Steuart Properties in MVT ** UPDATED **

UPDATED [4/28/10 4PM]: See bottom of post for reply from Guy Steuart.

Steuart Investment will be attending the May MVSNA meeting to discuss their plans for their properties within the Mount Vernon Triangle. It seemed appropriate to consolidate past coverage on the Steuart properties to ignite more discussion before that meeting. The map below shows the Steuart parcels on Square 483 and Square N-515.

RED=Square 483, GREEN=Square N-515

The Steuart properties are zoned DD-C3C and DD-C2C. Both codes allow for max height 130 foot tall buildings. As with all major new construction in Mount Vernon Triangle a minimum 50% threshold for residential is required. Each lot carries a mandate for substantial residential component. Steuart requested that the residential requirement be consolidated under the premise of combined lot development (ed note: see blog response from Steuart below for the exact residential requirements) as permitted by the DD overlay. Rather than have a 50/50 mix of commercial and residential on each property they would like to put all the residential on Square N-515 and all the commercial on Square 483. The request was initially denied by the Zoning board so Steuart has appealed and asked ANC6C for support.

Should the zoning appeal prove successful Steuart may be ready to move to the conceptual planning stage for 400+ unit residential project on Square N-515. My sources have suggested to me that we shouldn’t expect any near term movement on Square 483 regardless.

In last week’s open thread Sí suggested we should let Steuart know what our views are on retail for these projects. My personal view is that Steuart should be expected at a minimum to honor the Mount Vernon Triangle Master Plan which calls for K Street and 5th Street to be our retail corridors. The master plan requires ground floor ceiling heights >= 14ft for new construction on these two corridors. On Square 483 I’d like to see Steuart exceed that minimum for the K Street frontage and match the 22ft ground floor ceiling heights of City Vista’s restaurant bays. It would then be appropriate to step the ceiling heights back down to 14ft along 5th Street frontage as City Vista did with the bays filled by the Sales Center, Chevy Chase and T-Mobile. Maxing out the potential of the K Street retail with higher ceilings rather than adhering strictly to the minimums will contribute a greater sense of place at 5th & K. In total this site should be expected to contribute 20,000-to-30,000 SF of retail. Loading and parking egress for the building would be placed along the 6th Street facing.

Square N-515 does not appear to me suitable for much ground floor retail. It’s positioned next to the mouth of the I-395, along busy New York Ave and behind Museum Square. A few live-work lofts or possibly one small 2000 SF retail bay at the corner of 4th & L would be the max I’d expect for retail. More retail than that I would expect would sit empty. It would be better to focus the retail on 5th and K Streets as specified in the MVT Master Plan than force the issue on this parcel.

A reply from Guy Steuart:

Regarding your post today, here are a few corrections that need to be circulated so that the discussions at the MVSNA meeting may be on point. Square 483 is zoned DD/3C3. Square N515 is zoned DD/C2C. Housing is mandated on each property, though not at the percentage cited in the blog posting. Within the Downtown Development Districts, the city’s zoning code mandates the amount of housing using Floor Area Ratios (FAR). Properties zoned DD/C3C are required to provide for a minimum residential FAR of 3.5 and are permitted to have a commercial FAR of 6.0, though that may be increased through the use of Bonus Density by 0.5 FAR. So in percentage terms for a DD/C3C property, roughly 35-37% of the site’s density could be residential, though the City doesn’t use percentages as the metric for this mandated zoning requirement.

Properties zoned DD/C2C are required to provide for a 4.5 FAR residential use and may have a 3.5 FAR commercial use (which may be augmented by use of a Bonus Density by 0.5 FAR). The put this in percentage terms means the site (N515) must provide housing for roughly 53 to 56% of its density. Again, bear in mind this is not the metric architects, developers, zoning lawyers and City planners use to assess mandated housing requirements. Those are always expressed as FAR.

Both sites may be 130 feet tall and could be developed fully as residential without having to adhere to the FAR limits of the underlying zoning property.

Under the requirements of the Mount Vernon Overlay, Square 483 is required that 50% of its ground floor area be retail and the Zoning Code further establishes design guidelines for storefront window glass ratios, ceiling heights and uses. As cited correctly in the blog, this would yield approximately 30,000 sq feet of retail. It is our intent to fully comply with this requirement and accordingly believe the logical orientation would be along 5th Street and K. Square N515 has no mandated retail requirements.

Within the Zoning Code, properties within the DD may be combined so that mandated residential use of two or more properties could be aggregated into one property and permitted commercial density could be aggregated, similarly.

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  1. 1


    Indeed they have said they don’t intend to put any retail in the residential project on square 515. Personally I’d like a little & I agree with everything you have said. I also think the community should address the maintenance issues which were certainly touched on at some of the ANC meetings. From the weeds to snow removal (lack of), this company needs to understand this is a neighborhood that people live in and walk thru. Having this funky blight persist for years & years is really not cool!

  2. 2

    Sam Farmer says

    I agree with you on the retail design and positioning. Adding truck service points on 6th makes sense although there are no curb cuts on 6th but they would be giving up many on K so no big deal there.

