Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Abdo Envisions Condos for Empty Rhode Island Avenue Lot

You could call it a vindication. Or you could simply say the market finally changed.

Either way, Jim Abdo says he’s got revamped plans for the property he owns at 1427 and 1429 Rhode Island Avenue NW, the only vacant lot on that block and one of the few left in the neighborhood. The Logan Circle-based developer had been planning on erecting a 70-something unit apartment building there, but ran into opposition from neighbors due to its size. As of this past February, he had backed off from the project entirely.

The lot as it currently appears
Now he says he’s got new plans for the lot, which backs up to the P Street Whole Foods Market. Due to a steadily improving housing market and the increased availability of financing for condo construction, Abdo has returned to the plan he says he’d initially envisioned for the property before the economy tanked: a high-end condo building containing just a few units.

“My vision has always been a boutique building with a small number of units,” explained Abdo. “And every day and month I wait, the market comes back in my favor to do what I want. We think it’s a win-win for everyone, and it’s what the neighborhood will embrace.”

Abdo didn’t provide many details about what he has in mind, as the project hasn’t gone far beyond the basic concept stage. But he says he’s imagining a 90-foot high building that contains nine or ten units, each taking up an entire floor and potentially reached by elevators that open directly into the units.

That’s a big difference from the property’s previous iteration, which was an eight-story rental building conceived of at a time when condo financing was almost nonexistent. Although the design earned approvals from the Historic Preservation Review Board, neighbors objected to its density and Abdo eventually withdrew his plans.

The lot with its prior structures, which were knocked down in 2007
“I said, ‘Let’s revisit this thing,’” he explained.

Nothing’s happening anytime soon. The developer, who bought the property in 2001, says the company probably won’t start moving on the project until 2014. At that point, in-house architects will begin putting together design ideas and he’ll reach out to HPRB and the community.

It’s not like the firm doesn’t have enough going on as it is. Besides projects in Brookland and Arlington, Abdo is also planning to develop a spot a few dozen feet to the east: 1400 14th Street, a corner lot at the intersection of 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue that currently includes a Caribou Coffee and Abdo’s own office (and next to the DCMud office). That project—a six-story building to include ground floor retail, one floor of offices, and some 30 residences—received HPRB approval a couple of months ago. Groundbreaking is set for next year.

That turns the block of Rhode Island between 14th and 15th streets a mini Abdo-ville. The developer owns another property on the block, and developed the two condo buildings framing the empty lot—the Zenith and the Willison—more than a decade ago.

Washington, D.C., real estate development news

Monday, October 29, 2012

10 Questions with ... Anthony Lanier

10 Questions is a new weekly feature in which we interview some of the leading District figures in real estate, architecture, development, and planning. This week's subject ... Anthony Lanier, president and owner of EastBanc.

Born in Brazil and raised in Austria, Lanier, informally known as the "King of Georgetown," arrived in DC in the Eighties, and over the years has almost singlehandedly transformed once-sleepy Georgetown into a dynamic, European-style pedestrian center.  It's a testament to his influence that when his company recently acquired properties in the U Street NW and H Street NE corridors, it was hailed as a definitive milestone in these areas' return to viability.

1.  What's a typical day for you?

Fifteen hours long!

2.  What or who is your biggest influence?

My kids.  If they can do it, so should I.

3.What neighborhood do you live in?


4.  What is your biggest DC pet peeve?

The village/pedestrian context.

5.  What is the #1 most played song on your iPod?

I don't own an iPod.

6.  Favorite DC haunt?

Kafe Leopold.

7.  What's your favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon?

Sit in my garden.

8.  If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Somewhere between Salzburg and Bozen (Bolzano).

9.  If you couldn't be a.businessman, what would you be?

I think I'd be an intellectual.

10.  Name one thing most people don't know about you.

I really like turtles.

