Saturday, January 31, 2009

Unpoplar Point - Clark and District Sever Ties

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The District announced Friday that it is ending its agreement with Clark Realty to develop Poplar Point, the 110-acre parcel that fronts the Anacostia River. In an unusual late night announcement, Deputy Mayor Neil Albert said "Clark is a great local company that will continue to do excellent work in this city. But in this extremely challenging economic environment it is no longer practical for Clark to pursue the deal structure we currently have in place."

The District announced on February 14, 2008, that Clark had been selected to lead the development team. Development had always been contingent upon several key factors, such as transfer of the land from the federal to the District government and a favorable environmental impact study. Several groups have since contested the project, noting the diversity of wildlife that exists on the site, and the desirability of converting it into a 70-acre park and mixed-use development.

In an interview with DCMud last May, the Deputy Mayor said the project remained on track. "Poplar Point is off in the distance, but Clark, the main developer hasn’t had problems getting the money they need. There is such a strong interest in the development of the District that as long as that interest remains, these projects will stay on schedule."

Development was never expected to be imminent, with most of the interested parties pegging construction over a 10 to 20 year timeframe, the announcement is a setback for the District, which began the official search for a development partner back in August of 2007.

"The District will continue the planning process for Poplar Point and pursue avenues for site remediation and infrastructure development. In the near future, the District will issue a solicitation for vertical development partners for site. All development activities will continue to be contingent upon the outcomes of the environmental impact study process," said Albert.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Auctioning Babes

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If any one thing comes to embody the zeitgeist of real estate skepticism, it may be the comeuppance of would-be developments, outlived even by their own ephemeral marketing life. First among that class may be the sad story of Babe's Billiards, purchased and shuttered by Clemens Construction to make way for the Maxim at Tenley, a condominium development at 4600 Wisconsin Avenue, NW that will go to auction as a recent victim of foreclosure.

Popular watering hole Babe's was prematurely closed by the new owner - an easy sacrifice for the nearly 70 condo units intended for the site. Clemens began their pursuit of the elusive project in 2006 and had their intentions reaffirmed when the DC Zoning Commission ruled in their favor the following year.

But the approval was only the beginning of a long and arduous - but eventually mortal - debate with the community. In a coup de grace similar to what may befall neighboring Tenley-Friendship Library/Janney Elementary project – the project was downsized past the point of viability, ultimately ending at approval for a 36,000 s.f. building with a maximum of 42 units and a puny retail component fronting retail starved Wisconsin Avenue.

The combination of the real estate market and reduced scale proved fatal, leaving the blackened building skinned in "coming soon" signs for a prominent epitaph.

Now the entire 12,661 square foot lot, including the store fronts at 4600-4608 and 4614 Wisconsin, has been bundled for the auction, along with its Cunningham & Quill Architects’ designs. In addition to the blueprints, the high bidder will also inherit the development’s previously approved status – meaning that a well financed developer could resurrect the project (or bring back Babes, we hope).

At this time, Clemens still owns the property; the auction is being sponsored by a third party and will take place at the DC offices of attorneys Ober/Kaler (1401 H Street, NW) at 11 AM on February 5th. The winner will be required to provide a deposit in the form of a cashier’s or certified check for $100,000 at the time of sale.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

DC's "Nuisance Properties" Headed to Auction

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Mayor Adrian Fenty was joined by Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Director Leila Edmonds today at a vacant Columbia Heights townhome to announce an auction of District-owned "nuisance properties" tomorrow afternoon.

"These are neighborhood nuisances and they've been the site of numerous problems. What councilmember, what citizen activist, what great media person hasn't heard the tales of nuisance properties like one behind me [at 3004 13th Street, NW] causing problems with everything from rodent infestation to plain old visual blight?" said the Mayor.

In total, 31 properties located in the DC neighborhoods of Columbia Heights, Shaw, LeDroit Park, Trinidad and Deanwood will hit the auction block (all of which can be viewed here). All were acquired through eminent domain, foreclosure or “friendly” sale and represent just a fraction of the city’s inventory of derelict properties. According to Director Edmonds, funds raised from the auction will benefit the city’s affordable housing fund and, if successful, another round of sales open to the public could occur in the near future.

