UDC shares further details about student housing plans

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The University of the District of Columbia hopes to lease housing for students at 4250 Connecticut Ave. NW, which would be converted from an office building to apartments. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

The University of the District of Columbia is continuing to pursue an effort to lease student housing in a building near its Van Ness campus, school officials told residents at a recent community meeting.

Amid ongoing negotiations with Bernstein Management — the new owner of the Fannie Mae office building at 4250 Connecticut Ave. NW — tentative plans have emerged regarding the building’s conversion into an apartment house. As envisioned, the university would lease 450 to 500 beds for its students above ground-floor retail space, starting in August 2020.

Although the university leases a few dozen units in nearby apartment buildings for its students, it’s never provided a true residence hall. And that commuter status deters many prospective students, university board member Esther Barazzone said in an interview.

“UDC has a lot of challenges to its identity,” Barazzone said. “They have great faculty, they have great students, but it hasn’t had a residence hall — that keeps it from being a more traditional institution and getting some of the best students who want the experience of living in a residence hall, not just commuting.”

The university’s chief operating officer, Troy LeMaile-Stovall, discussed the university’s plans at a July 27 community meeting.

But Fred Underwood, a senior vice president at Bernstein, emphasized in an interview that nothing is final.

“There are a lot of moving parts, it’s been slow going,” Underwood told The Current. “We’re still exploring the possibility of converting the building to apartments and leasing those to the university. We don’t have anything concrete as of yet. We’ll certainly know in the next three to four months.”

According to Underwood, Bernstein plans to attend ANC 3F’s next meeting, Sept. 19, to discuss the plans.

The university will review designs with Bernstein in the coming weeks, according to LeMaile-Stovall. Given that the student residences would occupy expensive Van Ness real estate, the university is considering setting rental rates below market value to ensure that units are affordable for students, LeMaile-Stovall said.

Designs for the “apartment-style” units with single rooms and suites are in the early stages, but they probably would be furnished, LeMaile-Stovall said. A faculty member would live on each floor to oversee the students. “Make no mistake, it means there’s somebody with authority in residence,” Barazzone said at the July meeting.

Plans also envision a strip of stores and restaurants on the hall’s ground floor. While merchants are yet to be decided, LeMaile-Stovall assured residents that retail would be geared toward the community.

The university is careful to call the building a residence hall rather than a dormitory, with its connotations of noise and activity late into the night. However, some neighbors were skeptical.

“While student apartments is a preferred term, it is being run through a housing program administered by the University of the District of Columbia, not unlike a dormitory,” Shirley Adelstein, of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F (Forest Hills, North Cleveland Park, Van Ness), said at the meeting.

Many residents have been delighted by the university’s intent to expand its offerings and establish itself as a traditional four-year institution.

“The community stands behind the university and its mission. We want to ensure the students are successful. The residential apartments should hopefully be an anchor,” ANC 3F member David Dickinson told The Current. However, Dickinson hoped designs would be “smart and creative,” he said, to minimize any vacancies in the hall.

The university has a long road of applications and permissions before it can begin construction. Fannie Mae is scheduled to vacate the building by January 2019, and the university hopes to begin construction soon after, LeMaile-Stovall said.