Friday, November 30, 2007

Alexandria to Review Mixed-Use Development

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The Madison, a proposed condo development at 800 North Henry Street, will be under review Tuesday, December 4th at a public hearing held by the Alexandria Planning Commission. The project, a brainchild of Trammell Crow Companies (TCC), would add 344 condominiums, 23,000 s.f. of ground level retail and passive open space to a site slightly larger than a city block at the intersection of North Henry and Madison Streets, which falls under the jurisdiction of the upcoming Braddock Road Metro Area Plan.

The soon to be approved Braddock Metro Plan has hindered the Madison's actualization, as outlined by an executive summary released by the Planning Commission: "The Applicant has indicated that they have been waiting for the [Braddock Metro] plan to proceed and can no longer wait for [it] to be adopted." In the meantime, TC MidAtlantic Development III, Inc., a subsidiary of Trammell Crow, has applied for slight modifications to the initial development including: Increased building density, a reduction in the amount of required open-space and reduced parking requirements.

One of the issues that seems to be garnering the most attention is the traffic problem. A traffic study was done for the Parker-Gray area by Gorove/Slade Associates, Inc., for a project at 621 N. Payne Street, roughly three blocks away from the Madison site. The findings from that study proved that "The southbound North Henry Street corridor appeared to be over-saturated." The Planning Commission has compared traffic changes that would result from the Madison's inception against data from the Braddock plan; the official response to the traffic quandary went something like this: "The proposed project would generate fewer [AM] and [PM] trips (compared to the Braddock Plan), respectively. Within the context of the overall Braddock Plan, this is not a significant increase in traffic demand."

The site plan being reviewed next week depicts two separate buildings, a 138-unit structure on the southern portion of the site, and a 206-unit structure on the northern half. Design teams created the buildings using a variety of colors, construction materials and architectural styles to evoke the impression that the project is made up of many different buildings that were built over time, "typical of Alexandria blocks...to reduce appearance of mass and to relate to opposite block faces," according to the Planning Commission.

Developers wish to construct two courtyards totaling 20,000 s.f. of open space, 15% less than the amount required by the City of Alexandria. While details are still being worked out, it appears that TCC can compensate for this shortfall by donating to the Braddock Road Open Space Fund. An additional issue has come up regarding the original design; TCC's plan creates less parking than is mandated for a project of this magnitude - another potential topic for debate at the upcoming public hearing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

NOVO to Finish Design of Kalorama Condos

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NOVO Properties is one step closer to converting two apartment buildings on the 1800 block of Vernon St., NW into condominiums. NOVO has planned to modernize and redevelop these almost century-old structures for some time now but the firm just recently received the go ahead from both the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) and the Historic Planning Review Board (HPRB) as of October. According to sources inside the firm, the local ANC has jumped on board as well, despite the project's ill-standing with some members of the community.

The now-vacant buildings used to hold 25 rent-controlled apartment units housing a combined total of 29,000 s.f. of space. NOVO plans to add three new units to the current mix, in addition to adding a four-floor modern bridge structure to connect the pair of stand-alone properties. Although the exterior will remain mostly as-is, the interior is planned for dramatic improvements; Bonstra Haresign has taken the design reigns and the two firms are currently in the midst of deciding the overall architectural scheme.

The property was purchased from Perseus Realty for $4 million in June of this year; though some have questioned the firm's handling of the property disposition. Some disaffected residents claimed Perseus, after offering generous stipends from $1,000 to as high as $15,000 to induce tenants to vacate their homes, used heavy-handed tactics (waterboarding?) to get residents out of the building. Councilmember Jim Graham and Mayor Fenty have investigated, but the case has all but fallen out of the public eye.

That being said, NOVO declined to comment on the record. Spokespeople for the company, however, did mention that the projected ground breaking is anticipated within the next year. NOVO is the developer behind The Takoma condominiums in Takoma Park, MD, and owns a number of medium to large sized apartment buildings throughout the DC Metro area as well as a smattering of properties located in Charleston, SC, Chicago, IL and Philadelphia, PA. The project will be built by Eichberg Construction.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

William C Smith Plans Major Housing Initiative in SE

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William C Smith Company has unveiled initial plans for the first of 1100 new residential units in southeast DC, some of which will start early next year. The first set of new condos, Brownstein Commons, is planned for the site of the recently-destroyed Trenton Terrace Apartments, located on the 1100 block of Mississippi Ave, SE. Brownstein Commons will share that plot of land with a second William C Smith development, Archer Park, to create a total of 240 new residences for Ward 8. The developer is planning to begin construction on the 234,000-s.f. project in the Spring of 2008.

As a result of focus groups held by William C Smith (who we shall now refer to, simply, as "Bill"), the developer believes that a large unsatiated demand for homeownership opportunities exists in the neighborhood. Bill has responded accordingly, planning to inject a large amount of for-sale projects into Ward 8 in the coming years. A source within Bill opined that the community is underserved for housing, resulting in DC losing residents to PG County for lack of affordable homes in Ward 8.

