Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Friendship Heights' Newest Condos Underway

Not every project in Friendship Heights / Tenleytown is jinxed. Exhibit A: the neighborhood is about to get its first residential project in recent memory, as Ellisdale Construction gets to work on their project at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Harrison Street. The Harrison, at 5201 Wisconsin Avenue, will become a 49-unit condominium two blocks south of the Friendship Heights Metro station when construction completes late this year.

With numerous neighborhood projects having been shelved recently, The Harrison will be the first residential project on the DC side of the border since Chase Point kicked off in 2005 (though developers have been much more prolific on the Maryland side). The 4 to 5-story, 50-foot residence includes a single-level, 40-car parking garage on the first floor topped by a 4-floor, wood-framed residence, crowding out what had been a Bank of America parking lot.

Project Architect Ronald Schneck of Square 134 Architects says the building will merge the need for two disparate contexts - the busy Wisconsin Avenue corridor and the single-family residential neighborhood that it bisects. Schneck, who designed Fennessy Lofts in Logan Circle, describes a building that is "definitely contemporary in architectural style," with "metal panels in a 3-different color tone palate using copper panels." But according to the architect, the best feature of the u-shaped building will be easy to miss: its large interior courtyard providing patios to first-floor residents and tranquil space to higher units. Not to mention a fire pit and water fountain. "The building will consist mainly of one-bedroom, market rate condos. There's not alot coming out of the ground right now, and with careful planning we've been able to control costs...we were able to get what looks to be a pretty high-end building but making it affordable to build, an important factor in one of of the worst markets, ever."

The development team, an affiliation known as Chase View Arts, came together in February of last year to buy the property that Bank of America shaved off from its bank, shelling out $3,360,000 for the paved lot. The condominium is being built as matter-of-right development; the team did not try for any environmental ratings.
Newly rebranded Ellisdale Construction, formerly Ellis Denning, is the general contractor and an equity partner in the project. (Dave Clark of Ellisdale says the name reflects an ownership split several years ago that became legally effective just a few weeks ago, and that both sides will continue their construction pursuits.) Ellisdale hired Davis Construction as the subcontractor.

Schneck says the project will appeal to a market of young professionals that have hitherto been ignored in the pricey neighborhood, with most of the 49 condos built as smallish one-bedroom units. "There's an untapped potential of people living there and metroing into the city." To reach that crowd, the development team brought in Paul Robertson of Robertson Development to further hone the interiors. Robertson says he redesigned about 85% of the units, and will have a controlling presence in the "marketing, design and interface with the customers" for the condominium. Robertson is a known factor in the U Street area, where he spearheaded such projects as the Moderno, Beauregard, Murano and Visio condominiums.

Effusive about the style, Robertson nonetheless had a more conservative take on the form that would prove "warm and natural," with a brick, copper and stucco exterior. Robertson promised "minimalist interiors" with slate and bamboo, European porcelain bathroom tiles, quartz countertops, Waterworks tile, dual-headed showers, Kitchenaid appliances, and 9-foot ceilings. "We tried to do something warm with natural materials that would blend; we didn't want something uber-contemporary." But not to alienate, Robertson's marketing pitch includes options for a "zen," "luxe," and "edge" package.

The building is expected to complete late this year.

Washington DC real estate development news


William said...

While it is terrific that this project is underway, and that new housing will be added to the Friendship Heights neighborhood, this development is a case study for upper North West with respect to settling for less.

If the proposal had been to completely redevelop the parcel, including the frontage on Wisconsin Avenue, and leverage the air space up to the corner, this could have brought a lot more vibrancy and residents to the neighborhood. Instead, we have a developer who took the path of least resistance and in the long run, it is the community that will suffer.

I am sure there are a few residents who are satisfied with this sort of result.

IMGoph on Mar 9, 2010, 9:09:00 AM said...

i like the look, but i agree with william that it's a shame that the lot on the corner wasn't redeveloped as well. could have added quite a few more units.

also, how did this building avoid inclusionary zoning? did they get plans approved before the city required units at workforce rates? it's a damn shame if this isn't going to be an opportunity for people who usually couldn't afford the neighborhood to move in.

Anonymous said...

Shame that these are stick built homes. Why in God's name can't we put up a decent, normal sized building on Wisconsin? Oh yeah, because it would look like Connecticut Avenue - stately, elegant and classic. So due to our fear of developing Wisconsin we are stuck with a cheap low-rise that will do little architecturally for the area and where you will be able to hear your neighbors on the floor above walking around. Build a concrete building, people.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 7:01 AM--

Concrete is certainly more durable and quieter for the neighbors in the building but wood is much cheaper than concrete (thus these units will be more affordable) and the production of concrete and cement requires a tremendous amount of energy, thus a wood-frame building could be more sustainable.

realWashingtonian said...

I totally agree with William. Fear of NIMBY opposition led the developers to build a "matter of right" building -- when going for higher density along Wisconsin could have resulted in better retail on Wisconsin Avenue and more life on the street. It still could have included affordable units as a concrete building, but it would have been better looking and created some "there" there. If I understand the rendering, people walking down Harrison will be seeing a semi-open parking lot at the ground level. YUCK! Couldn't they have at least closed it in? Oh, right. There's not enough density to pay for putting the parking truly underground...

Across the street is a small bank with a big parking lot, a PEPCO power station and the former used car lot that is to be a 3 - 7 story residential building with retail below. Diagonally across the street is a funeral home and office building, and across Harrison is a large office building. In other words, essentially a commercially-oriented set of uses. No reason not to mass the height and density of the project along Wisconsin, and step it down to the single-family residential further down Harrison Street. Another opportunity for street vitality and better retail, lost to the fear of being killed by NIMBY's.

