Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Whitman-Walker Stalls at the HPRB

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As expected, the Historic Preservation Review Board sided with Historic Preservation Office staff and has sent JBG’s proposed redevelopment of 14th Street's Whitman-Walker Clinic headquarters back to the drawing board.



After a 6-2 vote, the panel told the developer and architect Shalom Baranes to “restudy the proposal with regard to the design of the facade and the location of the garage entrance, to incorporate on-site interpretative information on the historic role of the Whitman-Walker clinic, and return to the Board when appropriate.”

The development team had previously taken a lashing from both the local ANC and Board of Zoning Adjustment with regards to perceived design flaws in the residential project.

4 New High-Rises for Alexandria's Eisenhower Ave?

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Who, in the real estate world, isn't happy to see 2008 behind them? Not Binghamton, New York-based developer Lane Development, LLC, which has been in negotiations with Alexandria's Carlyle/Eisenhower East Design Review Board (DRB) now for four years - to bring a four-tower, mixed-use project to the Eisenhoser Avenue section of Alexandria, Virginia. Finally, after seemingly endless carpet-bagger treatment with bouts of redesigning and negotiation, it looks like 2009 might just be the year they see their plans realized.

Lane's intent is to build an expansive 4-tower development on what is currently two (mostly) vacant lots at 2100 and 2203 Mill Road in Alexandria, within sight of the Beltway. The first two buildings would be devoted to residential housing, in the form of one 22-story tower and one 19-story that together amount to 474,000 square feet. These as-of-yet untitled buildings would include 61,197 square feet of publicly accessible open space, a 515-space parking garage, 5,700 square feet of ground floor retail and, the raison d'etre, 485 residential units – 28-34 of which have been earmarked as affordable. The final number is contingent upon whether Lane decides to devote the project to condo or rental (though if rents continue to go up while demand continues down, our money is on the latter).


The residential “twins” will then be complemented by two similarly-designed office towers on a neighboring parcel that currently houses the headquarters of the American Trucking Federation. The project’s office component is bit smaller in scale, 15 and 13-stories, but Lane intends to fully integrate the developments via two new roads: Port Street to the west and Dock Lane to the south. The latter will provide retail frontage for the residential portion of the project, while also linking up with a planned pedestrian causeway and straddling a PN Hoffman–controlled (but undeveloped) lot next door. Furthermore, the developers plan to provide a buffer between the office towers and the neighboring freeway with a curved wall running along Mill Road that is described as “the accent skyline feature…as seen from the Capital Beltway." The entire development is being designed by James Wright of Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects.

So what’s the hold-up? Lane initially received DRB approval for 2203 Mill Road in April 2006, but went back before the board in mid-2008 due with “major design changes.” In doing so, the residential buildings lost 55 feet of height from the intended “highly articulated crowns at the center of each tower.” DRB staff also went so far as to encourage the reduction of the buildings symmetrical appearance by using an assortment of materials rather than just the “vertical brick and beige precast forms” originally planned for all four buildings. This came after the DRB’s 2006 conditional approval in which the Board contradictorily told Lane to “reduce the number of add-on elements, in order to allow the body of the building to read.”

The official line of Alexandria at present is that “the project [is] on hold pending resolution of bus loop reconfiguration for the Eisenhower Metro Station.” However, there appears to be one ray of sunshine in store for the out-of-town developer in the New Year; according to Natalie Sun, an Urban Planner with the Development Division of the Alexandria Department of Planning & Zoning, “[The project will be heard at the next DRB hearing in January 2009.” That meeting will be held on Thursday, January 15, 2008 at 7:00pm in Room 2000 of the Alexandria City Hall. Stay tuned to DCmud for updates on the project.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

JBG's 14th Street Project Faces HPRB Critique

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Tomorrow may be another strike for the JBG Companies' plans for a new residential project on 14th Street, NW. After a melee of negative public testimonials before the BZA two weeks ago, and the resulting ANC vote against the project, the staff report of the District’s Historic Preservation Office (HPO), which reports to the Historic Preservation Review Board, has recommended that the project be redesigned. The staff report criticizes the developer’s plans for the redevelopment of the Whitman-Walker Clinic Headquarters on 14th Street, which the HPO does not see as meshing with the Logan Circle neighborhood.

