Thursday, March 20, 2008

Florida Rock Gets Zoning OK

Riverfront on the Anacostia received a long-awaited approval from the Zoning Commission yesterday for its proposed action for the 'Floria Rock' concrete plant lot, a major step forward for the lot that borders both the new National's Stadium and the Anacostia waterfront. The site is currently home to an active concrete production plant, which some planners apparently believe is not the optimal use of riverfront space so close to the ballpark. Florida Rock Properties has to wait until May 22nd before final action can be taken for the second stage of their P.U.D., construction could begin as early as 2009.

The Florida Rock lot, spanning 5.8 acres along the Anacostia River, has been under Zoning review since 1998, when the initial application was filed to revitalize the site and convert it to a mixed-use project. The final product looks far different from when it orginally started a decade ago, and now encompasses four buildings totalling 1.1 million s.f., which will together sit on a single, underground parking platform holding more than 1,000 spaces. There will be a total of 460,000 s.f. of office space, 80,000 s.f. of retail space, and 323,000 s.f. of residential space, apparently enough for over 300 units, with 25 units set aside for affordable housing. The 4th building will be a 325-bed hotel, all to sit behind a 719 ft. waterfront esplanade and riverwalk. FRP promises that the entire complex will be LEED Certified at some level.

According to Michael Stevens, Executive Director of Capitol Riverfront BID, one of FRP's requirements per the PUD is to build the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, a 20 mile series of boardwalk spanning both sides of the river, and running from the Arboretum to the southwest waterfront on the north side. Only the portion fronting the Navy yard has been completed, but even that is not yet open to the public. Stevens predicts that the first leg could be open as soon as this year. But don't get out your rollerblades yet, the Florida Rock section is at least a few years away, as is Forest City's crucial link, though their site should see construction begin this year.

A brief history of the development: The first plan for the site was preliminarily approved in 1998 for FRP to build a commercial project, and received final approval in 1999 for two buildings with a 55 ft. wide waterfront esplanade, but - perhaps fortuitously - the project never got off the ground. After a series of delays, the case was set to go before Zoning in September, 2004, but before the firm could have their day, the District announced the Nationals' Stadium which would be built right across the street. The Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, the governing body overseeing development over the new stadium-area, requested FRP delay their P.U.D. re-submission so the two entities could coordinate. Finally in August of 2006, a modified P.U.D. was submitted, with a hearing following in September.

The new project reviewed at the September meeting has essentially stayed the same. The modified P.U.D., appropriately dubbed 'Stage 2', was a rethinking of the now extremely valuable waterfront property. It included four buildings: two offices, a hotel and a residential component. But Zoning outlined some problems with the plan. For starters, one Commissioner stated that the project "lacked the right civic character and [a] greater presence of residential uses, preferably apartment units, would be more appropriate." The rest of the commission agreedthat the project lacked a 'sense of place'. Along with these comments came recommendations for some minor tweaks, including complaints about the East Office building inadequately 'recognizing the location and nature of the grand stair of the stadium'.

FRP went back to the drawing board, and came back in July of 2007 with some modifications; by September some project changes and the new name had been agreed upon, which developers described as a "holistic rethinking of the P.U.D. proposal previously considered, especially regarding the civic spaces." Three public spaces were added to the project, all having retail borders: the Pitch to the east, an enclosed galleria called Potomac Quay, and an outdoor water-animated plaza called Cascade Plaza. Along with this new civic character, FRP engaged in a 'physical tightening of the buildings', increasing the residential uses by more than 100,000 s.f., and shifting the footprints of the East Office building to link the site to the stadium and Anacostia river. Zoning's comments were less biting after September's hearing.

Since September's meeting, FRP and architect Davis Buckley Architects and Planners, made minor changes to the P.U.D. for their February 28th re-submission, and which Zoning approved yesterday. The changes included significant details regarding the outdoor public spaces. The old 'Pitch' will now be called Anacostia Place, and adorned with a Raymond Kaskey sculpture called "Anacostia," it will now be considered the central focus of the east end of the project. Zoning Commissioners want it to be a "high energy and visually-active space." Cascade Plaza will, alternatively be the central focus of the west end, serving as a front door and circular driveway for the residential, West Office and hotel buildings.



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