By Will Schick | [email protected]
City council voted 4-3 to deny a request from developer West Street Acquisitions, LLC, to build a 180-unit multi-use building across from the Braddock Road Metro station that would feature 14 affordable housing units, during a public hearing on Saturday.
In addition to housing, the building proposal included plans to provide additional space for retail, restaurants and other shopping. While the city’s Planning Commission voted 6-1 in December to approve the project’s development special use permit, several members of council expressed concern with the building’s impact on an already over-taxed stormwater system and its relative lack of affordable housing when compared to other projects such as the redevelopment of the Heritage at Old Town apartment complex.
At the hearing, resident John Craig expressed his concerns about the impact the new building would have on the stormwater infrastructure within the area.
“As a resident, I don’t think it’s a good idea to allow any new development until the stormwater sewers are fixed,” Craig said.
Presenting council with a detailed brief complete with photos taken in front of his home after floods swept through the neighborhood in 2004, 2017 and 2020, Craig said that the developer’s plan did not include what he believed to be a sufficient plan for handling stormwater.
“The stormwater sewer problem involves two 24-inch diameter stormwater sewer pipes that empty into one 24-inch stormwater sewer pipe. … Twenty-four inches plus 24 inches does not equal 24 inches,” Craig said.
Several council members also said they were concerned about how the new development would impact stormwater flow.
Councilor Del Pepper asked Eli Goldman, the engineer hired by the developer, to elaborate on the developer’s stormwater run-off plans and whether the plan would prevent the kind of flooding that took place in the area in 2004, 2017 and 2020.
“No, so that’s a ‘large-flooding event, … [which are] events we can classify as a 100-year storm. … The retention tanks are handled for the 10-year storm,” Goldman said.
“Well, that’s almost nothing,” Pepper responded. “Ten-year storms, we don’t even have them, that’s a sprinkle. … The one hundreds, they’re the ones that bother us. They’re the ones that flood the basements and ruin people’s furniture and carpets and all that in their basements.”
Melanie Mason, a city planner in the stormwater management division, said the proposal would not worsen flooding in the area.
“When this development in particular is installed, it will reduce the amount of water that is coming just off of this site, so you will not see a vast improvement … but it’s not going to get worse,” Mason said.
Other members of council and the public said they were not satisfied with the developer’s level of engagement with the community and its plans to incorporate what some saw as a minimum amount of affordable housing.
Councilor Canek Aguirre said he was particularly troubled by the fact that the developer had only held four public meetings prior to presenting the proposal on Saturday.
“The fact that there’s only four meetings, this isn’t community outreach,” Aguirre said.
In response, John Dameron, a representative of West Street Acquisitions, said that the developer had made extensive efforts to engage with the community, having personally distributed 400 flyers throughout the neighborhood and created a newsletter with more than 50 subscribers.
“I’d like to be clear: We have made a concerted effort to engage the public in a meaningful way,” Dameron said.
Dameron also claimed that the developer hosted 15 public meetings, but later, admitted that these meetings were conducted primarily with members of the city staff several years ago and were for a separate building project on the same site.
“Mr. Mayor, I take offense that they’re going to try and bring up community outreach for a building we’re not even talking about today,” Aguirre said in response.
Councilor John Chapman echoed Aguirre’s concern and said that he also felt that the developer had not done a sufficient amount of community outreach.
“The community has changed over the years, and it is a different project. … Hope-fully, we can talk to the development community as they come forward in the future about making sure that ‘outreach’ for a specific project does not carry over into an-other project that might be at the same site,” Chapman said.
Yvonne Callahan, president of the Old Town Civic Association, said she was concerned about the lack of affordable housing units provided by the proposal for the new building.
“What I wanted to point out is the fact that [for the plan to redevelop Heritage at Old Town Apartments], the developer is building 750 units of which 195 are affordable housing. If you apply the same ratio to this project – as you have already approved of – you would be demanding 46.8 units,” Callahan said.
Councilor Amy Jackson said that given all the concerns presented by members of the public and council that she did not believe the proposal was ready for approval.
“I just don’t see why we’re building more density right now, and honestly this project has been deferred several times on its own merits,” Jackson said.
Aguirre made a motion, which was seconded by Jackson, to deny the project’s proposal. The motion was approved 4-3, with Mayor Justin Wilson, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Pepper voting against the motion to deny.