Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SW Developer Seeks Another Extension on SW Church

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Tomorrow, the Zoning Commission considers magnanimously granting a second three-year extension to developer Steve Tanner and his Square 643 Associates for the Old Friendship Baptist Church in southwest Washington DC. The Commission's decision will determine whether the developer, who bought the property for $550,000 in 2003, can continue waiting with fingers crossed for dramatic change in the SW neighborhood, or whether a denied extension and defunct PUD will mean a renewed effort or the end of the line. Tanner has a bit more at stake than just the PUD; the property, advertised as 800 Delaware Avenue on the Woodmark website, has been on the market for over a year with an asking price of $3.5 million. Certainly denying the PUD would put a damper on the price for a property that has not changed in an area that, according to the developer, has not seen much change either.

The development, designed by Shalom Baranes Architects (rendering pictured at left), may someday incorporate the Old Friendship Baptist Church, built in 1886-1887, into a mixed-use building, preserving the historic landmark as non-profit office space and constructing between 18 and 27 new condominiums, with one set aside as an affordable rental unit. The site will provide a minimum of 32 parking spaces with at least 23 for residents and 9 for a future but undetermined non-profit tenant. The L-shaped building will be four stories high on the east side of the church and seven stories high on the north, with no more than 10,000 s.f. set aside for non-profit office space. The ZC set limitations on the non-profit tenant, ordering that no more than 40 employees and volunteers can work on site during work hours limited to 7 A.M. to 8 P.M., which seems to mean they would need a court order to work overtime. Hm.

The Zoning Commission (ZC) originally approved the Planned Unit Development (PUD) September 15, 2005 and the current extension, granted in 2007, expired September 15, 2009. In 2007 the ZC granted a three-year extension to the PUD, meaning it would remain valid as long as the developer filed for a building permit within two years, and began construction within three. The developer failed to file a building permit and now the PUD is back before the ZC. In 2007, Tanner claimed the "current market conditions in the immediate neighborhood...made it impossible to attract a non-profit office tenant."

The developer had been banking on the nearby redevelopment of Randall School by Corcoran College of Art and Design and Monument Realty, a partnership which ended last spring. Potential non-profit tenants apparently hesitated to sign on without the reassurance that the area would be changing for the better in the near future. In 2007 the ZC said the extension was "justified by the uncertainty of market conditions" near the project - mind you this was in 2007, before the Big Mess. According to Office of Zoning records, between Jan. 2007 and October 2008 only seven time extension applications came before the Commission, one of which belonged to Tanner. Maybe the ZC will feel generous again.

Velocity Condos Opens in Southeast DC

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The Cohen CompaniesVelocity Condos, near the SE Navy Yard Metro and Nationals Stadium, hopes to entice buyers with their October 3rd and 4th "Grand Opening" event to celebrate completion of construction. Developers worked with ADC builders to create a condominium complex that promises to give on-the-go DC-types a taste of “downtown Manhattan in the middle of DC.” Boasting standard "luxury" features like stainless steel and granite, Velocity hopes to entice very patient buyers to invest in the Capitol Riverfront's only new condo for sale.

The 200-unit, 14-story Velocity features standard amenities like the 24-hour concierge service and underground garage parking. But the sales team hopes other touches like Velocity’s rooftop pool deck, private balconies, full-height granite backsplashes, and built-in lazy Susans will go a long way toward separating these units from the pack. Residents may even have a manicured central courtyard to look forward to next year, if plans coalesce for construction of an identical, 200-unit, Phase 2 condominium next door; but that looks unlikely, and the lot is still vacant.

Sales Manager Vicki Johnston explains that some of the condo's finer details like extra walk-in storage space and deeper-than-standard bath tubs can be attributed to a woman’s touch as they were envisioned “by the amazing, completely female design team at GTM Architects.” And according to Johnston, Southeast DC condo shoppers might be "surprised" to learn these are “the only condos in the ballpark area. All the other units around here are co-ops and rental units.” Of course that may be by default - since JPI's three nearby condo projects turned rental thanks to the market (JPI fizzled as well), as did Faison's Onyx, all of which are now substantially leased (ok, thanks to giving away months of free rent). Then there's Velocity.

