Friday, December 07, 2012

Takoma Central Underway

Its been a long time coming, but construction at Takoma's metro-centered residential project is at last underway.  Developers have begun work at 233 and 235 Carroll Street, on the District's side of Takoma, on 2 buildings that add 150 rental apartments to the traditionally tranquil neighborhood.

Development partners Federal Capital Partners (FCP) and Level2 Development, (in a crowded field of partners that includes MCZ and SGA Architects), began work last week
on the pair of buildings designed by SGA Architects, a 4-story building at the corner of Maple Avenue and a 5-story adjacent building closer to the Metro station.

Now actively under construction, Level2 partner Jeff Blum says construction to start moving up from the bottom of the hole will commence "within the next few weeks."  His plan incorporates the original 4-story building, plus a new 5-story, warehouse-like building to the west, along with new mandates on what to build.  "The original project was designed and permitted under a set of zoning regulations that did not include the Takoma Overlay [increased density] nor inclusionary zoning [affordable housing requirements]. "  The ANC initially argued against the height, but Blum notes that the higher density is permitted under the new zoning, a decision he says is "appropriate because it is only a few hundred feet from the Metro station."

Each building will have its own parking garage (about 100 spaces total), with a total of 9700 s.f. of retail space.  The buildings will be wood-framed over concrete, with differing architectural styles - the 4-story building featuring an "art-deco flavor," and the other a 19th century red brick, warehouse style apartment building.  A "3-story glassy hyphen" will connect the two.  Developers are shooting for LEED certification this time around, and expect completion in March of 2014.

The project has long stuttered, and for those that enjoy the long, twisted tale that accompanies many development projects, the tale of Takoma Central doesn't disappoint.  Bethesda-based architecture firm SGA purchased the lot for redevelopment in 2004, with plans to build Ecco Park condominiums - "green," but not LEED certified, said the owner.

To prep, the developer partially remediated the soil on the former gas station site, then announced the project in 2006.  With nothing more than clean dirt at the site, the SGA sold a third of the 85 condos, but the coming housing bust forced the developer (and financial partners) to rethink, and like many other condo projects, the development went rental.  At least on paper.

Returning deposit checks, SGA announced the project would still go forward, now as an apartment building.  But financiers were as scarce as condo buyers, and it was not until August of 2010 that the developer thought it had a financial partner, and Ellisdale was awarded a $13m construction contract.  But financing was elusive, and it was not until early 2011 that Level2 and MCZ entered the picture to partner with SGA, acquiring the second site and expanding the scope of the project.  Finally, earlier this year, FCP joined the fray and the site took on new life.

"This is a neighborhood that is thirsting for new retail" says Blum of Level2, noting that the new streetscape "will better connect the Metro station to the existing shopping area on the Maryland side."  In addition to the extra retail frontage, Blum says the sidewalk "is going to be vastly improved" - "from a 4-ft path of lose bricks and other obstacles" to an 18-foot wide space, including 6-foot sidewalk and space for a sidewalk cafe, for "a much nicer, and safer, pedestrian experience." Hamel Builders is doing the construction.  Finally.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Latest Plans for St. Elizabeths Irk Preservationists

Washington DC real estate development - St. Elizabeths
St. Elizabeth real estate development, Washington DC
Gateway Pavilion rendering. Image: DMPED site
An architecturally progressive cultural venue, Gateway Pavilion will bring new life to DC's Congress Heights neighborhood, its high-profile design team told DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) Thursday.  The board received comments on the design for an "interim" arts and cultural venue planned for the heart of the 173-acre campus of psychological hospital St. Elizabeths Campus East.  It did not vote on the plans.

Plans for Gateway Pavilion call for a dramatic, wing-like roof and a five-module system that can be re-positioned to adapt the landscape of the venue, such as a for farmers' market or a concert stage, the design team told the HPRB.  The pavilion is being cast as a temporary, or "interim", anchor for a larger, planned 750,000 square foot build-out of the East Campus.

Commercial property service Washington DC
The Gateway Pavilion model at WDCEP Showcase
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) selected the design team of Davis Brody Bond, KADCON, and Robert Silman Associates in a bid to design and develop the venue on the city-owned land.  The high-profile firms are, individually, behind such sites as the National September 11th Memorial and the reconstruction of D.C.'s Eastern Market. 

