Saturday, October 31, 2009

Crescent Falls Church

Falls Church will soon have a new high-end, mid-rise apartment building, when construction on the new Crescent Falls Church finishes next spring. The 6-story, 214-unit Crescent is a new mixed-use and multi-family residence near the East Falls Church Metro, which its developers now say will finish in the spring of 2010 and to begin leasing next spring or summer.

Located mid-way between the District and Tysons Corner just off I-66, the new community will sit adjacent to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD) and Falls Church Park, and across from the Westlee, a condo completed in 2006. The area was the focus of a study that began in 2007 that aimed to improve the metro site's land use, recently dominated by parking lots, and connect it better with the city of Falls Church. Given its proximity to DC and rare undeveloped metro locale, planners have sought a more urban landscape and transport integration

The Crescent will apply for LEED certification upon completion, in the hope that its metro location, recycling center and technical features will secure the status. The Crescent's planned attractions will include a private screening room, concierge, daily hot beverage service, two courtyards – one with conversational firepit and outdoor grilling and dining areas, and the other with dual-sided fireplace and outdoor grilling and dining areas - and each unit should have a view of green space. Developers also plan an "oversized" bike room - intrepid residents could even ride the W & OD and Custis trail into DC - and underground parking garage with preference for low-emission vehicles.

Crescent Falls Church is being built by Texas-based Hanover Company, which has a sizable record of apartment building construction and operation, though the Crescent is only its second DC area foray, having completed Ashton Judiciary Square, one of DC's more design conscious apartment communities, earlier this year in DC's Penn Quarter. The project site had been purchased from K. Hovnanian Homes, which had begun the project as the Easton condo project.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Industry Insight: Cecilia Cassidy, Rosslyn BID Executive Director

Cecila Cassidy has been Director of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District for 17 years, during which time most would agree that Rosslyn has changed, for the better. She spoke with DCMud this week about development, elevated sidewalks, traffic, and the only skyline DC has to offer.

DCMud: Why don’t you tell a little bit about yourself and your role here in the Rosslyn community.

CC: I'm the Executive Director of the Rosslyn BID. I am also Executive Director of our sister organization, Rosslyn Renaissance which was started in 1992 based on a recommendation of the County Board when they approved the Rosslyn Sector Plan. The Rosslyn Sector Plan included two recommendations. One was to create a special zoning district that would encourage developers to redevelop Rosslyn. It was very well-tenanted at the time and developers didn’t have any incentive to redo their buildings. In 1996, the County Board created the C-O-Rosslyn Zoning district, which allowed developers to build up to 300 feet and a ten F.A.R. density, in exchange for a package of community benefits.

The second major recommendation of the sector plan was to create a funding mechanism, in addition to the zoning, to implement some of the amenities that were called for in the Sector Plan. That was the creation of the Business Improvement District. Those discussions for the creation of the district took a long time and it finally started up in 2003.

DCMud: As you mention, Rosslyn was designated by several urban planning groups as how not to build a city. How would you say Rosslyn has changed since then?

CC: In the 1960’s and ‘70’s, there were some buildings that didn’t have visible entrances. The retail is hidden away. The sky walk system was part of ‘60’s planning to get people off the street because Rosslyn was a thruway to D.C. So the way Rosslyn has changed is that the buildings that have been improved since C-O-Rosslyn was passed in ’96 have all contributed to fixing up that approved image. Several of them have been completed: The Waterview building was approved in 2000, the Turnberry Tower was approved and has just been completed. Abdo built the Wooster and Mercer Lofts, which have been award-winning residences. The Hollady Corporation has built 1800 Wilson Boulevard.

DCMud: How are they different? What have they done to change that image besides just building a new building?

CC: The main thing is that they’ve begun to pay attention to the streetscape and the pedestrian experience. So all of those buildings include retail at the ground-level. They meet the street in a different way than the former buildings. They allow for wider sidewalks. The rooftops are more interesting. And there are amenities that were not thought of when Rosslyn was first built.

Among the amenities that we’ve negotiated are an observation deck, the only one in the region, atop JBG’s Central Place project (pictured at left). We also negotiated the re-use of the Newseum space as a cultural center. That project was part of Monday Properties’ site plan approval for 1812 North Moore (below at right), which is a 34-story building ready for construction.

DCMud: Are they having financing delays?

CC: Well, like everybody else, the economic situation is affecting both of those projects. The existing buildings have been demolished so they’ve completed the demolition stage.

DCMud: Rosslyn has some of the highest numbers of commuters that pass through each day. Do you see that as a blessing or a curse?

CC: Oh, it’s absolutely a blessing. This is the most highly-used metro station in the system. It drives the work force. Those are people that are coming to work in Rosslyn. Arlington has a day-time population of 200,000. Rosslyn is a major work center for Arlington. All the commuters are definitely a blessing.

DCMud: Rosslyn has been fairly retail, restaurant, and super market challenged. Not that long ago the Arlington Planning Commission said that Rosslyn has “very little presence or impact.” Do you think that’s changing? Or do you think that’s going to change now especially since a lot of retailers are cutting back?

