Thursday, January 31, 2008

Industry Insight: Bonstra Haresign Architects

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It's hard enough to schedule an appointment with Bill Bonstra and David Haresign. With projects galore in progress and a busy staff to lead, both men, who total nearly 60 years of experience, are seemingly ubiquitous. Yet they graciously accepted DC MUD's request to pick their brains on their history in the business, its current state of affairs and even their stock portfolios. And to think, were it not for that supple bottle of Pinot Noir at Ardeo in Cleveland Park, we might never have known the duo that is Bonstra Haresign Architects.

Prior to that night, David had been considering strategies to lure Bill to his former firm, only to be rebuffed. But that evening at Ardeo the tables were turned, and Bill angled to bring David to the firm he established some years earlier, to create a team that would change the face of architecture in DC. Maybe it was the twenty years of friendship, or their shared passion to design unforgettable landmarks that brought them together; whatever it was - David swears the bottle of wine had nothing to do with it. Now, three years later, the two partners complete each other's sentences and laugh wholeheartedly at themselves.

DC MUD: What made you enter this business?

Bonstra: I have always had an affinity for construction. As a kid I used to watch the neighborhood houses being built and helped my father with any number of house addition projects that he undertook over the years. I’ve always been able to draw and many people encouraged me to get into architecture while in school. I think I’ve been fortunate, as David has, to never have wavered from the notion of being an architect.

Haresign: Well, my father was an engineer and built our first house. As a boy, I helped my dad with his carpentry projects. I sketched and drew by hand, and learned to draft in high school - all the things that everyone said architects needed to do. I was 12 or 13 years old when I realized I wanted to be an architect.

DC MUD: So you had your sights set.

Bonstra: I think one of the appealing things about the profession is the impact that you have on society. What you do is out there for everyone to see; for this reason it can put a lot of pressure on you because there are just as many critics of your work, as we are critical of others. Each building becomes part of the built landscape and in this way takes a special place in history.

Haresign: We try to do excellent design, much better than just the bare minimum, so that it has a lasting impact. Our projects show that level of care. The longer we do architecture, the more we want to do things that are great.

DC MUD: How would you characterize your style?

Haresign: We don’t really have a style, but we are contextual modernists. The contextual portion of it is really the key - understanding the constraints and the contexts that we work with.

Bonstra: Over the course of history we’ve been through many architectural styles, but these styles were within other broader periods of design. Whether its art deco, art-nouveax, even the modern architecture of the Modernistas of Barcelona, these styles happened within the modern movement. My personal taste in design is using contemporary materials and organizing them in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. We’re also artists, so we make architecture like we would make a sculpture or a painting. Additionally, I like to include some element of craft into contemporary building design; the idea being that today’s buildings are built by craftsman, by hand. For the most part we still build today the same way we did a hundred years ago…not a whole lot different. But there are a lot of new building products out today for architects to utilize in their work; such as plastics, glass, even titanium, and these different materials are useful to us in creating interesting and memorable architecture that is a product of our time.

Haresign: Our architecture is defined by the rules, and specifically by the context. We look at the immediate surroundings: physical characteristics, adjacent buildings - if there are any - orientation, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, views, topography, and solar/wind orientation. Zoning and building codes as well as cultural norms define and influence design response. And in addition to rules and context, there are fiscal constraints - time and budget dictate how the architecture is going to be expressed and what the materiality of the project is.

DC MUD: So time, context and budget are constraints, but how does the market dictate what is expected of you?

Haresign: I don’t see any difference in design that people are asking from us. There’s an evolution the folks on the fringe who thought it was really cool to be a developer, now are not in the dance anymore.

DC MUD: So does that leave you in a unique position, where more experienced developers are asking for work and you’re left with more freedom?

Haresign: No. I think the freedom and our ability to do good work comes out of client respect and trust in our experience getting projects entitled and built.

Bonstra: If they're going to spend valuable time to develop a project, they realize they want to do it right. And although it may not be limestone-clad or use titanium panels, working with a palette of interesting and cost effective materials we make it the best architecture that is appropriate. And there are the economic sides that can put a damper on good design, but architects should not use the excuse that cost effective buildings cannot be beautiful. It takes an overall understanding of budget, the clients needs, and the design sense to produce good design.

Haresign: But it has to work. Vitruvius [a Roman architect of war machines, we know you knew, but we had to look it up] described architecture as something that requires ‘Firmness, commodity and delight.’ It should be substantial, meaningful and delightful.

DC MUD: I think a lot of people wonder what bearing the market has on what you do.

Bonstra: You know, the residential market in DC really began to heat up in 1999. Overall it was resurgence in urban living. Along with our multi-family work, we do a lot of commercial work as well, but the cooling of the residential market hasn’t significantly affected our business. Everyone wants to say the residential market is terrible, overbuilt and nobody can get loans, but our population will continue to grow and those people will need somewhere to live.

DC MUD: And we’re still short on housing?

Bonstra: Yes, and we will be short again, exactly.

Haresign: In about two to three weeks there will be another series of Dr. Stephen Fuller lectures. And he will talk about statistics, job growth, and people moving into the area and what the housing situation is. Traditionally, we’re always short on units - that’s why people are building cheap units way out...because they’re inexpensive. There is going to continue to be a demand for good urban housing.

Bonstra: And that single-family nonsense out in the woods has got to stop, as a philosophy of land planning.

DC MUD: So you guys are fans of Smart Growth?

In Unison: Yes.

DC MUD: So let's talk about some of the stuff you're working on.

Bonstra: We are working at the Benning Road Metro station at Benning Road and East Capitol Streets; this site is rural in character. There are telephone poles with overhead wires, and individual buildings strung along the roadway. It’s the most unbelievable underutilization of land that you’ve seen. Our project is on an acre of vacant land; we’ll build a 150,000 s.f. office building along with retail and residential uses, which is 500 feet from the metro. It’s an area of the city that hasn’t developed much in the last 50 years.

Haresign: We just renovated two 1960’s medical-office buildings which were side by side, called Pershing Court. We used an allowance within the Montgomery County Zoning Code to do the connection, because it was already over the allowable floor area. We now have one set of bathrooms to service two buildings, one elevator that services two buildings. So we increased the amount of sellable area, that helped pay for the glass-bridge connection. It sold out like that (snaps his fingers). And it’s in the middle of Silver Spring; the owners took occupancy in October.


We’re also working in Wheaton, at the Wheaton Metro stop. Where Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road intersect, there’s a triangular site that is currently being used as a metro bus kiss and ride. Bozzuto Homes entered into an agreement with WMATA, who brought in Spaulding and Slye Investments, which is part of Jones Lang LaSalle, to be the commercial development partner. It will be a mixed-use project with retail and office space, and possibly a hotel or residential tower.

