Sunday, September 30, 2012

Another Big Push for Southwest Revamp

The federal government has issued a Notice of Intent that could potentially remake part of Washington D.C.'s Southwest quadrant, asking the private sector for input to make better use of the agency-heavy neighborhood.  The area, now dominated by superblocks, highways, feeder roads, checkpoints and nondescript, outdated federal buildings that make it feel more like a secure compound than one of the city's neighborhoods, was intentionally erased in the 1950's when urban planners last redesigned the area and has since faced scrutiny by myriad planners.

The government's notice, issued on Friday and calling the area "Federal Triangle South", could be the beginning of the most significant reshuffling of GSA-controlled space in the greater DC area, though the area covered in Friday's issuance is only a small portion of the land dominated by government agencies.  The notice was also admittedly vague, with no timetable and an official "inquiry" only to be released in 90 days.  But the space at issue is also part of the "Southwest Ecodistrict," a 110-acre redevelopment zone.  Along with the reinvention of the Southwest Waterfront, now just months away from beginning, and the rebuilding of 10th Street, the redevelopment could herald an entirely new neighborhood, transforming housing, roads, railroad tracks, parks and streetscapes.

The Southwest Ecodistrict, shepherded by the National Capitol Planning Commission, would stretch from Constitution Avenue along the Mall down to the edge of the waterfront.  But because the land is controlled by a mash of private, municipal and federal entities ("walkability" sites don't even consider it a neighborhood) that make any coordinated redevelopment not unlike herding barnacles, the project has remained in the planning stages.  The project centers on recreating Maryland Avenue which, like Pennsylvania Avenue, radiates from the Capitol Building, but which has been subordinated to railways, highways and monolithic buildings.

The government's solicitation notes the value of the land and its incongruent underuse: "Challenges in the Federal Triangle South include older buildings that are driving high operating costs, a backlog of required capital improvements, land use inefficiencies, space inefficiencies, and lack of area amenities...GSA seeks to leverage the value of its real property assets to provide more efficient facilities for Federal Customers and potentially create the catalyst for a revitalization of this area of Southwest Washington."

Challenges abound.  It is not clear how entire federal agencies could be moved, nor how far the federal government is willing to go toward allowing mixed-use development and relocation of federal agencies.  But, if the concerned parties permit, the vastness of the area could allow planners to start over much as was done 6 decades ago when the government opted to tear down troubled neighborhoods in favor of a pristine federal enclave.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Your Next Place

This massive former embassy is on the market for the first time in over fifty years; most likely all the U.S. government listening devices have been deactivated, though of course I can't be sure.  (Just to be safe, turn loud music on before discussing anything against the law, such as selling heroin, terror plots, or same-sex marriage.)

But this incredibly property is bursting with unlimited potential, sort of like a new relationship.  The best part is that this building is guaranteed not to eventually disappoint you by drinking too much wine when meeting your parents and asking, "if evolution is real, why haven't the chimpanzees in the zoo turned into humans yet, huh?!"  A potential what, eight-bedroomer (!), this house's ceiling is limited only by your imagination.  The brick Colonial-style facade is definitely a keeper, with its timeless qualities, as well as the distinctive details (check out those windows!).  The spiral staircase, dazzling M.C. Escher-like piece of work, is also worth preserving.  Ah, who am I kidding, this place is fine as is.  You could just scatter some IKEA furniture around and call it a home.  (Protip: a tablecloth thrown over a four-by-four quadrangle of unpacked moving boxes makes a sort-of-convincing table)  The back area is paved over, which you could keep and use as a parking lot or you could tear up the concrete and make it into a gloriously large yard. Who knows, poke around a bit and you might find an old diplomatic license plate the previous tenants forgot to pack during the move.  Imagine, a world where no traffic or parking laws apply to you:  in some religions, that's their definition of heaven.

