Monday, November 30, 2009

Lacey Champagne Brunch Broker's Open, Tuesday 12 - 2pm

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The Lacey, U Street's most inspirational new condominiums, will feature a champagne broker's open Tuesday, December 1st, from 12-2pm. Come see some of the city's best rooftop views and most intriguing design south of Manhattan. Marketing and sales by DCRealestate.com

FHA's Changing Rules

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced its newest rules to rescue the condo market. Rules that take effect next week will drop the new-condo presale requirement down from 70% to 30%, a welcome change to any developer, but tack on rules that make some lenders jittery.

Back in the days when no-doc loans were de rigueure and lenders financed 95 to 100% of home-purchase loans, FHA was but an obscure agency that few real estate agents even noticed. No more. FHA-based financing now allows 97% financing where lenders otherwise lend a more parsimonious 85 to 90%, and news from FHA is watched more closely than interest rates.

The newest rules, just released, take effect December 7th. Under the old regime, developers were obligated to find buyers to write contracts on 70% of the units in a new condominium before FHA would back the mortgage. With so many buyers seeking FHA loans, a building could not begin settling loans before the 70% mark was met, a tough standard in the current market. The new rules bring that threshold to 30%, down from the initially proposed 50%. Spot approval, the process of getting an FHA-approved loan on a building that does not have overall FHA approval, now ends February 1, 2010. Buyers with a ratified contract by that date can still get case by case approval even if the settlement date is later.

The quirk in the new rules lies in the two methods developers can use to qualify their project. The first entails "Designated Entity approval" with a bank's in-house licensed underwriters, a process the government intends as a quicker, cheaper approval method. The second is to submit the project to the FHA for approval. While no one is willing to guess at how long the government option will take, the bank approval process comes with a caveat that has bankers worried. Under the new guidelines, the first bank that approves a loan in a new condominium will incur liability for any flaws in all subsequent financing, even if it doesn't make subsequent loans. That can leave banks on the hook for hundreds of units for the profit of one loan, a scenario that banks seem not so keen to jump into. On the other hand, all existing condominiums need to be approved under the new system, leaving some industry watchers fearing a glut of applications on December 8th, with some predictions that rules for bank-approved loans will be relaxed to lighten the burden on the federal government. If not, builders will simply have to wait out the government's own approval process.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Foreclosure Hits Chinatown Landmark

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One of downtown Washington DC's most visible buildings may soon be developed into a 9-story mixed-use project; that is, if it's not foreclosed on. Sitting next to DC's Chinatown arch, one of the few exceptions to downtown's shiny newness is 801 7th Street.

Yeni Wong
and her Gallery Towers LLC were served a notice of foreclosure for the two contiguous lots at 675 H Street and 801 7th Street, NW in October for the $13,491,471 note plus attorney's fees. Wong, President of Riverdale International, reportedly paid more than $10m for the property in 2006. The lots were slated for auction on November 17th, but the sale was canceled, according to the office of David Prensky at DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

The corner of 7th and H housed a CVS, but now sits vacant and boarded with signs promising construction that has yet to begin. Owner Wong started a public dispute by filing a law suit in September 2006 against then tenant, CVS, after the store refused to vacate the premises despite an eviction notice in the spring of 2006. Wong wanted the CVS out to facilitate the LLC's plans to develop the site for a mix of uses including office, residential and retail. According to the website of developer DRI, a Transwestern Company, 675 H Street was to become home to two buildings: one would restore the corner space and rise 9 stories over the arch, the other would be a new Class A office building behind the main storefronts. The total project would have yielded 110,000 s.f. of office space and 50,000 s.f. of retail. The planned development never came to fruition and between October 2008 and February 2009 Gallery Towers had 4 liens placed on their Chinatown property. In the meantime, Eichberg Construction briefly began work last summer after fencing off the site, but work quickly halted.