Bonstra: Georgia Avenue is an unbelievable mix of land use. There are single-family houses on Georgia Avenue, along with office buildings - just a complete mix of things. And the Wheaton area is coming in right on the coat tails of the revitalization of Silver Spring. It was only a matter of time for development to move north as it had done from the west.

Haresign: Which is now an extremely desirable place to live. But it took a long time to build enough critical mass into, let’s call it the successor, or next in line to Bethesda.

Bonstra: When I was in college, Bethesda was a sleepy little urban area. We went to the Bethesda surf shop to buy skateboard accessories, and that was the only reason to go. And look what it’s become. So yes, Silver Spring was the next pod, and we’ll see Wheaton do the same over time. Smart growth along established transportation routes is sound urban planning, period.

DC MUD: What areas will be developed after Wheaton?

Haresign: I predict our city is going to continue to urbanize east of the river. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. And New York Avenue ‘extended’ will continue to develop.

Bonstra: I think the movement will be in growth around the metro lines. We’ve seen that in Mazza Gallerie, we’ve seen more in Cleveland Park, even in the city. They’re not going to develop faster than the overall texture of the land, but there will be some redevelopment.

DC MUD: So who’s your favorite architect in DC?

Bonstra: David Haresign (laughs).

Haresign: You know, we’ve been friends for 22 or 23 years, and I think it’s really important that we convey how much we respect each others work and enjoy working with each other.

Bonstra: I can’t imagine having a better partner and how much we get out of each other’s experience. Having done this myself for a while, you really do quickly see the benefits of partnership, to be able to accomplish more and do better work, that’s really what this is about.

Haresign: I’ve been a partner in larger firms, where there are too many partners. There’s a whole new dynamic to that, there’s a lot of negotiation and counter-energy. So when’s there’s only two people...

Bonstra: You only have to convince one guy that something is a good idea. We’re not mired in bureaucracy, or politics, or our egos. We’re a strong mid-sized firm, we’re principal-lead, we’re involved in every project, we participate with our architects in all aspects of the work, and we get the most out of our staff which allows us to spend more time doing what we enjoy: designing buildings.

Haresign: We have a huge amount of enthusiasm about architecture, and energy to make it happen in our firm...we’re having a great time.

DC MUD: How about architects outside of your firm – any favorites?

Bonstra: The list would be pretty long. I have had the opportunity to work with Shalom Baranes and David King; I respect their work enormously. I like Phil Esocoff’s work; I like his attention to detail and his sensibilities of color, surface, and texture. There are any number of good local firms - Cunningham + Quill; they do similar projects. Cox Graae + Spack, a great local firm – led by a classmate of mine, Bill Spack.

Haresign: David Newman with his partners Andy Lewis and Mark Buchanan have a great traditional architecture firm. Mark McInturff is a superb designer, and one of the best kept secrets in Washington. There are so many others…Tom Kerns, Bob Guerney, Susan Reatig…too many to name. Washington has a rich and talented architectural community.

DC MUD: Could each of you pick your favorite building in the city?

Bonstra: One of my favorite commercial buildings in the city is the Euram Building at One Dupont Circle, a simple diagram, poetic integration of structure and architecture, and it doesn’t rely on ornament to make it wonderful. The beauty is in the succinct composition of a minimal amount of elements.

Haresign: Mine are paradigm shifting modern buildings - the first in my lifetime was the East Wing. It’s contextual – it’s geometric response to the avenues and streets down to the composition of the exterior wall, the careful selection of the marble that matches the west wing...the way it grades up in coloration. KPF’s World Bank addition was an important moment in time for the architecture of DC, and continued the strong shift back toward the type of modern architecture that we enjoy today.

DC MUD: What about buildings that you’ve designed? Any favorites?

Bonstra: If I could only do one building, if I could be known for designing a single building, The Tapies (1612 16th St., NW) would be the building. It’s the most unique site, the quirkiest left over piece flanked by tall buildings of another era. I enjoy talking about it all the time; it is such an interesting piece of architecture. It was fun to design; it was fun to work with the client; it’s fun to look at. It will always be memorable for me.

Haresign: One that’s probably the most recognizable is the Capitol One Headquarters (below left, photo courtesy of Ai, now Perkins + Will). That building is designed in a very specific way - as a contextual response with massing and materials on different faces because of its orientation. And then there’s the detail, it’s very finely crafted. The primary curtainwall face is multilayered and curved to express movement along the beltway. The precast concrete on that building has a blue tint to it, and the aggregate is exposed to catch the sun in different times of the day. Other favorites include AOL’s campus and recently completed Parker Flats at Gage School (below right).













DC MUD: For ou
r last question, we'd like to know how Sustainable Design will change the face of architecture.

Bonstra: Vitruvius was probably the first sustainable designer. He was the first to write about the benefits of properly situating buildings in their environment. As you can imagine, in that day they didn’t have infirmaries or antibiotics - siting a building was very important to overall health and well-being. These are the same concepts we’re talking about today: limiting water usage, managing sunlight, taking advantage of cross ventilation, the concepts are the same. This will change what buildings look like but not as much as you would think.

Haresign: We’re not dismissing LEED, but the principles behind LEED design have been time tested in ancient architecture. We studied them in university studio and have applied them wherever possible throughout our careers. The advantage of LEED is that it has codified and rated practice compliance, and raised public awareness.

Bonstra: These natural characteristics of design have been around a long time, although we’ve forgotten a lot of things over the years. When gasoline costs 25 cents a gallon, the energy needs of our built environment may not be a priority...now with it at $3.50 you see that energy usage in our buildings is such a large component of our overall energy needs. It becomes a priority.

Haresign: We use 40% of our energy for buildings, to heat and cool buildings. That’s a significant amount. As architects, we can significantly impact energy consumption by the way that we design building envelopes.

Bonstra: Nowadays, this is very serious. My neighbor thinks that oil will eventually go to $150 a barrel before we run short. If we don’t look for alternate energy sources like wind power and wave power, how are we to meet our energy needs?

DC MUD: So...are you going to buy oil futures?

Bonstra: My neighbor does.

Haresign: Personally, we're going to stick to designing buildings.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

1100 DC Homeowners to Get 'Downzoned'

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More than 1100 homeowners in southeast DC will have zoning on their property downgraded to discourage multi-family development, if the Office of Planning gets its way. Since this past summer,the Office of Planning has been conducting a comprehensive study of properties and their respective zoning in both Wards 7 and 8. Now that the study is complete, the results can be summed up with a quote from Jennifer Steingasser's OP memo to the Zoning Commission - "There [are] many many areas in the community where the existing zoning is not consistent with the existing housing type." This simple fact is going to change the landscape of possibilities for property owners and potential developers in Marshall Heights SE.

With their study results in hand, the Office of Planning is petitioning the Zoning Commission to rezone roughly 1,100 properties within an area bounded by East Capitol to the north, Southern Ave to the south, Central Ave to the east and Benning Road to the west. The land mass, which incorporates part of the Marshall Heights community, will be rezoned from the R-5-A Zone District to R-2 or R-3 districts. 'Downzoning,' in official parlance, reduces the size and type of building that can erected without a zoning exemption.

