The Hine Project: Part 1 – How It Happened: DMPED, Stanton/Eastbanc, Local Politics, and Tommy Wells

Developer's 3-D Model of the Proposed Hine Development

View of Developer’s 3-D Model of the Proposed Hine Development Looking Northwest

The Hine Project: Part 1 – How It Happened

DMPED, Stanton/Eastbanc, Local Politics, and Tommy Wells

Editorial by Larry Janezich

The Hine Project has been a case study of how the city moves its development agenda forward,

attempting to provide tax revenues and jobs by granting developers favorable terms while paying lip service to the citizens and residents adversely affected by development.  In some ways, it is a study in the failure of the political process.

From the beginning the city-developer public-private partnership on the Hine process has been characterized by manipulation, dissembling, conflict of interest, and a cozy relationship between city officials and Stanton East Banc (SEB).

Specifically:

  • The city’s Request for Proposals (RFP) from developers, including the priorities it articulated, served as poor guide to deduce what Deputy Mayor’s office for Economic Development (DMPED) ultimately wanted from the project;
  • Stanton Development launched a letter-to-DMPED writing campaign among family, friends, and clients to manufacture the appearance of a community consensus supporting the Stanton East Banc proposal, and DMPED counted this effort as legitimate support, going so far as to cite it as one reason for SEB’s selection (see here: http://bit.ly/1AjyLBE);
  • Early in the selection process – at various points – the Stanton East Banc proposal included as prospective components of the project: the Shakespeare Theater, a boutique hotel, a charter school and a large non-profit – all of which ultimately fell away;
  • CHRS, disposed to favor the familiar and local SEB (Stanton Development’s Kitty Kaupp is a substantial financial supporter of CHRS), gave SEB its perfunctory endorsement based upon the recommendation of five CHRS board members selected by and including former CHRS President Dick Wolf. The group held one meeting, in private, and the first and primary justification of their recommendation in favor of SEB as stated in the subcommittee report was:  “We all know Amy Weinstein will listen to the community and will have a superb design.  We should be most comfortable with this team and be able to negotiate with it in the future.”  The CHRS Board accepted the recommendation and agreed to it without debate or discussion, and that recommendation was then represented to and construed by the city as speaking for hundreds of CHRS members [editor's note: I resigned as editor of the CHRS newsletter over this failure in process];
  • East Banc brought in former City Council Committee staffer Joe Sternlieb and former member of the Board of Directors of the District of Columbia’s Housing Finance Agency Buwa Binitie (who was made a partner in the Hine project) to steer the project through the bureaucratic process and Low Income Housing Tax Credit process respectively, illustrating the “revolving door” which characterizes and undermines so much in city governance;
  • Overlapping membership in local civic and business organizations, including CHRS, EMCAC, Capitol Hill BID, BRMS, and The Capitol Hill Foundation provided a strong coalition of special interest groups which supported SEB, giving the appearance of broad neighborhood endorsement without corresponding substantial grassroots support;
  • EMCAC justified their support of the Stanton East Banc proposal by citing the promise of parking for Eastern Market and space for the flea market (both of which ended up much less than originally proposed);
  • DMPED endorsed Stanton East Banc as the developer;
  • Subsequent negotiations between DMPED and SEB led to a Council Term Sheet and Land Disposition and Development Agreement (LDDA) that favored the developer, providing for a ground lease at bargain basement prices and community benefits paid for by the taxpayer rather than the developer;
  • DMPED subsequently arranged a transfer of part of the Hine property as an outright sale – also at bargain basement prices. This north parcel, it was suggested, would be for the construction of townhouses which would allow Stanton East Banc to sell the townhouses outright, an advantage to them in seeking financing;
  • Councilmember Tommy Wells responded to requests for his intervention prior to City Council disposition of the Hine site that the place to challenge height and mass issues would be during the Zoning Commission’ Public Unit Development (PUD) process;
  • The Greater Greater Washington crowd, waving the flags of “new urbanism” and promoting a “livable, walkable city” with greater density near transportation hubs fell into line, and began their hectoring campaign in support of Councilmember Tommy Wells and SEB, promoting greater density near Metro as desirable without acknowledging that Capitol Hill is, as Ken Jarboe wrote in a comment on a February 29, 2012, CHC post, that the Comprehensive Plan notes the “Hill is already one of the densest areas in the District of Columbia.”
