Wardman Park redevelopment uncertain amid property’s possible sale

It’s no longer clear whether the Wardman Park campus’s lawn will be developed. (Brian Kapur/The Current)

Controversial plans to redevelop Woodley Park’s Marriott Wardman Park Hotel and surrounding lawn have become more uncertain, as developer JBG is said to be amid negotiations with a prospective buyer for the site.

An as-yet-unknown buyer is currently undergoing a 45-day due diligence period that could result in the sale of the entire property, which includes the hotel, The Woodley apartments and the Wardman Tower condos, according to Woodley Park advisory neighborhood commissioner Gwendolyn Bole. JBG declined to confirm a specific transaction, but a spokesperson told The Current that a “marketing process” for the site is underway.

Bole, who has been in frequent contact with JBG for months, said it appears that neighborhood opposition to the previously announced project influenced the developer’s apparent decision to move on.

“They haven’t done anything since October in terms of pursuing a [planned unit development],” Bole told The Current. “They definitely want out.”

JBG bought the 2660 Woodley Road NW property for $300 million in 2005, and announced plans last year to add an eight-story residential building and designate park space in the short term, and four more residential buildings in place of the hotel later. Surrounding residents balked at the project’s possible impacts on traffic, views and the overall character of the neighborhood, prompting JBG to withdraw its long-term application.

In September, project officials said they planned to revise the zoning application for the initial residential building, which would have replaced some of the site’s existing green space between Woodley Road and the hotel. But now the developer’s priorities seem to have shifted.

The case is still pending but no hearing is scheduled, according to the Office of Zoning website.

In an email, JBG spokesperson Rick Abbruzzese summarized the developer’s current mindset, but declined to respond to further questions about plans for the site.

“An active marketing process has been on-going to sell or recapitalize the property, including the Marriott hotel,” Abbruzzese wrote. “Marketing the property for sale or recapitalization will provide a better understanding of all potential options for the future of Wardman Park.”

Bole and others in the neighborhood don’t yet know whether a new developer would pursue JBG’s previous intentions, modify them or abandon them altogether.

Jeff Myers, a Woodley Park Community Association member who heads a task force on this project, doesn’t want a new developer to assume that residents are opposed outright to development on the campus. But he wants the community to be involved earlier on.

“If anyone proposes some significant development, we want that to be done in a way that everyone has a chance to think through and contribute to the conversation about what are the impacts,” Myers said.

As the city currently invites proposals for amendments to the D.C. Comprehensive Plan, a broad document that guides long-term development and zoning decisions, Myers says his group hopes no one tampers with the moderate density currently allowed on the site. On the other hand, he said, Woodley Park has seen a recent burst in residential development.

“We’re not opposed to housing, not opposed to change,” Myers said. “We want the change to happen, if it’s going to happen, in a way that’s well-planned.”

Myers remains cautiously optimistic that news of JBG’s plan to sell will be positive for the neighborhood. On the other hand, Bole thinks it’s premature to write off any possibility of development of the site. “I wouldn’t rule out that they would still try to build on the green space on Woodley Road,” she said.