Monday, May 31, 2010

Yet More NoMa Residents

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Just a few days after NoMa announced its first new housing in a century, the downtown DC neighborhood will get yet another bump in residents with the opening of The Loree Grand on Tuesday. The Loree Grand at Union Place is the first phase of the Cohen Companies planned Union Place development, which is intended to deliver more than 700 new apartments, 9,000 s.f. of retail, a daycare center, and central courtyard open to the public.

The Loree Grand, named after local resident Loree Murray who fought local gangs and drug-dealers and had her home firebombed as a thank-you, is the only portion of Union Place to begin construction so far. The opening of the apartment building brings 212 new rental units to 250 K St., NE, with 173 parking spaces in two levels below the 10-story frame. The building, designed by GTM Architects and built by ADC Builders, began construction in July 2007. The bulk of the 212 units are variations on 1-bedroom apartments with the remaining 30 units in various 2-bedroom configurations. The first two floors attempt to replicate traditional Washington DC row house design, with entrances both on the street and from the interior. Cohen did not pursue LEED certification on the building, but the building does support a green roof.

Two weeks ago the Loree Grand began taking initial applications from artists for 30 artist-designed apartments, thanks to a partnership with the Cultural Development Corporation.

Phase II of Union Place is currently on hold. Cohen also built the Velocity condos in the Capitol Riverfront (ballpark) neighborhood, and is exploring another mixed-use project at 14th and Virginia Avenue, SE.

Washington, DC real estate development news

Friday, May 28, 2010

NoMa Bulks Up on Student Housing

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NoMa's population just increased ten-fold. On Wednesday, 317 students moved into The Washington Center's student dorms - no, wait - "residential and academic facility" at 1005 Third Street, NE. Sure, it may be a large group of temporary students, but when your entire neighborhood consists of less than enough people to fill a Metro bus, you tend to count these things.

The residential center, in NoMa's sparser eastern section, is provided by a non-profit that places an international array of students into DC-area internships. The students are NoMa’s first residents in more than a century, according to the Business Improvement District, adding to the 40 or so residents that currently live in townhouses within the BID. The project, designed by Davis Carter Scott, broke ground just last spring.

The population figures may be a bit misleading, as the gerrymandered BID boundaries narrowly miss several large multi-family housing projects such as Senate Square. NoMa BID reps hasten to add that "9300 people live within half a mile of NoMa," and office buildings are going up everywhere, so don't get the wrong idea, the place is hopping. But soon technical geographic distinctions won't matter; Constitution Square - one of NoMa's largest projects - will begin renting its 440 apartments late this summer, and the Loree Grand will also soon open its doors to 212 new residents across the street from The Washington Center.

The $38m project was developed by Paradigm Development Company, and will be sufficient to provide for approximately 80% of the interns drafted by the TWC each year, who are currently housed in apartment buildings throughout the area. In addition to the college-style design elements like shared kitchens, shared rooms, high speed internet and the nostalgia-inspiring common areas, the building will also offer classrooms, offices, a large auditorium space, a computer lab, a fitness and a lounge area.

Washington DC real estate development news

The Family Man

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He opens the gate, inadvertently flashing a purple cartoon band-aid on a finger of his left hand. David Jameson, architect and family man, self-described "enactor of change" (his definition of an architect), welcomes a visitor to the iconoclastic Jigsaw Residence he shares with wife Nancy and their two young children.

"This is not a big house in the world of Bethesda or D.C.," Jameson says of the soaring, 3,000 s.f. home his firm, David Jameson Architects, originally built for a client from the foundation and exterior walls of a post-war rambler. But in this nondescript Maryland neighborhood, Jigsaw Residence looms larger than life. And for Jameson, who grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore eagerly anticipating his local newspaper’s “Associated Press House of the Week” (something he’d always redesign), the home represents a lifetime of invention.

The View from Within

“I actually grew up in a pretty cool house myself,” Jameson recalls. “It was just a simple, single level house, but it was on a fresh water pond and the whole back was glass. Whoever designed that house, though it was very modest, knew that the value or pressures of that site were all about the water,” he continues, “so they made the back of the house tremendously open and porous.”