  • The City Council rushed approval of the deal through in the final days before the August 2010 recess – with then-Chair Kwame Brown saying that the CHRS endorsement was a deciding factor for him, citing the endorsement of the full 1,000 strong CHRS membership;
  • HPRB – openly deferential to Stanton East Banc architect Amy Weinstein (a former HPRB Board Member) – approved the massing, height and design dismissing the objections raised by ANC6b in public hearings and despite serious reservations expressed by a new HPRB board member – respected architect Graham Davidson –  who called for taking a floor off the project and a redesign of the Pennsylvania Avenue façade;
  • When prodded again by residents to intervene on behalf of the community in the case of Hine, at a meeting of over 200 residents and one of the largest community meetings in recent memory on Capitol Hill, Councilmember Wells turned over responsibility for negotiating details of the Public Unit Development (PUD) on height, mass, benefits and amenities on the project to ANC6b, saying he would endorse whatever they approved;
  • Stanton Development again launched a letter writing campaign on behalf of the project when the plans went before the Zoning Commission in 2012, with most of the letters of support for the project coming from those who had some business relationship with the developer (see here http://bit.ly/1nW4SyP);
  • The Office of Planning assured interested civic organizations during meetings to explain the PUD process that hiring counsel was unnecessary to successfully press their interests;
  • On June 13, 2012, a divided ANC6b endorsed the Hine Project’s PUD agreement by a vote of 6-4, with Commissioners Brian Pate and Ivan Frishberg – the two ANC6b Commissioners who represented the Commission before city agencies and who negotiated the final design and public benefits package on behalf of ANC6b – supporting the project;
  • CHRS gave up the fight to improve the project early on. Despite having spent $20,000 to fight the addition of a comparatively trivial third story to the Heritage Foundation building at 227 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE – (spearheaded by then CHRS Historic Preservation Committee Chair Nancy Metzger, now a board member of HPRB) – CHRS didn’t spend a dime to improve the design of the Hine project or even ask for party status before the Zoning Commission despite registering strong reservations and insisting on design changes for the project when testifying before the Zoning Commission;
  • The Zoning Commission approved the Hine PUD process after a public review which was remarkable to this observer for revealing commissioners who were ill prepared, ill informed, and ready to defer to the judgment of other city agencies;
  • Super-lobbyist, Hine partner, and Jeffrey Thompson-associate David Wilmot pressured the Mayor’s office to close quickly with SEB on the Hine project, despite reservations from the Mayor’s office regarding departure from routine procedure;
  • The Hine deal was closed and the land transferred to SEB on July 12, 2013, after DMPED agreed to separate the land closing from the financial closing, and delay the latter until financing could be obtained;
  • On June 28, 2013, the Hine Coalition, a group of Capitol Hill residents appealed the Zoning Commission’s approval of SEB’s plan for the Hine project to the DC Court of Appeals, on the basis of incompatible scale and density and as being inconsistent with the DC Comprehensive Plan – which states that mixed use buildings in areas such as the Hine site “generally do not exceed five stories in height”. The group’s attorney, Oliver Hall, attempted to require DMPED to fully comply with the Freedom of Information Act regarding documents related to the Hine project.  Such documents as were finally made available by DMPED at the order of the Mayor’s office revealed the extent to which political pressure was brought to bear on DMPED to expedite the closing process to avoid the necessity of the City Council extending (again) the closing deadline;
  • On August 14, 2014, the DC Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Zoning Commission. The decision seems to legitimize the Zoning Commission’s decision to defer to other city agencies, minimize careless inconsistencies in the Zoning Commission’s report, and reaffirm the court’s practice of not considering questions which have been raised for the first time in the appeal.

One question which the decision seems to open up is whether developer can convert the affordable housing in the project’s North Building to market value housing after 40 years – assuming the project lasts that long.  The developer’s plans anticipate exemption from some of the restrictions in Inclusionary Zoning (affordable housing) Program, but the court decision seems to indicate that the exemption is contingent on the affordable housing being maintained for as long as the project exists.  Finally, the decision endorses the ZC’s contention that the ZC has no responsibility to rule on whether the project is a good deal for the city.