Since beginning sales in 2007, only 58 of the available 200 units have been purchased—so it might be premature to rule out rental units in Velocity's future. Despite these modest sales numbers, Johnston sounds confident that the right potential buyer could rake in big bucks on resale, assuming he or she is “willing to hold out for a little while.”

Prices for Velocity units begin at $317,900 ($295 condo fee) for a 644 s.f. studio and run the gamut up to $784,900 ($683 condo fee) for a 1,492 s.f. 2BR/2BA/Den combo. The one bedroom, two bath, den condo has been the most popular among buyers thus far and runs $483,900 ($488 condo fee).

If you are willing to take the risk while the units are still plentiful, the rewards include a $1,000 credit towards customizing your own closets and a free parking space worth $35,000 (the garage holds an unusually high ratio of 1.5 spaces for condo).

Now, it’s only that small matter of the neighborhood building up around it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marriott & Donohoe Team Again to Open Courthouse Hotel

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Marriott has opened yet another link in its impressive chain of DC area hotels, a Residence Inn hotel at the Courthouse Metro in Arlington at 1425 North Adams Street. The Residence Inn Arlington Courthouse hotel's 176 suites replace what had been a vacant lot for almost 20 years. Marriott won the RFP in 2004, began construction in September of 2007 and opened its first rooms for business in August.

The hotel is the newest in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Donohoe Construction company built the project, which was developed by Donohoe Development, designed by Leo A Daly Architects, and is managed by Donohoe Hospitality.

The new Residence Inn has LEED building features certified to meet Arlington County environmental standards boasting a green roof and chemical-free cleaning solutions - made through an in-house process that mixes tap water with salt and electricity, a process used in many hospitals and throughout Europe for, like, years.

As for economic benefits to Arlington, Chris Bruch of Donohoe highlighted the estimated $2 million in tax revenues to be generated annually and the creation of 42 new hospitality jobs, 90% of which are for Virgina residents.

Fire Works restaurant will occupy approximately 5,500 square feet at the street level on Clarendon Boulevard and open up to the Western end of Courthouse Plaza for patio dining. The 240 seat (160 indoor, 80 outdoor) restaurant will offer "upscale casual dining featuring local, fresh and organic ingredients" and is expected to open in Spring 2010. And by the way, it's a pizza place. Bruch indicated that there is still over 3,700 s.f. of ground floor retail space available and ready for a tenant.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Central Union Mission's Development Blues

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The hotly contested Central Union Mission property on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Newton Street had its day at the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) last Tuesday. Original plans to move the Christian men's residential facility (read: homeless shelter) from its dated digs in Logan Circle to Georgia Avenue met significant community resistance, leaving the Mission to scrap the homeless shelter idea and design a new building with mixed-use residential and office space instead. The BZA ultimately approved the new plans for a mixed-use project, on the condition that the Mission not modify its approved use.

Having relented to community pressure over the proposed shelter and without any prospective buyers or development partners, the Mission worked with designers at Cox, Graae + Spack Architects to develop a more conformist project. The new plan calls for 37 residential units affordable to residents with incomes of 50% - 80% AMI (about $45,000 - $80,000). The building will include a small bay of ground floor retail on Georgia Ave., an additional 3,700 s.f. of office space, which may be reserved for Mission administrative uses, and 27 parking spaces in a below-grade garage.

The community has vociferously opposed building a homeless shelter on the site. At a September ANC meeting, the Mission assured residents that the project would no longer include the shelter, but would rather provide low-income housing and retail/office space. ANC-1A08 Commissioner Cliff Valenti appeared at the BZA meeting to reiterate that the ANC's approval was conditioned on removal of the homeless shelter from the Mission plans.

