A green netted fence surrounds the rainbow-colored plaza at the corner of 18th and Columbia Street. Historical black-and-white photos of Adams Morgan are posted on the outside.
“They cannot erase our history,” read one sign posted on the fence.
Development on this site has been the focus of a costly lawsuit since 2017, but a new owner has raised hopes of finding the balance between affordable housing goals and business profits.
“We’re not sure exactly what we’re going to do yet,” said Martin Mellett, vice president of external affairs for Jubilee Housing.
“When the property was given to Jubilee, we became the defendants in that litigation,” he said. “So our hope is that we can come to an agreement with the plaintiffs in this case and just settle this outside of court.”
Truist Financial Corp. donated the land in October to D.C. nonprofit Jubilee, changing the trajectory of the plaza’s future.
Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development and the Kalorama Citizens Association took the former owner to court after the bank planned to build condos– taking away a majority of public access.
Jubilee asked the DC Superior Court for outside mediation on the lawsuit this month. According to court documents, the scheduled trial is paused until at least April 2024.
Mellett said Jubilee wants to work through the lawsuit and come up with housing that benefits the community.
“The hope is that we can figure out a solution that works for everybody,” he said. “Jubilee wants to keep some part of the plaza available to the rest of the community.”
The new deed for the plaza includes a promise of about 40 affordable apartment units (90% of the building) and 10% dedicated to retail.
However, Mellett said Jubilee remains in the planning phase and is still determining if retail space will be offered or how many units will be considered affordable housing.
Mellett said it might take more than a year to begin construction on the project. He said Jubilee is working to find funding for demolition and construction.
How does Jubilee play into DC’s affordable housing goal?
Jubilee currently manages 11 housing developments in Adams Morgan, four under construction. Those numbers do not include the recently acquired Adams Morgan Plaza.
Mellett said Jubilee focuses primarily on Adams Morgan because the organization was created in the neighborhood 50 years ago.
Jubilee houses about 552 residents in its affordable homes, including The Sorrento on 18th Street and The Maycroft on Columbia Road.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a housing initiative in 2019 that made it a goal to create 12,000 affordable housing units by 2025.
So far, DC has tracked nearly 8,100 new affordable units, said Nick Stabile, program analyst for the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development.
When asked if the District was on track with the goal, Stabile said, “We are making significant progress.”
Stabile said Adams Morgan is under the Mid-City planning area for DC, which has surpassed its 2025 affordable housing goal.
The Mid-City planning area, including the Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods, is 118% on target, according to the housing count dashboard.
“One of the primary benefits of affordable housing is that it really ensures that people at a range of incomes can afford to live in Adams Morgan,” Stabile said. “Some people might go to school in Adams Morgan, they might shop or work at local businesses, and contribute to the overall vibrancy of the neighborhood.”
Some business owners are concerned about the construction
Jubilee currently has two developments under construction about two streets from the Adams Morgan Plaza— 2400 Ontario Rd NW and 1721 Kalorama Rd NW.
Brian Logan and Bill Castellani work at a real estate office on Kalorama Road— surrounded by the Jubilee construction.
Logan and Castellani are concerned that more construction in Adams Morgan might drive people away— literally.
“While they’re doing construction, there’s no parking anywhere,” Logan said. “It’s troubling for us.”
Castellani said construction on the Kalorama Road development paused more than three months ago, but parking near the building is still not permitted.
The businessmen said construction at a main intersection, 18th Street and Columbia Road, might be more challenging for motorists and neighbors.
Logan said he also worries that Jubilee’s affordable housing and transitional housing might raise crime rates.
“I think that in the past, they have found that when you concentrate too much of one kind of housing in an area, it’s not necessarily a good thing,” Logan said.