Friday, December 31, 2010

Back to Drawing Boards for Italian Embassy Owners

Earlier this year Valor Development LLC purchased the former Italian Embassy at 2700 16th St. NW for $7.5 million in what will be a second attempt at condo development on the site. Partnering with Potomac Construction Group, Valor intends to renovate the embassy into condominiums, add a three-story wing on the north side of the building (also to house condo units), and construct a nine-story apartment building at the rear of the site. Earlier this month developers' plans and the architectural diagrams provided by Trout Design Studio went before the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). While the HPRB found the conceptual site plan and rehabilitation of the landmark satisfactory, members of the Board directed the applicants to "restudy the architectural treatment of the north wing, and restudy the height, massing and architectural treatment of the new apartment tower, and return for further review when appropriate."

The first phase of the "Flats at IL Palazzo" will be the restoration of the landmark's facade and the conversion of the interior into condominium units "blending the character and charm of the historic building with the sophistication, class, and modern finishes that one expects in this premium location," according Valor's online description. The interior restructuring and transformation will preclude several significant interior spaces: the ballroom, library, dining room, and other smaller spaces will be preserved with some opportunity for public use and visitation. The second phase will include the north wing addition and the construction of the apartment tower, but those elements remain unapproved by HPRB.

Plan rejected in 2006.
Another development team in 2006 was close to moving forward with similar development plans for the ex-embassy, when HPRB designated the property an historic landmark just before construction was to begin, in part because the new tower would have eaten into part of the historic structure. HPRB asked the city to revoke the building permits for the 79-unit Il Palazzo condominium, a decision the developer litigated and lost. This go-round developers have moved the proposed apartment tower from near the front to the northwest corner of the site, far-removed from the 16th Street frontage and centered around a second courtyard. While the overall efforts seem to respect the historic nature of the property, and rearrange the site plan in accordance with HPRB's public wishes, the Board still found the three-story addition "capricious and discordant with the rest of the proposal" and the apartment tower's design to be "busy and composed of too many elements." Developers and designers have been advised to rethink their designs and try again soon. Although this is sure to delay Phase II, developers are still planning to deliver Phase I to the marketplace in summer of 2011.

The last project was spun by Spaulding & Slye, Colliers & Castleton Holdings, lender O’Connor North American Property Partners LP was forced to foreclose on the property, and enabling Valor to swoop in and purchase the site.

Washington DC real estate development news

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Axumite Village to Break Ground in Spring

Although not exactly equaling the golden-clad grandiosity of the great Axumite Kingdom in ancient Ethiopia, the four-story, 36-unit "Axumite Village" set for 1100 S. Highland St. in Arlington will be a proud accomplishment for the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) nonetheless. The Arlington County Board approved the Columbia Pike project plans in the summer of 2009, but the developers have been slow to secure financing and move forward with construction. That patience is soon to be rewarded with progress according to project manager and President of the ECDC Dr. Tsehaye Teferra.

Developers are now polishing off the last of the many necessary construction documents due to the County before building can began. "Financing is finalized, and now we must wait for our construction documents to be approved and permits issued," says Teferra. Drafted by local firm KGP Design Studio, the structure, dressed in red brick and accented with sleek black-metal framed industrial windows, will see 12 new townhouses divided into three stacked apartments. The $12 million project also features detailed landscaping as well as 41 parking spaces. Nearly a quarter of the development site is being forked over to the County for public access, as officials propose to extend 11th Street through the northern end of the property.

The Columbia Pike Form Based Code helped guide the development's planning and design, expediting the often lengthy approval process; unfortunately there is no such mechanism to accelerate construction, estimated to last 12 to 18 months. Dr. Teferra says his team hopes to begin that countdown to delivery with a groundbreaking celebration in late May or early June.

ECDC is a local nonprofit that works to "resettle refugees and promote cultural, educational, and socioeconomic development in the refugee and immigrant community in the United States."

Archstone Breaks Ground on Gaithersburg Apartments

Development plans approved for the heart of Gaithersburg back in 2008 by the Montgomery County Planning Board are finally coming to fruition as just last week Archstone broke ground on their "Westchester at Olde Towne" project. The mixed-use development will replace several old buildings with a 389-unit (194 one-bedrooms and 195 two-bedrooms), transit-oriented apartment community, rising four stories, spanning 6.49 acres, and featuring 15,000 s.f. of ground-floor, street-front retail. The architectural design is courtesy of the Preston Partnership, and takes its cues from historic Gaithersburg structures like the old Gaithersburg School and the Thomas Cannery building.

Situated just south of the intersection of North Summit and East Diamond Avenue and opposite the Gaithersburg MARC Rail Station, the infill project will not only offer an abundance of new apartments and retail opportunities, but also includes impressive amenities like a "beach-entry lagoon-style pool" and a "re-oxygenating fitness center." Future resident dog and cat owners will be in for a special treat as plans call for an in-house pet salon. The development site will also be spruced up by three internal courtyards, one of which will have open access to the public during the daytime.

“Gaithersburg is located in the center of the Montgomery County Technology Corridor, the heart of biotechnology research in the United States,” said Neil Brown, Archstone’s chief development officer, in a press release. "We are excited to begin construction on another landmark project that we believe will create significant long-term value for the City of Gaithersburg, for our future residents and for our shareholders," he added. The commencement of construction was largely made possible by a recently finalized $89.9 million FHA insured Section 221(d)4 loan through CWCapital.

