Friday, February 29, 2008

Bozzuto Planning...Something...on New York Ave.

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The Zoning Commission yesterday took proposed action to approve the rezoning of 5,000 s.f. of land to a moderate density commercial zoning district at the southwestern edge of the block bounded by New York Avenue, 5th and L Streets, NW. Zoning will soon take final action on April 14th after the National Capital Planning Commission gives the yes (or no).

Bozzuto eventually wants to develop the site, but no formal plans have been submitted - and because of the site's negligible size, the P.U.D. process wouldn't apply - P.U.D sites have to be 15,000 square feet. In essence, if Bozzuto can get an official zoning change, they can develop the property by right, but must heed the Historic Preservation Review Board's comments.

The site, which actually sits in both the Shaw neighborhood and the Mount Vernon Square historic district, has no official plan. And although Bozzuto Development Group, the applicant requesting the zoning change, is applying for 5,000 s.f. of rezoning, that amounts to only half of the lot, leaving the other half to be zoned for residential uses. The reason Bozzuto is leaving half the site residential is complicated; the firm owns three lots on the block: the lot being sought for rezoning, and two lots adjacent to the east. The pair of lots to the east are already zoned for moderate commercial uses, so the firm is trying to extend their commercial capabilities for half-a-lot more.

Bozzuto has proposed an 'illustrative' development, though it is not officially attached to the record, which would demolish a single historic building on one of the eastward lots, and would move another neighboring historic structure westward, into the slice of land that would remain in the residential zoning district. Bozzuto would then fill in the vacant lots between the historic property and the Yale Laundry Site, which serves as its eastern boundary. Although there is no official record of what the building would be, Bozzuto might be wise to keep it fully residential, from a purely zoning perspective; Zoning regulations effectively permit "any commercial zone [within this district] to be developed to a high density, if the development is solely residential." However, Bozzuto must be taking note of the Yale Steam Laundry condo project next door, which is not expected to sell out any time soon.

Bozzuto's illustrative development plan ensures the "stepping down [of] the mass of the building proposed." If the rezoning takes place, Bozzuto would be working within a 130-ft. height limit and roughly 50,000 s.f. of gross area. As the Zoning Commission comments, "The requested zoning would, in theory, permit the applicant to construct a building approximately three times as large as what would now be permitted on this site."
We're not sure what its going to be, but that doesn't stop us from being excited.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Edgemoor Edges Toward Expansion

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Way back in the first year of the 43rd President, Armont Development Corporation applied for a zoning change to build a 12-unit residential and 9,000-s.f. office building which would share a 38-unit garage on a 28,000 s.f. site in Bethesda. The application for Edgemoor At Arlington North, at 7425 Arlington Road, was granted, but Armont sat on the site for the past seven years. A short time ago and one real estate cycle later, Armont saw an opportunity to acquire nearly 10,000 s.f. of adjacent land to increase the size and scope of the project - the development firm acquired the land and needs to rezone it for an expanded development.

Armont seeks to amend the development plan to include the new property, to build a 31 unit residential building with 50 underground parking spaces, and has abandoned the idea of mixing office space into the plans. Montgomery National Capital Parks and Planning Commission reviewed the new plan today at their Planning Board meeting; the staff has recommended approval.

Back in January, Armont staffers met with residents of the area to discuss their concerns and issues. The Planning Department recognized that "[i]t appears that the two sides were not able to reach a mutual agreement...although some initiatives in the applicant part were recognized as positive steps." Community members had issues with the building's height, its proximity to neighboring townhouses and its massing and density (other than that everything was fine). In light of the opposition, Armont withdrew its application for a 57-foot structure, scaling it back to 48 feet.

The next step for Armont takes place in the office of Montgomery County's Hearing Examiner, Fran├žoise Carrier, who will hold a public hearing on March 7th. Once the Hearing Examiner submits her findings to the County Council, all concerned parties have 10 days to submit their respective arguments to the Council, which will then decide whether or not the arguments are worth hearing.

The Edgemoor would sit four blocks from the Bethesda Metro station on the red line, fronting Arlington Road for more than 200 feet and Montgomery Lane for 100 feet. The adjacent property that Armont is seeking to have rezoned is a slice of land to the north of their ready-to-be-developed chunk, betwixt Arlington Road, Montgomery Lane and W Lane. The expansion portion is currently zoned R-60, but needs a TS-R Zoning District to be able to house the type of project Armont is planning. In Maryland, land can only be zoned TS-R "in areas where multi-family residential development is recommended by the Sector Plan and where it will encourage use of transit stations." Edgemoor at Arlington North - 1,200 feet from the red line - would seem to meet that criteria.

The total building will add 69,000 s.f. of space, providing 31, one, two and three-bedroom units, along with 3,000 s.f. of public space and 5,000 s.f. of recreation space; 12% of the units will be designated affordable housing. Along with the normal amenities like open space, etc., Armont will upgrade the pedestrian crosswalks at Arlington Road and Montgomery Lane because, as the Planning Department's staff report indicates, "Area residents have found that vehicles cannot be relied on to stop for pedestrians, despite a painted crosswalk."

Because Arlington Road is a transitional urban area (and a fantastic Tim Robbins flick), the Community Based Planning Staff laid out guidelines in the Sector Plan for "townhouse style and scale" developments for the area. Armont complied, the building will measure 35 feet from Arlington Road, and stepping back from the main road will grade up to 48 feet to reduce visual massing. Planning Board staff recommended approval in a memorandum dated February 15, and will hear public concerns on March 5.

Bethesda real estate development news

HPRB to Review 14th and U

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Plans for a mixed-use apartment and retail project at the southwest corner of 14th and U Streets in NW will be on review today, as Robert Moore of Georgetown Strategic Capital LLC (GSC) and Eric Colbert & Associates appear before the Historic Preservation Review Board. They last met in December when the developer and architect presented their initial concept ideas for Utopia (as it is referred to around GSC's office), but HPRB recommended they alter the design to reduce the impact with the smaller buildings in the surrounding historic area. The property is currently owned by F.S. People's Realty Company and Jenco Group, which is currently negotiating a long term ground lease with GSC for the development.

GSC's preliminary plans (rendering above, depicting the west side of 14th St) propose construction of 230 rental apartments in a seven to ten-story building at the corner of 14th and U streets, which Moore expects will attract young professionals. And not without reason; one block to the east, Donatelli Development's Ellington apartment building has maintained high occupancy with some of the highest residential rents in the area. In the current design, GSC will offer a range of units from studios to small two bedroom apartments, but averaging around 750 square feet. The building will be a block from the 13th and U St. metro station, for what Moore calls an affordable, "urban living experience."

GSC also plans 20,000 s.f. of retail on the first floor, doubling the 20,000 s.f. of existing retail in vintage buildings along U Street, which will be incorporated.
According to Moore, "People are welcoming this change to the neighborhood. This is a strip that isn't very attractive right now. We hope to bring an exciting new mixed-use building to the neighborhood, and provide much needed affordable rental apartments."

Eleven historic buildings exist on the site within the U Street Historic District and Uptown Arts Overlay zone. None will be removed, although some non-historic buildings will be torn down for the project. The plan incorporates some of these historic elements, such as the frontage of rehabilitated buildings on U St. and three small commercial storefront buildings on 14th St., which combines a mix of historic and architecturally insignificant new buildings that are blessed with such retail as McDonald's and other fast food take-outs.

