Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alexandria, Private Developers Tout Ambitious Beauregard Corridor Revitalization Plans


Alexandria city officials and their private-sector partners have spent February on a virtual barnstorming tour, touting their plan to revitalize the Beauregard Corridor in Alexandria. The thirty-year plan calls for the 440-acre, seven-neighborhood area to undergo a dramatic increase in density (from 5.5 to 12.5 million square feet, including 703 new dwellings) while preserving and enhancing its unique topographical and green features. The remaking of the corridor is a joint venture between the city and the Beauregard Corridor Developer Stakeholders, a group whose membership includes local developer The JBG Companies, Duke Realty, Hekemian & Co., Home Properties and Southern Towers.

Big picture, the Beauregard Small Area Plan seeks to do what nearly all present-day redevelopment does - reverse the missteps of the past. Surface parking becomes public green spaces, sprawl becomes density, and auto-centric planning gives way to pedestrians, bikes, and mass transit. Planners envision the area transforming into a “garden city,” citing Roland Park in Baltimore as a model, with curving streets, courtyards, front yards, and greenways, all of it roughly bisected by the newly landscaped North Beauregard Street.

Planners also recommend the strict definition of seven distinct neighborhoods – Greenway, Garden District, Town Center, Southern Towers, Adams, Upland Park, Seminary Overlook – each with a central park. Developers have already claimed their neighborhoods; JBG (whose parcel looks to be at least as large as the other four parcels put together) has staked out almost the entire western half of the corridor (Greenway, Garden District, and Town Center. Hey, at least they didn't go with “JBGTown.”) Directly adjacent to the east is the oblong Duke Realty parcel (Adams), and along the east side, from top to bottom, are the more moderately-sized parcels of Hekemian (Upland) , Southern Towers, (Southern Towers) and Home Properties (Seminary Overlook), respectively. The logic behind the demarcation of the neighborhoods - which at present range from low to medium density - isn't entirely clear. The developers do own property within the borders of their designated neighborhoods - JBG, for example, already owns the Shops at Mark Center, as well as various apartment buildings along North Beauregard, and Home Properties owns apartments in Seminary Hill - but it's unclear how the apportioning was done (and by whom?), how binding it is, and how many of the purchases predated the mapping process.

It's still early for details about specific businesses, and representatives at recent meetings were vague or simply had nothing to report. However, planners have included three retail nodes in their plans – one in the west, in Town Center, and two in the east, in Upland and Southern Towers. These will be coveted locations for businesses – though Landmark Mall is close by, slightly to the southeast.

In exchange for access to development opportunities in the Corridor, the conglomerate has agreed to contribute just under $150 million towards a new fire station, road improvements, green public spaces, and affordable housing. The public reaction has not, however, been unanimously positive. On the public comment page the city set up, many citizens pointed out that the "townhome" style housing options would price out many of the current tenants. Others questioned the urgency behind the rollout, and wondered if it was a veiled effort by the city to raise density in the area to make up for lost tax revenues from the massive DOD facility at the Mark Center. Some questioned whether the proposed degree of density could be supported without a Metro stop (which isn't forthcoming), while still others objected on aesthetic grounds, calling it a "stepford wives" community.

The city replied by citing the surrounding areas and their projected development figures – Landmark/Van Dorn to the south plans 12 million square feet(!), Bailey's Crossroads to the north will get 5.5 million square feet - which, they say, will drastically alter
transportation and development patterns in the area, isolating and undermining Beauregard if it doesn't follow suit. Whether this is a real worry or the municipal equivalent to “keeping up with the neighbors” remains to be seen. That being said, the plan as it stands does look to be a clear improvement on the present state of the area.
If you have an opinion you'd like to share with the city or with developers, the next community meeting is on March 6. You can also weigh in online, on the citizen comment board.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mid-Pike Plaza Warmly Received By MoCo Planning Board


The Montgomery County Planning Board gave initial approval last week to the preliminary site plans for Pike & Rose, the replacement for Mid-Pike Plaza, an ambitious vision that would dramatically transform a 24-acre parcel in White Flint, at the intersection of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road.