Sited on a busy suburban corner, and despite its 22-or 24-foot ceilings (Jameson wasn’t sure which), clerestory windows and prolific use of glass, Jigsaw Residence’s “views” include traffic and a series of redundant, characterless, corner-to-corner post-war ramblers and other reasonable facsimiles. With that in mind, Jameson splayed the house around a central courtyard from which, thanks to the glass walls, views of nearly every room are visible, as is the courtyard from the rooms. In this sense, the house embodies the concept of reflectivity.

“You’re both inside and outside and back inside again at once,” Jameson says, speaking to the juxtaposition of wall and glass, solid and void, that create a relatively unobstructed view without being directed outside to the street. “When you look through the etched glass wall of the stair tower, there’s a house 15 feet away, but you don’t feel it. When you’re in the living room, there is tons of glass, but it either looks toward the courtyard or looks toward the sky, above the houses outside,” he adds. As a result of its glass-to-wall ratio, a choreography of light, dark and shadows, which Jameson calls “tenebroso,” permeates and transitions through the house throughout the day, also directing its inhabitants’ interests away from the street.

Are You Experienced?

Inspired largely by his children, Jake, 4, and McKenzie, 7, the latter of whom he says constantly sketches and reinterprets things and can write almost the same story, week after week, “but with a different sort of experience,” Jameson – who closes his office early on Friday afternoons to be with them – defines his work as “experiential.” At the Warp and Weft carpet showroom in the Washington Design Center, its design is the antithesis of the way carpet showrooms are presented throughout the world, Jameson explains, noting that at most, one walks into them only to see massive piles of carpets that must be navigated and peeled back, but not easily removed from their stacks.

At Warp and Weft, Jameson incorporated ripsawn oak flooring, much like clients would have in their own homes, with carpets displayed as compelling “architectonic elements.” The carpets can then be pulled out and spread on the floor, as if in the customer’s own residence, for full effect. The showroom’s entry – a departure from conventional entrances where the prospective customer can actually choose to walk past – is an arch “where the ramp becomes almost a sculptural wave, skateboard ramp, fashion promenade, ledge for various types of chairs,” and which draws the client into the space. “Before you know it,” Jameson says, “you’re half way in to the showroom.”

Likening his brand of experiential architecture to the pre-war 1939 Steinway Model S piano in his home that replaced a less formidable instrument, Jameson calls the piano an art object. “When we pulled the old one out and put the new one in, you just hit the note once – you touched the ivory key – and you heard it. It’s indelibly different – a marking of space and time – a quality-driven experience emblematic of the way I think about architecture,” he said. A set of 1949 Hans Wegner chairs, their style made famous in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, punctuate the Jigsaw Residence’s dining room, something Jameson also calls “experiential, beautiful, compelling and poetic.

“If you look at the structure of these chairs - the arms in the back and the way they’re crafted, where it curves from the flat to the vertical - they’re at one with one another and they sort of nest together,” he explains. “It’s an experience by a furniture master from Copenhagen.”

Hearts, Souls and Renderings

Defining his practice, Jameson describes it as “somewhere between analog and digital,” and also “non-linear.” With sketching, testing, “recriminating of original thoughts” as much a part of the process as the use of 3D modeling software, Jameson also compares the firm’s work to an EKG. “The work gets a little better, then we learn something about it, and it goes backwards, gets a little better, goes backwards. There are many iterations,” he says, recalling a singular quote from a client who, at the end of a long project, said, “It’s nothing of what I expected, but everything I was expecting.”

Practicing since 1998, Jameson, who traded visions of a career in major league baseball (he went to Virginia Tech on a baseball scholarship) for a profession he calls “not so much a profession but a way of life,” reveals he would love to live in every project his firm designs. “There’s a part of my soul and a part of the client’s soul left in every job,” he says. “Building projects is a journey in life, not a business deal. It’s stressful because it’s about sums of money that are not inconsequential; there’s a lot of importance to almost every decision…Transforming the built environment is time consuming – emotionally-laden with the time, the cost, things that can go wrong. It’s tremendously rewarding, but not for the faint of heart.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Minnesota - Benning: Apartments and Sit-down Restaurants Coming

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Ladies and Gentlemen: We have lift off. Today, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Co. gathered at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station in Ward 7 to throw a demolition party for development partners Donatelli Development and Blue Skye Development at the site of the future Minnesota-Benning project.

