Friday, May 26, 2006

Petworth Goes Condo

The DC government's efforts to revitalize Georgia Avenue may finally be paying some dividends. Love or hate the trend, Petworth is poised to undergo a transformation that will include numerous large-scale condo developments over the next several years as the wave of developments seeps untapped areas. Hitherto dominated by single family residences, Petworth has one of the more active pipeline of condo developments and apartments in the city, where Donatelli & Klein is in the final stages of the 148-unit Park Place anchor at the Petworth Metro. Other projects include a 72-unit affordable apartment building at 4100 Georgia Avenue, a condominium at 4200 Georgia Avenue, a 110-unit apartment building at 3910 Georgia by Jair Lynch, the Renaissance by Lakritz Adler (105 units), and the Jefferson, a 39-unit reconstruction that will deliver this Winter. Unlike the last generation, this round of condos is going for higher-end features, with condos like the Jefferson offering granite counters, wood floors throughout, natural stone tiles and private terraces. Another 400 units are well into the planning stages at this point.

Fenton Village Project in Silver Spring Announced

This week marked the unveiling of Fenton Village, a major new multi-parceled development project to be bounded by Silver Spring and Thayer Avenues and between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street. While details are still forthcoming, the project as reported by Silver Spring Scene, is expected to be comprised of an eight-story office building with over 160,000 square feet of space, and another eight- story residential condominium building consisting of 230 units (31 being moderately priced dwelling units). Each building will have ground floor retail, and completion is expected in 2010. The architect is SK&I. This project will leave the historic buildings fronting Georgia Avenue intact.

Coop Goes for Record Sale

Need a condo but have only $10 million to spend? Not a problem: The Watergate is offering what will be the highest priced condo or coop in the Washington DC area if it can get anywhere near its asking price. Listed at $9.65 million, the 5400 square foot coop – formed from the conversion of the old hotel that will close this summer for renovation - will carry all the "must- have" names: Viking Professional, Miele, Subzero, and Pogenpohl, not to mention not-so-humble views up and down the Potomac and a wraparound balcony. At nearly $1800 per square foot, the Watergate easily outpaces its closest competitor, a 6100 square foot condo at the Ritz-Carlton of Georgetown, which listed at $9.25 million but sold at the red-dot special price of $6.25 million in 2005, according to the multiple listing service. Don’t forget to factor in the $8000 per month coop fee when getting your pre- approval letter ... but don’t worry, electricity is included. A $7 million unit at Turnberry Towers, a highrise-to-be just across the river in Arlington, has been on the market for the past year with no apparent takers.

Latest "Beltway Condos" Go Live

Continuing the trend of condo conversions, sales reservations began on Tuesday at the grand opening of The Strand of Alexandria, a 221-unit apartment- now-condo community near the Landmark section of Alexandria. Built in 1991-92, The Strand offers the usual clubhouse amenities of a pool, "party room," picnic area and exercise room, with six floorplans, wall-to-wall carpeting and a parking spot thrown in. A spokesman for McWilliams Ballard said prices had not yet been finalized but estimated 1 bedroom units selling from the low-to-high $200s, and 2 bedrooms from the low-to-high $300s The conversion is expected to complete in the fall.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Chase is On – Grand Opening This Weekend


What’s rarer than finding a needle in a haystack? How about moderately priced condos in downtown Bethesda, near the metro and steps to shops and restaurants? This could explain the interest surrounding the grand opening this weekend (May 18-19, 10-4 pm) of The Chase at Bethesda (7500 Woodmont Avenue). The Chase is the conversion of a late 1980s apartment complex by Monument Realty into modern condos, with renovated kitchens (granite, stainless steel, etc.), bathrooms, and hardwood floors. There are also two lit tennis courts and pools, and a fitness center. Pricing starts in the mid-$200s for Jr. One Bedrooms (474 s.f. - a bit tiny) and goes up to the $800s for Two Bedroom and Den units (1241 s.f.). According to a Chase sales agent, contracts cannot be written until after this weekend, and only by appointment (already they are full for June appointments).