The main problem
HPRB wanted to see altered was, of course, the height and density of the buildings in relation to the smaller surrounding edifices. The new conceptual idea, to be discussed today, includes two components to relate to the two different zoning categories, the southern half being low density and the northern half allowing for higher density.

Although planners hope to have their designs approved today, both HPRB and Moore said there will likely be further follow up meeting between the groups to iron out differences. The designs will then move on to the Board of Zoning Adjustment before any construction will take place. GSC plans on beginning construction in 2009 with completion in the beginning of 2011.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Alexandria's Hunting Plaza Waits on VDOT

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This month, the Alexandria Planning Commission took a look at IDI Group Companies' proposal for Hunting Creek Plaza, a project that would renovate the current Hunting Towers apartments (pictured at right as two cross-shaped, red brick buildings) by constructing a luxury condominium community on the Hunting Terrace site (rendering digitally inserted in picture at right, above brick apartments), both wedged between the Potomac and the George Washington Parkway. In a setback for the developers, the Planning Commission deferred a decision until the land officially reverts to IDI Group and its partner, Kay Apartment Communities.

IDI saw a unique opportunity in the two existing Hunting Towers buildings - which currently lay hold to 530 apartments - to preserve the pair of buildings as affordable workforce condominiums, similar to what they've done with properties like Parkfairfax. After Hunting Towers' renovation is complete, IDI plans to offer the workforce housing from $125,000 - $240,000 for existing tenants. The remaining units would then be sold, during a priority marketing period, to the city's workforce: school teachers, firemen, policemen, hospital workers, and bloggers (uh, technically that last one was left off the city's list...probably an accident) could snatch them up at prices ranging from $140,000 - $330,000. Anything left over would go to the public at workforce prices, ranging from $145,000 - $355,000. All of this would be subsidized by profits from the sale of the new condo complex.

The vision of the new building (Hunting Terrace) is a 361-unit luxury condo complex. HLS Architects, together with the Old Town firm of Bartzen & Ball Architects, designed Hunting Terrace as four buildings: two, adjacent five-story residential buildings fronting Washington Street and two adjacent main buildings, which step up from eight to 14 stories, with a landscaped courtyard acting as a buffer zone between the two pairs.

The Planning Commission's deferral on the new construction comes in light of the Virginia Department of Transportation's work on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the second half of which is planned to open within 12 months. Under the eminent domain process, VDOT had omnipotently purchased both the Terrace and Towers sites during the early phases of bridge planning, and demolished roughly a third of each parcel, destroying one building of the Tower side, and three buildings on the Terrace side to make way for the leviathan tangle of new roadways.

But roughly two years ago, Virginia's favorite transportation authority came to the conclusion that its holdings on the Terrace (i.e. new building) side were no longer needed, and sold it back to its original owner, Kay Apartment Communities, which by then had partnered with IDI - the pair have been working on finalizing the new construction drawings since then. But don't uncork the champagne yet, because VDOT still owns the future-workforce housing site, and the Planning Commission wants to see VDOT's sale contract for it before they will approve the proposal to build the new condominiums.


This, most simply put, poses a problem for IDI, because the entire project hinges on the redevelopment of Hunting Towers. The Planning Commission will not grant approval for the increased density and height of the new condominium tower, unless IDI uses the revenue therefrom to subsidize the affordable workforce housing a la the Hunting Towers renovation. Yet VDOT may not sell the confiscated land until the end of this year, and IDI, for various reasons, cannot sit on the condo site until such time that the other half of the project can be purchased. To alleviate these concerns, IDI has offered $20 million in collateral funds to begin building the condo side, in order to avoid suspicions that they will reneg on their obligation to revitalize Hunting Towers into workforce housing. The planning commission still wants to see the contract before they will allow IDI to build the Terrace condos.

"We're working very diligently to try to negotiate with VDOT and reach an agreement on the Hunting Towers parcel as soon as possible. Unfortunately if we don't have the additional height and density that we're requesting that would in turn generate the $20 million subsidy it would be impossible for us to preserve the 530 homes in Hunting Towers as affordable workforce housing. We would have to consider other development alternatives," said Carlos Cecchi, Vice President at IDI Group.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Neil Alblert's Stimulus Package for DC Developers

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The Office of Planning and Economic Development announced yesterday nearly $9 million in development grants for neighborhood projects through the Neighborhood Investment Fund (NIF), a subsidiary program of OPED. The seed money is being offered to catalyze further development in neighborhoods that need it most.

The District's development booty will be offered offered through two programs: $6.9 million, managed by The Reinvestment Fund, will be offered through NIF's Land Acquisition and Predevelopment Loan Fund, which will help to provide non-profit and Local, Small and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (LSDBE) with low interest loans for land acquisition and predevelopment purposes. The second program will offer another $2 million, managed by Local Initiatives Support Corp (LISC), through NIF's "Predevelopment Grant and Project Grant Fund" to help finance construction and rehabilitation.

“Our charge is to ensure that every section of our city enjoys real economic development opportunities...We expect qualified organizations will put these funds to work – leveraging our initial investment to create some real community benefits,” said Neil Albert, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

In order to qualify for a grant, a project must be considered eligible in both location and scope. The funds apply to projects that would create either affordable housing, mixed-use development, or community facility projects in 12 NIF target areas, namely: Anacostia, Bellevue, Bloomingdale/Eckington, Brightwood/Upper Georgia Avenue, Brookland/Edgewood, Columbia Heights, Congress Heights, Deanwood Heights, H Street, NE, Logan Circle, Shaw and Washington Highlands neighborhoods.

The deadline to apply for one of these grants ends on July 31, 2008, or until the grant the District gives away all of its money. To get a pice of the pie, check out their website.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Funding Time for Silver Place

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Today, the Maryland- National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) sat together with the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee, to discuss a two-stage financial package for funding SilverPlace. The County Council Committee voted 3-0 in favor of funding the first stage, a set of design charrettes that will facilitate community input for the overall design. The second half of the finance package will fund final design and construction of the project - MNCPCC is requesting $4.9 million in total funding from the county for its interest in the property.

If all goes according to plan, the first design 'charrette' - a roundtable discussion, to you and me - should begin this Spring. MNCPCC expects the community input stage to last until the end of the year, when they would request the second stage of funding. According to MNCPCC, "The design phase could take up to 10 months." Our guesswork indicates the final design could be submitted as late as 2009.

Silver place, located at 8787 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, will be a mixed use project (see prior post) encompassing a nine-story, 150,000-s.f. office tower, which will house the new 120,000-s.f. MNCPPC headquarters, and a residential component housing 358 units, 91 of which will be rental units - the remainder will sold as condos. Preliminary plans also call for some retail and copious public gathering space. Currently, the site houses a large surface parking lot and the current, three-story, MNCPCC headquarters, which has become so overcrowded that the organization needs to rent out suites for its staff. Developers will build the new project in phases so that planning staffers won't be out of a home until their new one is finished.