Washington DC real estate news

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Ever-Shrinking Galaxy

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A long time ago (2005), in The Galaxy far, far away (Silver Spring), Scott Copeland, owner of RST Development, began pushing the idea for a 328-unit, 700-parking space condominium development through the Montgomery County application process.

The Galaxy isn't the first project undertaken by RST Development in the Silver Spring neighborhood bounded by Eastern Avenue, 13th and King Streets. In 2004, RST converted the vacant, 15 story office building at 8060 13th St into Gramax Towers, a 182 unit apartment complex. Copeland's company began planning the renovation of the Williams and Willste buildings—two abandoned office buildings on the north side of Eastern Avenue, into the Aurora Condominiums that same year.

In 2005, in the wake of these successful projects, The Galaxy of downtown Silver Spring was born. But by early 2008, the condo market in Silver Springs was not what it used to be and the A.R. Meyer's & Associates - designed condo project shrunk in to a more modest, 241-unit complex with 430 underground parking spaces.

Fast forward to the not-so-distant future date of December 3rd, 2009 and the Montgomery County Planning board is expected to approve two new amendments to The Galaxy development plan - the first splits the project into two phases and the second reduces the number of parking spaces.
The good news, according to Montgomery County Senior Planner, Sandra Pereira, is that "there will still be 3,366 s.f. of ground floor retail." She adds that Phase 1 of the project will not only include "a five story building, but also recreation and public use space" which adds up to 25,816 square feet of space for the public.

A public parking component has been at the center of The Galaxy plans from its beginning. But RST's newest amendment will once again reduce the amount of available parking spaces - this time from 430 spaces to 368. Pereira assures us that this change is quite minor when compared to past amendments and that public parking will still be a component of the development but will now be "divided so that 160 spaces are public and 208 are private."

Despite the assurances, it's noteworthy that the only feature of the Galaxy project to experience a growth spurt in the recent months is the percentage of available moderately priced dwellings units (MPDUs).

In an effort to strengthen an application for 9% tax credits, RST Development went before the Montgomery Housing Opportunities Commission (MHOC) in September for approval to transfer 27 project-based vouchers from the Gramax Towers to The Galaxy. Susan Yancy from the MHOC confirms that "101 Galaxy units" available in Phase 1 of the development "will be offered at an affordable, 30% AMI rate," meaning that roughly 42% of Galaxy's 241 rental units will be available as MPDUs. That's quite a jump, considering RST's original 2005 plan only met the minimum MPDU requirement of 12.5%. And what was once being billed as a swanky new condo development is now going all rental.

Whether or not construction will ever begin on the four story, 46-unit second phase of development remains to be seen. No date for Phase 2's construction has been set. That said, RST Development is pushing forward into the subcontracting stage of Phase 1 despite the setbacks in the market so far.

Silver Spring real estate news

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Highland Addition, HOPE-ing and Waiting

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Last night, DC's Highland community was handed another development delay as New Market Investors and developer Crawford Edgewood Managers Inc. (CEMI) received approval to prolong their development schedule with a request for a three year extension. Along with the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA), the team filed to alter the zoning application approved in 2007, which would have expired this month.

The Zoning Commission approved the delay, allowing DCHA and the developers a little breathing room as they scrounge for funds and wait on a recent HOPE VI application for $22 million to develop 17 acres of townhouses. The soonest the group might expect good news about the competitive HOPE VI funding is February; until then they will be holding out hope that the stalled development will finally come to fruition.

According to Knox Hayes, DCHA Project Manager for Highland Addition, the reason behind the stalled development is the lack of funds to build new roads for the PUD. The City was unable to cough up the money for necessary roads, so DCHA took the federal path, applying through HUD'S HOPE VI grants for the maximum project award. In so doing, DCHA expanded the scope of the development from the PUD's 9 acres to include a total of 17 acres of land needing new roads and development.

The PUD will maintain its approved number of residential units at 138, but will increase the number of rental units from 30 to 46. On the remainder of the site, the same group of developers will build more residential units by matter of right zoning, with no PUD required. The proposed site will offer 261 units with 118 rental and 143 for-sale units (including the units in the PUD). Most of the homes will be townhouses, though Hayes indicated the possibility of some condominiums.

