Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Avenue" (Park Morton Phase One) Unveiled

Once again, neighborhood-blog fiends have a reason to saturate the online comments board with rabid debate over the merits of affordable housing. Yes, more Ward One "workforce housing" construction is set to get under way early next year, as the DC Council recently approved a loan injection of $16.5 million to jump-start the Park Morton redevelopment project. With a bit of pomp and optimism, developers have officially dubbed the first phase of the project "The Avenue." The much neglected area could certainly use an infusion of pride and confidence in addition to this desperately needed residential development. Located on the southwest corner of Newton Place and Georgia Avenue, 83 apartments will be built on three parcels of vacant land. Twenty-seven units of the 7-story building will be reserved as "public housing," while the remaining units will be classified as "affordable housing," serving residents with up to 60% of the area median income (AMI). Last month, in accordance with the Georgia Avenue Overlay District, The Avenue was reviewed and approved for construction by the BZA.

The broad-scoped $130 million, 500-unit Park Morton redevelopment project is a dual partnership between the Warrenton Group and the Landex Companies. Wiencek & Associates Architects & Planners are currently completing the designs for the phase one building. General contractors Hamel Builders will carry out the construction, which could begin as early as December 1st. But in all likelihood, ground will break sometime in January of next year. Once started, construction is expected to last 14 months. The PUD application process for the subsequent phases of the redevelopment plans will begin in tandem with initial construction, with the goal of transitioning rather smoothly and quickly from phase one completion to phase two construction. The general intention for the entire redevelopment project is aimed at securing quality living quarters for the current public housing tenants (phase one) that will allow the construction of the new higher density residencies (later phases) - the proportion of purely public housing in the area diminished as the planned mixed-income projects come to life. Upon the completion of all phases, the new housing will follow the rule of thirds, units divided evenly between public housing, affordable or workforce housing, and market rate housing.

The hope of developers and the design team is to amass a work of architecture that exudes modernity and sophistication, to challenge preconceived notions about "affordable housing" by using high quality materials and employing an elegant design on the exterior as well as the interior. The focal point of the design is the central corner of the building at the intersection of Georgia and Newton, where a two-story glassy entrance way, accented by a timber curtain wall, attracts the attention of the onlooker. A cutout top level terrace disrupts the plain single-box shape of the brick building, giving texture to the building, and drawing the eye up along the cornerstone of the design (pun intended). When addressing the Georgia Avenue frontage, like any good painting, the canvas is partitioned into a foreground, middle, and background, or more appropriately a bottom, middle, and top. The bottom floor is pronounced by large glass and metal, protruding store fronts that will house retail upon completion. The brick middle section is accented by boxy, extended bay windows, while the top of the building dissolves plainly and gently into the skyline. The opposite building frontage along Newton Place is an asymmetrical doubling of the Georgia Avenue design elements. The bay windows are stepped down to the first three levels so as to better transition the building across the alleyway and into the neighboring townhouse facades. This allows for a milder, friendlier, more residential feel on Newton place, and a slightly bolder, urban flavor on the more commercially-geared Georgia Avenue.

Amenities for The Avenue building include a spacious entrance lobby, featuring a wide, monumental staircase, leading up to a glass walled fitness room on the second floor. The interplay of elevation change, sight angles, and visible space provide for an open feel. The building will also feature an open and exposed internet lounge, complete with computers and printers - enabling work but also encouraging networking and social interaction. An elevator to the roof will access two landscaped rooftop terraces, one of which will be outfitted with numerous planters for community gardening opportunities. This green roof will not only provide residents a chance at producing healthy produce, but also lower the energy bill by decreasing the solar load on the flat building top. Other sustainable aspects include the exclusion of carpet and all mold-propagating building materials, floors will be a combination of wood and tiles, and bathrooms will be purely ceramic tiles. The steel frame of the building will be reinforced with insulating sheeting to prevent temperature transfer and help maintain a consistent indoor climate. The building will be equipped with high efficiency heat pumps, and solar energy panels on the roof will provide hot water for a communal laundry facility. Builders will replace all sidewalks with brick pavers, granite curbs, and two rows of continuous planter strips, where trees, shrubs, and flowers will bring shade, color, and life to the public space. Classic twin-fixture lighting will illuminate the sidewalk along Newton in the evening, and the elimination of two curb cuts will allow for increased on-street parking. Also included in the plan is a 29 space below-grade parking garage.

Developers admitted there are challenges to producing mixed-income projects, including the task of overcoming negative perceptions about the neighborhood and the stigma of mixed-income residencies. But architect Scott Knudson explained that such a test is most effectively bested by setting a lofty bar of excellence. "The way to overcome such notions is by setting a high architectural standard and creating a building worthy of residents of all income levels," said Knudson, arguing that quality and style were not sacrificed here to meet budget. The designer's commitment to excellence extended to their refusal to compromise on small details like ceiling height and top-of-the-line kitchen appliances. Knudson says the design process for each new building will be approached and evaluated on a project by project basis; and new designs will refrain from replicating too closely the appearance of the first apartment building; "neighborhoods are richest when developed over time, and this phased process encourages both consistency and a sense of texture and variety."

Washington Real Estate Development News


Anonymous said...

Although careful design can reallocate construction moneys to important things like higher ceilings etc, it cannot create money. Since in Washington "affordable" translates to "subsidized," the question is, where are the subsidies coming from that support this amibitous, seemingly well-designed scheme? And--at the expense of this project's quality--could they be spread over more projects to support more "affordable" housing?

Anonymous said...

I have not read anything in your articles about the current residents being able to move back into the newly completed apartments. Do you have any plans to allow all the current residents to move back or do u plan to displace & replace the residents?

Anonymous said...

Why aren't you replacing all the public housing units and add additional "Mixed Income" units? Why are you cutting the amount of public housing units in half?

Anonymous said...

I wasted time working hard in life, I should have stayed lazy and gotten into “public housing” I think we would all agree push the trash to PG!

Anonymous said...

You obviously worked harder and not smarter, you lose.

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