Gaithersburg, MD Real Estate Development News

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Church and Housing Provider Vindicated in Clarendon Case

A church's involvement in affordable housing subsidies by the state doesn't violate the Constitution. So says another court in the ongoing battle at The Views at Clarendon, which has cleared yet another legal hurdle in its battle to build an apartment building heavily subsidized by the government in place of the First Baptist Church of Clarendon. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit this week upheld a ruling, issued last May, that found that Arlington did not violate the state or U.S. constitutions by subsidizing the church-led project.

The struggle may finally wrap up 5 years of lawsuits 7 years after the Church hired the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) to advise on an affordable housing project. The Church later sold the land to The Views at Clarendon Corporation, a non-profit, for $5.6m, with plans to build 46 market-rate and 70 affordable apartments. The Church retained 3 of 7 seats on the board, and will retain two floors within the new structure and a small building on the side. That lead to a neighbor arguing in Peter Glassman v. Arlington County, et. al that the subsidy amounted to unconstitutional support to a church, an argument that has been repeatedly rejected by both state and federal courts.

The news is a relief for the housing provider, not least because it began construction on the project last January (tearing down) and has just now begun building the 10-story structure, and the courts have refused to enjoin construction. While the case could be appealed - back to the same appellate court or to the U.S. Supreme Court - "further appeals are unlikely to be successful" says Raighne Delaney, an attorney Shareholder with Bean, Kinney & Korman, a law firm representing the non-profit. With plaintiffs having exhausted all automatic appeals, further appeals would be heard only at the discretion of the court.

"The county got a great bargain here," said Delaney. The nature of the bargain was a $13.1m loan the county gave to the developer, for which it got 70 subsidized apartments, with the feds kicking in a $14.5m loan and $20m grant for the project thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. "Constitutionally, the only thing that mattered here was what the church got out of it. Even if it was a bad deal, the government is allowed to make bad deals," said Delaney, who stressed that the transaction is unbeatable for the county. Delaney said the real test is not whether the state is doing business with the church, but whether there is any "excessive entanglement" with the church. "The answer to that really is no. The state is not disallowed from doing business with the church, prohibiting regular business with the church would be a sort of anti-religious bigotry, and that's not allowed either."

Arlington Virginia real estate development news

Monday, December 27, 2010

DCMud 2010 Year in Review

2010 may not have been a chart buster for real estate, but by most accounts it beats 2009. DCMud presents its annual report of what happened, and what didn't, this year in the world of commercial real estate. 

To start the year, the Coast Guard Headquarters received a thumbs up (Jan 7) from NCPC for the WDG Architecture and HOK designs. Silver Spring will get its arts venue now that the county has reached an agreement (Jan 15) with developers to swap land.  Lee Development Group intends to build a hotel, office building, and 2,000 person music hall in the CBD. Another church sold out to developers (Feb 2), as Lakritz Adler planned to build 200 apartments in place of the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring, just across the street from the library that just got going. Right next door, the county asked developers to submit bids (Feb 3) for another residential project. Progress crept forward on the purple line when the county decided to place it next to the bike trail. The Moda Vista finally took off (Nov 8). Wheaton could be transformed, now that Montgomery County Wheaton Safewayand WMATA have asked developers to submit bids (Jan 21) to control 10 sites downtown, with a B.F. Saul lead team chosen for most of it (July 29). Patriot Realty submitted formal plans (April 13) for 500 apartments above a new Safeway downtown (pictured). EYA began plans to demolish the James Bland Addition public housing project in Old Town Alexandria, which it followed through on, to make way for a mixed-income housing project, now for sale. The Takoma Theater was the subject of a showdown between its owner, who wanted to tear it down and build apartments, and the Historic Preservation Review Board, which liked it just the way it was. The District pushed forward with plans for Skyland, pushing out owners to make room for a developer, testing constitutional boundaries (March 12), even after a national trend by states to stop such practices. Middle Georgia Avenue boomed this year, while the northern and southern ends were a bust. Middle Georgia got a new restaurant (Jan 27), and a new apartment building by Chris Donatelli (March 21), now that both have started construction and are well on their way to completion, as well as a new CVS. NDC got underway on The Heights (May 24), and proposed The Vue (Dec 12). On the lower end, redevelopment of the Bruce Monroe school fizzled (Aug 10), and the planned Howard Town Center went nowhere. L'Enfant plaza retail redevelopment