The site at Highland Additions used to be home to several public housing buildings, which were torn down in 2001, with the PUD process ensuing in 2004. Nearby are the newly renovated Overlook apartments, which replace the former Parkside Terrace apartments.

Washington DC real estate news

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bethesda Police Station Swap

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JBG and Montgomery County police officials are haggling over plans for the current and future Bethesda police stations at a time when JBG is reconsidering its development partners for the prime site which sits directly across from the Bethesda Metro. Last October, Montgomery County issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for redevelopment of the 2nd District County Police Station in downtown Bethesda. Located at 7359 Wisconsin Avenue, at the corner of Wisconsin and Montgomery, the site has approximately 21,400 ground s.f. to offer. After receiving two responses to the RFP, in the first quarter of 2009 the County selected the proposal submitted by a partnership headed by JBG. Negotiations for the terms of the agreement should be complete in the first half of 2010. Once JBG makes it official, the developer will begin the zoning process for the new police station.

According to Ken Finkelstein, Managing Director at JBG, in return for the site of the current station, the developer will likely do a land swap with the county for property sitting on Cordell Avenue between Wisconsin and Woodmont Avenues. When the JBG partnership initially submitted their RFP in December of 2008, the development group included JBG, one of their affiliates and the Goldstar Group. However, Finkelstein said it is "unclear at this time if Goldstar will continue to get involved;" a fairly major detail the group is "still trying to figure out."

The County opted for an RFP because the current station is too small and "it didn't make sense to put more money into it," according to Gary Stith, Deputy Director of Planning and Special Projects within Montgomery County Department of General Services. When the County released the RFP, they indicated they were looking for a mixed-use development with a long term lease with the County as landlord. The RFP also said developers with the means to build a new station at another site in the immediate area would be offered a juicier deal than offers looking for a “simple conveyance of the Site" - i.e., the title to the land without the obligation to build a new station or exchange land. Sounds like that's why the application review committee, which consisted of county and police officials, picked JBG.

Assuming everything works out in negotiations with the County, the developers will head before the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) pursuing review under the optional method of development, which gives developers the right to a significantly higher density in the downtown area in exchange for amenities like open space. Stith said the planning and zoning process could take a full year. Finkelstein estimated the groundbreaking would be another two or three years down the line, which is probably a relief to the current tenants of the older retail buildings on the proposed site of the new police station.

The site involved in the RFP would likely see demolition of the old police station, once the law enforcement agency moves into a shiny new home. JBG's proposal calls for an office at the Wisconsin Ave location, which Finkelstein said could be anywhere from 125,000 to 250,000 s.f. And in a sweet location to boot.

Update, Nov. 24: Michael Brodsky, CEO at the Goldstar Group, contacted DCMud to say he took "exception" to the statement made by Finkelstein, adding that the RFP was awarded to a 50-50 partnership between JBG and Goldstar. Brodsky stated that to the extent that the partnership ceases to exist in the future so does the RFP award which was given to the partnership. The partnership between JBG and Goldstar was closely linked to a building owned by Goldstar behind the current police station. The partnership would potentially then redevelop the entire corner, rather than just the police station. Brodsky said if JBG and Goldstar are unable to agree to a partnership, the "entire deal is off."

Bethesda Real Estate News.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

DC Tax Sale Rescheduled

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The Office of Tax and Revenue has rescheduled its tax sale for November 30th. The tax sale, originally scheduled for September, had been canceled after a legal challenge to the process. Interested parties can register from Nov. 23rd - 25th, those who had registered prior to the September deadline need not register again.

The auction is not in fact a sale, as no property changes hands on that date. Auction bidders win a claim against the property, and may eventually begin a judicial foreclosure process, but original owners retain the property in the short term and have a statutory right to pay off the bidder and clear the title to their home. And so while most property owners delinquent as of last year will exercise their rights and retain their homes, auction bidders often come away with the right to charge penalties on the property.