The ANC remains anxious over the property, despite the Mission's assurances, largely because the proposed alternate location for the shelter at Gales School (pictured, at left) near Union Station has now become a legal issue. Originally, the plan was for a land swap in which the city would gain the Georgia Avenue property and the Mission would get use of the school as a shelter. But the exchange was derailed by an America Civil Liberties Union law suit claiming an Establishment Clause violation - i.e. separation of church and state - because the property swap would result in a net gain of $12 million for the Mission, which requires homeless men to participate in religious services in return for room, board and counseling services. With the swap in doubt, the ANC demanded, and now received, a formal prohibition of the shelter.

With their tenancy in Logan up and their Mass Ave location in doubt, it seems the Mission itself may now be in need of a home.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sheridan Terrace Redevelopment Brings Hope to Ward 8

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Big changes are in the works in Washington DC's Ward 8 beginning this winter. Phase 1 of the highly anticipated Sheridan Terrace public housing redevelopment is slated to begin construction in January or February 2010 - depending on when the D.C. Housing Authority finally closes on financing for the project.

Located east of Sheridan Road and bounded by Howard Road, Sayles Place, Stanton Road, and Pomeroy Road, Sheridan Terrace’s 11 acres in Anacostia are owned jointly by the DC Housing Authority and William C. Smith & Co. As lead developer, Smith partnered with Union Temple CDC and Jackson Investment Co. to form Sheridan Terrace Redevelopment LLC. Sheridan Terrace will comprise a small piece of the Barry Farm/Park Chester/Wade Road redevelopment planned for Ward 8. Smith will also work with the Housing Authority on a master plan for these surrounding communities. The project was designed by Bethesda's SK&I Architects, which furnished the seven different building designs that will include landscaped greenspace and a pedestrian trail.

Phase 1 of the 344-unit Sheridan Terrace construction will revolve around an initial 122 units. One hundred and fourteen Phase 1 units will be allotted as low-income rentals and eight will be available for home ownership. Look for a completed Phase 1 in August of 2011. Phases 2 and 3 of the redevelopment will begin once all units in Phase 1 are filled, but the entire project is expected to be complete by 2015.

When all three phases of Sheridan Terrace development are entirely completed, the 344 units will be almost double the amount of the original Sheridan Terrace - a troubled project that was torn down in 1997. As with the original, the new-and-improved Sheridan Terrace will contain 183 public housing rental units. An additional 161 units will go up for sale; 117 of these will be sold at market rate and another 44 will be sold as affordable units. Units will consist of a mix of townhouses, "manor houses" (i.e. three-bedrooms), and apartments with anywhere from one to three bedrooms.

At the completion of the project, Sheridan Terrace Redevelopment LLC will be reimbursed with a Low Income Housing Tax Credit equal to the cost incurred for the development of 73 of the low income housing units. Housing Authority Project Manager Kerry Smyser estimates the cost of the entire redevelopment at $21,477,853 - although this number has been on the rise ever since the DC Housing Authority won a nearly $6 million Hope VI Grant for the project back in March of 2008.

As a requirement of the Hope VI Grant, former residents will have first dibs on public housing units offered in this reincarnation. But as Ward 8 Commissioner William Ellis explains, luring old tenants back may not be easy. “The Sheridan Terrace community was really displaced” by the 1997 razing of the dilapidated, crime-ridden housing project. "It’s been a long time since many people from the original Sheridan Terrace have actually even lived in the neighborhood.”

The city has taken steps to avoid repeat circumstances by ensuring that at least 25 of the public housing units available in Phase 1 will be reserved for current Barry Farm residents—another Ward 8 redevelopment project on the horizon.

Other changes in the Ward 8 community, like the new Savoy Elementary School and planned renovations of neighborhood parks and recreation centers, are going a long way in reassuring Ward 8 residents that the newly developed Sheridan Terrace will play a positive part in changing the landscape of their community. “Now,” says Commissioner Ellis hopefully, “if we could just get some more restaurants.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

Progress on Stalled Dumont

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Mt. Vernon Triangle's DuMont Condominium's 559 units at 401 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, have sat lonely and vacant since the project was substantially completed a year ago. Lender PB Capital issued a foreclosure notice in December when the developer, The Broadway Group, failed to secure enough deposits to meet the lender's demand. Mt. Vernon blog The Triangle first reported resolution in the form of a sale to Ideal Realty Group (IRG), which specializes in multifamily and distressed/bank owned properties.

