Developer Edward L. Tiffey told the D.C. Zoning Commission at a hearing Monday night that the only way to build "affordable housing" on the four-acre site of the Ruppert Home for The Aged, 22nd Street and T Place SE, is to put up 115 condominium units -- a plan more than 100 neighborhood residents showed up to protest.
The site -- the home for the elderly burned down in 1976 -- borders Fairlawn, a neighborhood of well-kept, mainly owner-occupied, semidetached and triplex homes built in the 1930s. Residents say they want similar houses built on the hilly Ruppert Homes site, even if, as the developer claims, such homes would have to sell for $90,000 or more.
Fairlawn community leaders say Tiffey's project would mean too many homes and too many people on the site, causing traffic and parking problems, pollution and a strain on inadequate neighborhood services.
In order to build anything other than semidetached single family homes on the site, the developer needs a zoning change. At a hearing to consider the change, Tiffey's architect, Robert Smith, presented plans for 82 two-bedroom "piggyback" flats or "terraced townhouses," 15 three-bedroom townhouses in three clusters and 18 two-bedroom apartments. The apartments, Smith said, would be placed at the northeast end of the site, adjacent to an area with existing high-rise and garden apartments.
The three rowhouses would be across T Place from the semidetached homes in Fairlawn and the piggyback units would be in the center of the site, according to Smith. In this way, Smith testified, the project would serve as a transition or buffer between the apartment area and the single-family home area.
Tiffey said units in his proposed Ruppert Commons project would range from $51,000 for a garden apartment to $73,000 for a three-bedroom townhouse. He said he could not build more expensive semidetached homes because "the market isn't there." Existing homes in the Fairlawn area, according to evidence presented by Tiffey, sold for an average of about $55,000 last year.
According to Tiffey's projections, the typical buyer of a home in the proposed complex would be under 35, a college graduate, employed in a professional capacity by either the federal or the D.C government, with a household income of $30,000 to $50,000 and an average household size of 1.5 to 2.5 persons. Because of the projected small household size, the developer said, the site would hold no more people per acre than the surrounding area. Half of the site, he added, would be preserved as open green space.
James O. Gibson, top planning official of the Marion Barry administration, presented a report recommending that the proposed condominium complex be rejected but that the developer be allowed to submit a revised proposal. Gibson is expected to testify at the next hearing on the proposal, scheduled for April 7 at 7 p.m. at Garden Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1720 Minnesota Ave. SE. At that time, neighborhood residents, led by the Fairlawn Citizens Association and Advisory Commission 6C, will present the opposition's case.
According to Edward Steward, president of the Fairlawn Citizens Association, the residents will present an alternative plan for 50 single-family homes to be built on the site and will document their claims that Ruppert Commons would have an adverse impact on their neighborhood.
The developer has met with neighborhood groups 11 times during the past two years, but neighbors say he has made no changes in his plans in response to their concerns.
"If we reduced the number of homes that we build on the site, the average price will go up," said Tiffey. "We need to build at least 115 homes on the site to reduce the cost per unit to an average selling price of $65,000."
Moreover, said Tiffey, life styles had changed since the original Fairlawn houses were built, and housing had to change with it.
"The market we see are buyers who prefer condominium living," testified Tiffey. "They're money-wise and don't want to be hassled by maintenance chores."