Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Development

Development


If the FBI moves to Greenbelt, here's what it will look like

The FBI is considering moving its headquarters from downtown Washington to either Greenbelt, Landover, or Springfield. If it goes to Greenbelt, here's what the development will look like:


Greenbelt development rendering. Image from Renard Development/Gensler.

Under this plan, a new mixed-use transit-oriented development would replace the parking lot at the Greenbelt Metro station. The FBI would occupy the five buildings on the bottom of the rendering, with other offices, apartments, retail, and a hotel taking up the rest.

Greenbelt Metro station is located in the upper left side the rendering, immediately behind the building that looks like a "6" digit tipped on its side. To the right of that building, a central plaza would be the area's main public space, and one of Prince George's most urban spots.


Proposed view from the Greenbelt Metro station. Image from Renard Development/Gensler.

The Metro's existing entrance is immediately behind the "6" building. It would be nice if a new Metro entrance would line up directly with the plaza, though it looks more like a short walkway behind the building will connect the station to the plaza.

Since Greenbelt is an end-of-line station, the development replaces all the Metro commuter parking. But instead of surface parking lots, it would go in a new parking garage shown on the far left of the overview rendering, connected to the station with a wide, suburban-style street.

Clustering mixed-use development next to the Metro station and putting the FBI buildings and park-and-rides across the street makes a lot of sense. That layout provides a parking lot for commuters and gives the FBI the space it wants for a buffer without sacrificing the walkability of the entire neighborhood.

Meanwhile, FBI workers who don't commute via Metro would use the parking garage on the far right, next to the Beltway.

Overall, this looks like a decent plan. There are a lot of less than ideal trade-offs, but given the demands of an end-line station and the FBI, it's not terrible.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


In White Oak, the region's east-west divide becomes an urban-suburban one

The DC area has long faced an east-west divide, with more of the wealth going to the west side. Increasingly, investment is also heading to urban areas over suburban ones. For struggling suburban areas on the east side, the only answer is to take on more urban features.


All photos by the author unless noted.

One of those places is White Oak in eastern Montgomery County, where the County Council will vote tomorrow on a plan to create a new town center. Local residents are eager to have more jobs and amenities close to home, but civic and environmental groups want to limit the amount of density in White Oak because it's several miles from a Metro station and roads are already congested.

But the kind of compact, dense development proposed for White Oak could allow residents to access jobs, shops, or other amenities by walking, biking, or simply driving a shorter distance than they would otherwise. It would generate less traffic than the alternative: more of the sprawling, car-oriented development that's currently allowed in White Oak, plus additional sprawl farther out.

Residents say it's East County's turn

East County has experienced little of the prosperity that more affluent parts of Montgomery County take for granted. One reason is the county's traffic tests, which prohibit development when roads reach a certain level of congestion until more roads are built. This standard led to a 20-year development moratorium in East County that ended in 2004.

Development simply moved to the western, more affluent side of Montgomery County or farther out to Howard County while East County roads remained congested. Today, White Oak consists largely of aging strip malls, office parks, and industrial brownfields surrounding the Food and Drug Administration's new headquarters near New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29, which will eventually hold 9,000 workers.


LifeSci Village rendering courtesy of Percontee.

The White Oak Science Gateway plan, which councilmembers will vote on tomorrow, would allow them to transform into urban, mixed-use neighborhoods with up to 8,500 new homes and 40,000 new jobs. Much of this development would occur at LifeSci Village, a concrete recycling plant that the county and developer Percontee want to turn into a research and technology center.

Local residents say it's their turn, speaking out in favor of the plan at two public hearings. At a public forum last fall, community members called the White Oak plan their highest priority for economic development.

Traffic tests won't solve traffic

But the Science Gateway plan would still fail the traffic tests. County Executive Ike Leggett and some councilmembers have recommended excluding Route 29 from traffic counts, arguing that it's a regional highway that would be congested no matter what.


An abandoned office building in White Oak.

As a result, some civic associations and environmental groups around the county have criticized the plan, arguing that urban development shouldn't be allowed away from a Metro station. They say Montgomery County should follow its own rules and stick to the traffic tests.

But the traffic tests can't really fix congestion if their required solution is always to build more roads, which is proven to cause more traffic. And East County residents know that they haven't solved congestion, since they have to travel longer distances for work, shopping, or other things they can't find closer to home.

That's not to say that White Oak doesn't need better transportation. Councilmember George Leventhal has asked Leggett to put together a financing plan for Bus Rapid Transit within two years, so the county can figure out how to fund and build it as development moves forward.