The IRG website lists the 559-units at the Dumont as "under agreement." According to one commenter on the Triangle, at a Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association meeting, Bill McLeod of the Mount Vernon Business Improvement District (MVBID) confirmed the sale. You can bet all those new tenants (whether owners or renters) and the potential for retail would be welcome news to the MVBID.

No one at IRG was available or willing to comment or confirm the sale. While there is currently no sale recorded, the September 18th release of a mechanics lien is further evidence of a deal. A representative at Custom Glass Services Inc. was unwilling to comment about any sale agreement, but confirmed the company had a lien on the property that was resolved through a payment from the general contractor, James G. Davis Construction Corporation.

It is unclear if the Dumont, designed by Esocoff & Associates as condominiums, would be sold as such or rented as apartments.

Federal Tax Credit: Extension? Expansion? Extinction?

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Recently we wrote that the $8,000 first-time home-buyer tax credit is set to expire November 30th. It still is, but there are at least 21 separate bills sitting in various Congressional committees that would extend the deadline, and then some. Industry professionals have expressed concerns that recent gains (or mitigated losses) have been largely bolstered by the tax credit, without which the market may again falter.

All the bills all have the shared goal of extending the current tax credit, before it expires, some aim to expand it. Several bills seek merely to extend the life of the credit (at the $8,000 mark) for another six months or a year. In addition to the extension, other bills propose an increase in the value of the credit to 10% of the purchase price, up to $15,000, and make the credit available to any home purchaser, as long as the property is a "primary residence" within 24 months of purchase.

Craig Sacks, Title Attorney for National Capital Title and Escrow opined the $8,000 tax credit did not have much effect on the DC market because of the lack of first-time home buyers and the price point for real estate in the DC area. To have a significant effect in DC, a bill would need to extend the timeline, expand the credit to $15,000 and include all home-buyers. It would be a "boon to real estate agents and the rest of the industry," said Sacks.

No bills are scheduled for votes in either the Senate or the House, and Congressional sources say that the health care reform debate is sucking the energy out of other legislation. The most likely way we'll see some sort of extension or expansion is as an amendment to another bill already scheduled for a vote.

Real Estate Financial Modeling Seminar

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Sponsored Story
LOCAL COMPANY REFM LAUNCHES TO MEET GROWING DEMAND FOR FUNDAMENTALS-BASED ANALYTICAL, INVESTMENT AND EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

In conjunction with its exhibiting at the Urban Land Institute Washington’s DC Conference, Arlington-based Real Estate Financial Modeling (REFM) officially launched its company yesterday to meet the growing demand in the real estate professional and educational realms for fundamentals-based, quantitative real estate development financial modeling resources.

As real estate professionals and students worldwide have returned to conservative underwriting standards, there has been a strong increase in demand for analytical, investment and educational resources to help the real estate community better analyze and present their development transactions in this rigorous way.

REFM was founded by Wharton MBA and DC metro area real estate developer Bruce Kirsch. Through REFM’s Live Group Training Sessions, Bruce imparts the wisdom, techniques and shortcuts learned through more than 10,000 hours of Excel modeling and real estate development experience. The next Training Session is on Saturday, September 26th at George Washington University, and in an innovative twist, all Training Session attendees will also get the REFM Financial Model and Video Tutorial Module downloads, which contain sophisticated Excel-based models as plug-and-play tools ready for transaction analysis, as well as videos of the Training Session content as a permanent reference. Those who are unable to get tickets to a Training Session can purchase the Modules as a standalone product at REFM’s website, www.realestatefinancialmodeling.com.