The auction will be held at 941 N. Capitol Street.

Washington DC real estate news

Friday, November 20, 2009

Art Place at Fort Totten

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Coming off its recent zoning approval, the Art Place and Shops at Fort Totten development is now being readied for the initial stages of planning and demolition, in what will be a 2 million s.f. transit-oriented project with a mixture of community-serving retail, residential and arts and cultural space to the area between South Dakota Avenue and the Fort Totten Metro. The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation are seeking bids to work on the nearly 17 acres of land in northeast DC's Fort Totten community. The project will be executed in several stages with one massive building in the first phase and the rest to follow. Developers expect to begin construction in the first half of 2010 and have the first building ready within 24 to 36 months from now.

Initial schematic designs call for the demolition of the Riggs Family Apartments and three warehouses currently on the site. The demolition will make room for the construction of four buildings comprised of 929 multi-family one- to three-bedroom units; 305,000 square feet of retail space; 170,000 square feet of cultural and arts spaces; and a 47,000-square-foot children's museum. Ehrenkrantz Eckstut and Kuhn (EE&K) is the master planner for the site, Shalom Baranes Architects (SBA) has designed the first of the four buildings, and MV+A Architects is designing the retail, all to meet basic LEED certification standards.

The first phase of construction will begin with Building A at South Dakota and Galloway Street, which will be joined below grade by a common foundation and parking garage, but above grade will appear as 3 distinct, adjoining buildings. The residential portion of this phase will offer 529 units including 98 units of senior housing and 43 affordable units out of a project total of 161 units set aside as affordable at 60 to 80% AMI. The retail space includes approximately 59,000 s.f. for a grocery store with supporting retail lining the street as residents walk to the metro. Cafritz Foundation Board Member Jane Cafritz speculated this retail could include stores like card shops, dry cleaners and restaurants, and is shopping around for a grocery store to anchor the first stage of development.

Though buildings B, C and D received approval, Cafritz said their exact designs are still up in the air and dependent on market conditions around the time of construction. In the PUD zoning approval, Building B is planned for three stories of retail and cultural use to include the 47,000-s.f. ground floor children's museum, ground and second floor retail and space for a child care facility and seniors' center.

The planned seven-story "cultural and arts spaces" in Building D would potentially serve both the Washington National Opera and the Shakespeare Theatre for storage, rehearsal space and related shops. The developers also offer to provide upwards of 20,000 s.f. in this building for a public library and an additional 30,000 s.f. of "community space;" giving away space like free samples at Costco.

The eight-story Building C is planned as entirely residential, built in two C-shaped wings, joined at the second level, to accommodate the possibility of a new 3rd Street connecting the Arts Place property to the neighboring Food and Friends property, should the neighbors decide to sell or redevelop at a later date. Of the 400 rental units, 30 may be set aside as affordable for artists- everyone loves the arts these days.

All this development does not come without growing pains. Several current community members living in the Riggs Family Apartments were outspoken during the PUD review process. They will be displaced from their current home and moved into temporary housing on the same site until the new affordable spaces in the Arts Place project are ready. One senior from the community and a resident of the Cafritz apartments testified in objection to the handling of the current residents, saying that residents had not been told where they were going or when.

Despite community complaints, Jane Cafritz tried to paint a rosier picture, adding that that temporary homes for the tenants are fully refurbished with new appliances and the developers will try to accommodate seniors with first floor units. Highlighting the benefits of the new project though, Cafritz said the foundation will pay the gap between the rates on the affordable units and the actual cost of a market rate units, absorbing that cost for "20 years or the life of the tenant," whichever comes first. The former Riggs tenants will have first dibs on the new affordable residences at Arts Place and Shops.

Building A images courtesy of Interface Multimedia.