    I think I lean slightly towards having 50/50 residential/office on both lots but not that strongly either way.

  3. 3

    FourthandEye says

    According to Guy Steuart, by attempting to stay away from terms like FAR that aren’t meaningful the the typical reader I seem to have oversimplified the explanations on the residential requirements. He’s going to fax me additional details and explanations. I’ll update the posting accordingly later this afternoon.

  4. 4


    I have no objection to Steuart’s proposal for treating the properties as one unit for regulatory purposes. I think the neighborhood’s best interests are served by getting financially viable projects under way and the two lots are very close to each other.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out NY Ave retail. I think the neighborhood’s long-term goal should be to calm the traffic on NY Ave and have it be a nice, boulevardish thoroughfare rather than a semi-highway.

  5. 5

    tom veil says

    they would like to put all the residential on Square N-515 and all the commercial on Square 483

    Really? That is the reverse of what I would expect. No offense to those of you at Yale Lofts, but I really don’t see the appeal of a condo in N-515 with windows facing either New York Avenue or I-395. The noise alone would be a deal-breaker. For a business, though, that’s a wonderfully accessible location for supply trucks and for commute-by-automobile employees. And then there’s elementary schools. Right now, both locations would be within Walker-Jones, but Square 483 is right up against the border for Thompson, and would stand a good shot of being redistricted into the better school.

  6. 6

    Jeff says

    No more! We need some parks or other spaces in this area. There are not enough people to fill the units we have now. With Dumont open now and Yale West under construction, we have a lot of people coming to this hood soon. We also have many places still for sale or rent that are not occupied..Yale East, CIty Vista, etc…

    Where are the Parks, the restaurants and other places for people to go? City Vista is a good start, but not enough.

  7. 7

    John Thompson says

    I’m in 100% agreement with Matthew Yglesias:

    “…I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out NY Ave retail. I think the neighborhood’s long-term goal should be to calm the traffic on NY Ave and have it be a nice, boulevardish thoroughfare rather than a semi-highway.”

    @tom veil:
    “…Really? That is the reverse of what I would expect. No offense to those of you at Yale Lofts, but I really don’t see the appeal of a condo in N-515 with windows facing either New York Avenue or I-395. The noise alone would be a deal-breaker.”

    If they put in good windows (and I mean GOOD ones) – this won’t be an issue at all. When I was in residential development in Logan Circle, good, solid, virtually sound-proof windows were a must. We did the condos at 15th & P (Metropole), 14th & P (Cooper-Lewis) and both condos at 14th & Church (Lofts 14 1 & 2). The windows there were AMAZING. I couldn’t hear a thing on 14th St. (I lived in Lofts 14).

    Now a resident of The L at City Vista (if I had my way), both projects would have retail. All of our Logan Project incorporated retail in them as we knew of the positive impact it would have in the community. Compare the 1400 block of P street and the 1500 block of 14th St now to what they were 15 years ago. Could you imagine if the buildings didn’t have retail? It would be a completely different atmosphere. I would love to have someplace to shop or eat across the street from me, it would really put a lot more foot traffic further down L St. and add to the overall safety of the block. The last thing I would like to see is another dead zone with no vibrant street life. I think NY Ave retail & restaurants with cafes, shopping & landscaping would subconsciously slow down traffic & really give our neighborhood more of a walkable feel vs. that of a freeway. If it looks like a highway, it’ll be treated as such – if it looks like a neighborhood, maybe people will treat it as such. Buildings without retail & blocks without retail have historicly resulted in “dead zones”, which have been the source of complaints for many residents. I’d hate to imagine if Gallery Place or City Vista didn’t have retail or restaurants. I’ll continue to do my best to express that developers in MVT incorporate commercial into all upcoming projects.

  8. 8

    Warren says

    Re: “they would like to put all the residential on Square N-515 and all the commercial on Square 483.” I don’t like that idea at all. Square 483 is located at the very heart of the Triagle; having more residential along 5th, and perhaps K, would breathe more life into the center of the neighborhood. Also, I agree with Tom that Square N-515 is better suited for commercial, given that it’s next to a freeway. The development of Square 483 should “bridge” CityVista and Douglas Development’s plans for the west side of 6th Street (i.e., I hope we don’t end up with just another cold “flash cube” office building that closes up at 5 pm). Having ground-level retail along NY Ave. between 6th and 5th would advance the cause of making NY Ave. more of a “boulevardish thoroughfare.”

  9. 9


    Guy Steuart’s response illustrates perfectly why I struggle to explain what they are going for in terms of zoning :) I am glad he chimed in, that is very helpful. I do think its great to have a mix of office, housing, retail and hotel in the triangle because it really creates an 18hr neighborhood with more eyes on the street and more pedestrian traffic. Avoiding those dead blocks is attractive to me and with more activity and pedestrians comes the slowing of traffic. Before you know it we will get those landscaped medians on NY ave turning it into more of a boulevard. As far as highway noise, there is 4th st & the bible way lots separating sq 515 from 395 – which is also down a hill. In the short term it’ll provide for an nice unobstructed view. (very) Long term plans will probably include bible way’s development & the 2nd phase of 395 air rights but we will all be old n gray. I’m very much looking forward to the Steuart’s visit, them establishing a relationship with the community and hopefully digging relatively soon!