This particular press mixer was the culmination of two years of Land Disposition Agreements that sought to answer the question: How can the District best put $80 million to good use in a neighborhood known for its high crime, heavy traffic and lack of sit-down restaurants? One of the neighborhood's first sit-downs, Ray's the Steaks, only opened this past April with the help of a grant from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development's office, and the District wants another.

The answer the development team came up with was the Eric Colbert & Associates-designed Minnesota Avenue-Benning Road, NE, (formerly known as "Phase 2") a five-acre, three-building mixed-use development. The transit-oriented goliath will stand adjacent to the Minnesota Avenue Metro and the new, $95 million Department of Employment Services (DOES) headquarters (a.k.a Minnesota Avenue-Benning Road, NE Phase 1).

The location of the project is part of the larger Great Streets initiative, a joint venture between DMPED, The District Department of Transportation (DDOT), and the Office of Planning that seeks to transform some of DC's more blighted neighborhoods into "great streets - places where people want to be." Upon delivery in the fall of 2012, the Minnesota-Benning project will boast 325 rental housing units at 60% AMI, 48 for-sale condos offered at market rate and 23,000 s.f. of retail and restaurant space.

Five thousand s.f. of those 23,000 s.f. will be reserved solely for sit-down restaurant space and 4,000 s.f. will be set aside for local business, assures DMPED Director of Communications, Mary Margaret Plumridge.

So, let's say you have a great idea for a sit-down restaurant in Ward 7. Will you be eligible for the same type of grant DMPED made available to Ray's the Steaks? Those details are still being ironed out, and the District seems at least mindful of the fact that this will require something more luring than an empty space.

Either way, construction begins Spring 2011.

DC Real Estate and Development News

Shelly Weinstein to Safeway: Tear Down this Wall

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Tempers are flaring in Bethesda over the reconstruction of the Safeway at Arlington Road and Bradley Boulevard, a project that is expected to kick off any day.

On Thursday, May 20th, the Montgomery County Planning Board considered a site plan amendment that altered the location of a planned screening wall between Safeway and their residential neighbors in the adjacent Kenwood Forest Condominiums. Although a wooden fence already exists between the two properties, the proposed stone and masonry wall was to act as a more substantial sight and sound barrier between the new 43,097 s.f., two-story shopping center and the neighboring backyards.

The plan is part of the redevelopment that will replace the 1950's era architectural pockmark with a more attractive, larger store sitting above a parking garage. Elza Hisel-McCoy from the Montgomery County Development Review Division explains that the original plans for the dividing wall were "added sort of last minute" by the Safeway team on the morning before their July 23rd, 2009 site plan review hearing.

"When Safeway engineers went back to look at the placement of the wall, there were issues," and since the Safeway engineers felt a wall on Safeway's property would no longer be possible, "an amendment to place the wall on the condo's common area" was put forth.

The seven members of the elected Kenwood Forest Board went for the idea, but at least 40 members of the Kenwood Forest Homeowners Association did not.

A Kenwood Forest resident for more than 30 years, Shelly Weinstein is heading up the opposition to Safeway's new wall location proposal. While the movement of a wall might not seem like such a big deal on paper, Weinstein characterizes the issue as a symptom of the larger problem: namely, that homeowners in the Kenwood Forest community are being deliberately excluded from on-going development negotiations between Safeway and the Kenwood Forest Board - negotiations that she says allow Safeway to encroach on private residential property, increase traffic flow through neighborhoods, and construct a parking garage without making assurances that dynamite will not be brought in to blast rocky terrain.

According to Weinstein, the Board has the right to enter into contracts with a developer or contractor without consulting the other 116 homeowners in the community if the work that's taking place will last less than a year. "If the Board enters into a one year contract with Safeway to build a wall on our property and then renews that contract annually, then they can get around getting permission from the individual homeowners for the work and get around easement requirements."

That's a tall order, says Weinstein, especially when you're talking about negotiations that could allow Safeway "in some cases, to put a wall within 6 feet of some of our homeowners' decks."

At the time of publication, Safeway PR representatives could not be reached. When asked about the results of the May 20th Planning Board hearing, Safeway Eastern Division Real Estate Manager, Renee Montgomery, confirmed that she was heading up the project but preferred "not to be quoted" and referred us back to Safeway's PR team.