East County's future depends on having a town center

More development doesn't have to mean more driving. Montgomery County added 100,000 residents over the past decade, but the rate of driving actually stayed the same. That's because as the county grows around Metro stations, more people can get around without a car. But even in town centers away from Metro, like what's proposed at White Oak, people would have more transportation options than they do otherwise, whether that means walking, biking, taking the bus, or even driving a shorter distance.


It's possible to create urban places away from Metro stations, like Shirlington in Arlington County.

We know that people increasingly want to live in compact, walkable neighborhoods. We've seen businesses gravitate to more urban locations in the region, like Choice Hotels, which moved from an office park near White Oak to Rockville Town Center.

For decades, there's been a growing divide between the east and west sides of Montgomery County. East County increasingly lags the rest of the county when it comes to new town centers like White Flint, Crown in Gaithersburg, and even Germantown. If we're going to close the east-west gap in Montgomery County, White Oak can't stay a land of office parks forever.

Government


Casey Anderson is Montgomery's new Planning Board chair

Montgomery County's new Planning Board chair will be Casey Anderson, a strong advocate for growing the county's urban areas and improving its transit network. The County Council voted 8-1 to appoint him this morning.

An attorney who lives in Silver Spring, Anderson has been a community activist on smart growth, transit, and bicycling issues, previously serving on the board of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. He stepped down to join the Planning Board in 2011, and can be seen walking or biking to meetings there. The council will have to find a replacement for his old seat.

Councilmembers appeared to rally around Anderson last week over four other applicants for the position. "Anderson comes closest to holding the vision I have for our County's future," wrote Councilmember Roger Berliner in a message to his constituents. "He is a strong proponent of smart and sustainable growth, served by world class transit. These are the key components of a strong future for our county."

The Planning Board chair is responsible for giving the County Council recommendations on land use and transportation issues, meaning they can play a big role in how and where the county grows. As chair, Anderson says he'd like to look at the way Montgomery County uses the amount of car traffic as a test for approving development. The tests often discourage building in the county's urban areas, where people have the most options for getting around without a car.

As a board member, Anderson has advocated for more transportation options and more nightlife as ways to keep the county relevant and attractive to new residents. He was the only vote against approving an extension of Montrose Parkway through White Flint, where the county wants to create a pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented downtown. He also served with me on the Nighttime Economy Task Force, which sought to promote nightlife in the county.

Anderson was a strong influence in favor of the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan, and persuaded some of his fellow commissioners to support repurposing existing lanes for BRT. Anderson also pushed for performance standards for BRT which aim to prevent BRT from being watered down in the future.

Upcounty, he opposed the board's unfortunate vote in support of the M-83 highway last fall. He did support keeping development in a part of Clarksburg near Ten Mile Creek which turned the Montgomery Countryside Alliance against his candidacy.

Councilmember Marc Elrich was the only vote against Anderson. Though he didn't nominate her this morning, Elrich favored former Planning Board member Meredith Wellington, who had support from some civic activists who feel that the county is growing too fast. The field of candidates also included current board member and real estate developer Norman Dreyfuss, current deputy planning director Rose Krasnow, and former County Councilmember Mike Knapp.

Montgomery County offers a wide variety of urban, suburban, and rural communities. Anderson's appointment suggests that the county's ready to embrace its urban areas while preserving the suburban and rural ones, providing a greater variety of community types and transportation choices for an increasingly diverse population.

Development


Is a big building "incompatible" with a historic area?

Dupont Circle has a mix of large buildings, medium ones, and smaller rowhouses. If a property owner wants to build something as high as zoning allows, which is lower than some buildings but taller than most, is that "incompatible" with the historic character of the neighborhood? That's one debate around a proposed project at 18th and Church streets, NW.


Perspective view of proposed building on Church Street. All images from the project team unless otherwise noted.

This corner was once a grand gothic church which burned down from arson in 1970. The St. Thomas Episcopal parish has been using a secondary building, which had been their parish hall, ever since, but wants to build a new church.

St. Thomas solicited bids from developers who could build the residential building and a new church. The winner, CAS Riegler, then reached out to neighbors to understand people's desires around the project.

Neighbors who share the alley with the church wanted some open space along the alley. The current parish hall comes right out to the alley, and the neighbors wanted it set back from the alley. It also would mean that if the residential building extends upward, it would not block light from the southwest which they get in afternoons and evenings.

The architects, from MTFA (for the church) and Hickok Cole (for CAS Riegler) accommodated this. They also reversed a parking ramp so that drivers going in and out of the parking garage would not travel all the way down the alley, and they set back upper floors from the adjacent townhouses.