City agencies define the city as “city government” – which in the District appears to mean the elected officials and the financial interests that make it possible for them to get elected.  To the bureaucracy, the city does not mean the communities, neighborhoods, and residents of which the city is comprised.

​When astro-turfing replaces grassroots and when the voices of residents who invested here before it was fashionable are dismissed by city officials ​and lost in the chorus of ​those calling for greater density, more economic development, and greater opportunities for high end consumption, disequilibrium is the inevitable result.  And when progress is defined in these terms, it comes at the expense of community values, its integrity and connectedness, and the sense of place that too many of us have taken for granted.

Next:  Part 2 – The Hine Project: What We Lost – DC as A Developer’s City

56 Comments

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56 responses to “The Hine Project: Part 1 – How It Happened: DMPED, Stanton/Eastbanc, Local Politics, and Tommy Wells

  1. Kathleen

    I remember that Ken Jarboe remark. It provoked my favorite “mansplainer,” Alex Block, into posting all these links to lecture us about density. His go-to-guy cited Capitol Hill as an example of a successful, dense neighborhood and one to be emulated (oops). Totally captured the dynamic: derisive millennials lecturing, when maybe they should have been listening.

    There is one person to blame for this process and this result: Tommy Wells. This article does not mention that the neighborhood (as in, the actual people) were incredibly supportive a development which was more attractive, better funded (not hard), and already had committed partners on board. But there was just one thing wrong with it: it wasn’t a local developer. I guess when you want to be mayor, a lot of things fall by the wayside (like the crown jewel of your ward).

    • anon

      from a regular citizen perspective SEB was a bizarro world selection. at every community meeting and in discussion with neighbors, there was far greater support for the Streetsense proposal over the others, including SEB. It wasn’t even close from a reall grassroots persective (not artificial turf).

  2. Craig D'Ooge

    Good article, but could you include what all the acronyms stand for? Also, it is evident that there were many interlocking interests at work behind all this, with former this and former thats supporting each other. It would be interesting to see a graphic representation of how the people that supported this ex-urban monstrosity related to each other, and the overlapping positions they held at one time or another. It seems like there is a relatively small group of people who rotate through various organizations and instead of keeping each other in check, work to facilitate each other, sometimes as board members, sometimes a “community witnesses,” sometimes as govt. officials. I believe the appropriate word is “cabal.”

  3. Craig D'Ooge

    Also, could anyone explain to me exactly why the CHRS was so involved in this project which is entirely new construction? Just what is being restored? It’s not the Capitol Hill Development Society after all, though in this case it seems to have functioned as one.

  4. anon

    This article is very one-sided, which is fine. I don’t pretend to know how best to develop this space, other than being of the belief that it should be something other than a vacant school, and has great potential to serve as the anchor of the north-of-Pennsylvania Ave side of the neighborhood, which would be great. All that said, the only difference I seemed to notice in the platforms of candidates Thompson and Allen was their opposition and support, respectively, for timely and meaningful development of this space. And the voters seemed to cast their ballots accordingly. Regardless of what you think of the deal, or the design, this has been an incredibly long process, and the neighborhood certainly has not derived any benefit from the deteriorating abandoned school building in the meantime.

  5. anon

    I too am not interested in padding the pockets of SEB or any other developer, but we cannot ignore the fact that, as it is made harder for them to project (and make) money, it also becomes harder to generate interest from developers other than those who are already well-equipped to navigate DC politics and bureaucracy (perhaps that describes SEB). Look at what just happened with Metro, they received zero responses to their solicitation to develop the area around the Huntington stop because developers decided that it’s not worth the bureaucratic headaches. First and foremost, the public needs to benefit from these partnerships – but for them to in fact be viable partnerships in the first place, we can’t deny that ALL potential developers will need to deem it a profitable and predictable endeavor so they are compelled to get involved. Economic uncertainty and unpredictable delays are arguably what lead insider developers (like SEB?) to corner the market on these projects in the first place.

    • Kathleen

      I like this set of remarks, but it’s hard to square that logic with the fact that there was a well-funded developer ready to go on this project…who just wasn’t local. Maybe the problem on the Metro bid, and the problem more generally, is that DMPED/DC has developed a “the fix is in” reputation and it is not worth expending all that money when the project won’t even be awarded fairly.