Of course, with 7500 square feet of space to work with, you could turn this into a one-in-a-million dream home with just a little imagination and elbow grease (and a few hundred thousand dollars for renovations).  This building brought back a lot of memories of when I was a child and my father became smitten with the idea of buying and renovating an old high school into our family home.  My mother was against this idea, as she wanted our next house to be, well, a house.  My father replied that, yes, good point, but the abandoned school comes with a full-sized basketball court AND a glass-front trophy case he could use for all his office bowling league trophies.  In retrospect, this was the first (but by no means the last) time she realized she'd married a big grown-up child.

2310 Tracy Place NW
6 Bedroom, 2 Full Baths, 2 Half Baths

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Two Megabuildings Downtown in Pipeline for Gould

On the edge of Mount Vernon Square, where some of the last vacant lots in the downtown core still exist, plans for more office buildings are heating up.  One developer with a stake in the zone is Gould Property Company.  Gould has plans to build two oversized office buildings - a 380,000 s.f. office building at 600 Massachusetts Avenue and a 620,000 s.f. office building at 900 New York Avenue.  While both await tenants before construction will begin, sources say designs are done and waiting on the right tenant.

Gould Property's 600 Mass Ave. - Rendering courtesy CORE
Gould's "Z"-shaped parcel - nearly half the block at the corner of 6th Street and Massachusetts Avenue, was designed by Core Architecture + Design, also architect on the completed Gould project Market Square North.  The building's plan calls for 10 floors with ground floor retail.  In 2006, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) first gave approval to the developer's concept to move two row houses it owns, 621 and 623 Eye Street, built in 1852, next to a cluster of other row houses on the southeast corner of the lot.  It also approved Gould's plans to demolish a row house at 627 Eye St. to make way for the building, and demolition has already taken place.  After the HPRB put its stamp on the demolition, a Mayor's Agent gave a final necessary nod to the plan in 2007.

Gould Property's 600 Mass Ave. - Rendering courtesy CORE
The design has also passed the Chinatown design review process necessary for buildings in the neighborhood.  "It is a very unique building because it is unlike most of Washington, DC where you basically feel like it is a box," Ron Ngiam, senior project designer with CORE, told DCMud.  With the site shaped like a "Z", architects also worked to meet the challenge of designing a building to fit a unique site.  The zoning of the site prevented a boxy, full, 10-floor building, so architects created a series of terraces.  "We were able to carve quite a bit of light and air into the building and produced a whole series of green roofs," Ngiam said.

"Instead of filling in the property with a box, we were able to do something architecturally interesting." Ngiam also said the building's setback on Eye St. respects the scale of that streetscape.  "We are quite excited about the project," he told DCMud.

600 Mass Ave. - Eye St. Frontage - Rendering courtesy CORE
The 600 Mass Ave project is not the only building in the pipeline for Gould.  The developer is also behind plans to develop a portion of the old Convention Center Site at 900 New York Ave.  The building is part of an $850 million dollar mixed-use CityCenterDC which started construction last yearHines and Archstone are developing most of the CityCenterDC master plan, which calls for condos, office buildings, apartments, and retail, replacing the 10 acres that were left empty after demolition of the old convention center in 2004.

For CityCenterDC, Gould is planning a 12-story building designed by Pickard Chilton Architects.  The design includes a center atrium that reaches the full height of the building's 12 floors.  The atrium is covered with a "unique free standing" glass roof supported by v-shaped columns.  Renderings also call for lushly planted rooftop terraces, nine-foot ceilings, and ground floor retail.

900 New York Ave. - Rendering Pickard Chilton website
Gould, run by real estate scion Kingdon Gould, obtained the site from the city in exchange for a parcel it owned 9th Street NW, which the city needed to make room for a 1,175 room Marriott Marquis through a 99-year lease agreement.

Gould is also behind plans with Vornado Realty for a massive redevelopment of Rosslyn Plaza that would replace six buildings with four new ones to include hundreds of new residential units, as well as hotel space. 