Adams Morgan Condos Release New Renderings

Developers have released new renderings of the condos that will take up the largest vacant lot on Champlain Street.   Federal Capital Partners and Altus Realty Partners will break ground shortly on a 41-unit condominium at 2337 Champlain Street, NW, in Adams Morgan.  Designed by PGN Architects, the renderings show a contemporary structure with a split facade adjacent to the former brass knob warehouse.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Whistle Stop Design

Q and A with Sabine Roy of SR/A Interior Architecture and Design
by Beth Herman

With preserving and repurposing historic buildings at the top of their dance card, SR/A Interior Architecture and Design embarked on a challenge to transform an abandoned turn-of-the-century freight train depot into high-end public spaces for a residential development: The Apartments at Cobblestone Square, 627 Cobblestone Blvd., Fredericksburg, Va.  DCMud spoke with SR/A Principal Sabine Roy about the 10,000 s.f. redesign.

What elements about this building struck you?

Roy: The building was this magnificent long solid brick structure with amazing 5- or 6-inch solid maple flooring. It was in bad condition; the roof was caving in. We fell in love with it when we saw it!

DCMud: How did it come to its new life?

Roy: It found itself in the middle of a development of new residential buildings, originally by K. Hovnanian Homes and slated for a condominium venture, and then sold to Home Properties as apartments. It was put in a drawer for a couple of years due to the economy but taken out again with all of its possibilities.

DCMud: Old structures often come with challenges and caveats. How did you decide what to keep and what to jettison?

Roy: We wanted to keep as much of the building's history as possible. We kept the solid brick walls and I fought to keep the flooring. You don’t see 5- or 6-inch solid maple anymore. Another battle was to save the ceiling as it was made of cedar and had no insulation. Because of its (historical fabric), we had the insulation and all the re-roofing done from the exterior to save the cedar. Usually these things are sandblasted, or high-power washed, or blasted with an equally abrasive material, but walnut shell is among the softest and used in restoration—it doesn’t attack the wood; just the coating. Once it was cleaned this way it was absolutely splendid.

DCMud: What was the thinking behind the redesign, which appears to be a real juxtaposition of history and today.

Roy: There was so much history in the building conserving the brick, the flooring, ceiling and trusses that we could go the other way and bring in modern techniques, materials, furniture and finishes to the design. The contrast between the historical building and new materials is an interesting, warm, comfortable treatment. I’m French and it’s something you see a lot in Paris, where you have all these old buildings and units with crowns and trims and pretty parquets. The best way to showcase an antique is to put something modern in it. It was the same thinking behind what we did at Foundry Lofts.

DCMud: How did you arrive at the color palette you chose, which in many ways emulates nature.

Roy: The building already had a lot of red because of the brick, so we didn’t want to do anything too urban so we went a little more traditional with warm greens, pale yellows and golds—as in the ceiling. Instead of red we did a deep purple. The colors were simple and ‘forest-y’ in keeping with the Fredericksburg environment. We had the thick maple flooring to warm it up.

DCMud: What about ambient and/or task lighting in such a vast space?

Roy: We used uplights on the 30-foot ceilings and on the trusses so you could see the height of the ceiling—the volume of the room and the beauty of the existing materials. We dropped some LED’s from the height of the trusses in the common areas. In the fitness center we dropped the lights. It was a matter of pinpoint lighting. There’s a fireplace. Even though the light is not awfully strong or bright in the club room, you really feel the space. Adding floor lamps and table lamps and partial LED’s here and there, you have enough lighting so you can see what you’re doing or where you’re walking but you are not aware of the light. It’s just a warm space.

DCMud: Speaking of warm spaces, if you could choose one area of the District that felt like home to you, what would it be?

Roy: I really like Southeast Waterfront. The park they’ve built is wonderful, and it’s where Foundry Lofts is located. But if I had to move (from Maryland), it would be to the upper part of Georgetown. It’s the European in me: I like those little houses and being able to walk to places. The old world in me is still alive.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Your Next Place

This U street home isn't at all what you think of when you hear "U Street."  (Drunk projectile vomiters, perpetual go-go music blasting at all hours.)  No, this house is a ways down U Street, where the narrow rowhouses and nightlife give way to 24/7 tranquility and homes of more stately proportions. No, the only vomiters out here are rich bulimic high schoolers.

