Northwest D.C. College Plans Expansion Through Deal With Landmark Properties
Wesley Theological Seminary, a private nonprofit college in Northwest D.C., is looking to build a major new addition to its campus despite facing declining enrollment.
The seminary is scheduled to go before the Zoning Commission Thursday after filing plans to add a 306K SF residence hall that would serve students of both Wesley and American University, according to documents filed with the commission.
Landmark Properties would develop the residence hall through a ground-lease deal that would net the seminary proceeds over the 99-year lease term. An Athens, Georgia-based multifamily developer, Landmark specializes in student housing with more than 58,000 beds under management.
The new development is part of a 10-year campus plan Wesley initially planned to submit prior to the pandemic before its Zoning Commission deadline was extended. The campus is located at the intersection of University Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue NW in Spring Valley.
"The Campus Plan to Thrive in Place ... is the result of a careful analysis of Wesley Seminary's long- and short-term needs," the filing reads. "The Campus Plan is most notable for its stable enrollment, increased on-campus housing, increased off-street parking, and more limited expansion of the Campus density than allowed."
Wesley's enrollment peaked in fiscal year 2008, and today's student body of over 700 master's and doctoral degree seekers is roughly in line with its population in 2000-2001.
In February 2021, Wesley officials told attendees of a public meeting that the new building would be a "critical" source of revenue for the seminary, the Washington Business Journal reported.
Colleges across the country have faced financial difficulties in recent years as demographic shifts and the pandemic have caused enrollment to drop, leading hundreds of small schools to shut down.
Wesley's new property is slated to include 215 "living units" with 659 student beds in total. Configurations range from one- to five-bedroom units. The plan follows a community engagement process that has included the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, neighborhood groups and American University.
The seminary shares a fence with its sister university, American University, but the larger school hasn't signed an agreement to use the additional student housing.
Wesley believes simple demand is in its favor: American University has housed students in "temporary" three-bed dorm rooms for years, and the university doesn't provide graduate housing. Wesley was already given permission by the Zoning Commission to provide housing to 55 AU students in 2016, and it is now requesting permission to offer a portion of the newly expanded space to American University students.
Wesley's application indicates it is open to further collaboration with American University. The seminary proposes either adding a gate or removing the fence separating the two campuses.
To make way for the building, two 1960s-era dorms would be demolished. The two-story buildings, Carroll Hall and Straughn Hall, house 90 beds in total, and Wesley reported that the "antiquated dormitories put the school at a substantial competitive disadvantage."
The new campus plan would also remove an existing parking lot, replacing it with 300 to 350 below-grade parking at the new dormitory, about a third of which would be reserved for Wesley.
The Old President's House, which Wesley describes as "no longer habitable" in its application, would also be demolished and replaced with a community playground. The plan also calls for a new 5K SF building for faculty and administrative use.