JBG Unveils Its Latest Switch-up For 13 & U
It must have been a very busy month for JBG. Consider that just four weeks ago, Jim Nozar and Bryan Moll were standing before the U Street Neighborhood Association (a packed meeting at that) discussing plans for the hotel they wanted to build at 13 and U. Oh yes, hotel. Nozar was quite affirmative about that.
Just what exactly happened over at HQ these last few weeks we can’t say. We can officially say now that, following Tuesday evening’s presentation by JBG of their plans to the community, the hotel is most assuredly off. And without saying it exactly, Nozar and architect David Schwarz seemed pretty certain who to blame.
“We’ve heard a lot from the community about the massing, the increased density, other concerns,” Schwarz told a packed community meeting Tuesday night, going on to specifically single out “residents of Wallach” several times for uncertain sins. Hmm. Basically, he says, the lot’s too narrow for an office building, the meanies in the community wouldn’t let them build 100 feet, they’re “stuck with” Rite Aid as a retailer on the corner, they can’t make the economics work, so boo-hoo, it has to be apartments.
Not affordable apartments, mind those who want to see real affordability. “High-end, class-A tenants,” said Nozar, noting that of 135 planned units there would be no efficiencies, just one and two bedroom units.
Here are the details, such as they are:
- Building height 90′, with an additional 18’6″ on top for the penthouse (by code they can legally build to 65 feet without a variance.)
- 72 parking units, including spaces reserved for retailers
- 10’3″ alley off 13th, where all traffic with flow in and out.
- Space for just three tenants (other than the much-derided Rite Aid), and not much space at that, perhaps a total of 15,000 sf, with the drugstore accounting for half of that.
- Oh and brick color? “We haven’t decided that yet,” said. ”We’ll show you some samples later.”
JBG’s spin to the contrary, the new proposed building is nearly identical to the old proposed building, which isn’t all that surprising given the remarkably quick turnaround from must-have hotel to much-needed apartment building. In fact spin was surprisingly in evidence Tuesday night, with Schwarz asserting boldly: “It wasn’t the architecture that people didn’t like before, it was the massing and density.”
Perhaps everyone should be reminded of the actual debate several years back. Yes, massing and density were among the concerns; but so, too, was the building’s exterior, with the ANC and other boards specifically pointing out its lack of harmony with the street.
Asked Tuesday night to detail how, exactly, his new design is reflective specifically of the 13th and U neighborhood, Schwartz said simply “I’m not prepared to do that tonight.” Yipes.
JBG sees 13th and U as a “global neighborhood,” and they say they want to improve it, “…make it like Bleeker Street in New York.” First, DC isn’t Manhattan and shouldn’t pretend to be; rather it should be its own city with its own character. But more importantly, as one resident and former New Yorker pointed out, what makes Manhattan so interesting is the mixed presence of office and entertainment, ensuring 24-hour traffic. Bluntly put: we are completely unconvinced an architect as skilled as Mr. Schwarz would be unable to come up with an innovative office design that could attract an exciting business or three to the ‘hood.
There were a few supportive voices that spoke at the meeting – noting the design would remove all the Rite Aid trucks from loading/unloading on 13, and JBG’s community support of local education and other civic initiatives. That is good stuff…but also, as another voice noted, most likely part of JBG’s corporate plan. It would appear that JBG’s effort to court “influential opinion makers” in the neighborhood to sway the discussion (as several people reported to us) have not been all that successful.
In short it seems that JBG bought a lucrative property when real estate and times were riding high, and with the market crash ended up with something of a problem on its hands. It seems their solution is to just build yet another apartment building and be done with it. Seriously: can anyone find any difference between the new proposal and the former hotel proposal?
Judging at least from those who spoke Tuesday night, it doesn’t seem the community is loving that plan. “I’m just disappointed with what I’ll call a lack of bravery,” said one.
JBG will present its new plan before the ANC next Monday night. Next stop: PUD before the Zoning Commission.