The reason is simple: with the current R-5-A zoning, the number of housing types that can be built is less restrictive, and includes single-family houses and (more significantly) multi-family apartment buildings - the only requirement is that to build the latter, a developer must receive Board of Zoning Adjustment approval. Now however, OP is proposing to restrict potential development in these areas to only single-family detached and semi-detached houses, row houses, churches and public schools.

On November 19, 2007 the Zoning Commission "set the case down" for a public assay; now, zoning has issued a Notice to the Public to attend a hearing on March 3, 2008, where the proposed text amendment will be reviewed. In the arcane mysticism of zoning, once the case is set down, the 'set down' rule goes into effect, forcing developers to act as if the zoning amendment has already taken place.

The reasoning behind this zoning strategy is to restrict future developments in the area to buildings with 'low density character.' Because the area under the study's scope contains many vacant lots, there exists the potential for 'infill development' where developers can squeeze as much square footage out of a given site with the use of multi-family projects. Steingasser's memo cited the District's Comprehensive Plan to sum up OP's point: "Infill development of vacant lots is strongly supported in the District...provided that such development is compatible in scale with its surroundings." Apparently, OP believes that the Marshall Heights area is not compatible with multi-family housing.

In the November 19 hearing, John Moore with the Office of Planning gave this postscript: "There are many, many, many small lots in the Marshall Heights community...where developers are proposing to put four to 12 unit apartment buildings. Often times those sites sit right in the middle of where there are single-family detached houses on most of the block. Obviously that increased density will have an effect on that existing character of the neighborhood." Chairman of the Zoning Commission Anthony Hood responded succinctly, "I think this is a long time coming."

And though lower density housing may seem counter-intuitive, OP begs to differ in this case. Because the District lost many residents due to a mass exodus to Prince George's County in search of a lower cost of living, DC planners see the current rezoning strategy as a way to maintain property values and uphold single-family neighborhoods. Steingasser's memo highlights this point: "Whereas the neighborhood lost families to Prince George's County and elsewhere in the past, it may gain families from these areas in the future if it builds appropriately designed housing, provides quality schools and improves public services." One down, two to go.

Saul Centers to Demo Building This Week

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Saul Centers Inc. is now ready to move forward with its Clarendon Center project. Yesterday, the development firm received demolition permits for the two-phase development which will consist of a 12-story apartment building, two office buildings and some landscaped open space on two blocks on Clarendon Blvd. and Wilson Blvd. at their intersections with Highland and Garfield Streets. All three buildings will have ground floor retail.

Demo-teams arrived on the site yesterday, and began picking apart the old E-Trade building 'by hand.' Full demolition won't begin until Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority gives an official phone call to SCI, approving site work within 50 ft. of their metro tunnel; SCI expects the phone to ring soon, but for now they're content with doing demo work outside the 50 ft. line. Mary Beth Avedesian, the Vice President of Acquisitions & Development at SCI, explained that because the E-Trade building abuts the Leadership Institute building, it makes sense to begin picking apart their connection by hand, so as to avoid damaging the neighboring historic structure. Unfortunately for pyros and those who just really enjoy a good explosion, the building will come down using a high reach demolition unit with a hydraulic crusher that will munch away at the building, bit by bit.

Although the County has yet to give "Excavation, Sheeting and Shoring" permits, which will initiate the start of construction and allow for foundation digging, Saul Centers anticipates that permit in February.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mo' Money for Great Streets

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Mayor Adrian Fenty announced today $95 million in additional funding for the city's Great Streets initiative. In so doing, the Office of Planning and Economic Development (ODMPED) issued an RFP to solicit "applications for development assistance," i.e., proposals for funding that would forward the District's goal of improving challenged neighborhoods along six enumerated corridors: the Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave SE, H Street NE, Georgia Avenue NW, Petworth NW, Minnesota-Benning, and Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

The District will award the funds for mixed-use and retail developments through Tax Increment Financing (TIF), in which the District will issue bonds to be repaid through earmarked property taxes and sales taxes of the subject neighborhood or development. In theory, the funding is revenue-neutral since the bonds are repaid through the excess tax value generated by the improvement, and the project will "pump millions of dollars into some of our most important commercial districts, creating new jobs, better amenities and more vibrant places" according to the Mayor.

Funding requests, due by April 18th, must reference development that will break ground within 24 months of today and complete 30 months thereafter.

Akridge Names Shalom Baranes as Burnham Architect

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Akridge will announce shortly that it has chosen DC-based Shalom Baranes as the architect for Burnham Place at Union Station, the behemoth development extending behind the station and over the railroad tracks. Back in November of 2006, Akridge Real Estate Services secured the purchase of 15 acres of air rights above the railyard north of Union Station (pictured), from the General Services Administration for a hefty $10 million, setting precedent as the first sale of air rights by the federal government. At an estimated worth of $1 billion, Akridge's Burnham Place will extend north of Union station, past the Hopscotch Bridge on H Street, and house a 400-room hotel, residential towers and first-class office and retail space in a gargantuan 3 million-s.f. development. While the project has been on the radar of many a real estate habitué, few details and even fewer updates have been provided.

“Burnham Place is an exciting and important project. We interviewed candidates around the world to find a world-class architect with a demonstrated sensitivity to the local context of this site,” says Matthew J. Klein, President of Akridge. “Shalom’s skills and capabilities aligned perfectly. We are eager to move forward with the design phase of this project.”

For those wondering how a rail station can smoothly function with construction taking place above, consider Akridge's plan: support columns measuring twenty feet from the ground will be placed throughout the rail yard, upon which developers will place a concrete platform to serve as the foundation for the new floating city. Only after four years of technical negotiations with Amtrak was a conceptual construction plan decided upon.

After entering into an extensive international search for a design firm, Akridge chosen Shalom Baranes, the masterminds behind the American Red Cross HQ and the Ritz Carlton Georgetown. "For a project of this magnitude in such an important location, we felt it was beneficial to have a local firm who knows the city and the city's needs." said Mary Margaret Plumridge, Director of Marketing at Akridge. Now, the project, named after the illustrious Union Station architect, is beginning to materialize on paper. Developers are just beginning to work on a master plan and PUD which will be submitted this year, although construction on the concrete footings won't begin until 2011.

The plans involve a partnership with the federal government and the District Department Of Transportation to upgrade the transit facility, including: a second passenger concourse, an access road from Columbus Circle and an arcade that will connect Union Station to H street.

