Abdo Plans Project Near Catholic University in D.C.'s Brookland Neighborhood

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Abdo Development, which helped revive Logan Circle and H Street NE in the District, hopes to restore the economic vibrancy of another part of the city by building a mixture of stores, housing and restaurants directly across from Catholic University in Brookland.

Abdo's plan includes a public square and clock tower that would be similar to piazzas in Europe with cobblestones, cafes and restaurants; an arts walk that would provide artists' work space; an arts building that would offer room for recitals and artists' demonstrations; and a college main street that would be filled with eclectic mom-and-pop shops.

The developer and Catholic University need the D.C. Zoning Commission to approve a zoning amendment and changes to the university's campus plan to proceed with the proposal. It calls for building 825 residential units and 85,000 square feet of retail on nine acres of university-owned land along Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street.

The commission heard testimony on the plan Monday night and is scheduled to decide Nov. 9.

The commissioners seemed largely impressed by the proposal, which would bring sweeping changes to a neighborhood now filled with rowhouses and detached homes.

"I don't want this to sound like a love fest, but I am very excited about this project," vice chairman William W. Keating III said.

Caroline Petti, the president of the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association, said Tuesday that residents welcome the project. "There is a dearth of amenities in this area," she said. She said she also was impressed by the architecture, the "pedestrian friendliness" of the project and the attempt by developers to keep out big-box stores.

But Petti said she was disappointed that Abdo and Catholic University did not reach out to the community more about the amenities it plans to offer.

Commissioners asked the developer to provide them with additional details about parking ratios and the fire code requirements.

Jim Abdo, president and chief executive officer of Abdo Development, said he is excited about the opportunity to bring "connectivity" between the university and the community, offering the area a "sense of place."

Monroe Street would be transformed into a college main street filled with bookstores, bike shops and cafes that will serve not just students, but the Brookland community at large, Abdo said. "I found that many people are leaving their own neighborhood for goods and services," he said. "There isn't a sense of place."

Abdo looked at Princeton University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard Square at Harvard University as examples of how a development can incorporate a neighborhood with a university.

Abdo Development plans to give $275,000 to support community programs, including designating $75,000 for scholarships to Ward 5 residents to attend Catholic University or Trinity College; $55,000 to Dance Place, a community arts center in the area; and $50,000 for bridge improvements on Monroe Street.

Abdo estimated that the project, which would be built in phases, would be finished in about eight years.

The company has spent the past decade rebuilding troubled corridors such as H Street NE, where it developed more than 450 condominium and rental apartments on the site of the former Capital Children's Museum.

"We like going into areas of the city that seem to be overlooked," Abdo said, "places that have lost their glamour."

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