Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tiny House Warms Locals' Tiny Hearts

Washington DC isn't exactly known to attract those with modest ambitions – I'm still flabbergasted at how often I hear the phrase “changing the world” used unironically at happy hours – so I was surprised at how enthusiastically the tiny house was received.

Parked randomly in the middle of a Wangari Gardens in Petworth, there was a 30-minute wait just to pop inside and look around, even in the intense midafternoon heat. (Though in all fairness I think quite a few of the people in line thought they were waiting to use a porta-potty.) At only 130 square feet (no, I didn't forget a zero), the tiny house, the Fencl model, manufactured by Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, looks at first scarily tiny, like a coffin with a roof over it. But it was definitely cute. During our wait in line, most of the conversation overheard centered around its endearingly miniature proportions.

“Someone should do a reality show starring the tiny house,” said the woman in front of us to her companion. “You could take it from city to city for each episode and live in it with a tiny dog and everywhere you stop you could have a tiny romance and at the end of the episode you could have a tiny epiphany. Like, 'this week I learned that blue is not that flattering of a color on me. But it still looks okay, I guess.' All you need is a host.”
“You'd be perfect,” I said, leaning over to my girlfriend. “You have a tiny heart and a tiny soul.”
She continued looking straight ahead. “Do you want to talk about what you have that's tiny?” She asked.
I have no idea what she was talking about. The heat was getting to her, I think.

But once I got into the tiny house, I realized that it was not that tiny at all. You enter into a small but serviceable main room; you could absolutely fit a modest flat screen and one or two pieces of slim furniture in there. Behind that is kitchen; equipped with a sink, a two-burner stove, a small college-type fridge, and a water heater (under the sink), it's surprisingly functional. You may not have acres of counter space, but you could certainly cook a full meal. And look at it this way, if the meal turns out to be less than impressive, you could just blame it on the kitchen. At home, cooking in a full kitchen, you've got no excuse but incompetence. Off the kitchen is the bathroom, which was impressive. A full shower (the hot water heater in the kitchen is good for five minutes of hot water) and a toilet; no sink, but you can install one above the toilet, Japanese-style.

Up above is the peaked sleeping loft; it can accommodate a queen-sized bed, and at its highest point, it's 3' 8”, so sitting up in bed is not out of the question (though standing up is). I climbed up there and laid down and it was basically like being in a really nice tent. It was cozy and even womblike. Throughout the tiny house there was, as you might imagine, a huge amount of built-in shelving, on every available surface, though bringing your ceramic cat figurines and laserdiscs to your new minimalistic tiny house seems a bit counter-intuitive. The house I saw, the interior was unvarnished pine, leaving the particulars of the final product up to the consumer. There are a lot of tiny house blogs online showing the looks people have gone for, though I will say that if you're lazy like me, you could probably convince yourself that the unpainted wood looks “rugged” and “austere.” Since the tiny house is so tiny, heating is quick and inexpensive; the literature claims that the stainless steel fireplace in the main room can heat the house in conditions as low as -35F.

Bottom line, the tiny house was absolutely nicer than any dorm room or efficiency apartment I've ever been in. When you add in the portability and efficiency, I think we'll be seeing a lot more of these in the future. Whether they'll be in the District is uncertain; many models of tiny houses, like the Fencl, can be kept on a trailer, thus evading local zoning requirements. Larger ones could run into problems, being in a gray area between house and shed. There's been talk of rewriting the local zoning code to accommodate more alley lots and accessory housing (both of which would be tiny house-friendly), but at the moment, you might want to keep your tiny house in Maryland or Virginia.