Thanks to good planning, Akridge has the support of the folks at the Smart Growth Alliance and the Urban Land Institute (ULI); both have been effusive about the project since day one. "Burnham Place will contribute to a more cohesive Washington community with connections across the city both in the east/west and north/south directions, via the removal of the current rail yard barrier" added Plumridge.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Planning Board Reviews Silver Spring Galaxy Today

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Today the Montgomery County Planning Board holds its public hearing on the Galaxy, a mixed-use project on two and a half acres of land in Silver Spring; approval of the project is expected. RST Development has been pushing this project through the Montgomery County application process since 2005, when the initial "project plan" - the conceptual portion - was approved.

Bounded by 13th Street to the north, Eastern Ave to the west and King street to the south, the plan which the Planning Department staff has recommended for approval, will provide 241 residential units split between two buildings, one measuring 75 feet and the other 45 feet, and will offer about 430 parking spaces and roughly 35,000 s.f. of public space. Those features, together with the most recent addition of nearly 4,000 s.f. of retail space, make the project just about the size of an entire city block - less the Aurora Condominiums. The initial plan from 2005 was slightly larger, the developer had proposed 328 residential units split between three buildings ranging in height from 45 to 125 feet, all of which would sit above a parking garage with just under 700 parking spaces, and the creation of roughly 40,000 s.f. of public space.

The public plaza, as with many of the amenities provided by developers hoping to attenuate community opposition, is designed for your typical American family: a children's play area, landscaped open space and tons of artwork including a mosaic panel designed by MD-resident Martha Jackson Jarvis and some artist-inspired benches. RST will also provide some off-site streetscape upgrades on 13th and King streets and Eastern Avenue.

So far, the coast is clear with regard to the community hindering RST's development; the firm has presented their plans to numerous civic organizations such as the Downtown Silver Spring Urban District, the Shepherd Park Community ANC and their new (hopeful) neighbors, the Aurora. According to the Planning Board's Staff Report: "To this day, Staff has not received any concerns or comments from the community."

Perhaps it is RST's generous offering of parking that prevented people from turning into protesters. Because the site is located in the "Silver Spring Parking Lot District," the development is not required to provide any on site parking. Regardless, RST will provide a 4-level parking garage, of which the above ground levels are for public use, and the below-ground levels are for Galaxy, Aurora and retail tenants.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Silver Spring Civic Center Project on Thin Ice

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With a name as wholesome as apple pie, you would think Silver Spring's Civic Building on Veterans Plaza would be as popular as motherhood and holidays. To the contrary, the plan to turn the barren plaza into a civic center building and community plaza has the Silver Spring community up in arms.

The one-acre site at the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth will be bisected, leaving half of it to house a 42,000-s.f. civic building and the other half to serve as a community plaza. The civic building will consist of three floors; the main level will hold a 5,000 s.f. "Great Hall" surrounded by scattered meeting spaces. The second floor will be the new home of the Silver Spring Regional Center, an agency that mainly serves as a liaison between the county government and the community; and the lower level will be occupied by the Roundhouse Theatre, which will use the space for offices and classrooms. So far so good.

The other half - not so much. Veterans Plaza is supposed to honor the people of MoCo who served in the military. Plans for the vacant space include a 60 ft. x 105 ft. ice rink, a 7,000-s.f. illuminated translucent overhead pavilion, and landscaped open space (nothing says 'thanks' to our boys overseas better than an ice rink with a hot pink tarp). The main feature, however, is the artwork to be completed by Toby Mendez, which will adorn the footpath that runs along Ellsworth.


A number of people just aren't seeing the point of having an ice-rink, or its accompanying overhead-pavilion - with increased internet chatter even the CIA couldn't miss. Silver Spring blogs have taken the issue to heart, responding derisively, and blogger Jamie Karn seemed to have the most articulate argument (for a blogger): "Veterans Plaza needs to be more democratic than the ice rink will allow it to be. More than 85,000 people of a broad range of incomes, races, and nationalities live within the [area]... interaction in daily and civic activities is the traditional purpose of civic plazas in America, and should be the guiding principle for the design of our plaza." One blogger (we'll keep anonymous) was more succinct, "Ice skating sucks."

"The focus of the civic building is to provide a community center for the Silver Spring area and to serve as what some people call "the living room" of Silver Spring. I think it will become the focal point of downtown, [making] the center of downtown a true community place and not just a commercial place," said Gary Stith, Director of the Silver Spring Regional Center.

Boston-based Machado and Silvetti Associates has been chosen as the design architects, but contractors are still being sought. The project has been open to bids since December 26, though Montgomery County's Office of Procurement may push back the February 6th response date. County officials could not give a reason for the bid-extension, but the implication was that the overall response was a light; just 15 bids were received. Developers, contractors and those generally interested in the project can expect word on Monday, when the county is expected to offer the extension.

"The County is currently taking a look at the number of RFI's and determining if a bid extension is necessary," said Don Scheuerman, Chief Engineer with the Division of Capital Development Building Planning and Design Section. MoCo estimates a start date in March.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

DC Officially Awards SW Development Contract

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Some day, there may be just be a reason to visit Southwest. Last week, Mayor Fenty awarded a contract to Hoffman-Struever Waterfront LLC, a partnership between PN Hoffman, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, McCormack Baron Salazar, ER Bacon, Acresh, Gotham, City Partners and Triden. The multiplex LLC now officially holds the contract to turn 23 acres of land along the Washington Channel, into a riverside paradise.

Back in September, 2006, Hoffman-Struever was officially selected as the master developer for the gargantuan project which allowed the team to establish an Exclusive Rights Agreement with the District. The Agreement was signed in April 2007. Now, the Land Disposition Agreement is being drafted - and although the contract has been awarded, the Mayor still needs to wait for the City Council to approve disposition to Hoffman-Struever and the nearly $200 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) financing. City officials hope to get the legislation approved by Spring of this year.

The enormous project is projected to create more than 2 million s.f. of new development and provide 2,800 permanent jobs in the community, as well as about 3,000 construction jobs, expected to take a long, long time. The District will finance about $200 million of the developmental costs, accounting for roughly 18% of the projected expense; no matter (some say), once completed, the "world-class urban waterfront" is projected to create more than $32 million in tax revenue each year, compared to the $6 million that the land currently brings in.

Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn was selected as the Master Architect back in June 2007. The details of their plan include 767 new housing units - both rental and condos - about 400,000 s.f. of office space, 280,000 s.f. of retail space, a 360-room hotel, 150,000 s.f. of cultural space, and the renovation of the historic southwest fish market. Developers aspire to achieve LEED Silver certification for all nine buildings. Along with all of the new buildings proposed for the area, the development team is including heaps of landscaped open space into the deal, preparing to cultivate more than 14 acres of parks, a half-mile promenade and bike trails for southwest's newest residents. The piers will also get their fair share of upgrades. The development team hopes to pick architects for the vertical phases of construction in the summer of 2008.