Anonymous said...

if the people of friendship heights don't like mediocrity in design they have no one to blame but themselves. Getting more height/density would have required a PUD and any developer in this town knows that means at least two years of fighting with the mythical beast of Friendship Heights. easily waste $500,000 just to get entitlements with those folks. its a shame cause a building that close to metro should be a MINIMUM of 6 stories. So no one is "settling" William. I am in the business and believe me this is exactly what FH wants and gets. DC is a small town and some places have deservedly bad reputations. Look at Tenley!

Anonymous said...

B of A owns the lot and wanted to keep its branch at this location on Wisconsin Ave. You've got the equivalent of Tysons II in terms of retail SF in the next few blocks. It's hardly an area that lacks vibrancy.

And no, you wouldn't get prewar style apartment buildings (like the "stately, elegant, classical" buildings on Connecticut) along upper Wisconsin Avenue if greater heights and densities were required. That's not what has been built on the Maryland side of the line where the zoning envelope is less restrictive and where the parcels being redeveloped are much larger than a bank's parking lot.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 7:42 AM:

As you note, almost all of the development in Friendship Heights has been on the Maryland side of that neighborhood. Maryland gets new upscale retail and new residents while the DC side between Friendship Heights and Tenley has mattress stores, mostly fast-food restaurants, vacant storefronts and stalled residential projects such as the Maxim condos, 5220 Wisconsin Avenue, and the Western Bus garage.

Opponents of smart-growth such as the Alliance for Rational Development (ARD) that continue to advocate for Ashburn-style auto-dependent development, list potential school crowding and inferior public services as one of their reasons for opposing this new growth. By opposing this growth, all of this sales and income tax revenue that could have gone to the District to improve schools and other public services benefits Maryland instead. Groups such as ARD have zero credibility when they complain that new development will adversely affect public services.

Hopefully as new development such as American University’s 2020 campus plan and Douglas Development’s proposal for the Babe’s Billiards parcel moves forward, these obstructionists don’t again prevent development that will allow people to live within walking distance of transit, bring new residents to the neighborhood (which will support more retail), and provide more tax revenue for the District.

Anonymous said...

"smallish" one bedrooms??? I'm SICK of small condos!!!

Anonymous said...

Don't blame all of Friendship Heights for mediocrity and NIMBYism. There is a VERY small minority in the neighborhood that is driving bad development decisions. I mean, we are talking about 20 people max who are wacky enough and have the freetime and resources to fight everything. The rest of us with a life can't compete and we are stuck with the outcome.

Anonymous said...

If the developer took the path suggested by William, realWashingtonian and Geoff Hatchard, the main view from the sidewalk would be the loading dock alongside the planned garage entrance. A loading dock isn’t required for the project they are building, but a 55 foot deep loading berth plus a 20 foot service/delivery loading space would be required for the larger project suggested above.

Anonymous said...

Reply To Anonymous 3/12 2:22

Had this been done correctly, no one would have been looking at a loading dock, or a half-covered parking garage. The developer would have gotten a planned unit development (PUD) from the Zoning Commission, in a transparent process with public hearings, permitting the neighborhood to review and comment on the design, and providing extra height and density (within limits), massed along Wisconsin and stepping down in height next to the houses along Harrison. The developer would have had to provide amenities or community benefits commensurate with whatever increased density he or she received. Instead of the three curb cuts that exist now (two for access to the parking lot and one for the drive-through ATM) there would have been one curb cut, leading to the (fully) underground parking garage and loading dock. The Bank could have stayed, in a smaller space (how many people need to go inside a bank anymore?)and there still would have been room for a small retail space along Wisconsin next to it.

All of which seems good to me, and makes me wonder why the Friendship Neighbors Association and the Association for Rational Development find the idea of a PUD, and any density above what the zoning regulations permit automatically, to be so abhorrent.

One last thing. Just because the developer won't have to build a loading dock because of the smaller size of the building, that doesn't make the moving vans, repair trucks and delivery vans disappear -- it just means they will be double-parking on street. And that is good because....?

IMGoph on Mar 13, 2010, 12:04:00 AM said...

question—should i be impressed that you were able to use the google to find my true identity, flattered, scared, or indifferent?

Anonymous said...

@anonymous at 9:21 pm

Have you walked past the loading docks and garage entrances for any PUDs? You might want to walk down Western Avenue east of Wisconsin to view the garage entrance and loading dock for one PUD, Chase Point. You also might take a look at some of the PUD filings, watch the hearings and walk past some of the completed projects to get a more realistic impression of the process and the results.

And, of course, many PUDs simply don’t get built: 4600 Wisconsin Avenue approved in 2004 and 5220 Wisconsin Avenue approved in 2007. Neither built, nor have building permits been requested. The Zoning Commission agenda has numerous requests for 2-year extensions, and there are also approved PUDs where no building permits have been requested and the authorizations have lapsed without a request for an extension.

As to the loading needs for a 49-unit condominium vs. a 100 or more unit residential building, one might expect that a larger building with more units would have more moving vans, repair trucks and delivery vans. And perhaps, as you suggest, the zoning regulations should require loading facilities for a 49-unit building. If the Office of Planning’s recommendations are adopted, a 49-unit building, such as the one under construction, would be required to have a 30-foot deep loading berth.

As to your question about whether many people need to go inside a bank anymore, I suggest that, rather than extrapolating from your own banking usage, you talk to the bank manager and pay several visits to some of the local full-service bank branches during the day in a mixed-use area such as this, and see how the bank serves the local businesses as well as their employees in addition to local residents. Full service banks are part of the infrastructure that local businesses need.

Of course, in this case, Bank of America is making a corporate decision about the type of presence that they want to have on Wisconsin Avenue and how they might best utilize the land that they own there.

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