More notably, the mood at the exhibition was celebratory, if not downright fetishistic. People were snapping pictures, touching the house, waiting half an hour just to step inside for a minute, like pilgrims at Lourdes or something. Just five years ago, with the economy booming and the concept of American maximalism still intact, I think the tiny house would've been met with eyerolls and contempt. But in this post-recession moment of cultural reconsideration and humility (even if it is forced), the tiny house is now emblematic of virtue, of modesty – above all, of enlightenment. The same cultural tides that have rendered the SUV the official vehicle of the tacky and philistine have reached housing culture; behold, the Prius of homes. What it lacks in square footage and spare rooms, it more than makes up for in environmental karma and financial practicality. After all, imagine what you could spend all that money on that would've gone to 25 years of mortgage payments on a McMansion. Fine wine instead of box wine, a month in Europe instead of five days in Rehoboth, working twenty-five hours a week instead of fifty. When it comes to cramping your quality of life, the tiny house is nothing, compared to the tiny life.

Photos via Flickr/AtomicLlama

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Your Next Place

By Franklin Schneider

This Federal-style brick townhome is ideally situated in Southwest, with views of the Potomac River and the Jefferson Memorial, and just a hop, skip and a jump from the Mall, the Capitol, the waterfront, and many other things I've never seen despite living in DC for five years.

Inside, the house is roomy and bright, with high ceilings and tons of windows. I always know if an open house is going well when I see people sauntering from room to room, nodding their heads while looking around, and it seemed like everyone at this place was doing that.

And really, what's not to like? There's a large chef's eat-in kitchen (with the requisite granite countertops), a wide, elevated entertaining deck, a truly masterful master bathroom (the jacuzzi-style tub was so deep that it comes with a stool for stepping in and out, which I think speaks for itself), and some truly massive bedrooms. Too often, it seems like houses will go all out with the dramatic living room, kitchen, etc., but then the bedrooms will be cramped little cubbyholes. This never made sense to me, since most of the people I know who live with other people, be it roommates or family or whatever, spend most of their time in their bedroom. (If you just read that and were like, "no way, I spend most of my time camped out in the living room!!" then I hate to tell you this, but you're the one we're all avoiding.) (Hi, Dad.)

680 9th Street SW
4 Bedrooms, 3.5 Baths

First Baptist's Apartment Building to Replace Dupont Parking Lot


Having finally received approval for their requested zoning exceptions, the First Baptist Church of Washington's planned nine-story, 218-unit apartment building, set to be built on one of Dupont Circle's last remaining surface parking lots, is juuuuuust about ready to go.

"The project has a clear runway to ground- breaking. All we need now is the building permit. We're thinking we'll start construction in 4Q of this year, and it'll take about 18 months, all told," said Michael Korns, Developer at Keener Squire, the firm overseeing the project.

The Eric Colbert and Associates-designed project was initially met with considerable community resistance, for reasons ranging from noise, a potential influx of students, and preserving the neighborhood's last parking lot (arguably the least sympathetic cause of all time). In response to the outcry, developers and architect Eric Colbert revised the design to reduce the exposure of rooftop common areas, and reduced the number of efficiency units. (There was some speculation that the reduced number of efficiencies was in response to complaints that the building might become a magnet for students. Perhaps sensitive to the suggestion of reverse ageism, ANC 2B removed text praising the efficiencies reduction from their resolution in support of the project.)

At around ninety feet, the building will fit in with the established scale of the area, and aesthetically it should match the neighboring structures. "It's a stone and brick and precast building, yellow in color, a fair amount of glass, and metal sunshades," says Korns, all of which is in keeping with the modern architecture in the area. Though the area will lose some parking spaces once the lot is gone, the edifice does include 93 below-grade parking spaces. And although any construction is, of course, disruptive, the plan that was approved was the least disruptive of all possibilities that were discussed.

"Some of the plans we were thinking of presenting would have involved demolishing an extension built onto the church in the Eighties, but we decided against that. It would've been too disruptive to the neighborhood and to the church; they have daycare there, and community programs."

Having finally cleared the last hurdle, after withstanding fierce community resistance and making significant concessions and design changes to appease those concerns, did Korns have anything he'd like to say to the community?

"No comment," Korns said dryly.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New Residential and Retail Bound for Edgewood

Commercial real estate construction news in Washington DC, Bethesda, and Arlington
A new 6-story apartment building with ground-floor retail space could be headed to 2321 4th St. NE in Edgewood on the now-empty lot owned by H Street Community Development Corporation (HSCDC). Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5C will consider the mixed-use development during a meeting this evening.