    • anon

      This project did not suffer from lack of proposals, so I don’t really buy that argument. SEB’s troubles with moving this project forward squarely fall on SEB and DMPED.
      SEB cornered this project through slight of hand. Streetsense was the better option from day one. SEB has done nothing to change this perception.

  6. Pete

    This is great news! I’m happy the old building is coming down! This whole back and forth, back and forth is getting tiresome.

  7. mindy

    I’m more than pleased that the existing building is coming down, yet very unhappy at the height of the 7th street building or the north building. Not thrilled one bit about Weinstein doing the design – I believe she is responsible for the recent height additions to the old post office – HORRIBLE! It looks unfinished (the cladding is crazy) and what’s with the copper?! Just a visual disaster!

    • ET

      With regards to the additions to the old post office – that is a matter of taste isn’t it? Personally I think they blended with the style of the existing structure small as it was as well as the building with the Pain Quotidian, rather well. The whole finished product is more interesting and creative than much of the newer buildings going up in various parts of the city – see M St. SE – or less faux historical like that building across the street from the Market.

  8. Gary Peterson

    I would suggest that everyone read the court’s opinion before making comments. It is available at http://www.dccourts.gov/internet/documents/13-AA-366.pdf.
    The court’s opinion was only released yesterday and in the rush to get an article written, the Capitol Hill Corner opinion piece is missing some facts that are relevant to the discussion. In February 2008 it became clear that the Hine School site would become available for development and the CHRS Board discussed what a successful development should include. CHRS reviews new construction to insure that it is compatible with the Historic District. The Board then laid out its vision of what the development should look like in a resolution thathad 11 criteria:
    1. Comply with the recently enacted comprehensive plan,
    2. Be the best example of smart growth and sustainable development,
    3. Reflect the importance of the location,
    4. Be compatible with the surrounding zoning and existing building scale,
    5. Restore the original L’Enfant Plan by reopening C Street between 7th and 8th,
    6. Provide for commercial uses on 7th Street compatible with the existing commercial uses,
    7. Set aside Pennsylvania Avenue for mixed use with retail on the first floor and office above,
    8. Design the 8th Street frontage as residential and include a substantial percentage of workforce housing
    9. Consider live/work studios on C Street,
    10. Accommodate one to two underground levels of parking over 100% of the site, so there is parking for the residential, commercial and weekend parking for the Eastern Market,
    11. Provide for green space as well as outdoors areas for craft vendors, food vendors and the flea market.

    These criteria were used throughout the process to analyze the RFP, to recommend a developer, and to review the PUD application. I reject the insinuation that this process was influenced by the fact that one of the developers is a member of CHRS and donates “substantial” money to it. I have no idea who is a member of CHRS and I do not know who has donated money to it. The members of the zoning committee and the board are not told this information. CHRS makes decisions based upon the facts of the matter and what is in the best interest for historic preservation and not on who is a member or donor.

    I also reject the statement the CHRS gave up the fight early on. Not only were we first on the scene, but I attend many meetings and was on the ANC working group that made recommendations to ANC zoning committee. CHRS also worked hard to make the project compatible with the Historic District and worked hours on the case before the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The design of the building changed substantially because CHRS suggested numerous changes. The 8th Street façade was redesigned many times and the building was lowered by one floor based, in part, on CHRS recommendations. Finally CHRS representatives testified before both the HPRB and the Zoning Commission.

    I hope this helps clarify what happened. Gary Peterson, Chair, CHRS Zoning Committee.

    • Craig D'Ooge

      The only compatibility about this giant project is among the group of people who pushed it through. These are not criteria, this is just a list of subjective judgments to be made against no standard: “best” “reflect” “consider”. Even a child can look at this and see the scale is not “compatible” with the surroundings. “Domineering,” “massive,” “biggest thing for miles around” maybe, but “compatible?” Nah.