“While optimistic that the applicant’s general program can be achieved, the design is not compatible with the character of the historic district as proposed,” states the report. The HPO staff goes on to point specifically to the project’s design, by Shalom Baranes Architects, against what they consider the right direction for new development along 14th Street. A few highlights include (original emphasis included) the “rhythm of fenestration,” “vertical emphasis of surrounding historic buildings,” proportion of masonry to glass” and “the scale of elements.” So much for JBG’s vision of building a glass-faced, seven-story residential development in the middle of the federal-style corridor, though the critique could apply equally to other nearby projects underway, such as View14 (pictured) six blocks north. The HPRB’s final decision is expected to be posted tomorrow, December 31st, and is expected to be in keeping with the staff recommendation.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Inauguration Invasion a Bust for Many

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Plenty of media outlets have reported on the surplus of inauguration rental inventory - the hoards of property owners whose dreams of cashing in on the inaugural frenzy while (happily) fleeing DC for anywhere else have slowly faded. A storied few cashed in big, and hoteliers and retailers aren't complaining, but for many local condo owners and apartment managers, the occasion has been more bust than boom.

Despite the three million or so people set to descend on the Capitol during the third week of January, aspirants posted more than 1400 ads on the "Sublets & Temporary" housing section of Craigslist for Washington DC area - and that's just today. Gone are the $15,000 house rentals in the 'burbs, replaced by $500 furnished sublets in Dupont Circle, some of which have received not a single inquiry.
And apartment owners seeking to draw “change”-frenzied clientèle have had notably less success than their hotel competitors. Developers like Broadway Development, which is seeking to fill the hundreds of unoccupied units of their Senate Square project at 201 I Street, NE, have largely been unsuccessful at converting the Obama faithful into short-term tenants.

“We started advertising actively about a week after the election,” says Meredith Giantsos, a sales associate for the 432-unit development. “What we’re offering is a one-bedroom with den for $4,000 or two-bedroom for $5,000 – and that’s a flat rate… We haven’t really put a cap on [the number of units available for the inauguration] because we are a new building and have a quite a bit of availability.” The pair of apartment towers began leasing earlier this year after an aborted condo pitch, but having leased a little more than a third to full-time tenants, have only been able to find inaugural occupants for 6 of the units.

But the opposite problem awaits building owners whose units are leased: tenants subleasing their apartments create potential hazards for building owners and managers, many of whom have issued notices to tenants over proper subleasing procedures. Keener-Squire PropertiesChastleton building at 1701 16th Street, NW, has posted a list of penalties for residents who sublease from January 17th to 25th. Those residents who fail to notify the management of guests (anyone “who will be residing in a unit for more than 12 hours”) or of sublessees, by January 15th, will be hit with a $500 per guest/per day fine. “The [Chastleton Cooperative] Board would like to thank you for your cooperation during this historic occasion,” says the memorandum in conclusion.

Such special precautions and selective rule bending are especially in play along developments that front along Pennsylvania Avenue’s presidential parade route. One such building, the Lawrence Ruben Company’s aptly-named The Pennsylvania, at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, has capped the amount of party-goers it will allow to view the procession from its rooftop. The mixed-use development will split a total of 200 tickets between the building’s residents and commercial tenants – thereby insuring that even condo owners will be prevented from having more than one than guest in the house once January 20th rolls around.
"This is a really exciting opportunity. I'm glad I can watch the inauguration without having to wade through the crowds,” says Pennsylvania resident Colin Samples. “On the other hand, it's going to be a nightmare to get around down here, and I'm a bit disappointed about the maximum of two tickets."


Samples had been intending to watch the parade along with his neighbors, but will now instead watch what little he can from his east-facing balcony, and give up the ticket to a neighbor with children. The Pennsylvania's management has informed residents that the ticketing system is the result of strictly enforced District fire code regulations and, additionally, that their names have been submitted to the Secret Servicea norm for buildings facing on the fabled Capitol to White House route – which will be personally checking ID on the day of the event. “[I’m] still a bit disappointed,” says Samples, “but I understand their reasons for doing so.” A commendable attitude indeed, when DC residents are now more likely to be strip-searched than rewarded for their good choice of real estate.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Arlington Courthouse Apartments to Replace Old Executive Office Building

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Arlington's Courthouse District will be losing a prominent eyesore in the New Year, if Erkiletian Real Estate Services has their way at 2009 14th Street. A proposal pending before the Arlington Planning Commisision calls for the demolition of the 45-year-old Executive Building and adjoining parking garage (pictured) to make way for two projects that will add new condos, retail and even an entertainment venue to one of Arlington's most desirable neighborhoods.