Washington DC Real Estate News.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Joy of CSX: Capitol Hill Braces for Big Dig

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Thanks to expansion of the Panama Canal, Capitol Hill may be about to get its own Big Dig - a $174 million capital improvement project that will unearth the long-buried tunnel south of the Capitol Building to widen and deepen the antiquated freight line. For those that miss the obvious connection between Panama and DC, the $5 billion overhaul of the Big Ditch in Panama will now make it easier to ship cargo from Asia to the Gulf of Mexico, and from there into the midwest via rail lines, beating out formerly dominant west coast ports as the cheapest point of entry into the American interior. That is, if the rail lines can handle the increased cargo. Which brings us back to Capitol Hill.

In 2008, freight-hauling giant CSX, which owns the tracks that cross the Potomac and mole beneath the Capitol, launched its National Gateway project to improve the capacity of its rail lines, one of which happens to lie under Virgina Ave in Southeast DC. CSX plans to unearth the narrow tube from 2nd Street to 11th Street, beginning in 2011 and continuing for an estimated two to three years. Surely Bostonians are smirking sympathetically, but area residents and business are bracing for the worst.

According to officials from the company, the CSX rail lines that disect DC are some of the most congested on the line. According to the National Gateway website, a variety of factors lead to the decision to expand and renew the current freight system. Population growth, energy costs, and environmental factors will mean increased demand for freight. According to CSX, the current system of tracks, bridges and tunnels is outdated, hence the new plan to widen the tunnel and lower the tracks to allow for double-stacked trains, but in order to access the tunnels for construction, its Virginia Avenue ceiling will need to be removed.

In the late 1800's Congress authorized the B&O Railroad, now CSX, to build the tunnel and own the area below ground, while the federal government retained ownership of Virgina Avenue at grade. As with any major project in D.C., a spiderweb of authorities will have their say over the planned construction. According to National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) Senior Planner David Zaidain, since CSX is applying for federal TIGER Grants to fund a portion of the project, the company will have to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. NCPC has oversight because Virginia Avenue is technically federal land and is inside the L'Enfant City plan. NCPC will review the concept and give final approval to the public space effects of the project during and after construction. For good measure, the District Department of Transportation will be working with CSX to evaluate impact on traffic.

Assuming CSX obtains the federal grant money and jumps sufficiently through the various oversight hoops, residents on Capitol Hill can expect an extended period of construction and all its attendant pleasures. Among the joys of CSX: new traffic patterns - including temporary bridges connecting the numbered streets and diverted flows from Virginia onto G Street - construction noise, and the unmasked noise of trains running through the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood. For three years. Or more. And that's before planners start getting ideas about what other infrastructure goals could be accomplished while they're at it.

The project is particularly irksome to residents and businesses such as EYA's Capitol Quarters housing development. The new townhomes line the streets near Virginia Avenue and the proposed CSX plan is giving some future homeowners a (possibly justified) case of buyers' remorse. Some would-be buyers have backed off when they caught wind of the area's construction future. EYA Partner AJ Jackson had this to say about the Capitol Quarter community and CSX, "EYA has been in contact with CSX and will be working with the company as well as the District government to ensure that Capitol Quarter continues to be a great community if CSX’s National Gateway proposal goes forward. Our goal is to ensure that any proposal that’s considered includes the needs and concerns of the Capitol Quarter." Like moving massive amounts of freight from the gulf to the north and west. At least Hill residents can console themselves that this will save alot of fossil fuel consumption. And Bostonians will tell them that this too shall pass. But not soon.

Images from the NCPC and DDOT Freight Railroad Realignment Study.