  9. Elizabeth Nelson

    I am on the CHRS Board and I supported the selection of SEB after an objective review of the proposals which were emailed to me without any commentary or suggestion as to how I should vote. The SEB offering seemed like a “no brainer”. Their proposal was the most complete and offered the best mix of uses. Once the discussion began at the CHRS board meeting, it became clear that there would be little debate; the board members had all seen the same set of proposals and had independently come to the same conclusion – the other proposals were simply not in the same league.
    Subsequently, the CHRS Historic Preservation Committee put in countless hours suggesting improvements to the size and design of the project.  To say that they did little or nothing demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the work involved. Like many others, I am disappointed in the final design but I believe it is the best we can do, given the constraints placed by the City and the competing desires of various stakeholders. Larry is entitled to disagree.  But he is wrong to suggest that my decision to support SEB was not made in good faith.

    • anon

      The SEB offering seemed like a “no brainer”. Their proposal was the most complete and offered the best mix of uses.

      and it offered the most unkept promises. I guess we’ll never know how many promises the competing bidders would have broken.

  10. This is an excellent retrospective on the development but incredibly disheartening. I’m sorry to hear that the project played out as it did but, with any luck, the more people write about such developments after the fact, the more residents of the city can learn how to combat such activities in their neighborhoods. To your former Councilmember, your blog was one of the deciding factors for me in not voting for him (as a Ward 5 resident I had less exposure to him). The break down of his campaign financing and the hypocrisy behind his statement that he doesn’t take corporate donations was fantastic.

    I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but what you write above is eerily similar to the McMillan project. I look forward to reading the next installment.

  11. Bobbi Krengel

    Nobody opposed “timely and meaningful development of this space”, and there is nobody who is in favor of delay, there are only those who feel more strongly that the project should be done right and legally, and who are willing to accept the concomitant delay that would cause, now that we know that the whole public participation process was a sham.

    Many of us dutifully went to every design charrette and visioning session, carefully placing our little dots on the poster boards and weighing in with thoughtful evaluations, not realizing we were being played by petty potentates camouflaging their moves with a placebo process and checking off boxes until time to go downtown and let DMPED do its dirty deals behind closed doors. And all those city agencies know that they had better fall into line and support those developer-authored applications, reports and conclusions or they’ll be out of their city jobs.

    [BTW--Street Sense did have some local partners.]

    The next time you walk down to Yards Park, look up at the Fed DOT @ 3rd & M SE–that’s what we’re going to get at the Hine site.
    Respectfully submitted–

    Bobbi Krengel

    • C Street Resident

      I would argue that, at its core, the lawsuit opposed timely and meaningful delay. There were reasonable arguments made by neighbors, but this lawsuit was organized, funded, and litigated by Ralph Nader and friends, who make a habit of flying into cities like ours to recruit plaintiffs in order to further their own agendas. Regardless of how anyone feels about ther developer, the process, or the final design, let’s not act like this particular lawsuit was a neighborhood-centric approach to resolving neighborhood differences.

      • C Street Resident

        Sorry; timely and meaningful *development*, not delay.

      • Bobbi Krengel

        The appeal was generated, drafted, and filed by the neighbors. It was only once it became clear that experienced representation would be required that an intensive search for highly qualified counsel led to the choice of representation. And it is precisely because such corrupt pay-to-play deals are universal, across the city, e.g., the West End Library and the McMillan Reservoir, and across the country, that some non-profit foundations have found a mission in advising concerned residents seeking justice.
        The neighbors have never favored or sought delay, as there is no advantage to anybody in that. Rather the goal was and is asking that everybody be required to play by the same set of rules. Once that has been violated, redress takes time.
        Respectfully submitted–
        Bobbi Krengel

      • Bobbi Krengel

        I should add that the appellants are funding the appeal themselves, and that Ralph Nader is not involved, and that nobody is “flying in” or “recruiting” anybody. Counsel is a District resident and was engaged because of his qualifications and experience, after the petitions were filed by the neighbors.

      • C Street Resident

        Sure, counsel is a district resident, who happens to have served as Ralph Nader’s counsel for the better part of the last decade. The connection is obvious, and this isn’t the first lawsuit of this sort he has filed. It’s disingenuous to assert otherwise.