This massive Colonial is newly-built and correspondingly pristine.  It's got that "new house" smell permeating every room, which isn't a "smell" so much as an "absence of smells," which makes sense considering how many thousands of odors have been slyly secreted over the years in the average pre-inhabited house.  There's a huge open formal living room and dining room, each of which seems as big as a regulation ice rink. The gourmet kitchen sports luxurious marble countertops and the family room (complete with fireplace) looks out, via a wall of triple-sized windows, onto the massive fenced-in backyard.  There's a large flagstone patio out there, but the rest of it is a long flat grassy area that's so big you could probably do an emergency plane landing back there.  I mean, there probably wouldn't be any survivors, but the plane would, technically, be on the ground.

Upstairs is a master bedroom suite that's truly palatial, with a sitting room and a master bath that features a massive shower and a freestanding soaking tub.  The house also features two separate libraries, so you can have one library for all those paperbacks with raised metallic lettering you buy in airports, and another for the serious literary books and statesman biographies that you're saving for when your tastes mature, which we both know will never happen.

Topping it all off, the house is one of an enclave of eight newly-built homes, so if you've got seven good friends with stellar credit and/or a million dollars lying around, you all could conceivably buy all the houses and form your own little independent breakaway republic.   I mean, it worked out so well for David Koresh!

4800 U Street NW
5 Bedrooms, 5.5 Baths

Friday, October 26, 2012

Today in Pictures - CityCenter DC

Washington DC commercial real estate - CityCenterDCCityCenter DC - the mega development in the heart of downtown - is at last celebrating an executed lease for office space at the two office buildings on 11th Street.  Law firm giant Covington and Burling officially announced this week they will occupy 420,000 s.f. in the office buildings when they move in the summer of 2014, accounting for 80% of the office space.  Developers Archstone and Hines and Qatari financial backer Barwa Bank.

The 10-acre project will feature two condominiums, two apartment buildings, and the two office buildings, as well as 295,000 s.f. of retail that developers are hoping will create a new fashion center downtown.  Developers hope to turn over the retail space to tenants in late 2013, with retailers beginning to open in early 2014.  In their excitement at the office lease, Hines released a new rendering of the office building at 10th & H Streets.
Commercial real estate - CityCenter DC by Archstone and Hines

Below are photos of the project from this week:
CityCenterDC pictures - Archstone and Hines Development and Barwa Bank building in downtown Washington DC

CityCenterDC pictures - Archstone and Hines Development and Barwa Bank building in downtown Washington DC

CityCenterDC pictures - Archstone and Hines Development and Barwa Bank building in downtown Washington DC

CityCenterDC pictures - Archstone and Hines Development and Barwa Bank building in downtown Washington DC

CityCenterDC pictures - Archstone and Hines Development and Barwa Bank building in downtown Washington DC

Washington DC commercial real estate news and analysis

construction update for Washington DC: CityCenterDC

Washington DC commercial real estate for lease

Washington DC commercial real estate for sale

Washington DC commercial real estate agents

commercial leases in Washington DC

New construction pictures in Washington DC

Hines building in downtown Washington DC

photography by Rey Lopez for DCMud

Photography by Rey Lopez

Six Developers Invited to Present Plans for Parcel 42

Six developers are on the short-list to present their plans for Parcel 42, the vacant, city-owned lots at the corner of 7th and R Streets, NW in DC's Shaw neighborhood, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) has announced.

Several joint proposals, low-income housing development groups, private developers, and a religious organization all made the list. In an email to DCMud on Friday, Jose Sousa, deputy chief of staff for DMPED, listed those developers. They are: Warrenton Group and Four Points LLC, POUNDS and Jubilee Housing, United House of Prayer for All People, Neighborhood Development Corporation, Tensquare LLC and Chapman Development Group LLC, and Baywood Hotels and Dantes Partners.

Those developers will have a chance to present their plans, but the long-awaited selection of a developer for the lots will not happen until 2013, the city told DCMud Thursday. The parcel is a coveted piece of real estate for developers eager to build in Shaw, a fast-growing neighborhood.  It is also a lot with some history, surrounded by a neighborhood that remembers city promises to make some units affordable.

