Most Controversial Redevelopment of the Year: SunTrust Plaza

  • December 19th 2016

by Nena Perry-Brown

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UrbanTurf usually stays away from publishing rankings or lists…except at the end of the year when we look back at what DC’s residential real estate scene had to offer during the previous 12 months. So, this week we are looking at not only the best but the most intriguing and peculiar things that came across our radar over the course of 2016. Enjoy.

Most Controversial Redevelopment of the Year: SunTrust Plaza: Figure 1
Design revisions to 1800 Columbia Road NW. Click to enlarge.

While neighborhood dissension is an inevitable component of the DC-area development boom, there isn’t much competition for the most actively debated project in the pipeline this year: the redevelopment of the Adams Morgan SunTrust building and plaza.

PN Hoffman and Potomac Investment Properties’ plans for 1800 Columbia Road NW (map) consisted of a 70-foot building with 60 condominium units atop approximately 8,375 square feet of ground floor retail.

However, the plans for the site commonly termed as the “gateway to Adams Morgan” quickly drew the ire of many in the neighborhood. Concerns emerged regarding the height, massing and design of the building, as well as the future of the stepped plaza that now stands on the corner.

And despite architect Eric Colbert and Associates presenting at least three design iterations before being approved (with caveats) by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), opposition has been ongoing from the ANC 1C and a vocal coalition of neighborhood residents whose primary gripe is the loss of the privately-owned plaza area that currently fronts the bank, which has been home to farmers’ markets and community events (if not necessarily welcoming for everyday lounging) for four decades.

Most Controversial Redevelopment of the Year: SunTrust Plaza: Figure 2
Design revisions to 1800 Columbia Road NW. Click to enlarge.

Ironically, early complaints from the community about the building’s design prior to the HPRB review process led to the plaza gradually shrinking as massing was shifted elsewhere. Based on their estimations, the development team has suggested that the public can also use the open space on the opposite corner of 18th and Columbia or a block down Columbia Road at Unity Park — which will likely happen anyway as the farmers’ market will have to relocate during the 18-month construction period.

The HPRB, while seemingly sympathetic to concerns over the plaza, has designated the matter to be one for the courts and not for the Board. The plaza apparently was offered to the community in the 1970s as de facto public space as an admission of culpability in redlining practices — two decades after the historic district’s period of significance ended.

A legal opinion by Paul Zukerburg as solicited by Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development states the following:

The plaza enjoys an easement for the benefit of the public created in 1977 through a public dedication by its then owner, Perpetual Savings and Loan. The transfer from Perpetual to Crestar (now SunTrust) via quitclaim deed for the nominal consideration of ten dollars did not disturb that easement. Accordingly, there is currently an easement for the benefit of the public on the Plaza portion of the SunTrust parcel. Redevelopment would need to respect the public easement in the Plaza and be restricted accordingly. The developer could not simply build on top of the public Plaza. Building on the existing easement would be a trespass on the easement, and the basis for a civil action for injuctive relief.

While it remains to be seen whether the coalition of disgruntled residents will file suit to stop the development, PN Hoffman et al. are returning to the HPRB early next year to seek approval for some revised aesthetic details.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/most_controversial_rdvlpt_of_the_yr_suntrust_plaza/11972.

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