The auction will be held Friday, January, 30th at 2 PM at 441 Fourth Street, NW. The Mayor projects that the “more than 200 developers and investors” who turned up for last week’s pre-bid conference will be in attendance and the public has been encouraged to participate as well. Prospective bidders will be able to register on site, provided they can meet the city’s minimum price point of $10,000. Those who purchase property at the auction will be required to have their properties in fully operable condition within 18 months or face the prospect of ownership reverting to the District. Additionally, they will also have to meet a series of DCHD-dictated expectations in restoring the once neglected homes.

“Bidders and potential purchasers will be required to fulfill the certified business entity requirements within the District. So, not only will we get these properties back into productive use, but we will also be fulfilling the mandate and mission to get them to help people find job opportunities” said Edmonds.

Fenty and Edmonds also used the opportunity to unveil the DHCD’s new “interactive housing database,” dchousingsearch.org – a site that aggregates both “rental and homeownership opportunities throughout the city.”

“Until today there wasn’t one place that you could go and find affordable housing in the city,” said Fenty. “That changes with the great work of DHCD. Obviously, it’s impossible for us to mandate affordable housing providers to give us information, but I think there’s great incentive for them to do so. We already have 5,672 total units in the system…and we have to date 64 housing providers that are registered as active within the system.” More 600 of the site's listed units are currently available.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

EYA Paints the Town Green in Southeast

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In an unprecedented move for a large scale residential development in the District, developer EYA took steps this week to ensure that all 210 for-sale townhomes within their Capitol Quarter development along Southeast Washington’s Capitol Riverfront will meet the standard for "LEED for Homes" certification – the industry standard for recognizing sustainable design and green building practices par excellence.

“It’s been our intention all along to select an organization that we could partner with and meet agreed upon standards that would certify ‘being green,’ if you will,” said Andy Warren, EYA’s Chief Operating Officer. “It’s an emerging area and some builders are just doing kind of silly stuff…and calling it green. We felt the perfect thing to do was to find some sort of third party that was recognized and public in the industry as a valid resource to define what is and what isn’t green.”

Per a statement released by the developer, EYA intends to use the Capitol Quarter project as a “model for volume builders on how to implement LEED for Homes on a larger scale.” They’re even pushing their eco-friendly ethos one step farther by including Energy Star-branded appliances and windows in the homes, along with a host of other green chic features like high efficiency cooling units and low flow plumbing fixtures. According to Warren, the modifications will represent only a modest increase in cost over their typical construction practices, as the development team had always intended on utilizing some aspects of sustainable design for the Capitol Quarter - with or without LEED certification.

“I think frankly if you were going from the minimum code requirements to the standards that you need for LEED for Homes and Energy Star, the cost would be very significant. For us, it’s more the magnitude of several thousand dollars, as opposed to the maybe tens of thousands of dollars you’d have to spend otherwise.”

At present, the Capitol Quarter project is slated to deliver approximately 137 market rate townhomes, 75 workforce housing townhomes and 86 public housing units to the burgeoning Capitol Riverfront quadrant of Southeast – well within walking distance of the Navy Yard Metro, the Nationals home turf and a bevy of similarly scaled (re)developments, such as Forest City’s Yards project . The Capitol Quarter’s public housing component - built in conjunction with District of Columbia Housing Authority – will not, however, bear the same LEED certification as its ballpark brethren.

“That is primarily due to the significant lead time that was involved in putting the plans and specs together for the city,” said Warren. “Those decisions were made more than a year ago and to change that just wasn’t feasible, but some same elements and construction techniques that we used on the for-sale units will carry over.”

EYA currently projects an April or May 2009 delivery for the first batch of Lessard Group-designed rowhouses at Capitol Quarter; all construction is expected to be complete by the fall of 2010. The market rate units are currently available for pre-sale, with prices starting at $630,000.

Eisenhower Ave. Towers Get the Green Light

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As of last week, Lane Development's ambitious development proposal for Alexandria’s Eisenhower Avenue has received design approval from the Carlyle/Eisenhower East Design Review Board. The project, which seeks to add four towers of mixed-use development just feet from the Beltway at 2250 and 2200 Mill Road, had initially been delayed due to concerns over the planned building materials and the project's distinctive rooftop accents. Now, with the buildings to definitively be constructed out of "dark precast" and the crowning cross patterns (pictured) scaled back to appease the Design Board, the project can proceed unimpeded.