Moving to downtown DC, L'Enfant Plaza stands a chance of becoming less frightening, now that a cabal of federal planners and developers are in cahoots (sort of) (Jan 29) to rebuild the '60's era mass of concrete into something less awful. Not quite ready for prime time: a 14th Street condo project in Logan Circle promised for 2009 failed to get underway in 2010, despite ongoing predictions things were "imminent". The Arts at 5th and I took one step forward and two steps back, as Donohoe Companies and Holland Development, which won the rights to develop the site in 2008, admitted they were not ready and turned the Mt. Vernon site into a parking lot (Feb 9). Holland later said (Nov 18) that they were getting "closer." Alexandria pondered how to make the King Street Metro less unfriendly to pedestrians (Feb 10). The District began a long process (Feb 12) of reshaping Dupont's underground trolley station into something useful, long after it failed as a restaurant venue. The District eventually selected an arts coalition (Oct 21) to build out the space. The Corcoran, which had partnered with Monument Realty to convert southwest's Randall School into a large apartment building, gave up the ghost and sold the project to private investors (Feb 18). Senate Square on H Street was sold at auction (Feb 22) to its mezzanine lenders, relieving New York's Broadway Development of one its DC debacles. Broadway had already defaulted on the Dumont, and soon Arbor Place, its investment in Jim Abdo's New York Ave project-that-wasn't, would also fall apart (May 14). M.M. Washington High School was given to a team of local developers who planned to turn it into subsidized senior housing (March 15), construction is expected by mid 2011. A Woodmont Triangle church has been trying to morph into an 8-story, 107-unit apartment building along with a new church, moving through approvals and looking for a partner after Bozzuto backed out (March 16). DC and the feds gave money ($7.2m from DC) to Urban Atlantic and A&R Development Corp. (March 18) for the 8.5 acre Rhode Island Station, which then broke ground May 18th. Greenbelt Station gets more hopeless by the year (March 24). H Street swelters: The Rappaport Companies got ANC approval (March 26) for Rappaport apartments and retail for lease on H Street, DCits Torti Gallas designed, 400-unit building on H Street, heating up the retail corridor just as the trolley lines are finishing up. Clark Realty broke ground on Arboretum Place (Sept 15) at the eastern end, and new supermarkets are planned for the east (Aldi) and west (Giant) ends. After years of litigation, Ed Peete's Bromptons project made a comeback in Arlington (March 27). Alexandria skyline rising: The Hoffman Company will put 1,200 new rental apartments and upwards of 70,000 s.f. of retail adjacent to the beltway in Alexandria, rising up to 31 stories (March 30). An Arlington church cleared its last legal hurdles Arlington Virginia real estate project- the Views at Clarendon(April 16) and began building the Views at Clarendon (pictured), a mixed church and residential project, which other urban churches eyed with interest (Oct 11). Arlington kicked off Long Bridge Park (April 21), its 46-acre isolated brownfield on the edge of Pentagon City that it hopes will become a major attraction. DC opened its riverfront park next to Nationals Stadium (April 27). Next door, Canal Park got underway in Southeast's Capitol Riverfront (Aug 26), a neighborhood that added more than a thousand new residents in 2010. Hopes of Utopia were raised, then deflated, U Street developer Georgetown Strategic Capital predicted imminent progress (Apr 22), then got a 2-year extension (June 26) to build his apartment building and retail project. LCOR broke ground on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission building in North Bethesda (April 28). The MBT bike trail opened a new leg in Northeast DC (May 3). Georgetown's Social Safeway reopened, newer, bigger, better (May 4), as did the Georgetown Library (Oct 14) after a devastating fire in 2007 on the same day that Eastern Market smoldered. The Cohen Companies floated plans for a large residential project at 14th Street and Virginia Avenue, SE (May 5). Brookland had a great year, breaking ground on Dance Place and Artspace, EYA broke ground (May 6) on 237 townhouses, and Bozzuto and Pritzker Realty Group partnered up to build Jim Abdo's mixed-use project (Aug 20). Abdo's other grand plan, Arbor Place on New York Avenue, got no such reprieve, and faded away (May 14). The District broke ground on Sheridan Station, a 344-unit public housing project in Southeast, hoping to cure its crime and upkeep problems (May 10), as well as a host of other affordable housing projects. Construction got underway on the Martin Luther King Memorial (May 14).Capitol Hill real estate - Louis Dreyfus to demolish historic rowhouses in DC Louis Dreyfus demolished a block of historic homes (May 20) on the edge of Capitol Hill, ostensibly to build Capitol Place, with 302 apartments, but so far have only turned it into a parking lot. Columbia Pike saw several apartment buildings open (May 23) as development of all kinds took hold, but no trolleys yet. The Loree Grand opened to residents (May 31) just after Paradigm opened its doors (May 28) as the first new housing in NoMa in a century. Archstone broke ground on more residences for NoMa (July 21), 469 apartment units (pictured, right) designed by Davis Carter Scott, on track for a mid 2012 opening. DC reached the 100th anniversary of the act of Congress that gave the District height limits (June 1). Southwest DC passed several milestones, as the Southwest station reopened (June 3) along with a new Safeway. It made nominal progress on the Waterfront (Aug 18) with its first demolition and release of early designs (Sept 30), but construction is not expected any time soon. Capitol Hill's Old Naval Hospital began the rebuilding process on its way to becoming a community center (June 10). The Monty, a long-planned Bethesda high-rise, got a new owner (Bainbridge) (July 1) and soon after got ready to break ground (Nov 5). Work got started on 1000 Connecticut Ave, designed by Pei Cobb Freed, perhaps DC's most visible office building (July 12). Post Properties got underway (Aug 9) on phase two of its Carlyle Square apartment project in Alexandria, 344 new apartments designed by SK&I Architectural Design Group. Park Morton got another public injection of cash, likely clearing the way for a large affordable housing project. Developers should break ground on the 500 units during 2011. JBG found a financing partner (Aug 15) for its 14th Street condo project, gave it a new name (Oct 27), and said it was ready to break ground this year, though that hasn't happened yet. A 42-acre parcel in Northeast was planned by Trammell Crow for a big box destination (Aug 17). Capital One proposed a more urban remake of 23 acres (Aug 19) in Capitol One Real estate project in Tysons Corner - retail for leasedowntown Tysons Corner. The Bonstra Haresign design, however, is expected to be built only a few bits at a time, if at all. A long time coming, the Howard Theater began a transformation that should help restore some if its former glory (Sept 1). The Smithsonian unveiled revised plans for the the Museum of African American History and Culture, to take up the last free spot on the Mall (Sept 3). Reston Station got underway as the public garage component began construction (Sept 6), and Comstock Partners planned an early 2011 groundbreaking on their portion, more than a million s.f. of development at the end of phase 1 of the Silver Line Metro extension. Urban planners began thinking through a full makeover of Mt. Rainier nearly a century after the city peaked as an inviting community (Sept 22). Washington Property Company started work on its 16-story residential building in Silver Spring's Ripley district, designed by the Lessard Group (Sept 29). Marriott Convention Center DC on Massachusetts AVenue After decades in the making, Marriott's development team began site prep (Oct 20) in downtown DC next to the Washington Convention Center, then broke ground on the 1175-room hotel. Equity Residential bought the plans for a Lyon Park project in Arlington and expected to break ground soon on the new apartment building and retail (Oct 5). Arlington selected Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing as the developer of the residential portion of Arlington Mill, a subsidized residence and community center (Oct 6). In Rosslyn, the Artisphere opened, adding a touch of nightlife to the 9-5 neighborhood, a new office building and street gotRosslyn real estate:  Monday Properties building 1812 N. Moore office building underway courtesy of Skanska (Sept 18), and JBG nearly started work on Rosslyn Commons (Oct 3), 454 new units of housing. Monday Properties began work (Oct 12) on 1812 N. Moore, their speculative 35-story, 390 foot office building (pictured), what will be the region's tallest building when completed. The Davis Carter Scott-designed structure will rise above the new Rosslyn Metro station. Developers of CityCenter DC said they would be ready to fill the gaping hole downtown by next spring (Oct 22), despite the apparent lack of an anchor tenant. Paradigm Development began work on more than 400 apartments in Mount Vernon Triangle (Oct 27). Carr Properties and architects at SmithGroup came up with plans to add an office building onto the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Nov 5). The cash-strapped Perseus sold 14W to JAG, which said it could start building the 14th Street project almost immediately (Nov 24). Next door, work began on UDR's apartment building after delays and extensions (Dec 15). In the last item of note, Shaw's Progression Place started up (Dec 22), though the more meaningful O Street market got nowhere, despite an official groundbreaking (Aug 30).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Of Overlays and Embassies