Perspective view of proposed building on 18th Street.

The church and developer did not, however, accede to requests from some neighbors to significantly shrink down the project to more like four stories. Neighbors have been organizing to oppose the project.

The Dupont Circle Citizens' Association passed a resolution asking the city to consider buying the property for park, but even if it were for sale (and it is not), the recent Play DC Master Plan delineates an area of high need for parkland, and this area isn't inside it.

What will the preservationists say?

DC's Historic Preservation Review Board will examine this project, since the site is part of the Dupont Circle historic district, and will determine whether the size of the proposed building is "compatible" with the historic district. Is it?

A group of neighbors hired preservation consultant Stephen Hansen to assemble arguments against the proposed project. Among many points, Hansen's report argues that any building of 70 feet, the height that zoning allows, is incompatible with the historic district.

There are a number of even taller and larger buildings in the immediate area, including the Dupont East at 18th and Q, the Copley Plaza apartments at 17th and Church, and the Parisian-style building that used to house the National Trust for Historic Preservation at 18th and Massachusetts.

According to Hansen's report, the "Statement of Significance" for the historic district, formed in 1977, says:

the immediate area around the Circle itself contains some high-rise mid-twentieth century intrusions, the remainder of the Historic District is characterized by a juxtaposition of grand, palatial mansions lining two of the avenuesMassachusetts and New Hampshirewhich traverse the historic districtand rowhouse development of excellent architectural quality of the grid streets.
Therefore, Hansen argues, the similarly-sized and larger buildings in the area are "intrusions" and allowing another building beyond row house height will "compromise the historic integrity of the entire historic district."

The arguments around this project are very similar to the ones around the Takoma Metro: This is right near a Metro station, but the proposed height, which is larger than many nearby houses but not as large as every building, is nonetheless incompatible, some say.

The Dupont Circle Conservancy, the local historic preservation group, didn't agree. In its resolution, that organization supported the overall project, though a majority of members felt the church design could be further improved and wanted the building to rise more gradually from the existing rowhouses toward 18th Street, basically setting the top floors back farther on that side.

I don't believe this is incompatible

I live nearly across the street from this project and don't think it would destroy the street or make the historic district lose its character.

The original church was also large and tall, though very different in design. Erecting a prominent building on this corner actually restores, rather than damages, this characteristic of the historic district during its period of significance. The still-standing parish hall building was always subordinate to the church itself, so incorporating it into a larger building is an appropriate and compatible way to adaptively reuse this site.


Sidewalk perspective rendering from Church Street. Image from the project team.


Photograph from the sidewalk in front of my house. Photo by the author.

Like many residents of the area, I appreciate and cherish the park-like space at the corner of 18th and Church. However, I also recognize that this is not a public park, but an empty space where a church building once stood, and that zoning gives the church every right to build a structure on this site.

If the park is to disappear, adding housing is a valuable use of this land for the public good. The District faces a housing shortage which has made living in many neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, out of reach for many people. This building will have to provide a few affordable units under the Inclusionary Zoning law. Further, adding more housing will take one small step toward adding the housing the city needs.

No one building is going to single-handedly address the housing crisis, but since most people do not want to see neighborhoods like Dupont Circle redeveloped wholesale, adding housing at sites like this one is an excellent way to make a start.

I do want to ensure that the buildings' operations do not lead to lines of cars queueing and idling on Church Street, such as for pick-up and drop-off if the church hosts a small school, for funeral processions, and regular deliveries. The applicants have promised to work out further details as the project proceeds through the development process; if they get historic approval, it looks like they will also need some zoning exceptions.

The area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 2B, will discuss the project tonight at its meeting at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW. The meeting runs from 7-10 pm and this project will probably come up between 8 and 9. Any residents or other people can (and should) speak up with their views.

Development


How do you fix Ballston mall? Make it less like a mall

Problem: The Ballston Common Mall isn't working very well. Solution: Open the mall up to the surrounding streets, so it becomes the center of a lively community rather than a walled-off separate place.


Concept for the Ballston mall renovation. Images from Forest City.

Ballston is one of the smallest malls in the region. It can't compete well against bigger centers with more stores, like Pentagon City or Tysons Corner. Instead, the mall generally only draws customers from a small area nearby, and thus makes less money than other, bigger malls.

Meanwhile, being an enclosed mall that serves mostly local traffic, it saps sidewalk retail away from Ballston's neighborhood streets. Stores that would otherwise be on the sidewalk are instead bottled up in the mall.