The current project is set to be completed in phases; Archer Park, strictly a rental community, will serve as phase one of the development and will be completed first, starting next spring. Design plans call for the construction of 66-affordable, two and three bedroom rental units reserved for families below 60% AMI - the rental portion is expected to cost more than $9 million and is being designed by SK&I Architecture. Brownstein Commons, on the other hand, will be comprised of 174 brand-spanking-new workforce housing condominiums, for families between 50% and 80% AMI, and will cost an estimated $36 million. Bill expects construction on the condos to begin in the Spring of 2009.

WCS has heavily focused their developments on areas east of the Anacostia River. On December 7th, the first new grocery store in 30 years will be opened in Ward 8 at the Shops at Park Village, a 112,000 s.f. retail project that WCS is just finishing at the intersection of Stanton and Alabama Ave, SE. The retail center will also be home to a Wachovia Bank, a hardware store, insurance company and dry cleaner. Other projects completed by the firm include Ashford Court, which began selling early this year, and The Villages of Parklands. In total, the firm has added more than 5,000 housing units to the District, at a total value of more than $250 million.

Help Wanted: 1600 North Capitol Seeks Developer

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A 77-unit mixed-use project will soon rise at the corner of Florida and North Capitol Streets, NW, if a suitable development partner can be found. The design of the project at 1600 North Capitol Street, NW, is currently being inked by DC-based Bonstra Haresign Architects, and the owner is now seeking a savvy developer to see the project through (phones are open, call now, don't wait). The 18,984-s.f. chunk of vacant land will house a 7-story, L-shaped building, with approximately 117,000 s.f. of space, serving both residential and retail purposes, according to the architects.

Florida and Q Street, LLC initially applied for zoning approval back in February of 2006; the typical zoning procedure ensued, but surprisingly, "There were no parties in opposition," according to the Zoning Commission. Other than a few minor changes to the design of the building's facade, the P.U.D. application went swimmingly. NCPC (National Capital Planning Commission) approved it in December of 2006, followed by Zoning's approval in January of 2007.

The now-approved P.U.D. application had requested that the zoning for the site be changed from C-2-A to C-2-B, which would allow for: An increase of residential lot occupancy to 75%, a 15 ft. increase in maximum building height to 65 ft. and "medium density" development on the lot by right. Yet in the same approval, NCPC and the Zoning Commission gave the nod for the design of a taller structure than the by-right zoning permitted, approving a 7-story central tower at the intersection of North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue; the building will now measure 81 ft. from N. Capitol Street, and 86 ft. from Florida Ave.

Of the 77 units, 73% will be one-bedrooms and 26% will be two-bedrooms; and one lucky person will get a three-bedroom unit. The plans also include approximately 5,000 s.f. of ground floor retail along Florida Avenue and two levels of underground parking to create a total of 84 parking spaces.

"We're anxious to continue work on implementing an important residential project in a fast-developing corridor of the city," said Bill Bonstra, Principal at Bonstra Haresign, "Mr. [Joe] Mamo has worked diligently with the community, hand in glove, to understand their needs. In response to community requests we've incorporated neighborhood retail into the project," Bonstra added.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

PN Hoffman Switches NW Project to Offices

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PN Hoffman has announced that their downtown condo project is now going forward as an office building. The building, at 10th and G St, NW, will change from market rate condominiums to a mixed-use commercial center. Two years in the making, the project will create 140,000 s.f. of Class A office space atop a newly constructed First Congregational United Church of Christ (FCUCC).

PN Hoffman has been working together with ER Bacon Development LLC to finish design plans; the purchase agreement of air rights above the church's land has been finalized as of October, while plans to rebuild a new, two-story church underneath the commercial space are still in progress. The existing church, built in 1959, is set to be demolished in December. According to PN Hoffman, development of the church will include "approximately 36,000 s.f. of space comprised of a sanctuary and social service area...the facility will provide spaces for conferences, lectures, offices, classrooms, and music events." As part of the church's resurrection, the apportioned social service space under the glass-and-steel office structure will be leased to the Dinner Program for Homeless Women - definitely a mixed-use endeavor.

The current church is in dire need of an upgrade, hence the uncommon leveraging of sacred air rights. Meg Maguire, Chair of the Site Development Task Force for FCUCC explained: "There are many things wrong with the church, it isn't handicapped accessible, all of the systems in the church are in really bad shape and need to be replaced, so we were looking at a huge investment. Even if we made that investment, at the end of the day we were not going to have the home that we would need in the 21st century...we were very fortunate to find, in ER Bacon and PN Hoffman, a partner...It's been an incredible team effort."

The commercial portion of the site will house eight stories of office space and include a third floor outdoor-terrace so cubicle inhabitants can grab a breath of fresh air in between long hours of business-as-usual. The building's design is set to achieve a LEED Silver rating by incorporating a green roof, use of recycled construction materials and minimization of water usage. The design will serve as PN Hoffman's very first venture into the world of commercial office development. PNH had previously planned to build 140 "luxury" condominiums above the homeless shelter.