CC: We should probably talk about our new developments that have been approved, such as JPG’s Central Place, which is in the heart of Rosslyn. Here’s the metro station, right across from Metro. 1812 North Moore, the Monday Properties’ project. When this is built, it will be ringed by retail. We hope that there will be a variety of white table cloth restaurants and other retail at Central Plaza which will have 45,000 s.f. of retail.

DCMud: Have they secured any tenants in advance?

CC: No, because we don’t know when they’re going to start construction. They’re hoping that the economy will loosen up and the financial markets will loosen up so that they are able to begin next year. It’s all a waiting game.

DCMud: And you’re hoping that it’s white table cloths? Are there any plans for any other supermarkets in the area, even a smaller one?

CC: There was a low-rise project that was approved at 1716 Wilson Blvd. It’s next door to the 1800 Wilson Condominium that was developed by Holladay. They designed the space so that it could accommodate a smaller Trader Joes, for example. You know we have the Safeway at 1525 Wilson—the underground Safeway that was developed in conjunction with the retail for that building.

DCMud: How is Rosslyn becoming more walkable, more drivable? You have a waterfront location. Is there an effort going on to make that more accessible, more walkable?

CC: We have to talk to the National Park Service about that. In terms of the waterfront, one fantastic asset Rosslyn has that nobody else can claim in the region is the nature preserve—the sanctuary that is Roosevelt Island. Roosevelt Island is accessible by foot, directly from Rosslyn. The foot ramp is right next to the I-66 ramp. You walk 5 to 7 minutes away, but it is an incredible asset for Rosslyn. The same goes for the grounds or the Iwo Jima Memorial. Between those landmarks and Key Bridge, we are surrounded by green.The walk over Key Bridge to Georgetown is another wonderful pedestrian experience.

On the streets of Rosslyn itself, the BID has undertaken an extensive beautification project. We have literally taken over all of the traffic islands and done plantings that are just lush and beautiful. Our customer satisfaction survey cites our beautification program as the number one improvement that the BID has undertaken since we began. We’ve made a real effort to green Rosslyn. We put plant containers on the streets as well as trash and recycle bins. We have also developed a wayfinding program. The first part of that program is a parking program that we’ve just installed. The pedestrian part of it will be installed as soon as we name the cultural center. It’s all ready to go, the fabricator has the design, but the cultural center is going to be named in the next few months. So when that is done we’ll install the pedestrian way-finding system. Following that, we will install a vehicular finding system. Gensler was our contractor on the wayfinding system.

DCMud: And as far as making it safer for people to just cross the street, are you working with the VA Department of Transportation to make sure you have signaling, you have signage, to make it a safer intersection for people?

CC: Transportation planning’s a part of every site plan. So you’ll see the sidewalks around the Waterview, for example, and around the Turnberry project, the sidewalks and crossings are all very clearly marked—you can not miss if there’s a crosswalk around Waterview.

All the crossing signals are all timed. We also installed a lighted street sign program. Rosslyn is one of the few areas in Arlington where the street signs are illuminated. We paid for it, and worked in cooperation with the County to get the signs installed. That goes a long way to helping drivers know where they’re going.

DCMud: As far as parking, what is the plan? You said you'll have more signage. Are there plans to have more on-street parking or garages?

CC: There has been a lot of on-street parking added during the last five years — we made a real effort to find every nook and cranny where we could cram in a parking spot and have done that. The fact is there are 12,000 parking spaces underground in Rosslyn and the challenge is for people to be able to find them.

DCMud: I was happy to find on here this morning.

CC: We put up big blue P’s, universal “P’s for Parking” on five buildings with parking spaces that are available to the public. It was a matter of identifying those lots so that people understand they can park there, since many lots are private.

DCMud: I saw an article in the Washington Examiner about trying to extend the Circulator Bus instead of the Blue Bus. Have you been involved in this process at all?

CC: We have been a partner with the Georgetown BID since the year 2000, when they began the Blue Bus. Rosslyn Renaissance raised $100,000 already to go toward the support of the Blue Bus. The Blue Bus was always intended to be a pilot project and what it has demonstrated is the viability of having a bus that goes back and forth across Key Bridge from Dupont Circle down to Georgetown through Rosslyn. So the initial funding used to finance the bus was Federal dollars to enable workers in the inner-city to get jobs in the suburbs, “outside of the District” and it has succeeded that way. There are workers at the Key Bridge Marriott who live in the District and take the Blue Bus to work. Absent a metro stop in Georgetown, it’s really a critical part of the transportation infrastructure that has been provided privately by the property owners of Rosslyn—and primarily Georgetown. Rosslyn gave a relatively small donation, but it was a donation that helped serve as a matching fund needed in order to receive Federal money. So it was a very critical component. We have always had a very cordial and close working relationship with the Georgetown BID. So we’re very pleased that the Circulator is going to take over that route.

DCMud: I was under the impression that they're just lobbying for it to do so.

CC: It had been our understanding that it was going to happen. But we aren’t as close to it as the Georgetown BID. They really take the lead on dealings with the DC government. We worked with Congressman Moran on this because he’s been very helpful in supporting the project.