The preliminary plan, from Rockville-based REIT Federal Realty Investment Trust, proposes to convert the existing surface-parking-and-strip-mall into mixed-use pedestrian- and bike-friendly mega-development with interspersed public green spaces. The final buildout, which was designed by WDG Architecture and Baltimore-based Design Collective, would come in at just under 3.5 million square feet, with approximately half of that total being residential. A list of tenants for the finished development includes AT&T, Bank of America, and CVS, among many others, including - notably - an 8-screen, reserved-seating iPic theater.

Though the project represents a massive facelift for the area, planners have surprisingly received no complaints regarding the project from adjacent property owners or other members of the public, and the planning board was largely receptive to the plans at last week's meeting. Of course, final approval is contingent on developers meeting a long list of conditions, including providing recreation facilities, street improvements, bike parking, vegetated rooftops, and a per-residential-unit payment of just over 1800 dollars to Montgomery County schools.

In accordance with the latest trends in urban planning, plans for Mid-Pike Plaza place heavy emphasis on pedestrian-friendly access, traffic reduction, public spaces, and green solutions. The project, for example, includes a "road diet" that would sharply reduce traffic in the area, largely by reducing Old Georgetown Road to four lanes from six, and a "dramatic" reduction in parking. Phase One also includes generous apportioning of public green spaces; included in the site plan are two pedestrian plazas and a public green that would altogether account for 1.3 acres (of a total 6.7 Phase One acres). Planners have also required Federal Realty to include vegetated roofs on most of the buildings. Smaller pockets parks are splashed throughout the development, and most of the public spaces will be linked by a "recreation loop" of bike lanes and walking paths.

Construction is slated to commence in three phases, proceeding roughly from the southwest corner of the property and proceeding roughly northeast. Phase One, tentatively scheduled to break ground this August, will start with Building 10, located in the very southwesterly corner, a 200-foot-tall, 319-unit residential building with 13,300 square feet of commercial space, Building 11 (directly to the east of Building 10), a 100-foot-tall 251,000 square foot u-shaped office tower with ground floor commercial space, and Building 12, a 70-foot building which will front Old Georgetown Road, and consist of 174 residential units and just over 50,000 square feet of commercial space. Per an agreement with the county, the two residential buildings in Phase One would offer 12.5% moderately priced dwelling units (MPDUs). Phase Two would represent the approximate center of the trapezoidal parcel, and Phase Three would complete the north end of the development as well as fill in spaces on the west and southeast margins.

North Bethesda real estate development news

Friday, February 24, 2012

Your Next Place

By Franklin Schneider

Located in a Victorian red-brick townhome, this very fine vertically-arranged living space will get you one step closer to everyone's childhood dream of living in a lighthouse. Put in a fireman's pole and I promise I'll drop by unannounced at least four times a week. (Which is probably the best reason not to put one in.)

You ascend through the place via a beautiful floating stairwell painted sky blue, from the living room up to the kitchen (granite countertops, Kitchen Aid Professional appliances) and then up to the two bedrooms and the luxury baths (Travertine tile, etc.). Four levels in all. I'm a huuuuuge fan of this place - a friend of mine lives in a vertical-type place and there's something really novel and appealing about the setup. Not to mention the peripheral fitness benefits of the stairs; if you really want to beat the obesity epidemic, all you have to do is mandate that all new houses have to be built on the Y axis. My hammies were on fire after just a brief open houser – I bet after a month of living here you'd have the lower body of a young Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The place also boasts some beautiful interior design and furnishings - from the pendant lighting to the turquoise bathroom basins – which you could maybe convince your friends and family you picked out yourself, depending on how good a liar you are. In back is a small patio perfect for grilling out or a getting a little sun with your morning coffee, and the unit also comes with assigned parking. I once lived in a place where I had an assigned parking space, but I didn't have a car, so I rented it on Craigslist. The guy who rented it conveniently omitted the fact that he was going to be living in the car he'd be parking there. I felt bad for him so I let him stay for a month, and at night sometimes when he'd shift in his sleep his feet would accidentally hit the brakes, and his brakelights would flash and reflect onto the wall of my bedroom, where I'd be up late reading. If you can come up with a more depressing image than that, I'll give you a hundred dollars. (Not really.)

