Posts about Development
A proposed skyscraper in Tysons Corner will be 435 feet tall, making it the tallest in the DC region, and first to breach the 400 foot threshold. The building is proposed as part of the SAIC redevelopment, adjacent to the Silver Line's Greensboro Metro station.
Traditionally, the tallest skyscrapers in the region have been in Rosslyn. But Rosslyn is in the flight path to National Airport, so buildings there can't rise higher than 400 feet. A bevy of development projects in Rosslyn, Alexandria, Tysons, and North Bethesda are in the 300-400 foot range, but this is the first serious proposal to crack 400 feet.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Yesterday, the Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously voted to approve the controversial Chelsea Court townhouse development near downtown Silver Spring. The vote ends a 3-year fight between local builder EYA and a group of neighbors who said the project was too dense and would harm the environment.
The vote allows EYA to build 63 townhouses, including 8 Moderately-Priced Dwelling Units for low-income households. It will restore a historic house on the site of the Chelsea School, located on Pershing Drive one block north of downtown Silver Spring.
The private, special-needs school first announced their plans to close and sell their 5-acre campus in May 2010. Most of the school's students live in the District or Prince George's County, and administrators want to focus on teaching them at public schools closer to home.
History of neighborhood opposition
Neighbors in the surrounding Seven Oaks-Evanswood Citizens Association, or SOECA, have strongly opposed Chelsea Court from the beginning. They worried about traffic and density and said that townhouses didn't belong in a "single-family neighborhood", especially when the property was only zoned for single-family homes.
The Planning Board approved rezoning the land for townhouses in 2011, but it was rejected by the County Council, who said EYA's proposal for 77 homes was too dense. The Council eventually granted the rezoning for a reduced number of houses last year. Neighbor Thomas DeCaro filed a suit against the county saying they acted illegally, but the case was dismissed.
More recently, SOECA argued that Chelsea Court violates state and county environmental laws. A consultant hired by the neighborhood says EYA ignored Environmental Site Design requirements to preserve natural features. Opponents say cutting down the property's mature trees and removing its steep slopes will cause runoff into a stream buried below Ellsworth Drive.
In a letter to County Councilmember Valerie Ervin, SOECA president Jean Cavanaugh urged her to "take all steps necessary" to ensure that Chelsea Court incorporated ESD "without regard to the possible loss of development intensity."
However, officials from the county's Department of Permitting Services say the site's natural slope was already removed to create sports fields for the school decades ago. "I understand that you may not agree and that you have expressed significant opposition to the project," replied DPS director Diane Schwartz-Jones. "In our opinion, the applicant has complied with the standards spelled out in the Montgomery County Code and with [Maryland Department of the Environment] standards."
EYA willingly makes changes
According to this planning staff report, EYA's latest design includes several changes in response to neighbor concerns. They've agreed to provide more parking than required, move a private road serving the new houses and restrict turns to or from it to discourage through traffic in a neighborhood where most streets are already blocked off.
In keeping with existing houses in the neighborhood, EYA's townhomes will be only 2 or 3 stories tall, as opposed to the 4-story homes they normally build elsewhere. Townhouses facing Springvale Road will be designed to look like single-family homes in order to blend in with existing homes across the street, while a double row of trees will shield them from sight.
Meanwhile, 51% of the property will be preserved as open space, including small courtyards between the rows of houses and two pocket parks. This figure also includes the private yard of the 150-year-old Riggs-Thompson House, which the school is currently using. EYA will turn it back into a single-family house. Planners say this counts because the house's yard contributes to "a general appearance of openness."
At yesterday's meeting, 18 residents gave testimony about the project, including several supporters who noted EYA's responsiveness to their suggestions. "I'm pleased to see what EYA has crafted and look forward to the development coming to fruition," said Robert Bacon, who lives a few blocks away.
More density in Silver Spring is environmentally and economically sustainable
It's not surprising that neighbors don't want to see trees cut down to build Chelsea Court, but this property isn't a virgin forest. It's a school campus that's already been cleared and built on. Building here is the environmentally responsible thing to do because it reduces the pressure to build in actual environmentally-sensitive areas.
