Posts about Development
Approvals for many long-ago approved but unbuilt subdivisions in Prince George's County will expire at the end of the year. But for the fifth year in a row, the County Council may decide to extend those approvals for another year. It may be time to stop.
Today, the council's Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development (PZED) Committee will consider three bills, CB-70-2013, CB-71-2013, and CB-75-2013, that would toll all deadlines for preliminary subdivision, site plan, and design plan approvals. Development plans approved as far back as January 2003 would remain valid through December 31, 2014.
By law, approvals for subdivision plans or site plans are only valid for 2 or 3 years, but some can last for up to 6 years. The County Council began granting extensions in 2009 to give developers flexibility during the economic downturn and prevent developments from being abandoned. But as the housing market steadily rebounds, recent analysis from county planners suggests it might be good to let some of these projects expire.
Prince George's doesn't need additional sprawl housing
Nearly 80 percent of the existing approved residential development in the county consists of low-density, single-family residences located outside the Beltway, far away from transit. County planners warn that this level of sprawl development damages the county's overall transit-oriented development goals and puts the county at a distinct disadvantage for attracting new residents in the future.
First, this type of scattered development makes it hard to create high-density development around Metro stations, as the county's General Plan envisions. Second, the construction of additional suburban single-family housing units does not help the county to meet future market demand for new housing.
Relying on two separate studies of housing demand conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and George Mason University, county planners expect that Prince George's will need to add up to 52,000 new housing units over the next 20 years. However, to meet the forecasted demand, more than 60% of these units (more than 31,200 units) will need to be multifamily units located in compact, walkable communities near transit. That means the county will only need about 20,800 new single-family units over the next two decades.
In Where and How We Grow, a recently-released policy paper, county planners warn that "without a recalibration of county priorities and policies that promote TOD and high-quality, mixed-use development, it is likely that the county will be at a continued disadvantage relative to its neighbors when it comes to attracting residents and employers who value the connectivity and amenities that other such communities provide."
Letting the validity periods expire may be best
So what should the county do with its current development pipeline? According to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), as of December 2011, there were 14,991 approved single-family housing units in the pipeline.
That accounts for nearly 70% of the projected future need for single-family housing in the county over the next 20 years. 88% percent of those approved housing units, or 13,247 units, were located outside of the Beltway, away from transit. Only 7%, or 1,105 units, were located inside of the Beltway.
I couldn't find any figures from M-NCPPC that detail how many of the pipeline units remained valid only as a result of the various extension bills passed by the council since 2009. However, it's safe to assume that a significant portion of those projects were approved earlier, since there were fewer development projects moving forward in the height of the Great Recession.
The county's land use policies have changed significantly since 2009. New subregional master plans and/or area master plans are in place for almost all significantly populated areas in the county. Additionally, the county has adopted stronger stormwater management standards and complete streets policies. And the county is currently revamping its General Plan. Many of the older single-family developments in the pipeline are not in line with these new and forthcoming land use policies.
By simply taking no further action to extend the validity periods on preliminary subdivision plans, site plans, and design plans, the County Council could significantly reduce the backlog of pipeline development. This is a step that M-NCPPC believes would serve the county well. In addition to helping slow down suburban sprawl, such a move would also allow previously proposed-but-unbuilt developments to be reevaluated under current land use policies.
If you believe the county should not take further action to validate sprawl, please take a moment to urge the PZED Committee to table CB-70, CB-71, and CB-75. You can email your comments to PZED Chair Mel Franklin, with copies to committee director Jackie Brown and committee administrative aide Barbara Stone.
(A version of this post appeared on Prince George's Urbanist on October 1, 2013.)
Reston's Lake Anne Village Center could soon expand with a larger main street and more housing.
Reston Town Center is one of the most well-known suburban downtowns in the DC region, but it's not the only town center in Reston. In addition to the big one, Reston has several smaller village centers spread around the surrounding neighborhoods.
The largest of those is Lake Anne Village Center, which has a pleasant waterfront and a 15-story apartment tower that was Reston's tallest building for decades. Before the big town center came along, Lake Anne was the heart of Reston.