DCMud: Do you want to tell me a little bit more about the two biggest projects in the works, Central Place and Monday Properties?

CC: JBG's Central Place project is split into two towers, an office tower and a residential tower. The office tower will have 549,00 s.f. and the residential tower will have 350 condo units.

DCMud: And they’re still slated for condos even though the market’s leaning toward rentals?

CC: As far as I know. I don’t know that that decision has been made. It will include 44,554 s.f. of retail. The other benefit is a 27,000 s.f. public plaza between the two buildings. So where Metro Park is now, on the opposite side of the Metro Station, that park will almost triple in size. We worked very closely with the landscape designer - Michael Vergason Landscape Architects. The architect is Hany Hassan with Beyer Blinder Belle. The most significant amenity that is part of that project is an observation deck which has a 360 degree view. It will be a major tourist attraction. It has a view of the monumental core, of the Potomac out to Tysons Corner, over to the Iwo Jima Memorial…it will be the Washington Monument of Virginia. But it was designed so that it would not compete with the Washington Monument. It will be spectacular.

DCMud: So, right now they're just trying to decide when they're going to start construction, but they have all the zoning approvals?

CC: Two of the three buildings on the site have been demolished. One remains because it is immediately adjacent to the skywalk that runs between the Rosslyn Metro Center building and the International Place building. That skywalk will be taken down when they begin construction.

DCMud: And Monday Properties...

CC: We don’t have all the particulars, but the most significant aspect of that project is that it’s the first LEED Platinum commercial office building in Virginia and it’s one of only 50 in the United States.

DCMud: And its also pending financing.

CC: Yes. Going back to the question about making the streets more pedestrian-friendly - one of our goals was to break up the super-blocks in Rosslyn because they’re long, long, blocks. So that was the reason for having the park between JBG’s two buildings. The original plan did not have that. As it went through site review, the community helped develop that park.

The 1800 North Moore Street building has a walk-through - so the park for Central Place is on this side of the street, this is on the other side of the street - you can walk through this lobby and go over to Fort Myer Drive. It will be very accessible. The pathway from Central Place over to that building will easily be seen and there’s retail at the bottom. There will be some kind of retail environment around the Virginia Power Sub station, so everything is very retail and pedestrian-oriented for 1812 N. Moore. This whole streetscape is part of their site plan approval so that it’s highly pedestrian-friendly. And it is 569,000, almost 570,000 s.f. It will have 11,000 s.f. of retail and it will be 384 ft or 30 stories. The architect is
Davis, Carter, Scott

DCMud: What do you think Rosslyn is going to be like in 10 years?

CC: It will be unbelievable, with the cultural center, the observation deck, and the Synetic Theater, which is now the resident theater company in the Rosslyn Spectrum. We’re saying Rosslyn is going to be the next hot place. With our proximity to Washington, the nexus to transportation, and the kind of amenities that will finally come to fruition, particularly with the arts, it will be terrific. The Cultural Center will have Synetic Theater, Washington Shakespeare Company. Hopefully, there will be a well-known restaurant. There are negotiations that are going on that fit in with that type of activity. The Ellipse Art Gallery will move into the Center. There will be the largest ball room outside of Glen Echo. There will be all types of dance activities. And the Dome Theater will have music events and all kinds of activities - it’s a 200 seat theater and there’s also a small 36-seat film theater. There will be a high-end craft center run by, I think it’s the Artisan Center of Virginia.

Until we get to that point, the other thing that we do is "Alive in Rosslyn." What’s happening now is that where we do not have the infrastructure the BID has taken a major lead in providing amenities to the community. We have a free movie series for the summer, the I Love the 80s movie series. It packed in 1,500 people at Gateway Park on Friday nights. Sometimes it would only be 1,000 people, but huge crowds. Our lunch time concert series in conjunction with our weekly farmers market runs from May to October. We have music in our restaurants called the Restaurants and Rhythms series. We pay to have performers go into restaurants and they draw crowds. Our jazz festival is renowned throughout, not just in the region, but I think its on the map of the great jazz festivals that have evolved.

We just had our 19th annual festival this year, next year’s our 20th anniversary. We put on a lecture series called Room with a View, to take advantage of the views. Until we have the observation deck, we bring people into private rooms they wouldn’t necessarily have access to. We have had Cokie Roberts, editors from Politico, a whole range of people who have helped us show off what Rosslyn is all about.

DCMud: Anything else you want to add?

CC: There are other major events we participate in. The Marine Corps Marathon comes to Rosslyn the last Sunday in October and brings tens of thousands of people. Eighty to 100,000 people just jam the streets. The last thing we have is our skyline. We have the only skyline in the Washington Metro area. And over the holidays we light up the rooftops. We have a lighting ceremony the first Thursday after Thanksgiving. our homeless services program works in conjunction with our light-up program. We have a gala benefit [for the homeless] that many Rosslyn businesses contribute to. We also run a warm, winter clothing drive in conjunction with that. So there's a social service component to our work as well.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Silver Spring Library Nears Design Completion

The new Silver Spring Library has taken another step toward realization, with the release of initial designs born out of the county's design process. Officials expect to break ground, at least for site preparation, in the summer of 2010. Library construction has not yet been scheduled.

