More than a year after the District's historic preservation authorities rejected plans for a controversial Anacostia development that would require moving two historic houses, the Gray administration has ruled in favor of the project, citing its "special merit" to the neighborhood and the city.
The Big K site on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, nicknamed after the liquor store that once operated there, has sat vacant for years as the city mulled its development potential. Developer Tim Chapman was awarded the rights to the site, reportedly for $1, following a 2012 solicitation. Although the solicitation recommended that the site not include housing and the initial plan was for offices, Chapman later determined that the best use would be affordable housing. The current plans call for 114 income-restricted apartments, available to households making under 60 percent of area median income, and ground-floor retail.
The shift has upset many neighbors, who argue that Anacostia and Ward 8 already have too much affordable housing, and that what the amenity-starved neighborhood really needs is market-rate housing that will attract high-quality retailers. But what truly threatened the plan was the preservation element: Chapman hoped to relocate two historic, if dilapidated, houses to a different site in the neighborhood to make room for the new development. And in October 2013, the Historic Preservation Review Board voted unanimously to reject the project.
A proposal rejected by HPRB can still move forward, if the Mayor's Agent, part of the D.C. Office of Planning, deems it to have special merit. Last week, Mayor's Agent J. Peter Byrne made just that finding, ruling that the dearth of affordable housing in the city and quality retail in Anacostia make this a worthy project, even in the face of preservation concerns.