By Beth Herman
In 2005, when entrepreneur and franchise expert Alex McKeague eyed the D.C. market’s wide world of art and design, packing along an artist wife raised the bar on what they could expect. Buoyed by an engineer father-in-law who called stained glass-making, which was his avocation, “the great melding of engineering and art,” McKeague and wife Lisa set their conceptual sails on a course toward Washington’s competitive, custom design market, with results that have brought light, elegance, privacy and even security to their customers. With SGO Designer Glass among the top 500 franchises on the website then and now, McKeague, who’d owned several restaurant and retail franchises in the past, recalled an SGO entity in Crofton, Md. (now closed) that had done some work in one of his businesses. "I remembered they did great work and it was a great product,” McKeague said. Following some prodigious market research, he and Lisa found themselves asking the fundamental questions, “Could we see ourselves doing this, and as customers, could we see ourselves buying it?” SGO, the acronym for stained glass overlay, is a specialized product that applies 21st century technology to traditional stained glass aesthetics, producing a product that is ANSI-(American National Standards Institute) rated for safety. Where creating a traditional stained glass product today requires sandwiching it in betwecommercial window design, Washington DCen two pieces of tempered glass for safety, replacing doors or windows with the product in the process, the newer overlay process – which includes taking colors, textures, lead and bevels and applying them to the glass of existing doors or windows – is achieved at far less expense to the customer and with spectacular results. Additionally, if someone moves, the glass can more easily be removed, packaged and shipped to the new address, leaving behind a functioning window or door. With the Libyan Embassy among their early customers and 22 individual to design, the McKeagues recalled they were part of a design conversation where their contact initially wanted an oasis pattern in one place, a wrought iron swirl in others and examples of Libyan art reflected in still others. “Inevitably they ended up getting an interior designer to take over,” McKeague said, noting the designer scrapped everything and started anew, exploring whatever designs their young company had done to date and going from there. “We put together a cohesive design that incorporated pieces of everything they wanted, and one that could be carried throughout the embassy,” McKeague said of the two-year process from initial conversations to finish. “Our typical turnaround time on most projects is 6-8 weeks.” Shining Through Crediting wife Lisa with unparalleled diplomacy in all matters, the candid McKeague said their business is about transparency (no pun intended) to the customer’s tastes and desires. “In the beginning, we got too emotionally involved with the pieces themselves, so when a customer wanted to make changes, we’d think that’s not what we wanted to do,” he recalled. Employing their own website, and also a master SGO Designer Glass site with 1,400 design images, the McKeagues’ customers participate in a discovery process that includes CAD drawings applied to actual photographs of the intended window or door space and thousands of colors manipulated to achieve a variety of effects. When a decision is made, custom-cut tempered pieces of glass are ordered, along with the different colors and textures, with Lisa cutting and bonding them to the glass. “To build in the glass can take four weeks, just prior to installation,” McKeague explained. Gilding the Castle Washington DC design news In 2006, a business analysis McKeague instituted of their franchise revealed that 70 percent of their work solved some kind of problem–a privacy issue. McKeague said customers wanted to let in the light, but also obscure the vision. To that end, when a real estate agent purchased a home on the water in Davidson, Md., there were no neighbors but the situation evolved unfavorably to include what the agent called an unattractive house, according to McKeague, visible outside her bathroom window. Concerned about privacy and resale issues, SGO was commissioned for a stained glass overlay that was at once elegant yet significantly camouflaged the structure next door, obscuring the view from the outside in as well. In Potomac, Md., a therapist who practiced out of her home and was partial to all things art nouveau professed she couldn’t find a traditional piece of stained glass she really liked. “We came up with an overlay design that was so intricate,” McKeague said of the two 6x54-inch entryway sidelights that, because of their design, provided great privacy, "something this delicate would fall apart using traditional stained glass.” To assist the therapist with security issues, two discrete clear glass eye holes precisely at her own eye level were inserted, allowing her to see out without opening the door. In fact, in the safety arena, McKeague’s projections for his SGO glass in commercial enterprises include using it as a smash-and-grab deterrent. “When we bond the colors and textures, we have that ANSI rating for safety glass,” he explained. “If the glass is smashed, everything holds together.” With many hundreds of projects in the greater D.C. area that include residential, religious, institutional and commercial designs, McKeague indicated the market for SGO Designer Glass applications is only as limited as one’s imagination. “Whatever we create is actually what the customer creates,” McKeague said. “We are only the vehicle that gets them there.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Construction Begins Quietly At 7th & S Streets NW

