Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Costco Tantalizing DC's Gateway

Twenty years in the making, and plans to develop Washington DC's first Costco at Dakota Crossing are still trudging along. The stage set is a remote patch of forested land in the Fort Lincoln neighborhood, better recognized as the land opposite the Washington Times on Route 50. The players are likely to be Costco and Target, potentially Shoppers Food Warehouse and Staples, even Walmart was once in the lineup. The director is Fort Lincoln New Town Corporation, which brought in Peterson Companies to develop retail as part of a mixed-use, suburban-style shopping center with housing, offices, retail and acres of parking lots. When Peterson bowed out in 2007, Trammell Crow Companies stepped in to oversee its stock and store - big box power centers. All that is missing is the financing and wetland remediation plan approval from the city. And, of course, final commitment from at least one of the big retailers.

The site seems a developer's dream: 42 empty, contiguous acres, flanking one of DC's main migratory routes. Because it is situated in the residential Fort Lincoln neighborhood and nearby industrial uses are mostly defunct, residents pine for a major retail center somewhere, anywhere, in their quadrant. The plan shows 430,000 s.f. of retail served by 2500 surface parking spaces, connected to a 362-acre housing development planned across the street - The Village at Dakota Crossing, with 537 townhouses, 30 affordable workforce units, 500 more parking spaces and a pedestrian-friendly layout with wide sidewalks, tot-lots and community spaces. The land is a stone's throw away from the National Arboretum and within a 5-minute walk of the Anacostia River

But development has hit two main obstacles. The first is getting retailers to commit to a large project in a suburban setting, which tests current financing models, although Costco has signed a non-binding Letter of Intent to occupy the property. The other is the dated nature of the plans: 20 years ago, paving over a large, unused plot in the city to build a regional shopping center would have easily passed city government hurdles, whatever the environmental or historic implications. But the contentious, yet sought-after site is now entirely forested and home to wetlands, filtering nearby industrial waste and acting as a natural barrier against flooding.

"Our plans call for creating new, high quality wetlands near the retail center as mitigation for taking away the existing wetlands, which have been documented as very low quality, marginally functioning wetlands. These plans are currently being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, and will be reviewed by D.C. DOE once the federal regulators finish," said Cel Bernardino of Fort Lincoln New Town Corp. He also noted that the current plan "envisions a model 'green' shopping center with cisterns, green roofs, green walls, and other LID (Low Impact Development) measures."

Costco has been eying this site for the past ten years. Target and Shoppers do not lag far behind in enthusiasm. They might all benefit from TIF (tax increment financing) subsidies from the District, which has supported the development as a neighborhood improvement initiative. Costco alone expects $15 million in TIF financing. But the District must mediate between the environment, small business owners who have fought the behemoth onslaught of all-in-one-for-a-portion-of-the-price big boxes, and competing revitalization projects throughout the city.

"The Office of Planning has worked very closely with the development team to ensure the project is green and pedestrian friendly," reported Victoria Leonard, Director of Policy and Strategic Communications in the office of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. The District likes it so much it plans on paying $3 million upfront to build retention ponds to offset the 3000 new parking spaces. The funding would come out of the D.C. libraries capital budget, an initiative spearheaded by Council Member Thomas, who noted that "the Shops at Dakota Crossing have been in the books for a decade" back in April of 2009. The funds are being transferred from a Ward 7 libraries project, which should begin to see repayment in 2011. Ward 5 library services will remain unaffected.

According to data on the Deputy Mayor's website, Dakota Crossing envisions that residents would walk to the shops from the Villages, suspending disbelief that shoppers at Costco and Target could buy anything that could be carried by hand. An additional wrinkle is that HUD approved an Urban Renewal version of the Fort Lincoln Redevelopment Plan in 1972; amended in 1990, the plan requires 3000 units of housing, 2463 units more than Fort Lincoln New Town's current proposal.

Cel Bernardino recounted the various phases of housing that have already been built under the 1970s Urban Renewal Plan for the Dakota Crossing site. About 1370 residential units, including condos and rentals were built at Fort Lincoln New Town during the 1980’s and 1990’s, with most of the rental units built for senior citizens. The 127-unit Wesley House seniors apartments opened early last summer, and 209 "Dakota Crossing" town homes were completed last month. "We have two additional planned residential developments (town homes and condos) that construction hasn’t started on yet – the 334-unit 'Village at Dakota Crossing' across from the shopping center, and the 50-unit 'City Homes' development at the corner of Bladensburg Road and Eastern Ave."