Hoffman-Struever's vision dissects the area into three separate "neighborhoods." The City Pier District, located in the northwest corner of the site, is proposed to be the retail center of the area, laying hold to most of the restaurants and the hotel, thereby being the most likely place to attract visitors (and tourists). Notable mini-developments within this area include a water-taxi service (which with our luck will be 'zoned' - $4 if you want to get in, $25 if you want to go all the way to the other side), and a pedestrian bridge connecting the site to the National Mall.

Then there's the Esplanade District, which PN Hoffman describes as the center of the project where most of the residential will be sited, along with offices and some neighborhood-serving retail.

Finally, the southeastern corner of the site will hold the Cultural Park District which will include a 5-acre "cultural park" and other amenities that will serve as the center of the "cultural zone;" classes will be held on-site courtesy of the Living Classrooms Foundation and the National Maritime Heritage Foundation.

“Over the past two years we’ve studied waterfronts all over the world, reached out and forged working relationships and agreements with existing leaseholders, and conducted over 100 meetings with regulatory agencies and surrounding stake holders,” said Monty Hoffman, CEO of PN Hoffman. “This is just the beginning of the process to create a ‘world class’ waterfront. We will continue to work with the mayor’s office on making a waterfront that draws visitors from everywhere, but our first commitment is to the people of Washington, DC. The Potomac River is our greatest natural resource and first and foremost, this project will reconnect Washington with its waterfront. We look forward to working with the City Council to achieve passage of the Mayor's legislative proposal so that District residents can see a shovel in the ground by 2010.”

You go Monty.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bidders Revealed on Tenley/Janney

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Bids on the Tenley/Janney solicitation have closed, and Mayor Fenty has announced the three bidders vying to take on what may be one of the most anti-development neighborhoods in DC. The RFP had been extended to January 4th to allow developers extra time to craft proposals to build a library, renovate the school, and work in private space to hopefully subsidize the program.

The three firms officially asking for the nod were: LCOR, See Forever Foundation in partnership with UniDev LLC, and Roadside Development. The latter has been working intermittently for several years on the project in an effort to appease both city and vox populi, but the sale or lease of public land for private development proved the third rail of city politics, leading to the request for bids. District officials plan to hold a public meeting in February to get responses from the public on all three site-plans.

The 3-acre site, at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Street, used to be home to the old 15,000-s.f. Tenley library, demolished late last year, and the upgrade-needy Janney School. The biggest concern for local residents has been the mixed-use library/residence idea that has been deliberated for some time. Although many of the Tenley homeowners have argued against the residential portion of the project, each bidder included variations of the plan in their proposal; with housing units ranging from 120 to 170 across the board.

“The Tenley site is a great opportunity to achieve some of our most important public policy goals: Building better schools, creating affordable housing and encouraging development at transit stations and along major transportation corridors,” said Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Neil O. Albert. “We are excited about the responses to this solicitation as we are just beginning to take a closer look at the proposals.

"What we tried to do is take all the input that we got from the community, and incorporate their concerns, as well as the Office of the Deputy Mayor's requirements, to come up with something that delivers on what the RFP asks for and what the community would like to see" said Armand Spikell, Principal at Roadside Development. Roadside completed the Cityline Condominiums across the street and 2005.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Axis Condos on Capitol Hill

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Axis Condos celebrates the opening of its model units on Capitol Hill. Axis Condos marries gorgeous interior design and finishes with the latest technological amenities, including surround-sound speakers throughout each unit, built-in speakers, individualized music control for each room, and built-in flat screen TV for a smart unit that just may be the smartest idea out of Capitol Hill in years. And because 'smart' wouldn't be cool without style, Axis offers your choice of solid granite or gorgeous white Ceaserstone countertops, choice of hardwood styles, kitchen islands with breakfast counters, sleek GE appliances, cabinet-depth refrigerators, natural stone tiling, and baths modeled on modern spas. Located only 4 blocks from Metro and a short walk to Lincoln Park. Take a tour of the best views on Capitol Hill from the spacious rooftop deck, or just take advantage of the private outdoor space on every unit. Model units are now open on site every Thursday through Sunday; garage parking is available. Prices begin at $325,900. For more information, call 202-719-9111. Marketing and sales by DCRealestate.com

Friday, January 18, 2008

New Rentals Break Ground in Alexandria

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Trammell Crow Residential has just broken ground on Alexandria's newest apartment building, the Alexan Carlyle, at 800 John Carlyle Street, roughly two blocks from the Patent and Trademark Office headquarters. The 280-unit rental complex is a $94 million joint-venture split between Trammell Crow and Olayan America Corporation as an institutional investor.

The 2.8-acre site is planned to house a resort-esque, luxury apartment building amply loaded with amenities typical of "luxury" buildings: A swimming pool, clubhouse, mini-gym and billiards room among others. Virginia-based Cubellis DCA served as the architects and has reportedly created the architectural pu pu platter of buildings, integrating three separate architectural styles within the 5-story building: Classic federal architecture reminiscent of Old Town, an art-deco panache and an urban loft approach. The first units will be completed by the fall of 2009.


"The Carlyle neighborhood of Alexandria is the perfect location for TCR's latest Alexan luxury rental community, Alexan Carlyle. The new PTO headquarters is just two blocks away and is adding jobs at the rate of about 1,200 per year. Plus residents will have easy access to two Metro stations as well as all the shops and restaurants of Old Town Alexandria," said Sean Caldwell, Managing Director at Trammell Crow Residential. PNC Bank is financing the construction of TCR's newest addition to Northern Virginia.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Alexandria's Monarch Condopartments

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President Bush's dream of an owner- ship society took another blow this week. Okay, it probably won't make the State of the Union, but the Monarch Condominiums in Old Town Alexandria are now the Monarch Apartments. Apparently Diamond Properties was struggling to keep the project in the black, selling a frustrating 16% of the 169 units since McWilliams Ballard began sales in July, 2005. Diamond is now adding Kettler to the mix.

This week's conversion continues the unremitting process of developers retooling projects that won't sell, into apartments, which generally do better in a market of skeptical buyers and skeptical lenders. Because they originally organized Monarch as a condominium project, Diamond has the legal ability to hawk individual condos at a later date, but buyers looking for homes in Old Town, Alexandria now have one less option - the supply is reduced to the Prescott, Cromley Lofts, Abingdon Row, and the Royalton. This trend mirrors the greater DC area, which has witnessed a large drop in condo supply due slowing construction and an influx of conversions from condos to rentals. Within the last 18 months, the DC (proper) condo pipeline has shrunk from an estimated projection of 18,000 units over the next two years, to a more modest 5,400 units, many of which are conversions of dated apartments and therefore fail to increase the housing supply.

Little is known about what will happen to the 28-or-so condo-owners that have purchased. A representative from Kettler indicated that a condo board is in place, and current owners would continue to occupy their units. Whomever they are, they can't be ecstatic about owning a home in an apartment building. Maybe the 17,000 s.f. of ground floor retail makes up for the loss, or perhaps the convenience of living four blocks from the Braddock Metro, or even the rooftop garden deck and in-house cinema room.

