According to the Washington Business Journal, D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board is set to rule on plans that would complicate the transformation of the Barry Farm community in Southeast D.C. into a mixed-use development. The development has been opposed by the neighborhood and challenged in court. If the board denies the request, the developers, the Preservation of Affordable Housing and A&R Development will move forward with demolition.

But if the board approves the landmark designation, Barry Farm’s future is considerably less certain. The developers expect they’d have to slash as many as 400 affordable units from the 1,100 total they’re now planning for the property, and come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to repair the 32 existing buildings on the site. And they fear zoning officials could even balk at letting their redevelopment plans move ahead at all, jeopardizing their efforts to help residents who have been forced off the property to return home.

We’d lose all these units if that happened, in a city that’s in dire need of affordable housing,” said Anthony Waddell, Preservation of Affordable Housing’s vice president for real estate development for the D.C. area. “That’s really what’s at stake. Not only a slower return of people coming back to their homes, but putting the balance of the development in jeopardy.”

For the activists pressing for the historic designation, a vote in their favor would represent a major victory in forcing the developers to better honor the property’s history — in 1867, it became a community where freed slaves could purchase their own homes. Roughly a century later, it became a hub of civil rights activism, including work to desegregate D.C. schools.

“[The developers] are trying to blame the historic designation and to make it seem like we’re against building housing, when that’s what we’ve been pushing for,” said Daniel del Pielago, Empower D.C.’s organizing director. “Our goal is the same thing, to get people back there.”

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