The St. Joseph's site. The land behind the building is where the new rowhouses will go. The land on the side and in front won't get new buildings, and will remain open to the public. Image by Google Maps.

Eighty new rowhouses are likely on their way to the St. Joseph’s Seminary site in Michigan Park, just north of Brookland. The DC Zoning Commission will rule on the developer’s plan this week, and while a group of opponents have provided a steady stream of over-the-top arguments for why the project shouldn’t go up, a lot of neighbors and community groups have been vocal with their support.

The seminary building itself only takes up two of the eight acres at St. Joseph's, which is at 12th Street NE between Allison and Varnum Streets. The Josephites, who own the property, are working with developer EYA to turn the empty land into housing and a park. The project will bring 80 new three- and four-bedroom homes to the area, including 10 affordable units, all of which will help address our region's housing shortage (in particular, family-sized homes).

Here's where the houses will go on the site:

Image by EYA used with permission.

Six of the affordable units will be three bedroom units affordable for residents making less than 50 percent of the area median income, and four will be affordable for residents making less than 80 percent of AMI. The affordable units will sell for between $200,00 and $350,000.

The project will also include a playground, a Capital Bikeshare station on 12th Street NE, and bike lanes. Four acres of the lot will remain undeveloped and preserved through a combination of historic status and public open space. A full 2.4 acres of the lot will be accessible to the public from dawn until dusk.

A rendering of the rowhouses. Image by EYA used with permission.

“We are proud of the extensive community outreach effort on this project and more importantly, how the feedback influenced the project for the better,” said Evan Goldman, VP of Land Acquisition and Development at EYA. “We believe that the proposal is a model for how institutional properties with private open space can work with the community to develop a new project while providing much needed public open space.”

Opponents have stoked fears about the project

Some residents have opposed the project from the start because of traffic concerns, opposition to denser housing in the neighborhood, and worries over “neighborhood character.”

This contingent of residents has made their voices heard not only by writing letters to the Zoning Commission, but also by drumming up emotions with posters and at community meetings.

“The proposed development at St. Joseph’s will destroy this community, create havoc on the streets, and endanger residents [sic] mental/physical health,” writes one concerned resident in a letter asking the commission not to approve the project.

“What EYA proposes to do is nothing short of an architectural, environmental, public health/safety, and social travesty,” says another.

Last year, residents put out a flyer that claimed the St. Joseph’s project would “devastate green space in Michigan Park” and “kill mature trees on the Seminary grounds.”

A few weeks ago, WAMU's Martin Auhstermule, who lives in the neighborhood, tweeted about similar ones going up:

This time around, the flyers claim that the project will mean more traffic, more noise and air pollution, and “less political representation,” among other negative effects. It directs residents to write the Zoning Commission about their opposition to the project.

But as it turns out, a lot of residents are ok with this development

While opponents have perhaps been more vocal, a network of residents has voiced support for the project. ANC 5A, which includes the site, voted 7-0-1 (with a new commissioner abstaining from the vote) in support of the project. Other supporters include Casey Trees, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting trees around DC, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the DC Office of Planning, and the District Departments of Housing, Transportation, and Energy and Environment.

Residents have responded positively to the community benefits included in the project, particularly the bikeshare station, the historic designation, and land on the lot being accessible to the public. They have also praised the updated architecture of the project, which better reflects the surrounding neighborhood.

Here's an excerpt from one letter to the Zoning Commission that over 60 nearby residents signed:

I encourage you to support the 12th and Allison proposal because it will bring new family style homes to a neighborhood of the District served by transit, preserve and enhance open space in Michigan Park, promote walkability in the area through its high-quality and carefully designed plan, support retailers along 12th Street by bringing new residents, and provide needed community benefits.

In its letter of support, the Queen’s Chapel Civic Association noted that EYA has also agreed to traffic calming measures that will bar heavy commercial vehicles from cutting through the area and protect seniors and children. According to EYA, the traffic increase will be slight: A study of five intersections around the site found that the project will result in only one new car every 95 seconds during the busiest traffic hour of the day.

The DC Zoning Commission will hold a hearing to review and approve plans for the St. Joseph's site on Thursday, April 27. It's at 6:30, at 441 4th Street NW. Residents and proponents of more housing in DC can testify in support of the project for three minutes. They can also submit written statements here or by emailing zcsubmissions@dc.gov.