With all the effete charm of a suburban dentist’s office, the 7-story, glass-plated bastion of Northern Virginia office architecture currently houses the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, the ominous sounding Allen Etiquette Institute and a gaggle of law firms. An amenable Planning Board staff has labeled the building “physically out of context with the neighborhood” and believes that it “obstructs the existing view” of the much revitalized Courthouse area – a judgment that would seem to work in favor of Erkiletian.

With design from the Lessard Group, the Alexandria-based developer plans to replace the Executive Building with two dissimilarly-scaled projects. The more prominent would be a 16-story, 239,000 square foot residential high-rise that would sport 247 rental units. The unnamed tower would occupy the bulk of the parcel’s southern half and front 14th Street North – just two blocks from the Courthouse Metro. In exchange for environmentally advanced LEED Gold certification, Erkiletian hopes to receive a “bonus” of .35 FAR (buildable square footage) on top of the 4.8 FAR residential density approved for the site.

Meanwhile, the project’s secondary component aims to replace a small piece of the Executive Building’s lost office potential - with a 2-story, 13,765 square foot office building that would include 2,148 s.f. of ground floor retail. The square-shaped “cube” would front North Taft Street and also serve as an entranceway to a new 1/3 acre private plaza that would divide the dueling developments.

In addition to providing a reflecting pool and off-street outpost for resident smokers, the plaza would also benefit the greater Courthouse community with a publicly accessible amphitheater that would host four to six concerts or events yearly. Erkiletian intends to include a public art component in the plaza, pending an agreement with Arlington Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources.

In stark contrast to the Executive Building’s 60s-style motif, the development team intends to clad both buildings in “terracotta/beige brick” with metal, concrete and granite accents. The neighboring projects will both sit atop a three-level, 270-space parking garage – one level of which will creep above grade along Taft Street and provide direct access to ground floor retailers and a proposed fitness center.

Erkiletian is currently projecting a third quarter 2009 start date for the project - shortly after work on their 200 unit residential project in neighboring Alexandria is scheduled to get underway.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Purple Line Panel Says Light Rail

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In a staff report released this morning, staff of the Montgomery County Planning Board collectively endorsed a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system for the passionately deliberated Purple Line. - the public transit system designed to run from Bethesda to New Carrollton, better connecting suburban Maryland to the Metro system. A contingent of Montgomery County residents had been lobbying for a bus route instead - reasoning any such rail system would be detrimental to the Capital Crescent and Georgetown Branch trail systems that shadow the Purple Line’s proposed New Carrollton-Bethesda route.

The staff decision comes after a review of a preliminary Environmental Impact Statement concerning the Purple Line and its effect on the neighboring trails. Included in the short three-page document is an outline for trail infrastructural improvements, such as a connection to Rock Creek Park, improved road crossings, retaining walls and signage, pedestrian safety measures and even the construction of a new, biker-friendly public plaza at the Line’s proposed Woodmont East terminus.

The Purple Line’s next stop is a hearing with Planning Board itself on January 8th, where, according to today’s report, four separate votes will be cast: one reaffirming support for LRT, a second for “alignment and design options,” a third to be included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, and a fourth concerning “further actions for the Montgomery County government.”

The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee will then hear arguments from both sides of the matter on January 22nd. Both panels are expected to also fall in favor of LRT – a method of transport that already counts Montgomery County Executive Isiah Legget and the Prince George’s County Council among its many supporters, as well as trail advocates Montgomery Bicycle Advocates and Coalition for the Capitol Crescent Trail, and environmentalist Sierra Club. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has yet to publicly confirm his support for LRT, but is expected to make a definitive statement in the coming months. At present, the projected cost of implementing the Purple Line is roughly $1.2 billion.

A Marriott Monopoly

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Marriott International Inc. is expanding its domination of the Washington DC metro hotel market. Their latest acquisition is a 2.4 acre triangular parcel in an Alexandria Virginia office park, where they plan to roll out one of their least established brands - the so-called Springhill Suites - maintaining a virtual monopoly over business travelers at the bustling junction of Telegraph Road and Eisenhower Avenue.