Chelsea Court is also located in an urban area a short walk from one of the region's biggest jobs, shopping and transit hubs. 60% of downtown Silver Spring residents already get to work without a car. Meanwhile, an independent study of EYA developments, including ones in Silver Spring, found that their residents walk more and drive less. Building more homes here means more people get to do the same, reducing their energy use.
But for all of the environmental benefits of being here, Silver Spring is an increasingly expensive place to live, due to the high cost of land and the expense of a 3-year-long permitting process. At an Urban Land Institute talk last summer, EYA partner AJ Jackson said that the time and money they've spent trying to get Chelsea Court built could add $50,000 to the price of each home.
Neighbors might say that maximizing density means bigger profits for EYA, but in reality, it means EYA can spread the cost of land and permitting over more homes, making them less expensive. $50,000 may not seem like a lot, but it means fewer people can afford to live in Silver Spring.
While people deserve a say in what happens in their community, the bitter and vitriolic fight over Chelsea Court sets a bad example for future projects. Not only does it create bad blood, but it encourages destructive suburban sprawl and makes Silver Spring a less affordable place to live.
We have to find a way to have a constructive dialogue about development, because this community's going to grow and change whether we like it or not. In the meantime, Chelsea Court has been approved. Not everyone will be happy with the Planning Board's decision, but they made the right one. Now it's time to get this project built.
Last month, a consortium of investors, including the Levy Group and Four Seasons, won the auction to purchase the historic West Heating Plant on 29th Street in Georgetown. The future of the building is now in doubt, but is it worth saving as is?
No formal plans have been presented by the winning group, but you can read between the lines of their few public statements. Most tellingly, a letter from the Zoning Administrator to the group's lawyer discussed the general proposal to tear down most of the building. The request asked what the zoning implications would be to keep the 29th Street façade but tear down most of the rest of the building.
Some, like myself, think the entire building is worth saving. It's a striking example of a austere Art Deco style in a city mostly untouched by that style. The front façade, (which the group seems likely to keep anyway) is a muscular and monolithic edifice, that is detailed with a precise yet delicate brickwork borders:
The rest of the building carries on that muscular hulk:
But the problem is, there is simply no way to get natural light into the building as it is currently structured.
Yes, there are eight long windows on the north and south sides, but behind each window is a giant steel frame blocking the light. The frames are structural, so they cannot be easily removed.
I have seen some plans (not from the winning group) calling for a giant atrium to bring light in, but that would limit the roof usage and remove a good deal of square footage within the building.
Some simply think people like me are nuts and that the building is an eyesore. The very traits I find appealing can be just as easily seen as looming and oppressive.
What do you think? Should the new owners be forced to save all four façades? Or should they be allowed to tear down most of the building and simply keep the 29th Street side?
Click here for more pictures of the building.
Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.page/1
When opponents of redevelopment say they want to protect the character of their neighborhood, what does that mean? A petition, circulated by activists in Arlington's Bluemont neighborhood who oppose a mixed-use Safeway, suggests it's mainly about the height of buildings.
Preliminary rendering of Safeway's proposed new building on Wilson Boulevard. Image from Silverwood Companies.
The document, entitled, "Keep Safeway Site at 35 Feet High or Less," says, "taller commercial and residential structures would violate the scope, scale and values of the community."
Why are they wrong? Because the character of a neighborhood is not defined by the height of its buildings, but by the spirit of its people. The real question is this: What kind of neighborhood do Bluemont residents want? Do we want to be an inclusive, welcoming community, or do we want to be the kind of place that tries to keep newcomers out?
The Bluemont Safeway is on Wilson Boulevard, about a ¾-mile walk from Ballston Metro. Last year, Safeway announced their intention to redevelop the decades-old store and its large parking lot. Current plans call for the new building to occupy the entire site, with parking underground and 160 predominantly 1-bedroom rental apartments on top, according to developer Mark Silverwood.