Once completed, the developer intends to add 485 new residential units, 5700 square feet of retail and 585,000 square feet of office space in buildings as high as 22 stories - not to mention two new roads - to the Northern Virginia market. A definitive start date for the project has yet to be scheduled.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lacey Broker's Brunch | Today 11-2

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Post Office Makeover in the Works for Bethesda

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One of Bethesda's most ennui-inspiring edifices, the United States Postal Office site at 7001 Arlington Road, was recently approved for a mixed-use makeover - courtesy of the Keating Development Company, KGD Architects and a future wrecking ball. Though the Montgomery County Planning Board (MCPB) initially approved the project in 2007, the development plan was approved by the Montgomery County District Council in November of 2008.

The $10 million project aims to do away with the current 18,600 square fo
ot postal facility at the site and, in turn, replace it with a 4-story residential development located above a new post office. Plans on hand call for up to 105 residential units (14 of which will be reserved as affordable housing), approximately 7,000 square feet for a new USPS retail store and 23,000 square feet of ground floor "workroom" office space that will house a re-jiggered and newly improved Bethesda Post Office. These will be joined by 299 parking spaces - divided between a ground floor garage for postal service customers and vehicles, and a below grade structure for residents and employees.

Amenities planned for the as-of-yet un
titled development include a landscaped deck area that will connect to the adjacent Capital Crescent Trail. In conformance with the zoning requirements, the project will also feature the required 50% green area - a surefire improvement, as the majority of the site is currently devoted to a large surface parking lot.

Keating representatives
declined to comment on the status of the development, beyond conforming that it had, in fact, received approval of the development plan from the County Council. No timeframe has been established for groundbreaking, and the current post office at the site remains open for business and in full operation for the immediate future.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Development Going Green in Alexandria

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The Northern Virginian city of Alexandria can now count itself among the few townships in the nation working towards codified green building policy. Since mid-2008, a group of city officials, developers, builders and non-profit employees - calling themselves the Green Building Working Group - has been aiming to realize a 2007 Department of Planning and Zoning recommendation that called for "the development industry and community to develop a sound understanding and reinforce its commitment to Green Building and sustainable development in the City.'

The riposte has finally arrived. While not legally binding, the "Green Buildings in Alexandria Policy Recommendations" report - featuring the input of various Alexandria policy makers, along with that of representatives from MRP Realty, the JBG Companies, Winchester Homes, Environmental Resources Management, and the US Green Building Council, among others – signals several significant changes for green building projects in Alexandria.

First and foremost, all projects that “require a site plan or development special use permit” will now be “expected” to adhere to the policy recommendations. Those include a minimum LEED silver certification for nonresidential projects, “flexibility for non-standard buildings,” and the need for a closer working relationship between city authorities and would-be developers. According to the report, the city of Alexandria cannot legally mandate green building practices; instead they’re seeking a "lead by example” approach “in anticipation that the building and development industry will act in own interests.” Wait for the lawyers to parse that distinction.

Nonetheless, for every stance taken in the report, there is an opposing opinion and the panel has yet to unanimously agree on several issues. Two currently at the forefront of deliberation include whether LEED silver certification shall remain the city’s minimum standard for all projects, and exactly what types of incentives should be offered to those developing eco-friendly projects.

“While there are some areas of disagreement...there is general agreement on the policy issues such as flexibility, phasing, and recognition,” says Rich Josephson, Deputy Director of the Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning and Working Group member. “It is our intent to have City Council adopt this policy in March and to have development applications follow this policy some time shortly thereafter.”

Consensus or not, there are still numerous green projects already on deck for construction in Alexandria over the course of the next year. Among the upcoming projects highlighted in the report were the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s (ARHA) developments at West Glebe Road and Old Dominion Road, Jaguar Development’s Braddock Gateway, Trammell Crow Residential’s Carlyle Center, ARHA and EYA’s James Bland redevelopment and the Payne Street Condos.

The Working Group will be on hand to present the draft to the public at the George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple on January 28th from 7 to 9 PM. The presentation will include a panel discussion on the merits of the current draft, in addition to a question and answer session.

Alexandria Virginia real estate development news

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Drinking Deep at the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant

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There seems to be substance dribbling out of the McMillan water treatment plant these days, not all of it good. Last month, the District-selected development team tasked with transforming the 25-acre, deteriorating facility into more than 2 million square feet of new mixed-use development presented a fresh round of designs to the local community. New details disclosed at the December 23rd meeting include the possibility of a restaurant corridor and amphitheater at the corner of North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue – new conceptual renderings of the latter are available via the Washington City Paper’s Housing Complex blog.

