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Court ruling clears way for major mixed-use project in NoMa near Union Market

The development would transform a 1.5-acre site into residences, hotel rooms, offices, and retail

Rendering of Press House at 301 N St. NE
Foulger-Pratt/AA Studio/Torti Gallas Urban, via D.C. Zoning Commission

One of several planned developments near the Union Market area that have been hampered by zoning challenges in recent months has gotten the all-clear from the D.C. Court of Appeals to proceed. Last Thursday, a three-judge panel ruled that Press House, a mixed-use project located at 301 N St. NE, a block east of the NoMa–Gallaudet University Metro stop, complies with the District’s Comprehensive Plan, as the D.C. Zoning Commission had earlier decided.

In effect, vertical construction on the project can legally begin. Press House was planned to include more than 350 residential units, 175 hotel rooms, and, in the to-be-rehabilitated ex-National Capital Press building, offices and retail. Construction on the 446,000-square-foot project was supposed to start in the third quarter of last year, but was held up by the appeal.

The challenge was submitted in January 2017 by Union Market Neighbors (UMN), a resident group associated with noted community activist Chris Otten and behind seven recent zoning appeals (some of which have been dropped). They said Foulger-Pratt’s 1.5-acre development would cause a number of negative impacts on the surrounding area, including environmental harms and displacement of residents as it would concentrate “significant luxury and wealth.”

But the court was not convinced by the group’s arguments. In his opinion for the panel, Judge John M. Steadman wrote that the Zoning Commission’s 2016 order approving the project “is replete with evidence that the Commission took into account the neighborhood impact of what it recognized as a major ‘redevelopment of an underutilized parcel.’” This included a finding that the project increased both market- and affordable-housing supply.

“It is entirely understandable that settled neighborhoods may be seriously distressed by the impact of major changes,” Steadman continued. “But, as previously noted, these objections appear to involve policy and political considerations beyond the scope of [our] legal review.”

Rendering of Press House at 301 N St. NE
Foulger-Pratt/AA Studio/Torti Gallas Urban, via D.C. Zoning Commission

A spokeswoman for Foulger-Pratt tells Curbed the developer has no comment on the ruling at this time. Reacting to the news, Otten on Twitter claimed that “there will be no economic or cultural diversity” at the project and real estate speculation would reduce affordability in the area. Approximately 30 of the residential units at Press House were proposed to be set at below-market prices for residents of different incomes, according to the development team.

The decision comes as many developers have cooled toward planned unit developments, or PUDs—proposals that allow them to exceed by-right zoning rules and build denser projects in exchange for providing community benefits like affordable housing and improvements to infrastructure—because of legal appeals. Lawmakers are set to evaluate the process in 2019.