Located at 2950 Eisenhower Avenue, the new hotel will fall at the western end of the Alexandria Tech Center and stand just a stone's throw away from the Capital Beltway. This newest Springhill Suites will measure in at five-stories and 152 rooms, made up of 106 king suites and 46 double queen suites. Amenities planned for the site include an indoor swimming pool, lounge, small conference room, a gym, an outdoor terrace and shuttle service to the nearby Eisenhower Avenue Metro Station. Designed by architects Davis Carter Scott, the project is expected to come in at a cost of roughly $13 million.

The project was unanimously approved by the both the Alexandria Planning Commission and City Council in mid-November. Marriott already has a hotel in the Alexandria Tech Center – a 98,000 square foot Marriott Courtyard that bookends the opposite side of the development.

The Planning Board staff praised the Springhill project as providing “an enhanced gateway to the Alexandria Tech Center and the Eisenhower Valley with an open space plaza and interesting building design,” but also chastised them their intention to use chintzy motel building materials – in this case a synthetic stucco called StoCreativ Granite.

Any qualms were abated, however, with promises of new jobs, an expanded “commercial tax base,” LEED certification and – a point not lost on urban planners - $13 million in promised new tax revenue to be generated by the hotel over the next decade. A number of local associations, including Carlyle Eisenhower Civic Association, the Cameron Parke Home Owner Association, the Eisenhower Partnership and the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations, have also lent their approval to the project.

Marriott describes the Springhill Suites brand as “a prototype…geared toward the younger business traveler” with less expensive, yet large rooms with accompanying work space and internet access. In addition to the neighboring Courtyard location, the Tech Center’s newest tenant will also join a Strayer College location and a cluster of mid-rise office buildings along Eisenhower Avenue. Construction is expected to commence in the fourth quarter of 2009.

In addition to the planned Springhill Suites location, the hotelier also has plans in the works for double hotels on one block in downtown Crystal City and another under construction in Arlington’s Courthouse District, as well as several in Arlington and Washington DC. Lacey

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Museum Adds to Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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After more than five years of planning, plans for the proposed Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center have finally begun to surface. The project won't begin construction until 2010, but the US Congress, National Parks Service and a host of other government authorities have already shored up their plans to build the new underground museum next to Washington's famed Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall near 23rd Street.


Following a rigorous nationwide design contest held in 2004, the honor of designing a complement to one of Washington’s most visited and emotionally powerful tributes went to the Polshek Partnership Architects and Ralph Appelbaum Associates. Polshek will contribute the exterior designs, while Ralph Appelbaum has been charged with designing the interior exhibits. The Center will be the third collaboration between the two firms, as they previously worked together in a similar capacity on the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas and the Newseum in Washington. The Memorial Wall's original designer, Maya Lin, has lent her approval to their designs.

Once completed, the Center will measure in at roughly 25,000 square feet and be dug into an elevated area next to the Memorial. As visitors approach the site of the east, the Center’s entrance will be masked by a “gentle recess that leads to a graceful below-grade courtyard.” The decision to build underground was made so as not to affect the resonance of the neighboring Memorial, while “protecting the elegance and beauty of our beloved National Mall.” Hargreaves Associates will serve as landscape architects on the project.

The emotional impact of the neighboring complex, however, will be felt throughout the museum, as one of the planned exhibits will serve as a showcase for the nearly 100,000 objects, remembrances and tributes left at the Memorial since its completion in 1982. Other displays included in the exhibition space will include a Wall of Faces - photographs of veterans who fell in the war - and another entitled the Legacy of Service that will highlight the contributions of servicemen and women to advance our democracy from the Revolutionary War to the present conflict in Iraq.

“[That’s] the exhibit I find most riveting,” wrote Senator Chuck Hagel in American Legion op-ed last month. “It will indelibly link those who served in the Vietnam War with their comrades-in-arms of other eras and wars through core values of duty, honor and country.” In addition to being a Vietnam veteran, Hagel is also a co-chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Corporate Council.

The legislation authorizing the project prohibits use of federal funds in the planning, design and construction of the Center. The non-profit fund is currently projecting a $75-100 million budget for the project - only $18 million of which has already been accrued through donations. Time Warner has lent a generous $10 million to the project, while Boeing went public with a $1 million donation last July. A non-profit group serving families impacted by the war, Sons and Daughters In Touch, is also currently fundraising by collecting $1 for each of the 58,256 names on the Wall.