  12. Maggie Hall

    Thanks Larry, for laying out in such clear and precise detail the way in which the sorry saga of the Hine project has played out. The manner in which city council and community leaders have behaved has bestowed a shameful stain on the way DC does business. And there’s one thing that those who don’t care, those who are fed up of the opposition, should remember, indeed know: the community signed-off on the original proposed plan. Then, hey-presto – without consultation – it was changed so it was bigger, more dense, higher. And the powers-that-be saw nothing wrong with that. What a bizarre, corrupt, carry-on. My prediction is that before long, when the new Hine development is making its gross presence felt, the most common comment, from those who currently can’t see what the fuss is all about, will be on the lines of: “Oh, I didn’t realise it was going to be so awful…..”

  13. dlg

    This is a large lot located in the “downtown” of Capitol Hill, across from a metro station, and on a very large road (PA Ave SE). It is tailor made for increased density. Frankly – the plan is too small and the height and density should be increased. We need more people in Capitol Hill to increase retail and safety.

    • Maggie Hall

      As you have such a firm opinion of what should happen why don’t you, dlg, come out from behind your cloak of anonymity so we can know where you live and thus see whether the Hine development will have a direct effect on your daily life….. that you talk about the “downtown” of Capitol Hill gives us (well, me) a pretty good idea that you have no idea of what the Capitol Hill/Eastern Market community is like…. btw: I’m on the 600 block of C S, SE.

      • C Street Resident

        I, too, am a resident of C Street, SE and I wholeheartedly agree with dlg. The project will add more daytime workers and residential density to our neighborhood, which is what we need to cultivate additional neighborhood retail options beyond the stretch of restaurants on 7th and 8th Streets. They are great for the neighborhood, but attract evening-only dollars insufficient to support anything other than the sale of food and beverage. There’s a reason all the retail stores seem to come and go while the restaurants remain, and flourish – we don’t have enough density.

        And, we do need density for reasons beyond retail. Our neighborhood is wonderful, but once one ventures a few blocks from the 7th/8th street corridors, the lack of density (read: people on the streets, particularly in the evening) becomes readily apparent. Debates about the design of the project aside, lighting and density deter crime, and this project will add both. I’m sure those who live immediately across the street wish they had something prettier going up, but for better or worse, unanticipated area development is not a new phenomenon when you buy property in a city.

      • Craig D'Ooge

        Much of the reasoning supporting Ballston-on-the-Avenue proves we have plenty of density in the neighborhood.

      • dlg

        Maggie – Does where I live matter to the facts – that the site is a large lot located in the “downtown” of Capitol Hill, across from a metro station, and on a very large road – and that the site is tailor made for increased density? How about if I live in the Pennmark Condos? Would that entitle me to be able to comment on the site? Or do I have to own a house on 6th St to be able to comment? Where I live, and where you live, mean absolutely nothing and entitle us to nothing. I moved here knowing the site could be developed at any time – just like any large property on PA Ave SE.

    • Craig D'Ooge

      What planet do you live on where “density” increases safety? If you believe this, I’d suggest a nice vacation in a favela in Rio.

      • dlg

        Nice straw-man (Rio’s slums) for the proposition that density does not increase safety. I guess that Tokyo and Seoul – two of the most dense cities in the world – are slums like Rio. Heck – even Paris and NYC (both much more dense than DC) have less per capita murders than DC. I suggest you try reading a book on urban planning.

      • Craig D'Ooge

        What a fool law enforcement has been, when the solution to crime has been starring them in the face: tall buildings.

      • anon

        … and DLG completely ignores the fact that Cap Hill is already one of the densist areas in DC. I suspect DLG just favors more places to stuff face, like many pro development at any cost bandwagoneers

  14. E. Masquinongy

    C St res: Compared to the defunt school, no matter is built will add density. The question is, how much is right? We’d get a bumper crop of those benefits you mention if a 25-story mixed-use building were put up. But no matter how handsome such a structure could be, it would be wrong for this neighborhood.

    The debate has always been about an arbitrary line between “right” and “too big”. All property owners on Capitol Hill have implicitly agreed to the limits imposed by the historical zone, basically because we benefit from these limits. This is what establishes that line. IMO, the line is the height of the buildings on the 600 block of Pennsylvania Ave, which SEB implied they were going to keep. Then they pushed it up, and backed out on some of their other promises.