Kettler, who seems to be running the leasing side, will try to make up for lost time; a one bedroom, 700-s.f. apartment starts at $1885.

New Rooms in Courthouse by Marriott

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Donohoe Construction, under the authority of Donohoe Hospitality, (who is in cahoots with Donohoe Development) has just started to pour the concrete footings for the 176-room Marriott Residence Inn at 1425 N. Adams St. in the Courthouse section of Arlington. The 10-story, all-suite hotel will be branded as one of Marriott's extended stay residences.

The visionaries behind the National World War II Memorial, international architectural firm Leo A. Daly, took the design role for Marriott. You might also know them for the project they did for KPMG in McLean, or for The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville. Daly-architects had no trouble grasping the vision for Marriott's newest addition to Arlington, and have designed the simple 132,000-s.f. hotel with clad in brick and architectural precast concrete.

In addition to topping off the Courthouse Plaza section of Clarendon, the Residence Inn will bring a wealth of meeting space to the table as well as a "high-end" restaurant to the corner of Clarendon Blvd and N. Adams Street. In total, about 9,500 s.f. of retail are planned for the ground floor along that intersection, with the still unnamed restaurant having 5,500 s.f. at its disposal. The new hotel will further Smart Growth objectives by adding mixed-use development three blocks from the Courthouse Metro station. And as if being part of a "smart" urban plan weren't enough, Donohoe Development has also incorporated a "smart," environmentally conscious design for the building, including about 26 LEED points for features such as the increasingly popular green roof; hopefully just enough for LEED certification.

Donohoe (and its innumerable subsidiaries) will also provide streetscape improvements to the area, including a water feature and public art around the hotel, as well as myriad practical improvements to the crosswalks and sidewalks. The new Residence Inn should be dropping off pillow mints as early as the summer of 2009.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

They're back: Centex builds in Wheaton

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Centex Homes is building an assortment of townhomes, single-family houses and self-described condominium-townhomes (pictured above) at the former site of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Wheaton, MD. The Leesborough Condos and Townhomes will sprout on a site that Centex acquired in late 2006; the Catholic preparatory school vacated in January, 2007. Now Centex, in its closest project to DC since pulling out of a number of DC Metro condo projects about a year ago, is building the American dream Wheaton-style, providing 54 townhouses, 45 condominiums and six (yes...six) single-family units at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Arcola.

Although the project hasn't begun to materialize yet, pre-construction sales started in December of 2007. According to Centex, people are chomping at the bit for some of the units, specifically the condominiums. Centex's model condo unit starts in the $360's for a two-level, condo-townhouse over a garage with roughly 1,900 s.f. of space, and is best described as a "Stacked townhome" according to Marketing Director Carla Sevilla. Sevilla explained that the stacked townhome provides the density the city requires while offering the owners plenty of square footage in a traditional townhouse feel; "It's a very unique product" Sevilla added. Of the 45 condos planned for the site, about 15 will be set aside as Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs).

Centex has used "hybrid-condos" in the past; Brambleton Sky Meadows, Lansdowne Town Center, Buckingham Station and Village Place in Gainesville are all variations of the condo-turned rowhouse, or vice versa. Abnormal or not, sales at Leesborough are strong, according to Centex, with about a dozen sold since December, 2007...so act fast. Centex is not making such claims for sales of their townhomes (pictured below). The 1,950-s.f., two-car garage, brick and Hardy Plank townhomes which start in the $420s are apparently a tougher sell. The final phase, which will add six single-family homes to the site, has not yet begun construction or sales.

Three separate architectural firms contributed to Centex's design. The condominium portion was drafted by Martin Architectural Group, while the townhomes were designed by two firms: Pinnacle Design and Consulting and Philly's Marshall/Sabatini. Centex expects some of the townhomes will be completed soon, planning to move in any buyers as early as the fall, while the first condos will arrive at the beginning of 2009.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

DOES Does New Things in Ward 7

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The Office of Property Management (OPM) is seeking a general contractor to build a new Department of Employment Services (D.O.E.S.) headquarters at the northwest corner of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Rd., NE, adjacent to the Minnesota Avenue Metro Station. About 28 contractors and developers attended a bidders conference yesterday and have been asked to submit questions regarding the project by January 22nd. OPM released its solicitation for the project on January 4th - bids will close the day after Valentine's day.

DOES's new HQ is part of a much larger project, the Minnesota Benning Government Center (4 words that just sound great together) that will consume an entire 9.2 acre site that currently holds 326 metro parking spaces and 9 low-rise commercial buildings - all of which are doomed for demolition. OPM is now finishing phase one of Government Center; a parking garage which broke ground in 2006.

Phase two is DOES's new pad: A 5-story, 225,000-s.f. building adjacent to the new garage, with ground floor retail and underground parking. DC-based architects Devrouax & Purnell, and program manager Parsons Transportation Group, just completed the building design and OPM has scheduled construction to begin by the end of the first quarter of 2008 - the project is expected to take roughly two years to finish.

The third phase, which is currently on hold, was supposed to create a 360,000-s.f. office building, ground floor retail and an additional 5-story D.O.E.S. building on the southwestern portion of the site, however inside sources claim that OPM is currently accepting new development ideas for that space.

Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority orginally owned a majority of the site, less a smattering of 11 privately-owned parcels, but WMATA was quick to relinquish the land to the District in exchange for a brand new garage (you know...the one that is just being finished). After acquiring the independently-owned slices of remaining land, OPM used proceeds from the sale of DOES' old digs back in 2001 (about $100 million) to finance the design phase of the new building and its inevitable construction. The total cost to construct the new DOES HQ is roughly $55 million; the city will use excess funds to extend the scope of the project to alleviate traffic problems in proximity to the metro station.

And just when you thought this story could not possibly get more interesting, DCmud has also purloined the details of the new traffic plan from Delon Hampton, DC's traffic consultant for the project. The plan is to widen Minnesota avenue between Benning Road and the metro station by adding a center turn lane and a new curbside parking lane. In addition, a traffic signal will be posted at the entrance of the Government Center, along with some signal-timing adjustments which will hopefully improve rush-hour service (or make it worse if not done properly) all thanks to the city-wide Great Streets Initiative, the same folks that time the lights on Massachusetts Ave near Dupont Circle.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Alexandria Approves Madison Development

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Trammell Crow Company (TCC) had a good week in Alexandria last week. Special Use Permits for The Madison were approved by the Alexandria Planning Commisssion, and on Saturday the City Council reviewed and unanimously approved the permits to build.

The next step for TCC is to finalize the site plan design, which is being headed up by
civil engineering firm Christopher Consultants and architect Cooper Carry. Once complete, both the Zoning and Planning departments in Alexandria will take a final look at the technical details, which is more demanding than the general concept designs. Jeff Miller, Senior Vice President at TCC, predicts a ground breaking date in the first quarter of 2009, anticipating that this stage will take anywhere between eight and twelve months.