Major Prince William Development Derailed

A major developer’s plan to build 6,800 new homes in Prince William County was pulled off the table this past Wednesday, according to a report in the Washington Business Journal. Brookfield Homes had submitted plans in 2004 for a 1,500-acre project named Brentswood just south of Interstate 66 near the Route 29 interchange. The project would have also included the developer committing $100 million to the rebuilding of these roads to accommodate the increased congestion, as well as a new Virginia Railway Express station near the Nissan Pavilion east of Gainesville. It is not currently known the reason for this recent decision, though opposition to the project has grown steadily over perceived traffic and overdevelopment issues, and the county planning staff had recently voted to recommend denial of the proposal.

Tax Hike Moves Forward

Late last week, the full DC Council passed a measure on first reading to increase recordation and transfer taxes on both commercial and residential properties in the District from 1.1% to 1.35%. The measure must pass the Council on a second reading, expected in the next two weeks, and be signed by the Mayor to become laws. If passed by the full Council, residential and commercial buyers and sellers will each pay 1.35% of the purchase price of a property. This increase in recordation and transfer taxes is expected to generate $76.6 million in additional revenue for the District. Advocates of this proposal claim this money will be used for "affordable housing," but this proposal designates only $3 million for workforce housing. But where the city government taketh away, the feds give back. President Bush signed into law on Wednesday an extension of the 15% rate on capital gains, applying to the sale of most property, which was to increase next year when the last law expires.

DC Moves Forward with Land Near Stadium

The DC Government, whom has been leasing a three-story 38,311-sf office building, located at 95 M ST. SW (essentially a Barry Bonds home run (or not w/out Balko) from the proposed site of the new Nationals Stadium) from the United Way of the National Capital Area, has stopped dragging its feet and paid $15.3 million for the property. This parcel was a hot commodity and was bid on by many local and national development companies because it is a property that provides future mixed-use redevelopment opportunities of 195,552 sf under existing C-3-A zoning and the potential for additional density through a Planned Unit Development process in the emerging ballpark district (according to Jayne Shister, senior vice president, Cassidy & Pinkard, represented the seller, United Way of the National Capital Area. Although there are no plans yet for development, the Stadium is going up, and if they build it ... you know.

Friday, May 12, 2006

DC Lays Out Billion-Dollar Plan for Old Convention Center Site

It took five years of planning and much wringing of hands, but DC officials and developers have finally delivered a master plan for the 10.2 acres of prime real estate where the old Washington Convention Center once stood. This major parcel (bounded by 11th Street to the west, New York Avenue to the north, 9th Street to the east, and H Street to the south) will soon, it is said, be home to nine buildings, containing almost 400,000 square feet of office space, 770 apartments and condominiums, and about 300,000 square feet of retail. In addition, developers envision a $180 million library, and hope to reopen long-closed 10th and I Streets. Two green plazas are also being considered for this land, for hosting concerts and events. Ground is expected to be broken in 2008, with project completion slated for 2011.

PN Hoffman, DC Church to Develop Housing Next to MLK Library

While details are still scarce, the Washington Business Journal is reporting that the First Congregational Church - located at 10th and G Streets NW (the same block as the MLK Library) - is planning to work with developer PN Hoffman to redevelop its half-acre property into "market-rate" housing, including a new sanctuary and a homeless-services center. PN Hoffman has estimated that First Congregational could generate up to $13 million from the project in total, depending on the final plans. First Congregational has resided at this location since the 1860s, with its current complex opening in the early 1960s. This project will continue the East End's radical makeover from desolate streets into a residential location.

