New Renderings for Housing, School, Transit Plaza Planned for Vermont/Manchester Posted Ahead of Saturday Forum

Congresswoman Maxine Waters will hold a community forum this Saturday at noon

A rendering of the affordable housing, boarding school, and transit plaza planned for Vermont/Manchester. Source: Mark Ridley-Thomas
A rendering of the affordable housing, boarding school, and transit plaza planned for Vermont/Manchester. Source: Mark Ridley-Thomas

The office of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has released renderings of the project planned for the lots at Vermont/Manchester ahead of Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ community forum this Saturday.

The forum, to be held at the Community Christian Reformed Church (10611 S. Hoover) at noon, is the congresswoman’s response to complaints about the lack of community engagement prior to the December approval of the County’s move to reclaim the lots via eminent domain. At the time, Ms. Waters had announced she would hold a forum where residents could be heard regarding their vision for the lots.

Saturday’s forum is her making good on that promise.

A view of the transit plaza.
A view of the transit plaza.

The congresswoman herself had long been a supporter of developer Eli Sasson and his plans for a mall at the site.

But when asked in recent radio interview for her thoughts on the County’s decision to use eminent domain to put affordable housing, a public boarding school, a transit careers training center, a transit plaza, and community-serving retail (including, potentially, a grocery store) there, she avoided mentioning Sasson or the mall altogether.

The draft arrangement of the boarding school, transit plaza, transit vocational training center, community spaces, parking, and retail sited for the lots between 84th and Manchester Streets. Housing would rise above the training center and retail spaces. Image: Meridian Consultants
The draft arrangement of the boarding school, transit plaza, transit vocational training center, community spaces, parking, and retail sited for the lots between 84th and Manchester Streets. Housing would rise above the training center and retail spaces. Image: Meridian Consultants

Instead (starting at minute 29.10), she speaks of the importance of community engagement on major projects – especially in a historically disenfranchised community like South Central – and the need for job-generating retail and services that would boost employment and the overall quality of life of the area.

Her concern about the lack of community engagement around the County’s proposal is one that was echoed by many that stood up to speak at the December hearing on the condemnation of the lots.

The lack of communication on the part of the County appears to have been a product of both the surprise move to seize the land and the limited ways in which seizure of the lots from a private landowner could be justified.

Eminent domain essentially requires that the County show that no other piece of land will serve its purpose.

To that end, the 380-page Resolution of Necessity detailing the genesis of the project both describes Sasson’s 25-plus years of neglect of the site and underscores the potential to move South Central residents into transit careers given the lots’ unique siting at the intersection of two important transit corridors, the Bus Rapid Transit plans for the length of Vermont, and the proposed transit career training center.

The college prep boarding school
The entrance to the college prep boarding school.

Because the land is being seized by a public entity, the uses must also be public-serving. Hence the plans for an innovative public charter boarding school serving 400 area youth and 180 units of affordable housing in addition to the transit plaza and vocational training center.

The move to reclaim the land for public use also means that a retail and entertainment destination will likely be beyond reach now. But, as we have detailed in our coverage here, here, here, here, here, and here, it was highly unlikely that project would have ever come to fruition anyways, sadly.

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Even so, the plans have made mention of a grocery store (above) and smaller retail spaces, meaning the intention still seems to be to give the community a place to have at least some of their more basic needs met.

As both Ridley-Thomas and Eighth District Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson noted in their remarks at the December hearing, the five blighted acres anchoring a key corner in the community had received at least 37 notices of violations over the last twenty-five years, effectively squelched any positive spillover impacts from investments made in the surrounding area, and attracted encampments and activities that endangered area residents. More recently, the lots had also been the site of aggravated assaults, robberies, shootings, a man being set on fire, and people being chased by a man armed with a machete.

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View of what appears to be the proposed transit plaza area.

In short, Harris-Dawson had said, children had been born, grown up, and gone on to begin their own families all while the lots continued to limit the potential of the area. With the site’s location on the second-busiest transit corridor in the county and within walking distance of the Silver Line, neither he nor Ridley-Thomas felt the community could afford to see its potential squandered any longer.

In a statement on his website in support of the project, Ridley-Thomas emphasized the significance of finally delivering a community-serving project to the area, adding it was “real, and not the fantasy of a non-performing developer who has held the community hostage for two and a half decades.”

The County’s claim on the land will be considered by the courts in mid-April.

In the meanwhile, Maxine Waters wants to hear from you.

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The Resolution of Necessity condemning the vacant lots at Vermont/Manchester was adopted by unanimous vote this past December, initiating the eminent domain process. See our previous coverage of the project below:

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