The Madison's two buildings have been planned to hold about 344 residential units, determined last August to go rental. The concept plan includes the construction of a new street to dissect the block connecting Fayette and N. Henry streets, splitting the site into northern and southern halves. The northern half will house 206 units and a roughly 9,000-s.f. courtyard for residents. The southern half will house a 138-unit structure and an 8,000-s.f. park open to the public.
TCC will also provide about 521 parking spaces available for retail and residential uses.

The Madison is located at 800 North Henry Street: it will house 23,000 s.f. of ground level retail and passive open space at the intersection of North Henry and Madison Streets. Recent delays in approval had resulted from the project's falling under the jurisdiction of the upcoming Braddock Road Metro Area Plan.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Prime Lot on Capitol Hill Being Stitched Up

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20 F Street NW, currently a surface parking lot next to the Irish Times, Phoenix Park Hotel and Hotel George, will soon sprout a 165,000-s.f. office building (pictured), once developer Boston Properties selects a contractor. The 10-story building is being constructed for the American College of Surgeons (ACS) who will purchase the land from Boston Properties just prior to the onset of construction. The College's Board of Regents is purchasing the site and constructing the building to house its growing Washington, DC staff and to create a more visible presence for the surgical profession.

BP has been accepting construction bids since the RFP was issued on November 19th, and will continue to take offers until January 24 - although a list of General Contractors allowed to make an offer has been limited to Clark, Bovis Lend Lease and Balfour Beatty. Subcontractors are still being encouraged to take bidding positions with the big three. Although the final exterior design is essentially complete, according to inside sources, though ACS is still making nips and tucks to the interior design.

Currently, the plan involves the construction of an office building with amenities such as a two-story atrium lobby, a first floor fitness and conference center and, more uniquely, a rooftop deck. Not to mention being just stumbling distance from the Irish Times. On the whole, the building is said to be the ultimate "gathering space," full of luxury amenities and a Hill location, but not LEED certification. The surgeons and affiliated organizations will operate on the 3rd and 10th floors, or about 35,000 s.f.; the remaining 120,000 s.f. of leasable space is currently available. The estimated ground-breaking date is this May.

Stranded in Northeast

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The District has been seeking developers to revitalize Deanwood's Strand Theatre, and has now extended the response deadline to January 21. Seeking developers with a proven mixed-use track record, "creative vision" and "the organizational and financial capacity," DC planners hope redevelopment of the property at 5131 Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue, NE, will revitalize not only the building but the flagging neighborhood as well. The search for bidders began on December 12, 2007, when the District and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (ODMPED) held a pre-bidders' conference for more than 40 attendees. The response deadline to the Request For Proposals was extended on Monday.

Deanwood's state of affairs is briefly outlined in the RFP: "Over the past 40 years however, much of Deanwood has suffered from disinvestment, which has caused the residences and commercial corridor along Nannie Helen Burroughs to struggle." Thus ODMPED views the project as highly significant, having the potential to garner development interest in the Northeast commercial corridor, hence the level of expertise required for bidders to be considered. This project, along with three other short-term and long-term developments serve as ODMPED's attempt to resuscitate Deanwood back and cataylze new growth: The Great Streets Initiative Plan for Nannie Helen Burroughs, the Lincoln Heights New Communities Plan and the Deanwood Strategic Development Plan.

Currently, the theatre provides 8,200 s.f. of area on a 6,000 s.f. lot. And while historic designation is pending, the DC Preservation League labeled the building as one of the "Most Endangered Places" last year. District agencies have decided that regardless of the site's current historic status, redevelopment will take place as if it is a historic structure, and are considering all methods of disposition including leasing the space, although a minimum lease of 75 years is required. The RFP explicitly encourages potential developers to maximize development on the site, stating that "The District will look very favorably at [bidders] who demonstrate the ability to bring additional development resources and/or additional parcels of land to the table."

Specific goals to be achieved with the site's redevelopment were fleshed out in a number of District-sponsored public meetings over the course of 2007. Community members indicated a number of appropriate uses, including: a cultural hub for art exhibits, retail and restaurants, commercial space for local businesses and a half dozen others. Not only will bidders have to collaborate with community stakeholders to implement their collective vision, but the District is also suggesting that each offer incorporate the voluminous goals of the Lincoln Heights, Great Streets and Deanwood Strategic Plans into their proposals. God speed to the lucky winner.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Give Us Subsidized Condos. Now.

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Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham wants cheaper condos, and he wants them now. In November of 2006, the Council introduced a bill that would effectively require new real estate developments with 10 units or more to include an "affordable housing" element; the Council passed the bill unanimously and Mayor Fenty signed the bill in December, 2006. Much to the consternation of Councilman Graham (pictured, reading the Washington Post to Mayor Fenty....wait, what paper is that?), the legislation has not been implemented in the intervening 13 months, and Graham wants some fruit from his toils. So Graham introduced a second bill on Tuesday, co-introduced by ten Councilmembers, which would require that Mayor Fenty effectuate the law within 30 days by drafting the appropriate regulations. The new bill also allows the Council to review proposed regulations.

The "inclusionary zoning" problem began in the fall of 2006, according to Jason Yuckenberg of Councilman Graham's office. Following two years of deliberations and hearings, the Zoning Commission adopted regulations in 2006 to tackle the issue of affordable housing, requiring developers of 10 or more units to offer a percentage of lower priced homes to residents that meet one of several target income requirements. The Commission was then found not to have the authority to issue such a regulation, and in stepped the Council, passing the legislation now awaiting the Mayor's finesse.

After referring the current legislation, the Inclusionary Zoning Implementation Amendment Act of 2008, to the Committee of the Whole, Chairman Gray has vowed to hold a hearing post-haste to force quick action on the bill. In addition to giving the Mayor 30 days from enactment of the new bill to pass or punt, the new bill then gives the Council 30 days to effect their own changes, absent changes the regulations will be deemed approved. One of the issues to be decided is which developments, based on their approval and construction progress, will be required to adhere to the new standards.

In a letter to his constituents, Councilmember Graham summed up his anticipation: "Although the bill was passed more than a year ago, we are still waiting for the Mayor to implement the law...This is the District's only housing program that has the potential to provide affordable housing in all areas of the city. We cannot wait any longer. The longer we delay in implementing inclusionary zoning, the more opportunities we lose." At the time of posting the bill was not yet available online.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

MLK Ave Gets Reconstructive Surgery (Minus the Botox)

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Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE had been eyeballed as an upgrade- needy thorough- fare long ago; but since late 2006 the Great Streets Initiative, a partnership between the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and a slew of other government agencies, held design charrettes and open forums for Ward 8 residents to design and create an enticing MLK corridor for the future. The conceptual design process, headed by RTKL, was completed in November of 2007. Now, DDOT has chosen a consultant, Volkert and Associates, Inc., who will take RTKL's vision to the table for final design and construction drawings. The beginning of the final design phase was estimated to begin in late February until put on hold by DDOT due to a DC Water And Sewer Authority (WASA) storm sewer separation and water main expansion project in the same area.