900 New York Ave. - Rendering Pickard Chilton website

At both 900 New York Avenue and 600 Massachusetts Avenue, the developer has the approvals needed to start, according to the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID).  Now all the projects need are good tenants.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mirror, Mirror


Q&A with Steve Lawlor of Lawlor Architects
By Beth Herman

After 10 years spent raising a young family in a 2,700 s.f., three-story, circa 1905 row house in Capitol Hill, just off of Lincoln Park, the homeowners desired a change and update. But instead of undertaking a massive renovation which would have required that the family – with its three children – move out for months, they purchased an identical adjacent residence from a favorite neighbor, embarking on a plan to create the indoor/outdoor refuge they’d always wanted. Steve Lawlor of Lawlor Architects was at the helm.

DCMud: What compelled the homeowners to essentially purchase their old home all over again?

Lawlor: They got the second house exactly for that reason—because they were familiar with it. It’s a mirror image of the house that they were living in, but this new house could be the clean slate they wanted. Unfortunately, the former owners were smokers and hadn’t done much maintenance for years. There was a lot of remedial work that had to be done: Water was getting in and had damaged a lot of the structure in the rear…it needed a new life regardless of who moved in there. It was really on its last legs.

DCMud: Describe the client’s wish list.

Lawlor: They wanted to have three bedrooms, including a master suite, and two full baths on the top floor. The original house had three bedrooms and one bath. We also moved the laundry upstairs, but to the second floor where they wanted some creature comforts. Then on the first floor, they wanted a big entertaining area—an open kitchen/dining room space. They liked to cook, liked the outdoors and wanted to animate the space with natural light.

DCMud: Given the period in which it was built, what did the first floor look like before?

Lawlor: You couldn’t see through the house for all the walls. Coming in through the main entrance, some strange diagonal wall pushed you off. Artificial fire places—part of a renovation at one time or another— abounded that were purely decorative; there were no elements to warm the home. We realigned all the openings in the house so that when you walk in (it’s a side entrance), we made a vestibule with coat closet and cubbies in which to put books, shoes, mail and more to organize. After you come in, you’re reoriented to the center of the house. We made a long, visual access that slices through the entire house so that at any point, you can look east or west and see the outdoors. Light penetrates deep into the house and you have that connection to the outside. It helps bring the house to life.

DCMud: What about the materials?

Lawlor: Some of the flooring is reclaimed heart pine. The kitchen is American cherry, and the island’s countertop is reclaimed white oak wood joists from a Wisconsin barn. The kitchen floor is cork, a renewable material, and the room is warmed by hydronic radiant heating which, with all the glass, makes it very comfortable.

DCMud: With outdoor space at such a premium in this neighborhood, in what other ways did you open the space to light and air?

Lawlor: Part of the whole manifest destiny of this house was to try to bring the outdoors into the house. Most row houses have very little outdoor space. This house occupied 80 percent of the lot, as opposed to a more typical 60 percent. With little backyard space, on the lower level (basement) floor we eroded the rear walls, installed new windows, and made brick openings. We designed a staircase that descends from the new kitchen down to the new terrace below, with the terrace accessed through the basement in which we lowered the floor and increased the ceiling height. A polished and stained concrete slab with radiant heat created a hard surface yet a warm surface at the same time. A family room with TV and library/guest room which opens onto the terrace is where they spend a lot of their time. Big French doors—actually we made the home’s old pocket doors into sliding barn doors—are used to isolate the space when guests are there. We really decided to make the downstairs as desirable a destination as the upstairs for this house.

DCMud: Speaking of desirable destinations, is there a part of the District you covet more than others?

Lawlor: I've lived in Capitol Hill for 26 years by design. My office is here. There are other parts of the city that are great, but Capitol Hill is the most modern historic area. All the things people try and put into an urban setting - access; walkability; public transportation - are here in what is essentially a small town in the middle of a big city.

Anacostia's BID a Bit Closer to Reality

Anacostia has been slow to take off commercially (though making progress), and much like the expectations for a thriving commercial neighborhood, its Business Improvement District may be close to becoming a reality too.