McMillan was designated as a historic landmark in 1991 and, as such, will be subject to review by the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board as the $500 million project moves beyond the planning stages. The immediate result of this is that that the development team – which includes Vision McMillan, EYA, Jair Lynch Development and architects the Lessard Group – will retain as many of the 107-year-old site’s architectural flourishes as possible, including the distinctive concrete towers that abut the reservoir. Current plans call for those to be joined by 1,170 residential units (with a roughly 50/50 ratio of rental apartments to condos), 684,000 square feet of office space, 110,000 square feet of retail and 63-room boutique hotel rooms, with construction starting as early as next year.

So far so good. But DC residents got an unpleasant surprise in their mailboxes this week, courtesy of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DCWASA). According to the statement from DCWASA General Manager Jerry N. Johnson that was mailed to District tap water consumers, the quality of potable water emanating from the McMillan water treatment plant in Ward 5 was compromised for a 14-minute period on the evening of December 22nd. Per an addendum from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the lapse could have resulted in release of organisms that cause “nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches.” Surrounding areas affected via the Washington Aqueduct included the whole of the District of Columbia, Falls Church, Vienna and the Willston area water system in Arlington.

The prospect of such large scale development also seems to have caused some nausea in the community. Just last month, local resident Paul Kirk started up a “No Drilling at McMillan” blog that protests the perceived downsides of the redevelopment – including a presumed rise in the crime rate and traffic, in addition to infrastructural critiques such as a lack of “usable park space.” With four years to go until the ribbon cutting, there should still be enough time for everyone to get a word in edgewise.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bonafide New Residential for Silver Spring

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There's yet another residential project in the works for downtown Silver Spring. Independent developer Theo Margas hopes to deliver his Bonifant Plaza project to so-named Bonifant Street in the heart of the suburban city's Central Business District. Since filing plans with the Montgomery County Planning Board more than two years ago, progress on the Bonifant has been slow coming due to traffic issues - but that's something that could begin to turn around as early as next month.

Located on an unaddressed parcel within a stone's throw (approximately 135 feet) of Georgia Avenue, the Bonifant Plaza would measure in at roughly 115,000 square feet and sport new 72 new rental apartments with the same number of private parking spaces. (As required by Montgomery County statutes, 12.5% of those units must be devoted to affordable housing – which amounts to 9 sacrificial units for the developer.) The 9-story project is being designed Silver Spring-based architects AR Meyers & Associates and, though current plans don’t include a retail component, Margas has still not discounted an alternative that would allow him to service the heavily trafficked Silver Spring corridor. “The zoning…doesn’t allow for ground floor retail,” he says. “If for some reason that changes, then we would pursue putting ground floor retail in. But at this point there’s no retail in the designs for the project.”

Per recommendations made by Planning Board staff and the Maryland Department of Transportation, Bonifant Plaza has been on hold pending a design adjustment of the of alleys intended to service the new building. At one point, there had been concerns that the recently resolved issue of Purple Line’s prospective route could also impact the site, but with both matters now headed towards a speedy resolution, the project will return before the Board next month. ““[That meeting is] only for the budget plan, and we still have the site plan,” says Margas. “We’re not going to be at [the final] stage until sometime after budget approval.” Meanwhile, Margas concedes that a final timeline and cost analysis for the Bonifant project will be contingent on the next phase of the approval process, but seems confident that 2009 will be the year that Bonifant Plaza joins its fellow Silver Spring CBD projects – like SilverPlace, 1050 Ripley, the Adele, 8227 Fenton, and 8711 Georgia – on the docket of County-approved developments.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Brightwood Tenement Set for Demolition

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Plans are in works to demolish a dilapidated Brightwood housing project at 809 Kennedy Street, NW and a neighboring single family home, in order to make way for a new affordable housing complex. The developer behind the project, Washington Communities Inc. (WCI), was forced to shutter the current 2-story, 16-unit apartment building at the site - described by the Washington Post in 2008 as "a crumbling brick building" with "wet ceilings, broken lights, cracked walls, leaking sinks and defective radiators" and "one of the most troubled buildings in the city" - early last year.

