Developers seeking to build sizable townhouse projects on religiously affiliated land in Brookland have been ordered by D.C. zoning officials to revise their plans to address concerns that the design “feels cheap.”
In early 2015, Madison Homes filed a Planned Unit Development to build 39 three-bedroom townhouses on land owned by the Holy Redeemer College to the west of Seventh Street NE, between Jackson and Hamlin streets NE.
The Holy Redeemer College building, constructed in 1932, sits on the grassy site and would not be touched. In the plan, 13 townhouses would sit to the north of the Holy Redeemer building, and 26 to the south.
At a recent hearing, the Zoning Commission sent Madison Homes and partners back to the drawing board.
“This is really not good,” Commissioner Peter G. May said at the hearing. “The architecture of it and the design of it feels cheap.”
May was also expressed concern about the 14-foot width of the townhouses. In addition to making for a narrow living experience, he said, the width would have necessitated more depth, and a larger overall footprint that May fears would overpower the Holy Redeemer building, which is seeking historic designation.
“I think you could get a reasonable development on this excess land, maybe with a multifamily building,” May said. “I cannot see that townhouses are the right solution. If the project does go forward as townhouses, the number has to be significantly reduced.”
Commissioner Marcie Cohen expressed ambivalence about the plan, but said that the narrow width may lead to a more-affordable product.
“I understand the need to go for the affordability factor,” said Cohen. “We are experiencing out-of-sight costs in the city.”
Madison Homes officials, who came to the hearing with unanimous approval from Area Neighborhood Commission 5E, were sent away with a request to return at some point with a significantly overhauled plan.
“We will be amending the proposal to incorporate their comments,” Madison Homes’ Vice President Andrew Rosenberger said in an e-mail.”
In another proposed project at the site of St. Joseph’s Seminary at 12th and Varnum streets NE, developer EYA is starting preliminary conversations with the D.C. Office of Planning, District agencies and the members of the community about a townhouse project.
EYA hopes to submit a planned unit development, with a possible hearing before the Zoning Commission in 12 to 18 months, founder Bob Youngentob said in an interview.
For now, EYA is gearing up to engage with residents who are worried about their rapidly changing neighborhood.
“We’re hearing concerns about density, about open space, about traffic and about impact on the neighborhood,” said Youngentob.
Youngentob said he is still unsure about the number of townhouses that would be appropriate for the site. But in initial neighborhood meetings, residents referred to anywhere from 40 to 200 townhouses.
Like Madison Homes, EYA is partnering with a religious body in coming up with a plan that incorporates an existing building. “We are respectful of the property rights of the Josephites,” Youngentob said, “and will try and find the right balance.”
To Youngentob, Brookland’s open spaces offer an opportunity to create needed housing options.
“The District is trying to find more places for people to live in housing styles that are compatible for families,” said Youngentob. “Brookland is a stable residential area, with Metro accessibility and neighborhood-serving retail. We look at Brookland as an opportunity to meet some of the housing objectives of the city.”
Shilpi Malinowski is a freelance writer.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misspelled the first name of Zoning commissioner Marcie Cohen.