Washington DC commercial construction and real estate news
View looking south from 4th Street

The proposed building is a joint venture between HSCDC and E&G Group. The new $37 million development will create about 160,000 s.f. of mixed-use space, designed by Bonstra | Haresign Architects and built by Maggin Construction Company.

Plans call for between 155 affordable residential units on the five floors above the first-floor podium. Ground level space is reserved for 3,000 s.f. of retail, various tenant facilities and 40 parking spaces.

Kenton Drury, the project manager from E&G Group, said residential units will vary in size with 5 studio, 85 one-bedroom, and 65 two-bedroom units.

Tenants must be at or below 60 percent of the local Area Median Income (or about $40,000 for an individual). Rent for someone at 60 percent AMI is about $1,000 for a studio.

"We see young professionals wanting to live here because it’s an up-and-coming vibrant neighborhood close to metro and close to areas of employment," Drury said. The target tenant is a young professional entering the workforce or an "empty nester" who is retired or working part-time.

Washington DC retail for lease
View looking north from 4th Street
Development plans presented at a recent community meeting netted mixed feelings from residents. While they did not seem concerned about the building itself, they did express concerns about its impact on the neighborhood. Drury said some people thought rent was not affordable enough while others thought it was too affordable for the neighborhood. And residents asked about the local economic boost it could bring.

Drury said he told local business owners interested in providing construction services to get their Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) Certification because some work will be designated for CBEs. And residents with retail or service-oriented businesses could open up shop in the retail space on site.

Whatever the final development looks like, it will be a welcomed change from the so-called "Heroin Hotel" that used to stand on the lot. HSCDC demolished the three vacant buildings that had become a hotbed of criminal activity, but the community must wait longer for construction.

After the ANC meeting tonight, the next big step will be a Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) meeting tentatively scheduled for June. Developers will ask for a variance on the loading dock height and parking space requirement. Drury said the only way to keep the 6-story building within the height limits is to reduce the loading dock height. And the triangular lot -- plus debris from the former buildings -- make it difficult to provide more parking spaces.

Drury said he hopes to have funding lined up this summer to move forward with working drawings and permit applications by the end of the year, and he hopes to break ground in early 2013.

Washington, D.C. real estate development news

Monday, April 16, 2012

Clark Realty Requests Revision with WMATA's Tenley Property


Yet another version of the redeveloped Safeway in Tenleytown could be in the works if the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority Board approves a proposal to sell an adjacent .25-acre site to Clark Realty Capital. Clark offered to purchase the "chiller site" as an addition to the Safeway redevelopment plan that includes residential units above the new grocery store.

For WMATA, the purchase is a chance to repurpose underutilized land, get a new air conditioning unit for two Metro stations, and possibly bank extra cash. If the sale goes through, Clark will develop the land and put a new chiller plant in the building. The air conditioner for the Friendship Heights and Tenleytown Metro stations is already about halfway through its 20-year life cycle.

“This is an opportunity for us to get some value from the real estate holdings while improving our service,” said Steve Teitelbaum, senior real estate adviser at WMATA.

For Clark, purchasing the extra land means a continuous street front on Wisconsin Avenue and more space for development by increasing the lot to 2.75 acres from the roughly 2.5 acres it now covers. Clark's John Sunter said additional residential or retail space will be created "generally in proportion to the increased size of the site."

Current plans show four floors of residential space above the new Safeway on 42nd Street. Both the lot and the building slope back toward 43rd Street. Other residential units include townhouses and free-standing houses around the property. Sunter said the team is working on revised plans using the WMATA lot and that they "look forward to sharing any changes with the community at the appropriate time."

Elevation along Davenport Street
Redevelopment of the Safeway site has been a hot topic for some time now. Clark, Safeway and Torti Gallas presented revised plans in January to mixed reactions from residents. Among the concerns were issues of height and density in the primarily single-family community. Another presentation in March showed height reduced by one story, among other alterations.