St. Elizabeth's, perched on the fringe of Ward 8, sits on the brink of a major overhaul under a master plan by the General Services Administration (GSA), the property management arm of the federal government, that calls for 4.5 million s.f. of office space to one day house the Department of Homeland Security.

Construction on the West Campus is already underway, and the East Campus package is set for delivery in 2023.  The entire campus is expected to one day host about 14,000 employees.  The new headquarters for the U.S. Coast Guard could bring 4,000 workers to the neighborhood by August.

Commercial real estate plans and retail at St. Elizabeth, Washington DC
Gateway Pavilion. Image: DMPED site
"Our challenge is to continue to brand the campus as something that is not a mental institution," said Ethan Warsh of DMPED.  He said the design met the Department's goals of bringing food options and entertainment amenities to the neighborhood east of the Anacostia River, and to an increasing number of workers in the area.

The concept design has gone before the Commission on Fine Arts, the body charged with overseeing design changes to historical properties in the District, which recommended several changes including increasing walkability and sight lines across the property.  The proposed design calls for bike parking, rooftop rainwater collection, and self-composting toilets.

Acquiring land in southeast Washington DC, St. Elizabeths campus
Gateway Pavilion model at WDCEP Showcase
But the venue's seductive, green design isn't wooing everyone.  A member of the DC Preservation League (DCPL) argued the design obscured the historic buildings, and that the neighborhood needed basic retail more than it did entertainment venue and quick lunches.  

"This was also an area that we discussed should be the last possible space for development," said Rebecca Miller of DCPL. She said the neighborhood won't benefit from "fast, casual lunch places."  Backers said the site would be able to host eight to ten food trucks at any given time.

Instead, Miller said, neighborhood residents need places to buy basics, such as stockings.  "It cannot be all things to all people," Warsh, of DMPED, later commented.  "It can only be what $5 million will get us."

Note:  An earlier version of this article, in quoting the DC government's website, may have misleadingly implied that KADCON and Davis Brody Bond worked on the Eastern Market DC restoration.  That is incorrect.  Robert Silman Associates was the structural engineering firm on the project.
Campus plan - real estate development in Washington DC
GSA Master Plan for St. Elizabeth's Campus.

Costello Construction Chosen as Contractor for Silver Spring Library

When Montgomery County’s division chief for the Department of General Services described the new Silver Spring library as a real priority project for the county, he wasn’t just talking.

The county has been swiftly moving forward and is set to announce that a general contractor, Costello Construction, has been picked to build the new structure. The Columbia, Md.-based company also built Silver Spring’s much-lauded civic building at Veterans Plaza, which means its representatives have experience working with city and county officials, the community, and local utility companies.

“The lowest bidder was Costello, and they were within the budgeted amount, so the contract will be awarded to them,” said Susanne Churchill, the senior architect and project manager with the county’s Department of General Services. “They really wanted the project.”

The bidding process closed on November 7, and the contractor was recently chosen. The next steps should occur quite rapidly. The county and company are currently hammering out administrative details, and the company should begin work a few days after that. But observers might not notice much activity on the site at first, as the company gears up for construction by purchasing trailers and renting equipment. That should be just in time for the holidays, delaying the start date a bit. “This is a bad time, but one way or the other, we’ve started conversations about first steps, and they’ll probably be starting in January,” said Churchill.

That’s certainly not too soon for the many Silver Spring residents who’ve been anxiously discussing and waiting for their new library. The project, a 63,000 square foot building designed by the Lukmire Partnership at the corner of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue, has been on the table since 1999, when the county approved funding for it, but progress has moved very slowly.

When it’s finished, the city will have a new downtown library that’s almost four times bigger than the current one. A five-story building with a glass curtain wall that crosses above the Purple Line’s path, the structure will include an arts center on the first two floors and expanded meeting spaces, a computer lab, and a larger children’s section on the top three.

The project should be done by late 2014.