Staying quiet about the subject might be understandable when you consider that, for the time being at least, Safeway has the site plan approval it needs to move forward with construction and an agreement with the homeowners' association.

"The screen wall is no longer a condition of the site plan approval," says Hisel-McCoy, who adds that private agreements between the Kenwood Forest Board and Safeway reps will determine just how that portion of the plan plays out.

Safeway hopes to begin demolition and construction work any day now and the new store is slated to open by the 2011 holiday season. But don't count Weinstein out just yet. The Bethesda resident also happens to be the former Environmental Director of the Department of Energy in the Carter White House and has found a cause in this issue.

The Kenwood Forest Board met last night at Concord-St. Andrews United Methodist Church to discuss, among other subjects, the Safeway development. Weinstein planned to use the opportunity to announce that she's filed an official complaint about the Safeway negotiations with the Maryland Attorney General's Office. With any luck, she says, "We can stop the Board from moving forward with any contractual agreements with Safeway until we can re-open this process and let the homeowners get involved."

With the Attorney General's Office mediating the development, she hopes to answer once and for all "whether or not the [Kenwood Forest] Board violated its authority by not including the homeowners."

She anticipates opposition from the Kenwood Forest Board but says "It's senseless to get into an argument with them when we've been trying to get involved with the project for over a year." Wall or no wall, a new Safeway is on its way.

Maryland Real Estate and Development News

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Del Ray Rising (II)

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Add another project to the growing list of development to fill in Del Ray. The latest: Del Ray Greens, at 2903 Mt. Vernon Avenue. With the paint still wet at Mt. Vernon Commons across the street, and the Lofts at Del Ray Village now under construction just down the block, change on Mt. Vernon Avenue is already in motion. If would-be developer Julie Wadler has her way, the Anthony's Auto site at the corner of Mt. Vernon and Commonwealth will add to the transformation, as it morphs from a carbon glutton filling station to a carbon-neutral office space.
The metamorphosis could begin taking place by this fall, according to Wadler, who has a self-professed longstanding fixation with environmental awareness, and simply couldn't resist the idea of turning something so environmentally unfriendly into, well, the opposite. If the vision is fulfilled, the former pumping station will be replaced with a small office sporting with a LEED Gold (fingers crossed) rating, phenolic panels (a recycled composite) and a "farmable, vegetated roof." The latter will be parceled out to the community who can ascend the building to harvest their own arugula or snap peas.

The project has been a long time coming for Wadler, who says the project has moved much slower than expected, thanks in large part to regulatory hurdles. "The city process just took forever" she says, noting she bought the property "probably six years ago." Actually, less than 5, according to tax records. "Well, it seems like six years," says Wadler, who has spent the past 3 just getting it through the city. She purchased the filling station for $1.2m after it had been remediated - "we bought the land clean" - she says, but has done extensive environmental testing since that time to satisfy Alexandria. "Part of the reason for building in the first place was to put something green there. If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right."

Despite being close to having final permits for the project, Wadler, the President of epiphany productions, has other ongoing concerns and doesn't foresee moving forward on the project until the fall. When the moment arrives, the architect of the building will be Old Town-based Skip Maginniss of Maginniss + Del Ninno, who Wadler chose for his "similar vision" for the site.

To satiate Alexandria's artsy mandate, Wadler held a competition for two mosaics that will adorn the building's entrance. A 9th grader from Alexandria and a 7th grader from Arlington won the contest for the 7' x 6' mosaics; their schools will be responsible for producing the final piece.

Of the eco-friendly design, architect Skip Maginniss says his firm proposed the green roof, "but Julie took it one step further" to create the farmable vegetation. The minor modification requires only deeper soil pans - up to 8 inches instead of the typical 4.5 inch pan, to accommodate plant varieties suitable for a "kitchen garden." Maginniss says skytubes, larger window space and a roofdeck will enhance the internal experience while providing contributive green features, and that such natural environmental controls allow them to build in "only modest mechanical controls," cutting back on building expense and utility costs.

As for the exterior design, Maginniss says he "spent probably close to 18-24 months working with the neighborhood and the city studying various options and coming up with a design that's compatible yet distinct in the neighborhood...something that was attractive but looked like it was a LEED-certified building."