1328 Maryland Ave NE #4
Washington, D.C.

2 Bedrooms, 2 Baths

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

From Chiang Kai-Shek with Love


By Beth Herman

It was the year flailing New York crowds first welcomed The Beatles to "The Ed Sullivan Show." And though its own brand of fanfare was less about screams and more about shoji screens, a traditional 1960s 416-unit high-rise in Rockville, Md., with a decidedly Asian interior, went up to public acclaim at about the same time.

Renovated only once since then, in the 1980s, the quietly dignified Grosvenor Park III, 10401 Grosvenor Place, cautiously courted a more modern facelift, its loyal residents desiring to preserve as much of the building’s Far East legacy as possible. Manifested in such elements as jade-colored marble base molding, Japanese shoji screens, finely etched glass panels—a gift from Chinese General Chiang Kai-Shek—mounted in floor-to-ceiling teak, and both Chinese and Japanese artwork, time had nevertheless eroded and faded fabrics, furnishings and flooring. Glass panels had essentially become jaundiced with age. With the d├ęcor a mix of Chinese and Japanese, where the former is traditionally ornate and the latter very clean and spare, bringing the building’s 3,000-s.f. main lobby, elevator lobby, mail room, and reception and entry areas into the 21st Century without sacrificing their heritage was a feat not easily undertaken.

“It didn’t look terrible, but there were elements that included (outdated) draperies all over the windows, and a terrazzo floor had cracked,” said owner/ principal JoAnn Zwally of Ashton Design Group, responsible for the redesign. “The reception counter was very old and had not even been changed in the last renovation. It was just not functional—dark wood and a design that really needed to be updated.”

The best of East and WestLink

Embracing Shanghai and the luxe Peace Hotel (now the Fairmont Peace Hotel), to which she’d traveled, Zwally recalled singular Chinese art deco elements, including mosaics, deciding to base Grosvenor Park III’s redesign on the same. Working in tandem with building resident and design team head Alice Scherr, Zwally set about transforming the vast, dated lobby spaces and corridors of all 17 floors into modern quarters, the older incarnation’s blue and green hues manifested in a more contemporary and vibrant teal.

Culling obsolete wires and dormant cables from the reception area, and eliminating cluttered and confusing signage (only one sign currently exists), the designer replaced older materials with teak panels in an effort to mirror the treasured teak on the other side. “Today’s teak is not what it was the 1960s,” she said, “but we matched it as closely as we could.” The addition of a sleek, bi-level black granite and glass countertop with aluminum stanchions provides for staff privacy with a nod to modernity. A new soffit contains the lighting, and a newly-created wall conceals security monitoring equipment.

In the lobby, a Murano glass chandelier illuminates a curvilinear table, made from Bubinga—an exotic wood found largely around equatorial Africa—something Zwally designed herself from an antique she saw online. Art deco-style furnishings, including durable round-arm chairs by David Edwards, continue the theme, and computerized shades manipulate light and heat for energy conservation.

In a modern take on bread crumbs, Zwally integrated two large four-foot black diamond inserts and a few smaller ones into the floor of an elongated passageway, ushering residents to the elevator, and redolent of the rich black hue in the lobby space’s Chinese art deco rug. Dark-toned antique Asian doors at the end visually foreshorten the long trek.

