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1,700-Unit RIA Development Joins Expanding Ranks Of Projects Held Up By Appeal

An aerial rendering of MidCity's 1,700-unit RIA development

The 1,700-unit development MidCity plans to build along Rhode Island Avenue is facing a potentially lengthy delay that could put the project's future in jeopardy. 

The head of the Brookland Manor Brentwood Village Residents Association, Minnie Elliott, filed an appeal against the RIA development Monday, the latest in a string of appeals that have blocked and delayed several developments across the District. 

MidCity Wednesday released a statement denouncing the appeal, which it has expected since the project's approval, and signaling that it could prevent the developer from moving forward as planned. 

"Given this appeal, we will be forced to consider all our options for future development at Brookland Manor, including a by-right plan or a potential sale," MidCity Executive Vice President Michael Meers said in a release. "Unfortunately, both of these options would likely have a significant negative impact on the Section 8 contract at the property and a substantial reduction in overall community benefits." 

The Zoning Commission approved the overall scale and housing mix of the development in 2015. The 1,700 units would include replacements for the 373 units of Section 8 housing that currently exist at the 535-unit Brookland Manor, plus 181K SF of retail, likely with a grocery store, and a public park. The project sits at the intersection of Rhode Island and Montana avenues NE, about half a mile from the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station. 

The Zoning Commission April 5 filed its written approval of the detailed plan for the project's first phase, which would include a 200-unit all-affordable senior building and a 131-unit affordable building set aside for existing Brookland Manor residents while the other phases are built. 

A rendering of the first phase of MidCity's 1,700-unit RIA development in Northeast D.C.

While the 373 replacement Section 8 units represent a higher level of affordable housing than legally required, opponents argue MidCity should create more affordable units if it is going to triple the site's density. The Brookland Manor Brentwood Village Residents Association also opposes the proposed unit mix, arguing that the developer should create four- and five-bedroom units to accommodate families.

William Merrifield, the attorney who represents the group appealing the project, said his clients are not opposed to MidCity redeveloping the site, but they hope the court will remand the project back to the Zoning Commission so the plans can be changed to add affordable housing and larger units. 

"What we hope to achieve is the Court of Appeals to tell the Zoning Commission that you have to assess community benefit in a way that takes into account displacement pressures and loss of large bedrooms amid a housing crisis, and takes into account the hyper-segregation D.C. is experiencing right now," Merrifield said. 

MidCity says the opposition group represents a minority viewpoint among Brookland Manor residents, and has posted several videos of residents voicing support. The project was also unanimously approved by the area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission. 

Similar appeals have been filed against development across the city at an unprecedented rate, with the court issuing a series of favorable rulings for opponents. The court last month vacated the approval of the 1,400-unit Barry Farm project in Southeast D.C. and of a 56-unit redevelopment of a Dupont Circle church that was already underway. It had previously remanded two projects, Brookland's 901 Monroe and the McMillan Sand Filtration site, back to the Zoning Commission, and those developments remain in limbo years after their initial approval. 

The appeals have dissuaded some developers from pursing planned-unit developments, which allow additional density in exchange for community benefits. Douglas Development last week scrapped the PUD for its 199-unit Shepherd Park project following an appeal, instead leasing the existing building to Target and not adding housing. MRP Realty pivoted away from the PUD process with its redevelopment of the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center, which sits near MidCity's project, reducing the number of units it plans to build on the site. 

"As developers, when we go to lenders and put our reputation on the line, we're taking a tremendous amount of risk on, and when you have a process that is uncertain, you have participants who are less willing to take risks," MidCity Vice President Madi Ford said at a Bisnow event last month. "Now we're factoring in 18 months for an appeal when you're modeling out a deal, and that deal might not pencil."