Alexandria, Virginia real estate development news

Of Clocks and Claro Walnut

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Despite a 30-year career focused largely on high end D.C. residential architecture, Michael Callison belies the image of the frenetic, laced up, buttoned up, urban practitioner. For him, pretense is not an option.

With an admitted “holistic approach to architecture,” the relaxed and circumspect Callison projects a kind of warm, homegrown though confident image, one that resonates both in his residential designs and his custom furniture.

“I’m as concerned about the garden and the furniture as I am about the architecture,” Callison said, which he adds is a kind of philosophy many architects have had over time. Referencing aptly-named “father of landscape architecture” Frederick Law Olmsted, who, Callison said, embodied holistic design, he maintains that everything in the environment is part of the design. “When Olmsted was helping with the Chicago Exposition (Midway Plaisance for the 1893 Colombian Exposition), he was concerned about the color of the boats that were in the pond. So that’s the level of detail that’s always attracted me to residential architecture, and furniture design is just a natural result,” Callison explained.

In the Beginning

With that in mind, Callison’s furniture begins with the design of the home itself. “You don’t just get to a point (with the client) and roll out a portfolio,” he said. “It (furniture) is site specific: The environment that’s being created will speak to a kind of furniture that’s appropriate.” Inherent in the project’s genesis for Callison is to explore the client’s own desires, and then pull everything together. “It also has to be more than reproduction, because what I do is not reproduction,” he said. “It’s about understanding the tradition of the design style well enough to add to it.”

An illustration of the process is a Tudor-style house in Wesley Heights on which Callison has worked over time. Inspired by the English Arts and Crafts style exemplified by British architect Charles Voysey (1869-1951), as well as the work of Scottish architect Charles Rennie MacKintosh (1868-1928), Callison designed a 7’3” grandfather clock which he explained is a “sort of mashing of their styles, where I found places for a little bit of originality.” Where MacKintosh’s work tends to be angular and rigid, Callison elected to create a more sensuous shape for the clock, which he indicated reflects its location in the house. Sustainable in its use of weights and pulleys as opposed to requiring electricity, the clock was a birthday gift from the wife to her husband and complemented – by virtue of its origins – a china hutch Callison had previously designed for the homeowners.

In the Wood

Working with Vermont transplants and master craftsmen Crawford C. Hubbard and P. Fife Hubbard of Hubbard Cabinetmakers in rural Butler, Md., who Callison says really understand the tradition of furniture making, the architect further develops and augments his designs (the clock and china hutch specifically) by choosing appropriate materials. He calls that aspect of the process “really fascinating,” recalling that because English Arts and Crafts furniture was often made of walnut, Fife Hubbard had presented him with something called claro walnut which has a rich northern California history. “The particular claro walnut we used for the clock was instrument grade, which is the top of the top,” Callison said. “When a board looks really good with a lot of nice checkered, wavy grain in it, they’ll set it aside for making fiddles and things like that.”

In his Head

“People become architects for different reasons,” Callison said, speaking to great inspirations. “Mine has been that I really enjoy making things, including making furniture, crafting interior spaces, and designing door hardware.” Crediting his proclivity for furniture design to years of working with interior designers such as Mary Douglas Drysdale, whose dance card includes more than 100 pieces of custom furniture, Callison revealed that in his sophomore year of college an overall aptitude test had placed him “off the charts on the bad side.” However his art aptitude “was also off the charts,” he quipped, “but on the good side.” Architecture seemed like a logical progression of his talent.

Though creating furniture is a great passion, Callison affirms he’s “an architect first.” Noting that furniture “is a small, specific thing,” and he embraces the opportunity to master the precision involved in chair height, for example (the difference between a seat that is 15 inches or 17 inches can mean immeasurable discomfort), he defines architecture as “bigger, involving a site; a neighborhood.” Furniture, however, is faster, he explained. “In architecture, you design something one year and in another it’s done. Furniture is done in six months. Having an opportunity to go back on a smaller scale that you can actually get your hands around is very satisfying to me.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Skyland Hearing Nixes Neighbor Concerns

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Skyland Town Center had its day before the Zoning Commission on Monday, reviewing the development team's Planned Unit Development (PUD) application for the Skyland shopping center and residences. The applicant's sponsors are proposing that the city rezone the entire site, currently a mix of residential and commercial usage, to an entirely commercial C-3-A district.

