Thanks to the glories of the On Demand video offerings
at the city's Office of Cable Television
web site, I was able to catch Wednesday's hearing
on the request to close the 8,197-square-foot alley that bisects Square 696
, the block bounded by I, K, First, and Half streets that DRI Development bought in April for $64 million. As I posted a few weeks ago
after DRI's presentation to ANC 6D, DRI is planning more than 825,000 square feet of office and retail on the block, in three buildings that would be built in three phases, the first being a 300,000-square-foot office building along I Street that could begin construction in the summer of 2008.
As part of its successful bid to get the ANC's support, DRI and its development partner Jamestown Properties have committed to a $100,000 payment to the Near Southeast/Southwest community fund, LEED certification, and an 8,000-square-foot public plaza at First and K streets to replace the "public space" being lost by the alley closing.
The early part of the hearing was pretty standard as these types of sessions go. The development's representatives described their agreement with the ANC, and also the planned 37,000-square-feet of retail what would serve not only the office tenants but also the residential projects that will soon surround the block on all sides. Also touted were the large south-facing public plaza (light-filled and sunny!) with a 20-foot-wide pedestrian "breezeway" through the block to open the area to pedestrians arriving from I Street, the innovative loading ramps within turnaround space inside the buildings to eliminate the need for commercial vehicles to back up or turn around out in the streets, the fitness center with changing and shower facilities to encourage bicycle use, and more.
Then, Council Member Tommy Wells began to ask questions about the amount of the developers' required contribution to the city's Housing Production Trust Fund
, dedicated to the creation of affordable housing. Wells brought up a slight discrepancy between the number the developers were citing versus what the Office of Planning had determined the figure to be.
Developer figure? Approximately $890,000.
Office of Planning figure? More like $8 million.
The hearing then became a blur of real and estimated assessed values, total F.A.R. based on T.D.R.s (that's total floor-area ratios based on transfers of development rights, for those of you whose minds are blissfully unsullied with this stuff), buildable square footage, and on-the-fly calculations. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, after commenting that even the $890,000 figure cited by the developers would be the largest trust fund contribution ever, wondered how many projects in the District "would see the light of day" if the city starts talking about $8 million contributions. Wells and Gray agreed that the calculating discrepancies need to be resolved so that the trust fund law can be implemented consistently, and the hearing ended with pledges from the applicant to provide additional information.
And despite the wrangling over the trust fund contribution, Council Member Wells made sure to reiterate that he supports the project, especially because of the environmentally friendly aspects of the design.
In the meantime, the last tenant on the block (a taxi repair garage) will be vacating when its lease expires in February.
Check my Square 696
page for an early sitemap of the project, along with photos of the block.