Work on the new library, at the corners of Fenton, Wayne and Bonifant Streets in downtown Silver Spring, has been underway since at least 1999, when Montgomery County approved an initial budget. The northern half of the site, on Wayne Avenue, will hold the library and Arts Center, the southern half will be reserved for future housing.

The 7-story building will be multi-purpose, with the first two floors designated, for now, as an art center with a combination of functions such as classes, offices and an art gallery. Floors 3, 4, and 5 will hold the library, and the 6th floor is set aside for county offices and possibly Health and Human Services office space. The top floor, stepped back, will hold meeting rooms for the library. Design specifications also call for a LEED-certified green roof and garden; plans for the 2nd-story pedestrian bridge from the parking garage to the library were scotched as being against Montgomery's urban planning guidelines.

The most interesting element may be the underside of the building, since the site is traversed by the proposed track of the Purple Line, and has been designated as one of the light rail stations, raising the main body of the library well above street level. "Anyone attending the design meetings would recognize that this is a challenging building, working with the purple coming right through" said Williams Evans, project architect for the Lukmire Partnership, which is responsible for the overall design. Lukmire specializes in such challenges, however. "Our firm is probably one of only a handful of firms that have done as many libraries as we have, 35 or 36, to date" said Evans.

Initial site planning was performed by RTKL, and interior design will be completed by the Sandra Ragan Studio. County standards require LEED Silver certification for the building, but Evans says the team is trying to achieve a Gold rating; though the Silver rating is required as a minimum to earn the county's Certificate of Occupancy. " That gets you up in the morning", Evans says of the requirement.

The final public design meeting will take place November 7, at 1pm, in the library at 8901 Colesville Rd.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stumping for Investors in Shady Grove


Last week, the Montgomery County Planning Board passed preliminary site plan approval for the Residences at Shady Grove, a mixed income housing development slated for the Old Derwood Neighborhood on Redland Road at Yellowstone Way.

Keystone Real estate and Corporate Investment will head up development on what county officials hope will be the first of many projects within the larger Shady Grove Sector Plan, one that Keystone Managing Member and Gaithersburg Mayoral candidate, Richard Koch, promises "will transform this industrial use area to an urban village."

The four-acre project near Rockville's Shady Grove Metro will include 117 multifamily units (18 MPDUs), with another 36 townhouses acting as a bridge between the two types of homes, and three "affordable" single family cottages. Whether the units in this new urban village will be available for rent or to own still remains to be seen.

Assuming Koch scares up an investor and financing for the project - "a joint venture between my company, KeystoneREI, which provides the local development expertise and an opportunity fund which provides the equity financing" - Shady Grove residents could be looking forward to a LEED certified development described by County Planning officials upon site plan approval as a "safe and convenient" pedestrian neighborhood complete with "diverse housing types" and ample amounts of open space.

Potential investors might want to take note, however; that just last year Winchester Homes abandoned plans to develop their own townhouses at Yellowstone Way and Chieftain Avenue - a parcel adjacent to Koch's Shady Grove project that is owned and currently home to Derwood Bible Church. As church staff member Joan Furlani explains to DCMud, "We had been under contract with Winchester" but when the time came to say yes or no to development, the church "decided it just was not a good time to build homes."

Not surprisingly, Koch takes a different view on Derwood's housing potential. As a developer - but mostly as a candidate for Mayor - he expresses few doubts in the neighborhood's potential, explaining that the project will bring "financial, economic, social and public benefit" to the area and serves as a shining example of "my successful leadership skill and ability to work with existing communities and the public sector to obtain approval of exemplary projects."

We'll be waiting at least 12 months to find out the future of this project, as Koch expects it will take at least that long to secure additional development and building permits, as well as to determine how the project will be financed. On the more certain side, the answer to whether Gaithersburg residents are more credulous than investors lies just around the corner on Election Day, November 3rd.

Northwest One Project Announces Start Date

The District announced today its decisions on how to proceed with the first major phase of Northwest One. In an 11am press briefing, the Mayor announced that DC-based Banneker Ventures will join developer William C. Smith & Co. to build 300 units of housing in place of the vacant parking lot at the intersection of North Capitol and Patterson Streets. Groundbreaking is now expected in "spring" of 2010, according to Mayor Adrian Fenty.

The $80m project will include 313 new housing units, with 30% pledged for "affordable" housing. 59 of the units will be set aside for former Temple Courtiers.

The Warrenton Group has been having a good year with DC officials, having been named recently as the local partner for the planned Park Morton, a $130m project announced earlier this month, and having been selected last December (as Banneker Ventures) to build the Deanwood Community Center, and last October rebuild the Strand Theater. Warrenton Group was also given a new lease on life for the Florida Avenue parcel, awarded to Banneker by WMATA in 2008 but not built out.