Shaw seems to be the land where development dreams go to die, or at least be indefinitely put on hold, where groundbreakings happen and aren't followed by actual construction. Too often news of impending construction starts dissolve quickly, giving way to news of severed financial partnerships and runaway tenants. Such was the case for Broadcast Center One and their developers (Four Points LLC and Ellis Development) which, even after the loss of Radio One (and the project name along with it), predicted an August groundbreaking earlier this year. The programming was downsized, United Negro College Fund was brought in as a major new tenant, and the project was renamed Progression Place, but August (and a few other months) has come and gone without a groundbreaking celebration. But construction equipment can at last be seen sprawled across the grounds, and the porta-johns are installed, sure signs of progress. As the plan stands, Progression Place will have 100k s.f. of office space, 224 apartments, and wrap-around ground level retail, serviced by 188 below-grade parking spaces. The development plans also call for a face-lift for 7th Street retail frontages.

Abdo New York LLC Lost and Gone Forever

Its funny to think that even after development plans have been pronounced dead, after they've left our tangible world and been abandoned by their mortal purveyors, they apparently live on in planning-review purgatory. But today the ghosts of Abdo’s long-forgotten Arbor Place plans, and overly ambitious project calling for as many as 3,500 residential units, 148,120 s.f. of retail, and 4,294 parking spaces, were vanquished forever from the planning process, as the Zoning Commission dismissed the case with a unanimous vote of 6-0 after developers played hooky to the second of two subsequent hearings last week. May this lost density rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

DC Zoning Code Greens Up For the Holidays

As the Zoning code stands currently, grand roofs and landscaped public terraces are a great way for developers to woo the members of the Zoning Commission into granting their project approval, but they aren't specifically required amenities. In a lengthy and layered attempt to retool important aspects of the Zoning code, the Office of Planning has proposed a new requirement dubbed Green Area Ratio (GAR). Travis Parker, Development Review Specialist with the Office of Planning, says that this specific subsection of their review is one of more significant proposals: "it's a new requirement trying to improve air quality, the heat island effect, and storm water management in the city." Currently developers have limits to the amount of space their building(s) can occupy on any give lot, but it's technically up to them how they decide to use that leftover space. The new GAR stipulations would be flexible. "Developers will have options," says Parker, "whether it is green roofs or planting trees, but it requires developers to have an impact on the greening of the city."

Like LEED Certification, developers would earn a certain amount of points by including sustainable green features in their design: plantings, vegetated walls and roofs, and permeable surfaces. Through their planning decisions, developers would have to aggregate a certain amount of points depending on the scale of the development project. Bonus points can be earned for use of native plants, urban farming, and harvested storm water irrigation systems. Specifics on the point system, and the calculation of GAR can be found here.

The new rules would apply to all new new buildings requiring a Certificate of Occupancy, as well as buildings requiring a C of O and undergoing significant additions, alterations, or repairs. A more in-depth discussion with the Zoning Board on the merits of OP's GAR proposal will take place February 28th. The Zoning Commission will continue to hold preliminary hearings on the various other subsections of OP's Zoning Review through next summer, with a comprehensive final action hearing not likely to take place until the winter of 2011. Any new rules wouldn't be enforced until early 2012, "at the soonest" says Parker. Still, with development action poised to pick up as the market stabilizes, the time is ripe to lock in greener regulations as the city looks to grow more dense.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Jubilee Housing to Renovate and Expand Adams Morgan Property

A vacant, boarded, and derelict facade in Adams Morgan is set for a makeover and a fresh tenant in the new year, as local non-profit and affordable housing provider Jubilee Housing recently received approval from the BZA to renovate 2448 18th St, NW. The narrow, four-story brick building is sandwiched between the bright blue Reef and the red and white Draft Pix and will abandon its former life as a mixed use (residential/retail) building for new beginnings as a non-profit administrative headquarters.