Now it's set for a revival. Developers working with Fairfax County propose to expand the village center, with a larger main street, nearly 1,000 new housing units, and a second high rise.
Lake Anne revitalization plan, with proposed new buildings in red. Image from Republic Land Development.
While it makes great sense to add infill to Reston's village centers, especially Lake Anne, it is too bad this plan is still so car oriented. The main street extension is nice, but the circle-shaped residential area to the north is unnecessarily suburban. If the purpose of dense mixed-use areas is to promote walkability, why not actually make them walkable?
In a location like Reston, it's true that most residents will have cars. That's fine. But why so many landscaped setbacks? Why are the parking lots between the buildings rather than behind them? And why is all the car traffic funneled onto a single street with only one connection to the arterial highway, instead of having a grid?
The topography of the site looks challenging, and there may be pedestrian paths that aren't immediately obvious in the plan. Still, Fairfax should consider these questions as this development moves through the approval process.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Even the developers of the proposed Westphalia town center project in Prince George's County realize that it's a fool's errand to build a sprawling edge city on a rural greenfield that's disconnected from transit. But will county leaders figure it out?
William Doherty, CEO of Canadian firm Walton International Group, recently spoke to local business leaders about the proposed 480-acre development in southern Prince George's, which will have 4.5 million square feet of office, 1.4 million square feet of retail, 600 hotel rooms, and 5,000 homes. Walton wants to lure the new FBI headquarters as well.
Doherty acknowledged that Westphalia's location was a problem. "There will be 15,000 jobs at Westphalia…and there is no [transit] service," he said. He wants the county or state to build a $75 million bus rapid transit line to the Branch Avenue Metro station and a $150 million new interchange at Pennsylvania Avenue and Suitland Parkway. Doherty said Walton is even "willing to" pay a portion of the cost.
County and state officials have shown no willingness to back away from this ill-advised project. In fact, they're planning to help the developers out by building expensive new infrastructure at public expense, even as the county's 15 Metro stations languish from underdevelopment.
Westphalia was born of bad policy and corrupt politics
Former county executive Jack Johnson and former council chair Jim Estepp first conceived Westphalia with former District 6 county councilman Samuel Dean and two developers, Patrick Ricker and Daniel Colton. In 2007, they worked to secure the approval of an elaborate master plan that upzoned this rural area into a major regional mixed-use center.
Five years earlier, the county had adopted its 2002 Approved General Plan, which stressed transit-oriented development around Metro stations and revitalization of existing communities inside the Beltway. The 2005 Countywide Green Infrastructure Master Plan identifies most of Westphalia as an area of countywide environmental significance, given its vast forest lands.
Although the 2002 General Plan had identified Westphalia as a "possible future" community center, it in no way suggested that the area should be prioritized for development ahead of the county's existing Metro stations and its existing inner-Beltway communities. Indeed, developing at Westphalia at that juncture seemed to be contrary to all of the county's stated development goals and priorities. Nevertheless, the 2007 Westphalia Sector plan sailed through the Planning Board and the County Council.
Then came the Great Recession, which pretty much stalled all significant development projects across the region, good and bad. And if that wasn't enough, toward the end of 2010, the FBI arrested county executive Jack Johnson and his wife, Leslie, bringing to light the long-running federal corruption and bribery investigation of the Johnson administration, arising out of a series of development-related schemes. The Johnsons, Patrick Ricker, and many others pled guilty and went to prison, while Colton still awaits sentencing.
Walton swooped in to resurrect a failed idea on the cheap
The Great Recession and the corruption scandal had left the Westphalia project all but dead on the vine. Ricker and Colton had defaulted on their loan, and Wells Fargo had foreclosed on the property. This would have been a perfect time for the county to reevaluate the Westphalia plan and the suburban sprawl strategy that undergirded it.
Unfortunately, a bad idea doesn't die that easily. Shortly after Rushern Baker's election as county executive in 2010, his administration signaled that Westphalia would continue to receive significant county backing. In June 2011, Baker's spokesperson Scott Peterson said, "the [Westphalia] development is important to the residents of the community and the county, and we'll be working hard to keep the project on line."