By providing this novel, detailed learn-at-your-own-pace Video Tutorial component, REFM not only empowers its customers with the ability to customize the Financial Models to their particular needs, but also saves university professors and students valuable class time for more nuanced teaching and learning of these critically important technical skills. Additionally, a Case Study offered by REFM is already on a syllabus at the University of Southern California, and more than 15 other major universities worldwide are currently evaluating the Case Study product.

“Now, more than ever, meticulous quantitative analysis of real estate transactions is critical,” stated Bruce Kirsch, Principal of REFM.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole at National Park Seminary

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With a mix of decaying and revamped historic buildings tucked among cookie-cutter suburban dreams, Maryland's National Park Seminary, an adventurous attempt at adaptive reuse, is surely the most unique new community regionally, if not nationally. The collaborative development team of The Alexander Company and EYA will sponsor a "ribbon cutting" today, highlighting the new construction and first stages of historic renovations ready for tenants, particularly the newly finished Ballroom condos.

A surreal, 32-acre conservation area is the setting for 280 new and rehabbed residences culled from an international showcase of homes - think Swiss mountain lodge next to Dutch windmill, astride American colonial. Shopping for a Japanese Pagoda? Yes, but you will have to wait, Alexander is still using it as office space.

The beltway-hugging Silver Spring site includes new townhomes, historic condominiums, rental apartments and historic single-family homes, formerly an elite girls finishing school and the United States Army quarters (an exemplar of mixed-use). The land extends to I-495 and a few new townhomes have back porch access to Rock Creek Park. The nearest metro, Forest Glen, is about a mile from the site, so residents working in DC will be stuck commuting up 16th street, the most direct route to downtown.

The Seminary has an interesting recent history as well: having identified the property as surplus, in 2001, the U.S. Army tried to raze the historic structures, but local preservationist Save Our Seminary banded together to prevent the historic loss. The federal government then turned the land over to Montgomery County, which selected Alexander as the developer in 2004 after a competitive RFP. Alexander, both the developer and architect, worked with EYA as a local partner for the new construction and hired Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse as general contractor. The historic preservation is valued at over $150 million, which Alexander hopes to offset through sales of the new construction.

Dan Peters, Director of Communications for Alexander, highlighted the unique buying opportunity of historic units, "not one of the condos or apartments has the same floor plan...the site is the most unique residential development in the country." No argument here. The single-family historic homes designed to look like international dwellings and the hodgepodge designs of the condos are unexampled, one part World Fair, one part Alice in Wonderland. Interspersed are the mostly-standard townhomes of EYA - generally the epitome of architectural sameness at home in any suburban cul de sac, for one of the most eclectic juxtapositions outside of a museum.

Since sales began in January 2006, all but 4 of the 90 new EYA townhomes have sold and the 66 historic rental apartments are fully leased, though only 20 of the 50 historic condos, which began delivering in late 2007, are spoken for at present. Only two of the historic single-family homes have sold so far.

The one, two and three-bedroom EYA townhomes range from $400,000 to $900,000. The 90 new townhomes and courtyard homes feature Spanish Mission, English Tudor, and Arts & Crafts architectural styles.

With only 4 new townhomes left for sale, buyers may want to fix their gaze on the condos or the historic single-family homes. The condo, pictured at right, features stained glass throughout, a lofted bedroom and reportedly sold for nearly $1.5 million. The first phase of historic condos is just about entirely complete and the second phase, which will tackle historic buildings including the gymnasium, the stables, the servants quarters and carpenter's shop, is set to begin in spring of 2010. Peters indicated construction would take between 12 and 18 months to complete.

Peters notes that historic single-family homes will demand a knack for historic preservation to meet the county's standards. Though to date only two of the homes have sold, the developer was optimistic that sales of historic condos would pick up with the progression of construction - a benefit of selling a concept versus a finished product. But with an entire phase of construction remaining, buyers may still need an active imagination.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tenley Library Construction to Start

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Years into discussions about the fate of Tenleytown Library, DC officials have announced that construction, or at least a ceremonial pretense, will at last begin this morning at 10:30am. After an embarrassingly nasty brawl over the fate of the postage stamp-sized parcel at Albemarle and Wisconsin, the fate of the library seems at long last decided. Sort of.

