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Union Market Development Opponents Return To Appeal MRP's Washington Gateway

The group that has appealed seven developments in the Union Market area over the last three years has returned to contest a project on the other side of the tracks. 

A rendering of the future phases planned for MRP's Washington Gateway in NoMa

Union Market Neighbors filed an appeal this month with the D.C. Court of Appeals contesting the Zoning Commission's approval of MRP Realty's changes to the next phases of its Washington Gateway development. 

The site, at the intersection of Florida and New York avenues, features the 14-story, 400-unit Elevation at Washington Gateway building, which MRP completed in 2014. Directly to the east of Elevation, on a site that abuts the Metropolitan Branch Trail, MRP is planning two additional towers. 

The developer's original planned-unit development application, approved in 2007, had included an office building on the eastern portion of the site with a north and south tower. MRP went back to the Zoning Commission in 2016 and applied to change its plan. It proposed converting the north tower to residential, with the option of switching the south tower to residential. 

The Zoning Commission held a public hearing on the proposed modification in February 2017. The local Advisory Neighborhood Commission supported the project with the condition that it increase the affordable component and the NoMa BID supported it with no conditions. Union Market Neighbors did not voice opposition during the process. 

The commission then filed its written approval order in May 2018, and no appeals were filed during the appeal window following the approval's issuance. 

MRP then decided it would exercise the option to switch the south tower to residential. It went back to the Zoning Commission in August to get design approval on new renderings it created for the multifamily building. The application was a lower-level modification than the previous one and did not require a public hearing. The Zoning Commission issued its written approval of the residential design Jan. 15.

As approved, the project includes 372 units in the north tower and 241 units in the south tower, plus about 14K SF of ground-floor retail. It would also include a two-story, public bike lobby facing the trail with bicycle parking spaces, a pump and repair station, a water fountain and a public restroom. 

Following the latest approval, Union Market neighbors filed its appeal Feb. 14. 

Aristotle Theresa, the attorney representing Union Market Neighbors in its appeal, said he believes MRP manipulated the process to reduce the level of public input required. He said by presenting the south tower residential plan as an option in the 2016 modification and then not holding another hearing after it decided to exercise that option last year, it did not give the public enough time to weigh in. 

"Clearly [developers] are trying to figure out ways to finesse the system and make it so they don't have to engage people who have questions about these projects," Theresa said. 

MRP decided to scrap the PUD for its 1,500-unit Rhode Island Avenue shopping center redevelopment after a group Theresa represented appealed its approval. The developer instead pursued by-right development, reducing the unit count by nearly 200, and has since landed an equity partner to move forward on the project. 

The first phase of the development, Elevation at Washington Gateway, which MRP completed in 2014

Theresa's clients have concerns about the level of affordability and the unit sizes of the approved apartments, he said. Roughly 19 units in the south tower, 8% of the building's floor area, will be set aside as affordable for renters making up to 60% of area median income. MRP declined to comment. 

Union Market Neighbors filed its first appeal in July 2016, contesting Ditto Residential's 56-unit project at 301 Florida Ave. NE. It then filed six additional appeals between January 2017 and January 2018, all contesting projects in the NoMa-Union Market neighborhood. The latest appeal is the first it has filed in 13 months. 

Of the group's seven past appeals, six have been either dismissed by the judge or settled out of court. The last outstanding case, an appeal of JBG Smith and Gallaudet University's Sixth Street project, was reviewed at a hearing in November and is awaiting the judge's decision. 

While each of these cases delayed the projects for months, other groups around the District have been more successful in blocking developments. The 677-unit McMillan development and Brookland's 901 Monroe project have still not broken ground after being appealed and having their approval vacated by the court in 2016.

The court also blocked the 1,400-unit redevelopment of the Barry Farm community in Southeast D.C last year. Theresa represented the groups filing appeals in the McMillan case, the Barry Farm case and several other similar appeals.