Friday, July 01, 2011

Takoma Park Progresses on Twin Developments

SGA Companies and Level 2 Development are finally watching construction progress at their joint residential-and-retail project at 235 Carroll Street NW in Takoma Park, a long dormant site that Bethesda-based SGA Companies, founded by Sassan (Sas) Gharai, purchased in 2004. Three years later, site prep was undertaken, including extensive environmental remediation and the removal of rusted-out oil drums left over from the former gas station and truck rental facility on site. Still, four years went by before construction began, last month.

Of the changes at 235 Carroll Street in the Takoma Park Historic District, Sara Green, Commissioner of ANC 4B 01, has no complaints. It's the site next door, at 231 Carroll St, also being developed by SGA and Level 2, that is giving her some grief.

The developers' plans for the adjacent site (231 Carroll) were approved, with suggested refinements, yesterday, June 30th, by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), and now await final approval by the Historic Preservation Office (HPO).

Although Green submitted in her testimony to HPRB yesterday, "Everyone I have talked to is excited about seeing a vacant and ugly lot on our 'main street' developed, and this design has several very appealing and creative features," her concerns lie with the back of the building at 231, not the appearance from the front.

Along the new "main street," the two buildings will be distinctly different, thanks to community feedback and HPO recommendations, as the HPRB Staff Report by Anne Brockett details, "The design for [231] has changed dramatically in its exterior appearance since submission. Initially it was proposed to match the design of 235 Carroll."

In the interest of visual diversity, the newest plan for 231 Carroll St is a 5-story complex with 60 residential units, 35 underground parking spaces, and a retail component, designed with a "warehouse-inspired aesthetic" using predominantly red brick. In contrast, 235 Carroll St is a longer but shorter building, with 4 stories, 84 residential units, 70 underground parking spots, and 6,500 s.f. of ground-floor retail, featuring "yellow brick with panelized bays."

The two residential-and-retail complexes will be connected by a glass "hypen" of sorts that at once connects and separates the two buildings, which Commissioner Green appreciates, as does much of the community, according to her.

Of 231, the staff report explains that "large, street level openings have brick arches and are covered by a corner canopy suspended from metal rods. The upper story windows are 6-over-6 hoppers with steel lintels and sills. The side elevation along Cedar Street continues the warehouse materials and detailing of the main block and then at a setback and lower wing changes to a mix of stucco bays and hardiplank-sided recessed balconies. Along this elevation, the northernmost corner loses its top floor for a terrace, thus stepping down toward the adjacent historic home on Cedar."

It's the "step down" plan, on the corner of Carroll Street and Cedar Street, where Green's concerns are focused.

In her testimony to the HPRB yesterday, Green stated, "The Takoma Central District Plan specifically addresses height. It states that 'new commercial and residential buildings should be no more than 2-4 stories in height to match existing residential scale' and to preserve Takoma’s 'small/town village character'."

She continued by saying that, "The Takoma Overlay District permits heights of up to 55 feet, but as I also understand it, you have the ability to reduce the height, as needed, on case-by-case basis."

Yet, overall, the project has been well received by both ANC4B and a majority of the immediate Takoma Park community. Green also asserts that Sas Gharai of SGA, and Jeff Blum of Level 2, have worked diligently with concerned parties, and have revised the design at 231 Carroll into something commendable. Still, she believes, it could be better, and specifically, shorter.

Meanwhile, the complex already underway at 235, dubbed Ecco Park early on, had planned for condos but turned rental in the spring of 2008. The project was also once in the hands of Ellisdale Construction, in the summer of 2010, but is currently being built by Hamel Builders; Hamel Builders could not be reached this morning, and Ellisdale would not disclose any information on the change.

Washington D.C. real estate development news


Richard Holzsager on Jul 4, 2011, 3:30:00 PM said...

Thank you for the good and accurate article about Takoma DC's two new Carroll Street, NW projects.

As the piece noted, I like the 231 Carroll project, but am concerned about the height in the back where this commercial building meets Cedar, one of the most important residential streets in the Takoma Historic District.

City design policy is to protect homes (historic or not) by having higher buildings "step down" as they reach lower density residential areas. This building does not do this. We deserve and better and the Historic Preservation Review Board could have made it so.
-- Sara Green, ANC 4B01

Richard Holzsager on Jul 4, 2011, 3:32:00 PM said...

Just for clarification this comment and the other one posted a few minutes ago is the view of Sara Green, ANC 4B01 (speaking for herself and not for the full ANC 4B) and not Richard Holzsager. Mr. Holzsager graciously permitted Sara Green to use his computer.

Matt said...

I'm a Takoma DC resident and I disagree strongly with Sara Green about this. The height of the proposed building is entirely reasonable within the context of the neighborhood and streetscape and I fully support it moving forward.

Anonymous said...

We’re talking about replacing a vacant lot. Yes, it’s a vacant lot in a historic district. But it’s a vacant lot. And we’re being urged by members of the community to restrict the size of the new development—a move that has citywide implications for housing affordability, the tax base, etc.—in order “to match existing residential scale.” Obviously, though, no neighborhood as it currently exists could have been built if not for the fact that at some point in the past new structures weren’t erected that failed to match what existed previously. And it’s not at all clear to me why we would think it’s the case that, as a rule, conformity is an important aesthetic value that needs to be balanced against other economic and environmental considerations. If someone was objecting to a proposed new building on the grounds that it’s ugly well then that would make perfect sense. Nobody wants to see something they think is ugly go up across the street. But the problem with the new building is just that it’s not the same as other buildings nearby? Who cares?

Bob See on Jul 5, 2011, 9:23:00 AM said...

OMG that's HUGE! Think of the impact it will have on the 7-11! Let's get out there and PROTEST!!!

Seriously, this looks much nicer than the buildings put up around the metro in the last decade.

Is development of empty lots that are a 30 second walk from a Metro expected to be stunted because there happens to be a house in the vicinity? Stop nitpicking.

Anonymous said...

Its the same across the city. A select few grumblers who hope nothing will change get the ear of the ANC, which carries the torch for them without having the guts to say no, not realizing the rest of us aren't so reactionary.

Anonymous said...

I think it's Carroll AVENUE...

BTW, can you no longer delineate the parcel on the map feature?

Anonymous said...

Nevermind... Carroll St DC !

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said it the best, it is silly to object to a building just because it doesn't look like other buildings, I concur with this person completely.

Anonymous said...

I amended the map link in the article (pasted below as well), you can now see the outline of where the two buildings will be on Carroll Street (extended off of Carroll Avenue).,-77.015555&spn=0.004287,0.007918

Bob See on Jul 6, 2011, 12:00:00 PM said...

That outline is not right...please see here:

Anonymous said...

Bob See,

You are correct, thank you.

Shannon Baker-Branstetter said...

While I agree that attractive design and to some extent, blending in with the community, are important, the height limits being imposed here are completely at odds with the more important values of affordability and density. This parcel is prime transit-accessible space, and restricting the units to a few dozen just to please a handful of homeowners who personally dislike change or tall buildings is undemocratic.

More units would allow more people to enjoy transit access at a more affordable price. The greater good shouldn't be undermined by a few NIMBYists. That being said, no one is benefitting from the empty lot, so get it done already!

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