With a mix of decaying and revamped historic buildings tucked among cookie-cutter suburban dreams, Maryland's National Park Seminary, an adventurous attempt at adaptive reuse, is surely the most unique new community regionally, if not nationally. The collaborative development team of The Alexander Company and EYA will sponsor a "ribbon cutting" today, highlighting the new construction and first stages of historic renovations ready for tenants, particularly the newly finished Ballroom condos.
A surreal, 32-acre conservation area is the setting for 280 new and rehabbed residences culled from an international showcase of homes - think Swiss mountain lodge next to Dutch windmill, astride American colonial. Shopping for a Japanese Pagoda? Yes, but you will have to wait, Alexander is still using it as office space.
The beltway-hugging Silver Spring site includes new townhomes, historic condominiums, rental apartments and historic single-family homes, formerly an elite girls finishing school and the United States Army quarters (an exemplar of mixed-use). The land extends to I-495 and a few new townhomes have back porch access to Rock Creek Park. The nearest metro, Forest Glen, is about a mile from the site, so residents working in DC will be stuck commuting up 16th street, the most direct route to downtown.
The Seminary has an interesting recent history as well: having identified the property as surplus, in 2001, the U.S. Army tried to raze the historic structures, but local preservationist Save Our Seminary banded together to prevent the historic loss. The federal government then turned the land over to Montgomery County, which selected Alexander as the developer in 2004 after a competitive RFP. Alexander, both the developer and architect, worked with EYA as a local partner for the new construction and hired Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse as general contractor. The historic preservation is valued at over $150 million, which Alexander hopes to offset through sales of the new construction.
Dan Peters, Director of Communications for Alexander, highlighted the unique buying opportunity of historic units, "not one of the condos or apartments has the same floor plan...the site is the most unique residential development in the country." No argument here. The single-family historic homes designed to look like international dwellings and the hodgepodge designs of the condos are unexampled, one part World Fair, one part Alice in Wonderland. Interspersed are the mostly-standard townhomes of EYA - generally the epitome of architectural sameness at home in any suburban cul de sac, for one of the most eclectic juxtapositions outside of a museum.
Since sales began in January 2006, all but 4 of the 90 new EYA townhomes have sold and the 66 historic rental apartments are fully leased, though only 20 of the 50 historic condos, which began delivering in late 2007, are spoken for at present. Only two of the historic single-family homes have sold so far.
The one, two and three-bedroom EYA townhomes range from $400,000 to $900,000. The 90 new townhomes and courtyard homes feature Spanish Mission, English Tudor, and Arts & Crafts architectural styles.
With only 4 new townhomes left for sale, buyers may want to fix their gaze on the condos or the historic single-family homes. The condo, pictured at right, features stained glass throughout, a lofted bedroom and reportedly sold for nearly $1.5 million. The first phase of historic condos is just about entirely complete and the second phase, which will tackle historic buildings including the gymnasium, the stables, the servants quarters and carpenter's shop, is set to begin in spring of 2010. Peters indicated construction would take between 12 and 18 months to complete.
Peters notes that historic single-family homes will demand a knack for historic preservation to meet the county's standards. Though to date only two of the homes have sold, the developer was optimistic that sales of historic condos would pick up with the progression of construction - a benefit of selling a concept versus a finished product. But with an entire phase of construction remaining, buyers may still need an active imagination.