WCI had ordered a buyout all of the building's tenants following complaints of below-freezing temperatures from residents, critiques from the DC City Council and a lack of funds of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (which spent a whopping $626 to “repair” the building over a three year period). The new building to be built at the former site of 809 Kennedy will include 70-units of affordable housing with rents starting at $900 per month. WCI President, Richard Deeds, did not respond to DCmud’s inquiries concerning the project.

According to DC tax assessment records, Deeds and co. have owned the property since May 2002. Their raze application, filed in December, is expected to proceed unhindered. New System Demolition and Excavation will carry out the demolition.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

NCPC National Capital Plan

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Changes in the Atlas District

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How to redevelop H Street: knock down the old buildings and replace them with a surface parking lot. At least that's the strategy of a pair of local property owners, Tae and Sang Ryu, if they receive approval to demolish four buildings at 1305-1311 H Street, NE, the so-called Meads Row. The properties adjoin local landmark the Atlas Theater, and the owners intend to replace them with a large surface parking lot to service patrons of the increasingly crowded Atlas District.

Though the duo has been seeking to raze the buildings since 2007, the ANC6A has already expressed their disapproval of the project - especially regarding the Atlas' next door neighbor at 1311 H Street. "Although [the property] is currently in bad physical condition, we would like to help you take advantage of a number of tax and zoning incentives that would allow the current building to be rehabilitated in a manner that will protect your financial interests and allow H Street to be restored to its former charm and economic health," said ANC Chair Joseph Fengler in an open letter to the developers. The chairman goes on to point out that buildings designated for historic preservation receive federal tax credits for renovation costs and that the property would most likely qualify for a grant under the H Street Main Street’s façade improvement program.

Despite the helping hand, the Ryus are still pursuing a raze order for the site and have submitted an application to the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) for review. According to Bruce Yarnall, Operations and Grants Manager of the HPO, “[the case] will first have to go before the board for a landmark hearing, then the raze request will be determined based on the landmark action.” A designation hearing will be held February 26th to determine whether the HPRB agrees. Either way, the Atlas District’s main corridor will be gaining one landmark or losing one tinderbox.

Meanwhile, local entrepreneur Leon Robbins is planning to add a new mixed-use development to the eastern end of Northeast’s H Street corridor, AKA the Atlas District. Robbins, who currently owns and operates Stan’s Inc., a men’s discount clothing store on the same street, plans to build new three-story building on a vacant lot at 1383-85 H Street NE – one that promises add new office space and possibly another entertainment venue to the nightlife-centric neighborhood.

The 7,000 square foot project will be comprised of a commercial or retail ground floor with a second story mezzanine and, finally, a third floor of office space. Robbins’ intent, in accordance with the H Street Northeast Arts Overlay, is to purpose the first floor space for an unspecified entertainment venue. Specifically, the developer has been in talks with an established DC comedy club about the possibility of bringing another location to H Street. (As specified under the overlay, ground-floor space must be put towards “an arts, retail or service use” and must “contribute to sidewalk activity and neighborhood vitality.”) The mezzanine would then be used as “back-of-the-house office” for the club’s management. While the new building will not feature a green roof, due to constraints its $750,000 construction budget, the development will feature a roof deck, planted gardens and an isolated “interior court.”

The project will feature no on-site parking. An architectural consultant to the project, Jennifer Fowler of Fowler Architects, said before the Board of Zoning Adjustment that parking was "impossible" due to its landlocked nature. “The characteristics of the property make it unique…There is no alley access. It is impossible to provide parking.” The BZA agreed with that assessment and has lent their approval to the project, as have the Office of Planning and the local ANC 6A.

“We are very excited about this project coming to H Street,” said ANC member Drew Ronnenberg. “First of all, I think it’s an example that shows design guidelines work…I think the high quality of this building shows the kind of things that our ANC and all of H Street wanted it to bring and this is it. This bears fruit.”

Final designs for the project are being handled by Robbins’ brother, David Robbins of the Baltimore-based Architecture Collaborative Inc. The developer plans to begin construction in August of 2009.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Affordable Housing Expands in Adams Morgan

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Jubilee Ontario Court project at 2525 Ontario Road, NW, will complete in February, expanding services for low- and moderate-income residents, repurposing the 86 year old apartment building into a 22 unit residence. The renovation reclaimed the basement level of the building, underpinning the entire lower level of the building for JumpStart, a 24-hour learning/care facility, the first of its kind facility in the area designed to provide child learning and care for low income working parents. The building was the site of a visit by then President Jimmy Carter when he launched his affordable housing initiatives.

