By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
City Council passed a bevy of requests for the Braddock West development during Saturday’s public hearing, moving forward the 180-unit mixed-use apartment project that had been previously denied by council.
The applicant, West Street Acquisitions, will provide two of its 14 affordable units with an increase of base density from 2.5 to 3.0 FAR, rezone the site to the Office Commercial High Zone, reduce parking for residential and commercial uses, provide retail and personal service uses and create a transportation management plan.
The 6-1 vote on Saturday was the latest step in a turbulent saga for the development. The approval comes after council initially denied land use applications on March 13 in a 4-3 vote. At the time, Councilor Del Pepper expressed concern around the project’s stormwater runoff plans, while Councilor Canek Aguirre, who initiated the vote to deny the project, said he was troubled by the developer’s lack of adequate public engagement.
At an April 27 legislative meeting, council voted 5-2, with Councilors Mo Seifeldein and Amy Jackson dissenting, to rescind that denial in order to continue consideration of the application.
“Procedurally we have hit a rewind and we are back to … where we were when we voted to deny this at the March hearing,” Mayor Justin Wilson said on Saturday.
To address previously stated concerns around stormwater runoff, staff proposed solutions in its presentation on Saturday. The project, for instance, will involve the construction of a new 12- inch sanitary sewer that connects to the Potomac Yard Trunk Sewer, as required in the Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan.
According to staff, the new sewer will allow for future potential development projects, including the Andrew Adkins site, to connect to it. It also provides an opportunity to connect existing offsite properties to this new sewer, “reducing the potential for sanitary sewer back-ups that occur downstream to the homes to the west of this property,” Erin Bevis-Carver, a civil engineer with the city, said.
Staff also said the developer has “voluntarily” agreed to reduce the site runoff rate by 30% through green infrastructure, including permeable pavement, planter boxes and underground detention facilities.
Melanie Mason, a principal planner in the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, noted that the site makes up 1.8% of the overall watershed contributing to flooding at the Braddock West and Wythe Street intersection.
Mason said that while the applicant is “going above and beyond” the requirements by reducing overall runoff, the reduction will appear modest.
“Recognizing their small contribution of runoff to the area flooding, staff did not feel it was equitable to place the expense of solving the entire watershed’s drainage issues on this one developer,” Mason said. “Instead, they are installing a system on their property to go over and beyond the minimum requirements, mitigating their contribution to runoff in the watershed and ensuring flooding in the area doesn’t worsen.”
During public testimony on May 15, many residents expressed support for the project.
Resident Kenyon Huber-Wilker noted that the area next to the Braddock West development has long lacked any type of density and pedestrian-friendly development. He said the project will act as a “catalyst” for the development of the Braddock Metro bus loop as well as the Andrew Adkins houses.
Huber-Wilker also stated that the developer has gone “well out of their way” to work with the community, both virtually and in-person, and address concerns.
“Given the nature of civic meetings over the past year due to the pandemic, I’m very sure it’s been difficult for them to connect with residents, and I applaud them for going well beyond what I’ve seen from other developers in the area based on previous projects,” Huber-Wilker said.
Braddock Metro Citizens Coalition President Judy Noritake called the project a “poster child for smart growth” in the city.
“People live here because this is the kind of life they want to have living in an urban environment,” Noritake said. “While density and development at this scale is not appropriate for some places in our community, it is certainly appropriate here. … The density here provides for a walkable, vibrant, diverse community, and that’s what we want to have.”
Others weren’t as keen on the progression of the project. Resident John Craig, who lives just 100 feet from the proposed development, said he filed a lawsuit with the city on May 13.
Craig, who expressed concerns about potential flooding issues at the March hearing, asserted that three separate provisions of the zoning ordinance require a year-long “cooling off period” before council can rescind a vote and that council must “play by the rules.”
“I have reluctantly been forced to file suit to seek judicial enforcement of your obligations under those laws,” Craig said, adding his case won’t be heard until June 23. “In the meantime, I believe it is completely improper for you to consider the Braddock West … applications today.”
On May 13, the city issued a demurrer refuting Craig’s legal claims.
Another resident, Ann Shack, stated that the city carries a history of pursuing overlapping projects with “very poor oversight.” She shared reservations about the Braddock West development timeline, citing possible stormwater and sewer issues exacerbated by traffic congestion during the building process.
“I hope you will consider significantly to postpone doing this until we do some of our own infrastructure fixing, which has already caused a lot of damage to private property owners,” Shack said.
In response to Shack’s queries about the project’s schedule, Jonathan Rak, the attorney for the applicant, said construction will not be able to commence until the developer completes final site planning, which will take between six and 12 months, and obtaining building permits, which will take between six and nine months.
Staff said the seven-story building will likely take anywhere between 18 and 24 months to complete.
“This is going to take time; this isn’t something that’s going to happen tomorrow or even in the next couple of months,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre, who voted a few months ago to deny the project, also made a point to acknowledge that his prior vote was made “out of protest.”
He said that while he is in favor of smart growth, he refuses to support projects where the voices of historically marginalized groups are not heard.
“With that being said, though, I do believe this is a project that brings a lot of benefit to our community,” Aguirre said. “It brings the density and infrastructure that we want around metro stations, it’s going to have retail, … it is making improvements for our sanitary sewer as well as our stormwater sewer, so I think this is a good project overall.”
Seifeldein, the lone dissenter in Saturday’s vote, contended that while the proposed building itself looks presentable, its benefit doesn’t align with the aspirations of the city.
Seifeldein argued that the Braddock West development’s 14 affordable housing units, which make up 8% of the total unit number, do not significantly advance the city’s affordable housing goals.
“It just doesn’t get us to where we need to be, and for us to make a dent and meet our goals, we need to do a little more and depart from the status quo, and this does not help us get there,” Seifeldein said. “ … We’ve taken some actions as a council, we’ve passed some resolutions, but we haven’t been forceful or aggressive enough in enforcing those to make sure we meet our goals.”
Aguirre made a motion to pass the item and Councilor John Chapman seconded, leading to the 6-1 approval.