Today, we have 2 articles on the Big K site in Historic Anacostia. Also see Chris Dickersin-Prokopp’s piece.
“That big bad wolf hasn’t come along and blown the houses down,” Rev. Oliver “OJ” Johnson says of the 3 homes on the “Big K” lot in Historic Anacostia. “And now the city clearly doesn’t know what to do.”
To a smattering of responses at this weekend’s Ward 8 Community Summit, Mayor Gray asked rhetorically, “Everybody know what Big K is?”
Attendees were certainly familiar with the site, owned by DC’s Department of Housing and Community Development and left to decay for nearly 2 years.
"I tell you what we talked about, didn’t we Victor [Hoskins, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development]?” Gray said, venturing off-message. “We talked about putting those suckers; picking ‘em up and moving them somewhere else. And then we looked at it and thought they might fall down by the time we pick them and move them,” Gray said through a laugh.
To both lifelong residents and recent arrivals the slow death of the Big K homes is neither trite nor a laughing matter.
Last week DHCD’s Property Acquisition and Disposition Division finally released a call for solicitations “offering to sell four adjacent properties referred to collectively as the Big K Site.” The four properties are the three homes at 2228, 2234, 2238 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and the former Big K Liquor store at the corner of MLK and Morris Road, 2252 MLK, built in 1906 by grocer James Conway.
Over the past two years staff turnover within DHCD and a general malaise have allowed the properties, acquired with a Community Development Block Grant, to become further forlorn. The most basic stabilization work on the lots — beyond cutting the grass and trimming vegetation — took DHCD more than a full year.
This past January DHCD received approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board to demolish 2228 MLK, but the ever-defiant house still stands. According to people on the street and some amateur reconnaissance, the home and the one next-door at 2234 MLK are still accessible to squatters. Time is ticking as the eventual demolition of 2228 “will occur prior to closing” according to the RFP.
"The city’s lack of vision on how to preserve the buildings and create a first class development is very troublesome. The city’s carelessness in quickly stabilizing the properties is downright disturbing,” says a resident of Historic Anacostia, actively involved in the area’s preservation efforts.
"When the homes are not there, I think people in the community will feel a real sense of loss. Yes, it’s been a tragedy watching their slow death but there was a hope the city could save the houses and they showed no interest or effort.”
At the Ward 8 summit, Gray vacillated, saying, “I think they have a historic (emphasis added) designation” one moment and then, “But if they do we have to figure another way to get them off of that site so it can be developed.”
Many cringed in response, including agency staff who know there have been no feasibility studies looking at moving the homes to another location, making the undertaking highly unlikely.
Recommendations from a community advisory group are guiding the development standards and goals. Historic preservation, mixed-use development, vocational training, architecture compatible with the existing neighborhood, and adequate financing to prevent a start-and-stop are the priority of community residents, according to DHCD.
Implicit in the RFP is that the city “makes no representations regarding the character of soil or subsurface or the existence, location or condition of any utilities.” Planned uses for the space will “contain neighborhood-serving retail and small business space, including a small business incubator” with “no housing” according to the community’s suggestions. Total assessed value of the properties is $939,000, with more than 33,000 square feet to develop.
Meanwhile at 2226 MLK, at the corner with Maple View Place, is Astro Motors, a used car dealership that’s been in Anacostia for parts of four decades. According to tax records the proposed 2013 value of the lot is $271,050. Without the certainty of the corner lot in the Big K site’s development portfolio, potential investors might be hesitant go all in.
"They’re waiting for that domino effect,” says Rev. Johnson, a past Board member of local development corporations and a lifelong Anacostian, laughing only because he knows it’s better to laugh it off than cry it out. “They want the one house to fall over and then knock over the other two. But as you can see those houses aren’t going down like that, they’ve held on for quite some time.”