Cunningham + Quill Architects is handling the office space design, while NY-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects has created plans for the church. Construction is set to begin in February, 2008 with an expected completion date in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pollinating Affordable Housing

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Construction on an affordable housing project in Parkside, is set to begin. The project will create 91 row-houses, a 24-unit apartment complex and 5 flats adjacent to the Cesar Chavez Charter High School on Hayes Street NE, and is currently being finalized by The Pollin Foundation. The Consolidated P.U.D. request has been reviewed in three separate public hearings before the Zoning Commission.

Current ownership of the property overlaps separate entities: the DC Housing Authority and the city, while the National Park Sevice holds some administrative jurisdiction over a few of the parcels. Most of the land currently sits unzoned, except for a small section which is being used for public housing. The foundation created by Abe Pollin - owner the Wizards and Verizon Center - proposes new rental units to replace the existing 42 public housing units on the site and 125 new affordable housing units available for incomes between 40% and 100% AMI; 83 of those units will be for sale.

One of the most unique aspects of this particular real estate deal is the project's financing. According to Mr. John Stranix, Pollin's representative before the Zoning Commission. "The Pollin Foundation would develop the houses and take no fee. My time as development manager is not [being] charged to the project." Pollin's philanthropic contributions to Parkside are well founded, according to Mr. Stranix at a zoning meeting over this past summer: "[Mr. Pollin] believes there's a dire need for quality affordable homes. His vision is to create communities that satisfy this need by providing mixed income affordable housing and that's the project we bring before you this evening." Mr. Pollin was unable to be reached for comment. The project will be reviewed by the National Capital Planning Commission on December 6th.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Homeland Security HQ Inches Forward

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In the last few months, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has moved closer to completing a Master Plan for St. Elizabeth's West Campus in Anacostia, the future home for the headquarters of both the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard. The final Master Plan is now projected for submission in January of 2008.

GSA presented a Draft Master Plan, which included four separate designs for the campus, to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) back in August of this year. In return, GSA has now received feedback from the organization regarding its qualifications, changes which will be included in the final version.

NCPC's comments on the design plan were extensive. Members of the Commission were partial to design 4 (pictured above), although the Executive Director's recommendation includes a request for more information "with regard to access and site screening impacts of each alternative" before a final decision can be made on the historic property. NCPC has also required modifications to "minimize the major, long-term, adverse impacts to the West Campus of St. Elizabeths," according to NCPC files. Some of these modifications include: the relocation of parking structures off-campus or below grade, the reduction of overall building heights and (my favorite) the reduction of the visual impact of the U.S. Coast Guard building by "modifying its massing, sitting and monolithic appearance."

The major impediment for the project is St. Elizabeth's designation in 1990 as a National Historic Landmark. The campus was established in 1855 by U.S. Congress as the first federal hospital for the insane. In later years, the site served as a hospital for Civil War soldiers; those that died were buried on-site in a now historic Civil War cemetery.

The St. Elizabeth's West Campus is currently home to 61 buildings, most of which were built before 1915, which house more than 1.1 million s.f. of space. GSA is proposing to restore about 75% of the existing buildings, and add roughly 3.7 million s.f. of new space to the 176 acre site. However, some worry that a development of this magnitude would overwhelm the historic features of the property; NCPC hopes to alleviate these concerns by heavily reviewing the designs in order to implement a unique plan that can accommodate historic placement.

Although design plans may not have been chosen, one thing is certain: the Department of Homeland Security needs a headquarters, and soon. Michael McGill, Public Affairs Officer for GSA's National Capitol Region explained why: "[DHS needs] a close proximity of decision makers to coordinate quickly and act. They need to establish a common culture, which requires that they assemble this critical mass." The current structure of America's favorite governmental organization is a widely scattered array of 18,000 employees housed in over 6.5 million s.f. of office space in 50 separate locations which are interspersed throughout the city.

GSA owns more than 95 million s.f. of space in the National Capitol region, of which 53 million is for lease. Jones Lang LaSalle is coordinating development the St Elizabeth's site, while The Smith Group is responsible for drafting the Master Plan; Perkins + Will will design the Coast Guard Headquarters.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Changes to Eckington Project to be Decided Tonight

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Tonight, NoMa West Residential I LLC will request a Planned Unit Development modification for the design plans for 618,000 s.f. of development on a 190,000-s.f. parcel in Eckington (or NoMa, depending on whether you are marketing the project or already live there). The vacant site at Eckington Place and Harry Thomas Way, NE, which falls within the NoMa BID, had already been approved for development as of October 2006, but since then both the applicant, Fairfield Residential, and the initial proposal, have changed. The new P.U.D. application seeks construction of only 1,000 s.f. of retail and a total 617,318 s.f. of residential space to be split amongst 600 units in three separate buildings.

Initial plans for the site were drafted by Fairfield (FF Realty, LLC) on behalf of the site-owner CSX Realty Development Corporation back in 2006. The Zoning Commission subsequently approved the P.U.D., signed June 22, 2007. Unfortunately for FF Realty, a new developer has stepped into their shoes, changing the design plans and ultimately the scope of the development.

Under the old plans, three large residential buildings, 27 townhouse units and five, four-story single family townhouses were to be constructed over 4.3 acres, with Q Street dissecting the property in order to "establish [a] street grid," according to a Zoning Commission summary. In total, a maximum of 636 residential units comprised of 739,951 s.f. of residential area would have been created combined with 15,084 s.f. of retail space for a total cost of $150 million. The modified P.U.D. reduces the amount of residential space by more than 120,000 s.f. and cuts the retail portion of the site by 90%.