Torti Gallas
is designing the master plan for the site, working alongside a group of development firms, who appropriately call themselves SilverPlace LLC: a combination of Harrison Development, Spaulding and Slye, and Bozzuto Group.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Waffle Shop: A Moving Story

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Yesterday, the Zoning Commission approved Douglas Development's 1000 F Street project for proposed action. This leaves the project to be reviewed by the National Capital Planning Commission on March 6th before Zoning can make their final decision.

For the unenlightened, Douglas had submitted a Consolidated P.U.D. for the 11-story, 91,000 s.f. office with 6,000 s.f. of ground-floor retail back in the third quarter of 2007 (see original blog). The L-shaped corner project, which will sit in very close proximity to the Metro Center station, will also include the renovation and relocation of the two-story "Waffle Shop" now on the site - not just the business, but the entire building will be transported. Douglas is heading up the shop's location change thanks to the Art Deco Society of Washington, the DC Preservation League, the Historic Preservation Office and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City's requests to save it in all its historic glory. HPRB had initially granted Douglas's request to destroy the eatery, despite the dearth of retail downtown and the vacant storefronts which attend to so many of Douglas's retail spaces in Penn Quarter, but the community's ire motivated the city to reconsider the issue. No space has yet been designated for the store's relocation.

Douglas will also incorporate another historic commercial building into the new development, keeping its facade and all of the other 'pretty parts' to lend some historic credibility to Douglas' new office building. The renovation and construction will be guided by architect Shalom Baranes.

DC Agencies Unite on 'Master Plans'

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Today, a handful of District agencies announced their partnership to provide a guiding set of principals for the many distinct planning initiatives going on throughout the city. The Architect of the Capitol, Office of Planning, National Capital Planning Commission, National Park Service and the Commission of Fine Arts have all gotten together to create a synopsis of "four distinct planning initiatives: the Capitol Complex Master Plan, the Center City Action Agenda, the National Capital Framework Plan and the National Mall Plan."

The overview, entitled "Planning Together for Central Washington," identifies substantial places, corridors and 'important connections: in a self-described "broad plan for central Washington, DC." The National Capital Planning Commission headed up the initiative, attracting other agencies that play a major role in developmental planning to join their effort to ensure that central Washington "continues to serve as a model for the nation and the world."

The collaboration, which brought together federal and local agencies, took a close look at all of the plans that effect Central Washington, seeking a way to illuminate the fact that despite myriad planning initiatives currently being prepared, they all complement one another with regards to the goals being achieved. “That was the genesis of this leaflet, that we need to explain the inter-relationship of these efforts,” said Patricia Zinsheim, Associate Director of Revitalization at the Office of Planning.

With that in mind, the team came up with five common objectives for the city: a "welcoming atmosphere, well-connected public space, distinctive places, green and sustainable, and 21st century transportation."

"The impetus for the brochure was to show how the various plans for Washington are unique, yet so complementary to one another. From NCPC’s perspective, we also think it’s a great example of how collaboration and partnership play a vital role in furthering an objective that is important to all of us; enhancing Washington’s standing as a great capital city," said Lisa MacSpadden Director of the Office of Public Affairs at the NCPC.

Mayor Fenty gave his two cents: "The residents and businesses of the District of Columbia, as well as our visitors, will be the real beneficiaries of the great improvements in streets and public places that come about as a result of coordinated federal and local planning for Center City DC."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Club (ing) on Quincy

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WCI Communities and WDG Architecture have just started the design and development phase for a mixed-use project, the Club on Quincy, two blocks from Ballston Commons at 3901 N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington. The project, bounded by N. Fairfax, N. Pollard, 10th and N. Quincy Streets, was approved this past November and will serve as the newest addition to the heavily developed Ballston area.

WDG's design plans call for the construction of 162,000-s.f., 120-unit condominium building standing 12 stories high with roughly 2,700 s.f. of ground floor retail space. According to Tamera Reed at WDG, Club will also provide three levels of underground parking housing 232 parking spaces for its residents. But the pair of acronymic firms didn't stop there; in an attempt to push the meaning of 'mixed-use,' the firms will not only include the typical ground floor retail amenities, but also add an 11,000-s.f. black box theatre and a 13,000-s.f. funeral home to the ground level. (Talk about one stop shopping…)

In order to clear the way for the project, WCI will have to demolish the currently standing Arlington Funeral Home, and build the project on its footprint and its neighboring parking lot. Construction is scheduled to commence in the third quarter of this year.

And in case you’re wondering what a “black box” theater is, New York City's notorious Roundabout Theatre Company says: "By definition, it is a neutral environment. Its walls are painted black so each theatre production and design team can transform the space utterly in their own ways to suit the needs of each show. There is no raised stage or even designated ‘acting’ area. Black box theatres are perfect for ‘workshops, rehearsals, readings, and experimental productions. They’re incubators, a tabula rasa—or blank slate—onto which can be written each new testament to theatre artists’ imaginations"

Thank God for google

Gateway On Its Way

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MRP Realty is about to finish the design phase for their long awaited Washington Gateway project located at the corner of New York and Florida Avenues in NE, on the northern edge of NoMa. The 1 million-s.f. project will cost an estimated $350 million to construct, and sit atop the New York Avenue metro station. MRP closed on the purchase of the land from Greenebaum & Rose Associates in August of ’07. Designs are now 80% complete with only interior refinements remaining. The bidding phase and excavation applications will follow, with ground breaking expected in the third quarter of this year.

The project will consist of three buildings, two of which will be office towers. The northern tower - the tallest in the NoMa and Capitol area - will have about 415,000 s.f. of office space. Its sister tower to the south will have roughly 210,000 s.f. The taller building caused MRP a setback in December of 2006 when the National Capital Planning Commission objected to its height, an attribute at least in part caused by a 40 foot height difference between New York and Florida Avenues. The Zoning Commission overrode their objection (yes, they can do that) and made the final approval in February of 2007, deciding to measure the building's height from New York Avenue, although the foundation for the building will be poured on the Florida Avenue level. This allows MRP an extra three stories, making the Washington Gateway more visible to those entering NoMa from New York Avenue - a rare coup for height in our two-dimensional city.

The opposite side of the site features a "T" shaped building, housing a 180-room hotel and a 260-unit apartment tower, of which 8% of the units will be reserved for affordable housing. The rental units will feature 'condo level' finishes like granite counter tops and undermount sinks. A public central plaza will connect each building.

Washington Gateway will also give commuters and residents easy access to the New York Avenue Metro and the Metropolitan Branch Bike Trail. The three-story glass Bicycle Atrium will provide bike storage, lockers, refreshments, trail and neighborhood maps, and an automated bike pump.

MRP is teaming up with Gensler Architecture as master planner and designer of the commercial office buildings. SK&I Architectural Design Group is working on the residential building and hotel while Oculus is planning the plaza and streetscape design.

According to Gensler's Michael Patrick, Washington Gateway "extends the urban grid of NoMA from the south into what was an abandoned and isolated eyesore, and creates a great urban space in a plaza with first class materials."

"The residential building cantilevers an energetic volume of triangular glass which will capture and frame the view for those eastbound on either Avenue. The residential tower and south office building create a ceremonial entry from NoMA, with the office building's plaza facade articulated in high detail of stone, glass and metal to set the tone for the Class A office space inside," Patrick added.

