Of Cabanas, Condos and Coppis

The Entire U Street Area Dances with JBG

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

It was a full room on a full moon that greeted members of the U Street Neighborhood Associaition this week. Perhaps because of the brief candidate speeches of those seeking to replace Mr. Orange (or in his case preserve it, ending awkwardly by repeated “I am not a crook” when the bell rung and he was out of time. Foreshadowing, that?) Or perhaps because of someone else in the room; namely the company that ate our neighborhood, JBG.

The meeting chairs worked to keep things brief, but meetings like this always feel like squeezing 7 pounds of sausage into a 4 pound casing. This time, to their credit, there actually was a tremendous amount before the USNA, so thanks guys!

Candidate’s stump and pumps finished, and one disturbing crime report later – summary: larcenies and robberies are rising, duh,  – we turned to Sheryl Walter, who heads Historic Preservation and Development, who in turn handed the spotlight to Bryan Moll and Jim Nozar of JBG.

Louis' roofdeck, complete with cabanas and fire-pits.

Nice for some, but not for you

A few minutes of fumbling with the right graph and the framed drawing and the sketches on boards, and it was time to present “Louis!” Or  “Loo-ee” to his friends, apparently. Louis is, if you haven’t heard, the 268-unit apartment building running nearly hundreds of feet along 14, and turning the corner at U before running hundreds more down 14th. “It’s a mixed use  building,” repeated manager Bryan Moll, “with 40% 1 bedrooms or greater.” Which still leaves 60% studios and efficiencies. And NOT in the price path most could afford, as the questioners learned.

Teases were rolled out. “Here is where we hope to have a produce store, which we are not able to *CoughtraderjoesCough* put out there, and elsewhere we hope for dry goods.” Said Moll: “We going up to Brooklyn right now to see some exciting new opportunities!”  Thank God they’re not going to Ballston.

Nozard picked it up from here with another framed gauzy portrait of the Louis’ roof: “We’re really excited about this! In fact I wanted to live in this building!” he said, even though 5 minutes earlier he said he lived nearby and was committed to his house. Anyway: “There’s going to be a roof top pool – a plunge pool – a club room, tvs and bars. We’ll have cabanas and grilling stations and firepits, and in the summer a huge screen on which we’ll show movies in the night. It’s totally the placed you’ll want to hang out!”

Too bad nobody but the building’s residents will ever do so, although the rest of us are likely to hear.

Concerning, “fortunately or unfortunately,” as Moll says it, the McDonalds, it isn’t likely to move. However the other treasures of U – Rice Noodles, Coppis, Stem and Utopia and the Deli? Well, while Moll and Nozard suggested vague ” negotiations are continuing”, the plan would call for the shut down of all those establishments (plus the deli) for major construction work for at least a year.

Negotiations? Didn’t seem to ring a bell with the owner of one of those restaurants; one of the first in the area when U Street was largely drugs, prostitutes and crime.  We promised not to use his name, but will check in soon with him. We hope he and his colleagues have a clearer idea of JBG’s proposal soon. His take: ‘nobody’s talked to me about anything.’  That’s not good.

Moll and Nozard detail an old drawing

And soon is a relative term. Moll and Nozard were clear: they expect the site to be cleaned by April, with the first crane up in June – a crane that will sweep in its arc well over East 14 and Wallach. Lease-holders were less clear.

Apart from “Louie’s” friendly name and the two smiley JBG reps, lots of people had deep worries about ‘Louis’; traffic problems, construction pats, partking variences, what potential owners had or hadn’t been told about moving into a rapidly noisy and crowded area. In short: developers saying one thing at the start, and something else once they’re underway.

Then came questioning about the JBG development a couple doors down, at 14 and S. (Look for the skycrane – it soon won’t be lonely.) Originally sold as condos, JBG now tells us that “the economics have changed” and that they would now be – just like almost every other new unit in this tiny region – rental. The crowd as not pleased. What else might change, JBG?

Tick tick tick, time was running out at the meeting, and with the most controversial proposal at the end. That’s the sort of thing 1st term Senators play. Brief address on Florida and 8th and the Atlantic Plumbing complex (they own a great deal of the land there but aren’t planning at this point anything mammoth or monumental.)

“We’re aware of releasing too many units on the market at the same time,” said Nozar. Which gives one pause: units at Louis, units at 14& S, units at a large development at Floriday & 8th, units at the sweeping “Atlantic Plumbing” area, units at the 14th and R Central Mission rehab (a Colbert Project), units at the proposed Colbert “WallachZilla” at 14th and Wallach place. Are we missing anyplace?