Architecture firm Eric Colbert & Associates will design the 12-story building, and William C. Smith & Co affiliated WCS Construction team will build it. The larger Northwest One project, in all $700 million worth of development, will also include Jair Lynch and affordable housing provider Community Preservation and Development Corporation, which together will team up as the One Vision Development Partners as a Certified Business Enterprise.

Monday, October 26, 2009

House Passes Bill for Another Museum

Finding itself surrounded by an insufficient number of museums, the House of Representatives this month passed H.R. 1700 to add another museum along the National Mall. "The National Women's History Museum Act of 2009," co-sponsored by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and 50 other Members, directs the General Services Administration (GSA) to sell property for the construction of a National Women's History Museum to research collect, and "showcase the contributions of women in professional fields," and "honor women's roles in nurturing their families and communities."

The agreement gives the museum administrator and federal government 6 months to work out a fair value for the land and sign a purchase agreement; the GSA has estimated the value of land at $60m. Though the site, bounded by 12th Street, SW, Independence Avenue, and C Street, is currently used only as a parking lot, the GSA has not declared the property "surplus," complicating the legislative process. Norton took the bill to full committee mark-up after defending against a last-minute "scoring rule" raised by the Congressional Budget Office, though the bill would maintain budget neutrality. The bill now heads for the Senate for approval.

"Women have waited too long for their own museum in the nation's capital," Norton said, adding that the Museum "has significant potential to bring new visitors to the District, and to encourage others to stay longer." Let the CBO try and score that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

DC, Federal Agencies Hold Public Meeting to Improve DC Parks

On Tuesday, the National Capital Planning Commission and partners will present the draft version of the joint CapitalSpace plan to the public. A joint initiative of NCPC, the National Park Service, and the District of Columbia Office of Planning, Capital Space is designed to create a "high-quality," unified park system in Washington DC by improving, connecting and expanding DC's park systems.

Members of the trio will give a presentation on the "six big ideas" for the District: Linking Fort Circle Parks by way of walking trails to serve as a green beltway around the District, improving public schoolyards, enhancing existing parks with more active uses, improving playfields (particularly increasing regulation sized playing fields), transforming small urban parks, and enhancing "urban natural areas" - supporting biodiversity while serving people. The plan is currently in a 60-day public comment period that concludes December 8th. The event will take place from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Public Library.

Clara Barton Condos

Clara Barton Condomimiums
616 E St., NW, Washington DC

The Clara Barton in Penn Quarter was developed by JPI, taking the place of one of the last empty lots in downtown Washington DC. One of the larger condo projects in the city, the Clara Barton is a 273-unit condominium attached to the Lafayette Condos, which is the other half of the building (but a separate condo association). Originally designed as the Jefferson Apartments, plans changed before completion to take advantage of the condo boom. The condominium is therefore highly amenitized, with a workout room, business center, small theater, staffed front desk, and well-designed rooftop with pool. Between the two condominiums is a large interior courtyard, with many units having balconies facing into it. The condo was named after the founder of the American Red Cross, due to the then-recently rediscovered office that was found nearby. Designed by Esocoff & Associates and Oehrlein & Associates. Real estate sales began in August of 2004.

Post your comments about Clara Barton condos below:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Marshall Heights Residents Get Cheap New Digs

Mayor Adrian Fenty joined executives today from The Community Builders in the Fairlawn - Marshall Heights neighborhood for a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of Ward 7's $20 million Fairlawn-Marshall Apartment renovation, providing another subsidized housing project for the Pennsylvania Avenue neighborhood. The mixed-income housing renovation marks the first DC project for The Community Builders, a Boston-based, nonprofit housing developer with projects in 14 states.

The DC Housing Authority (DCHA), the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and the Department of Mental Health were also on hand to celebrate the part they played in funding the overhaul of 98-units within eight buildings spanning the 2700 block of Q and R Streets, SE as well as the 5000 block of Call Place Street, SE.

Adrianne Todman, DCHA's interim Executive Director, credited the newly remodeled homes as a shining example of "the power of partnership" in DC, adding that projects like this one show that "Housing Authorities are players in real estate deals."

Beginning in February of this year and wrapping up in August, the Fairlawn-Marshall redevelopment was made possible through financing provided by the Housing Production Trust Fund, DCHA, The Department of Mental Health, Enterprise Community Partners and Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Additionally, Community Builder's VP Rob Fossi paid credit to Aegon for bringing "in money from Holland to make this possible."

Renovations encompassed everything from the installation of energy efficient heating and cooling systems to kitchen and bath upgrades to new security entries. At the conclusion of the conference, Mayor Fenty led attendees on a tour of the updated apartments designed by the Bethesda-based Environmental Design Group.

Because they are financed through Low Income Housing Tax Credits, all 98 units will be income and rent restricted. Thirty units will receive public housing assistance from DCHA, with an additional 10 units being designated for supportive housing for disabled clients through a contract with DCHA and the DC Department of Mental Health.

