Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Alexandria's Hunting Plaza Waits on VDOT

This month, the Alexandria Planning Commission took a look at IDI Group Companies' proposal for Hunting Creek Plaza, a project that would renovate the current Hunting Towers apartments (pictured at right as two cross-shaped, red brick buildings) by constructing a luxury condominium community on the Hunting Terrace site (rendering digitally inserted in picture at right, above brick apartments), both wedged between the Potomac and the George Washington Parkway. In a setback for the developers, the Planning Commission deferred a decision until the land officially reverts to IDI Group and its partner, Kay Apartment Communities.

IDI saw a unique opportunity in the two existing Hunting Towers buildings - which currently lay hold to 530 apartments - to preserve the pair of buildings as affordable workforce condominiums, similar to what they've done with properties like Parkfairfax. After Hunting Towers' renovation is complete, IDI plans to offer the workforce housing from $125,000 - $240,000 for existing tenants. The remaining units would then be sold, during a priority marketing period, to the city's workforce: school teachers, firemen, policemen, hospital workers, and bloggers (uh, technically that last one was left off the city's list...probably an accident) could snatch them up at prices ranging from $140,000 - $330,000. Anything left over would go to the public at workforce prices, ranging from $145,000 - $355,000. All of this would be subsidized by profits from the sale of the new condo complex.

The vision of the new building (Hunting Terrace) is a 361-unit luxury condo complex. HLS Architects, together with the Old Town firm of Bartzen & Ball Architects, designed Hunting Terrace as four buildings: two, adjacent five-story residential buildings fronting Washington Street and two adjacent main buildings, which step up from eight to 14 stories, with a landscaped courtyard acting as a buffer zone between the two pairs.

The Planning Commission's deferral on the new construction comes in light of the Virginia Department of Transportation's work on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the second half of which is planned to open within 12 months. Under the eminent domain process, VDOT had omnipotently purchased both the Terrace and Towers sites during the early phases of bridge planning, and demolished roughly a third of each parcel, destroying one building of the Tower side, and three buildings on the Terrace side to make way for the leviathan tangle of new roadways.

But roughly two years ago, Virginia's favorite transportation authority came to the conclusion that its holdings on the Terrace (i.e. new building) side were no longer needed, and sold it back to its original owner, Kay Apartment Communities, which by then had partnered with IDI - the pair have been working on finalizing the new construction drawings since then. But don't uncork the champagne yet, because VDOT still owns the future-workforce housing site, and the Planning Commission wants to see VDOT's sale contract for it before they will approve the proposal to build the new condominiums.

This, most simply put, poses a problem for IDI, because the entire project hinges on the redevelopment of Hunting Towers. The Planning Commission will not grant approval for the increased density and height of the new condominium tower, unless IDI uses the revenue therefrom to subsidize the affordable workforce housing a la the Hunting Towers renovation. Yet VDOT may not sell the confiscated land until the end of this year, and IDI, for various reasons, cannot sit on the condo site until such time that the other half of the project can be purchased. To alleviate these concerns, IDI has offered $20 million in collateral funds to begin building the condo side, in order to avoid suspicions that they will reneg on their obligation to revitalize Hunting Towers into workforce housing. The planning commission still wants to see the contract before they will allow IDI to build the Terrace condos.

"We're working very diligently to try to negotiate with VDOT and reach an agreement on the Hunting Towers parcel as soon as possible. Unfortunately if we don't have the additional height and density that we're requesting that would in turn generate the $20 million subsidy it would be impossible for us to preserve the 530 homes in Hunting Towers as affordable workforce housing. We would have to consider other development alternatives," said Carlos Cecchi, Vice President at IDI Group.


Anonymous said...

wow. for a surprisingly complicated real estate matter, that read fairly well. you could teach the post a thing or two.

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