Parcel 42
That presentation will be held on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Watha T. Daniel / Shaw Library at 1630 7th Street, NW. The city has invited six developers, who met qualifications laid out in a request for proposals released in April, to present their plans to the community and give Shaw neighborhood residents the chance to ask questions.  The public is invited to attend, hear and see the presentation, and ask questions at the end of the program," Sousa wrote to DCMud in an email. The city-owned parcel has sat vacant for ten years and seen some drama in the last five.

An affordable housing development plan launched in 2007 fizzled, and in 2010 protesters occupied the lot with a tent city when the city eased up on affordability requirements for the faltering project.  That development was never built.  The announcement in April marked the second time the city has asked developers to present plans for the parcel. The city asked that developers present a building that reaches the full height that zoning allows: 65 feet. It also stated a preference for a "high quality" public space component, "high quality architecture" with a "signature design."  The city and local ANC also encouraged ground floor retail, 80% AMI designation (rather than the lowest subsidized housing designation) and affordable units. In March, ANC Commissioner for the area Alex Padro told DCMud he expected the building to meet high architectural standards like the Shaw Library just across 7th Street from the lot. Padro told DCMud then, "Its gotta be a building that works financially, that activates the street, we already have a significant pocket of affordable housing in the area."

"There is no projected timetable for a developer selection at this point in time, but we imagine it will happen in late first quarter/early second quarter of 2013," Sousa said.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Teahouse of the Maryland Moon

Q and A with Amy Gardner of Gardner Mohr Architetcts LLC
By Beth Herman

Revealed during demolition, a newspaper stuffed into the wall of a Bethesda craftsman style bungalow was dated 1928. In an effort to transform the aging home into a serene and gracious residence, Amy Gardner of Gardner Mohr Architects LLC heeded the homeowner’s mandate for an Asian modern teahouse style motif where interconnected rooms led to a special garden space. DCMud spoke with Gardner about the process.

DCMud: Tell us about the original house.

Gardner: This project was one in which the client wanted to rebuild their 1,350 s.f. bungalow— in a state of advanced disrepair. It had a first floor plan that was fairly typical for bungalows, and it had an attic that had kind of been converted into small bedrooms which actually added about another 1,000 s.f. onto the home for a total of approximately 2,300 s.f. The owners wanted to recreate the sense of bungalow, but also to reconnect to its Asian roots.

DCMud: Interesting. How many people would know the genesis of the bungalow style?

Gardner: It actually has several lineages, and some go back—even indirectly— to Asian influences. This client wanted a bungalow that most people would recognize as such on their street, but as you move from street to garden, make a transition toward something more modern and Asian-inspired.

DCMud: How did you strategize the renovation?

 Gardner: We completely rebuilt the second floor, and moreover, created an 18 X 30-foot addition on the back. The second floor of the house is the size of the original footprint plus the size of the addition. We did that because of the way we designed the roof—the roof ridge was raised only seven feet—which extends out onto the addition. Height restrictions in Montgomery County are a big deal. Traditional farmhouses in Japan are called Minkas, and the roof form of this project is kind of like the roof form of a Minka.

The only elements we kept were the first floor exterior walls, and the rooms just behind those walls, but completely rebuilt the rest. There’s more new construction here than there is renovation. But when you’re inside, it’s very hard to tell what’s new or old until you get to that back portion, though there is a very smooth transition from street to garden so you’re almost not aware of what happened until you get there. The client’s priorities included interconnected spaces and a room that allowed them to feel like they are part of the garden. The home was finished at 4,000 s.f.  

DCMud: Besides the master suite, what do you find upstairs?

Gardner: There’s a second floor room that has a set of doors that exit onto a balcony, and there’s a spiral stair, so you can come into the house from the garden side and it could become a mother-in-law suite. The only thing missing up there is a kitchenette which can be added. The angle upstairs comes from tucking the rooms up into the roof form, as the roof form goes from its ridge just about down to the level of the first floor. Consequently you get spaces that get the actual roof for a ceiling rather than a flat ceiling. This is not only common for bungalows, but also for some vernacular traditional Asian homes.