Washington DC real estate news

The Dirt On...Clarendon

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Even if you haven’t heard it, the Arlington Rap bears no need for repeating. Its kitschy, incessant observational diatribe aside, the piece bathes in obviously stereotypical traits of those neighborhoods in North Arlington with lyrics that could describe any other well-to-do residential area in America today. It should then make sense that the author of the “song” is a product of the environment he chastises, and, hey, maybe that’s the crux of the material. I can empathize. As a resident of Clarendon, I find myself nitpicking the commercial and residential aspects of the neighborhood; for every Cheesecake Factory customer, there’s another with a trusty Whitlow’s mug for Thursday nights. For every Apple Store employee, there’s an indie kid covering Death Cab for Cutie at Iota. For every multimillion condo building, there’s a hollowed out 1930s house converted into several one-bedrooms. You get it. Classifying Clarendon as just another white-bread pocket of Arlington is a slippery slope, and it’s easy as a resident of the area to be slightly offended by any labeling that would be a detriment to the various elements that comprise the charming, pseudo-urban streets which knit together one of the best offerings of the DC Metro Area.

The balance between cultures within Clarendon isn’t the result of any absolute dichotomy. With George Mason’s law school just a half mile from Clarendon Station, and K Street just four Metro stops away, the nightlife atmosphere blends professional and academic to great success. Commuters litter the residential pockets that line the commercial ‘downtown’ of Clarendon, with condo buildings and apartment complexes providing a sort of transitional skin into a more settled environment. Small businesses cohabitate easily with a subliminal corporate presence, which appears to be tamed by the fact that Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, the Apple Store, etc. are all located at close quarters in Clarendon Plaza. This makes the Plaza a sort of financial nucleus, drawing residents from DC and further south in Arlington to the area. (And of course Whole Foods, the organic grocery Mecca is a Prius magnet, and 9 out of 10 that make the drive have District plates.) It’s also a clever sleight of hand that sort of tricks people into noticing the rest of the neighborhood, whether they came for it or not.

And there’s the charm. Clarendon’s small businesses aren’t so much allowed to exist as they are encouraged to thrive. The farmers market right off the metro on Wednesday afternoons is always well attended, and independent restaurants are clustered and crowded with customers. Nightlife booms toward the West, with the Clarendon Ballroom, Mr. Days, and Clarendon Grill all hosting happy hours conscious of their customers. Some bars try to go higher end, and succeed in pleasing the folks that bother to show up and deal with the pretty shoulda-woulda crowd that couldn’t bother with a short cab or metro ride into DC. (I’m looking at you, Eleventh.) Dinner outside in the spring and summer is unavoidable, it seems, as sidewalks are full of people enjoying Faccia Luna, 3, Harry’s Taproom, or Rien Tong.

Commerce aside, living in Clarendon is as easy as it is enticing. On the high end, established streets like Franklin Road and Key Boulevard present some of Arlington’s finer fare, with single family homes ranging anywhere from $700,000 to just over $1 million. Given that everything in the area seems to be on top of everything else, location is less a determining factor in price than, say, age or square footage. Garfield Street stretches back into an expansive neighborhood shaded by oak and pine, with sleight hills traced in well-kept sidewalks. Emerge from Garfield onto Wilson and find yourself in the shadow of commercial construction (to be completed in 2010) and shouldered by bars and restaurants. Further down, on the other side of Clarendon Boulevard, apartments are stacked over popular nightlife to the tune of $1900 a month to $4000, depending on, again, size and age. The neighborhoods down 10th Street across Lombard, toward Courthouse and Rosslyn, are a mixed bag of old Virginia ranchers, brick colonials, townhomes and apartment buildings with slightly more reasonable prices, whether you’re buying or renting.

Ten minutes from DC by Metro, maybe even ten with a car (we know how that goes), Clarendon enjoys island-like qualities, even though it’s one of the most connected neighborhoods to the District. In the end, it’s the odd mix of the urbane yet surrounding modest suburbia that draws its residents in and urges them to stay. Or at least it was for me.
Editor's note:
And for those of you who somehow never saw it, the Arlington Rap...

James Mitchell is a resident of Clarendon and a brave soul for contributing to our series of neighborhood features.

