The Song Remains The Same

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.

Renderings of JBG's proposed apartment building at 13 and U

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.”

Look familiar? JBG model of 13th & U development

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.



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10 responses to “The Song Remains The Same

  1. Jim @12&T

    I left Tuesday night’s neighborhood outreach by JBG feeling like I do when I get a flat tire… a bit unhappy, not faulting any particular person or group, but because it is a bit of troublesomeness that I would rather not have to deal with. We should recognize our neighborhood is going to change. There is little that can be done to prevent it (who would want to live in a neighborhood where we had nothing to look forward to), but reaching a generally acceptable consensus as to the nature of future change is the trick. I believe the majority of our community is looking forward to SOMETHING happing on the corner of U and 13th, but exactly what that something should be is basis of our concern. As with many issues today, we come together in the middle like chromosomes before splitting apart and heading to the opposite sides of the issue. We would be better served if we based our observations from the middle or even better from the perspective of the other. JBG has a tough challenge that isn’t helped by its image, whether earned or not. JBG has many more considerations in play than the color of the bricks. Judging JBG’s motives and methods from our own perspective is risky. We should not make judgments or attempt to make demands outside a complete understanding of the issues. I too felt JBG didn’t want to really explain themselves to us, and this outreach event was more for the perception of working with the community than for the substance of addressing our concerns. I believe if JBG would create a blog or website where community comments can be expressed and they can respond as the project moves along then there would be ample time to hear and address all the concerns. Neighbors and developers will never be in total agreement on any project in our neighborhood, but creating a forum for concerns and answers could go a long way towards a more collaborative environment. We have valid concerns, alley width, building height, occupancy, traffic and parking, look and contribution to the neighborhood… let’s voice them and give JBG an opportunity to adequately address them.

  2. lucy in dc

    Are the people who live close to 13th & U opposed to any/all development or specifically opposed to a hotel on that spot? I can’t see how more apartments or condos could be better. A hotel is something that we don’t have in the U Street area so I would have thought one would be welcomed. It certainly is frustrating that JBG has been changing their story/plan.

  3. AceINdc

    Doug, what would you like to see there? This spot is literally 30 ft from a metro and could certainly benefit from increased density. More tax revenue for the city, less cars on the roads (because residents will be literally on top of a metro), more metro revenue for the fancy new cars, more people to patronize the surrounding businesses, etc. etc. etc. So if you don’t like a hotel, and you don’t like the apartments, what do you propose? I think this and the hotel are both great and will be excellent additions to the neighborhood but I live a unimaginably far 3 blocks away and don’t live on Wallach – so I guess my voice doesn’t count. Direct neighbor input and concern is one piece of the community, but in the end, shouldn’t the WHOLE community get a say in what goes here?

    • Doug

      Hey Ace; like I said in the piece, speaking only for myself I would love to see an office building there! Interesting tenants, 24-hour foot traffic, not just great day-time business generator. Good for taxes, good for the neighborhood. But then again, I don’t get to say what I’d want. I do, however, have the right to say what I don’t want, as does the rest of the local community, and expect those opinions to be heard, if not followed. As for who gets how much say…well, again, I don’t think I have two peeps to say about something happening on H Street NE or Barracks Row, even though I enjoy those places and consider them part of DC. What’s true in real estate is true in planning: location, location, location. Thanks for the thoughts.

  4. Logan Res

    Doug, Come on….really? You need to make up your mind what it is that you think it appropriate for an important block of our city. You didn’t want a hotel because it was too high, too big, would bring in too many “people” that you have issues with, etc., etc…. Now, you don’t want apartments there either. You have been trying to block the apartments slated for 14th Street as well because of the same concerns you say about the proposed hotel on U. You complained that the apartments on 14th were too small and that we would get too many “transitional people” and now you have the nerve to say that the planned apartments on 13th are too big and don’t help those who need smaller, affordable apartments. Please inform us exactly what are you in favor of then….small apartments? big apartments? affordable? expensive? You know that if JBG came in Tuesday and presented an office building, you’d be against that because, well…you know….there would be people coming in with their cars and being seen in and around the area during the day. Is your issue just about more people? Some of us have witnessed your tones of racism before…is this what your issue is? Please just be up front and hontest with your ever changing objections over the proposed developments.

    • Doug

      Speaking of being up front and honest, you must be so proud of your opinions that you hide behind a pseudonym. And aren’t upfront about who you work for.
      I haven’t changed a bit, so you can stop your silly little efforts to “document” the “duo” and their “fear mongering.” Just sad.