Completion of Washington Gateway is expected in the fall of 2010.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Arlington Kids Get High (School)

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Arlington County Public Schools is pouring more than $100 million into the new Yorktown High School located at 5201 N. 28th St, a handful of blocks from the intersection of Glebe Road and Lee Highway and just a stones-throw from Greenbriar Park. The design scheme, by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut and Kuhn Architects, was approved on October 18, 2007. Now, the public school system has officially set the general contractor's bid schedule for the 300,000 s.f. project, setting the submission deadline for April 1st in order to precipitate an ambitious groundbreaking date of May.

Yorktown High School is one of three high schools located in Arlington, Virginia, and has 140 faculty members and a student body of 1600 students, placing in Newsweek's Top 100 list of U.S. Public School's since 2003, ranking at number 59 in 2007. The school and its faculty are notoriously responsible for breeding successful talent of the late Dr. David Brown, who died in the Columbia space shuttle accident, and Katie Couric, who did not.

Anyway, Yorktown's redevelopment has been discussed since 2002. The project has been phased to remain fully operational during construction (students not being easily distracted by noise); phase one was constructed in 2004 and added a three-story, 55,000-s.f., 30 classroom building. The current portion of the project will serve as the second and final phase for the high school's redevelopment, and will decrease the buildings' footprint while increasing its interior space.

Phase two is much more intricate: the first step involves demolishing an existing one-story classroom wing and replacing it with a wing that contains a cafeteria, administrative offices and classrooms. Step two will demolish existing space to make way for a swimming pool, auxiliary gym and performing arts theatre. Finally, contractors will destroy the gymnasium and relocate it to the outskirts of the campus adjacent to the swimming pool. To fill the space where the old gym stood, a bleeding-edge media center will take up half of the old gym's footprint, while the other half will remain open space and be landscaped to serve as a courtyard for students. The final step will be to remove the last vestiges of the old Elementary school building and pool.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lower Georgia Housing Project Approved

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The DC Council today voted unanimously to give the final affirmation to Park Morton, the mixed-use, mixed housing development on lower Georgia Avenue that will replace 174 units of well worn public housing with 477 units of "moderate density" newer housing, both subsidized and market.

Park Morton had been originally sponsored by Councilmember Jim Graham back in 2006, and the Council had approved an additional $3m for the project only last December, going only a small way toward the estimated $157m the project will cost. A host of contributors has already been selected to realize the city's vision, including DC-based development firm Banneker Ventures, nationally renowned environmental consulting firm Circlepoint, and design firms PGN Architects and WDG Architecture.

The project, sitting on the east side of Georgia Avenue and the south side of Park Road, had been noted by the District in several studies as encompassing "severe poverty" lacking basic amenities, though the project's planners did not include a retail element, relying instead on the slow accretion of retail on Georgia Avenue to service the new homeowners. But don't call your real estate agent just yet, development is not likely to start until at least late this year, and take an estimated nine years to complete.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Commerce Comes to Georgetown

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Commerce Bank, the east coast financial institution, is patiently waiting for demolition and construction permits to build their newest location at 1611 Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, the site of the former Reed Electric building. The bank, acting as its own developer, expects to receive permits by the end of March and plans to get in the ground shortly thereafter (surely, permitting in Georgetown will be easy). The new bank will sit on the north side of the lot, measure 29 feet in height, and house roughly 4,000 s.f. of space, fronting Wisconsin Avenue. Customers will have access to a parking lot on the lot's southern end.

"We are interested in developing there because we have had great success in the Metro D.C. area. Commerce Bank seeks sites from a retailer's perspective -- focusing on high-traffic, high-visibility sites to develop stores and expand our network of convenient locations. We feel there is a need for our unique type of retail banking in Georgetown," said Rebecca Acevedo for Commerce Bank.

Before any construction begins, contractors will first have to demolish the Reed Electric building to clear the way for the two-story bank, which is planned to tie in to the spirit of the Georgetown's classic rowhouse architecture. According to Jim Clark, principal in charge at MTFA Architecture, the firm responsible for the new bank's design, the building's facade will appear to be modern but will "take the rhythm" from the surrounding neighborhood.

"The building is regarded as the gateway to Georgetown by the Commission of Fine Arts. The front of the building continues the rhythm of bays from the adjacent row houses, and it is a friendly, modern neighbor to the historic context of Georgetown. The building’s exterior is composed of brick, glass, steel and stainless steel trellises. The great expanse of glass allows the two-story interior to be visible from the exterior which is one of Commerce Bank’s signature features on their bank designs," Clark added.

The site is currently zoned C-2-A, so construction will be done as a matter of right, but in addition to the usual list of governing bodies, ie. local ANCs, BZA, etc., the project had been reviewed by the Commission of Fine Arts, which reviews projects particularly in historic Georgetown, as well as the Old Georgetown Board, which 'helped' refine its design.

Commerce's development team is currently working with three bidders vying to build the bank, but in the spirit of the financial services industry, they have decided to keep the details to themselves. Other potential bidders have little less than a month to make an offer before the March 4 submission deadline.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Clark Wins Poplar Point

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Mayor Fenty announced this morning that Clark Realty Capital was chosen as the developer for Poplar Point - 110 acres of undeveloped land with a full mile of Anacostia waterfront, sitting just across from the new baseball stadium. Development of Poplar Point is the key to the District's $10 billion, with a "b", Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.


The District began the process with a solicitation last August, bids were due by last November. According to the District, it sought development teams based "on their vision, qualifications, financial capacity, and commitment to community engagement." The District and Clark still have an uphill battle to get the land secured; it is still owned by the federal government and transfer depends on a suitable environmental impact study. The final plan will include a 70-acre park, a "hub for businesses" and an assortment of mixed used development in an area the District has called "underused and isolated." Clark's plan included a bridge over I-295 to make the park accessible to pedestrians from Anacostia.

Clark Realty is based in Arlington, Virginia, and offers a broad range of real estate development, management and financing services. Mayor Fenty called the project "the largest economic development project the District has ever embarked on and we are making investment where it is needed most - East of the River."

Industry Insight: Armond Spikell of Roadside Development

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Armond Spikell started Roadside Development more than 11 years ago, after taking the reigns on a retail center development in what he likes to call "Sleepy Hollow." His projects caught many a retailer's eye, and Spikell found himself soon on his way to abandoning the brokerage business, and taking on the development world head-on. With real estate experience aplenty, and a collection of neighborhood-altering projects along the way, Spikell agreed to talk about his new projects, architecture and the pitfalls of developing in DC.

DC MUD: What made you enter the real estate development business and how has it changed since then?

Spikell: I had been developing some smaller projects on the side while being a broker, and found one project that my partner Richard Lake had been working on for several years, a piece of land in Virginia owned by a family that was very involved in real estate, but not retail. Someone had brought them an offer to lease the land and develop something we thought was an awful project. Richard showed it to me and I said, ‘don’t let them do that, that would really be a shame. Maybe we ought to develop something for them.’ So we put together a development plan and a pro forma and brought in a fellow that had been one of Richard’s first clients in the leasing business, Todd Weiss. The three of us met with the land owners and showed them our plan and they liked it. We said, 'we’ll joint venture this and build it.' So we built this shopping center, and one of the anchors was a CVS drug store. CVS started talking about having a preferred developer program and asked if we would be interested in participating. So we met with CVS, helped them fashion a preferred developer program, and we started building drugstores. That’s when we named ourselves Roadside Development; since we were building small strip shopping centers and drugstores, we thought it was a perfect name.