Silver Spring, Maryland, real estate development news 

A Biotech Firm Runs Through It

Q and A with Jill Schick and Howard Goldstein
by Beth Herman

Charged with creating the behemoth mixed use world headquarters, including offices, laboratory, daycare center and 90-foot-long steel and glass connector for the 250,000 s.f. United Therapeutics Corporation, 1040 Spring St., Silver Spring, Maryland, Jill Schick and Howard Goldstein of Schick Goldstein Architects P.C.left no stone unturned -- and no terrace untree'd. A biotech firm on the cutting edge of developing and marketing specialized products for individuals with chronic and life-threatening illnesses, the program for UTC included three buildings, green roofs and individual terraces, street level retail shops and extensive exterior and interior public spaces. Phase II, at 7 stories, achieved LEED Gold (the others were not submitted) and won the USGB's National Capitol Region Chapter 2010 Award of Excellence Project of the Year for New Construction.  DCMud talked with Schick and Goldstein about the decade-long project.

DCMud: Tell us about the unusual venue for UTC.

Schick: Most biotech firms in the area would go out to I-270, where they'd have a sprawling piece of land and not have to deal with city codes, etc.  Dr. Martine Rothblatt, who is the CEO, has lived in Silver Spring for years. She wanted to bring UTC to an urban setting and give back to the city by bringing in professional people, as a tax base, as well as offering the many courtyards incorporated into the design to the public.

DCMud: What was the process?

Goldstein: We were asked to develop a master plan for the entire project in 2002-2003, so prepared a number of designs for the three buildings at the same time. They were built individually, the 4-story laboratory building completed in 2006, the 7-story Phase II in 2010 and the last one opening just this year.

DCMud: What was the program for the second building?

Goldstein: It's mixed use. The first floor is retail shops and lobby space, entered from an amenity space. There are more laboratories on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors, and it has offices on the 5th, 6th and 7th floors. Green roof terraces exist off of the 5th and 7th floors, accessed from individual offices. A vast interior stair encourages high use and interaction as opposed to employees using an elevator or fire stair.

DCMud:What about some of UTC's sustainable elements.

Goldstein: First, we have 5,000 s.f. of solar panels on each building.

Schick: On the first building we used a lot of precast concrete for environmental purposes. There is also a lot of channel glass which affords much natural light but does not sacrifice privacy for the employees. There are exterior sun control louvers on the south and west facades.

DCMud: We understand the choice of terracotta skews wide.

Goldstein: We used (environmentally friendly) terracotta to define the area where the lab is on the 3rd and 4th floors of building #2. The office area above it on floors 5, 6 and 7 is glass and metal panel. The terracotta also scales the building down because there's a residential area to the north, so we used a color that's similar to brick. It also serves as a rain screen system, where the waterproofing is between the screen and the skin.

Schick: It's done a lot in Europe. There's no caulking, sealing and tightening.You're getting the water not to penetrate the building at all; the rain drips down behind it with its pressure equalized. And architecturally, the design of this building swoops you around to the public space on Cameron Street.

DCMud: What was the thinking behind the extensive use of public spaces?

Goldstein: In CBD's (central business districts), you're allowed to double the FAR (floor area ratio) if you provide a public amenity space in 20 percent of the lot. Our FAR was 'one' on this project, which was extremely low. One means if the property is 40,000 s.f., as with the lab area, then you can only build that much. But if you offer a public amenity space, like the courtyard we created, you can double it, which is what we did.

We created what are called pocket parks. Across the street there is an apartment building with an amenity space also, so they could double their FAR. So when you take their amenity space, and our pocket parks, and then an atrium we've created for Phase III, it becomes one large dynamic green space with a road running through it, which is the goal of the Parks Department.

Schick: There's also a public space that's interior, and it's three stories tall. It's always open, so if there's inclement weather, or you just want to experience that space, you can do it -- including on your way to the Metro which is nearby.

Goldstein: Our client calls the UTC campus 'one of the gateways to Silver Spring.'

DCMud: We understand the connector between two of the buildings has a bit of a backstory.

Schick: That was a hard thing to get approved by the neighbors. They didn't want a bridge because it takes people off the street, but this was purely for the company - and it's really called a connector. It was constructed in the South, trucked up and lifted into place. They had to close the street.

DCMud: Tell us about the final building.

Goldstein: It's an office building for staff. The entry is a 3-story atrium space off of Cameron Street. There's a pocket park off of Spring Street at the west end of the property, which is linked to the Cameron Street entrance through the atrium. The first floor is retail. The second and third floors - open to the atrium - are these 'Google spaces' - open, casual, working on your laptop, playing ping pong, having coffee or juice kinds of spaces. There's a lecture hall here as well.

DCMud: A potent feather in Silver Spring's municipal cap - and yours - to say the least!

