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Catholic University neighborhood to get a new look

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009; A14

The neighborhood around Catholic University is about to undergo a major transformation.

The D.C. Zoning Commission gave final approval Monday night to developer Jim Abdo's plans to introduce a mixture of stores, housing and restaurants along Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street NE in Brookland.

The commission granted the zoning amendment and changes to Catholic University's campus plan in a 5 to 0 vote.

Abdo Development will build 825 residential units and 85,000 square feet of retail on nine acres owned by the university. The plan also includes a public square, a clock tower and a college main street with bookstores and mom-and-pop shops.

"I am very pleased that the Zoning Commission has given final approval for the development of our south campus," said the Rev. David M. O'Connell, president of the university. "This is going to be an incredibly important initiative, not only for Catholic University, but for all our neighbors in the Brookland community."

The commission was scheduled to take final action on the project last week, but members delayed the vote after questions were raised about Abdo's plans to offer rents for artists' space at "below-market prices." The commission asked the developer to provide more information about the rents before final approval was granted.

It was the second time the commission had asked Abdo for further information on the project. Last month, after granting preliminary approval, it asked Abdo to submit information about community benefits the developer planned to provide.

Caroline Petti, president of the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association, said she supports Abdo's project and thinks it will be a good addition to the neighborhood. But she was disappointed in a process that, she said, pitted the Edgewood community against the Brookland community in vying for benefits.

"We're very disappointed in the final amenities package," Petti said.

Toby Millman, Abdo's vice president of project development, said the developer held dozens of meetings with the community to discuss the project.

Abdo plans to give $275,000 to support community programs, including $75,000 for scholarships to Ward 5 residents to attend Catholic University or Trinity College, and $55,000 to Dance Place, a community arts center in the area.

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