Jonathan Bender, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 3E, said that while some residents' concerns were addressed in the revised plans, there still was room for improvement regarding the impact of increased density on the community.

"I, and I believe most of my fellow commissioners, do not object per se to the level of density Safeway/Clark proposes," he said in an email response. "Instead, several of us are concerned that Safeway has not committed to the steps necessary to minimize the burden that such density could occasion. Perhaps the biggest concern is parking in the neighborhood."

He said the ANC has asked that the new residents be ineligible for Residential Parking Permits (RPPs). The project is intended to encourage public transportation in lieu of using personal vehicles.

But the ANC likely would support using the WMATA site, especially if it facilitates the incorporation of other ANC suggestions.

"I and other commissioners actually suggested that Safeway/Clark look into purchasing this property long before we knew they had been talking about doing so with WMATA, and perhaps before they actually had done so," Bender said. "I would especially like to see the WMATA plot used in part for additional retail offerings and enhancements to the streetscape."

The WMATA board will vote on the sale proposal April 26.

Washington, D.C. real estate development news

Today in Pictures - Union Market

Union Market - formerly known as the Capital City Market - is readying for its debut as D.C.'s newest culinary destination. Edens and developer J Street are redeveloping the historic site to create a "best-in class, year-round, indoor food market." More than 40 local vendors may set-up shop in the new Union Market, say its promoters.

Various plans were considered for the site before settling on the Edens plan. Union Market will celebrate its reopening June 3 with Sunday Supper in conjunction with the James Beard Foundation. The site has been the intended target of a much larger redevelopment project, but remedial work is now underway on the site for its conversion to a restaurant haven. Below are recent photos of the undeveloped site.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your Next Place

By Franklin Schneider

I admit I'm one of those people who has no idea what anything costs and never looks at menu prices or pricetags (my frugal asian mother's head just exploded after reading that), so open-housing was and still is a shock to me. I'm always like "gosh, I'd totally pay thirty or even thirty-five thousand dollars for this Logan Circle four-bedroom," and then I do a latte spit-take when I see the actual seven-figure price.

But this place! When I saw it was "only" 845K, I swore it was a typo. ("I bet it's really $845 million!") That's how sweet this place is. A stunning "ultra-loft" that sports eighteen foot ceilings, this place is incredibly sleek, modern, and features high-end finishes, from Bosch and Wolf appliances to Hans Grohe fixtures to Duravit water closets. It might just take the crown of "coolest place I've seen in DC."

Upstairs, there are two large bedrooms and two large bathrooms, as well as a private roof terrace. Also, check out that awesome glass that separates off the lofted section. If I lived here, I'd keep the front door unlocked and pray for a burglar to come in so I could leap out and drop-kick them through the glass wall and onto the floor far below, like Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible 4." The 600-square-foot private roof terrace is the perfect place for a party, with a wet bar, Jacuzzi, and even an outdoor shower! Can you imagine the possibilities? You'll have to, because I can't go into them here. This is a family blog, after all.

2351 Champlain Street NW Penthouse #2
2 Bedrooms, 2 Full Baths, 2 Half Baths

Friday, April 13, 2012

Planning Board OKs JBG's New Woodmont East Plans

JBG Companies on Thursday received unanimous support from the Montgomery County Planning Board for its amended Woodmont East plans that more than double the lot size and revive a previously eliminated hotel.

JBG already planned to build in the same block at 7200 Woodmont Avenue, located between Elm Street and Bethesda Avenue. Shalom Baranes Associates designed the project with landscape design by Oehme van Sweden Landscape Architects.

Plans for the new section involve constructing two additional floors of office space on the existing Artery Building, adding retail space along the ground level, and building a new 182,950 s.f. hotel.
The hotel (center) and office/retail space along Bethesda Avenue

Amended plans also add 168,950 s.f. of office space, 25,088 s.f. of retail space and eliminate 22,974 s.f. of space for the 210 residential units.