DC MUD: Have things changed much since then?

Spikell: I guess in ten years a lot changes. One thing that changed is that the shopping center development business became a lot more competitive than it was when we started. It was a couple of companies that were driven by large investment funds that seemed to dominate that business. That wasn’t us. We’re different – some developers, their goal is to put money to work. When they look at a potential project the goal is how much can we get invested, and how much return can we get? We’re a little different. Every one of our projects that we’ve done so far, we’ve done with a different partner, and they’ve all been good partners, but we pick the partner to match the deal, not the deal to match the partner. It gives us a lot more flexibility.

DC MUD: So would it be fair to say that you try to see where you can have the greatest impact?

Spikell: I think our approach is more of creative problem solving. Starting with the needs of a land owner or retailer, and sometimes an investor, but in the case of our Potomac Town Center project, there an investor was anxious to make an investment in that market, bought the land along with a development plan and then brought us in to modify the plan to make it work more profitably, then carry it out. So our approach is more problem solving.

DC MUD: So how do you make decisions on what’s worth developing and what’s not?

Spikell: We look at sites and we think ‘Is there something we can do that’s creative and productive?’ The other thing is, since we don’t have a particular product type that we feel we have to build, a lot of it is looking for opportunities to build projects that are in tune with the community. What we find is, when you go into a community, they’re your customers, and if you want to bring retail, you want to bring retail that your customers want and will patronize. And so there’s a certain synergy there that makes a lot of sense. Purcellville (one of Roadside's retail center projects, pictured at right) is a great example. Maybe it would have been more productive for that land to build fast foods and gas stations, but it’s really not what people wanted. What they needed, what there was demand for, was some upscale retail, so that everyone didn’t have to get in their car and drive out to Leesburg. So, it worked out great for us

DC MUD: Let’s talk about some of your projects; they always seem to be near or around Metro stations, that’s not a coincidence is it?

Spikell: No, we’re big believers in Smart Growth. Since we work in the greater metropolitan area, we work in Howard County, Prince William County, Loudon County, Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria. And when you have a regional perspective, it becomes all the more clear that for our quality of life and our ecology in general, Smart Growth is very important. It’s very important to have clustered growth where we have the infrastructure in place already. Sprawl is something that should be discouraged. And if you look at retailers that serve urban communities, oftentimes they’re in locations that they secured years ago, and then everything filled in around them. Now when they need a modern facility, they don’t have the space to put their typical prototype, so you have to be very creative. And if you’re near a Metro Stop, it allows you then to build valuable residential that’ll pay for some of the outrageous costs. Like in the case of our O street project, we’re putting all of the truck loading underground. Now a retailer, by itself, could not afford to pay for that. But the fact that there’s residential in a fabulous location within walking distance to gallery place and downtown and has the metro, the residential is paying for that. It’s great synergy. Everybody wins.

DC MUD: Back to O Street Market, we got some questions from some of our readers about whether the Giant Market will be closed during the time construction. Will it?

Spikell: You know, we figured out this very clever phasing plan for Giant, where we could work around them, and then open the new store and close the old one. And they looked at the plan, and they said given the size of this project, where we’re going to be digging this very deep hole and taking out tons and tons of mud out of the ground right in front of our store, it’s not a great environment for our customers, and it’s not a great environment to sell food. So they decided that it probably would make a lot more sense to close down. So the deal we have is that we must complete the store in no greater than two years from the date they close the doors. So in the meantime, we’ll be running shuttle buses to the nearest Giant.

DC MUD: How about architecture, when you’re seeking an architect, what do you look for most?

Spikell: It depends; sometimes we look for an architect who has a lot of retail experience, who kind of gets it and understands the needs of the retailers because retail is a function of business, and the buildings have to function properly, otherwise it’s very expensive and has a significant impact on the bottom line. The other thing is having somebody who designs interesting and high quality projects. It’s a little different; some developers may look more at cost effectiveness and productivity. Those are important, but they’re not the most important things for us.

DC MUD: Are there any architects that you particularly like?

Spikell: The team that we work with most is Shalom Baranes and Rounds VanDuzer. Rounds VanDuzer is, I think, one of the best retail architecture firms in the area. They are very creative, they do attractive buildings and they are very, very experienced with retail.

DC MUD: What about the current market conditions. Do they have an affect on your operations?

Spikell: I mean if you’re talking about the Washington market on a general basis, it’s a terrific place. The local economy is healthy, it’s still producing jobs and the oversupply of housing will get absorbed, and the demand will create a market for new housing. It’s a matter of time. Now we see something very interesting happen in retail. Whenever there’s a slowdown nationally, we get more interest in Washington for retail. The reason is, retailers are driven to expand, and public companies always want to show growth. Now if you have to open stores, where do you look? Well you say, ‘what are the strongest markets, and who’s doing best?’ Washington’s always on that list, and so all of a sudden they always focus more on Washington. Retail can be a little counter-cyclical here, that’s why we get more interest when the rest of the nation is ‘soft.’

DC MUD: Why Shaw, and do you think your timing is good there?

Spikell: Yeah I think our timing is excellent. Even with the current softness of the market, I wish our building was done already – it’s a fabulous location. Already some of the great restaurants are moving in, and I think there will be a lot of new shops opening, and there will be the best grocery store in the entire eastern United States, I think. It’s going to be the biggest grocery store in the city. That being said, if you walk a block, east or west, from our location, you’re on beautiful streets that have wonderful bones. You know, Shaw had its problems with crime, but I think the way you get rid of crime is to get rid of blight. Unfortunately our market building caved in, but we’re going to fix that and I think it will have a real positive effect on the neighborhood.

DC MUD: If you could change one element of the development approval process, what would it be?

Spikell: I think it would be better if we could get the scope and density of a project entitled, separately from having to provide all of the detail and design. In a P.U.D. you’re really answering a lot more questions than I would like to answer before you know whether or not you’ve got something that’s viable. What would be best is if you could go in to a zoning commission, or whichever agency, and say ‘here’s the concept of what we want to do, here are the major elements, here’s the amount of density, here’s how tall the buildings are going to be, and here are the benefits.’ And get them to entitle that before you have to design it and show where every window and every door is, because that’s a different level of design. And I think it’s a detriment to have to go to that extent of design, just to find out whether or not the density and the height is going to be acceptable. And after spending all of that time and money and getting guidance from the Office of Planning, you could go to the Zoning Commission and then get shot down, and I think it would be better of this staged it.

DC MUD: Stage one for functionality and stage two for the design details.

Spikell: Yeah. And in suburban life they have a site planning process, and you do that first. And once you’ve gone through the site planning process and you get entitled, then you go and you do the rest of the design. That I think would be an advantage. If it could proceed quickly and allowed for reasonable flexibility.

DC MUD: What do you think is the most important aspect in developing a successful project?

Spikell: I think it’s producing something that the market will accept. That’s got to be the most important.

DC MUD: If you had to pick one area in DC with the most economic potential, which would it be?