The MLK Jr Revitalization Plan has involved a mix of processes, requiring transportation and pedestrian traffic research, urban aesthetics and contextual meshing, streetscape analysis and (probably most challenging) public involvement and approval. The Ward 8 Business Council, Fairlawn Citizens Associates and ANC 8A, among others, were all given the opportunity to offer their two cents throughout each of the three public meetings.

RTKL's concept plan is comprehensive (see picture below), involving the revitalization of a big chunk of MLK Ave. from the 11th Street Bridge to Suitland Parkway, transportation improvements to ease traffic circulation and an overall attempt to enhance the streetscape image with "respect [for] the area's historic nature," according to the concept plan. As if the task weren't large enough, concept designs call for the modification of four branching streets: Howard Road, W street, Good Hope Road and 16th street. Some of the technical details involve the reconstruction of all roads but 16th Street. Changes would include the reduction of one northbound lane on MLK Jr., and the removal of curbside parking along Good Hope Road to alleviate congestion during peak-time commuting. Metrobus' U2 and B2 are also planned to be re-routed to use MLK Jr. from the Anacostia Metro Station to Good Hope Road; the current routes follow W and 16th streets. To increase pedestrian activity, architects have also proposed a new bike route along Shannon Place.

As for beautification, sidewalks will be reconstructed throughout the corridor and will feature decorative brick patterns, public art and curbside foliage in order to to "introduce visual interest," according to RTKL's design. Two types of streetscape furnishings were suggested; traditional benches and the like for MLK Jr. Ave, Good Hope Road and W Street, and contemporary furnishings (ever heard of an avante-garde trash can?) for Howard Road.

The current timeline, provided by Great Streets, indicates that final design drawings could last as long as ten months, which would put the start into Spring of 2009, with completion sometime in 2011.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Ripley's Coming, Believe it or Not

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Today, the Montgomery County Parks and Planning Commission held a hearing to review site plans for the 1050 Ripley St. development (pictured), to flesh out any remaining technical issues. Developer Washington Property Company plans to break ground in the Fall of 2008 on the 300,000-s.f. residential building. The mixed-use redevelopment project is located in the southwest quadrant of the Silver Spring Central Business District at the intersection of Ripley Street and the proposed extension of Dixon Avenue, just west of Georgia Ave.

Washington Property received project "plan approval" from the planning board - the first of a two-step process - on May 31, 2007, setting the overall design standards. Today's "site-plan approval" began the board's process of scrutinizing the details pertaining to easements, utilities, traffic management and other civil engineering issues, and gave Washington Properties an opportunity to receive site plan comments from the board, preparing them for a glitch-free Spring '08 approval hearing.

The 17-story apartment building, designed by WDG Architecture, will have a tad more than 300 units, all for rent, with 241 one-bedroom and 64 two-bedroom units; a little more than 15% of the total space will be "affordable." Those who anguish over parking, fear not; Washington Properties is providing underground spots for residents, keeping a small 14-parking-space cushion for staff (and assumedly guests). In addition, architects have set aside nearly 3,000 s.f. of retail space which will be set-back from the street, in order to provide outdoor dining for a potential restaurant.

"The building is designed as a basic building block which is then wrapped with layers of projecting planes, highlighted by complimentary colors on all elevations of the building. The design is based on a restrained classical form with a defined base, body, and top to the building. Simple lines, minimalist qualities, and a contemporary approach to the building design are intended to be responsive to the scale and the context of the neighborhood," said Siti Abdul-Rahman, Senior Designer at WDG Architecture, which is pretty much what we would have said.

Landscape architects have also included plans for a 14,000-s.f. public park and plaza (pictured below) which will sit adjacent to the Metropolitan Bike Trail (MBT). The park, according to WDG, will be linked to the MBT and serve mainly as a stop for weak-kneed bikers, as well as provide a public gathering spot that will tie together the redevelopment projects proposed for the Ripley District, which will someday include Midtown Silver Spring and the proposed Silver Spring Transit Center. To keep it pretty, landscape architects Hord Coplan Macht have proposed artistic elements to adorn the park's landscape.

Washington Property's "luxury" apartment building is predicted for completion in the third quarter of 2010.

Friday, January 04, 2008

If You Rent It, They Will Build

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The ubiquitous JBG Companies is working on a new and rather unorthodox $70 million project, the K Street Office Complex at 1201 K Street, NW, to eventually replace the Four Points Sheraton now on the site. The 1/2 acre site might soon be home to an eight-story, 280,000-s.f. office building designed by London-based Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners architectural firm, world-renowned for their bleeding edge design (though the rendering, above, looks awfully 10 storyish to us). Unfortunately for those who long to see developments materialize sooner rather than later, JBG has vowed to delay construction until a tenant leases a "significant portion" of the future space.

According to JBG, the Sheraton is doing well financially. Yet JBG doesn't see the faded hotel as a serious competitor in the next five years, as DC gets more hotel beds and competition accelerates. The bottom-line: although JBG doesn't foresee an office complex being more lucrative than the hotel presently, they do predict it will hold up better to the coming market. Yet JBG is playing it safe both ways: Having a exit strategy in order to hedge against losses from a surge in hotel supply, and holding out for a pre-lease to avoid vacant office space.

Sheraton's replacement building is quite the anomaly; having been designed to have an offset core with removable slabs. Architects have moved the core - the load bearing portion - and elevators to one side and opened up the building to more efficient uses, leaving each floor without disjointed office space surrounding a space-stealing central elevator bank.

But one of the most innovative features of 1201 K Street is what JBG calls its "soft zone," three entire bays at the center of the floor plate which can be removed, all or in part, and replaced at a later date, to accommodate tenants who want to connect two floors with monument staircases or open trophy spaces. Managing Director at JBG, John Schlichting, broke it down: "The extraordinary advantages of the soft zone are connectivity between floor levels, delivering light into the deep portion of the floor plate, allowing flexibility in creating atria spaces within a tenant's space, and providing an animated sense of work place."

JBG's newest office building will surely stand out from the K Street crowd. "Together with Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, we have designed an extraordinarily innovative building that will encourage a working envir
onment that responds to the changing needs of corporate office space," Schlichting added. "In questioning the 'norm' we can better understand how to achieve the level of excellence to which the building aspires."

Aside from 1201 K's unique architecture and eye-pleasing asthetics, the building is being prepared for no less than silver LEED Certification. Although JBG is holding out for a nearly-full building before beginning construction, a ballpark-timeline puts the start date at January 2009. It seems likely the Sheraton won't be mourned.
 

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