As a condition of the DHCD loan, all of Ontario Court’s units will be affordable to households earning less than 80% of area median income for a period of 47 years. Ontario Court was financed with $8.6 million in New Markets Tax Credit loans from Enterprise, a Columbia, Maryland based affordable housing provider, and built byJubilee Housing, Inc., a 34-year-old private, faith-based, non-profit organization that provides affordable housing and supportive services to economically disadvantaged residents of Adams Morgan. The project was designed and overseen by Bonstra | Haresign ARCHITECTS.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Light Rail Locked for the Purple Line

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In keeping with last month's staff report, the Montgomery County Planning Board endorsed light rail as the preferred mode of Purple Line transport in a 4-1 vote yesterday afternoon, decidedly nixing the prospect of a rapid bus transit alternative. The vote came at the end of two-session round of public testimony that drew nearly 50 speakers and hundreds of pieces of correspondence - many of them supporters of the embattled Capital Crescent Trail that shadows the Purple Line's proposed 16-mile route from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

Board Chairman Royce Hanson cited light rail's proclivity for speedier transport, greater passenger capacity, longer 50 to 60 year lifespan and compatibility with existing Metro and MARC systems as benefits of the selection. Despite any advantages, the new light rail will cost millions more than bus service; current projections predict that the cost of the project could rise as high as $1.6 billion.

Preliminary engineering for the Purple Line is scheduled to begin this August, although work on the line itself won’t begin before 2012, at the earliest. At present, the project’s next stop is a Montgomery County Council committee meeting on January 22nd, which will then be followed by a full public session on January 27th.

Deputy Mayor Forges Ahead on Janney-Tenley

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The Tenley turf wars heated up this week, with the Fenty administration's renewed support of LCOR's redevelopment plan for the Tenley Library site. Two months after submitting a letter condemning the Janney Elementary/Tenely Library redevelopment's proposals, Washington DC City Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Kwame Brown have received a reply from Deputy Mayor Neil Albert. The letter obtained by DCmud outlines the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development's (ODMPED) stance on the project, while the same time dismissing the representatives' call to abandon the project's proposed residential component.

"As I am sure you are aware, the original rationale for this project is two-fold. First, it is part of a District-wide effort to capitalize on transit-oriented development. The site offers the District the rare opportunity to leverage a parcel across the street from a Metrorail station, bringing additional residents and workforce housing units to an underserved Wisconsin Avenue corridor,” states Albert in a letter dated January 12th. “Second, the money the District will receive in the form of a prepaid ground lease will be used to move the Janney School modernization up in the queue from Fiscal Year 2014…to Fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011.”

As a recap of the battle, the struggle involves the Deputy Mayor, who is interested in developing the metro-centered site and chose LCOR as project developer, DCPL (the public library), which wants to replace the library closed down three years ago, Janney parent groups, which don't want to cede an inch of existing outdoor space to an apartment building, DC Public Schools (DCPS), which will have to renovate the school system if a developer does not pony up, and a determined group of locals that have filibustered every large development in the area, and successfully thwarted the first developer for the site.

Albert supports the residential tower atop the new library, reasoning that “a stand-alone library would eliminate any potential cost savings for the library, would make any future development on the site cost prohibitive and would require much more of…Janney Elementary[‘s] green space.” The latter is a reference to objections by the Janney School Improvement Team (SIT), which withdrew their support - along with Cheh and Brown – for the cession of existing green space to the development. But Albert counters that LCOR’s revised plans now result in “a net gain of 300 square feet of green space at the school” through conversion of pavement to turf. Though such plans have yet to be released publicly, the Deputy Mayor states that a “fully formed proposal” will be unveiled on February 10th.

As previously noted, DCPS have had little say in the direction of the project, while DC Public Libraries (DCPL) have been privy to the bulk of the negotiations between ODMPED and LCOR . “Preliminary estimates show that [DCPL] will save approximately half of its construction budget under this mixed-use scenario for their new 20,000 square foot library. This amounts to approximately $5 million in cost savings,” says Albert - though when initally estimated by ODMPED, the library sported a projected cost of $16 million. This most certainly is not the last word on the project.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eckington Affordable Housing: A Moving Story

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In rare confluence of church and (real e)state, Eckington's St. Martin's Parish and NorthStar Development and Consulting have come together to produce a new 178-unit affordable housing project in Northeast Washington DC. Initially obstructed by the community, which objected to the proposed demolition of a historic church convent at 116 T Street, NE, the development team agreed to physically move the convent. Just this week, Hamel Builders rolled the edifice 80 feet east of its original location (the nuns were previously evacuated) and, in doing so, freed up the lot so that construction on the $41 million project can commence posthaste.