The juxtaposition of eyesores and eye-popping color is a common theme in
Adams Morgan, but not necessarily a welcome one, as ANC1C voted unanimously to approve the developer's plans. One ANC member explained their appreciation for any change for the better to the BZA, saying of the property: "It’s been abandoned for six years, it’s gone through several different ownerships, it’s been blighted property during that entire time." Jubilee had apparently been the only entity to make a genuine effort to reach out to the community and communicate their plans for restoration and reuse. Such was news was ultimately appreciated by the local ANC and well received by the BZA.

Project architect Ronald Schneck of Square 134 Architects describes the building as being "in very poor condition," forcing a rather aggressive renovation (a level III renovation for the jargon-heads out there). This is essentially new construction, as almost 50 percent of the building will be gutted and renovated, with building codes forcing the installation of two new staircases and an elevator. These additions essentially made the traditional ground floor retail and residential space above unfeasible, as roughly 800 s.f. of usable ground floor space didn't exactly have local businesses lined up around the block for tenancy.

"You end up carving up the available space in such a way that you have bad housing and you have bad retail, neither works well," explains Schneck. As consequence, the space will become the operation headquarters of one of Jubilee Housing's affiliate organizations or another local non-profit with a "similar social mission": Jubilee Jumpstart Daycare Organization, Columbia Road Health Services, or Primary Healthcare Organization, etc.

Earlier this year Jubilee finished restoring the Ritz to use, and even more recently completed the resuscitation of the 23-unit Sorrento and the 47-unit Euclid with a well-attended ribbon cutting ceremony earlier this month. Without wading into the merits of subsidized housing, seemingly always a sticky subject on comment threads across the blogosphere, the revival of a dilapidated and crumbling facade is good news no matter how you spin it.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Monday, December 20, 2010

Congress Renews $5000 DC First Time Homebuyer Credit

Hidden in the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, signed by the President on Friday, was a provision extending the $5,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers in DC for another 2 years. The tax credit had expired at the end of 2009 and was renewed for 2010 and 2011. The Federal tax credit is a $5,000 below-the-line credit against federal taxes for the purchase of a home in DC for taxpayers that did not own a principal residence in DC during the previous year. As happened this year, the credit usually expires and is renewed retroactively at the end of the year, leaving homebuyers a period of uncertainty about the tax ramifications of their purchase. The credit was tucked into the tax deal extending tax rates across the board to their current levels. The nationwide $8,000 tax credit for purchasing a home expired last summer. 

Washington DC real estate development news

Tysons Takes on Colossal Development Projects

Fairfax county has officially begun work today on the second of two projects that developers hope will constitute a monumental remake of the beltway suburb. Together, the real estate megaprojects will add two metro stations, millions of square feet of office, reshape the streets, and build untold condominiums and apartments on over 50 acres of land in central Tysons. County planners today "officially accepted" the Capital One application for study, and will now begin the long process evaluating the 23 acre development as they recently did for the Georgelas Group's "Tysonsdemo" project that will transform 28 acres over 3 sites in central Tysons. The two projects have more potential to change the face of Tysons than the sum of all other proposed projects combined, and County officials acknowledge that today they can move the process from the minutia of filing requirements to public consideration of its merits.

The Georgelas project was the first - possibly of many - accepted for consideration by the county under the auspices of the newly minted Comprehensive Plan, a restructured set of guidelines designed to move Tysons from its suburban inception to an urban grid. Tysons Planners have been meeting regularly with Capital One and Georgelas executives to hammer out a workable proposal, and today's technical acceptance of the Capital One plan moves the project to a full staff review with public comment periods. The staff will ultimately forward their recommendations for the two projects to the Board of Supervisors for judgment. The turning point, albeit a technical one, was welcomed not just by the sponsoring developers but by a county that has struggled for years to craft a metamorphic plan in what has been an urban planner's nightmare - wide, high-speed streets that isolate buildings and kill meaningful retail.

"Its a big deal in the sense that Capital One [and Georgelas] are the first projects that will begin to transform Tysons" said Brian Worthy, Public Information Officer for Fairfax. "Its very exciting that these proposals are taking advantage of the new plan," said Worthy. "Capital One’s application helps to advance the transformation of Tysons Corner into a walkable, livable urban center because it proposes high-density, mixed-used development near the Metro. This is exactly the kind of transit-oriented development that the plan to transform Tysons calls for." Capital One officials were unresponsive, but other participants in the process made it clear they thought the proposal had strong transformative potential. The site plan calls for 5 millions square feet in total development - 2.1 million s.f. of office space rising as high as 392 feet, a thousand or so residential units rising 20 stories, as well as hotels, parks, plazas and retail, all connected to what will be a brand new Tysons East Metro station. The design team includes Bonstra Haresign as Urban Planner and Architect and William H. Gordon Associates as Civil Engineer and Landscape Architect.