Anyone care to tally up all those units? And do we really expect a non-disruptive rollout?

Oh, and then there’s this other thing. “We said when the time was right we wanted to return to this idea of a development (an Ian Schrager-like all glitz and no room) hotel at 13 and U,” said Nozar, showing a pastel drawing of a 120 foot monstrosity. It if looked familiar, it’s because it was.

“You’ve said you’re going to seriously modify the proposal, but what you’re presenting is the old drawing that was roundly rejected. Why are you showing us this?” I asked.

Fumferfumfer “We’ve definitely heard the community and we’re working on modifications.”

‘Like what?” someone hollered. “Is it still going to be 120 feet?” said another. “Well fumferfumfer we’re just not there yet, but we do hear you.” “How about the parking variance?”  How about the complete lack of infra-structure support?” “Yes, yes, we’ve heard you and will do our best.”

“When?” I asked. Sheryl spoke up: “JBG has promised a special session for this project once they have something to present.”

“Isn’t that gonna be too late?” said someone.

*Ding* Time was done.

Except, time isn’t done. We’re curious to hear much, much more of these many developments. And thoughts about all all this is changing the very nature of this community.

The meeting chair regained order. “OK,OK, let’s wrap up and move on.”

Don’t get me wrong. Jim Nozar looks you square in the face and seems to answer honestly. Bryan Moll is very good at standing and lending an aura of handsome inevitability.

But this is not how decisions get made IF a community is involved.



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8 responses to “Of Cabanas, Condos and Coppis

  1. Long Time resident

    I think they said 40 percent studios and 60 P percent larger units — because he made a point about it not bring as many studios as some new buildings.

    It Is interesting that they are proposing only a 5 story building over at 7-9th…I wonder why we get the tallest ones??

  2. Logan Res

    Doug, The community has been involved for a long time now on these projects. There have been meetings where concerns were raised and overwhelming support has been shown. Where we have some opportunities to shape our hood is to express our desires for the types of retail establishments we’d prefer to see in these buildings. We’ve been loud and clear that we want the fast food, carpet stores, and vacant buildings gone. Criticizing height is a lost cause. Those standards have been defined for this entire area of the hood by the height of the city municipal building on the NW corner of 14th and U. The developers have the zoning, city ordinances, and yes, community support behind them.

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  4. Jim @12&T

    It doesn’t take a mystic with the skills of Carnac the Magnificent to see our future… look to Adams Morgan and other high traffic construction zones. The area around 14th and U is already problematic. Traffic, both vehicle and pedestrian, compete for the few seconds to get through the intersection… and that is without construction traffic and lost lanes added to the mix. Builders should be required to pay for traffic management during their construction. Preliminary retail intentions seldom find their way to the finished products. Why must every neighborhood development be comprised of winners and losers? Why can’t JBG pursue an approach where everyone wins? …. Hearing our concerns is great, but appeasement is a far cry from being a good neighbor.

  5. Distressed Homeowner

    I am genuinely curious – how is “community support” measured? I live at 14th & T. I find it truly mind boggling that there are three major developments going up within literally one block of where I live (four if you count the hotel at 13/U). While I agree that better retail options will be welcomed – the inevitable increased parking problems and congestion, etc due to the multiple hundreds of new apartments make me very sad.

    • Logan Res

      @Distressed Homeowner,
      Adding more residents to the area isn’t causing our parking problems. Developers and building owners are reporting that demands for parking spaces in their buildings is dramatically down. People are moving into the city to ditch the car and live the urban lifestyle. Metro ridership is up. The city added 16,000 new residents in 2011 alone and the city reports that vehicle registration is actually down so that alone speaks volumes of the urban city that DC is becoming. The parking congestion that we face in the U Street area is from drivers from MD and VA who come in for the bars and restaurants that have made U Street nationally famous. Adding more residents to our neighborhood whether they are owners or renters give us more council representation and gives us a much better chance to get things like parking restrictions and enforcements to ease the congestion. Fighting these developers trying to shrink their size is not going to help us at all. The city is running out of room to build and the demand to live in the city is greater than what is available to buy/rent. The zoning allows for heights and the developers can build to that height. We should not allow ourselves to get spun up over the fear and shock statements that many are saying about these new buildings and the outrageous statements of what will happen if a building rises to a certain height.

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