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Court Gives Green Light To EYA Project As Northeast D.C. Developments Move Forward

A townhouse project in Michigan Park can soon begin construction after a lengthy appeal process, the latest in a series of Northeast D.C. developments to move forward.

EYA's Aakash Thakkar at a Bisnow event, along with Lantian's Bob Elliott, Federal Realty's James Milam

The D.C. Court of Appeals Thursday affirmed the Zoning Commission's approval of EYA's 80-unit townhouse project on the site of the St. Joseph's Seminary at 12th and Allison streets NE.

The decision came the same day the court vacated the approval of the Park Morton project in Park View, forcing that 273-unit project to go back through the approval process. The court decided on EYA's project more than two years after it was first appealed, and EYA Executive Vice President Aakash Thakkar said he is glad it can finally move forward. 

"The court's ability to review the case and ultimately allow the project to move forward will continue to create that supply of housing throughout the District," said Thakkar, speaking last week on Bisnow's Northeast D.C. webinar.

Also last week, EYA reached a deal to allow another new development in Northeast D.C. to move forward. The developer, in partnership with JBG Smith and the District, announced June 22 it closed its financing for the 171-unit Riggs Park Place project near the Fort Totten Metro station. It said it plans to begin construction this month. 

EYA began virtual sales in early June on Riggs Park Place's first phase, featuring 90 townhouses, and it has already sold 20 of the units, Thakkar said. 

"It does appear to be that at the right price point, in the right market, there is an appetite for new projects and for places for people to call home," Thakkar said. 

Another major project could break ground next year at Northeast D.C.'s Minnesota Avenue-Benning Road intersection: Cedar Realty Trust's Northeast Heights.

Clockwise from left: Bisnow's Jon Banister, Cedar Realty Trust's Robin Zeigler and EYA's Aakash Thakkar on a Bisnow webinar.

Cedar Realty Trust Chief Operating Officer Robin Zeigler, also on Thursday's webinar, said the developer hopes to break ground in 2021 on the mixed-use project. The developer in late May reached an agreement to bring D.C.'s 700-person Department of General Services agency to the project, though she said it still needs to finalize that deal before breaking ground. 

In addition to the DGS headquarters, Zeigler said the project will feature up to 1,300 residential units and up to 200K SF of retail. 

Zeigler said she envisions the Northeast Heights project becoming a mixed-income neighborhood that can give Ward 7 residents new housing options close to home while also attracting residents from other parts of the city.

"What we're doing with Northeast Heights is ensuring there are housing options for the police officer, the teacher, the hairdresser, the folks that can't afford to rent an apartment in Downtown D.C.," Zeigler said. "We're providing a live-work-play environment that is more attainable."

For the project's retail portion, Zeigler said she wants to bring in food options for the neighborhood and service-oriented businesses. Retail's difficult environment was only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, so Zeigler said it will be important to curate a retail mix that can be resilient.

"As you approach the retail piece, it has to do with the essential nature of it, the service nature of it, and what particular stores you put in there to make them succeed, especially in these times," Zeigler said.

Before joining Cedar Realty in 2016, Zeigler spent more than a decade with Federal Realty, the REIT that owns a host of retail properties including Bethesda Row. Zeigler said she hopes Northeast Heights can achieve the same level of placemaking as Bethesda Row.

"When I managed Bethesda Row, people didn't think about Bethesda Row relative to each individual restaurant or store, it was the collection of the whole; they said meet me at the fountain and I'll figure out where I want to go for dinner," Zeigler said. "Northeast Heights is kind of the same way, it's the collection of the whole and how we put together that collection of retailers and stores and anchors that will make it succeed."

Several other developers told Bisnow in mid-June they see the DGS move to Northeast Heights as a catalyst that will spur more investment and development in Ward 7, and Zeigler said she agrees with that assessment. 

"You look at where 14th and U is today relative to when DGS put its headquarters there, that same kind of economic engine and catalyst is what we expect to happen in Ward 7 and at Northeast Heights," Zeigler said. "It will absolutely spur investments and other projects coming along the corridor."