The rezoning is central to the developers dreams to turn the aging, low-density retail site into 450-500 residential units and 280,000 s.f. of retail, creating a mixed-use destination retail center. The project has been mired in controversy, not the least of which is the fact that reluctant owners of the property are locked in a struggle with the city and development team, which together want to use eminent domain proceedings to force the owners off their land. Owners contend that the city has pushed the envelope of judicial proceedings rather than negotiate with the owners for sale of the land, noting the unenviable fate of property owners in similar circumstances. In the now infamous Kelo decision, the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that developers are within their right to force owners off their land in the name of economic development, a result which still makes conservatives and property rights advocates seethe.

Yesterday's hearing brought up additional concerns, this time from a nearby group of homeowners with the opposite problem. In a May 12th letter submitted to the Zoning Board by Fort Baker Drive residents, attorney Martin Sullivan suggested that the most effective method for protecting the adjacent homeowners from construction risks could be forcing Skyland to purchase four of their homes. Ironic, given that the owners of the underlying Skyland properties don't want to sell, but the city is forcing them to do so. But neighbors believe this would protect them from damage resulting from the excavation and construction process going on next door. In a double irony, the developers have declined the offer, and the Zoning Commission appears unwilling to make them do so.

In last evening's hearing, Commission Chairman Anthony Hood went as far as to "commend the applicant [Skyland Holdings]" for its thorough construction management plan and its responsiveness to neighbor concerns.

Although not completely unsympathetic to the Fort Baker Drive homeowners, Chairman Hood found that the construction management plan submitted by Skyland Holdings was more than sufficient in addressing concerns about property damage. Any repair and damage to the properties that are sustained during construction of Skyland will be repaired by the developers, said Hood, and promises to do so are "enforceable."

Our more focused readers will have noticed a twist, something that landowners complain of as one of the injustices of the system that is pushing them out: that the applicants for the zoning change do not hold title to the land. The development team has applied for, and the city is considering, rezoning land that neither owns. Advocates for the owners have challenged this aspect of the PUD process, so far to no avail.

Skyland Holdings LLC is a joint effort of The Rappaport Companies, William C. Smith & Company, Harrison Malone Development LLC, The Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, and the Washington East Foundation).

By June 4th, the Skyland team will have to submit its final community benefit plan and list of proffers to the Zoning Board. Look for a final ruling on PUD at the end of June.

DC Real Estate and Development News

Del Ray Rising (I)

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It took years of planning, 3 generations of family financing, and alot of perspirational equity, but the Lofts of Del Ray Village are finally under construction. Developer-architect Gaver Nichols purchased the property eight years ago with several partners and poured the foundation last year, but when the financial world underwent cosmic implosion, things got interesting. Now, with a new financing plan in place thanks to "Grandma's CD's," construction is about to get underway.

"Tenacity pays off," says Nichols, who closed on a new financing package three weeks ago with the help of a sizable collateral from the aforesaid grandma and other extended family. "We were able to make the bank happy through the coordinated effort of all the partners," says Nichols, who "had to convince the bank that real estate is not an evil thing," not to mention getting plans through the city government. "It just shouldn't have been this difficult."

Nichols estimates that a year from now the finished product will be unveiled: a single wood-framed building with brick veneer; four townhouse components, each comprised of double two-story units. The condo units run from 2,053 to 2,949 s.f. Nichols says the units will be primarily offered for rent, though if the right offer to purchase came along he could be tempted to part with his "labor of love."

The most unique part of the project is that each of the units will be built to the higher commercial code, but with interiors that enable them to function as live-work spaces, residential condos, or pure office spaces, depending on the needs of the tenant (or buyer.) Each of the 5 partners will control two of the units, increasing the odds of a mix of uses. Nichols stresses that the development is comprised entirely of locals with a vested interest in the community - even the benches on the sidewalks, which will be dedicated to relatives that helped out at the project's inception but did not live to see the completed building.