Robert King, Commissioner on ANC 5A12 (Advisory Neighborhood Commission), has been involved in planning Dakota Crossing since the 1970's. He's seen developers come and go, and has remained a reliable supporter of the plan, representing the leading voice of the commission he heads: "The project is finally on track. Some of the first residential units to break ground will be dedicated to firefighters and school teachers, and I am happy about that. The neighborhood is bracing itself for the development of Costco, which is expected to bring jobs, but also increase traffic."

He believes the 1970's plan calling for 3000 units of housing was too ambitious and needed to be scaled back in a neighborhood of just 4000. "There is a significant retirement community in Fort Lincoln, and I am concerned about access to the retail site." Mr. King said he has been trying to organize a bus service to transport seniors across Fort Lincoln Dr. and 33rd Place.

Although a contender for a Dakota Crossing spot a few years ago, Walmart is out. The city refuses to provide subsidies to the union-shunning employer. Nevertheless, word on the street is that Walmart may yet settle into the neighborhood, but now on triangular site bounded by New York Ave., Blandensburg Road and Montana Ave., the site of the Abdo project that fell apart earlier this year. From a traffic perspective, the development of two big box retail sites in such proximity could produce a tangle at what is already a busy thoroughfare. In an area that lacks Metrorail, the arrival of the big boxers and all the parking infrastructure that comes with them does not foreshadow a favorable future for TODs (transit oriented developments).

The architects of the proposed retail development at Dakota Crossing, Bignell Watkins Hasser, with offices in Annapolis, MD and Vienna, VA, have built several local retail centers at both the neighborhood and regional scales. The big box retailers would create what is estimated at 800 new jobs by establishing what developers hope becomes a regional destination, capturing incoming and outgoing DC traffic at the entrance of the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

"I want everybody to know from here to Timbuktu that Fort Lincoln is getting ready to complete plans for Costco. We want to make sure we can tap into every dollar for the city and create as many construction and other jobs as possible" said King, who echoed concerns about the wetlands and retention ponds on the new development site. Area residents seem enthused. "I think its hard to argue against development in one of the last development holdouts in DC" said Hans Posey, who moved to the neighborhood recently. "Its a very established neighborhood, but everybody, everybody, in the neighborhood is gunning for something bigger, something more than the kind of stores that are there now."

Cel Bernardino estimates an August 2011 groundbreaking for the retail part of the development. "I’d say Spring 2011 would be the soonest we are likely to break ground on the shopping center. We have 'solid' commitments from our anchor tenants. No leases signed yet." The current site plan/design for the shopping center received concept design approval from NCPC on June 3, 2010.

Washington DC real estate development news


Anonymous said...

2500 surface parking lots?? How can they say this is pedestrian friendly or urban with a straight face? Disgusting. DCUSA is an excellent model for urban big box retail in Columbia Heights. Locate near public transport and design a trulely pedestrian friendly environment and dramatically reducing the need for expensive and environmentally harmful parking (Though DCUSA didn't learn the parking lesson in advance as the massive underground parking lot is never more than half full since most people walk or take transit and the city is forced to spend millions subsidizing it). I desperately hope city officials won't be this short sighted and approve any plan that comes across just to get retail, no matter how inappropriate for an urban setting. We'll be stuck with the mistake for many years

Anonymous said...

suburban blight! the home depot by the Rhode island metro is bad enough. please build it to the street and hide the parking lots.

BB on Aug 17, 2010, 10:38:00 AM said...

While all the suburbs are trying to do urban development, this urban area is proposing a suburban development?!? Fail!

Anonymous said...

I don't think the first two anonymous posters have even been to this part of the city. It's no Columbia Hts. This part of DC is actually very suburban. I live nearby, all the homes are detached bungalows mostly. NY Ave is a 6 lane road, much like a major suburban thoroughfare. This area is hardly urban, and I believe the scale of these developments supports the area. There's no metro anywhere near this area. How could you build a DCUSA development and expect people to walk there? The majority of the shoppers here will have to arrive by car.