In February 2012, Walton purchased the property from Wells Fargo for $29.5 million, with the full blessing of the Baker administration. Aubrey Thagard, assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development, stated that the administration was "encouraged by [Walton's] approach in terms of the quality of development that would come to Prince George's County."
Walton has already secured a $150 million commitment from Governor Martin O'Malley to build the Pennsylvania Avenue/Suitland Parkway interchange. While the county leadership supports Greenbelt over Westphalia for the FBI headquarters, it still enthusiastically supports the creation of a new edge city that District 6 councilmember Derrick Leon Davis hopes will one day rival the county's largest city, Bowie.
The county's support of Westphalia will continue to stifle real TOD
At a groundbreaking ceremony in June, Councilmember Davis stated that Westphalia represented a "new era in Prince George's County." But it's really just a continuation of the same "business as usual" approach that has resulted in the county having 15 of the least developed Metro station areas in Greater Washington and virtually no transit-oriented walkable urban places.
It's also the reason that the county now has more than 2,000 miles (and more than 5,000 lane-miles) of roadways that it is responsible for maintaining. Many of these existing roads lack sufficient lighting, sidewalks, and pedestrian signaling, even around Metro stations, which often leads to deadly results.
Westphalia will require scores of miles of additional roads that the county will have to maintain. And a project as large as Westphalia would siphon away most of the development opportunities around nearby Metro stations, like Largo Town Center and Branch Avenue, for decades to come.
Westphalia is also fairly close to the former Landover Mall site, which has been shuttered for more than a decade and is now in need of new investment. While the Landover Mall site is also not Metro accessible, it is at least inside the Beltway, already has the roadways and other infrastructure to support dense mixed-use development, and doesn't require developing farmland.
Councilman Davis suggests that it's possible for Prince George's County to "walk and chew bubble gum" at the same time: that is, to support suburban edge city projects like Westphalia while simultaneously supporting TOD at places like Largo Town Center, both of which are in his district. But the hard truth is that the county cannot successfully pursue sprawl development and transit-oriented development at the same time.
County planners note that growth in the wrong places causes the county to "miss significant opportunities to better utilize our transit infrastructure and capture forecasted regional demand for new housing and jobs." Furthermore, sprawling development patterns put the county in an economic bind by causing it to expend crucial resources "to expand, duplicate, and maintain new infrastructure, in addition to maintaining the existing infrastructure in mature communities."
I suggested in my recent policy paper that the county should rezone Westphalia to a rural or very low density zone and focus its attention on bringing true high-quality transit-oriented development to its Metro stations, in keeping with its stated development priorities. It will take an incredible amount of political courage and will for county leaders to do so, given their previous full-throated support of this project.
Likely the only way they would even consider doing it is if there were a significant response from the community for a new direction. Knowing my fellow citizens, that's a very tall order indeed.
Ward 3 has seen a lot of changes in the last few years and faces exciting opportunities for urbanization, particularly DC's highest neighborhood. Next Saturday, learn about Tenleytown's future with Ward3Vision and the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
At the beginning of 2003, Tenleytown's retail strip was in its twentieth year of decline, with stores closing and vitality crippled by decades of persistent opposition to development. Despite sitting directly atop of a Metro station, the former Sears at the center of Tenleytown could not attract a tenant.
That year, several major retailers had moved into a subdivided Sears building, now sporting an arcing gray crown of 208 condominiums. Today, the area around the Tenleytown metro station has seen revived buildings, new restaurants, and bustling sidewalks. However, the neighborhood still has more potential than results. Public involvement is needed to carefully integrate new density into the existing neighborhoods without sacrificing either.
Next Saturday, join Ward3Vision and the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a stroll around Tenleytown. Open to all, the walking tour will visit key sites in the area, looking at current projects like the AU Law School as well as recent ones. Which projects are successful, and why? How have other projects failed at creating livable, walkable spaces?
The event will meet at the eastern entrance to the Tenleytown-AU metro station at 10am. It will run two hours and involve lots of walking. Help Ward 3 Vision by registering now and wearing comfortable footwear on the 28th. We hope to see you there!