Nichols is also designing a 4-unit condominium down the street, proof that "the avenue is coming alive." But he may be more excited about the lessons learned from this experience, which he plans to translate into what could be called a Design-Build-Finance model. Nichols doesn't want others repeating his experience, and has initiated a Collaboration of Architects and Real Estate experts (CARE) that he sees as a way to add value to other people's property. "Through our expertise of designing, building, architecture, and planning, we can take someone's land or building who doesn't know what to do with their building, and we're able to help them...show them how to better position their property, whether its financing, construction, or planning, not just the design."

At least one of his neighbors knows exactly what to do with their property, and how hard it is to get things done in Alexandria, but that's a story for tomorrow.

Footnote: Subsequent to publication, Nichols informed DCMud that the building would "probably qualify" for a LEED Silver ranking as designed, and that he is "looking at" geothermal heating as an option as well.

Alexandria Virginia real estate development news

Monday, May 24, 2010

New Apartments to Surface on Georgia Avenue

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The Heights at Georgia Avenue is closer to beginning construction this summer, a little over a year after the development team received zoning approval to replace surface parking lots and older commercial buildings with a new mixed-use development. Project partners Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) and non-profit Mi Casa, Inc. have filed for construction permits to build the six-story, 69-unit apartment building. The new building, at the corner of Georgia Ave. and Lamont Street, will sit only a few blocks from the planned development at Park Morton. Estimates have the building delivering in early 2012, a bit behind its original plans for opening in early 2011.

The development team is working with Grimm + Parker Architects on the design. The project will have a green roof, with solar panels that power some of the common area lighting. Adrian Washington, a Principal at NDC, said the design team wanted to make a statement about the "important corner" and that the rooftop trellis element "creates a strong corner" for the block, while the rest of the design strikes a balance between a contemporary building and something that "fits with the neighborhood." The apartment building will deliver over 10,000 s.f. of ground floor retail and 69 rental units, half of which will be affordable housing available at 60% to 80% AMI. Within walking distance to the Georgia Avenue/Petworth metro station, the building will offer residents 29 below-grade parking spaces.

Since receiving zoning approval in March of 2009, the development team has been working on finalizing plans to apply for permits, negotiating relocation agreements with existing businesses and securing financing. In January, the District Council approved a $447,000 tax abatement for the project and the team has an application in with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for additional financing options. "We're on track for everything...the financing is what is slowing us down" explained Washington. The HUD application process is "taking a lot longer than we thought it would take," he added, but the federal housing agency is "the only game in town," so wait they must.

Washington said his team has spoken with two or three potential tenants, but no one wants to make a commitment this far in advance, "nothing much is going to happen until you've got a building that is coming up." The developer described the attitude he and his partners at MiCasa have for the project as "bullish." That said, Washington admits "developing infill sites in the city especially in neighborhoods in transition is hard" especially in this "very difficult economic environment."

The developers purchased the property in June of 2008 for $2.75 million under the entity Georgia and Lamont Limited Partnership. Hamel Builders is the general contractor.

Washington DC real estate and development news

Pollin's Parkside Project: Bringing Down the House(s)

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Public housing in Parkside will crumble and fall this summer, not from age or neglect, but by a demolition team, clearing the way for the new Linda Joy and Kenneth Jay Pollin Memorial Community Development. The Pollin project will replace one-for-one the 42 affordable rental units on site, known as Parkside Additions, while adding 83 for-sale units. The project was initially spearheaded by the late Abe Pollin and his Pollin Foundation. The District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) is seeking permission to raze the row of apartment buildings from 705-721 Anacostia Avenue, NE and, according to DCHA Spokesperson Dena Michaelson, hopes to demolish the buildings over the course of the summer.

Pollin Memorial Community Development, LLC's planned $35 million development would bring 125 new affordable for-sale and rental homes to the northeast site, an assemblage belonging at one time to three different government entities – the District of Columbia, the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA), and the National Parks Service (NPS). The developers courted the approval of all landowners back in 2006 and received approval for the project from the National Capitol Planning Commission (NCPC) in 2008. The NPS transferred its property to the District in 2007.

According to Michaelson, the developer is putting up $2 million to guarantee construction loans for the project. Michaelson said the entire project will eventually be paid for by the condo sales, and that Pollin, acting as a fee developer, will not gain financially from the sales. DCHA will be the property owner for the public housing and will maintain the units. Financing for development is being provided by the District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the District of Columbia Housing Authority, United Bank, Enterprise and the Abe Pollin Grantor Trust. DHCD is providing a construction loan, explained Michaelson, "a portion of the DHCD loan that applies to building public housing units is forgivable."