Working Through Artistic Differences on U Street

Greg Kearley of Inscape Studio will go before the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) on Thursday for review of the proposed adjoining 3- and 5-story mixed-use buildings that, pending approval, will replace the currently vacant lot at 1932 9th street NW with work and residential space for artists. Developer and property owner Paul So also developed another property nearby, "510nm" at 1353 U Street NW. Both So properties are geared towards the arts community, though the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) staff report may lead to the HPRB "censoring" some of So's artistic endeavors.

So wants his new buildings - a mixture of housing, office and studio spaces - to serve the burgeoning artist community in the U Street neighborhood. The building that will face 9th St NW is designed for four stories near the street, with a fifth-floor penthouse set back 18 feet, bringing the entire height to 58 ft, and will incorporate a mix of ground floor retail and second floor office space, the rest to serve as residential and studio space. The other building, connected via a breezeway, fronts 9 1/2 St and will be three stories to include live/work space for artists in the Hamiltonian Artists fellowship program. The first floor would have an open space for working and for the fellows to brainstorm; the other two floors are designed for discounted living space for fellows.

So intends to build his second development to "LEED Platinum at least" - meaning exceeding the highest green rating standards. His current building on U Street boasts a long list of green design features including recycled paper countertops (Paperstone), daylit interiors, passive solar design strategies including southern exposure for passive solar heating in winter and overhangs at southern glazing for shade in summer, green roofs and rain barrels to conserve water usage. According to So, when he and his architect (occupying the office space on the second floor of his U Street building) were planning 9th Street, they consulted with the artists about their needs and came up with the common space for the first floor so they can converse, and special features like venthilation for work rooms.

So what's the problem? The HPO staff report concluded that the three-story building on 9 1/2 St. could move forward, but the building planned for 9th St. was too large in scale compared to surrounding buildings. According to architect Greg Kearley, when the project went through staff review over a year ago, the plan was for a 5-story building on 9th street with a 6th floor penthouse, and the more diminutive adjustment seemed to be something everyone was "comfortable with."

Owner So said his "game plan" is to go before the board to find out what "they would like us to do" so that he and his architect can accommodate their findings into a new plan. Though Kearley did express concern that a smaller building might not be economically feasible, considering much of the space is already slotted for use that will not generate much income. It would stand to reason that the extra floor and those penthouse condos are key to the developer's bottom line. Any fellow can see that.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Walter Reed Update...Kinda, Sorta

In a dramatic press conference this morning in a very mushy and vacant lot on Georgia Avenue, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty announced that the District is going to start working on a plan and that at some time in the future the District may or may not announce that plan, which involves land the District may or may not actually own at some point. So went the press conference on the District efforts to develop a reuse plan for the surplus 62.5 acres, not allotted to the GSA or Department of State, on southern half of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC). The WRAMC is expected to close in 2011. Though Fenty opened up the floor to press questions, a rare event at most such announcements, he might as well have had a magic ball on hand to give responses.

In accordance with the Base Closure Community Redevelopment and Homeless Assistance Act, the District of Columbia - which acts as the Local Redevelopment Authority at Walter Reed - is seeking notices of interest (NOI) for the surplus property. There will be a public meeting tonight at Fort Stevens Recreation Center at 7 PM and a workshop about the base closure planning process, a site tour, and land-use constraints on November 13, 2009 at the WRAMC.

Located between two major artery roads, Georgia Avenue and 16th Street, the property includes substantial frontage on Georgie Avenue and is a prime location for development. To give officials a little wiggle room, Fenty said the District's goal of securing the land is "not guaranteed, but it's looking good." Councilmember Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, said it would be"premature" to make any guesses about the future use of the land, but added that officials were looking to "integrate" the property back into the community, which has a need for green space, recreation, quality retail, parking and office space. "With 62 acres...that's a lot of possibility." Though officials were hesitant to give specific details, the press release from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development suggested the final plans would call for mixed-use development.

The initiative to obtain the property from the federal government began in 2005 when the Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission announced the closing of the Medical Center, itself a source of much controversy for it mismanagement of patient care. Since the 2005 announcement DC officials have been finessing members of Congress and the Defense Department to win their support for the District's plan to buy the property. Fenty was an early proponent when he was still a Ward 4 Council member. Fenty described the redevelopment as an "incredible opportunity" for the Brightwood neighborhood and the city, adding that the DC government would "work very closely with the community and our federal partners in the months ahead."

Yes, this deal involves a lot of property and yes, federal policies on land use and disposition are certainly tricky, but the Mayor could have just left such a vague announcement for a press release. We can only hope that over the next 12 months the "plan" for the reuse gets more specific than the magic-ball-like update we got today.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Savoy Court Opens for Sales in Congress Heights

Savoy Court condominiums has opened for sales, adding another live project to the burgeoning Congress Heights neighborhood where St. Elizabeths is about to become headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security and where William C. Smith is about to renovate and expand a forlorn apartment complex.