The neighborhood itself has struggled to attract private businesses and office workers, in part because it lacks nearby services and retail.  Service and retail providers in turn have had little incentive to open shop in Anacostia until more businesses and consumers are on the street.  That conundrum is reflected in the embryonic BID formation.  While corporations typically sponsor the BIDs that promote doing business in the neighborhood, that lack of commerce has hindered the Anacostia BID's formation.  Though landowners in the area point to much potential - a historic downtown, a Metro stop, the coming St. Elizabeths project - without a corporate base to fund the BID, lack of money has kept Anacostia's promoter-in-chief from becoming a reality.  That may be starting to change.

The group met last month to appoint ten board members, and will now be funded by a portion of property taxes from local landowners, but the group will have to wait until tax collections occur in March before it can hire a staff and rent a permanent space.

But that’s still a big step forward for a group that’s been pending for years. In 2008, Councilmember Barry sponsored legislation that would allow the area to create a Business Improvement District. It passed, but the business and property owners behind the effort had several hurdles to overcome before the organization could become a reality.

BIDs in DC, while classified as nonprofit organizations, can’t solicit foundation grants. And when DC’s Office of Tax and Revenue and the Department of Small and Local Business Development reviewed the Anacostia BID's business plan - as required as part of the enabling legislation - they didn’t think it was sustainable.

“So we took a break, got a pro bono counsel, and hired consultants to file paperwork, petition the IRS, and get approval to establish a BID out of the 501(c)3,” explained Stan Voudrie of Four Points Development, the group’s new board president. “It took a lot of time; we were doing it with volunteers.” But eventually, he added, the IRS approved of the group’s new status and the various city agencies signed off on the BID’s new business plan.

Other than Voudrie, the board is composed of representatives from 1918 LLP, Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, ARCH Development Corporation, EDC LLC, Grubb’s Southeast Pharmacy, Honfleur Gallery, Industrial Bank,
NSC, Inc., and Urban City Ventures.

Voudrie says the group will use the time between now and March to prepare for their next steps. After hiring a director and renting a permanent office space, the first order of business will be to increase basic services in the business district, particularly from a visual perspective. “All of the BIDs”—there are eight others in the city—“have that kind of program,” said Voudrie. That means increasing trash pickup, sweeping streets and sidewalks, and planting flowers.

Second, the organization will focus on marketing and business outreach, acting like a local chamber of commerce. “We'll reach out to retailers that we think would bring a service the community would appreciate,” said Voudrie. “We want to be a single clearinghouse where people can find out about opportunities in the neighborhood.” 

And by the same token, the group will allow local business and property owners to speak with a unified voice, addressing issues that might need attention from the city or other institutions.

What the BID won’t be doing, according to Voudrie, is independently establishing a vision for what the neighborhood should look like. “We’ll probably do surveys of people who live and work here to find out their interests, but we won’t tell people what we think they need,” he said.

So all that talk about Anacostia becoming the city’s next arts district might not be on the BID agenda, at least for now, but such ideas might soon be more likely to become reality.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified DC BIDs as not being nonprofit organizations; they are, but are not 501(c)3s. Additionally, the new board has 10 members, not five.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Construction Work Begins on Cathedral Commons

map Cathedral Commons Giant Washington DCInitial construction work has begun on the Giant Supermarket site at 3336 Wisconsin Avenue, a 4-acre site that will be redeveloped into a mixed-use community known as Cathedral Commons.  The $130 million project has been more than a decade in the making, and will create a new, larger Giant as well as 137 apartment units, 8 townhouses, and a concourse with 125,000 s.f. of street front retail space.