To fix this, developer Forest City plans to face more stores to the sidewalk, and give them more inviting storefronts. It will replace nondescript mall doors with open-air plazas that naturally extend the street into the mall. Capping the building will be a new 29-story residential tower.


Concept for the open-air plaza.

Forest City still needs to work with Arlington County to finalize and approve plans. For now, these are just concepts. But if all goes well, the 1980s-style Ballston Common Mall will transition to become the contemporary Ballston Center in 2017 and 2018.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


Otherwise-progressive Maryland elected officials choose exclusion at the Takoma Metro

In our region, in 2014, shouldn't building housing on top of Metro stations be an uncontroversial idea? To many people and elected officials in Takoma Park, that's only tolerable as long as you add a very small number of residents and don't build anything larger than surrounding buildings.


Photo by bradleygee on Flickr.

This attitude ensures that housing costs stay high and many communities remain off-limits to many people who would like to live there. Montgomery Council candidate Tom Hucker, gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, congressman Chris Van Hollen, councilmember Marc Elrich, state senator Jamie Raskin, and delegate Sheila Hixson all reinforced much or all of this exclusionary attitude last week.

They were writing about the planned 200-unit apartment building atop the Takoma Metro station. It will cover what's now the Kiss and Ride parking lot and a patch of trees. The site is inside the District of Columbia, but is across the street from some houses in Maryland. The WMATA Board held a hearing last week on the proposal.

A group of people, led by Takoma Park councilmember Seth Grimes, have been fighting against the project. They want the project to preserve some open space, be shorter, have fewer residents, and include fewer parking spaces. And they say that the developer, EYA, has not listened to them enough in the process.


Image from EYA.

Plan has a lot of good, some room to improve

The current proposal isn't perfect. It probably does have more parking than is necessary. Some elements of the current design aren't as attractive as they should be.

On the other hand, it's not an unreasonable size for the area and for the fact that it's atop a Metro station. In fact, EYA has already shrunk it down from the first iterations of this apartment building plan, which had 225 units. WMATA and DC worked out a deal to keep the other half of the site as a park.

This building will be more compact than a 2006 proposal to construct townhouses. Neighbors also fought against that plan, and successfully delayed it into oblivion.

The plan may get even better in the future. WMATA wouldn't be approving the final design for construction. Rather, this project is what's called a Planned Unit Development, where the DC Zoning Commission has extensive input into its design. That part of the process hasn't even begun, and so there will be a lot of opportunities for people to ask for changes.

Maryland residents will be able to testify at Zoning Commission hearings on the project, and especially with two federal representatives on the Zoning Commission, there's every reason to believe that board will listen to any reasonable arguments they make.

However, Raskin, Hucker, Hixson, and Mizeur, who are the sitting state legislative delegation for the area, argue in their letter that Maryland "has limited formal involvement" in the PUD process. They therefore ask the WMATA board to delay approval until there can be yet another process, where a neighborhood working group with members from DC and Maryland get to push for more changes (surely including reducing the amount of housing even further).

"More dialogue" is a smokescreen

That letter also states that neighbors haven't been involved enough. So does at-large councilmember Marc Elrich's letter. Perhaps the developers have listened as much as they could; perhaps not. In countless development disputes, however, opponents say that they are just looking for "dialogue" and haven't been listened to, when in fact they are demanding a substantially smaller project with less housing, and that is not a realistic request.

Years of delays and battles killed the 2006 townhouse effort. Maybe if opponents can just delay this project enough, nothing will get built, or only a very small amount of housing will end up going at this site. That would be an enormous loss to the region. There are limited developable parcels around Metro stations, and those are best places for new housing and jobs. This building may be larger than many around it, but it's not really that big.

Hans Riemer, another at-large member of the Montgomery County Council, confined his letter to making specific recommendations to improve the project. That's a good approach and the developer should heed his suggestions. Opponents, unfortunately, have responded to his more constructive approach by campaigning against him in tomorrow's primary.

When other elected officials like Hucker (who hopes to win a primary contest tomorrow to represent the district on the council), Raskin, Elrich, Van Hollen, and the others ask in letters for delay and more consultation, they aren't standing up for good civic process. They are just strengthening obstruction.

Building apartments at the Takoma Metro means more customers to support Takoma's thriving local businesses, fewer people who need to drive everywhere, and the ability to meet the demand for housing, resulting in lower or at least more stable housing costs. That's the truly progressive thing to do, not trying to keep new people out in favor of those who came here first.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC