Friday, August 07, 2009

Arbor Place: A Pulse Detected

Abdo Development's Arbor Place project, an outer New York Avenue project which received initial approval in February 2007, is back on the boards. At a hearing before Washington DC's Zoning Commission on July 30, 2009, Abdo asked for consolidated approval of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) and related zoning map amendment from C-M-1 to CR Zone district for the same space. In a move that clearly reflects the financing constraints many developers are facing, Abdo has significantly downsized the planned development and is working with DC to subsidize the first phase of construction (at least).

The new Arbor Place is a planned mixed-use community on the colossal 17-acre triangle bordering New York Avenue, Bladensburg Road, and Montana Avenue, NE, (see map, above) an area now dominated by warehouses and dilapidated commercial buildings. The site counts the opposite National Arboretum as an advantage, but sits on a challenged stretch of New York Avenue sometimes referred to impolitely as "the Devil's bowling alley" for its lengthy sameness, segregated by the CSX lines that run adjacent. The project will also include three new internal roads.

The original PUD called for approximately 3,500 residential units, 148,120 sf of retail, 4,294 parking spaces, 1 acre of open space and an overall floor area ratio (FAR) of 4.98. The drastically smaller new plan offers approximately 1,400 residential units, 1,254 parking spaces, 69,883 sf of retail, 2.71 acres of open space and a less dense FAR of 2.46. In Commission filings, the developers admit "the new application reflects changes to market conditions."

Most notably, the new filing changes the subsidized portion of the project from a mere 8% of units to 70% of units. About 25% of those units will now be available to residents at 80% AMI (Area Median Income) or below, and another third would be available to low-income households earning 60% AMI or less, and in some cases 50% AMI or less. The remaining 30% would be market rate.

In their pre-hearing submission, the applicants, which still includes New York City-based Broadway Development, claim the "affordable housing component is the PUD's most significant project amenity and public benefit," a fact which underscores the removal of several project amenities, such as expansion of a local recreational facility and on-site health club. The affordable housing provision is now the subject of substantial negotiations over workforce housing programs between Abdo and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DPMED). The developers will "utilize a combination of direct subsidy and tax incentives to finance and construct the initial phases" of Arbor Place.

These financing programs determine the distribution of affordable units in the PUD. Phase I, set to begin approximately two years after PUD approval, will start with two buildings that run along New York Ave. and part of Montana Ave. Every unit in Phase I will be available only to households at or below 60% AMI. Phase II's five buildings run along Montana Ave, New York Ave, part of Bladensburg Rd. and new internal roads. This phase provides 20% of units at 50% AMI and the remaining at market-rate, which the developer intends to price at a level generally affordable to an 80% AMI level. Phase III's three buildings run along Montana Ave and Bladensburg Rd and will be entirely market-rate, which the developer anticipates will generally priced equivalent to workforce housing. The developers expect Phase III to be ready 15 years from the Zoning Commission Order.

Arboretum Neighborhood Association President, Bleik Pickett, submitted a letter to the Commission expressing overall support, but with several key concerns. The original PUD had included a commitment to support and expand the local recreation center, and plans for a health club as one of the retail facilities. Neither offer exists in the new PUD application and residents are concerned about the influx of people without the necessary neighborhood resources to handle it. The letter mentioned that Abdo had expressed interest in a public-private partnership to provide resources for the community, and which it wanted reinstated.

The Architect and Master Planner for the project is Maurice Walters; Torti Gallas and Jyh-Mei Lee, AIA (Abdo's in-house architect) are project architects. Additionally, Shalom Baranes Architects and Bradley Site Design are the landscape architects. The watercolor renderings were done by ArchiBIM, Inc.

The Zoning Commission approved the consolidated PUD application and the Zoning amendments, and has now submitted its recommendation to the National Capitol Planning Commission (NCPC) for review. The NCPC will review the application and send a report back to the Zoning Commission. A final hearing before the Zoning Commission is scheduled for September 14th. Barring any bureaucratic hi-jinx, the application would then be approved.

The guidelines for PUDs mandate that the developer has up to two year after approval to apply for a construction permit and an additional year after that to begin construction. If the two year or three year deadlines are not met, the PUD becomes void. The original PUD application is now void, due to the alterations and the above described time lapse. Assuming the Zoning Commission approves the new PUD application on September 14th, 2009, Abdo will have two years from that date to apply for a construction permit and an additional year to begin construction.


Anonymous said...

Boy that is ugly. I cannot beleive Torti Gallas was involved with designing this one. They should reject it and make them go back to the drawing boards.

IMGoph on Aug 8, 2009, 8:39:00 AM said...

it's a shame, there was a real chance to help turn that area into a truly mixed use hub, and help to grow the city along new york avenue, maybe taming the street a little. at first read, this sounds like building a slightly nicer version of public housing. i can't believe so little will be market rate.

AgentJohn said...

I think Abdo was believing his own press, and that he could make it happen out there, which was always unlikely. The area is way too far out of the city, and you've got to come down New York Ave, good luck traveling that during rush hour, especially on a summer weekend, the road becomes a parking lot. And now with it being all subsidized housing the area doesn't have a prayer of getting better, but maybe it never really did. Might as well build something there.

Sam Olmstead on Aug 9, 2009, 5:07:00 AM said...

Yeah I agree, that is one ugly design. But who knows, maybe it will be different when it is already built. I also can't believe Torti Gallas was involved with designing this.

-Sam Olmstead

washington dc apartments

Anonymous said...

It's still a vast improvement over what's there now.

Viktor Galov on Aug 10, 2009, 10:45:00 AM said...


Attached below are links to more images of the project.

Viktor Galov, Intl. AAIA, LEED AP
ArchiBIM, Inc.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere a while ago that some 150,000+ cars travel in and out of DC along that stretch of land every day. Think of all the tax dollars DC will earn from people stopping by on the way back from work leaving the city. This is a huge boost to the city and the surrounding neighborhoods. I can't wait for this to get started.
AgentJohn -
Why don't you believe Abdo can make this happen? From the looks of it, everything is on track. What did you mean by "make it happen out there?" $600k luxury condos and pottery barns?

Anonymous said...

It looks pretty nice to me, like one poster said, it's a lot better than what's there.

Any economic development in that area should be welcomed with open arms.

Anonymous said...

I agree with others (its ugly, looks like public housing) and with Agent John - was a stretch to think anything meaningful could happen there.

Everything is not "on track", hence the request/need for significant subsidies.

Anonymous said...

Again, I ask you to clarify what you mean by "anything meaningful"

Abdo is asking for additional subsidies because of the current market conditions. I don't think he or anybody anywhere right now can build a 17 acre mixed use project without some sort of help from the government.

DC is getting the better end of it. They'll be getting millions and millions of dollars in tax revenue as opposed to what they're currently getting right now from those businesses in that area which was around $240,000 a year the last I heard. So why not have DC pay for some of it?

Doesn't seem like a major set back to me..just smart business on Abdo's end.

Que said...

So what happens to the school on Bladensburg Road and to the KFC at the corner of NY Ave and Bladensburg RD

AgentJohn said...

I meant that I'm not sure its viable. The question is really "will it sell". The obvious answer is that market-rate would have flopped, hence the low-income model. But by "make it happen" I mean have a positive outcome. It is always, always, always a bad idea to group low-income people into one area without a moderating influence. This may just damn the neighborhood for the foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...

The "projects" are back!

Anonymous said...

Low income to Abdo means households earning $50,000 - $75,000 a year. I wouldn't worry too much about it turning into a ghetto or anything. They will still be priced high enough to keep the bad apples out.

Anonymous said...

this will be a sea of public housing all financed by the District. Abdo will be long bankrupt by the time anything gets done here.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why you all think its so ugly... it looks like all of Torti's other stuff. Looks decent to me.

Anonymous said...

The 2007 DC Median Household Income was only $54,812. For people at 50% of the median household Income to be able to afford the units they are going to have to be EXTREMELY cheap...


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