Photos courtesy of Alan Karchmer and Anice Hoachlander

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

LEED Certification To Get Major Overhaul in 2013


A certification system that offers a stamp of approval on "green" building is getting streamlined and greener - at least that's what its backers hope.  The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system was launched by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1998 and has since gone international.

Clinching LEED certification, both for new and existing buildings, can mean higher status and lower operating costs for prospective tenants, which equates to higher rental dollars for landlords.  Levels of certification - from basic to platinum - require builders to earn more "points" in efficiency, recycled or renewable building materials, and site impact.  Critics of the certification system say the process is expensive and time consuming, something USGBC hopes to address, including revamping its web site and launching LEED-related mobile apps.

Graphic on applying for LEED. Image: USGBC web site
The USGBC announced this year that it would update its point system and opened the draft "V4" LEED for public commentsScot Horst, LEED VP, said in a press release issued in October that USGBC surveyed 21,500 stakeholders.  According to the USGBC, the new LEED iteration gives credit for positive contributions to the environment and communities rather than give points for limiting damage.

The updated LEED certification process features a streamlined application, allocates 20 percent of all points to building energy efficiency, and adds a new "Location and Transportation category that rewards projects for utilizing existing development infrastructure, embracing the principles of walkability, connectivity, density and quality alternative transportation."

Municipalities can play a significant role in determining how "green" a building is - think Metro stops and bike share programs - and Arlington has been attentive to providing infrastructure to support higher LEED rankings.  Mobility Lab, Arlington's transportation innovation arm, is a way of supporting "greener" transportation through such practices as limiting the demand for single occupancy vehicle commutes and offering information about alternative transportation options.
 Founder's Square - proposed LEED. Image: Shooshan Companies

Wendy Duren of Arlington Transportation Partners (ATP) said her organization has shepherded over 100 site plans through the LEED process. ATP, a complimentary service of Arlington County, offers services such as training for tenants on transportation options and customized transportation information.

"We are here to assist you [the developer] and make that [LEED] binder process a little less intimidating," Duren said.

Developer Kevin Shooshan, of The Shooshan Company, said Arlington County offered so many resources, it made sense to apply for LEED. "It's not logical right now to not develop to a LEED standard because of the bonuses Arlington County is offering," he said.  His company's Founder's Square building is part of a LEED Neighborhood Development certification test phase.

He said transit-oriented development involved some forethought on the part of developers.  "You have to give metro cards to new tenants, you have to put bike racks all over the place," Shooshan said.  “As a developer it's another thing you have to do, but it's the right thing for the future.”

The USGBC has invited developers to participate in a beta test phase of LEED V4, what it says will be a streamlined application procedure.  Testers will give feedback to help improve the process.  The public comment period ends December 10th.

Washington DC real estate news

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Your Next Place

324 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington DC
Capitol Hill real estate
This Capitol Hill semidetached Victorian rowhome is a true gem, located in one of the very best parts of one of the very best neighborhoods in the city. If DC was a huge cow, this house would be the filet mignon.  (My house, on the other hand, would be tripe.)

The high ceilings, antique fireplace, plaster moldings and medallions add a classic touch to the proceedings, sort of like when I wear my tweed Sherlock Holmes hat during conjugal relations.  The exceptional formal family and dining rooms are large and bright, and the gourmet kitchen is sleek and ultramodern, with the stainless steel appliances and granite countertops you'd expect from a house of this caliber.  The enclosed sunroom is perfect for some cozy afternoon reading and napping during the winter, or for quickly dropping fifteen pounds of water weight in the summer.  (Pro tip: wear a black garbage bag poncho for increased heat retention.  Great for those class reunions that sneak up on you!)

Upstairs, the master bedroom suite makes most other master bedroom suites look like shabby college-student efficiency apartments, minus the "Goodfellas" and Bob Marley posters.  Out back is ample private parking, and you're only two blocks from the Library of Congress and the Capitol, so whenever you have some spare time you can always zip on over and scream epithets at the elected representative of your choice. I suggest following the "YOU LIE!" guy down the street and shouting "YOU LIE!" over and over and over again while making air quotes with your fingers.  He really likes that.