Spikell: Oh Shaw. Although I will say, you know Shaw is realizing its potential now, but I think there are areas in DC that are just, just beginning. I mean everywhere there’s a metro station, you look at Rhode Island Avenue and Fort Totten. Rhode Island Avenue is a good example; you’ve got industrial uses clustered around metro stations close to downtown. You know that’s not going to last. Fort Totten has major projects already underway. Same thing with Petworth is already underway, and along the green line. No question that those are the places where the greatest opportunities are. And I hope they all develop as good walking neighborhoods.

DC MUD: Your next generation of buildings, will they all be green?

Spikell: Yes. They’re going to be green to the greatest extent that we can make them green. We’re looking at doing a couple of things that are unusual, we’re trying to study new ways that we can do mixed-use. We learned something interesting with Cityline, we never took advantage of it, but I wish we had. We had a retailer there, Best Buy, who never turns on the heat. In the coldest days of the winter, they don’t need heat because they have all these electronics in the store that create heat. And I wish we had a way of utilizing that. So what we’re doing in both our Glebe project and our O street project is: the grocery stores have refrigeration systems that take heat out of the freezers and coolers. What do you do with that heat? In a typical suburban grocery store, they take it up to a unit on the roof that blows it out into the air. We’re looking at ways that we can reclaim that heat that’ll make a difference. The other things that we’re planning on doing are out there already, you know, green roofs and energy efficient appliances and lighting. Both of those grocery stores are very likely to be LEED certified, and we can’t take all of the credit for that because both of those companies, a lot of retailers, are getting on the bandwagon, because its smart. Its smart business.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Allegro says: Arrivaderci Condos

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Metro Properties Inc. has just announced that the Allegro Condominiums, their 297 unit project at 3460 14th Street, NW, in Columbia Heights, has joined the tide of reverse condo conversions and is now destined to become an apartment building.

According to Jeremy Rubenstein, CEO of Metro Properties, the firm had finished their sales for the initial phase back in July, "right before the worst part of the instability of the housing market hit." MP had planned to resume condo sales this spring. "It actually has been an enormously successful condo sales program," Rubenstein said, adding "we reasonably suspected it would continue to be successful, but we looked at the risk in the financial environment and the uncertainty that many of our purchasers faced if sales did not meet our hopes and expectations. The rental market is tremendous in that location, and we decided it was the best choice for the area...we had been mulling it over for the past couple months. We're tremendously excited about this. We decided that our purchasers and our firm would be far better off."

Rubenstein expects that the entire building will be converted to apartments, and that Metro Properties will not keep any of the original purchasers as condo owners. Rubenstein predicts that its unlikely that leasing agents will have any trouble unloading the metal panel and brick apartment building with its nine foot ceilings, large balconies, hardwood floors, and underground parking. For the truly discerning, Allegro will have 62 two-level penthouse units with gigantic private outdoor roof decks, and interior apartments that face a courtyard with a reflecting pool. If all of that isn't enough, the largest retail project in DC history will be opening its doors in March, just 1000 feet from Allegro, offering tenants an assortment of shopping choices...and a Target.

The Allegro site is on the location of the old Giant Supermarket and surrounding parking lot, which was bulldozed in 2006 to make way for the new building. Metro Properties purchased the whole site in three phases, buying the Giant lot in June of 2006, and acquiring the two supplementary sites the next month. Marriottsville Construction, LLC, an affiliate of Harkins Builders, expects to complete construction by the fall of this year (construction photo at bottom).

Washington DC real estate development news

Tenley/Janney - More Controversy Over RFP

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Loyal readers of DCMud know that back in November the District government issued an RFP for the Tenley Library/Janney School at 4450 Wisconsin Ave, NW after a contentious battle with neighbors over development rights. Now the DC government has changed the scope of the RFP, post RFP, piling yet more controversy on the project.

The site will house a new library (rendering pictured), and Janney School needs a renovation and expansion pronto, so the RFP sought a builder that could quickly provide both. In exchange for their public contributions, the developer would be allowed to add another element to the library site, presumably housing, to make it worth their while. The Office of Planning and Economic Development received three bids by the January 4th deadline, with LCOR, Roadside Development, and the See Forever Foundation responding to the RFP. Now comes the wrinkle.

The Office of Planning, no doubt for reasons wholesome and honorable, changed the scope of the bid requirements on February 1st, dividing the site into two separate proposals, forbidding housing to be added to the library site on Wisconsin Avenue, and opening the possibility that housing be built on the same lot as the school. The amendment disqualified all submissions that do not meet the revised qualifications. According to the RFP addenda: "Any proposal that include (sic) a development program that integrates the Library within the larger redevelopment footprint will no longer be considered responsive."

DMPED notified two of the three certified developers of the change, requesting they re-submit their bids with solely the Janney school in scope. Although this does not take the residential aspect completely off the table, it does make things rather difficult, leaving bidders to work with only half of the site, with the possibility of condos on the same lot as the school. Sources claim that the new wording could allow for residential to be built above the library, such as cantilevering a residential structure to hang over the library, technically conforming to the new RFP.

Ross Little, Development Director at LCOR, told DCMud "It's clear that the Deputy Mayor's Office is trying to take full and proper analysis of the neighborhood's concerns." Charitable intentions and diplomacy notwithstanding, District officials are giving the initial developers two weeks to submit their reconfigured bids, a daunting task for a complex plan to hang 100 condo units from an offset core over a $16 million library. Speculators suppose that this change will in fact expedite the fruition of the new library, much sought by some members of the neighborhood, since that half of the project is fully funded by the city, which will cough up roughly $16 million to build it. The library site is being excavated now and construction is scheduled to finish in late 2009; all the books and pencil-sharpeners should be ready for a 2010 opening.

ANC 3E will be considering the issue at 7:30 PM on Valentines Day at St. Mary’s Church at 42nd and Fessenden Streets, NW. A community meeting will be held on February 28 at the Janney School for the invited respondents to present their plans to the public.

Monday, February 11, 2008

SE to See New Charter School

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Last week, the Board of Zoning Adjust- ment approved plans for KIPP DC to build the second phase of their charter school development at 4801 Benning Road, SE. Phase one, which started construction last March, is set to finish this April, allowing phase two to begin shortly thereafter. Both phases were designed by a joint venture architectural team: Studio 27 and Devrouax and Purnell.

KIPP stands for Knowledge Is Power Programs, and is self described as being "a network of free open-enrollment college preparatory public schools in under-resourced communities throughout the United States." KIPP DC is part of the larger national network; the charter school currently operates on four campuses in the District: AIM, LEAP, KEY and WILL academies. The charter school is aiming to reach more kids on their own turf. Real Estate Director Alex Shawe explains: "The simplest answer is that KIPP DC is one of the highest performing public schools in the entire District, and it's important to have a campus that's located near where the majority of our students actually live. And it's also important for those students to have a facility that matches our high expectations of academic performance."

The total plan will create two schools for KIPP, a 56,000 s.f. elementary school which can hold up to 600 students, and the recently approved 29,000 s.f. middle school, which can hold up to 320 studious youngsters. The school's new home is a 51,000 s.f. site which used to house the old Benning supermarket, now demolished. Construction of the new schools is so far privately funded, though it is anticipated that tax exempt bonds will be issued in the Spring to help finance the project. Forrester Construction is building the facilities; KIPP plans to be finished with the entire development by February of 2009.