The only remaining design from FF Realty's old plan will be the three mammoth buildings and the Q Street dissection. The first structure, Building 100, will have about 120,000 s.f. of floor area measuring 57 feet in height; Building 200 will house 250,000 s.f. of space at 64 feet and Building 300 will also have about 250,000 s.f. of space and will measure 61 feet in height. In addition to shaving the townhouses off of the plan, the new developers have also proposed to rezone the site from its approved C-3-C District, which allows 100% lot occupancy and permits building heights up to 90 ft, to C-3-A which reduces lot occupancy to 75% and allows a height of no more than 65 ft.

The modified P.U.D. will be considered for final action tonight. Prior to ZC's decision, they have required that NoMa West provide the Construction Management Plan and further detail as to the design changes.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bethesda Developer Shelves Project

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Plans for a 250-unit development in downtown Bethesda were put on ice this week by Street Retail Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Federal Realty Trust, citing adverse community reaction. The project, when put into motion, will create a 250-room hotel, 56,000 s.f. of retail space and 250 "residential components" for downtown Bethesda at the NE corner of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues (site photo pictured).

Phase one of the project, consisting of a single 5-story office building with ground-level retail and eight-screen movie theatre, already sits on the NW corner of the lot and is proposed to be incorporated into the new development. In order to accomplish architectural integration with the surrounding Metro Core District, design team Shalom Baranes Associates has concentrated building density in the northeast portion of the lot, gradually decreasing the concentration of construction to seamlessly transition into the southwestern low-density zones.

Last week, the Montgomery County Planning Department finally reviewed preliminary plans for the development, more than a year since they were originally submitted. During that time, developers have been hitting the streets, dedicating copious time to local government officials, Planning Department members and the community at large in an attempt to head off future dissent and incorporate feasible solutions into the overall plan. It has paid off; one notable example lies in the hubbub that arose when Capital Crescent Trail constituents found out they would lose their trail during the duration of the two-year construction period. As a result of community involvement the development team came up with three alternative solutions to the problem that subsequently satisfied the concerned parties.

Still, many don't want to see more development on what is now open green space, a factor accentuated by the PN Hoffman project approved just across the street. Maryland Politics Watch writer David Lublin opines: "Precisely because so much development is already approved near to that intersection is why more open space is needed." In turn, developers have pulled out because they want to meet those concerns before entering a public hearing.

John R. Tschiderer
, VP of Development for Federal Realty Investment Trust, stressed his firm's focus on community involvement. "[We] have been involved in creating Bethesda row for 13 to 14 years, and our investment in its creation has been through a public/private partnership. We have worked through the political and community leadership and the constituents thereof collectively, to create a very distinct and noticeable district. There have been many layers of benefit to all of those involved in the partnership and we are going to continue in that forum."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Developers Dump Condos

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If you build it, they will come. But they will most likely not buy. That appears to be the maxim for many developers, as buyers - searching for deep discounts, or the dream home at a bargain price - sit out the chance to own, preferring the relative stability, if predictable negative return, of the rental market, to the less predictable vagaries of the condo market. Most buyers are unabashed about their abstinence, musing that time is in their favor in the short run, surmising that additional days on the market equals greater desperation of the seller, which in its turn leads to further price drops.

But then that's presuming developers continue selling their condos. While the majority of developers within DC have held out (though Arlington developers have fared worse), the switch from condos to apartments has become increasingly common, owing either to poor sales, more profitable returns of the rising rental market, or both. Enter the most recent cases in point: Highland Park, Senate Square, McGill Row, and Lincoln Park Terrace, all condo projects that recently converted to apartments after slow sales.

Together the projects have 759 units under development, now withdrawn from the market, accounting for nearly 10% of the 7944 new condominium units projected to be completed in Washington DC over the next 24 months. 240 of those units were under contract, for a net reduction of 519 condominiums from the market, with 240 erstwhile condo purchasers now presumably back on the condominium search.

"Buyers will be too smart by half" says a developer not wishing to be identified. "Developers may have [negotiating] room. If [buyers] try to wait out the market until that last possible moment, they may find that there just aren't that many choices left. At that point, we won't have to negotiate anymore." Time will tell.

HPRB Approves 13th and W Project

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Today, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) voted to approve a development plan from Four Points LLC, converting a quarter of a block of land at 13th and W Streets, SE, into 23, three-story townhouses (pictured above). HPRB's approval was needed because of a single historic structure on the property, "the dilapidated and fire-damaged 1242 W Street, SE" according to an HPRB staff report from September 27. The next step will require Four Points to sit before the Board of Zoning Appeals in February.

To comply with HPRB recommendations, Four Points and PGN Architects PLLC must repair the historic house and move it forward to the street-line. Developers submitted drawings that illustrate a "still more close reconstruction of the original," according to HPRB findings. In addition, HPRB instructed that the surrounding townhouses be constructed in a manner "evocative of the Victorian era" (minus widespread typhus and frilly bonnets, presumably).

