The Eckington Park project is moving forward, now that local officials and developer Foulger-Pratt have come to an agreement over a community benefits package. Eckington Park is a planned mixed-use development with 328 residential units located on the northern half of the empty field between the Met Branch Trail and Harry Thomas Way NE. The project is one of a number planned for the area, which also includes the 635-unit Eckington Yards development.
On January 16, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E approved a community benefits package, something sought by the DC zoning commission before it would green light the project. However, that package did not come together until resolving some controversy over optics.
There is a lot to like about the original offer: the developer agreed to donate land to smooth the Metropolitan Branch Trail's two bends that form an S-curve at R Street NE, as well as provide more than half a million dollars for improvements to NoMa's new large park. However, that package was not enough for some members of the ANC, who put off approving the community benefits agreement in December until more was done for local residents.
Dog parks versus schools and civic associations
Foulger-Pratt first presented its benefits package to the ANC at a special meeting in December 2017. That package came after negotiations with both the NoMa Parks Foundation and the Eckington Civic Association, and included nearly half an acre of land for the planned park, $515,000 for park improvements plus another $80,000 to realign the Met Branch Trail, 22 units totaling 10.3 percent of residential square footage available to families earning up to 60 percent of median family income (MFI) — 18 would be part of the District's inclusionary zoning program — and $60,000 for neighborhood programs.
The package specifically earmarked $165,000 for the dog park planned for the plot of land the developer is donating to NoMa Parks, while only providing $60,000 to local schools, civic associations, and the Harry Thomas Recreation Center. At the December meeting, commissioners Bertha Holliday (5E07), Sylvia Pinkney (5E04), and Patricia Williams (5E02) asked why dogs should get more money than schools and other neighborhood amenities.
While the optics were poor, Foulger-Pratt had previously promised land and funds to NoMa Parks to help improve the nearly half acre of land between Eckington Park and the Metro Red Line tracks that will become part of the park. It was NoMa, not the developer, that decided to locate a dog park on the site after a robust design and community input process.
Nonetheless, Holliday called the entire NoMa Parks program "highly political" at the meeting. She and Pinkney proposed reducing the funds for the dog park and adding them to funds for local amenities, particularly for schools.
"I think the [NoMa Parks] foundation could find $150,000. They had no problems finding $50 million," said Holliday, referring to the money budgeted by then Mayor Vincent Gray for parks in 2013.
Support for the project despite modest changes
The amended community benefits agreement presented by Foulger-Pratt to the ANC this month was little changed from the one presented in December. Another $2,500 was committed to programs at McKinley Technical High School, and there is an additional artist live-work unit added to the affordable units, increasing the total square footage available to those earning up to 60 percent of MFI to 10.7 percent. The developer will still contribute $165,000 to improvements for the dog park and more than $500,000 to the new park under the amended agreement.
Despite this, the commissioners approved the agreement with little debate. All but one of the nine commissioners present voted in favor.
"It's been a long process, but in the end the community has negotiated a great package of amenities, including family-size affordable housing, tenant and homeowner education programs, investments in local schools and parks, and a realignment of the Metropolitan Branch Trail," ANC 5E03 commissioner Hannah Powell, whose district includes the project, tells GGWash.
FedEx opposition fizzles
FedEx's plan to oppose Eckington Park does not appear to have materialized. After submitting a letter to the DC Zoning Commission saying it planned to oppose a change in zoning for the site in July, the shipping company did not submit any further comments on the project.
The firm cited a 1988 agreement to promote light industrial development on the site, not the medium-density mixed use building proposed by Foulger-Pratt, in its letter. A spokesman for the shipper told GGWash in August that they believed the current zoning was "best suited" for the property, without providing further explanation.
Adam Davis, vice-president of development at Foulger-Pratt, told the Eckington Civic Association in October 2017 that FedEx feared that the addition of more residents to the neighborhood could increase pressure on the firm to relocate their large distribution center in Eckington Place NE to another location.
"Their concerns are a little unfounded, that someone may kick them out of their site," he said. He added that as long as FedEx owns their building and conforms with the zoning code, there is little residents can do. Davis' comments appear to have been prescient, as FedEx has not formally opposed Eckington Park.
Foulger-Pratt, with its community benefits package finally in hand and no major opposition, plans to begin construction on Eckington Park in the spring of 2019. They hope to open in 2021.