Following the long term loss of the library in 2005, everything has gone according to plan, excepting, that is, the lack of plan for a new library, the city's belated selection of a developer for the site, the public outcry over the city's selection thereof, the battle over the right to build housing above a Metro (gasp!), a subsequent war between the DC Council, locals, and DMPED over control of the project, DMPED's decision to lead its own charge and issue an RFP for the project on its own, DMPED's mysterious shift in qualifications for the site - after submission of bids - which it shared with only 2 of the 3 applicants, DMPED's decision and hire LCOR, Inc. as the developer in July of 2008, the community's rejection of LCOR's plans, DMPED's pronouncement of a "rare opportunity" to bring subsidized housing to the "underserved (retail-challenged) Wisconsin Avenue," the quiet dropping of LCOR from the project in March of 2009, the Mayor's decision to build the library and then figure out if apartments should go on top of it, and his final pledge that the building would - damn the torpedoes - be completed in 2010. Did we miss anything?

Water under the bridge though. Now work begins on the new library, and one thing is for sure, Forrester Construction will build it. Even if "it" is still undetermined. As of August, the city had not committed on a plan for the residences supposed to sit on top of the library, but rather had planned to build the library in the hopes that someone could somehow put a building on top of library shortly thereafter, consigning the project to permanent construction site status. Nor had the District selected an architect to design the library (now technically under construction), basing its plans instead on simple conceptual designs by the Freelon Group (see rendering at left) and R. McGhee & Associates.

And Janney parent groups, which opposed the plan as a taking of its green space, will now lose its field as a construction staging ground for up to two years. And then construction may start all over again. Wow, glad that's all settled.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Constitution Center: Letting the Light In, Keeping Terror Out

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The $250 million renovation of Constitution Center — the block-sized, former Department of Transportation building at 7th St., SW — is inching towards the finish line. When renovation plans for the 1960s-style concrete relic began circulating five years ago, owner David Nassif Associates had three objectives for the architects and engineers at SmithGroup: Design a modern structure that will stand the test of time, retain the building’s original concrete frame, and make the building attractive to bulky federal tenants. The blast-resistant glass building incorporates federal security guidelines and boasts worker-friendly amenities like private D Street metro access, which mean SmithGroup may achieve all three when James G. Davis Construction wraps their work in November of 2009, 29 months after work began in mid 2007.

As lead architect David Varner puts it: “Maintaining the concrete frame probably saved about $60 million in construction costs and shaved about a year off the renovation.” But as far as design, “We pretty much went out of our way to invert just about every design feature of the old DOT building.” Although designed in 1969 by the architect behind the Kennedy Center and Radio Center Music Hall, Edward Durell Stone, the general consensus - at least among DOT employees - was that their old office frankly didn't measure up to general office standards.





DOT employees used to describe their offices as “dark and disorienting,” according to Varner because the original building had less than 50 percent glass. That’s not a problem with Constitution Center’s floor-to-ceiling, blast-resistant glass design that ensures “no employee will be further than 45 feet from a natural light source at any time.”

No federal agencies have yet signed up to move their offices to Constitution Center, but the buzz is that the owner would prefer one federal tenant with multiple departments to move in by early 2011. With 1.3 million s.f. of rentable space, a 310-seat auditorium, a 15-acre garage with a 1,500 car capacity (the largest in the city), four lobbies, and a 90,000 s.f. central courtyard, it's safe to say the future occupant will be able to stretch out in the complex that occupies the entire block between 6th, 7th, D, & E Streets. Add to its list of superlatives that the project is the largest office renovation in the country expected to receive a LEED Gold certification.

Along with aesthetic improvements, a major security overhaul went into the new design of the Constitution Center complex. Garage columns are steel jacketed to guard against an ISC Level IV explosion, just for that country-Inn-kind-of-feel. And while your Beemer may be toast by that point, two separate security access points were placed at the employee-only entrance. All air-intake units and filters are located 110 feet above the ground to guard against any airborne biological attack which, we're told, tends to concentrate closer to the ground. Constitution Center even has its own filtered water supply.

