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UIP's 146-Unit Tenleytown Project Is The Latest Development To Be Appealed

A rendering of UIP's approved 140-unit project at 4620 Wisconsin Ave. NW

The leader of a Tenleytown neighborhood group is taking an approved, 146-unit Wisconsin Avenue project to court, the latest appeal in D.C.'s ongoing battle over development. 

Julie Six, the former president of Tenleytown Neighbors Association, filed an appeal Tuesday with the D.C. Court of Appeals, contesting Urban Investment Partners' mixed-use project at 4620 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 

In February 2016, UIP acquired the property, currently a 60K SF office building that sits next to Douglas Development's Tenley View project, about two blocks from the Tenleytown-AU Metro station. It bought the building from American University as part of a deal that also included 4000 Brandywine St. NW, the former home of WAMU, where UIP completed a 100-unit development in March. 

In November 2016, UIP filed a planned-unit development application with the Zoning Commission to build an eight-story, 146-unit development with 11K SF of ground-floor retail. The Zoning Commission posted its written approval order March 22.

The local Advisory Neighborhood Commission chair testified in support of the proposal, calling it a "first-rate project that will create a net significant benefit to our community." Other groups such as Ward 3 Vision and Coalition for Smarter Growth supported the project, in addition to several individuals. 

"A majority of people came out and testified that this is where development belongs, right next to Metro and on Wisconsin Avenue," UIP principal Steve Schwat told Bisnow. "It's just frustrating that a very small group has filed an appeal ... and these folks are going to hold it up." 

A rendering of the street-level retail at UIP's proposed Wisconsin Avenue project

Tenleytown Neighbors Association filed a 14-page letter of opposition during the approval process, stating that it doesn't oppose development on Wisconsin Avenue, but objects to the height and density of UIP's proposal. 

"It would diminish and destabilize the residential character of nearby neighborhoods and act as a catalyst for additional high-rise development along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor to the north," the letter said. 

To address the group's concerns, UIP removed a proposed 20-foot-tall penthouse, bringing the project's approved height to 88 feet. Schwat said he is frustrated that UIP addressed the group's concerns and it still decided to appeal. 

"That was amenity space on the roof that residents could have enjoyed," Schwat said. "It could have been a gym or a gourmet kitchen or any number of things, but we took it off because Tenleytown Neighbors Association thought the building was too tall ... I'm sorry I did that. At this point, I'd like to put it back."

UIP had hoped to break ground on the project in July, but Schwat now thinks it could be delayed by at least a full year. He said he is not looking to reach a settlement and plans to see the case through. 

Similar appeals have delayed over a dozen projects and thousands of housing units across the District in recent years, as opponents have filed an unprecedented number of suits boosted by a series of successful cases. Last week, the court vacated the approval of Southeast D.C.'s 1,400-unit Barry Farm project. The previous week, it stripped the approval of a project to convert a Dupont Circle church into a 56-unit mixed-use development after construction had already begun, forcing work to stop and putting the church at risk of bankruptcy

The two prior instances in which the court vacated approvals and remanded cases back to the Zoning Commission, Brookland's 901 Monroe and Northwest D.C.'s McMillan project, remain in limbo years after receiving their initial approval. Other projects have been delayed by more than a year before ultimately being dismissed, and in some cases developers have reached settlements and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to opponents in exchange for dropping the appeals. 

Developers and housing advocates are looking for the D.C. Council to help stem the wave of appeals by amending the city's Comprehensive Plan. Hundreds of vocal advocates on both sides testified at a recent hearing on the issue.

CORRECTION, MAY 3, 9:35 A.M. ET: Julie Six is the former president of the Tenleytown Neighbors Association, and filed the appeal as an individual. A previous version of this story misidentified her affiliation with the neighborhood group. This story has been updated.