The impetus for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center came in 2003 when the law calling for the creation of Washington’s Vietnam Memorial complex was amended by President Bush. It had taken a bipartisan group of Vietnam veterans serving in the 108th Congress - including Hagel, John Kerry, John McCain, and Tom Daschle – three years to get the bill authorized.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Rentals for Falls Church

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FALLS CHURCH, VA - Landlords are finally getting their due. As the rental market makes a roaring comeback, developers are now aiming for, rather than backing into, the rental market. For the first time in more than 30 years, a developer is planning market-rate, rental residences in the center of Falls Church. And while several nearby projects shifted from for-sale to for-rent as the market shunned sales, developer Hekemian & Co. intends a new apartment building on three prime parcels within walking distance of the Northern Virginia township's Metro-serviced downtown. Though that would seem like a boon for Falls Church real estate, retailers and residents alike, its move that has drawn flak from local homeowners, yet given local civil servants a reason to be in good cheer.

Annapolis-based Hekemian plans to bring a 304,000 square foot mixed-use development called the Northgate to the intersection of North Washington and East Jefferson Streets. Using designs prepared by MVA Architects, the Northgate development will feature 119,164 square feet of residential area, which will include 95 “luxury residential rental apartments” and 10 three-story townhouses in the rear. In an interesting twist, the developer has proposed initiating a VIP program for prospective residents that provide “move-in discounts for city employees, including teachers” – meaning no security deposits or application fees for eligible tenants. Hekemian is also setting rent on 7 of the available units at an affordable rate, so paycheck-impaired educators can look forward to a double discount as well.

The residential component is to be coupled with 22,396 square feet of retail at targeted at “higher-end retailers and services” (i.e., “a white tablecloth type restaurant” or art gallery) and 15,125 square feet of separately accessible office space, though specific tenants have not been named, and developers typically court popular opinion with such desirable tenants. Given the bevy of uses in play on the parcel, the building height will vary from 4 to 5 stories, with the townhomes standing along the building’s rear to provide a buffer with the neighborhoods beyond. The sites at 436, 458 and 472 North Washington Street currently house a cluster of single-family homes, a funeral parlor and its adjoining parking lot, respectively. Convenience aside, some local homeowners in the suburb were initially concerned about the presence of a 55 foot shopping and apartment complex on the corner. Since the project first surfaced publicly in early 2007, Hekemian has retooled their plans multiple times, in accordance with the wishes of the Falls Church Planning Commission. Those changes resulted in the loss of 19 units and subsequent creation of the townhouse buffer. Even so, some remain concerned about the developer’s push for a variance that would allow them to build up to five feet from the property line, instead of the normally regulated twenty.

While still under negotiation with the Board regarding an acceptable traffic pattern, the developer has since sought to curry local favor by promising up to $20,000 worth of streetscape improvements and shooting for an ever-popular LEED (environmentally-friendly) certification.

Though Northgate has been consistently planned as rental residences, it's been beaten to the punch by others - like Pearson Square and Avera Station - that were initially conceived as condo developments, but wound up rental due to the lack of confidence in the housing market.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Community Center-Library Combo Coming to Deanwood

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Mayor Fenty was joined by representatives from the DC City Council, DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and DC Public Libraries (DCPL) this week to break ground on the new Deanwood Community Center and Library. After issuing a RFP back in October, the Banneker Ventures-led development team selected Forney Enterprises, Inc. to serve as general contractor on the project. The double duty community center is being designed by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects.

The $33 million project will stand on the same parcel as its dilapidated predecessor, at 49th and Quarles Streets, NE. The new 63,000 square foot DCC, however, promises to be anything but ramshackle with planned amenities that include an indoor swimming pool, gym, game room, daycare center and fully stocked library – the latter being a product of a collocation agreement reached between DPR and DCPL. “[This]…represents an innovative approach to design that urban areas across the country are employing in order to provide residents a variety of services in restricted public space,” said DPR Director Clark E. Ray. The new LEED-certified DCC plans to open its doors in the summer of 2010.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

PN Hoffman Talks Shop on SW Waterfront

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WASHINGTON DC - With the City Council’s unanimous approval of the Hoffman-Streuver, LLC’s $1.5 billion redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront in the bag this week, the question is no longer if the project will be built, but what and when. Given the broad scope of what has already been announced - 770 residential units, 3 new hotels, office space, entertainment venues, parks and a maritime-themed museum – just how does one go about turning 26 acres of the nationally prominent riverfront with overlapping jurisdictional oversight and zoning into a local waterfront destination? These are questions that have also nagged at PN Hoffman’s development team as they chart the course of the biggest development to hit the District since Nationals Park.