    • Craig D'Ooge

      Yep, while the residents of Capitol Hill are all subject to all sorts of controls regarding maintaining adjacent elevations and facade lines in the name of historic authenticity. Pile enough cash on your roof and your “pop up” is approved. The hypocrisy of the neighborhood watchdogs is breathtaking.

      • Bobbi Krengel

        Yep. And now OP is considering lowering the height limit in R4 in response to public outrage over pop ups, yet continues to rubber stamp oversized new developments by developers who have paid to play. When an entire neighborhood has only two zoning designations which have maximum height limits of either 40 feet or 50 feet, and the vast majority of the existing buildings have actual heights far below those limits, how does one single property in the center of that neighborhood receive a new zoning designation plus an additional bonus that allows a height of 94.5 feet? Because OP deems it “not incompatible.” That is the epitome of spot zoning, the elimination of which is the foundation of zoning principles, and a primary motivation for developers to make large donations.

  15. AnonX

    Dear C Street anti-Naderite. First, we 13 appeals-court litigants paid out of our pockets for a lawyer who (unlike you) uses no ad-hominem arguments or smears. Reason is his weapon. The Appeals Court decision hinges on factual errors we hope to correct. Second, the reason so little small retail is possible on Barracks Row and PA Ave. SE is rapacious rents (greedy landlords) and high taxes (for which DC gives very poor services). Talk to store owners. Some store owners on 7th St. SE between N. Carolina and PA Ave. do hope higher density will help them. Ironically, one owner of commercial property on PA AVE, on 7th St. SE, is a co-developer of the Hine school project who looks greatly forward to even more increased property values and even higher rents.

    • C Street Resident

      One would think that such reasonable Counsel would win one of these cases every now and then, he sure has filed enough of them around the city. Litigiousness alone does not a good attorney make.

      • Bobbi Krengel

        Sure. And we can prove that pay-to-play isn’t occurring because we don’t see any developers in jail, right?
        In truth, pay-to-play is working extremely well, with developers running DMPED and DMPED running OP and OP running HPO. If there is any difference between lobbying for developers and urban planning, one would never know it by the activities of the DC OP and the ZC. The Comprehensive Plan is being eviscerated wholesale, and shilling for developers masquerades as planning, with PUDs used as Trojan horses for legalized preferential treatment for favored developers, and sham benefits for communities being used as hush money.
        Just look at all the developer dollars that are being thrown at the upcoming elections.
        These highly experienced developers and their handlers know that the best way to influence city officials is to do their jobs for them–write the contracts and the legislation and the applications and fund the studies and write the reports–”sign here”.
        Zoning is being ignored and bastardized, with even the language commonly used being prejudicial toward developers–requests for special dispensation or exemptions are consistently referred to as “relief”, implying that zoning requirements are onerous.
        The purpose of zoning is to level the playing field and control unbridled profiteering, to prevent the selling of rights to the highest bidder, but now we have city officials pimping them out.
        Historic preservation laws are being violated with abandon, ever since the bureaucratic realignment that put OP under DMPED, with preservation no match for the “Build, baby, build” mentality of economic development. This is very clear when we see HPRB too timid to stand up, left voicing “serious concerns” yet too intimated to object to anything.
        And neither is the ZC sufficiently independent. They are appointees who are so overwhelmed by their workload that they rubber stamp the agency reports of OP and DDOT and others who are depending upon the developers’ reports and findings for their information, developer-written applications and legislation; and defended by developers’ high-priced super-lobbyists.
        And the ZC was represented at DCCA by the developers’ counsel.
        The courts know there would be chaos if they were to call out all the incompetence and influence peddling, and therefore they confine their investigations to narrow oversight on procedural matters.
        We should be very grateful to people who take on the difficult battles.

      • AnonX

        Thank you, C Street Resident, for your two cents. I count two law suits filed by our Counsel. And I wonder how many opinions of the DC Court of Appeals upholding the DC Zoning Commission you have actually read with understanding.

      • E. Masquinongy

        C St res: What was the alternative to litigation? SEB had already got the zoning board to sign off; from their perspective, what was to be gained compared to the likely win in court?

        I agree, the best lawyers are the ones that keep you OUT of court. But sometimes nothing else will do.