324 Independence Ave SE
4 Bedrooms, 3.5 Baths

Capitol Hill real estate

Capitol Hill real estate

Monday, December 03, 2012

Today in Pictures - Trilogy Apartments


Trilogy apartments opened last week, and though the neighborhood's location is more contested than the Spratly Islands (either NoMa or Eckington, you pick), the first building is now open - and soon all 3 buildings and 603 apartments will be complete.   Designed by the Preston Partnership and developed by Mill Creek Residential Trust, the project broke ground in March of 2011.  Below are pictures of the completed portions of the building.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Very Far, Very Fast: Firefly

Washington DC retail and restaurant newsQ and A with Griz Dwight and James Lafley 
by Beth Herman

retail and restaurant in Dupont Circle, Washington DC, Potomac Construction Services, commercial real estate agencyDelivering a fully redesigned, rejuvenated restaurant in three weeks' time, architect Griz Dwight of GrizForm Design and Superintendent and Senior Project Manager James Lafley of Potomac Construction Services raced to reopen the outmoded Firefly, 1310 New Hampshire Avenue NW, located inside the Hotel Madera. Frequented by tourists and locals who covet the venue's famed pumpkin hummus, and steamed blue bay mussels, expanding the now 62-seat dining space and adding 8 more bar and lounge seats was at the top of the menu. DCMud spoke with Dwight and Lafley about the project.

DCMud: Why the rush? Where's the fire (fly)?!

Lafley: Firefly is a working restaurant and staff was given three weeks off. There are many regular, local customers, and there were functions like weddings planned, so we had to accomplish a phenomenal feat given the extent of the work.

DCMud: Describe the existing space.

Lafley: The whole space - a back dining room; main dining room; bar; a reception room - was drab and dingy. There was a round, outdated, inadequate bar with worn wood on the back. A wall around the kitchen with a cobblestone-like finish looked like the 1950s, though it had been installed in the '60s. Carpeting was very old.

Dwight: The space already had a woodsy feel and we were limited by time and budget, so rather than come up with a completely new scheme, we wanted to take what was there and amp it up. We took the idea of dining alfresco in the woods as far as we could. There was a tree there before, so we attached a swing for cocktail seating.

Firefly restaurant in Dupont Circle, Washington DC, Potomac Construction Services, architecture and design
DCMud: The kitchen appears to be something out of a storybook.

Dwight: It was made to appear like the outside of a house or cottage. We used recycled brick, windows and shutters. They open up so the chef can pass items through them for happy hour. It feels like the kind of space in which your grandma might be as she calls you in for dinner.

DCMud: What are some of the design challenges you faced?

Dwight: One of the major goals of the renovation was to address some of the problems the restaurant was having. There was a huge sound problem, so a lot of our design intention was focused there.

Lafley: The ceiling was sprayed with an acoustical paint for a quieter environment.

Firefly restaurant in Dupont Circle, Washington DC, Potomac Construction Services, architecture and designDwight: Acousti-Coat is a NASA-invented paint with ceramic modules inside the paint to dull sound. We also clad an entire dining room wall with leather-wrapped sound panels. The leather has that warmth and outdoorsy feel and absorbs 100 percent of the sound that hits it. We also took tree flaps - giant slices of naturally fallen trees - and made a dividing screen between the bar and dining room. So the bar can have that happy hour where people get a little bit louder, but the sound isn't going right to the dining room.

Firefly restaurant Washington DC, Potomac Construction Services
DCMud: Can you speak to some of the unusual lighting?

Dwight: We were really limited by ceiling height, but wanted to enhance the idea of tree branches and fireflies. Accordingly we attached bent pipes around the ceiling to imitate branches. Each one ends in a dimmed Edison bulb, which evokes the tail end of a firefly. Between this feature and the (cottage) kitchen, it makes it a very warm space.

DCMud: What are some of the other design elements you incorporated?

Firefly restaurant Washington DCLafley: California wood slabs were installed behind the hostess stand and between the two dining rooms, suspended on rebar, to give you the feeling of being outdoors. The outdated carpeting was replaced with engineered wood flooring that matches Brazilian cherry. Stone Source Trend Q tiles, which are recycled and in this case have a greenish cast, tops the new bar and really dresses it up. Slate flanks the side of the bar and runs around the base of the kitchen "cottage," as well as the entrance foyer. We installed glass walls that open up to the outside. In warm weather, the restaurant can be exposed to the street and patio out front.

DCMud: Sounds as though you beat the clock without sacrificing anything - except maybe some sleep.

Washington D.C. restaurant design news

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