Government Pulls Plug on Developers' Dreams for Walter Reed

On Wednesday, May 10, the Department of Defense - owners of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center located between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington - announced to DC officials that it has decided to accept applications from the General Services Administration (GSA) and Department of State to use all 113 acres of this campus. Walter Reed is scheduled to be closed by the Army in 2011. GSA officials expect to use about 34 acres of this land, and State will use about 80 acres. This decision comes as a major blow to city officials and developers, whose starry-eyed visions saw the availability of this prime real estate as offering a unique chance to expand one of the city's most attractive mixed-race, solidly middle-class neighborhoods with a combination of new single-family homes and medium-density townhouses, with a park and a school and a neighborhood recreation center - development that would have also helped advance the revitalization of retail businesses along Georgia Avenue.

Capitol Square to Begin Taking Reservations This Weekend

On Saturday, May 13, Capitol Square, a 24-unit condominium conversation Capitol Hill at 1520 Independence Ave., SE, will begin taking reservations for its units. Of course, nothing in life is free, including having the right to spend a lot of money on a new home - to reserve a unit, you will need $5,000 plus a pre-approval letter from a lender (you can leave your first-born home). But, on the bright side, they will be bribing you with shiny objects at this opening, offering flat screen TV's and iPods. One bedroom units are expected to start in the mid-$200s, and two-bedroom units from the low $300s All offer contemporary design and upgrades, and parking is available.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

DC Wakes Up, Realizes It's Surrounded By Water

This past Monday (May 1) marked the due date for development companies interested in the redevelopment of almost 50 acres of land along the Washington Channel (now home to big, mediocre restaurants and clubs) in Southwest DC to submit proposals to the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation (AWC). Seventeen developers heeded the call, including local firms Akridge, JBG, Trammell Crow. The AWC is dreaming of a gleaming new $500 million waterfront full of “maritime-themed” (uh-oh) housing and retail. If legal hurdles over the land are cleared by the DC Council, the AWC can expect to complete its hold on the property and begin the redevelopment process, with a developer (or developers) selected by the end of the year. Together with the AWC’s development of an entertainment district around the new Nationals ballpark, Southwest DC should expect some radical changes over the next few years.

DC USA Project in Columbia Heights Breaks Ground

On May 6 starting at 11 a.m., the National Capital
Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), together with
developers including Grid Properties and The
Development Corporation of Columbia Heights, will
break ground on the new DC USA project in Columbia
Heights. The event will begin at 11 a.m. on Hiatt
Place between Irving and Park Road. DC USA will be
a 500,000 square foot urban retail and entertainment
center next to the Columbia Heights metro that will be anchored by Target and include Bed, Bath and Beyond, Washington Sports Club, and Best Buy. It is expected to generate more than $12 million in new tax revenue per year for the city and will create more than 1,000 permanent and 700 construction jobs. Completion is scheduled for early 2008.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Remembering Jane Jacobs

Last week’s sad passing of Jane Jacobs – the influential critic of urban planning whose 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities kick-started the preservationist movement – had me thinking about what would have befell many of our beautiful urban cores without her tough stand. It also made me remember the 1950’s master urban “renewal” plans for Washington – some that were unfortunately carried through to city-life sucking completion (e.g., Southwest DC), and others disasters luckily averted – such as blasting I-95 through the heart of DC.

Ever wonder why, when you take the I-395 North exit off the Southwest-Southeast Freeway, it suddenly and abruptly dead-ends at New York Avenue?
Well, that wasn’t the plan. The original scheme was for I-95 to cut straight through the heart of Washington and Prince George's County, straight north up to the Capital Beltway. Established and historic Northeast Washington neighborhoods in the way were to be sliced in half by the highway. Luckily, coming in the aftermath of the preservationist movement started by Jacobs, these neighborhoods stood in strong opposition to the plan, and in 1977 the city decided to take the earmarked highway funding and instead diverted it to the ongoing construction of the metro system.

Today, all these intact rowhouses, Victorians, and Colonials in Shaw, Mt. Vernon Triangle, Brookland, and Hyattsville, etc. – once seen as expendable - are sought-after, desirable homes for both the established families in these neighborhoods and new arrivals in the city. Sometimes less meddling, just letting communities “be” and encouraging unplanned, natural grow is the simple – and right - answer.

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