Sunday's Washington Post Magazine asks the question, "What kind of city does DC want to be?" Unfortunately, it doesn't get at a core issue that is determining what kind of city the District is: the question of who is able to live and flourish there.
Through a series of articles, the magazine considers the issues surrounding how DC is built, connected, and moved. The articles talk about the history of divestment and decay in the District. Starting in the 1970's, DC faced falling population, loss of retail, and rising crime.
As the magazine highlights, DC is clearly at a turning point: retail is returning to downtown, over 1,000 people are moving into DC every month, and people who are homeless are no longer highly visible downtown. What it misses is how the changes that have happened over the last decade have made DC a more difficult place to be poor.
For tens of thousands who lived through the bad times in DC, the good times are not looking much better. DC is one of the most difficult places to afford rent in the nation, so for many long-time residents, DC's boom means having to leave.
Since 2010, DC has lost half of its low-cost housing and the cost of homeownership has risen steeply. At the same time, services for homeless and low income people have been pushed out of easy-to-access areas like Franklin Shelter, and moved to cheaper, far-flung areas. The shelter and its legacy in serving people who are homeless, some of whom still congregate at Franklin Park, was not even mentioned in the article about the park's current and future use.
As the cost of housing rises, it is crucial that the District focus as much on making housing available to all as it does on transportation, green spaces, and retail. Talking about the District without raising the issue of where people will live is to forget that DC's pupusas, half-smokes, and jumbo slices are made by people who also want to live where they work and are vital to the District's success.
The kind of city DC will be rests on a core unexplored question: will we be the kind of city that keeps low income residents in the city, or will become a city solely for those who can afford to pay for it?
What should Southwest DC look like over the next few years? Will it continue to be a quiet neighborhood despite increasing development around it? Or will it become a bustling area with more people and retail?
On Wednesday, the DC Office of Planning held a kickoff meeting for the Southwest Neighborhood Plan, which will be the Small Area Plan that will cover most of Southwest DC. The plan will address some of the development pressure that the neighborhood is experiencing, thanks in part to DC's growing population.
The neighborhood is currently surrounded by large development projects, like the Southwest Ecodistrict, the Wharf, and the Yards. Nationals Park borders the neighborhood, as well as the future DC United stadium and associated redevelopment in Buzzard Point. This creates a challenge for planners trying to craft a distinct vision for Southwest.
As the name "kickoff" implies, OP is still in the very early stages of putting the plan together. Right now there are no preconceived notions of what the plan will look like. Theoretically, everything is under consideration. The plan will focus on development along I and M streets, but plan will address issues of conservation, sustainability, and connectivity in areas to the north and south.
During this stage, OP is seeking input on what values are important to the community. Many residents value the diversity, affordability, green space, and access the neighborhood provides. But while some residents want more restaurants, retail, and bars, others are worried that competition will force out existing businesses. Neighbors also differed on whether a streetcar on M Street would be a good idea.
At the meeting, Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning seemed optimistic that the neighborhood could build on its shared values to overcome differences and mold a plan. She pointed out that people aren't for or against the streetcar because it's a streetcar, they are for it or against it because of the perceived effects a streetcar will bring to traffic and the neighborhood. OP will continue to take input and then analyze and report back in late fall. They hope to have a final draft of the plan by Spring 2014.
Much of the land in the area is currently occupied by housing, which seems unlikely to go away over the next several years. But DC owns a fair bit of land that Tregoning called "underutilized." These are shorter structures like the DMV branch and inspection station and the DC Fire Department repair shop, located on M Street SW about halfway between the Waterfront and Navy Yard Metro stations. In the future, this area could sit right on a proposed streetcar line.
The developer of a new residential building at 7th & R streets NW in Shaw plans just 40 parking spaces for 105 units, but ANC commissioners say it isn't enough. Is more parking actually necessary?