Cathedral Commons Giant Bozzuto JCA Architects DC

Giant had been fighting a devoted neighbor- hood opposition group for years, but scored some decisive legal victories in 2011 and obtained financial partner Bozzuto Group to give the project the final kick needed to start development.  While no formal announcement was issued by the team, partners in the project have been saying for weeks that construction would be imminent, and construction crews began erecting fences Monday afternoon.  
Cathedral Commons Giant on Wisconsin Avenue
The supermarket, one of the last major groceries to begin (a much needed) renovation, closed in March.  Renderings and descriptions for the new Giant show a wide-aisled suburban-style supermarket resembling its Bethesda counterpart more than the reimagined urban supermarket being promised by developers of the CityMarket at O.  The project was designed by JCA Architects of Reston, which is also responsible for the design work at Union Market.
Bozzuto financial partner and developer in Cathedral Commons Giant

Update:  A spokesperson for the project notes that Bozzuto is not only the financial partner but also the developer and joint venture partner with Giant, and that no formal date has been announced regarding an official groundbreaking.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Monday, September 24, 2012

ANC Supports RiverFront on the Anacostia Project at Zoning Hearing


Late last week, a zoning commission meeting brought the RiverFront on the Anacostia project one small step closer to fruition.

The 1.1-million-square-foot mixed-use project, which was designed by SK&I architects and is situated on the Anacostia River just south of Nationals Park, had a hearing in front of the DC Zoning Commission Thursday night. While commissioners were noncommittal, requiring supplemental information from Florida Rock Properties (FRP) and Mid-Atlantic Realty Partners (MRP), the developers, the coup was a letter of support from the local ANC commission covering the site.

The zoning commission originally approved plans for the 5.5 acre site back in 2008, but the developers proposed last year to change the project’s first phase from office space to 300-350 residential units, given the current dismal situation for office space in the neighborhood. A February 2012 hearing didn’t go well—the commissioners all but told the developers to start all over with the designs—but John Begert with MRP Realty said this one seemed a little better, though he didn’t draw any conclusions. “We feel like our presentation went pretty positively, and that’s kind of all you know,” he said.

The commissioners tasked the developers with sending in additional information, including clarifications on the project’s roof plan and how an alley running through the development will be designed. The developers will submit the information within two weeks, but the commission may not make a decision until later this year or even early 2013.

Still, support from the ANC was good news.  "After presenting at multiple monthly ANC meetings and working with the ANC and my SMD’s Citizens’ Development Advisory Committee, the development team presented a final plan this month that we were happy to support,” wrote ANC 6D commissioner David Garber, whose district includes the site, in a letter dated September 20. “The elements of this most recent plan that we hope you will join us in specifically supporting are its engaging architecture, creative and usable public space, ground floor and roof-top retail, and the promised play installation designed specifically for children that is noted in the plan but will be laid out as part of a future phase of the PUD.”

The project’s first phase is a nine-story building that will feature almost 19,000 square feet of retail space and a small amount of affordable housing; 8 percent of its residential units will be priced at 80 percent of the area median income. The project will also include an expansive public section: picture wide green lawns, wetlands-type areas that act as bio-filtration mechanisms for stormwater management, and tree covered spaces, as well as a marina that could accommodate up to 50 boats.

The project, a former concrete plant, is set at the foot of the South Capitol Street Bridge, and has been in the works off and on since 1998.  The developers have more plans for the property, but subsequent phases are several years down the road.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Today in Pictures - 800 N. Glebe

In 2006, Chevy Chase based JBG demolished the Bob Peck Chevrolet dealership, a uniquely futuristic building at 800 N. Glebe Rd. in Arlington that inspired some adoration in the architectural world.  But rather than break completely with the past for its flagship Ballston office project, JBG hired Cooper Carry to design a 10-story office building that would incorporate a faithful reproduction of the one-story dealership, including the blue diamond canopy that became the symbol for the dealership, and what JBG calls "a bold exclamation point on the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor."  The office building, completed this summer, features a glass curtainwall with three "sails" and has been designed for LEED Gold certification.