Developer Building Partnerships LLC began renovating the 62-unit Savoy Court in 2007, converting the blond brick, art deco building into a condominium after partnering with Manna to help the residents purchase and upgrade the apartment building. Savoy Court began sales in mid 2007 after an initial phase of renovation, selling about half the units before halting sales and initiating the second phase of construction - stripping and rebuilding remaining units. With phase 2 of construction now nearly complete, the remaining units are up for grabs, starting at $159,900 for one-bedroom condos, with a few two-bedroom units in the low $200's. Savoy is also offering lease-to-own options for borrowers whose credit needs upgrading, with part of each month's rent going toward the down payment.

Developers amenitized the gated community with a state-of-the art security monitoring system, roof deck, private gym, upgraded lobby, satellite-wired cable system, in-unit laundry, and landscaped courtyard. The newly rebuilt condos offer quartz counters, maple cabinets, and intercom systems.

Savoy is located just off I-295, 1 mile south of the bridge connecting historic Anacostia to the ballpark and Capitol Hill, between the Congress Heights and Anacostia metro stations and across from Bolling Air Force Base. Developers of Savoy Court previously developed Woodson Heights Condominiums, Barcelona Condominiums, Verona Parc Condominiums, Park Triangle Apartments, Adams Court Condominiums, and Pacific House Office & Residential Condominiums. The sales center is open Saturdays and Sundays 1-4, or by appointment at 202-719-9111.

Northwest One Announcement on the Horizon

It appears that construction is imminent on the next phase of development at Northwest One, the ambitious, $700m mixed-income housing project in the bursting NoMa neighborhood. Developer William C. Smith & Co. has been collecting subcontractors and is expected to announce shortly a schedule for work at the vacant parking lot - formerly the Temple Court Apartments - at the intersection of North Capitol and M Streets.

William C. Smith & Co. partnered with Jair Lynch, affordable housing providers Community Preservation and Development Corporation, and the Warrenton Group (formerly of Banneker Ventures) to create One Vision Development Partners, a Certified Business Enterprise that promises to create jobs for DC workers during the subcontracting phase of development.

Planned along a five-block stretch of North Capitol Street, the mixed-income Northwest One community is being born out of a need to confront the high crime and poverty rates within the public housing developments in the area.

Deputy Mayor’s Office Spokesman Sean Madigan told DCMud that a formal announcement about the city’s plans may appear as early as next week once they’ve finished “working out a few of these details” about timelines and participants. Until that happens, most participants in the project have been mum about details.

Eric Colbert, whose architecture firm Eric Colbert & Associates will design the 12-story 2 M Street NE building, confirmed that this portion of the mixed-use development will include 4,600 s.f. of ground floor retail, 326 apartment units, 10 town houses, and a rooftop pool.

Although William C. Smith & Co's affiliated WCS Construction team will handle the main contracting of the building at 2 M Street NE, W. Christopher Smith, Jr. pledged a 40% CBE (designated "local" business enterprise) goal at a July Northwest One public round table.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Court Upholds Tax Deductions for DC Easements

The U.S. Tax Court has upheld a tax deduction for a property owner in Washington DC who claimed a tax deduction for a property easement, finding against the IRS. The IRS has sought to end tax deductions for donations of historic easements, a common practice among historic properties in the District.

In Simmons v. Commissioner (T.C. Memo. 2009-208), the court ruled in September that two easements made to The L'Enfant Trust , at 17 Logan Circle (pictured) and 1503 Vermont Avenue, were valid charitable contributions, warranting federal tax deductions valued at 5% of the property's value. Preservation easements are common agreements between the owner of a historic or archaeologically significant property and a charitable organization that is chartered to preserve such properties. The agreement grants the charitable organization a legal right to control that portion of the property, a right which is recorded and retained in perpetuity. The property owner's grant to the charity results in a donation, the amount of which is therefore deductible as charitable. Grants in Washington DC generally involve the facade of a property, which thereafter cannot be altered without the consent of the charitable organization.

The L'Enfant Trust requires property owners to affix a plaque on the facade, maintain the subject portion of the property, and make cash contributions to the Trust to facilitate future enforcement. The IRS has disputed this practice, finding no deductible donation. In the case of Simmons, the IRS disputed that the easement had any value, and that the statutory requirements for grants had been met. The Tax Court disagreed, finding that easements do affect the fair market value of the property, in this case by 5%.

While the IRS allows for charitable deductions for a portion of a property (Section 170 (f)(3)(B)(iii), since you were wondering), the IRS determined that in this case L'Enfant could, theoretically, consent to a change in the facade, countermanding the preservation aspect, and that the mortgage was not subordinated to the easement, making it invalid. The court disagreed with the latter, and found it sufficient that the stated purpose of the easement was preservation, finding that the Trust had the legal means to enforce preservation against the owner. The IRS argued in the alternative that the appraiser, who found an 11% decline in the value of the property resulting from the easement, botched (not their words) the appraisal. While that may be a common complaint in the real estate industry, here the court again disagreed, finding 'before' and 'after' values of properties with easements showed a decline in value, though finding only half the drop the appraiser found.