Upstairs, Zwally swathed 17 floors in carpeting with a horizontal design strategy. Created to help proportionalize corridors 200 feet long but only five feet wide, “interlocking ovoids in different scales were used,” the designer said, larger in the more rectangular spaces where one exits the elevator and smaller where the hallways narrow. “We hand-measured every doorway because there were places where things were not exactly the same,” Zwally explained of the process, adding the carpet had to break strategically in between.

Shoji screens on every floor with a quiet, organic quality were obtained when the structure was built, though painted green in the prior renovation. This was something the Japanese culture would never do, according to Zwally, though residents were still quite partial to the screens. Accordingly, they were remade to look clean and contemporary, and reflect their natural origins.

With the addition of increased, though energy-efficient lighting fixtures, especially around the elevators, Zwally brightened the building’s public spaces considerably, ensuring residents and guests are able to savor the fruits of the redesign at any time of the day or night.

“Everything in this renovation is very durable,” Zwally said, speaking to the anticipated longevity of a large, public space. Chiang Kai-Shek, who lived nearly 88 years, would undoubtedly approve.

Photos courtesy of Geoffrey Hodgdon

Georgia Avenue Groundbreaking Delayed Again


Groundbreaking for Guardian Realty's 13-story residential tower at 8711 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring was delayed yet again because of the developer's indecision in choosing a general contractor, according to multiple (frustrated) sources. The project had been set to break ground at the end of January, but fell victim to Guardian's protracted pursuit of lower bids.

Guardian had no comment when contacted for this story.

Described as far back as 2008 as being on the "fast track," the project has flagged in recent years. Originally conceived as a 13-story Class A office tower, with ground-floor retail space, the project was switched to residential after the down economy made leasing difficult. (Location might also have been a factor - potential tenants who declined to lease at 8711 include corporate titans Northrup Grumman, Siemens, and Hilton, who all took offices elsewhere in the area.)

Developers anticipate a heightened demand for housing in the area after Walter Reed merges with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The site plan amendment, which left the original building's footprint almost entirely unchanged, was approved by Montgomery County planners in April 2011.

The new plan calls for 160 units in a thirteen story, 143-foot tall building on the 0.87 acre parcel, plus a bit of retail space (halved from 4,500 in the original plan). The WDG-designed building, which will open onto the forthcoming Fenton Street extension, also features a laudably adventurous "public arts plaza" designed by local artist Martha Jackson-Jarvis. The main feature of the plaza is a 75-foot "wave wall," a sort of flowing mosaic sculpture of varied textures that will "undulate like waves." Another, smaller, mosaic wall and a series of three-dimensional sculptures rounds out the space, and a mid-block pedestrian mall will connect the plaza to nearby Georgia Avenue.

At the April 2011 hearing for the site plan amendment, Brian Lang, representative of 8711 Georgia Avenue Parking Lot LLC, described the project as "liven[ing] up" a particularly "dark and dreary" stretch of Georgia Avenue. But before that happens, they'll have to actually build it.

Silver Spring real estate development news

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Louis at 14th" Development Unveiled


In a heated tent at the end of a long crushed velvet carpet on 14th St. today, JBG, Georgetown Strategic Capital and city officials symbolically (but not literally) broke ground on the long-discussed “Louis at 14th”, a 267-unit, 42,000-square foot mixed-use megadevelopment.
Formerly called "Utopia" and in the works since 2006, entitlements are finally in place and demolition has begun for a dramatic makeover of what developers called “the greatest intersection in the District.” According to today’s press release, the Eric Colbert and Associates-designed building will offer amenities including a rooftop terrace with grilling stations and fire pits, a rooftop pool (with bar), a fitness center, and a 24-hour concierge. Historic facades along U Street will be preserved, though many (but not all) facades along 14th are slated for imminent demolition. Surely developers were buoyed by the high rents and recent high sales price of the Ellington apartments almost across the street.

