DC has plans to turn half of a park on Georgia Avenue into an apartment complex that will largely be affordable housing, much of which will replace a nearby public housing project that’s in disrepair. Many residents support the plan, but some are opposed, with reasons ranging from not wanting to lose any park space to wanting the building to be shorter.
The proposed redevelopment of the Bruce Monroe site. Images from Park View Community unless otherwise noted.
Right now Bruce Monroe is a 2.5-acre park in DC’s Pleasant Plains neighborhood, on Georgia Avenue between Irving Street and Columbia Road. The site was a school until it was torn down in 2009. In 2010, the city proposed making it into a parking lot, but neighbors disliked that idea, so officials constructed a temporary park while they thought about what to do long-term.
Here are the proposals on the table
DC wants to turn half of the land at Bruce Monroe into new housing and keep the other half a park. The redevelopment would have a 189-unit apartment building, a 76-unit senior apartment building, and 8 townhomes (a total of 273 new units). 108 of these units would be reserved for households earning up to 60 percent of area median income (that’s about $66,000/yr for a family of four). Another 94 units would be reserved for residents below 30% of AMI. So almost three quarters of the units would be set aside for moderate and low-income households.
The Bruce Monroe development; building A would be apartments; building B would be senior apartments.
To do all of this, DC’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and its chosen developer, Park View Community Partners, are applying to build higher than the current zoning permits, through a process called a Planned Unit Development (PUD).
Building at Bruce Monroe means deteriorating units nearby
Aside from adding new units to the neighborhood, a big element of the Bruce Monroe development is that it would replace units at Park Morton, a public housing project a little under half a mile up Georgia Avenue, on Morton Street. To be clear, Bruce Monroe and Park Morton are part of the same project; if one gets blocked, the whole thing falls apart.
Right now, Park Morton is itself up for redevelopment as part of the New Communities Initiative, which started in 2005 under Mayor Williams. A central tenet of NCI says that when the city redevelops public housing, it needs to build replacement units before demolishing the old ones (a concept known as “build first”). That’s the purpose of the units reserved for families at 30% of AMI and below at Bruce Monroe: to replace public housing units at Park Morton, and prevent displacing low-income residents.
New Communities has struggled to live up to this ideal: another NCI site, Temple Courts, was demolished in 2008, its residents scattered (there was no “building first”), and today it’s a parking lot. The city is trying to do better at Park Morton, and Bruce Monroe is part of that plan.
Park Morton, meanwhile, would be redeveloped to have 183 units, with apartments and rowhouses mixed around a central park. 53 units would be replacement public housing and 40 units would be set aside for families under 60 percent of AMI.
Together, the developments at Park Morton and Bruce Monroe would mean 302 units of affordable housing, a 1-acre park at Bruce Monroe, and another quarter-acre park at Park Morton. The south half of the Bruce Monroe site would remain a park, which would include a playground, community space and garden, a basketball court, and a dog park. And 4,545 square feet (about a tenth of an acre) of the community space wouldn’t be eliminated, but incorporated into the buildings’ footprint.
Some neighbors don’t want to trade park space for affordable housing
Many neighbors support the Bruce Monroe development, especially given three fourths of the project is set aside for affordability. But others are “packing community meetings and flooding neighborhood email lists with their objections” because they don’t want to give up half of the park.
Many opponents argue that the city should find another site. But as GGWash contributor and ANC 1A commissioner Kent Boese testified in November, no property owners along Georgia Avenue would sell their land for this “build first” element of the Park Morton redevelopment project when the District first tried between 2011 and 2014.
Boese was personally involved in the search for a suitable spot, and after four years he (and others, including DMPED), concluded that the city-owned site at Bruce Monroe made the most sense.
Many folks do want to see the project completed: ANCs 1A and 1B have voted on six separate occasions in support. And Park Morton residents might like new apartments; their current units were built in 1960.
Other residents are concerned that the buildings would be too tall (the proposal would make the two apartment buildings 60 and 90 feet tall). But the PUD allows more units, and more market rate units, which subsidizes the affordable units; a taller building means more affordable housing.