But don't think that this new school will give your kids a better shot at getting in; KIPP is already at capacity this year. The new campus is going to allow KEY and LEAP academies to move out of their leased space and into a permanent home. KEY, for fifth through eighth graders, currently enrolls 320 students, LEAP will eventually house pre-kindergarten to fourth graders. KIPP claims that in a 2005 Stanford verbal and math test, KIPP students scored in the 92nd and 71st percentiles, respectively; local neighborhood school students scored an worrying 22% and 21%. In that same year, incoming fifth graders scored an average of 31% on a math test; in the Spring those test scores rocketed to 94%.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Bids Close Today on DC Food Bank Warehouse

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Today was the end of the bidding phase for a project that will provide a new distribution center and much-needed office space for Capital Area Food Bank at 4900 Sixth Street, NE, just three blocks from Providence Hospital, adjacent to the Fort Totten Metro tracks. Jair Lynch, the owner's agent for CAFB, attracted five bidders to the development: Turner Construction, Smoot Construction, Forrester Construction, Epstein Construction, Gilford Construction and E.E. Reed Construction - a winner should be announced in a few weeks. McDonald Williams Banks Architects designed the new distribution facility.

CAFB purchased the site in December of 2005 for $10.35 million with a little help from Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in the form of a $1.5 million loan, and had help from the Department of Housing and Community Development. According to LISC: "The new facility will not only allow CAFB to expand programs now stalled due to space constraints, but will increase efficiencies of product movement, provide additional storage space for both dry and refrigerated food donations, increase truck access through a greater number of varied dock spaces, and install a re-packaging room that will allow them to accept bulk donations. It will also provide much needed administrative space that will allow for improved management of programs and general administration."

MWB has designed a 40-foot tall, 110,000-s.f. distribution center and found a way to use an existing 2-story, 25,000 s.f. office space for CAFB's staff by gutting and renovating its interior. "We will keep the existing masonry on the exterior of the current office and the interior will be maintained and restored, keeping a majority of the existing terrazo floor intact. In the warehouse, the exterior will be clad with metal panels and of course the interior will be concrete slab equipped with a racking system to store the foodstuffs," said Andre Banks, principal at McDonald Williams Banks.

The total project will entail 145,000 s.f. of renovation and new construction; an estimate puts a price tag at around $25 million.

CAFB claims they need the new site because they are outgrowing their old digs at 645 Taylor Street, NE. According to the US Census Bureau, more than 600,000 DC metro-residents are "at risk of, or experiencing hunger." CAFB's old site allowed them to serve about 275,000 local residents, but they're hoping with the larger spaces they can have a more efficient and widespread effect.

"The gist of why we're doing this is that the need is growing. A new facility will enable us to get access to more food, in and out to our member agencies. In addition, we will be able to significantly enhance and increase our outreach programs such as nutrition education, life-skills and empowerment," said Brian Smith, Chief Operating Officer at CAFB. The do-gooders hope to move in to their new facility within the next year.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Mt. Vernon Church-Office to Ascend

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Carr Properties has just finished digging for the foundation for their project at 901 K Street, NW, and is now ready to go vertical. After contractors finish pouring the first set of pilings, the developer will set the tower crane which will allow for construction of the 12-story building.

The new addition adjacent to Mt. Vernon Square will be sandwiched in between the United Methodist Church at the easternmost corner, and the Henley Park Hotel at the northwestern-most corner - essentially taking up the entire rest of the block. The site is directly across the street from Mt. Vernon Square and the Washington Convention Center.

As with PN Hoffman's 10th and G project nearby, Carr's development will modify an existing historic church; which in Carr's case sits at the triangular intersection between Mass Ave., K and 9th Streets. In exchange for purchasing the church's land, Carr will provide the church with about 32,000 s.f. of space in the new building. Along with getting some tenant space out of the deal, the church also scored a much-needed upgrade package out of Carr and their design firm, the Smith Group. According to John Crump, principal at Smith Group, the hundred-year-old church has seen zero updates since it was built - so architects designed (and Carr funded) the interior renovations, adding elevators to the structure, replacing mechanical and electrical circuits and providing a new slate roof. In addition Carr waterproofed the church, cleaned and restored the facade of the building and blessed the sweltering holy place with the miracle of air conditioning.

All of that for a Class A, "trophy" office building. Totaling 250,000 s.f., the mostly transparent structure will contain four-below ground levels housing a concourse level and 225 parking spaces accessible from 10th Street. Above ground, the building will sit 12 stories high, with the the Mass Ave. elevation stepping back on the ninth floor allowing for roof terraces on floors 9 and 12, as well as upper floors with "floor-to-ceiling windows with 360-degree views," according to Holliday Fenoglio Fowler, L.P., the firm that arranged the $104 million construction loan.

Carr plans for LEED Gold Certification and expects to be completed in the third quarter of 2009.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

JBG's Peck Site Goes To Final Review

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The JBG Companies has their hands full. The development firm has two weeks of hoops to jump through and a tough audience to please. Their newest project, on a 210,000-s.f., "L-shaped" site, bounded by N. Glebe Road, Wilson Blvd, N. Wakefield Street and Fairfax Drive in Ballston - aka. the Peck site - will be reviewed by Arlington's countless advisory boards which will scrutinize their plans to build roughly 800,000 s.f. of mixed-use development. The Division of Transportation will be taking a gander today, the Planning Division on Monday, the Housing Division on the 14th, the Tenant/Landlord Division on the 20th and then the County Board will take each party's comments into consideration for its decision on the 23rd.

Cooper Carry Associates' design plans call for two highrise office buildings totaling roughly 415,000 s.f., a four-story apartment building with 90 affordable housing units and about 28 townhouses. The site plan, as amended by the County, will feature a 10-story office building at the corner of Glebe Road and Wilson Blvd. with 25,000 s.f. of ground floor retail, a 7-story office building mid-block along Glebe Road with roughly 10,000 s.f. of retail, nine townhouses on the east side and the remaining 19 townhouses on the western end of the site. The "U"-shaped apartment building will sit on the southern end of the block, "turning the corner along Wilson Blvd. and the new 9th Street North," according to the current County Staff Report.

Steve Smith, Principal at Cooper Carry, was more eager to discuss the two office buildings than any other aspect of the project: "The 800 building (at the corner of Wilson and Glebe) will have a sweeping glass sail, and the glass curtainwalls follow the movement along Glebe Road. The 900 building (mid-block) also has a floating curtainwall system that mimics the movement of Glebe. [The 900 building] has a great axial view, and the height of the curtainwall crescendos the closer the building gets to the corner of Glebe and Wilson, and that gives it an iconic terminal point. That's the area where you'll see the vast distant views on Wilson. That's the area that's most prominent."

JBG is offering a number of benefits to the community with this project including LEED Certified office buildings (one building gets the gold while one gets the silver), public garage parking and an open plaza with outdoor seating, and pathways to connect the two buildings.

A rough estimate puts the onset of construction in the second quarter of this year.