While the ruling applied strictly to federal taxation, and to the L'Enfant Trust in particular, many states and localities have similar statutes and deduction rules, and the logic of the court's ruling will likely support such statutes as well as other charitable organizations.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Historic Preservation Frowns on Takoma Theatre Plans, Again

It's never a good sign when a government office known for its design-heavy critiques starts the review of your project with "before discussing the specifics of the proposed design...," exactly how the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) staff report began for owner Milton McGinty and Architect Paul Wilson's plans to reinvent the Takoma Theatre in northewest Washington DC. The design for a 43 unit apartment building incorporates the facade of the historic 1923 Takoma Theatre and involves substantial demolition, about which neither the Takoma Theatre Conservancy nor, apparently, the HPO approve.

McGinty submitted a similar request in February 2006 to raze the building, with plans to replace it with an office building. The Takoma Theatre Conservancy formed in opposition to the application, leading to Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) denial of the request. This time around, the HPO waxed philosophical about its role in deciding the future of the property, namely whether it could rightly approve a design that according to various quoted definitions would "demolish" 75% of the historic building, including the auditorium and stage, thus requiring a raze application. The HPO recommends that the HPRB "reaffirm its position that razing the building is inconsistent" with the Historic District Preservation Act.

Still providing no actual review of the planned design, the HPO sets out "next steps" for the owner, such as building in the parking lot adjacent to the theater and funding this endeavor with grants available to such projects. The report also points to other historic theaters, like the Newton, Sheridan and Strand, that either have been or are in the process of being redeveloped without jeopardizing their historic integrity.

Finally, the report reviews the actual design, critiqued for not being "compatible in scale and height given its location on a street of modest one- and two-story" commercial and residential buildings. The staff also indicated that the proposed rooftop addition would subsume the underlying historic building, preventing the theater from being clearly distinguished as a prominent feature.

The HPRB will meet this Thursday to review the plan; while they are not required to agree with the staff report, they likely will do so and make the recommendations official.

* Renderings courtesy of Paul Wilson Architects.
*Picture by Loretta Neumann of the Takoma Theatre Conservancy.

Colonnade Auctions Condos this Saturday

The Colonnade at Kentlands of Gaithersburg will send to auction 40 of its remaining homes this Saturday, helping to wrap up an under-performing portfolio that the Florida-based developer acquired in 2005, a decision they must still regret.

With about 70 units in the 307-unit building still unsold, El-Ad is putting 40 of those condos on the block, having recently shut down its sales office, with minimum bidding prices starting at $169,000. Back in February, El-Ad put the remaining 40 units of its only other local project, the Fitz of Rockville, on the auction block, ending nearly 5 years of sales there. Both the Fitz and Colonnade at Kentlands were developed by Archstone-Smith and built by Donohoe Construction. The Colonnade was designed by the Preston Partnership for its originally intended use as an apartment building, uber- amenitized with a party room, computer room, theater, study, swimming pool, sauna, fitness center, cyber cafe and billiard room.

The 10-building compound, with 6-story parking garage, was completed by Archstone in December of 2005 and sold to El-Ad shortly thereafter.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Downtown Trophy Site Begins Construction

Clark Construction has begun work on one of Washington DC's most visible corners - 1000 Connecticut Avenue, at the corner of K Street and Connecticut. Property owner 1000 Connecticut Ave Associates, LLC consolidated several adjoining office buildings to form the massive lot now under construction. Initial site work and excavation are under way to dig the hole for below-grade parking for the building designed by the late Jim Freed of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, who also designed the neighboring building at 1700 K St NW. Owners expect the office building to deliver by late 2012.

Owners Michael Gewirz, Steven Gewirz, Edward Kaplan and Albert Small formed the LLC when the owners of three older office buildings decided to combine their lots and construct one massive building under joint ownership. The former buildings were demolished in 2007. Project Manager Michael Tyler of MJ Tyler and Associates estimated that the total hard construction costs will come in around $70 million, with total project costs around $180 million. Interior design firm WDG Architecture worked with Pei to design a building that should garner LEED Gold approval, assuming everything goes according to plan.

Though demolition began in 2007 and construction was initially to begin in 2008, the group sat on the property, leaving some chafing at the vacancy of the highly visible site. Negotiations with major law firms to secure a tenant lead first to Mayer, Brown, Rowe and Maw, but fell through, and there were even rumors of the owners' application to the city for a permit to use the site for parking in the interim. Eventually, the group secured law firm Arent Fox to fill the role. Tyler said the group waited "because of the market and because of the timing with the lead tenant."

Arent Fox, having signed on in May 2008, will be the lead tenant, occupying 74% of the space with 8 floors and over 238,000 s.f. of office space. According to Arent Fox's Steven Harras, the firm expects to open its new doors in early 2013, which will coincide nicely with the 2012 expiration of the firm's current lease just down the street at 1050 Connecticut Avenue.

According to Audrey Cramer, Vice Chairman at Cushman and Wakefield, the top floors of the building are available for lease and include up to 120,000 s.f. of space, which she estimates will go for around $60/s.f. triple net. According to Tyler there is also approximately 14,000 s.f. of ground floor retail space available. At this point, Cramer said the brokers are "flexible" on how tenants choose to lease space in "the best building in Washington, with the best location."

Construction image courtesy of DC Kaleidoscope.

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