Arlington and Clarendon Real Estate News

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Whole Foods - Gentrification Comes Belatedly to Chevy Chase

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Chevy Chase may get its first Whole Foods, the much-anticipated second "anchor" to the Shops at Wisconsin Place, by the spring of 2010. While the Bethesda-Chevy Chase corridor may seem like a scripted stage setting for the Whole Foods phenomenon, Chevy Chasers have until now had to drive all the way down to Tenley for their organic Gruyere, or eke by (gasp) on Giant or TJ's foodstuffs.

New England Development (NED), Archstone and Boston Properties are jointly developing the Wisconsin Place shopping center at the Chevy Chase-DC border. The entire development took five years to complete. Today, the shopping center features 432, SK&I-designed, upscale apartments, 295,000 s.f. of office space, and 305,000 s.f. of swanky shopping destinations including Cole Haan, White House/Black Market, and Bloomingdales—a.k.a. "Wisconsin Place Anchor Number One."

Turner Construction began working on the shell that would become the new Whole Foods back in August of 2004. Just this past July, Wisconsin Place General Manager, Christine Norris assured DCMud that work on the grocery's escalators had already begun.

Now, four months after that update, construction by L.F. Jennings is underway and Amanda Orr, Communications Rep for NED, told DCMud that Whole Foods is "slated for a spring opening, for sure," but she could offer no more detail because the Whole Foods powers-that-be "made it very clear that they don't want any outside media reps speaking on their behalf."

Unfortunately, when it comes to answering questions about the new store's square footage, its design, and even the estimated Spring 2010 grand opening date posted on the Wisconsin Place web site - Whole Foods PR rep, Katie Hunsberger is only willing to confirm that the store will open sometime in the first half of 2010. And yes, we know River Road has its own, in a bad strip mall.

We got it: What happens in Whole Foods, stays in Whole Foods.

Chevy Chase Real Estate News

Twinbrook Developers, I Give You: Guidelines for a Walkable City

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The Montgomery County Planning Commission just released its 2009 Urban Design Guidelines for the Twinbrook section of Rockville with a set of advisory rules 8 years in the making to guide developers in producing a more walkable, livable neighborhood that will "build a community."

In 2001, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission joined with the Montgomery County Council and County Executive, residents, business owners, planners and architects to devise a plan for the Twinbrook neighborhood along Viers Mill Road to combat sprawl by improving pedestrian access and encouraging transit use and mixed-use development. What follows is the brainchild of eight years of meetings.

The guidelines seek to break Twinbrook into three zones of Metro Core, Light Industrial, and Technology Employment, and lay out a system that will be more ped-friendly, sustainable, and attractive. To save you from having to read 50 pages of municipal urbanspeak, we've taken the liberty of summarizing the recommendations below.

You're welcome.

The first rule of developing in Twinbrook: Mind your p's & q's. It's all about pedestrian-quality development, people.

Twinbrook needs crosswalks and street lights. And if you're thinking of building in the neighborhood any time soon, don't be chintzy with the streetscaping—pile on the street furniture and keep sidewalks tree-lined but with closely-spaced, single-file trees that are easier to navigate. Oh, and each street has its own specially designated tree species, because what's the use in lining up all those trees if they're not going to match?

Get ready to spend some extra money on community art and open spaces with public street access. And, lest you think you've filled your tree quota for this design, remember to include a 50% tree canopy in all open spaces. If you're looking for the right kind of inspiration, check out what the developers at JBG have planned for the Twinbrook Station Green with their "gold neighborhood" - one of the three designated open spaces included in the guidelines and part of JBG's much larger plan for the neighborhood.

The streets are going to be overhauled so that the blocks are shorter for on-foot commuters. Business district streets like Fishers Lane, Washington Street, and Wilkins Avenue need permanent on-street parking. The same goes for those four to six-lane streets like Twinbrook Parkway and Parklawn Drive.

If you're building near residential neighborhoods, especially near the Rockville boundary, try to keep your structures 60 feet or shorter. The "Light Industrial Area" is located along Wilkins Avenue and Parklawn Drive and features buildings designated for service industrial uses with smaller lots and shorter heights to match - 42 feet's the limit. The "Technology Area" has been set aside to "meet the needs of the advanced technology and biotechnology industries" as well as to provide some extra space for retail, offices, and some residential. The planners would like you to consider glass entry-ways if you're thinking of developing over there.