Douglas's Takoma Park Apartments Approved

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Yesterday morning, the Board of Zoning Adjustment granted Douglas Development Corporation subsidiary Jemal’s TP Land, LLC final approval and entitlements for its paired apartment buildings at Maple and Willow Streets, NW, in the Takoma Park neighborhood. The development site sits about two blocks east of the Takoma Metro station, within a few feet of the Maryland border.

The 102,000-s.f. site sits in the middle of a block bounded by Maple, Willow and Carroll Streets and Sandy Spring Rd. NW; the future buildings will run parallel to Maple and Willow Streets, fronting Maple for 420 feet and Willow for 407 feet. The site is now occupied by three single family homes and a parking lot; the rest is vacant. In order to clear the way for the apartment buildings, Douglas will renovate and relocate the three homes to the south side of the site to "reinforce the transition between the existing community and the proposed development," according to the BZA application.


Douglas' now-approved buildings, designed by GTM Architects, are planned to top out at 40 feet, each with roughly 41,000 gross square feet, and each having 38 units - scaled back from the original 55,000-s.f. buildings with 40 units each. Douglas will have its landscapers provide more than 25,000 s.f. of green space on the site and plant a wall of evergreen trees on the north end of the lot - apparently to shield neighbors from views of the large surface parking lots that will dominate the complex. The BZA files describe the project as "incorporat[ing] details from the traditional Washington DC apartment buildings from the early part of the twentieth century. A belt course and decorated cornice line visually reduces the mass...while adding architectural interest to the building facade."

Albeit a few minor bumps regarding a roof stairwell that was a little too high and a little too close to the building's facade, Douglas' project has smoothly sailed through the application process, taking just 18 months from start to finish. The Historic Preservation Review Board, required to approve because the site since it lies in the Takoma Park Historic District, gave their assent in February of 2007, and the Office of Planning gave its benediction on November 5th.

A few neighbors complained of potential "flooding, traffic and street parking, [an] absentee landlord, crowding of existing homes and noise and the loss of green space," but the Office of Planning weighed in, saying that the project would have a "positive impact on the immediate neighborhood."

The project site sits across from the long-awaited Ecco Park condominium project, which SGA Architects had designed and planned for development at 235 Carroll Street, purchasing the site of the former gas station and remediating the soil in 2006, but which has yet to see construction begin despite several predictions of an imminent groundbreaking.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Logan Circle Condo Begins Sales Today

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DC Hampton, LLC is unveiling its newest addition to the DC condominium market today - the Citta 50 condos at 1450 Church Street NW. Now about 50% complete, developer Andrew Economakis began sales today, and anticipates completion at the end of this year. The 27-unit building is priced from $350,000 for a one-bedroom unit to about $1.15 million for the 2-story, 1,700-s.f. penthouse.


DC's Bonstra Haresign Architects started designing the building back in 2005, having to go through both Historic Preservation Review Board and Board of Zoning Adjustment approval processes. HPRB had jurisdiction because the condo incorporates the historic, 3-story building by John A. Lankford building (on the bottom left of the above diagram) - the architect behind the well known True Reformer Building at 12th & U Streets. The building had functioned as a coal distribution facility almost 100 years ago. Bonstra Haresign incorporated Lankford's structure into the 7- story, 34,700-s.f. project, surrounding and above the existing historic building.

"We are excited about the design of this project as a surprisingly contemporary building incorporating a retained historic structure. A lively composition of masonry and glass forms create a 'collage' of building elements seemingly built over a period of time. The building is topped by an oval shaped rooftop 'beacon' of translucent poly-carbonate that will glow at night" said partner Bill Bonstra.

The building, when complete, will sit on one of DC's few true industrial streets, lined with auto repair garages and warehouses, now converted to swank condos, such as PN Hoffman's Metro and Metropolis Development's The Metropole, both of which flank the newcomer. Look out Georgetown - Logan is quickly becoming the place to be for the hip, the cool....the funkay (insert a James Brown-esque 'Ow' as needed).

"I fell in love with [Church] street - it's just an amazing niche, off-beat street. It was a very industrial area, but with this building we've kept it very modern and industrial looking, and added a personal touch. That's one thing I like about this building, it's designed nicely, it's very modern. It was really cool the way Bill (Bonstra) blended together the modern and historic aspects," said Economakis, Owner and Managing Member of DC Hampton.

SE Developer to Go-it Alone on Robinson Place

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Southeast will soon see a new pair of buildings staring each other down across Robinson Place, SE, if zoning gives it the nod today. District-Properties.com intends to build a condo building at 2825 Robinson Place, and an apartment building across the street at 2836 Robinson Place, applications for which will be reviewed today at a Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing. District-Properties currently awaits a decision before the board regarding their application for a special exemption to build these multi-family projects, a process necessary in R-5-A zoning districts.

BZA found minor flaws with each building after their last hearing on January 15th. According to BZA's review of the condo, District-Properties.com needs to "refine the project so that the building's articulation and facade are compatible with the neighborhood." Their comments on the apartment building were similar: "The board felt that the building's design does not mimic the characteristics of the neighborhood and appears not to be in harmony with the surrounding buildings." Overall, the board saw the aesthetics of the two buildings a tad too ornate. In response to these comments, District-Properties.com had to submit revised plans by last Tuesday in order to allow the Office of Planning adequate time to file their supplemental comments.

District Properties was founded in 2002 by Mohammad Sikder; over the past six years, the firm has matured in the development world from renovating single family homes to developing multi-unit condominiums and apartments. But unlike many development firms who hire outside help for the process, Mohommad likes keeping expertise under his own roof - excepting the tedious subcontracting work. Speaking with DC Mud about his plans for Robinson Place, and his focus on keeping the work in-house, Sikder stated "I have architects, engineers, project managers and assistants. We have acquired the land, designed it and will develop it ourselves. Our whole team works together."

Their plans for Robinson Place call for the two residential buildings on two vacant lots near the intersection of Jaspar Road and Robinson. The condominium will be a 3-story, 17-unit building with 11 two-bedroom and 6 three-bedroom units, on a 19,525 s.f. lot; plans include landscaped areas surrounding the building, 17 surace parking spaces and a brick cladding facade. The apartment building will also be 3 stories but will have one less unit and one less parking space on a 17,500-s.f. lot. Both will top out at 40 feet. The Office of Planning recommended approval on January 8th.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Eckington Condos: Going Once...Going Twice...

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A condominium project in Eckington will be put on the auction block this month, the first such auction of individual condominiums in DC in recent memory. Todd Place Condos, at 302-310 Todd Place, NE, began sales in the middle of last year, and will auction off 12 units individually on site on February 18th. While the auctioning of entire projects has been increasingly common as a way to avoid long carrying costs, developers in Washington DC have not previously chosen to auction units individually, and have instead opted to lower prices or to rent units until condo prices rise. Located just to the north of NoMa, where more than 10m s.f. of commercial space is planned or under construction, Eckington has seen a surge in residential development as developers anticipate the need for housing as a counterweight to the massive commercial development on its border.

Prices for Todd Place initially began in the low $300's for two-bed, one-bath condos, each fully renovated from a row of pre-war apartment buildings, with parking spaces being auctioned separately. Also on the auction block on the same date will be 4 units at 1609 Isherwood St., NE, in the Hill East community. Homeland Auctions will be conducting the auctions, which conducted the auctions for the Parkside of Alexandria last year.
 

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