Upon completion, the new 241,000 square foot project will boast a combination of one-bedroom public housing units available at 30% AMI and two-bedrooms available at 60% AMI - which in sum total, in the words of Reverend Michael Kelly of St. Martin's, makes it “the largest affordable housing project in DC.”

According to Neal Drobenare of NorthStar Development, the apartments will have "two internal landscaped courtyards, a business / computer center, internet café, wireless internet access, full fitness center and community room…[plus] a full level of underground parking." At present, the new development remains untitled, as NorthStar has yet to “hit upon a final name that conveys a market rate level of quality, respect[s] St. Martin Parish's sponsorship, and the secular nature of the apartments themselves.” The project is expected to reach completion in the first quarter of 2010. Grimm & Parker is designing the new building.

The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington will control the apartments through a subsidiary, which will then pay St. Martin's Parish to lease the land underneath. Said De Drebonare:

“St. Martin's Parish will continue to lead our neighborhood steering committee, which has representatives from nearly all local churches and civic associations [and] will help build bridges between the neighborhood and our residents, as well as keep our feet to the fire on operating at a market rate level of service. A third party manager will run the building.”

According to Drebonare, the matter of transplanting a former nunnery wasn’t the only obstacle encountered by the development team since planning began in 2007. "The closing of the financing was quite the cliffhanger as [the] financial markets collapsed around us…we managed to close the day before the complete meltdown of the stock market in October."

Looks like someone up there was looking out for them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Knee Deep in New Development at Fort Totten

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DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was joined by representatives of Lowe Enterprises today to announce the sale of a city-owned parcel at Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue, NE, in the Fort Totten neighborhood, that will soon be transformed in a million square foot mixed-use development. Although initially unveiled as "The Dakotas" way back in 2006, new details concerning the project are now being released. The project will be built in three phases and include 898 residential units, along with 94,000 square feet of retail space.

"If you've ever been to Riggs Road in the area of South Dakota Avenue, you know it is an area of boundless potential...We are at the point where we are going to maximize that potential,” said Fenty.

The first phase, to be entitled Ft. Totten Square, will occupy the site of a vacated strip mall on the intersection’s northwestern quadrant. The 4-story building will house 468 residential units – 94 of which have been earmarked for affordable housing - and 71,000 square feet of ground floor retail, which is to be anchored by a full-service grocery store. 500 parking spaces will also be included in the development. Construction on Ft. Totten Square is slated to begin later this year and will be followed shortly by a second phase, the so-called Dakota Pointe across the street, which will include 170 units of housing and the requisite parking.

The project’s third and final phase – the Dakota Flats – will include the triangular parcel relinquished by the District at the development's southern-most point. It will feature 260 apartments with 52 reserved as affordable, 23,000 square feet of retail. According to the Mayor, construction of the Flats will “be set to close in 2011.” In addition to Lowe, the development team also includes Jack Sophie Development, City Partners Development and mixed-use planners StreetSense. Hickok Cole Architects are designing the project. Ellis Denning will serve as general contractor. The total cost of the project is currently estimated to be roughly $80 million.

Both the City and development team were keen to highlight the infrastructural improvements they have in store for one of the city’s busiest intersections. “We are working on making this a safer intersection because traffic is fast,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser. “We have thousands of hardworking, taxpaying citizens in Riggs Park who take their lives into their hands to get the Fort Totten Metro. We’re going to change that.”

In doing so, the District plans to eliminate the highway-style on-off ramps that guide traffic onto Riggs Road and include improved pedestrian crossings – while serving as a gateway to nearby Prince George’s County. “There’s not many more thoroughfares with much more traffic than this one right here,” said Marc Weller of Ellis Denning. “People came across the line into DC and the first thing they’d see is just a sign and vacant parking lot. We’re trying to create something much different than that.”

That change, however, has been a long time coming. Weller told DCmud that over the course of two years “overall market conditions [have] repositioned the project so that it could work in today’s markets.” Neither party would disclose the terms of the LDA, but details will be revealed as the project moves closer to fruition.

 

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