If the prestige of a project is in direct proportion to the swank factor of its groundbreaking ceremony, the Louis should be very swank indeed. Aside from the aforementioned velvet carpet (and ropes), there was an open bar (so forgive any typos), as well as a solo saxophonist providing ubersmooth accompaniment as various development titans rubbed elbows with Councilmembers Michael Brown and Jim Graham, as well as Mayor Vincent Gray. When it was time to unveil the new renderings, a male model done up as Louis the XIV (get it?), complete with powdered wig, hose, and lace waistcoat, entered stage left.

But although the ceremony was long on flash, it was short on specifics. Mayor Gray made a vague, campaign-trail-ish speech, made frequent reference to his local roots, and arched his eyebrows a lot, Councilman Brown did his Obama thing (in fairness, he does a great Obama), made even more frequent reference to his local roots, and called for a comical number of rounds of applause (this blogger might have been the only person in attendance who did not, at some point, get applauded), and Councilman Graham regaled the crowd with reminiscences from his days at Whitman-Walker, and how volunteers used to refuse to set foot on the mean streets of 14th and S Streets.
But there was little talk of future retailers. Though there were vague murmurs of unsubstantiated rumors – Trader Joe’s? – firm information was in short supply. This blogger circulated to try and confirm a rumor about a possible flagship tenant, but no one could confirm or deny. In fact, by 5 o’clock, most of the attention was on the open bar, and on snapping iPhone pics of the guy dressed like Louis the 14th.
Washington D.C. real estate development news

AvalonBay's "Hipster" Apartment Building Aims for December Move-In

AvalonBay apartment building in Washington DC, an update on commercial real estate news
Avalon Bay real estate development in Washington DC is the latest commercial property on the H Street corridor
AvalonBay's latest real estate development, the "AVA H Street" apartment building (which is not technically on H Street - it's at 318 I Street, NE) is set to go vertical any day now, a critical milestone for one of the more unique projects in the booming H Street corridor.

"All the dirt's out of the hole, and they're pouring slabs," said Jeff Wood, development manager at AvalonBay. "We're on schedule for first occupancy in December of this year." The building will be entirely residential, with no ground floor retail.
KTGY designs AvalonBay's upcoming apartment building in Washington DC

AVA H Street will offer 140 rental units of "pretty sick apartments," according to the project's Facebook page. Jonathan B. Cox, Senior Vice President of Development at AvalonBay, previously told DCMud the building would be "more contemporary and a more unique architectural style than what's now on the market." Though he was coy at the time about the architect behind the building, it's since emerged that KTGY Group is spearheading the design, and the latest renderings, with their colorful facades and prominent branding, do indeed look more unique that most of what's on the market right now. Blake Dickson represented Avalon in the purchase.

AvalonBay acquired 318 I Street through a lender sale, after original owner Broadway Development lost the property (as well as the adjacent Senate Square) through foreclosure in 2009. AvalonBay, a Ballston-based real estate investment trust (REIT), has posted huge profits in recent quarters by taking advantage of depressed property values to accumulate parcels, and by catering to a rental market that remains strong due to the flagging economy. A recent Wall Street Journal story described AvalonBay's strategy as "hipsters and suburbia" - and if the H Street NE address wasn't a giveaway, AVA's Facebook postings ("so rad!" "awesome!" "sick!") make it eminently clear that this building targets the former group.

Washington DC retail and real estate construction news, featuring retail for lease
AvalonBay had planned to build two more apartment buildings near the future Tysons West metro station, but that project ground to a halt after county officials' request for transportation improvement funds were deemed too high by AvalonBay management. (They did proceed with another Tysons project, the 354-unit Avalon Park Crest.)