The project will provide 125 off-street parking spaces, one per unit, and the new residential structures will not exceed 40 feet or 3 stories. The 83 condominiums will be available to individuals earning between 40 percent and 100 percent area media income (AMI) and the 25 rental units will be offered to residents earning at or below 30 percent AMI.

A ceremonial groundbreaking in December was marred by a community boycott - an effort to convince developers and city officials to be more forthcoming about the project's community benefits which, though not final, had been viewed as skimpy. At the time, Michaelson indicated that a community benefits package would be available to the public upon its completion. When asked if an agreement has now been reached, ANC7C04 Commissioner Sylvia Brown said, "Short answer: no, no community benefits. Medium answer: there was a change in the ANC7D chairmanship and the momentum went out like air from a balloon. There hasn't been any other broad community update or discussion." Michaelson said the Pollin family has committed to giving $350,000 to the community, but was not sure what form the donation would take.

Meanwhile, DCHA will begin relocating residents to alternate public housing until Pollin's project delivers, a process that will determine the demolition date. "It's not a quick thing...it's a process to be able to relocate folks...to find the right size bedroom units, etcetera." explained Michaelson.

Current Parkside residents will have the first right to return to the new units. A press release from the ground breaking indicated the first units would be available in 2011. The phased project will complete in February 2013, according to Michaelson, who added that for-sale units will not be marketed until 2013.

Enterprise Community Investment is one of the development partners on the project. John Stranix, of Stranix Associates, is spearheading the construction effort with designs by Torti Gallas & Partners.

Washington, DC real estate development news

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Columbia Pike Notches Another Improvement

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After years of talking, planning, and building, life on Columbia Pike is looking better. Sure, Penrose Square park has yet to be built; ditto on the overdue trolley lines, but at least private development is moving along. The largest of those, Penrose Square, "giving Columbia Pike its own town center," is underway, if behind schedule. The Halstead (866-464-2578) is built and leasing, new retail is in, and Siena Park Apartments are thriving on the once desolate landscape.

Four years after Woodfield Investments began planning the Siena Park Apartments on Columbia Pike, the building is complete and filling with residents. Four months after leasing began, the development team held a "Grand Opening" and is boasting of renting nearly half the 188 apartments. The former site of a Safeway grocery store now holds a WDG Architecture-designed building with office and considerable retail space.

Construction by Paradigm Construction began in 2007. According to Margaret Smith Ford, a Partner at Woodfield Investments, the team "was fortunate that we had our financing in place before...financing options became so slim." Construction wrapped up at the end of 2009 and leasing began in January Smith Ford estimates that since that time 45 percent of the apartments have been leased. The building boasts a communal pool in the interior courtyard and a rooftop deck; a below-grade parking lot has 410 spaces.

The office and retail space on the ground floor is currently unoccupied, Smith Ford said the owners are "very close with a couple of tenants." Ideally the space would be occupied by restaurants, to include a sit-down full-service restaurant and "a couple of more fast-casual" restaurants. The office space could be occupied for "medical use or small consultants" said Smith Ford, adding that the site is "close" to the Pentagon. Future home of Blackwater? Probably not.

Siena Park is "a critical piece to the overall transformation of the Pike" opined Smith Ford. "Next year, when the Giant opens, it's going to create the critical mass you need to make [Columbia Pike] a destination for people looking for housing." People with cars, that is, until the proposed streetcar line delivers.

The five-mile streetcar line, a joint effort by planners in Arlington and Fairfax County, would run from Bailey's Crossroads (Skyline) in Falls Church, down Columbia Pike to the Pentagon City Metro. Because Columbia Pike is so narrow, the trolley would run on either side of the street with inlaid rails that allow cars to coexist with the tracks. Last year the Arlington County Board approved $3 million in funding and agreements with Fairfax County and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for environmental planning and preliminary design of the Columbia Pike Streetcar. The streetcar, though, is very much still in the planning phase and another year of planning is expected before any actual construction begins.

Arlington, VA real estate development news
 

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