Friday, April 09, 2010

Brian Brown responds

See this message from Brian Brown.

(And please -- no more anonymous comments.)

Dear residents,

While I typically don`t respond to inflammatory emails, I frankly have gotten tired of having ``stones`` thrown at me so I am choosing to respond to this email. I want to remind residents that I am a 22 year resident of the Shaw/Ledroit Park/ Bloomingdale area. I would also like to respectfully suggest that there are more constructive ways to reach out to developers other than email flames. These kind of public emails to listservs are the very reason many small and medium sized developers won`t talk to residents unless they have to. I think most large developers talk to the neighborhoods because they have to because they need zoning changes. I would like to think that I am more open than most developers as I have tried to share as much information as I could publicly without endangering my projects. In some cases this has been only with recognized community leaders (ANC, etc), as the nature of negotiations on particular projects have required signed non-disclosures. It is also interesting to note that of all the emails over the years from people publicly complaining about an issue they had on one project or another as far as I can remember I have never been contacted directly by the same people to directly ask any questions. Here is my response.


Brian Brown

I didn`t put the note on the vehicle because if I had, I would have signed it and included my phone number. That said, we have a project manager who is at the firehouse almost daily, getting quotes on the new scope of work for the revised project. The project manager says he did not put that note on your vehicle. That said, it is private space and we need access at irregular times. As a result we are particular about vehicles parking there as they frequently pull too close to the building and block the door we use to access the building. The other vehicle that has been parked at the firehouse for the last couple of months is licensed, insured, and tagged and is owned by relatives of mine who are out of town. They usually keep it on the street, but we all know how difficult it is to keep vehicles on DC streets when traveling.

As for the 4-6 pickup trucks parked in my yard, that is BS. I own two small Toyota pickup trucks. (I want to remind everyone that this is a 9 bedroom house.) We also have 9 adults staying in the house in addition to children so, in addition to the 2 trucks, there is an SUV, a van, a Toyota Avalon, and a Ford Dump that are there regularly. (6 in total) All these are kept in a private parking area that has room for 11 vehicles. All run, have tags, and are insured.

I would also disagree about the ``pop ups`` on North Capitol. While North Capitol is not historic, the addition to the two buildings in the 1300 block of North Capital was designed fit the irregular height of the block. When I saw the original facade design by the architect (which was an ugly popup), I sought the informal advice of staff members of DC`s historic preservation office, and I used their recommendations to complete the façade design. The building on the 1400 block of North Capitol is not a popup. It is a new building from the ground up as such was designed as infill.

I would agree that the partially completed wall is not particularly attractive. We have DC Government to thank for that. When we started the wall, the intent was to finish the wall in a 5-week period. We applied for and were issued the appropriate building permit. We also applied for and were told no public space permit was required. This was partially correct. We started the project and 1/2 way through we got stopped because the local / on-site inspector said one was needed. The on-site inspector went back and forth for the next two weeks with the public space inspector at 941 North Capitol. It turned out that the front and back are not public space but the side yard is and that the person that issued the permit did not check the side yard. The public space inspector who stopped the work would not let me fill in the dirt or put in the required footer until the proper permit was issued. No fines or stop work was issued because DCRA acknowledged that it was their mistake. The time of that delay resulted in it taking me about 3 months to resubmit the public space application. It turned out that as the wall was approved by Historic Preservation, it required the application to be formally submitted to public space committee because of the design and height. This is an extended process similar to a zoning or historic review committee. This process was going to require significant time and money on my part to resolve, which frankly in late 2008 and early 2009 I didn`t have.

As a result of that snafu and the economy the public space submission dropped to the bottom of my to do list. Over Christmas 2009, I prepared the application and I went down to DCRA to discuss the application with Public Space. The person at the public space was very sharp, and she suggested a much simpler elegant solution which required me to revise the plans one more time.

This was done and I got sign off from Historic Preservation about three weeks ago on the revised design, which I believe that Public Space will allow without the extended committee review. A couple of weeks ago I went down to DCRA right before they moved to their new location. I discovered a new hurdle. Changes in the public space fee structure now require over $12,000 in permits and deposits. (Five times what I had budgeted.) I don`t know about anyone else but I personally don`t keep have an extra 10k laying in my personal accounts to throw at surprise bills.

Frankly if I had known all the pain that this wall was going to be I wouldn`t have started it. That said, I am looking at alternatives to resolve this issue.



Anonymous said...

Flagler Pl NW resident.

I haven't ever commented in the past, and appreciate the response. I am not overly aware of your background/projects, but from your response about your house, I am curious in general, can you afford this place...honestly?