The region needs more housing in the right places
The Washington region has folks who commute to DC from as far as West Virginia. Their daily journey illustrates a variety of serious problems we say we care about: affordable housing, suburban sprawl, oil consumption, high emissions, and traffic. When a commercial landowner seeks to add significant housing to a single-use site, they're offering an opportunity to help solve all those problems.
Bluemont residents are pretty close to the center of our region. As such, we use less energy and produce less pollution per person than people farther out in the suburbs. We're closer to a whole array of cultural and economic resources. We can be proud of those advantages. They're a big part of why people want to live here.
If we say "no" to new housing, the people we've kept out will do one of two things. They'll move further out into the suburbs, contributing to the loss of farmland and wildlife habitat, driving and polluting more to get to the center from way out there. Or they'll bid up prices to move into one of our scarce housing units; less affluent residents will be pushed out over time. That's why Arlington neighborhoods like ours need to provide more housing. We have a chance to do that.
The proposal promotes real community values
If we care about widely shared values like land conservation, energy conservation, pollution reduction, and affordable housing, then Bluemont residents should support Safeway's proposal. It's good for the region, and sets a positive example for others to follow.
It's also good for the community itself. Aesthetically, it will be a tremendous improvement. The existing store presents a featureless brick wall to Wilson Boulevard, and its parking lot is a bleak void in the fabric of the neighborhood.
The existing store on Wilson Boulevard, seen from west (left) and east (right). Photos by the author.
The new store will create a superior pedestrian experience, with ample shop windows and no curb cuts along Wilson. The apartments, a housing type new to the neighborhood, will allow long-time residents to remain active in the community as they outgrow the yardwork and stairs of typical 2-story houses.
The proposal isn't perfect, of course. Neighbors have suggested allowing customers of nearby businesses to share the new garage, a move that would help make the area's sidewalks safer and more appealing for foot traffic. Smaller-scale "liner" shops and restaurants along Wilson would also make the place a more vibrant destination for nearby residents.
At a recent public meeting organized by the Bluemont Civic Association, Safeway representative Avis Black explained that the geometry of the rather narrow site precludes additional stores, although outdoor cafe seating appears likely.
Neighborhood group plans to vote this week
This Wednesday, Bluemont Civic Association members will vote, choosing between 3 statements of BCA's position on the redevelopment. The first 2 options oppose Safeway's proposal, essentially on the grounds that it's "excessively tall," according to the group's April newsletter. The third option, revealed in an e-mail over the weekend, states support for Safeway's proposal "under certain conditions."
The Association should work with Safeway in a spirit of cooperation, not conflict. One day, when they write about the character of our neighborhood, let's make sure they say that we recognized a good thing when we saw it, that we found a way to make it even better
The Heritage Foundation wants to build a large parking structure beneath new row houses on residentially-zoned land adjacent to their office building near Union Station. At their Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) hearing on April 9th and the ANC 6C meeting on April 10th, Heritage agreed to several changes which will improve this project.
The parking garage is now slightly smaller, including 3 levels below grade instead of 4. This will decrease the number of spaces to 90 from 105 and reduce the amount of required excavation and construction time.
Heritage will also charge more for the parking. They previously planned to charge $90 per month, the same as the current charge in their parking lot. Instead, the fee will reflect, if not the market rate, at least the cost of building this underground parking structure. This policy change essentially removes a subsidy flowing to employees who drive from non-driving employees and donors.
Close neighbors worried about potential hazards from the garage exhaust shaft. The Heritage Foundation agreed to move the shaft farther from neighboring homes and raised its height above the alley from 8 to 22 feet. In addition, it will replace an existing cooling tower with a more efficient and quieter model.
An air quality study commissioned by the Heritage Foundation at the request of ANC 6C confirms that there will not be unhealthy levels of CO, NO2 and particulate matter at neighboring properties as a result of this project.
A new Capital Bikeshare station, which Heritage will pay for at a cost of $70,000, will also help encourage employees and visitors to use other forms of transportation. It will also create a neighborhood amenity and improve access for other local businesses along Massachusetts Avenue, NE. This was included at the request of DDOT, before their BZA hearing, but was not in the original filing.