  10. 10

    Jerry says

    Has DDOT actually developed a plan for the redevelopment of NY Ave. that converts it from an ugly traffic sewer into a beautiful landscaped boulevard, or is that outcome merely a goal of many of the residents of the neighborhood? I attended the original scoping meetings for the redevelopment of the ugly Sherman Ave. corridor back in 2007. DDOT appears to have a good plan in place that will convert that corridor from an awful commuting oriented corridor to a street that serves the neighborhood. I’m curious if a similar process has been in place for this section NY Ave.? If so, what is the status of that process? And if redevelopment process for NY Ave. is in the works, do the Steuart’s plans make sense within the context of what DDOT envisions for that corridor? Seems to me that the ultimate configuration of NY Ave. should drive the development decisions for the Steuart properties. Retail on that corridor is a non-starter in its current configuration.

  11. 11

    Dan Maceda says

    I agree with Matt Yglesias and John Thompson as a resident of the K at City Vista I want more retail and as a non driver a more walkable neighborhood

  12. 12


    sigh.. circa 2003

    In the meantime neighbors have been able to push for some cosmetic improvements and minor changes like repainted crosswalks, signal change at 9th & Mass, those weird posty things around the islands at 5th & NY and 5th & mass….with development also comes improvements to the streetscape and hopefully our little parks like the one at 5th & L.

  13. 13

    Tom G says

    So an apartment building with no ground floor retail is a dead zone? We can’t even tolerate one block with retail in MVT? But you could have 5 consecutive blocks of rowhouses with no retail at all and nobody calls that a deadzone.

    I’m content with focusing the retail on 5th and K Streets as the master plan calls for. Hopefully the Square 483 retail can wrap around the corner from 5th to occupy some critical mass on NY Ave as well. But the comment that L Street needs retail or it isn’t going to be as vibrant at P Street in Logan Circle misses the mark to me. The master plan says 5th and K Streets are our “P Streets”. Not every street can be P Street.

  14. 14

    John Thompson says

    Yes, I would call an apartment building with no ground floor retail a dead zone. Case in point: Mass. Ave. apartment buildings.

    Rowhome neighborhoods aren’t the subject matter here – the block I live on is (the 400 block of L Street). As a board member for my building and from discussions with board members of the K, as well as the word around our buildings from residents of The L, K & V at City Vista, we’re on the same page. Many City Vista residents chose this location for a vibrant street life, retail & restaurants, as opposed to a quiet rowhome neighborhood or a location without street retail. I’m sure we can tolerate one block in MVT without retail – but along with many other residents on the 400 block of L Street, we’d look forward to our block having more retail & restaurants. Besides, more people on the street for these types of establishments greatly contribute to the safety of the neighborhood.

  15. 15

    Tom G says

    The residents of the 400 block of L Street had ample opportunity to buy on the 400 block of K Street if being 1/2 block from the retail spine wasn’t suitable to them. The MVT Masterplan does not require retail on L Street. I’m not sure how one feels entitled to demand changes to plans that are only 5-6 years old. The developer should build only what zoning requires and/or the market will bear. This is obstructionism and is only going to delay the project.

  16. 16

    FourthandEye says

    I’ll try to dive deeper down on the retail discussion with another posting later in the week. Foot traffic and eyes on the street and are a valuable aspect that retail can bring. But MVT is not Manhattan dense nor is it the tourism district that Penn Quarter is with it’s proximity to museums and the Verizon center. There is a limit to how much retail this neighborhood can support.

    Right now I think we can support more than is currently present because City Vista is the only K Street development that’s been built. But when Square 483 adds 30,000 SF of retail, 425 Eye adds 30,000 SF, 5th & I and Mount Vernon Place add another combined 40-50,000 SF of retail, and Douglas Development (west of 6th Street) adds 50,000-60,000 SF plus we may eventually have all we can handle.

    If a streetcar comes down K Street that may change the equations a bit. MVT may be able to support more retail than originally envisioned in the master plan or it may simply accelerate the development timelines. I don’t pretend to know the answer to that.

  17. 17


    Making our opinions & desires for a vibrant mixed use neighborhood isn’t obstructionist imho – especially if we are having a civilized thoughtful, and inclusive discussion. The neighbors SHOULD be able to weigh in on what gets built in our neighborhood otherwise we are at the mercy of the all powerful developers who would like nothing better than to construct offices. Thats where the most cash is. We have zoning requirements for mixing it up but if no one pays attention, there are all kinds of swapping and exemptions granted. I think it is possible to avoid the aura of a dead block even without retail (for ex. minimizing concentration of loading docks/trash receptacles along the streetscape) but it is nice to have a bit of a mix. Right now there is nothing so even more reason to ruminate on what could be.

  18. 18

    fifthandem says

    great post, great comments.
    our neighborhood is alive and the more we voice our opinions, the more we can influence its future.
    as for me, mix use is the key. give me a little bit of everything on all the blocks and i’m happy. the only thing i could do without, is cars :)