Despite Pending Legal Decisions, Truist Bank and Monty Hoffman Seek to Fence Off Plaza
Press Alert: Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 656-1675
Ward One, Washington, DC — On Saint Patrick’s day, an attorney for Truist (formerly SunTrust) argued before the DC Court of Appeals that there is no easement by public dedication in the form of a public plaza at the corner of 18th and Columbia Road in the heart of Adams Morgan.
This community town square has been a central feature used openly by the public since 1977, argued Paul Zukerberg, Esq., attorney for the community groups seeking to uphold the public’s right to access and use of the public-easement Plaza (it is the site of DC’s first DC farmers’ market and countless public gatherings and free and open events over the years).
SunTrust/Truist and developer Monty Hoffman say they need to raze the Plaza and the rest of the corner property to build a 65+foot tall 51-unit condo building covering almost the entire site, which faces the busy intersection at 18th Street and Columbia Road NW.
The Court of Appeals panel of three judges asked tough questions of both sides during the nearly one-hour argument. Video of the hearing is here as the second case called on March 17, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0vcI3ebjJE1g5hNT3UmltA
The community organizations are asking the Appeals Court to rule that the application of the law to the facts are, as Zukerberg said during the argument, “classic jury questions” and that the Superior Court trial judge erred by flipping prior decisions and disregarding most of the evidence in the record of the existence of an easement by public dedication at 18th and Columbia Road NW.
In making this argument, Zukerberg was referring to the standard rules that normally apply to a fact-based case of this sort as well as the fact that in 2018 the case was ready to go to trial before a jury of DC residents to make the final determination whether an easement by public dedication exists at the Plaza site. SunTrust/Truist attorneys delayed the trial for about 30 months by moving it to Federal District Court and then another 14 months by pushing for a subsequent decision in DC Superior Court that was made without a jury trial or proper fact finding and thus is now under review in this appeal.
The Plaza easement was created through a series of negotiations that resulted in an agreement to allow Perpetual Bank to open up a new branch facility in Adams Morgan, but only if the bank reversed redlining practices in the neighborhood and focused on financing home ownership by lower income residents and residents of color, preserved the Plaza for permanent public use, and implemented other community responsive banking practices, including bilingual tellers in our branch (these commitments were financial industry firsts, made possible because of the struggle by Adams Morgan leaders nearly 50 years ago).
Following the March 17, 2022 oral arguments, the DC Court of Appeals panel will now deliberate and issue a written ruling in the coming months.
Despite the legal uncertainty regarding this site, the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) is aggressively processing permits on behalf of Truist and PN Hoffman to facilitate their ability to move forward with PN Hoffman’s proposed luxury condo project.
Among the pro-development moves by DCRA is its recent issuance of fence permits that would allow Truist to enclose the Plaza, blocking public access to the Plaza for the first time in decades.