DCMud: The exposed collar ties up there almost look like part of the Asian design.

Gardner: The collar ties keep the roof members from pushing out on the walls of the house. In most houses, the roof is entirely above the second floor and you don’t see it, but in this house…the structure of the roof is actually part of the room. We wanted the effect that exposing the collar ties would provide. Above them, the space goes all the way up to the ridge with a window at the top which brings east light into the room. Skylights above the collar ties also make for very interesting light. 

DCMud: Any sustainable elements?

Gardner: Much of the wood in the house is reclaimed barn wood, including the floor. The beams are engineered lumber wrapped in the reclaimed barn wood. The wall of west-facing glass is high-performing double-glazed with a high solar heat gain coefficient. Right outside is the veranda which provides shade for this exposure. We couldn’t change the angle of the house but we could manage the way light came in. The roof is a simulated shingle by EcoStar made from recycled tires.

DCMud: Speaking of sustainable, what sustains you, living and working in the District?

Gardner: I really like Rock Creek Park, and one reason is because of the way it carves its way through the city. You can be in the middle of Rock Creek Park and not know you’re almost in downtown D.C. I love its impact on the city and I love being in it. From a design and engineering standpoint, some of the bridges in the park are spectacular. Whenever I drive somewhere and can go through Rock Creek, I do: It’s a magical thing to be in the park and then pop up in the city.

White Flint Mall Plan Goes Before County

Maryland real estate development news: Montgomery County redevelops White Flint MallThe Montgomery County Planning Board will vote today on a preliminary plan put forward by the owners of the White Flint Mall to transform the 1970's-era shopping mall into a high-density development with over 5 million s.f. of residential and commercial development.

As indoor malls fade across America, mall owners Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Companies plan to replace the mall, and an adjacent office building, which sits on 45 acres on the east side of Rockville Pike, half a mile from the White Flint Metro Station. An attorney representing the developers said the owners have declined to comment before the hearing.

White Flint Mall redevelopment, Rockville MD
The genesis for redevelopment plans came after the County's approval of the White Flint Sector Plan in 2010.  That plan allowed additional development on properties in the 430 acres covered by the plan, many along Rockville Pike and near the metro, from single-use commercial to vertical mixed-use.

White Flint sector plan map, Rockville MD commercial real estate
White Flint Mall property, Image: Montgomery Planning Dept.
Construction won't come quickly; today's sketch plan approval vote will be solely conceptual and preliminary; owners will still have to submit a Preliminary Plan followed by a Site Plan process, all of which could take years to finalize.

The mall redevelopment is part of the White Flint Mall District within the larger Sector Plan.   Plans call for replacing acres of surface parking and the 874,000 s.f. mall with a 5.2 million s.f. development that will include commercial, residential, and hotel space.  To date, the Pike and Rose has been the only project to commence since passage of the Sector Plan.

Rockville map, Montgomery County
White Flint Mall Redevelopment Plan. Image: County

Unlike the existing mall, the new plan calls for primarily underground parking and includes 1 million s.f. of office space, 280,350 s.f. of hotel space, 2,426 residential units (2.8 million s.f.), and 1 million s.f. of retail.  Plans also set aside a site for a possible future elementary school, lay out a grid of public and private streets, and sketch out a new a public park area north of the existing White Flint Neighborhood Park.

Planned building heights range from 40 feet to 250 feet, with the tallest fronting Rockville Pike and the shortest buildings facing the public park.  The plan, which would be built in three phases, details other public-use spaces - a central plaza, a gateway plaza, north and south gateway plazas, and a neighborhood plaza - which county planners say must be built to completion.

County planners are also requiring developers to include wayfinding signs, vegetated areas and walls, small business opportunities, moderately-priced dwelling units (MPDU's), and bicycle parking, among other obvious things like transportation and storm water management plans.

Commercial development plan for White Flint Mall
White Flint Mall Redevelopment Phases. Image: Montgomery County Planning Dept.

Washington DC real estate and retail news


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