The Georgelas Group plans to redevelop 28 acres on three sites throughout central Tysons, with 14 buildings totaling more than 6 million square feet designed by WDG Architecture and Parker Rodriquez landscape architects. The plan includes office buildings that rise up to 360 feet, a Metro station and surrounding plaza, central "civic park", apartment buildings, and retail incorporated into parking garages at street level to mask their street presence topped with "sky parks."
Development will be balanced with civic areas and hotels that planners gauge will result in an overall presence of 65% office space and 20% residential usage. All office buildings will be designed for a LEED Silver ranking and for residences to earn general LEED certification, all designed to achieve "the urban aesthetic vision for Tysons."

Still, the proposal's impact is theoretical, as the plan must meander through the approval process, and Capital One has little inclination to start building right away, or even committing to a time frame for its first building. While it tentatively calls its 15-story office building adjacent to the current headquarters "the most likely to be constructed in the near term," it only promises to keep the plan as "an option...should the need arise." Similarly, attorneys for the Georgelas Group note that a full build-out "will take years perhaps decades" to complete even under the most optimistic scenario. Work will begin first around the new Tysons West Metro station with its tallest office building and possibly a condominium and retail element at the same time, but no timeframe is even hinted at in the planning documents. Cityline Partners and Mitre will likely precede the two with plans for a 340,000 s.f. office building likely to move more quickly through approval and into construction.

"We're at the start of a 40 year process," says Worthy, cautioning against expectations of a sudden transformation for Tysons. In fact some involved in the process see significant technical and practical hurdles in a vision that ties in Metro stations and extends streets while attempting a more cosmopolitan texture. "These guys will be guinea pigs for a brand new process," says one source familiar with negotiations, "all of this is too new to make any bets on how quickly it will proceed."

Tysons Corner real estate development news

Your Next Place

By Franklin Schneider

I remember walking past this house years ago, on my way to Adams Morgan, and seeing squatters lurking in the driveway. At one point, I'm pretty sure it didn't even have a front door. Now it's been exhaustively renovated and you can grab the penthouse unit (pictured) for just under $1.5 million. I'd buy it myself, but I'm poor.

The property is eye-catching even from afar, a hundred year old Victorian mansion with a circular driveway and grand entryway. Entering off 16th Street, you head up a winding staircase to the penthouse, encompassing the entire third level of the house. The place is open and bright, with beautiful blondish hardwood floors and exposed pitted brick. Those curved, wraparound windows face west onto 16th, and are right off an italian-style gourmet kitchen, outfitted with Miele and Bosch appliances that are more finely engineered than most cars. Even if you can't cook, you could store shoes in them or something. There's a gas fireplace in the living area, custom tiled baths, and the whole unit wired for ipods and surround sound. They've really thought of everything.

There are three bedrooms and two and a half baths, which are all quite nice, but the real draw here is the roof access. It's not the typical roof access where you have to climb up a shaky iron ladder bolted onto the side of a crumbling facade; the centerpiece of this unit is a floating staircase that leads up to a massive skylight that opens outward to allow you to walk right out onto a large roof deck. You can see almost all the way up to Meridian Hill Park from up there, and it would be a perfect place to relax on a warm evening, or to send your significant other when they're being annoying. (I'm sure I'd still be with my ex if we'd had a roof deck for "time out.") There's even a large glass firepit up there, for grilling and whatnot. I couldn't help but imagine myself living there, looking sympathetically down on passersby from my roof, nearly all of whom would no doubt live in inferior properties. "Do you have a glass firepit in your roof garden?" I would shout down with just a touch of smugness. I would probably do this semi-regularly until someone called the police on me.

1841 16th Street NW #4
Washington, DC
3 Bdrms, 2.1 Baths


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lex Architects

By Beth Herman

The Japanese are famous for their economy of space. Who doesn’t recall the indelible “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer accommodated his Asian guests at bedtime by tucking them into large dresser drawers – and closing them. While this may be an extreme example that fired up TV ratings, for centuries, Japan, a California-sized country that supports 125 million people, has understood the profound impact of doing more with less. For D.C. and McLean, Va.-based FOX Architects, the concept of economy of space/maximizing workplace efficiency for area law firms, in light of evolving technologies and soaring real estate costs, is just the beginning of a litany of 21st century trends they must address, many propelled by progressive NY and European law firms.

With concepts such as the universal office, shared or interior associate offices, consolidated library or information spaces and flexible support areas already in play in venues such as NY, London and other points abroad, transforming the D.C. law office, firmly rooted in the "every attorney gets a windowed office paradigm,” is not a task for the shrinking violet architect. Observed FOX Architects Principal Jim Allegro, “It has taken the most challenging economy in decades for people to start thinking differently in D.C.”

Double (means less) Jeopardy

According to Allegro, in a down market a year or so ago, “…it was on everyone’s mind that if we were going to have to give back space, how would we make sure it worked within the minimum footprint?” To that end, and speaking initially at a D.C. Association of Legal Administrators meeting where he addressed return on design, the architect identified trends that have particularly taken hold in more adventurous law firm markets where associates double up and share a space, significantly reducing the firm’s footprint. “They’ll often start out that way when they build new space,” Allegro explained, “rather than it being just a growth strategy where you suddenly get invaded by a second occupant after you’ve been sitting in your office for a year.