In a further attempt to preserve the historic site, Four Points proposed the construction of an alley to dichotomize the block; HPRB and Four Points collaborated to create an "L shaped" alley to serve the community and still maintain a historic feel, a characteristic of the historic area, especially within commercial blocks. That proposal has subsequently been approved by HPRB.

While the details are still being worked out, Four Points will continue to work alongside the Office of Planning to maintain historical accuracy. The February Board of Zoning Appeals hearing will review the lot width requirements for each of the 23 structures.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Office Buildings Unite! (Raise Hands in Ecstasy)

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Unbeknownst to the naked eye, interior demolitions have recently begun on two neighboring buildings in Golden Triangle: 1000 Connecticut Avenue (pictured) and the adjacent Thompson Publishing Group building (also pictured...if you look really closely). Once demolition crews are finished removing the interior remnants, the buildings will be demolished to pave the way for their replacement: a 12-story building which will be home to 356,000 s.f. of office space and 14,000 s.f. of ground floor retail. Both owners of the existing structures will share proprietary rights of the future building under the harmonious name: 1000 Connecticut Avenue Associates and PNC Bank, a title which was decided on only after numerous months of creative brainstorming.

The task for architects Pei Cobb Freed & Partners has been relatively demanding; the structure must accommodate mixed-uses while maintaining "sensitive [design] to compliment the surrounding large scale commercial buildings" according to an urban design order from the Zoning Commission. In addition to fulfilling aesthetic mandates, the developers have successfully petitioned the Zoning Commission for an increase in allowable gross floor area. In exchange, Connecticut Ave Associates and PNC Bank will offer a number of benefits and amenities to the District, most notably a $841,000 contribution to the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization. The donation, which is roughly $150,000 more than required by housing linkage requirements, will be used toward constructing low-income housing at 4th and Mississippi Streets, SE.

The interior design firm, WDG Architecture, has worked closely with Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in an attempt to create an eco-friendly design plan. Although the final LEED certification level will not be determined until completion, the owners will seek LEED status and, according to Zoning, the office building will "incorporate such LEED-level elements as reduced water usage, energy performance systems and materials, ozone protection, use of recycled or salvaged construction materials, carbon dioxide monitoring, a high-efficiency ventilation system and low-VOC finish materials." A green roof is also proposed to cover 53% of the rooftop area.

Exterior demolition is set to begin by the end of November, putting the start of construction on the calendar for Spring of 2008. Delivery is expected late in 2009.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Metro Board of Directors Approve Takoma Plan

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On Thursday, November 8, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors gave final approval to amend a purchase, sale and development agreement with EYA for Takoma Park Metro Station. The joint development will provide the community with an upgraded Metro station, new access roads and sidewalks, and an undetermined amount of residential structures - although according to third-party appraisal team Lippman, Frizzell & Mitchell LLC (LFM), the current sale agreement would amount to a total purchase price of $10.32 million for EYA, allowing for "an expected development of 86 market rate townhouse units."

The initial sale agreement, from June 2005, was highly debated between both community and board members. To clear the air, Board Member Gladys Mack held a public hearing last year, where more than 150 attendees came to voice their concerns. As a result, a few minor changes were applied to the Takoma Station General Plan, the most notable being the financing. Under the original sale, EYA would have purchased a portion of the Takoma Station at $105,000 per market rate lot, with a minimum purchase price of $7.35 million - well below LFM's market valuation of the site. According to a WMATA Board Information Summary, "Some community members said that the return from the project would be inadequate."

The newly amended agreement includes a provision for a minimum return of $2.5 million net payment to WMATA. Additionally, if EYA decides to incorporate a parking garage, WMATA will require another payment of $715,000 and proceeds from public use of the garage. Ms. Mack's open-forum did little to clear the air; members of the community have continued to contest the process saying WMATA has reneged on a "no build" promise from the '70s.

Prior to the approval of the '74 site plan, the community and WMATA were at odds over the "open space" referred to in the initial draft of the plan. Community members petitioned WMATA to provide an urban park on the land, but despite community opposition the Transit Authority approved the plan in its original form, merely designating the space as "open." Some in the community interpreted that as a promise to build a park for the public and are looking to enforce that provision.

WMATA countered in their staff review that their function in developing real estate is to "acquire and own property necessary or useful in rendering transit service or in activities incidental thereto," and that "The argument that WMATA once promised to perpetually operate and maintain a park also assumes, incorrectly, that WMATA has legal authority to operate and maintain parks." As a result of staff analysis, the Board was advised to disregard any allegations of a "no build promise."

The next step for EYA and WMATA is to get approval from the DC Planning and Zoning Commissions and the Federal Transit Authority. This Monday, during the Zoning Commission's monthly meeting, commissioners will decide whether to "set-down" the project: decide whether the project warrants a full hearing, or whether changes need to be made before it can receive proper zoning review. If zoning approves the Takoma Park Metro project for set-down, a full hearing involving public participation will ensue.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mayfair Mansions Dig Starts Thursday

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This Thursday, the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), in partnership with Marshall Heights Community Development Organization (MHCDO) and the Mayfair Mansions 2005 Tenant Association (MMTA) will host the official groundbreaking ceremony for the historic Mayfair Mansions affordable housing community, at 3819 Jay Street, NE. The existing residences will receive both a tangible makeover, involving a bombardment of upgrades and the creation of a brand new 10,000 s.f. community center (pictured compliments of Wiencek + Associates), as well as less tangible improvements including the preservation of long-term affordable rental housing and the creation of affordable homeownership for tenants.