Shawn Seaman, Vice President and Project Manager of PN Hoffman, gave DCMud some insight on the developer's plans. “We have worked with our Master Planner, Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut and Kuhn, and studied hundreds of mixed-use and waterfront developments around the country and the world. Some of the best examples for dynamic and exciting waterfront projects were in Europe, and specifically Scandinavia – Oslo and Stockholm both have vibrant and well-used waterfronts,” says Seaman. “The design will embrace the “messiness” and vitality of a real working waterfront, allowing the market, the boat traffic, and the new mixed-use development to co-exist."


Additionally, Hoffman intends to make sure that the Southwest Waterfront becomes fully integrated into the fabric of District life, instead of serving as a new location for Constitution Avenue t-shirt vendors to hock their wares. “The project…is first and foremost an extension of the Southwest neighborhood. It will be the one of first waterfront neighborhoods in the District,” says Seaman.

That, however, is not to say Hoffman won’t be seeking out the revenue that come along tourism - the majority of the planned retail space will fall along Maine Avenue, within sight of the Waterfront’s (now) biggest tourist draw, the Maine Avenue Fish Market. Seaman says that PNH plans to “enhance” the market, in addition to adding “improved connections back to the Mall,” an understatement for an area that nearly requires a coyote to get you to and fro, and developers intend to make the development accessible to Washington weekenders as well as new residents with downtown jobs .

Those connections will take the form of “a pedestrian bridge or a grand staircase” connecting Metro-accessible Banneker Park to the foot of the Waterfront development. Furthermore, Hoffman intends to link their project to nearby Southeast with an extension of the Anacostia Riverwalk and is also exploring the possibility of infrastructural ties to the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. “Long range,” says Seaman, “the site would be an ideal stop on a Southeast/Southwest light rail line connecting Barrack’s Row, The Yards, the Baseball District, and Southwest Waterfront.”

Still, planning is still embryonic. And given that the project isn’t likely to begin construction until at least 2012 – not to mention the belt-tightening state of the economy – is seems reasonable to wonder where and when the first of Hoffman-Streuver’s cash will be spent. “The next two years will be focused on completing the design of the project, working with the community, and submitting for the PUD,” says Seaman. “We are confident that the capital market will have improved by the time we are ready to put a shovel in the ground.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Council OK's Southwest Waterfront Agreement

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In a vote last night, the DC City Council unanimously approved the agreement with development partner PN Hoffman to develop DC's Southwest Waterfront. The Land Disposition Agreement (LDA), signed by both the developer and District back in September, calls for an estimated $1.5 billion redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront into one of Washington DC's most massive land projects, with 770 residential units, 3 hotels, vast commercial space, and a significant retail venue.

Officially titled the "Southwest Waterfront Disposition Emergency Approval Resolution," the agreement with Hoffman-Struever LLC codifies the recent land deal, and makes way for the next stage of development planning. And while the Council's approval permits the team to "commence entitlements and design in early 2009," it will likely be at least three years until real construction begins.

Entitled by the LDA to “master developer” status, Hoffman-Struever will now be allowed to name, design and develop the $1.8 billion (including $198 million in publicly financed assets) project with little government direction.

In statement released shortly after the passage of the resolution, Hoffman said, “Our collective concern for the success of this project is very real and we are pleased that all sides have come together. We can now focus on the matter at hand – moving this vision forward.” The development team attached to the project is officially comprised of PN Hoffman, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, McCormack Baron Salazar, ER Bacon, Gotham, City Partners, Triden and the recently added Paramount Development. Acresh, another developer initially attached to the project, has since parted ways with the development team.

Washington DC real estate development news

Crystal City 2.0 in the Works

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Since the first site plan for Crystal City was completed way back in 1964, Arlington County's initial vision of a futuristic, Virginian metropolis to rival the District has turned out to be as elusive as Mid-east peace. But after two years of working side by side with the Crystal City Planning Task Force and architects Torti Gallas and Partners, the Arlington County Board has finally adopted a "long-range planning framework" that aims to revamp, with grandiosity and orderliness even Le Corbusier would envy, every aspect of Crystal City's 260 acres from the ground up, literally, and realize their initial vision. Ultimately, they hope to have 13.1 million new square feet of development in place by the end of the next decade.