“In some NY firms, they essentially have two attorneys facing a common work wall,” he said, with a shared work surface in between. Noting that he must frequently address the prevailing issue his law clients raise about maintaining confidentiality on conference calls and the like in shared offices, Allegro said some firms elect to handle this by providing more small meeting space where one leaves one’s office to make a call of that nature. And because the law profession is by nature collaborative with mentoring a common condition, the boon to working in a cohabited space is the opportunity to quickly share information–something limited and difficult at best if individuals are isolated.

Sanctioning Size

At the D.C. office of FOX client Reno & Cavanaugh, the firm has embraced universal office design and attorneys in shared spaces have everything they need to function including a work surface, guest chairs and overhead storage in each office. “Some of the meetings that may have occurred in partner offices are now in common, shared conference rooms,” Allegro said. “This particular office saw the value in streamlining office size, but it’s also a very egalitarian type of firm with less hierarchy compared to other firms.”

Though a “one size fits all” formula where fixed office size is assigned to both associates and partners is not a popular mindset, Allegro said, for those who understand and make it work there is increased flexibility. Based on the standard that the hiring of an associate, or the promoting of an associate to partner, traditionally precipitates the proverbial move to the corner, or larger window, office, if everybody gets the same size space personnel changes affect nothing, though occupants may differentiate their space with furniture. Reconfiguring of the perimeter is limited because everyone’s essentially in the same footprint. According to Allegro, an office like this may also be augmented by siting it next to a conference room, and a senior partner might have a door that connects his or her office directly to a corner conference room with easy access.

In terms of the prevailing D.C. windowed office issue, Allegro has produced a plan for a hypothetical 43-attorney firm, where perimeter (window) spaces include both partner and associate offices, along with a sprinkling of conference rooms. Support staff (paralegals; secretaries; law clerks) fills interior spaces at about 15 to 20 percent of the entire footprint, with the attorney/secretary ratio at 3:1, which Allegro called a fair metric today, adding that in some cases it is even 4:1.

“It used to be that you had a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio–every partner had a secretary or a couple of attorneys shared one, but those days are gone,” Allegro said, with younger associates doing much more of their own word processing and administrative tasks. With some of the interior spaces collocated with a perimeter conference room, natural light filtering through mitigates excessive use of energy draining artificial lighting so often associated with office interiors. At 700 s.f. per attorney on a 30,000 s.f. space, this represents a very efficient floor plan, Allegro concluded. If one ups the ante and increases the attorney count from 43 to 50 and reduces the number of secretaries (a market trend Allegro said has already taken hold), the attorney/secretary ratio jumps from 3:1 to approximately 6:1. At 600 s.f. per attorney, that 100 s.f. per attorney savings, seen on an annualized basis at a current $50 dollar per s.f. rental rate, can deliver a savings of $250,000 in the first year alone, adding up to $2.5 million over a 10-year lease.

Leather Bound Graveyard

In the past, Allegro noted law offices mandated significant interior space for books, periodicals, filing, records management and other paper-intensive functions. Evolving digital technology such as scanned and barcoded documents precludes the need for previously dedicated massive law libraries of the past, resulting in spaces that require on average only a fraction of their original footprint. Because lawyers as a rule no longer spend hours in libraries perusing pendulous volumes, and with databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis readily accessible on one’s laptop, records footprints are minimized and in fact these interior spaces can become the office café, or a breakout space, where staff can get away from a desk, sit down and do some actual reading, for example. In fact Allegro has coined the term “Libr-area,” a hybrid space that merges the library function with utility space such as a café or circulation corridor. Carr Maloney PC and Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP are two D.C. law firms and FOX clients that have effectively incorporated Libr-area into their design.

For larger law firms such as the D.C. office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP, the concept of collocating support functions such as conference rooms to create one large conference center is fairly commonplace now, Allegro said. With increased conference needs, sprinkling these rooms throughout what may be a multi-floor facility encourages separation and in effect polarizes colleagues who may never see one another, the architect explained. Channeling them into a conference hub promotes staff interaction and centralizes technical, hospitality and other accruing conference room functions for maximum efficiency.

Cutting Edge Discourse

Carrying the collaborative torch to its pinnacle where office configuration fosters frequent associate interaction, as well as partner to associate mentoring, Allegro said in many respects Europe is years ahead of the U.S. Citing the example set by pioneering global law firm Eversheds, which bills itself as “the 21st century law firm” and has won multiple awards for innovation from Dubai to Shanghai and more than two dozen countries in between, Allegro said Eversheds’ London office leads the way in the open law office concept. Attorneys sit in actual work groups, he explained, defined by furniture systems, adding that initially he and his group assumed this was done solely for economic purposes - to save real estate. “What was compelling was that their main goal was not economics, but to get attorneys talking and interacting more – to return the practice of law to a high level of collaboration and mentoring,” he said, noting that in the states, “most people would fall out of their chairs” at the mere suggestion of an open plan law firm.

Speaking to the future of U.S. legal design, and D.C. firms in particular, Allegro emphasized that characteristics such as function and flexibility are the cornerstones of maximizing workplace efficiency. “Trends withstanding, we do what we can to help the client,” he said.

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