Last year, DC put out a request for proposals to develop Parcel 42, a 17,000 square-foot lot next to the Shaw Metro station. After receiving several proposals, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development selected the TenSquare Group, which wants to build 105 apartments and 5,000 square feet of retail space there. The developer will set aside 20% of the eight-story building's units as affordable housing and expect it to meet LEED Silver standards, a measure of environmental sustainability.
The Zoning Commission has yet to approve the project. Neighbors and ANC6E commissioners are unhappy that the building would have just 40 parking spaces, located underground. TenSquare insists that the current plan maximizes the motor vehicle parking for a building its size, but it's unclear how much of the parking will be set aside for retail customers.
At a meeting last Wednesday, commissioners insisted that TenSquare add more parking spaces before they could support the project. Kevin Chapple, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner whose single-member district covers Parcel 42, and fellow commissioners threatened to oppose the project at the Zoning Commission unless there was more parking.
Chapple owns a home three blocks away and relies on street parking. Not surprisingly, he and his neighbors want to ensure that there is enough space for their cars. But this building may not have a big impact on that. After the Howard Theatre opened last year, DDOT decided to include Shaw in its initial launch of the Visitor Parking Pass program.
Parcel 42 is also next to the Shaw Metro station, and several Metrobus lines run up and down 7th Street in front of the proposed building, including the 70, 79, and G8. There are also several Capital Bikeshare stations nearby. Meanwhile, there's a lot to walk to nearby. Shaw has seen a tremendous boom in corporate, retail, and restaurant development. In fact, Mayor Gray will take part in ribbon cuttings for three restaurants in Shaw later this week.
It's because of compact, walkable neighborhoods like Shaw that DC residents led the regional trend in driving less. According to COG, DC residents drove 8% less in 2011 than they did in 2005. While the city has added 40,000 residents in the past decade, the number of car registrations has remained flat, suggesting more people are choosing to live without owning a car. It's likely that a new building at Parcel 42 will attract car-less residents, both to market-rate and affordable units, as less affluent households tend to have lower rates of car ownership.
Shaw has not seen the traffic congestion that other parts of the city experience. But that may soon change with the completion of developments like Jefferson at Market Place, CityMarket at O, and smaller projects, many of which will have much more parking than Parcel 42 and are likely to attract more cars.
The Jefferson development will include 281 apartments, 13,400 square feet of retail space, and 230 below-grade parking spaces. CityMarket will have 645 residential units, 182 hotel rooms, and 86,239 square feet of retail, along with 500 parking spaces. Roadside Development, which is building that project, originally planned for 700 parking spaces. Because it's in such a transit-accessible location, city planners asked for less parking, despite complaints from community leaders.
Mayor Vincent Gray has repeatedly suggested that as the District's population increases, the city will not be able to accommodate similar increases in motor vehicle ownership and traffic. The developers of Parcel 42 already seem to have accepted this reality. More homes and amenities within close reach of each other means fewer car trips, not more, and we should plan for parking accordingly.
I grew up in California, the heart of American car culture, but carpooled or took transit to high school and university, fighting two or three hours of congestion each way. I'm not unfazed by the growing pains DC is facing, but I am surprised it's taken so long for local leaders to address them.
This article was edited to note that this project has not yet been approved and that the Zoning Commission, not the Office of Planning, will decide to approve it.
Monroe Street Market, the large multiblock development adjacent to Brookland Metro station, is making rapid progress. The first buildings are occupied, and shops are beginning to open.
The new town center will stitch together the residential neighborhood, Catholic University, and the Metro station like never before. Although it's a smaller scale than what's gone in at Columbia Heights, and will always be more of a local node than regional shopping mecca, it will be no less transformative to the livability of the neighborhood.
One of the first shops to open for business is Analog, a boutique and on-site crafting workshop selling, among other things, DC- and geography-themed paper goods. My wife is co-owner of Analog, and I couldn't be more proud of her.
More small shops and artist studios will open through September, with the larger retailers coming in spring 2014. The largest will be a new Barnes and Noble bookstore, which will include a section for Catholic University textbooks.
Here are a few more pictures of Monroe Street Market and Analog.
Monroe Street Market's Arts Walk (top), 2nd building (bottom left), and Analog (bottom center & right). All photos by the author.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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