Testimony before the D.C. Zoning Commission
Support the Hine Jr. High School PUD
(Zoning Case number 11-24, PUD & Map Amendment for Sq 901, Lot 801)
By Cheryl Cort, Policy Director
June 21, 2012
Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. My organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington, D.C., region accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.
We wish to express our support for the proposed project for the Hine Junior High School site. We concur with the results of the HPRB approvals and believe that the proposed scale and overall design conforms to the Capitol Hill Historic District and enhances key historic assets such as the open space of the L’Enfant square on Pennsylvania Avenue and the market house. Given the large amount of open space adjacent to the site, we agree that a larger scale building is needed to give definition to the expansive square around Pennsylvania Avenue. The project also restores the historic street grid with the reconstruction of C Street. The project offers important benefits to the community in the form of a flexible low-speed C Street that can accommodate an adapted flea market, new retail space to complement Eastern Market and Pennsylvania Avenue retail, office space to support surrounding businesses, and affordable and accessible housing.
Affordable housing: a major public benefit of this project
This carefully scaled and mixed use project is a rare opportunity to offer a substantial number of affordable and accessible housing units in the desirable location at Eastern Market and the Metro station. We want to highlight that this project includes deeply affordable housing at 30 percent AMI – income targeting that we might not see in new public land deals. Given the high cost of new housing and loss existing low priced housing, we urge the commission to ensure the proposed amount of affordable housing at this ambitious income level and 60 percent AMI is built at this location. We are specifically concerned that expensive designs and materials, along with costly amenities often drive out affordability and eliminate the possibility of serving D.C. households with the greatest housing needs – those at 30 percent AMI and below. We think it is worth the trade off to have a small number of 30 percent AMI units rather than more 60 percent AMI units or 80 percent AMI units. We support the independent North building which allows financing and construction advantages to ensure we are achieving five 30 percent AMI units and 29 60 percent AMI units. As Inclusionary Zoning comes on-line, we will begin to create hundreds of units at 80 percent AMI (which is above D.C.’s median income). Our greatest challenge will continue to be achieving 30 percent AMI housing through all the tools we have available. In this case, we are using the limited subsidies of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and the public land value to produce quality homes in a highly accessible and desirable neighborhood. This is an important accomplishment on limited resources.
We also welcome market-rate housing here. Many D.C. residents and Capitol Hill residents, especially baby boomers who are looking to downsize, might want to take advantage of new construction and accessible features, especially an elevator. Accommodating more households in this highly accessible location not only supports local businesses, it also gives more people the opportunity to live a greener lifestyle where walking, biking, and transit take the place of many or most car trips. Additionally, these buildings will achieve high levels of efficiency, further reducing resource consumption and polluting emissions.
C Street reconnected and flea market accommodation
We appreciate the plan’s recreation of C Street to restore the street grid. This is an important public benefit, along with the flexible street design and adjacent plaza that allows for much of the flea market to be accommodated in a new configuration. As flea markets are by definition opportunistic users of underutilized space, we think that an adapted flea market can be and should be sustained here. Further, we encourage the city to assess extending the 7th Street weekend closure to Pennsylvania Ave. as a way to accommodate more vendors. Since far more people are walking in the area on the weekends than driving in cars, this narrow street lends itself to changing to an all pedestrian street on weekends and allowing vendor tents that complement brick and mortar retailers.
We agree with concerns raised by DDOT and OP about the large amount of parking proposed for the project. Given the site’s adjacency to a Metro station and extensive bus service, car ownership will be optional for many of the residents. Greater availability of carsharing can further reduce demand for vehicle parking (we suggest some on-street carsharing vehicles). We appreciate that all parking charges will be separated from renting or buying a housing unit, and that commercial parking will be shared. Possibly further sharing of parking can give the developer the confidence to provide fewer dedicated spaces.
Hine stands out as a model public land disposition project
We have recently completed a research paper on the public benefits achieved through D.C. public land dispositions (available at www.smartergrowth.net). The Hine project stands out as a model – it had early and extensive community input and support, it provides an appropriate mix of housing, office and retail uses that respond to the different street frontages, and provides strong public benefits with the rebuilding of C Street with a plaza and the robust 29 percent affordable housing component. The city and developers should be commended for committing to such a substantial affordable housing component that includes most units at 60 percent AMI and some at 30 percent AMI. We urge the Zoning Commission to ensure that the project maintains the financial capacity to deliver on this commitment.
While we won’t achieve total consensus, we appreciate the breadth of support that has been achieved by the development team at this sensitive location. We applaud the many changes the developer has made to respond to residents’ input to fit the buildings into the neighborhood context. This proposal provides a careful balance of respecting its neighbors on all sides and the historic district, while taking advantage of the importance of the site’s location at a core Metro station, and responding to the large-scale open spaces of the L’Enfant square on Pennsylvania Avenue. We are eager to see this project move forward so that we can realize the full potential of the affordable and market rate homes that can be created here, along with the many benefits of attractive, pedestrian-oriented buildings and mix of uses to enhance this prominent neighborhood center and Metro station area.
Thank you for your consideration.