  16. Valerie

    Proof of a pay-to-play development culture . . . taking public space out of the public domain . . . lack of world-class bids with world-class design . . . abiding questions regarding sustained affordable housing . . . silly and persistent oversights that leave the public out of clearly defined public processes.

    Really, this development is the best we can do on an entire city block right next to the metro just blocks from the Capitol? What a wasted opportunity for our lifetimes. At least we have this blog, and its writer, to thank for laying out the tale for future residents to learn from.

  17. Pingback: The life of a D.C. ‘oil man’ - The Washington Post

  18. Neutral observer

    Having lived through this process, I suggest the opponents of the project take some time for introspection over their role. In my view the opposition was ineffective in part because, as reflected in the comments here, their goals were often unclear and scattershot, and sometimes unrealistic (such as constantly bringing up the choice of developer long after that issue had been settled). Accusing politicians who disagree with you of being corrupt, assuming that everyone who supports the project is not a true capitol hill resident, describing the project architect as incompetent, and labeling a project design that is less than ideal as an unmitigated disaster for the neighborhood are not strategies that are likely to win broad support. In fact these tactics alienated many in the community who might have been supportive and left the opponents merely a vocal minority – which failed in an effort to elect anti-Hine candidates to the ANC. I for one was constantly turned off from supporting the opposition by a strategy that seemed more interested in fighting on every point than on actually winning on anything. I am sure the developer figured there was no point in negotiating with the opponents because they would never be satisfied. The litigation, which focused on technicalities and issues such as affordable housing that were never central to the opposition to the project, and accomplished nothing other than delay, was merely the final step (I hope) in an ineffective strategy. Congratulations, you fought the good fight, at the expense of all of your neighbors having to spend another year staring at a ugly abandoned building.
    I suspect some will say, “the process is corrupt, what else can we do”? My answer would be, accept that you are not going to get everything you want out of the project and focus, in a less confrontational way, on a few key aspects. Sorry if that sounds defeatist.

    • Craig D'Ooge

      Guerrilla war 101. The disenfranchised and powerless can only use the tools they have at hand. I suspect that the developer didn’t negotiate because he knew he didn’t have to. Usually in a dispute of this kind, one either has time or money. Rear guard actions and sniping, while not covered with glory, can still be noble and sometimes effective.

      • Neutral observer

        That’s silly. The opponents are neither disenfranchised nor powerless. Granted it is always an uphill fight against a developer, but that doesn’t mean opponents have no power, they just have to be realistic about what they can accomplish. And the developer did make changes to the project in discussions with, for example, the ANC. It is so unreasonable to think that the opponents might have accomplished more with different tactics? The problem was that the most active and energetic opponents were also the most passionately committed to not compromising on any issues. That is understandable but unfortunately it turned off people who might have mobilized for a more moderate approach to trying to improve the project.

      • Craig D'Ooge

        Um…whom exactly did they turn off, besides your “neutral observer” self? I guess losing the battle is not enough, one also has to endure the solemn moralizing after-the-fact. This post reminds me of the last scene in “Fargo.” As far as I know, the bottom line “vision” always stayed the same, a big honking mixed-use condo project. If only they would have “worked with ” the developer, he might have thrown in a “community room” or something in the big honking mix-use condo project. “If only you had been more reasonable,” said the cat to the canary. So now the new standard for “compatibility” is set. Let the games begin. And so they shall.

  19. Neutral Observer

    I was not trying to moralize, but asking for an honest evaluation of the effectiveness of the opponents’ strategy and tactics. All or nothing tactics often end up with nothing. To use your example, are we better off NOT having a “community room”? In answer to your question, it is my belief that opponents turned off or at least failed to persuade many residents of the hill – witness the failed effort to elect more sympathetic ANC officials. I agree with you that if the goal was trying to stop the project from being a “big honking mixed-use condo project”, then working with the developer wasn’t going to work. But that goal was not realistic and was not shared by enough people to make the opposition effective.

    • anon

      The courts are precisely were this matter should have been addressed. astroturfing grassroots and selection process aside, the opponents raised issues to the zoning process and the lack of due process followed by DMPED and SEB. The fact that they lost their arguments does not invalidate the arguments. That’s just due process. You make it sound like it was a frivilous suit when in fact legitimate issues were raised to the court.