetings coming up about the Scottish Rite Apartments, the project slated to be built behind the House of the Temple at 1733 16th St NW.
- May 1, 7:00 p.m., ANC 2B’s Zoning, Preservation and Development committee. Fellowship Hall in Foundry United Methodist Church (1500 16th Street NW, second floor).
- May 16, 7:00 p.m., ANC 2B meeting. Two matters regarding the Scottish Rite Apartments are on the agenda. Location to be determined.
Both meetings, like all ANC meetings, are open to the public.
The two matters before the ANC are a landmarking application and a second concept review of the building. In both cases, we are weighing in to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).
Earlier this year, the “Dupont East Civic Action Association” was created, self-described as “a new association of neighbors formed to organize opposition to the Masonic development.” They are using the landmarking process in effort to extend the existing landmark of the temple to extend to 15th Street, including what is now primarily a parking lot and private grass area. You can download and read the application here. Due to this application being filed, it has delayed the project one month so the HPRB and ANC 2B can review it.
While ANC commissioners and committee members are not expected to be subject matter experts, many of us have taken this very seriously and decided to learn and understand the process. I have sought and received advice from historic preservationists, other professionals, and numerous ANC commissioners across the District with experience with landmarking. I have also studied other applications and attended a number of meetings to better understand the matter.
The bottom line: the land behind the temple does not meet the criteria for a landmark.
Additionally, the HPRB itself already determined this last year:
“While the rear portion of the lot currently serves as a private garden and parking area for the temple, it is not a public park, was historically unrelated to the temple, and was occupied by 19th century rowhouses until the late 20th century. The garden, having been created in the past 25 years, is not part of the temple landmark and not recognized as contributing to the historic districts in which it is located. Neither the Near Northwest Area Element of the Comprehensive Plan (which covers the subject site) nor the Future Land Use Map call for the site to be retained as green space.”
Regardless of personal opinions on if a building should be there or not, I do not believe it is honest to support the use of a process designed for preserving landmarks to delay or block development on private property that is not a landmark.
This project is matter-of-right, meaning they are abiding to existing zoning requirements, they own the land, and have a right to build there. However, as it falls within historic districts, there is a review process to guide developers so new buildings show compatibility with the surrounding structures without necessarily resembling or imitating them. In other words, new buildings should look like new buildings, but the process steers those new buildings towards proportions, materials, and other character-defining elements that compliment the neighborhood.
The concept review of this building went through the ANC 2B and HPRB last year. Both the ANC 2B and HPRB formally made requests, and the developer has responded to those requests.
Direct links to the current package, comparisons, and responses are here: [1, 2, 3]. They are also currently available at 173316thStreet.com in the upper right under “HPRB Packages.” More information is in the HPRB Staff Report from November 2018 and the ANC 2B resolution from November 2018.
As of today, I believe the developer has sufficiently responded to the requests of the HPRB and the ANC 2B, but I expect in-depth discussions about this in the two upcoming meetings.
There are a couple other topics about this project that are generally outside of the ANC 2B and HPRB purview I would like to address.
The Scottish Rite has sought a tax abatement for the project. Andrew Giambrone covered this extensively when he was with the Washington City Paper – an essential read on the subject. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer deemed they did not need a tax abatement. In response to this as well as another project in the area, ANC 2B passed this language: “ANC 2B urges the DC Council to oppose tax abatements that cannot be independently substantiated and validated to provide a public benefit.”
I also oppose a tax abatement for this project.
While the tax abatement was introduced and later died in 2018, there is a possibility it could be reintroduced in 2019. Last year, council member Jack Evans oversaw tax abatements. In 2019, tax abatements are in a committee chaired by council member Kenyan McDuffie. During our last ANC 2B meeting on April 10, I asked council member Evans specifically about this topic, on the record. His reply:
“I would say this unequivocally: if it were to come back, if Kenyan [McDuffie] were to reintroduce [the tax abatement for the Scottish Rite], which I have absolutely no reason to believe he will – and he would be crazy to do that – I would tell him I am categorically that I am opposed to it and it should not move forward. And because it is in my ward, he would listen to that and would give me that deference. And I also sit on his committee as well.” Nonetheless, this is something I am continuing to keep my eye on.
A “Land Swap”
There is a concept floating around where the land behind the temple would be “swapped” with land owned by the District on the 1300 Block of S St NW, currently a parking lot and structure used by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). The idea is that the Scottish Rite would then develop that other land and the District would then own the land behind the temple. This is something the Scottish Rite, after it being presented to them, explored and had their attorneys study. They concluded in January it is not viable to pursue for multiple reasons, and shared those conclusions with those who proposed it. As well, for land to be “swapped,” the parties involved would all want to have it happen, and it would take many years to process. None of the parties want it to happen, and there has been vocal and written opposition with neighbors, community activists, and ANC commissioners near the DPR land.
The Path Forward
I am focused on what we can reasonably do to have the best possible outcomes considering the changes.
I will work to make sure safe accommodations are maintained for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other traffic on 15th Street. I will work to make sure construction is done at reasonable hours and legally. I’ll discourage efforts to create further delays that would negatively impact neighbors during construction. I’ll do my best to provide honest, clear information wherever and whenever I can.
Thank you for hearing me out, and thank you to everyone who has given me their input and thoughts on this.