Adams Morgan ANC asks city to put off SunTrust project permits amid legal battle

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Developers have applied for a permit to raze the bank building at 1800 Columbia Road NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)
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The District shouldn’t evaluate planned development at 1800 Columbia Road NW until litigation surrounding the project is resolved, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C (Adams Morgan) is arguing.

Developer PN Hoffman is seeking to build a seven-story condo building on the site, currently home to a SunTrust bank branch and an open plaza — a plan that’s already won approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board. The Kalorama Citizens Association and the ad hoc group Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development are suing to protect the plaza.

In August, a Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction, which halts development at the site pending further action in the court case. But ANC 1C wants to go a step further, arguing that city agencies shouldn’t process the project’s permit applications while the case is pending.

“I think it’s a good idea for us to go on record to let these agencies know that we are aware of this,” ANC 1C member Wilson Reynolds, who introduced the commission’s resolution, said at the group’s Nov. 1 meeting. “And we are asking them to exercise some caution as they go about their regulatory business.”

The lawsuit argues that the plaza space was promised to the community as a perpetual easement in 1976 — as an apology from then-owner Perpetual Bank for racial discrimination in housing loans. SunTrust and PN Hoffman argue that the public holds no legally binding claim to the property.

ANC 1C’s resolution passed 5-2, with Ryan Strom and Brendan Reardon dissenting. Strom questioned why the city couldn’t move forward in reviewing the project, in case the litigation fails and the proposal moves forward. He argued at the meeting that if the suit is successful, then any formal action the city takes would be moot.

Reardon told The Current that he believes the city and the developer are aware of the lawsuit already and doesn’t feel that the ANC 1C action was necessary.

“I don’t want to be pre-judging any outcomes on the litigation by not allowing a private company to be able to do normal bureaucratic and regulatory paperwork,” Reardon said.

Reynolds, meanwhile, told The Current that he wanted to ensure that city agencies are aware that legal proceedings are going on, and that an injunction has been issued. At the meeting he said that while he recognizes ANC 1C can’t stop the city from taking action, the resolution provides support for those opposing the development.

“I think it’s a good idea to show some support to the people that are leading the efforts here to try to save that plaza,” Wilson said.

Denis James, president of the Kalorama Citizens Association, told The Current that the lawsuit is in the discovery phase and a jury trial is scheduled for April.

“The government would be putting its finger or thumb on the scale” by issuing approvals or permits, James said at the ANC meeting. “Our opponents could use any approval that was gained to influence public opinion. It’s going to be a jury trial. That could contaminate the jury.”

PN Hoffman representatives did not respond to requests for comment this week.