Buildings near the "Metro Core Area" must provide a minimum of 25% residential space and can reach a maximum height of 143 feet, just like its urban neighbor 10 miles to the south, thank you very much. Retail goes on the ground floor and if you could make your structures entirely out of non-tinted glass, that would be ideal.

A LEED Gold rating is preferable for new Twinbrook developments, but a LEED Silver rating is now mandatory. Additionally, "adaptive reuse of buildings is encouraged." Throw in some solar panels or integrate some green roof technology if you really want to suck up. Reduce paving in open spaces and have some ideas in mind for stormwater management.

And there you have it: 50 pages of Urban Design Guidelines in one easy-to-swallow capsule.

Rockville MD real estate news.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Victory Square Slowly Contemplating Construction

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Last September we reported that Hamel Builders was looking for subcontractors for the Victory Square development in Parkside near the Minnesota Avenue Metro, and now they are back at it. Located at 600 Barnes Street NE, the project is being developed as a joint venture between Bethesda's Victory Housing Inc. and the Bank of America Community Development Corporation (BACDC). Bids are due by December 2nd for the senior housing development to include construction of 98 apartments to total 94,336 s.f.

The units will be four stories of wood frame over a concrete parking garage. Individual units range in size from 612 s.f. to 1,016 s.f. and include 5 handicapped accessible units and 9 visual and hearing impaired units. The parking garage will have a total of 25 spaces, 4 of which will be handicapped designated. A representative of Hamel estimated the total project costs fall in the $11 to $13 million range.

The Hamel rep. said the delays in selecting subcontractors were related to updates to the plans and slight changes in engineering, but she asserted the plans have not changed substantially in any way. Once Hamel secures contractors, the team hopes to move forward in the first quarter of 2010; construction will likely begin in March, with an estimated completion 13 to 15 months later.

Victory Square will mark the developer’s fifth so-named senior housing facility in the region, after Palmer Park’s Victory House, Potomac’s Victory Terrace, Columbia Heights’ Victory Heights and Takoma Park’s Victory Tower. The architect for the project is the local architecture firm Grimm + Parker

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hotel Follies Continue in Dupont Circle

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The saga surrounding five townhouses being converted to a hotel in the middle of Dupont Circle, the former Gralyn Hotel and Woodbine Apartments, continues as DC real estate tycoon Morton Bender, his N Street Follies Ltd. (NSF) and their latest architect, Andrulis Janezich Architects, go before the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) this week for review of the developer's newest site plan. In addition to HPRB, the group's plan is pending before the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) for a special exception to construct a hotel in the Dupont neighborhood; the BZA decision is expected December 8th. For the first time since the property was purchased in 1988, it looks like NSF will be able to secure HPRB approval for a conceptual design with the support of the Dupont Circle Conservancy and the ANC.


Architect Anton Janezich said his team has been working on the design for approximately six months, but indicated he was not well-versed in the previous designs for the site. The plan will leave the historic townhomes at their current height; the architect says the planned rear addition will not be visible from the street. In total the 5 townhomes make up approximately 98 rooms with an estimated 58 below grade parking spaces.

The HPRB staff report gave approval to the revised conceptual design, adding that when/if the BZA approves the necessary exceptions, the staff will work with the architect and developers to move forward on a solid plan for N Street.

In an appearance before the BZA in October, Architect Stan Andrulis said the plan retains "93 percent of the existing buildings" based on square footage. In that meeting, the discussion over the plans and the presentations from both the developers and opponents eventually ran out of time, forcing the BZA to postpone any further discussion or decisions until all parties involved had time to speak at a later date. It remains to be seen whether they can get through it all in December, a minor miracle giving the years of fighting that have taken place until now.

Washington DC Real Estate News
 

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