Two of the Washington area's leading developers and a small group of Northwest residents have reached an agreement on a plan to construct a 10-story apartment building on a five-acre wooded tract in their neighborhood just off Connecticut Avenue NW.
After meeting for more than a year, the president of the Rock Creek Glen Community Association and developers Lawrence Brandt and Richard Kirstein, who heads Richmarr Construction Corp., signed a 12-page, 29-point "memorandum of understanding" that includes such details as saving a stone house on the building site and specifying how trees will be planted around the new building.
The 202-unit high-rise is planned for a triangular site bounded by Quebec Street on the north, Porter Street to the west and south, and Williamsburg Lane on the east. Much of the tract will remain wooded.
After reaching an agreement with the community association, the developers in June asked the city's zoning commission to rezone the tract to allow the high-rise, which will include an outdoor swimming pool and approximately 266 underground parking spaces.
The site is zoned for detached single-family houses. Under the agreement, two of three vacant houses on the site will be torn down.
Negotiations between developers and community groups have become almost commonplace in determining the size and appearance of new buildings in residential neighborhoods. In recent years residents gained the clout to force developers to consult with them before filing development requests because they would take the developers and the city to court to overturn unpopular zoning decisions.
The court suits caused costly delays to million-dollar projects even in cases where the developer eventually won. In addition, changes in the zoning rules and gentle nudges from city planning and zoning officials have encouraged negotiations between developers and citizens.
"More and more, what people are doing when they have development projects is they're meeting with the citizens groups first," said Christopher Collins, attorney for Brandt and Kirstein and a member of the firm Wilkes, Artis, Hendrick and Lane, which represents several of Washington's leading developers.
"We view the apartment building as a lesser of two evils, the alternative being a larger development stretched throughout the site," said Grier Raclin, a lawyer and president of the Rock Creek Glen Community Association. The back yard of Raclin's property at 3544 Williamsburg La. NW abuts the high-rise site.
"The association agreed not to oppose this alternative with the hopes that the majority of the site will go undeveloped forever," Raclin added.
Kirstein and Brandt originally proposed building 120 stacked town houses (one town house built on top of another). When nearby residents learned of that proposal they formed the association and asked the developers to build instead a single building that would contain fewer units and therefore save most of the woods on the site, Raclin said.
"I feel that they [the developers] have been up front with me to the greatest practical extent," he said. "They were very agreeable to giving in on issues, and when they objected they gave us reasons . . . I think the negotiations went very well, considering the situation involved."
Although the agreement was signed in February, the two sides have continued to discuss each stage of the project.
"We plan to continue meeting with them residents , and deal with any concerns they may have as things develop," Collins said.
Kirstein and Brandt have not decided if the complex will be apartments or condominiums.
According to the 1984 Lusk Real Estate Reports, most of the houses in the area are valued at more than $300,000. The new units will have one or two bedrooms and balconies.
The developers also agreed to save a stone house at the edge of the site. They will sell the house, giving residents the first chance to purchase it. Raclin said that several neighbors have told him they plan to bid on the house.
A public hearing on the rezoning application probably will be held early next year.