The trinity of acronymic organizations will provide 410 affordable rental units and 160 affordable homeownership opportunities - okay, condos - in the Parkside neighborhood. The roots for these preservation and affordable housing objectives were planted back in 2005 when the Mayfair Mansions Tenants Association exercised their TOPA rights, which allows tenants of a rental unit first right of refusal to purchase before a landlord can legally sell his property. MMTA subsequently sought assistance, partnering with the two local development groups, which acquired the site in July 2006; CPDC to lead the rental preservation initiative and MHCDO to head the creation of affordable homeownership.

Under the partnership, CPDC and MHCDO have been investing in the 23-acre site for the past two years and now plan to bring the community's vision to fulfillment. The DC Department of Housing and Community Development has provided $27.5 million in long-term subsidies for both rental and ownership elements; a bundle of Low Income Housing Tax Credits was also provided in light of Mayfair's continued status as a low-income housing supplier - about 95% of the rental housing is restricted for applicants at or below 60% AMI.

The most interesting source of proceeds comes from the Federal government in the form of a Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, which is being provided due to Mayfair's historic status; the Mayfair Mansions were originally constructed in the 1940s specifically for the African-American community in a time when racially restrictive covenants had a stronghold on housing laws. Albert Cassell, a renowned African American architect who designed numerous milestone structures for the Howard University campus, served as the lead designer for the erstwhile Mayfair community. In 1990, Mayfair was put on the historic register due to its social significance.

Although minor construction efforts have been in effect since October 10th, the official groundbreaking on Thursday will commemorate the rebirth of the Mayfair community and its dedication to serve all income levels. Amidst the celebratory proceedings, Mayor Fenty will be on the business end of a shovel, at least long enough for a photo op, along with City Council Chairman Vincent Gray and a handful of other local politicos.

Design and construction for the 570-unit housing community will be a joint-venture of architectural and construction firms. Wiencek + Associates and McDonald Williams Banks Architects will serve as the design team while Gilford Corp. and Hamel Builders Inc. will share construction and renovation responsibilities for the array of housing units. Project completion is expected in the first quarter of 2010.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Columbia Heights Largest Condo Converts to Apartments

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Donatelli Development and partner Gragg and Associates acknowledged today they will convert their iconic Highland Park condominium (pictured, top) at the southwest corner of 14th and Irving streets in Columbia Heights, into rental units. The mixed-use development was the neighborhood's largest condominium, with 229 residential units, 20,000 square feet of retail, and three levels of underground parking, directly above the western entrance to the Columbia Heights metro.

“In light of recent shifts in the condominium market, we decided that we would be in a better position to serve the Columbia Heights market with a luxury rental building,” said company president Chris Donatelli, who developed the project in conjunction with NCRC and has done as much as any individual to bring about the revitalization of Columbia Heights. Despite its location above the Metro and across the street from DC-USA, the massive retail center opening in late winter, only about 75 of the 229 units were ever under contract, never matching its sister project across the street, Kenyon Square , a 153-unit condominium also by Donatelli that began delivery in July and is now more than 70% sold out, according to sales agents Domus Realty.

Silver Spring-based Torti Gallas designed the building, which had been offering a 24-hour front desk, two-level fitness center, an "unusually large...hotel-style lobby" (pictured, below), and one of the most inviting roof decks of the city. The condos had been priced from the mid $300's to the upper $700's. Donatelli points out that conversion will have no adverse impact on the finishes or amenities, as the building has been mostly completed, with delivery scheduled for early next year.

At the same time, Donatelli Development announced it has reached agreements with six retailers, helping to round out the burgeoning area as the northern tip of the 14th Street retail corrider, as planned by the city, and bolstering Columbia Heights as a retail center in its own right. Retailers at Highland Park will now include Hank's Oyster Bar, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Potbelly Sandwich Works, Pete's Apizza, Zinnia - a Caribbean food restaurant, and Signal Financial Federal Credit Union.

“With two large buildings in the neighborhood, we’re in a position to understand what’s happening in the market on an extremely local level,” said Donatelli. “By pulling a large chunk of units from the condo market, we make a whole new class of product available to the Columbia Heights rental market.”

Construction began in mid 2005, sales began in November of the same year. Donatelli has experience in both the condo and rental market, having developed the Ellington apartments that helped transform U Street while remaining nearly 100% tenanted; Donatelli is also currently developing Park Place, a 156-unit condo in Petworth, also above the Metro, that is expected to begin delivering late next year.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Roundtable for Surplus Public Land

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This Wednesday, 26 individuals joined together at the Wilson Building to air their concerns before Councilmember Carol Schwartz in a Public Oversight Roundtable discussing the process of declaring public land as "surplus." The normally arcane process of land disposition has been under scrutiny of late, due largely to recent attempts to develop city land by legislation without a public bidding process - processes which were nixed at both the Janney School / Tenley Library (pictured, being demolished), and in the West End. Under the current regime, land is declared as surplus within the same legislation proposing its sale; Ms. Schwartz was of the clear impression that the process needs to be bifurcated to include more public input. The resulting discussion, which included much disparaging of public-private partnerships, unearthed some interesting points regarding the current process.