The major trade off? The grand central courtyard designed by the landscape architects of Oculus will, predictably, be closed to pedestrians, meaning no more public access or farmers market. But when you're talking about an office building with its own filtered water and air supply, are you really surprised?

Varner explains that in a modern, secure building, the owner felt it was not feasible to keep a public courtyard. But, in an effort to maintain a solid relationship with the community, Oculus and SmithGroup designers worked to increase the outdoor green space by 700 percent, beautifying the street front for those that have to walk around it.

Shedding a little sunlight on federal offices isn't such a bad idea, even if it's coming through blast-resistant glass.

Bikers Boon at Union Station

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The simple life of free-range bike racks on street corners is meeting its demise as cyclists opt for membership in "bikestations" that offer secure locations, a place to change, and access to metro. That, at least, is the thought behind the newest addition to Washington's ascendant bike-commuter culture, the bikestation at Union Station, now accepting membership and scheduled to open in the beginning of October.

The station can hold up to 100 bikes in its 1,600 s.f. of space on the west side of Union Station; think bike rental and repair, changing rooms, lockers and security, all in one space. The station will be staffed 66 hours a week, but is accessible by members 24/7 with a security card.

According to a press release from DC Department of Transportation, membership rates are $96 per year or $30 a month, plus a $20 annual administration fee. Cyclists can register at bikestation.com or check out bikeandroll.com for more information.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Congressman on a Wire

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The federal government and the circus will be one step closer after today's Zoning Commission hearing, which will consider an application for a Trapeze School on land currently owned by the General Services Administration. The zoning text amendment would allow TSNY (Trapeze School of New York) a trapeze and performing arts facility on 55,300 s.f. of land east of the ball park and southeast of the U.S. Department of Transportation building.

Pending approval the "trapeze school and aerial performing arts center" will have access to the land as a matter of right until December 2014. The school is currently in a temporary location at the site of the Old Washington Convention Center at 9th and H St, NW. Perhaps Congress might consider doing one of the schools "team-building workshops." The Zoning Commission hearing is scheduled for tonight at 6:30 PM in the Office of Zoning hearing room at 441 4th Street and is open to the public, so swing by.

photo by Rich Riggins

Friday, September 18, 2009

11th Street Bridge Under Troubled Wires

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The 11th Street bridges that span the Anacostia in SE DC are one step closer to a transporation makeover, assuming government agencies can play nice. The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) recently reviewed the District Department of Transportation's (DDOT) design, which will replace the 40-year-old 11th Street bridges, improving traffic flow, connecting I-695 and I-295 and creating a pedestrian and bike-friendly addition to the I-295 bridge. The new bridges make accommodations for future street car use of the bridge, including features for (gasp) overhead wires. The bridges will get their makeover, but the street car may have to wait.












According to DDOT, the Southwest/Southeast Freeway (I-695) was originally planned as part of the "Inner Loop Freeway System," a highway system designed in the '50s and built in the '60s that was (thankfully) never fully completed. The portion at issue here was to connect the Inner Loop with the Anacostia Freeway (I-295/DC-295), a plan that was ultimately abandoned; to date motorists have no direct connection between the two highways north of the 11th street bridge complex. DDOT's plan suggests that this inconvenience leads to increased traffic on neighborhood streets like Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, Good Hope Road, Minnesota Ave and Pennsylvania Ave.

The current upstream bridge has four lanes headed north and the downstream bridge has four lanes headed south, for a total of eight lanes (we can add good); the new bridges will have a total of 12 lanes. The upstream bridge (I-695) will get an additional four lanes, or four in each direction, but two will be used as entrance and exit lanes. The downstream bridge (I-295) for local traffic will still have four lanes, two in each direction with the two outer lanes shared, in theory, by street cars and motor vehicles. The local traffic bridge will also include a 14 foot "shared use path" for pedestrians, runners and cyclists.

