Shaw ‘micro unit’ project will have parking after all

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The two buildings near 9th and M streets NW are planned with 122 tiny apartment units. (rendering courtesy of Saul Urban)

Planned “micro unit” apartments in Shaw’s Blagden Alley will have parking after all, after the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed an approval of designs that included no spaces for cars.

Developer Saul Urban, previously known as SB-Urban, won approval in early 2015 for a 123-unit project with buildings at 90 and 91 Blagden Alley NW, near 9th and M streets. The small apartments of less than 400 square feet each are planned as fully furnished for short-term leases, in two expanded buildings within the Blagden Alley Historic District. The units were crafted for well-heeled young people who preferred just about any mode of transportation over owning cars.

To assuage concerns by neighbors and the Board of Zoning Adjustment about the lack of parking, the developers initially agreed to a host of strategies to ensure that tenants wouldn’t arrive with cars or choose to buy one while living there. These included informing prospective renters they couldn’t park at the site or on the street, and blocking tenants from ever obtaining a Residential Parking Permit. To provide alternative transportation options, the firm also agreed to fund a Capital Bikeshare station, set aside space for 42 bike parking spots and a bike repair facility, install electronic displays with real-time transit information, and provide free car-sharing memberships to new tenants.

Under Saul Urban’s latest proposal, all of those requirements have been eliminated. In the two years since the project’s initial approval, the city’s zoning code has relaxed its parking requirements, making it easier for the firm to accommodate the mandated facilities and access, according to project attorney Cary Kadlecek.

In 2015, the project would have required 62 parking spaces, a 20-foot-wide garage door and an access ramp to the lower level. Now, Saul Urban meets the parking requirements with 21 parking spaces, which would be accessed by a car elevator — resolving concerns about excessive bulk and expense, and allowing a discreet entrance that wouldn’t jeopardize the project’s hard-won Historic Preservation Review Board approval.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment briefly considered the application last Wednesday, but put off consideration until May 31 to request more feedback from the community. The site lies within Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F (Logan Circle), which took no position on the proposal earlier this year.

ANC 2F chair John Fanning told The Current that he sees the changes as an improvement — and that commissioners probably wouldn’t have supported the original parking-free application today due to additional development pressures in the neighborhood.

He added that he considered it fair to eliminate the mandate for alternative transportation strategies, given that the latest iteration of the project includes the required number of parking spaces, and that spaces are also available for lease in nearby buildings.

Kadlecek said Saul Urban hasn’t decided which of the transportation amenities to continue offering voluntarily, and that the company is still targeting a demographic that’s unlikely to own a car. “I think it’s really going to depend on — once the building opens and they figure out how it’s all going to work — what sort of amenities work best for their tenants,” he said.

The revisions to the project resulted from a D.C. Court of Appeals decision last fall that the Board of Zoning Adjustment had been too lenient in granting the parking relief. The court ordered the zoning board to reconsider the application, but Saul Urban opted instead to amend its plans to conform with today’s requirements.

The project suffered little to accommodate the 21 parking spaces, according to Kadlecek. The developers shuffled their floorplan and only lost one unit in the process, for a total of 122, while also taking advantage of some underground space that hadn’t yet been used, he said.

The two neighbors who appealed the 2015 approval didn’t respond to questions about the latest plans. Zoning board chair Frederick Hill said at last week’s meeting that he hoped to hear from them before approving the application.
Kadlecek said the timeline for the Blagden Alley project will depend on the zoning approval, but that Saul Urban hopes to start “as soon as possible.”

“They’re very excited for this project to move forward,” he said. “They think it’s the right project for that neighborhood, and they’re committed to providing what’s required by zoning now.”