Incorporation of the Capital Crescent Trail (mostly the alternate route along Bethesda Avenue) continued to raise concerns for the Board. Some feared that the increased foot traffic along Bethesda Avenue could create safety and logistical problems for trail users. But they ultimately were satisfied with the plan to use landscaping, curbs, outdoor dining areas and pavement changes to separate the sidewalk from the trail.

Trail construction hinges on the future Purple Line, Lot 31, and third-phase construction. All parties agreed that if the trail benchmarks are reached after construction of the second phase and before the third phase starts, the company can choose to either build the trail or pay the county to do it.

The Board did not raise any significant concerns with the rest of the plan. If fully constructed, Woodmont East would provide a link extending the revamped downtown area.

JBG's Holly Hull said the development is "extending and celebrating Bethesda Row."

Woodmont East will focus on the pedestrian experiences, presenters said. Following the lead of Bethesda Row, the sidewalks will be next to retail spaces. Outdoor dining will be pushed way from the buildings to keep the sidewalks clear. Artistic benches scattered throughout the property offer a place to "lounge." And building setbacks will give the appearance of low building heights.

Robert Sponseller, principal at Shalom Baranes Associates, said they strayed from the standard approach in designing this project. "We have designed from the public space up."

When completed, Woodmont East will have more than 1 million square feet of new and repurposed office, retail, residential and hotel space. Construction could start as early as 2013.

Bethesda, Maryland, real estate development news

Half Street Fairgrounds Opens

Nationals fans at yesterday's home opener had the chance to see the newest open-air market at the grand opening of Half Street Fairgrounds. Recycled shipping containers were refurbished and painted to make space for restaurants and shops.

The recycled metal boxes fill a site that eventually will be developed by Akridge. But until new construction starts, the site joins the ranks of Brooklyn's DeKalb Market and London's BOXPARK Shoreditch in finding ways to reuse old materials and underutilized sites.

Adjacent to the ball park, vendors at Half Street Fairgrounds can take advantage of game-day shopping, with an entertainment and shopping destination for the neighborhood.

“Beyond opening day, Fairgrounds is expected to provide a dynamic shopping, dining, and entertainment destination to the Capitol Riverfront Neighborhood throughout the summer and into fall,” a press release states.

The site was created by Akridge, Bo Blair of Georgetown Events, which operates The Bullpen on the site, and Mike Berman of Diverse Markets Management, which operates the Flea Market at Eastern Market and the Downtown Holiday Market at Penn Quarter. It was designed by Christy Schlesinger of Schlesinger Architects. DCRE Commercial is the leasing agent.

Washington, D.C., real estate development news

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Your Next Place

By Franklin Schneider

This Dupont rowhome is definitely one of a kind. Set way back from the street and slightly elevated, it glowers down on you like that one person at the bar who's clearly way out of your class and knows it, and thus is the only person you're interested in, much to the chagrin of your best friend's coworker, who only came out because you were described to her as a "nice, normal guy." Ha ha, as if that even exists!

I loved the bright, wide living room in this place, and it opens out onto a beautiful flagstone patio. The kitchen is incredible, with acres of wraparound counter space. Standing in the kitchen felt like what I imagine it would feel like standing on the bridge of an aircraft carrier. (Or maybe I'm just used to my really tiny, crappy kitchen.) There are also a ton of unique, endearing little touches throughout the house, like the varied color schemes in the bedrooms, or the double ceiling fans in the master bedroom (which I've never seen, but is a downright brilliant idea). Out back, beyond the patio, is a huge two-car garage in which you could easily fit three or four cars (why do you own four cars?!).

My favorite part was the massive jacuzzi tub. My girlfriend was slightly hungover that day and she was like, "do you think I could quickly jump in the tub without the agent noticing?" I think she would've done it too, but she knew I would've immediately called all the other open-housers in and then posted pictures on Facebook of her getting dragged soaking wet and nude from the house by police. We have a love-hate relationship. (A 10/90 split, I'd say, which is still way better than my parents.)

1319 21st Street NW
5 Bedrooms, 3 Full Baths, 2 Partial

Washington D.C. real estate news

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