While the 11th Street Bridge plan does not directly provide for street cars, it does include the tracks, light posts, and overhead wires for the street cars that may eventually help bridge the chasm between the two sides of the Anacostia river. DDOT has been moving full speed ahead on the Anacostia street car program and is pretty excited about it (to anthropomorphize a bit), and weekly updates are now available online. The plan to install track lines in the new 11th street bridge is just another example of foresight by the transportation planning body.

But, DC being a jurisdictional hodge podge of government overlords, enter the turf battle. The NCPC Executive Director's recommendation stated that NCPC "does not support a street car system with overhead wires in the L'Enfant City" and encouraged DDOT "to pursue alternative propulsion technologies...that do not require overhead wires." The same issue was raised about the street car planned for the H Street corridor. The conflict is not going away any time soon.

If you paid attention to our NCPC crib notes last week, you'll remember that their authority over the historic Washington City means it will uphold federal law that prohibits overhead wires from obstructing view of landmarks.

DDOT and NCPC have clear mission statements and long-term plans, which often can work in unison to improve planning in the District. On this issue, however, it looks like we will see a showdown or at least some creative bargaining as the two agencies are pitted against one another in the what future generations will surely call the "Great Street Car Dilemma of L'Enfant City."

Metro Breaks Ground in Ward 8 Bus Garage

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On Wednesday, Metro ceremoniously broke ground on a new $95 million bus garage in Southwest DC. The garage will replace the seldom-missed bus depot near the Nationals' ballpark, sold to Akridge and Monument Realty in 2008 and demolished to make way for a multi-use (but unbuilt) project. Despite the formal groundbreaking, Metro still has not selected a contractor, nor provided a timeline therefore.

Metro paid $6.45 million for the former DC Village, a homeless shelter site, which will house up to 114 buses serving the greater DC area, with the potential to expand service for up to 250 buses. The agency anticipates the new bus facility will be open by 2012.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Washington Highland's Overlook Brings New Affordable Housing to Ward 8

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Tomorrow, at 10 AM the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), DC's largest affordable housing developer, along with Mayor Fenty will announce the opening of The Overlook apartments, formerly known as Parkside Terrace. The newly renovated twelve-story high-rise at 3700 9th St., SE, has a total of 316 units that break down to 231 one-bedrooms and 85 two-bedrooms. The $73 million project is a welcome improvement to a formerly blighted housing project in DC's Washington Highlands neighborhood in Ward 8.

Overlook has been vacant since 2005. Prior to that time it was one of the many ill-fated 100% Section 8 housing projects. The building will now include 57% Section 8 housing with the rest slated as affordable. Tim Westrich a Real Estate Associate at CPDC described the transformation from Parkside Terrace's "faded 60's look" to today's modern Overlook as "tremendous." Westrich was quick to counter the perception that Section 8 properties give "the perception of blighted properties." Not so, he says, "this is absolutely gorgeous."

The new building includes seven floors of senior housing, with rental assistance from DC Housing Authority, and five floors of small family housing, all affordable. Residents on the seven floors of senior housing have access to a concierge desk, reading rooms and lounges on each floor (like a dorm?). The senior housing also includes a 5,000 s.f. community room with exercise facility, computers, a small store and a "health-care suite." The small family units on the top 5 floors will have a a 24-hour gym and in-unit utilities including a hook-up for full size washers and dryers. There are a total of 181 units of senior housing and 135 units of small family housing. According to Westrich, the building is about 50% leased at present.

The architects on the project were Wiencek and Associates. The general contractor was Harkins. Harkins Vice President of Preconstruction Services Larry Kraemer said "this was a really complex project, with multiple funding sources and a building that presented us with a number of construction challenges, including a masonry skin that was peeling off the fa├žade." But in the end Harkins worked with the design team to "bring it all together for CPDC."

Financing for the project came from the DC Housing Finance Agency through a tax exempt bond program (Union Bank purchased these bonds), as well as from Low Income Housing Tax Credit equity through Capital One and Department of Housing and Community Development's Housing Production Trust Fund.
 

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