Ms. Schwartz, the only Councilmember present at the meeting, held the open-forum, during which many of the attendees shared their grievances regarding public-private partnerships; on more than one occasion it appeared that Ms. Schwartz was of the same mind. "I don't like unsolicited proposals," she stated. According to the Councilmember, an ideal property disposition would involve approaching each proposal as a public surplus issue first and foremost - if the government receives an unsolicited proposal, the Council should first determine whether the city needs the land in a separate finding, and if so, initiate a competitive RFP process.

Charles Barber, President of the DC Building Industry Association, offered one of the few counterpoints to forbidding unsolicited proposals, citing locations where buildable land sits in dormancy because private companies are unwilling to develop due to the risk associated with building in less-than-appealing neighborhoods. The benefits of pioneering, he added, catalyze further developmental growth and can offer drastic gains for residents of the area. Mr. Barber pointed to a prime example: the Verizon Center and its enriching effects on Chinatown.

Barber pointed out another example where the land disposition process should be more accommodating: scenarios involving property that may only have real value to an adjacent land owner because of its inadequacy to house a standalone project. He illustrated the circumstances of George Washington University's acquisition of an 8,500-s.f. parking lot from DC Public Schools. The sliver of parking lot was purchased for $12 million to be merged into a larger project: a new GWU dormitory. Other developers would have been hard pressed to make good use of such a small slice of land, and DCPS had little need for the tiny back portion of their parking lot; in fact, DCPS and School's Without Walls had much more use for the $12 million it received for the site, which will be used to renovate an adjacent school building and build a new addition. "It was a win-win situation," said Barber. "The District should have the flexibility in certain situations to accept unsolicited proposals."

But many at the hearing disagreed. Nicole Armbruster, a DC resident, declared "there is no such thing as surplus public property," citing the example of abundant civic needs that exist and could be filled by public projects on the so-called "surplus" land. Chris Otten, a member of Community Empowerment Operations, suggested that public land never be sold, but rather the government re-purpose it for new uses. He used the example of a dilapidated school being turned into affordable housing, a library, or a dental clinic.

Testimony was clearly not favorable toward private development, even Ms. Schwartz criticized developers who offer unsolicited proposals or respond to RFPs, only to request relief from real estate taxes and other forms of reprieve. "That's bothersome to me," she said, referring especially to developers of projects in developed areas of town, who "know that [they] are going to get a nice profit...This is not a charity case."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Addition to Mt. Vernon Triangle in Spring '08

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A brand new $55 million multi-use development is almost set to materialize in Mount Vernon Triangle as developers and architects put the finishing touches on design plans. 459 Eye Street NW will be the new site of Walnut Street Development's Eye Street Lofts, a 12-story structure which will house 164 apartments and more than 15,000 s.f. of community-serving retail space.

The lot, which spreads from 443 to 459 Eye Street, has been planned for development since 2005, when Walnut Street had originally proposed condos for the site. Unfortunately for the condo market, a historic preservation impediment hindered Walnut Street's vision. The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) halted the plans because of the Central Auto Works garage, a historically-designated structure that currently sits on the lot. Architects HOK Group have decided to incorporate the entire aged structure into the new edifice by piercing columns through the building. Once the columns are in place, Tompkins Builders will have to construct footings beneath the garage to support 10 stories of new construction. The auto garage isn't the only structure being preserved on the site; two existing row-houses are being used in the design-plans as well as an historic blacksmith shop.

The existence of historic structures on the site presented unique obstacles for Walnut Street. HPRB required 9 months to approve project - but subsequent to the extended waiting period, Walnut Street faced an invariably different economic environment. In reaction to the drastic change in the market, developers circular-filed the initial condo proposal and entered into a waiting game to stalk the perfect economic conditions for a rental project; it seems that time is now. Ground is expected to be broken by Spring of 2008.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Alexandria Auction: An Unconventional Success

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The Parkside at Alexandria residential community received a surge of sales last week during a real estate auction where more than 200 bidders came to compete on the remaining 30 condos available at the development. The scramble for the discounted townhouse-style residences ended just 60 minutes after the bidding opened - leaving nothing behind for the reluctant, and putting more than $10 million in the pockets of Mid-City Urban LLC and its partner Parkside at Alexandria LLC.

The drawing factor was the obvious chance to get a discount, and in the end, two-bedroom condos sold at an average of almost $40,000 less than their original price of $339,000, while three-bedroom units, which would have originally cost $379,000, were auctioned at almost $30,000 less.