  5. Jim @12&T

    This doesn’t need to become a “shoot the messenger” blog posting. People need to look past Doug’s passion for his positions and address his voiced concerns as being worthwhile or non-issues. Should all Logan residents or DC residents for that matter, have an equal voice in what happens at U & 13 or should the people who will live in the shadow of the development be given more leeway to express their concerns. I believe I can consider Doug’s concerns without attacking the manner of his expression.
    My personal wish list for the development would be a mixed use building that would attract people (not cars) to U St as an entertainment destination, not just because they live here … I would like to see the building have two levels of retail… street and mezzanine… why not sink Rite-Aid down a half floor and have more retail above… all they need is easy street level access… drug stores and markets don’t like street level windows because they lose shelf space … a place for some mid-size eateries like Panera Bread or some other culture based restaurant such as Cuba Libre would be welcome … if the building is going to be rental where ownership would remain with JBG, why not a mix of Apartments and a boutique suite/hotel on a few floors. If the hotel didn’t thrive the space could be converted to Apartments. I would like to see a high end restaurant on the upper floors with a properly designed public space on the roof to control noise to the surrounding neighborhood… An eatery with a view would be a welcome addition to the U St corridor. Most of the great views from our part of the city belong to the renters/condo owners of the buildings.
    I would like to see a building that is visually interesting, not so similar to the Ellington that they become a brick canyon at the corner of 13th and U. Since zoning considerations in all reality are non-issues (JBG is seeking a PUD) I don’t see why we shouldn’t trade things like building height for contributions to and opportunities for the neighborhood. I hope we the neighborhood are not putting so many roadblocks in the path of JBG that they are not able to develop this opportunity to its fullest potential. Why shouldn’t this be a project we can all be excited to see happen.

    • Long Time resident

      I think Scott Pomeroy nailed it when he suggested that a company like Living Social would love a chance to have a headquarters at 13&U. The site may be too narrow for a typical k street flash cube / office building but perfect for an Internet company headquarters that wants a unique building. I very much want daytime traffic generators and that corner would be perfect for it. (Better than a hotel whose guests would have generated mostly weekend or evening traffic. Hotel guests would have been out of the neighborhood during the day for meetings or tourism. I never bought the argument that they would generate daytime weekday biz.) Is it too late for JBG to think more creatively about the use of this site?

  6. brian

    it was a packed meeting full of concerned neighbors, and definitely somewhat confrontational. oddly. most people’s concerns were about the fact that the concept is condos now and not a hotel, the appearance, size of units, parking, curb size, loading zones, traffic, etc. this project will take up from the corner of 13th/U above Rite Aid, and take half of the block, down to the historic buildings. like The Ellington, it will also be apx 9 floors high, facing the Ellington, creating a bit of a tunnel there for a half block. they claim that not much sun will be blocked by the new project. i hope that’s true. to be honest, i think the proposed building design architecture is pretty nice.

    what I REALLY wanted to know is that, in addition to the Rite Aid, what are they envisioning in the three commercial spaces that will be made available at street level. the rent likely will be super high, and all that will be able to afford to rent in there is Herman Miller or Brooks Brothers, a bank or The Gap or something that does our neighborhood no actual service. that brings nothing at all to our community livability. there will be hundreds of new units delivering within 10 blocks of us in all the new buildings going up right now, which means thousands? of people. if it was a hotel, at least, that would bring outside money, commerce, daytime and nighttime foot traffic (safety), etc… to be honest, i really dont care if it’s a hotel or condos, but what goes into the commercial spaces should greatly concern all of us.

    a good example is 14/T. Room And Board did a great job renovating and utilizing that space across from St Ex, but Room And Board basically came into the project late and outbid Constantine (The Diner) and Kim Weeks (Boundless Yoga). They had been planning a 24 hour diner and yoga community/resource center for that building. i might not have gone to either all the time, but i see how it helps our neighborhood and would have been a terrific use. and with local indie businesses too! now look….. we have ONE corporate occupant in that huge building, greatly underutilizing the space. so disappointing. at least when it was abandoned, Transformer art gallery actually did guerilla art shows there, which brought hundreds of people through the neighborhood and the space in the daytime. so sad now.

    anyways, the developers said that they will have more meetings about this, and i do encourage everyone to get the word out, as it might be the only chance we have to voice our opinions as neighbors.