New residential would make up more than half of the proposed development area for a total of 7.6 million square feet - roughly 7500 new mixed-income apartments and condos - with a large affordable housing component.

The addition of new high-rise residential buildings would go hand-in- hand with the Board's intent to completely change Crystal City's unremarkable and practically flat skyline. The team has specifically targeted parcels on the eastern side of Jefferson Davis Boulevard for large-scale additions that push heights to upwards of 300 feet, in addition to promoting “sustainable design and high-quality architecture.” Any plans for taller towers should be regarded as tentative, however, given the team has yet to consult with the FAA about possible interference with Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Ground-floor retail would also get a significant push under the plan. The intent is to spread 5.3 million square feet of new retail development “among several defined neighborhood centers.” Such centers would include the “neighborhoods” to the city’s northern edge, the central Metro station district, a southern hotel district and a new entertainment corridor along Crystal Drive. Crystal City’s main drag, Jefferson Davis Boulevard, would also be re-sculpted into a pedestrian-friendly “grand boulevard.”

That move is part of a calculated plan to finally make Crystal City walkable, as the Board plans to install 2.6 acres of new open public space, along with "5.1 acres" of new sidewalks, throughout the city. The so-called Market Square will feature a permanent shopping arcade, while a 54,500-square foot Gateway Park will serve to bridge the gap between Crystal City proper and the neighboring North Tract Park. Newly improved parks and plazas are also planned for 15th Street, 23rd Street and 25th Street. The centerpiece of all these public gathering points is the tentatively titled Center Park – a new space in the city center, one block east of Jefferson Davis Boulevard that will “help define Crystal City’s civic identity.”

The Board will begin to decipher exactly what that identity is come the first quarter of 2009 when it undertakes a review of the first draft of their plan and then passes it off to advisory commission for a second opinion. A Board decision on exactly where and when we’ll begin to see the first improvements to Crystal City is expected in the second quarter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

DC Commits to (Modest) Ivy City Redevelopment

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The District government today announced that it is aiming to "transform" one of the city's most beleaguered neighborhoods by overseeing the redevelopment of 37 vacant properties within a six-blocks radius in Northeast's Ivy City enclave. Best known, if at all, for its ramshackle homes, illegal dumping sites and high crime rate, Ivy City will now host new construction and renovation projects awarded to four non-profit developers: Mi Casa, Inc., Manna, Inc., DC Habitat for Humanity and MissionFirst. It’s a move calculated to increase homeownership in a neighborhood weighed down by a glut of vacancies and a foreclosure rate twice that of the rest of Washington, DC.

"Just 12% of Ivy City’s residents own their homes," said Mayor Adrian Fenty, who referred to Ivy City's abandoned properties as "places to deal drugs and dump trash." Fenty noted "That’s one of the lowest homeownership rates in the city, but when these projects are finished, we can double that – which would be a fantastic statement about this city’s commitment to homeownership and neighborhood stabilization.”

Despite the uplifting mood of the press conference, expectations were not set high for the neighborhood that is isolated by Mt. Olivet Cemetery, New York Avenue, and the railyard, yet nowhere near a Metro station, and where many single family homes still list under $200,000 - without much interest.

Mi Casa will be moving ahead first with renovations of three buildings at 1302 and 1304 Gallaudet Street, NE and 1917 Capitol Avenue, NE. During Phase I, the developer plans to revamp 6 condos in the first property, with the intent of offering them to “seniors and extended families.” Four will available to those making less than 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI), while all have been reserved for area residents making less than 50% of the AMI. The second property, 1917 Capitol, will feature 2 affordable two-bedroom condos for those at less than 50% of the AMI. Mi Casa will be giving preference current eligible residents who have pre-qualified for a mortgage and “are committed to living in the neighborhood long-term.”

The remainder is expected to follow suit shortly after the completion of the first phase, with Manna planning 20 units, 15 for MissionFirst, and 8 for Habitat for Humatity. Together, that amounts to 58 new units for Ivy City – only 6 of which will be priced at market-rate. The projects will be combine renovations and new, from-scratch developments on vacant lots.