The new rowhouses are a positive improvement to this neighborhood, and recent changes will help mitigate some of the negative impacts of the parking structure.
The ANC voted to support the project, and the BZA will rule on the required variances and special exceptions in the near future. Now that the ANC and many neighbors are in support of this project, it is likely that the BZA will follow suit and approve zoning relief as well.
Perched atop a hill overlooking historic Anacostia, tucked behind a new condominium development is an abandominium from an era the city has left behind and this neighborhood is trying to forget.
From the 1960s until the last decade the Parkway Guest House was a gathering spot for drugs, prostitution and all forms of illegality. During the 1990s it essentially became "a cheap crack hotel," according to activist William Alston-El. "This was the place you could go to die if you wanted to. They had so much drugs up in here it was crazy."
According to tax records, Stanton View Development LLC purchased this abandominium (SSL 5807 0008) and the empty land around it in January 2012 for an even $1,000,000. A placard on the ground announces the coming of 46 new condos at River East at Anacostia Park and encourages folks to reserve their units. The website, however, advertises a less ambitious development that has yet to break ground. For now, this cracked-out abandominium abides, stuck between time awaiting its next guest or demolition.
A look inside the Parkway Guest House
On a recent visit Alston-El and I found the building wide open. As we entered through the front door we found two handwritten notes to the left of the pay window.
One, bearing the date "5-8-97," reads, "Excessive smoke will set off smoke alarms. Anyone caught tampering with these devices will be banned from these premises. Fire dept. Detective The Manager!!" Beneath reads, "NO DRUGS POSSESSION OF DRUGS OR USE OF DRUGS ON OR IN THESE PREMISES IS PROHIBITED NO WARNING MGR." A concentrated layer of dust covers the yellow phone books on the counter. Alston-El picks up a "NO VACANCY" sign.
We move through the house makings odds on which we expect to find more of, drug paraphernalia or antiques. In a back room former guests have left their mark on the wood paneling.
"'Pootah Boo' from that South Side MOB MUGGIN HARD DRIKIN HENNESEY BUSTIN Off the Roof At My enemies Watch em bleed Till Im 6 feet DEEP" was here. So were "Frank & Rita '92" who proclaimed their love by drawing an arrow through a heart and two smiley faces.
Alston-El points to the floor at an empty green drug baggie. "Yep, that's crack. Yeah, this is still the place you can come and do your thing only now it's better, no room fare for an abondominium," he says with a laugh.
Out in the hall a mirror reflects the emptiness and darkness of this place as we move towards the back of the vacant building and past another reception area. The intercom next to the rear door emblazoned with "Parkway Guest House" in black trimmed gold-lettering stopped working years ago. We hit the stairs to rooms 6, 7, and 8.
Upstairs, a narrow hallway leads past three rooms. Much of the ceiling in each is now on the floor. Through the windows, sun refracts off the siding of the Grandview Estates, a 46-unit complex that opened nearly four years ago alongside hopes of local economic regeneration. Further down the hall in room 8, the roof has given in.
"You don't see this sort of craftsmanship anymore," Alston-El says as he unwinds an antique Ruby Red Glass Globe Exit sign from a light fixture above. Were you to follow the exit blindly, you would go out the door and fall to the ground below.
For Anacostia and the surrounding neighborhoods of Hillsdale, Barry Farm, and Ft. Stanton, the initial step towards sustained economic revitalization can be a doozy. The contrast of a new condominium complex filled with young professionals side-by-side with a vacant building equally accessible and dangerous to roving populations of the area's homeless, substance addicts, and prostitutes will continue to be the prevailing paradox east of the river, from Talbert Street SE to Brandywine Street SE, until greater public and private investment is joined by robust citizen activism and wherewithal.
The concentration of abandominiums from single family homes to apartment buildings to the Parkway Guest House presents a portfolio that with the right leadership, partnership and vision presents as much opportunity as challenge. Now that restaurateur Andy Shallal has announced his plans to open new franchises in Takoma and Brookland, it seems a logical location to begin expanding east of the river would be in an abandominium such as the Parkway Guest House.
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