Arlington,  VA real estate development news

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Your Next Place

Look how cute this little building is, nestled cozily between two much-larger buildings, and yet with an undeniable appeal all its own.  (Insert your own "size doesn't matter" joke here.  It sounds too autobiographical if I do it.)675 E Street, NW, Washington DC, real estate

Your next Place, Washington DC commercial real estateThis beautiful unit is one of 22 in this boutique building, which means it's just big enough that there's probably at least one other person in the building you can have an ill-advised romance of convenience with, but not so small that you won't be able to avoid them after it crashes and burns.  It's a corner unit too, so it's a bit bigger and brighter than the other units, a fact you should bring up constantly when you run into other building occupants.  ("You look depressed, is it because your apartment is slightly smaller than mine?")  The main area is open and gets a ton of light; it features glowing hardwood floors and recessed lighting.  The kitchen comes with the granite countertops/stainless steel appliances one-two punch, and there are a ton of built-ins for your collectible plate collection.  The master bedroom is spacious and wide, and boasts a world-class walk-in closet.  It got me thinking, "wait, why doesn't my bedroom have a walk-in closet?"  And then I realized, my bedroom IS a walk-in closet.  Explains all the built-ins, and why my twin mattress takes up 90% of the floor space.

This building also comes with concierge service, extra storage, rental parking, and even a gym.  Imagine how much guiltier you'll feel about not working out when there's a gym right downstairs!  It's located in Penn Quarter, so it's close to Chinatown, downtown, NoMa, and other neighborhoods people go to, look around, and say, "wait, is this it?  Really?"  (I kid, I kid; aside from that horrible intersection where they have the huge tvs, I actually really like Chinatown.)  Also, it's equidistant from two metro stations, turning each morning into an agonized internal debate over where exactly you want to go to get the back of your neck breathed on by total strangers.

675 E Street NW #500
1 Bedrooms, 1.5 Baths

Washington DC real estate news

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Georgia Ave. Housing Overhaul Moving Forward

A city plan to overhaul a DC affordable housing neighborhood on Georgia Avenue, called Park Morton, is moving forward and the city will unveil its first apartment building on Friday.

Workers put finishing touches on The Avenue on Thursday
"The Avenue at Park Morton" is an 83-unit mixed-use apartment building located at 3506 Georgia Avenue NW.  City officials will gather to celebrate its grand opening  Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Completion of the building is a mile-marker for "The Park Morton New Communities Initiative", which has realized only a small part of its potential.  The $170 million initiative was established under then DC mayor Anthony Williams to replace an aging public housing complex on Georgia Avenue.  The initiative is a collaboration between the District's Housing Authority (DCHA), which owns and manages the complex, and the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

Image courtesy Wiencek + Associates
The old Park Morton housing has 17 apartment buildings.  In a report on the overhaul initiative and the old Park Morton housing, the city notes "the site consists of suburban-style apartment buildings and incorporates design elements that tend to foster criminal activity."

In 2008, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty sent out a Request For Proposals for developing in the project in 2008, promising that no former residents of the complex would be displaced; the building broke ground in 2010.  The overall plan calls for 317 market-rate housing units, 206 affordable housing units, a 10,000 square foot park, and a new community center with green designs throughout.

The entire Park Morton redevelopment is being carried out by the Park Morton Development Partners (PMDP), a joint venture between Landex Corporation and the Warrenton Group. Wienecek + Associates designed the project.  Hamel Builders is the general contractor.

Image courtesy Wiencek + Associates
The building, which has 81,044 square feet of residential space and 2,388 square feet of ground floor retail, includes a mix of one and two-bedroom apartment units.  Residential space features lounge, a fitness center, meeting rooms, and underground parking.  It also will include ground-floor retail. While overall the plan calls for some market-rate housing, the Avenue is 100 percent affordable under the city's affordable housing laws.

The development was funded by a mix of city agencies and departments, as well as Freddie Mac, Prudential, Hudson Housing, and Capital One.

1-BR Unit Rendering, courtesy Wiencek + Associates


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