Anonymous said...

Even if the shoppers are car users, there is no excuse for acres of surface parking. Yep, it is more expensive, but at least go for parking structures. This suburban model is hideous.

andrew said...

Would it be unheard of for the DC government to impose an easement for a future metrorail or streetcar line near/through the site? If this area of town eventually develops (a la Potomac Yards), it would be comparatively easy to add a new set of tracks alongside the existing railroad, as long as we planned for this long-term goal far in advance.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous two commenters. Although, I think above grade parking structures are unsightly. Build below grade parking to reduce the amount of surface parking, and keep easements to allow for future streetcar lines.

Anonymous said...

The New York Avenue corridor would be a good candidate for grade-separated light rail - all the way from the New York Avenue Metro with an eastern terminus at this proposed development. The developers of this site could have the retail face New York Avenue and some of the side streets leading into the development. The light rail could run right out front of it. They could put parking structures in the interior of the site or even on top of the buildings.

The DC government could coordinate this transit investment with proper land-use planning for the corridor and stick to it. There are so many ways the DC government could show the investment community that it was serious about developing the corridor with an eye toward less car dependence, but it has failed to do so. Yes, this area of DC is very suburban, but that doesn't mean we have to continue development of the area in that way.

Lastly, DC should separate its Office of Planning from the Economic Development office. It seems that the Office of Planning spends time to make good plans for areas of the city just to have their plans subordinated to the economic development office. The two entities should be separated.

Metro Rider on Aug 17, 2010, 7:05:00 PM said...

Two words: bag tax.

Eric on Aug 17, 2010, 7:27:00 PM said...

I would agree with the commenter that this area is not comparable to Columbia Heights (I live in CH and am familiar with the area that is under consideration.) While not an expert, my sense is that building underground parking for this type of development would be very expensive and imperil the project. I know that urban planning purists would like to see all cars eliminated in this world, but they are a reality. I certainly think that the development of some form of transit to the area would be good; but question what the economics of it would be. Also, given past experience, it will take years/decades to happen.

Anonymous said...

Bullsh*t the Ward 5 libraries will be unaffected. Sure, they might run on at status quo, but they have been due for FUNDING and IMPROVEMENT for many years. Have you seen the second floor of the Woodridge library? Or the empty shelves on its first floor?

Without funds remaining in the DC Library coffers, the needed improvements will not be made, and the libraries will go further downhill. Big Box(es) or developers should pay the $3 million.

Communities that value an intelligent citizenry put their money into schools and libraries.

Big Box couldn't bust up some of the blighted concrete closer in along NY Ave? They have to take more trees? This sounds a lot like the dumba** who put new wood flooring over the original, existing flooring in my house because "it cost about the same." Irresponsible and short-sighted.

Also, let's not idealize DCUSA in Columbia Heights. Even though it is on my way, I often go all the way to PG Plaza for marginally better crappola from the same stores. Service, product availability, and quality are lower in CH.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with the urban planning types who think we should have stopped building this kind of crap long ago. If you can't do it without making a traffic nightmare and worsening stress on our roads, don't do it. You could easily imagine a more sustainable, better integrated, and smaller development. If that won't work, build it all closer to Metro. Or make developers contribute to extending Metro out there.

Anonymous said...

UH OH -- Now the D.C. Council is going to impose a "cardboard box tax" since recycled boxes used at Costco to transport food to your car are magically and allegedly found in the Anacostia!!!

Anonymous said...

It's funny how much "progressives" hate development... you know, progress.

Anonymous said...

I think an open parking lot, rather than a shadowy parking structure, is a lot safer, what with all of the delinquents lurking around this city.

Anonymous said...

anon 3:47.

the term Nimby was coined to describe "progressives".
also, conservatives tend to not favor conservation.

Energy Audit on Aug 22, 2010, 2:53:00 AM said...

The map is giving full information hence I was just watching that map to get full details about that.

Better than poo said...

U people are mostly idiots. Please tell me the neighborhoods in which u reside, so I can comment on how fucked up they are, and how you only travel to the district to pretend to your friends that u live in the nation's capital and not your Podunk suburban cookie cutter. Thanks in advance!


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