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Adams Morgan Plaza fenced off amid ongoing litigation over proposed housing development

A plaza in the heart of Adams Morgan was fenced off early Monday morning despite a long-running legal battle over a proposal to build a condominium building there.

Fences and concrete grids were erected around the old SunTrust Plaza, named for the bank that once occupied the back end of the concrete lot at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. (SunTrust is now known as Truist.) In an email, a Truist spokesperson said the fence was put up so the bank could “perform maintenance and help address some of the issues raised by residents and businesses.”

The fate of the 4,000-square-foot plaza – which is home to a bank building that would be part of the demolition – has long been owned by a number of banks and has been the focus of one legal and political disputes extends over the past six years. In 2016, SunTrust announced it would sell the space to developer Hoffman & Associates, who planned to do so construct a six-story apartment building on the site.

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Neighborhood activists have opposed plans for a condo building on the plaza at 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. Martin Austermühle / DCist/WAMU

Some neighborhood activists and residents rallied to stop the project, arguing that a 1970s easement exists on the land — which they liken to a “town square” — that would do so rule out private development at all. They say the easement was granted by the Perpetual Bank, which owned the land at the time, as a means of doing so resolve complaints about discriminatory lending practices.

These activists and local residents Sued in 2017 to stop any developmentand a DC judge temporarily stop all work until he could examine the merits of their claims. The case was Released in early 2021and the long-standing farmers market that took up the space every Saturday was forced to find a new location on another square a block away. The DC Court of Appeals heard the case last weekanswering questions about whether the groups had standing at all and whether the Perpetual Bank had agreed to a formal easement over the land – and whether that easement would last forever.

“They built the bank in this amphitheater design, and that’s a testament to a certain level of consistency,” Paul Zuckerberg, an attorney for the groups, said during the hearing. “They have created something that will endure no matter how long this structure will exist.”

“That’s the heart of the matter: They built the bank and didn’t promise that this structure would last forever. And here we are, they would love to tear down this structure and build something else. Where is the evidence that they promised in advance that they would allow use of this land, not just now while they own the property, but from future owners?” asked Judge Catharine F. Easterly.

The three-member panel also pressed an attorney for Truist to look into historical records showing some sort of agreement by Perpetual Bank to allow the public to use the plaza in front of the bank’s building.

Plans to fencing off the plaza had been in the works for months but were delayed several times to appeal to a small number of people affected by homelessness set up camp there. (Activists took advantage of the delay to paint the square and add bench seating.) According to DC Council Member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) An apartment was found for these residents.

In an email, Peter Wood, the advisory neighborhood commissioner representing the area, says the bank is also concerned about possible crime on the square.

“From what I have been told and observed, several nearby small businesses on Columbia Road NW and 18th Street NW had seen an increase in hostile confrontations in recent months. While my personal experience has been that these episodes had nothing to do with the individuals who were at the camp, I believe Truist felt that the general atmosphere of her property was conducive to criminal activity. Luckily they were quite cooperative regarding this camp and delayed their plans for the fence several times after discussions we had,” he wrote.

“We have worked closely with the DC government and groups like Miriam’s Kitchen to provide respectful, safe and compassionate assistance in the transition of homeless individuals from former SunTrust property,” the Truist spokesperson wrote.

The appeals court is expected to make a decision later this year, and Wood says the fencing is likely to remain in place until then. If the court rules in the bank’s favour, the property is expected to be sold to Hoffman & Associates so that construction of the building can eventually begin. Some residents have hailed the idea of ​​more living space at Adams Morgana popular and centrally located district where living has become more expensive.

The post Adams Morgan Plaza fenced off amid ongoing litigation over proposed housing development appeared first DCist.

https://dcist.com/story/22/03/21/adams-morgan-plaza-fight-condos/ Adams Morgan Plaza fenced off amid ongoing litigation over proposed housing development

DUSTIN JONES

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