AVA H Street broke ground back in November, and is just one of a dizzying number of projects in the immediate area, the biggest of which is the Steuart Investments mixed-use behemoth. It's hard to believe, when you see the flurry of construction on H Street today, that just a handful of years ago over twenty percent of H Street storefronts were vacant - a rate that has been reduced nearly to zero in less than a decade. And when the long-discussed streetcar is up and running, the boom will kick into another, even higher, gear.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Monday, February 20, 2012

JBG Celebrates 14th & U Street Groundbreaking on Tuesday


JBG Companies' Utopia Project at the corner of 14th Street and U Streets, will be commissioned tomorrow, beginning what all parties hope will be imminent construction.

City dignitaries, including Mayor Vincent Gray, Councilmembers Jack Evans, Jim Graham and Michael Brown, plan a public unveiling of the development, which will be known as The Louis at 14th, beginning 4pm on Tuesday at 1920 14th Street, NW.

JBG, in conjunction with Georgetown Strategic Capital, will include more than 200 rental units and 20,000 s.f. of new retail along the 1900 block of 14th Street, amid the fast-growing Logan Circle/U Street neighborhood, replacing a low-slung series of fast-food chain restaurants while preserving retail along U Street.

Georgetown Strategic Capital originally got zoning approval for the project back in November 2008, but the economy dashed plans for any quick construction. GSC was granted a two-year extension for the site, as principal Robert Moore sought to wrap up more than $93.5 million needed to finance the project.

The design, by Eric Colbert & Associates, will also include a rooftop pool, nearly 150 parking spaces and will be 90 feet high at its tallest point. The historic facades along U Street will be saved while the buildings along 14th Street will be demolished.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Your Next Place

By Franklin Schneider

This Capitol Hill rowhouse looks like your standard issue rowhouse from the outside, and then you walk in and you're all like “whoa.” I felt really bad about judging this book by its cover, but then I remembered that the other nine times out of every ten it's a totally accurate, legitimate life strategy, and then I felt better.

Architecturally redesigned in 2007, this home really took a quantum leap forward aesthetically. The main addition was the conversion of the living room into a huge, amphitheater-like space that goes up two full levels. With plenty of windows letting in light, this is a totally unique and fantastic space, especially for a rowhouse. The renovation also added a very nice roof terrace – you can see halfway across the city from up there, or so it seems – and a small balcony. Basically they put in everything you always wished rowhouses had – larger exterior spaces, larger interior spaces - but almost never do. Add in a fireman's pole and a “Star Trek: the Next Generation” pinball machine and this would be the perfect house.

Aside from all that, the house boasts fine hardwood floors, exposed brick, recessed lighting, and large, beautiful bedrooms. Located on a serene Capitol Hill block that was so outrageously picturesque on the day I visited, with loads of mature trees in front of the pristine houses, that it was downright ridiculous. I was about to point and laugh contemptuously at this little panorama but there was an attractive woman right there, walking her dog, so instead I just sucked in my cheeks and squinted off into the distance. I'm pretty sure she was impressed.

318 16th Street SE
4 Bedrooms, 3.5 Baths

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Earth Finally Moving at Rhode Island Avenue Office Building


The Center for Strategic and International Studies is finally doing a lot less thinking and a lot more digging, as dirt is finally moving at their site for a new headquarters at 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW.

The new $100-million think-tank headquarters, which was to break ground in September 2011, was delayed several times as HITT Contracting, the general contractor worked out key technical issues for the building's underground levels, Ryan Sickles, a CSIS spokesman, said.

The new CSIS space will share the neighborhood with the new University of California Washington Center and the Human Rights Campaign headquarters.

Designed by Hickok Cole Architects, the CSIS headquarters will be nine stories, 130,000 s.f., and should achieve LEED-Silver certification, with substantial help from a green roof.

The light, open space is a substantial contrast to its fortress-like location at 1800 K Street, NW, where it has been for more than 50 years. CSIS will move when the project completes in the fall of 2013.

CSIS bought its 15,400-sf property in the Golden Triangle in 2007, for what was reported to be just over $31 million.

(photos courtesy Hickok Cole)

Washington D.C. real estate development news

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