The Ivy City project is being partly funded by combining the $1 million value of District-owned parcels with $3 million from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The total cost is projected to be roughly $15 million and the neighborhood is still scheduled to begin receiving upwards of $3 million in infrastructural improvements beginning in May of next year.

The last time the District took a stake in Ivy City was when the DC City Council voted to relocate several Navy Yard strip clubs to the dilapidated neighborhood in order to make way for Nationals Park. William Shelton, chair of the ANC 5B was quick to credit the citizens of Ivy City with leading the charge to get District officials to take a second look at the state of their neighborhood.

"The tenants there, led by the Ivy City Citizens Association, have been at the forefront of this…It’s a very positive experience to see them determine their own destiny in terms of what the community ought to become,” said Shelton. “And, for our part, we’re enthusiastic to see that part of the city have an opportunity to have some those abandoned houses… renovated and restored." And for the fine folks of Ivy City, the modest announcement may not be a new stadium, but its a start.

Purple Line Leaves Trails Black and Blue?

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Much like the long-gestating InterCounty Connector (ICC), the addition of the so-called Purple Line to the Metro system has enough supporters and detractors to fuel debate far past its proposed 2015 completion. Ideally, the Purple Line would entail a light rail encircling DC - a mass transit alternate to the beltway - though in its current phase the metro addition would link the disparate Red, Green and Orange lines and run through suburban Maryland, from Bethesda to New Carrollton - a project some supporters say would be of great advantage to low-income commuters.

Curiously, however, it's not the usual developer versus preservationist argument that has led to Purple Line partisanship, but an unusually divided contingent of trail users who can't agree whether the new Metro line will be a godsend or unholy mess for Montgomery County’s Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) system - an 11 mile long trail running from Georgetown almost to Silver Spring. Final plans for trail and transit have not yet been finalized, and could include either light rail or bus service, a decision yet to be made, but supporters say that a transit line would enable the incomplete trail to finally connect Silver Spring and Bethesda, pay to upgrade the path from dirt to pavement, and provide rights-of-way at intersections now less friendly to bikers.

The debate was initially kicked off by the efforts of Save the Trail – a local group that’s circulated a petition claiming that the Purple Line would be the only railway in the country to run next to “a popular trail and homes” and, furthermore, that “the existing trail and all of the trees surrounding the trail…would be bulldozed and leveled.” The group claims to have assembled 15,000 signatures for their petition and has suggested alternatives to the expansion – including a new rapid transit bus system and/or an alternative Purple Line route that would run to the National Institute of Health, instead of Bethesda proper, as is currently proposed.

Yet the governor-appointed, statewide advisory panel known as the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee MBPAC) has now issued a rejoinder to the claims of negative impact on the trail, and is aligned with groups like the Washington Bicyclists Association (WABA) and Sierra Club in support of the new line. In a meeting yesterday, the 21 members of the MBPAC panel voted unanimously in favor of the project’s current New Carrollton to Bethesda route. “It is clear to us that the Purple Line will benefit the trail by creating grade-separated crossings at many intersections and extending the trail into downtown Silver Spring,” said Eric Gilliland, Executive Director of WABA, in a MBPAC-released statement regarding the matter.

But Gilliland notes that while WABA - one of the largest trail advocates in the area - is adamant in their support for the project, Save the Trail has otherwise not been involved in any other sort of trail advocacy, and that some property advocates have been against the line from the beginning. "I don't think they represent the interests of the cyclists" says Gilliland, commenting that "the Purple Line would also allow us to complete and upgrade the trail, now dirt, all the way to the Silver Spring transit center."

MBPAC further claims to have “debunked” the theory that the Purple Line will destroy the forested areas surround the trail, in concert with the Montgomery Bicycle Advocates and the CCCT. According to material supplied through links in their e-release, a minimum amount of trees will be lost due to the laying of any track and, even then, new ones will be planted to provide a buffer between track and trail. Furthermore, they argue that up to six times as many people will be using the light rail system as opposed to the trail and, even then, the increased spotlight on the CCT system will allow for expansion not only into Silver Spring, but Rock Creek Park as well.

While the Purple Line concept has already been signed off by Governor Martin O’Malley (who allocated $100 million in state funds for the project) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and received a favorable environmental impact analysis, Montgomery County is still accepting written comments on the proposal until January 14, 2009. The State of Maryland is expected to announce further details concerning the project’s future in mid-2009.


 

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