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In NW, Condos vs. Clubhouse

Columbia Heights Parents Fear Development Will Elbow Out Children

By Debbi Wilgoren and Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 5, 2004; Page C01

Columbia Heights parents fear that a quietly hatched plan to build a luxury condominium complex at the site of the Boys & Girls Club used by their children could eliminate the beloved club, a community cornerstone for poor and working-class families.

In a neighborhood where gentrification has created tensions, the parents association has responded to the developer's blueprints -- which include a new youth facility -- with a battle plan.

Bernardo Jiminez, director of the Columbia Heights Boys & Girls Club, watches Stacy Bautista, 9, left, Kiara Moore, 6, and Leroy Bautista, 6, play foosball. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Developer Trammell Crow and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington hope to sign a contract for the land purchase this month. The deal would provide the nonprofit organization much-needed cash and add between 140 and 240 residential units to the increasingly trendy 14th Street corridor.

The development project would replace the 22-year-old, blue and white brick building known as Clubhouse 10 at 14th and Clifton streets NW with a 27,000-square-foot facility -- more than twice as large as the current one -- with a street-front entrance, separate from the condo building's lobby.

But since a member of the club's parents association stumbled across a preliminary copy of the plan in October, rumors have swirled that the club would be shuttered permanently to make way for the new building. Many said they suspect the new facility ultimately will be used for affluent new residents of the neighborhood.

Residents have watched aging rowhouses in their neighborhood transformed from multi-unit rentals into single-family residences selling for $600,000 or more. They see the construction signs posted on 14th Street, advertising new apartments, shops and condos on parcels that have stood vacant since the riots of 1968. They say some new residents eye their children with suspicion -- or call police to report youths shuttling between the club and a nearby convenience store for snacks.

And though Trammell Crow says the condo complex would stretch the width of a city block, with the clubhouse entrance on Chaplin Street NW and the condo entrance on the opposite side of the building on Clifton Street NW, many parents cannot imagine that their youngsters would be welcome in an upscale residential building.

"They don't want the kids around there now," said Linda Edmundson, president of the parents association. She said both she and her sons have been stopped outside the club by police who told them neighbors called to report loitering or suspicious activity. "If they want to help the community, they need to do something else."

She and others have organized several community meetings and a debate with club officials on WPFW radio. They recently teamed up with Malik Z. Shabbazz, an attorney with a history of heated racial rhetoric, and plan a protest rally this month.

Officials involved with the project said they were caught by surprise because word leaked out at the earliest stages. Because plans are preliminary, they said, it has been impossible to answer such questions as exactly how many condo units will be built or what they will cost. And although officials said they have no plans to eliminate the club, they are not willing to guarantee never to do so -- as some community members have demanded -- because they want to leave their options open in case the neighborhood someday no longer needs such a facility.

"The perception is that the Boys & Girls Club is trying to pull a fast one . . . and has sold out the community, which is absolutely not the case," said Stephen J. Shaff, an architect of the proposal to offer the one-acre site to developers and a former board member of the now-defunct organization that until last year ran six D.C. clubs.

Under the current proposal, Trammell Crow would include a $3 million recreational facility in its complex, said managing partner Jeffrey J. Sherman, and pay Greater Washington at least $9 million -- and up to $12 million -- depending on how many condos are built. Sherman said Trammell Crow likely would agree to include some moderate- or low-priced residences, if the city allows construction of more than the 140 units that existing zoning requirements permit.

Club officials said that cashing in on the value of the land seemed the best way to erase its $2 million deficit and maintain its programs.

"It was never our intent to sell out and leave," Shaff said. "We felt we had an opportunity that would not only allow us to get ahead but to maintain our presence here with a much better facility."

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