Parkside at Alexandria was originally constructed more than a half-century ago as an apartment complex, the community was purchased by Parkside at Alexandria LLC which converted the rental units into condominiums. Sales on the 378 residences commenced in early 2004.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

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Monday, November 05, 2007

White Flint Public Forum From MoCo

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Lead planners for Montgomery County are inviting interested members of the public to an advisory planning meeting for discussion regarding the mixed-use design plans for White Flint. The meeting will be held November 5, at the Park and Planning Headquarters in Silver Spring, and will follow a long list of open forums arranged to discuss development of North Bethesda along Rockville Pike.

Montgomery County has initiated a full-fledged attempt to immerse public opinion into every step of the planning process. County planners have reached out for public comment in a variety of ways, holding more than a half dozen meetings of the White Flint Citizens Advisory Committee, devoting an entire episode of its insanely popular public access show “Montgomery Plans” to the future of White Flint, and taking a comprehensive look at the 15-year-old North Bethesda/Garrett Park Master Plan together with the community.

With the early design phase nearing its end, tomorrow's agenda is expected to include discussion of both revisions to Route 355, which is proposed to be beautified and tailored to be less pedestrian-hating, and the sporadic construction of new mixed-use sectors along the Rockville Pike corridor. The next step, after the current hodgepodge of community meetings has reached its end, will be to obtain approval from the Montgomery County Planning Board. The Planning Board's review will require a new phase of public work-sessions, although their decision is rumored to be due by the end of January, 2008. The final step in the design phase requires the Montgomery County Council and County Executives to hold yet another set of public hearings, after which the Council will infuse their input into the plan. Once the anthology of community input forums has come to a halt, an overall development guide for White Flint will be distributed; the tentative date is for the last quarter of 2008.

Planners are still working the initial kinks out of the design, however the over-arching goals for White Flint have been established for some time. When asked in a televised interview what the proposed design would include, Margaret Rifkin, lead planner for the White Flint Sector Plan said "We're especially going to be focusing on how to integrate more residential [space] and make this area around the metro station a really fabulous place to live and a great place to work." Rifkin added that "The community has embraced the big idea that's in the current plan, which is that White Flint will be the main urban center for North Bethesda."

Apparently the community has also agreed that Rockville Pike is ostensibly similar to an airport runway. Rifkin discussed this in a televised interview, proclaiming that she hopes that the major form-giving elements of the new White Flint will be of public domain; her vision is that open public space and new streets will help re-define the area. Route 355 would need special attention, she admitted, involving a complete character overhaul that integrates a more beautiful streetscape with the functionality of a main thoroughfare.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Rosslyn Hotel to Celebrate Grand Opening

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The Hotel Palomar at Two Waterview Place in Rosslyn, VA will officially open its doors during its celebratory inauguration on November 15. The hotel is the first structure to be completed in a pair of adjacent buildings seated in Rosslyn. The hotel, designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, is a 154-room, 4 Star "luxury lifestyle hotel," sitting just a stone's throw away from Georgetown by way of the Francis Scott key Bridge and two blocks from Rosslyn Metro station. The hotel will share the 30-story structure that houses it with 133 condominiums which will offer "boutique-inspired living" according to the developer, JBG Companies. The condo portion is expected to complete by May of next year.

The remaining half of the project - the 24-story office building - has yet to be completed, though no one from JBG Companies was available for comment on the completion date. Although the commercial space has not yet opened, it is most certainly not up for grabs. JBG announced exactly three years ago that the Corporate Executive Board Company would occupy the entire 625,000 s.f. space at Waterview for 20 years following the building's completion - "the largest-ever private sector lease transaction to be executed in the Washington metropolitan area," according to JBG's research.

Upon completion, Waterview will be owned by three distinct entities; CIM Group, the property holder, will take ownership of half of the development while JBG Companies and Trizec Properties Inc. will split the remaining half. The entire complex is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2008, although multiple delays have set the 15-years-in-the-making project back significantly, including a construction accident which injured 16 workers last December.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Silver Place Design to Get a Hearing

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The Silver Spring community has been invited to attend an open forum on Thursday, November 8, by the Montgomery County Planning Board for a hearing to collect input on Silver Place, a mixed-use development (concept design pictured) at 8787 Georgia Avenue: a 9-story office tower, upwards of 300 for-sale and rental unit residences, and more than 500 underground parking spaces. The board hopes to accomplish two objectives at the round-table: adopt a memorandum of understanding that will outline the roles of the developer, SilverPlace LLC, and the Planning board, and submit a request for up to $4.9 million in funding from the Montgomery Council to begin the design phase.

The Planning Board is seeking public consensus and intends to involve the community - a difficult task considering the complexity of the development, which is comprised of an intricate assortment of condominiums, rental units, retail space, a new 120,000-s.f. Parks and Planning Department headquarters and lots of public urban space to link each component contiguously. The Planning Board will hold charrettes, or interactive design workshops, requiring the convergence of varying public concepts into a single comprehensive architectural design. The board's hope is that these workshops will "match design talent with public perspectives to produce a concept that meets the Commission's need for a headquarters and sets a new standard for public buildings and urban office space," according to a press release distributed by The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC, for those in the know).

The design team whose RFP response ranked highest among members of the commission last January, was SilverPlace LLC, a "to-be-formed joint venture partnership" between the Bozzuto Group, Spaulding and Slye Investments and Harrison Development.
 

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