Thank you.

JohnDC said...

Personally I don't have issues with any of the development he's done in the neighborhood. Yes, it's not the most beautiful but it's not a rotted out shell it was before. So it's a net good.

My only issue is with the firehouse. As I understand it, and I may be mistaken, was he was offered the firehouse at a huge discount but accepted to certain terms.

He hasn't completed those terms. Crappy economy? Okay, fine. I understand. But to try and sell something for $1.1 million which we the people of DC gave to you for $600k bothers me.

Yes you lost some money on the project, and that sucks. But why should we pay for your mistake? Not to mention there is no way $500k was put into that place while he's held onto it.

Anonymous said...

"I would also disagree about the ``pop ups`` on North Capitol. While North Capitol is not historic, the addition to the two buildings in the 1300 block of North Capital was designed fit the irregular height of the block. When I saw the original facade design by the architect (which was an ugly popup), I sought the informal advice of staff members of DC`s historic preservation office, and I used their recommendations to complete the façade design. The building on the 1400 block of North Capitol is not a popup. It is a new building from the ground up as such was designed as infill."

I'd love to have a discussion on the North Capitol Street improvements. An entire floor of windows is missing on the two buildings that are two stories taller than the adjacent building. And the cinder block looks cheap.

I will try and take some photos of the buildings so we can fairly discuss those. I really find it hard to believe that staff from the Historic Preservation Office would come anywhere near endorsing the end product.

Also, I think a building on the North Cap block just south of P Street with a new brick facade was also done by Nextgen. They also have strange window arrangements.

I'll try to get photos and submit them to Scott to post them.

I agree with JohnDC on the $500K. Of course, if you were savvy enough to negotiate to allow yourself to sell it for whatever you wanted in the disposition agreement to the city, then well done. But, it stinks, and I think the city was hoodwinked. Development is risky. You reap the rewards when things go forward and you have to sometimes eat predevelopment costs when they don't go forward.

J.T. Engelhardt

Anonymous said...

Lindsey, Bloomingdale Court

Oh for crying out loud. Your home is an historic sight, and it's a mess. There is gym equipment on the porch, the yard is a disaster, and it just looks like you couldn't care less about your beloved Bloomingdale.

Clean up your home, and make good on your promises, and you'll have a better neighborhood response. (The same could be said to every developer you speak of who is reluctant to deal with the public.)

Mark said...

I think the Anna J Cooper house looks much better than it did when I used to climb around the porch looking in the destroyed windows at all the destroyed interior. Let's recognize, at least at this location, that Brian made a huge step forward for that particular property and hope he manages to finish it (God knows I've experienced hell from DCRA etc). I don't know nothing about Brian's other work or the firehouse. I hope all goes well and the property(ies) end up a positive addition to the community.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brown,

As an African-American who is aware of her people's history, I walked past your house a few weeks ago with my 6 year old niece. As it was Black History Month and she was learning about the contributions of Blacks to America, I thought it necessary to tell her that the woman whose picture is on the postage stamp that we were using to mail my mortgage check, used to own your house.

I understand your frustrations with DCRA. But please find a way to get the monies needed to fix that fence and the rest of the house. Solicit Howard U., Historic Preservation; fellow developers; black organizations; UNESCO; the Bloomingdale neighborhood; get a grant, etc. I, like many of my neighbors, want to walk by and feel prideful --- not constantly insulted.

If you are unable to come up with the money, I suggest you take down the plaque -- Anna Julia Cooper lived here. It would hurt a little less not seeing the plaque or having my nieces and nephews read it!


Anonymous said...

wow what a silly litany of excuses. does the city also prevent you from mowing your lawn? how does HPRB feel about the universal gym on the porch?


Amanda said...

Amen Eric.

F. Santamaria said...


I know nothing of this person and very little of the properties involved. However, if you are involved in several million dollar plus projects and don't have a spare 10k (or 10k in cash sitting around at all, as the comment implied), there is something seriously wrong. It's also easy to blame the city for everything. Regards.

n. cap said...

if brian brown is the biggest problem in our neighborhood, then we've come a long long way.

Anonymous said...

I must say that with all the commentary about Brian's house, he must be reading them. I noticed two ladies on Sunday sweeping the porch and moving the gym equipment and, dusting out rugs. The lawn has finally been mowed, yesterday. Thank you Mr. Brown! Now, let's get working on the fence and fixing up Anna Julia Hayward Cooper's house. I personally, cannot wait to walk pass the "finished house and fence" and to read all the positive comments you will get!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brown has done a really wonderful job following through on these promises.

oh wait, he hasn't done a damn thing.