Fannie Mae to Sell Wisconsin Ave Headquarters


Fannie Mae, the U.S.-owned mortgage finance company, announced Wednesday that it plans to sell its headquarters at 3900 Wisconsin Avenue, NW as part of a consolidation of its Washington, DC offices. It also plans to sell the building it owns at 3939 Wisconsin Avenue, NW.

Fannie Mae’s proximity to Tenleytown and the thousands of its workers who frequent businesses in the area means that the property sales have a potentially significant economic impact on the community. Much will depend upon who purchases the properties, their plans for the sites, and how long it will take for new commercial (or residential) tenants to occupy the space.

With the news of the mortgage finance company’s intention to sell the property only made public yesterday, and the sale likely a couple years off, all projections are speculative. Current zoning allows for matter of right medium density, including office, residential, retail, or a mix of the three, with a maximum height of 65 feet.

A buyer could decide to purchase the property and repurpose the existing facilities, though the fact that, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the quality of the current infrastructure factored into Fannie Mae’s decision to sell the building might make this outcome less likely. Real estate developers are more likely to see this property as a lucrative site for the kind of mixed-use projects that are going up elsewhere on Wisconsin Avenue, though the often heated debate around those developments may impact their decision to buy.

Although Fannie Mae employees travel through and patronize businesses in Tenleytown, the headquarters are actually located in the Cathedral Heights neighborhood. And we’ve already taken some heat for noting this – accused of splitting geographical hairs. But the geography is an important fact, as the future of the site will be influenced by the interests and priorities of both the Tenleytown and Cathedral Heights neighborhoods, some of which may be in concert and some that may be competing.

With past development on Wisconsin Avenue within the bounds of Tenleytown, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 3E and community-based groups have been able to weigh in with significant influence – sometimes positive, sometimes negative depending upon one’s perspective. For the Fannie Mae location, however, ANC 3C, which includes Cathedral Heights, McLean Gardens, Cleveland Park, and Woodley Park, will have greater weight, as will potentially other community groups that lie outside Tenleytown.

And before critics say that we are imbuing ANCs with outsized power or authority, we acknowledge that these local commissions have limited power, that their opinions and resolutions are merely given “great weight” with no ability to enforce them. However, absent other local representatives they are the ones who get to weigh in – they and the inevitable community groups that spring up around development projects. So as much as local activists, and commissioners themselves, like to poke fun at the role of ANCs, they’re what we’ve got in DC.

The Cathedral Commons project may be the closest and best indication of community sentiments around development within the boundaries of ANC 3C, which unfortunately doesn’t offer much hope for a smooth or timely process for a developer, though perhaps lessons can be learned that would help avoid some of the pitfalls of that project.

Regardless of whose voice might have a greater hearing, hopefully a conversation can begin early about what the communities – both north and south of Fannie Mae – might want to attract to the location. Ideally such a conversation could stave off lengthy battles – or at least hash them out before the lights go dark at a key economic contributor.

Image Credit: “Fannie Mae Headquarters” by User:AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons