The D.C. Zoning Commission is expected to act today on a proposal to convert the 82-year-old East Capitol Street trolley barn into a $10-million townhouse and commercial complex.
At a recent public hearing, neighborhood residents generally supported the project while expressing concern about the possibility of increased property taxes and the lack of a provision for low-income housing in the complex.
"The project is good, but it will bring hardships on the people who live in the area. Within five years, some of the people who own their homes here and live on fixed incomes may be taxed out of the area," James Campbell, chairman of an Advisory Neighborhood Commission task force on the project, said at a Zoning Commission hearing.
Developers Robert Hess and Roger Gerstenfeld want to build 120 dwelling units and develop 26,000 square feet of commerical space while retaining the landmark trolley barn.
Some individuals and groups who supported the project, such as ANC 6B, urged the developers to include low-income housing in the project. Gerstenfeld, who said the price of the condominiums and townhouses will probably range from $60,000 to $140,000, replied that low-income housing would not be economically feasible. The housing is expected to be completed two years from now, Gerstenfeld said.
"We're paying $2.5 million for the property, about $30,000 per lot. To put a piece of low-income housing there would cost three or four times as much as it would a few blocks away," said Gerstenfeld. He added that he and Hess have asked the city to let them build low-income housing on the old jail site at 19th Street and Independence Avenue SE.
George Boyd, president of the H Street Project Area Committee, rejected this idea, saying, "There's enough of our people in jail. We don't want to live beside it." Boyd, the only witness who unequivocably opposed the car barn project, said the proposed complex would hasten the trend of forcing black residents from the city. Boyd said he thought the project's immediate neighbors, two-thirds of whom signed a petition supporting it, did not realize how the redevelopment would affect them by raising tax assessments.
The developers said, however, that by adding 120 units to the total housing stock displacement would be reduced. They also estimated that the project would bring $180,000 per year in additional property tax revenue to the city.
The plans by architect Arthur Cotton Moore call for skylights in the slate roof of the main building fronting on East Captitol Street, which would contain housing untis, shops and offices. New housing and commercial units would be built using the brick walls that extend down 14th and 15th streets, and the corrugated metal roof that covers most of the property would be removed. Preliminary plans called for garages in most housing units - a total of five parking spaces for every six housing units. Moore's plans are subject to review by the Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital.
James Clark, assistant director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, called the planned parking insufficient although the zoning change requested by the developers requires only one parking space for every two units.
The zoning change was requested because the site is presently zoned CM-1 (commercial-light industrial), a category tailored specifically to the car barn. Under zoning regulations, no residential units can be placed in this zone. The developers have requested a combination of residential and commercial zoning for the site, saying that neighborhood residents specifically requested that inclusion of shops in the complex.
Hess said that since the developers had already invested more than $200,000 in the project, they would be forced to develop it according to present zoning if the commission does not make the requested change. The present zoning, said Hess, permits cleaning plants, car repair operations and other installations that neighbors would probably find disagreeable.
Zoning Commissioner Theodore Mariani noted that the Zoning Commission could rezone the site on its own initiative to preclude such use.