Posts about Development
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It's not that easy to find specific policy issues where Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson disagree. Both candidates vying to succeed Tommy Wells talk about affordable housing, jobs, seniors, and education.
Indeed, in their freeform statements about affordable housing, both cited the need to ensure housing for families as well as singles and roommates. Compare the candidates' initial statements on affordable housing:
The biggest difference between Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson is in their political paths. Allen worked as Wells' chief of staff and knows city policy backward and forward. Thompson also has a long record in public service, but at the federal level working for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; he has not been very active in local politics or policy in the recent past.
Thompson has been a quick study and has compelling values for the ward, though ones not very different from Allen's. Thompson said the ward needs "new leadership," but when pressed, did not articulate much in the way of specific objections to Tommy Wells' tenure, while Allen is running on the record he and Wells built.
When I asked each candidate about how DC would add the 41,000-105,000 new housing units it needs in the next 20 years, both cited Hill East as a place with substantial development opportunities. While continuing to emphasize the need for family housing, Allen also said we need to add housing by using existing buildings in "smarter or more flexible ways," like accessory dwellings:
We're a community full of alleys. We have a lot of homes that have carriage houses or they have alley access properties. To be able to allow those to be legal residences is important. It's important because it allows for that housing to be created.
It's also important because
— I'll bring it back to affordability. If you have a property that has a carriage house, you're looking at rising costs in the city. Being able to have that be part of your rent is actually a great part of making your home help you in terms of achieving affordability.
In a subsequent email, Thompson said he also supports this proposal. He wrote, "With the growing rate of the population in our city, we need to provide more housing and this is a way to do that. Additionally, allowing homeowners to collect income on their property increases the affordability of owning their home, especially seniors on fixed incomes."
When I asked him about housing supply during the interview, Thompson also talked about being "smart," using the same word as Allen, but also said "we've got to make sure we don't overbuild," and that "there are developments on the table in Ward 6 that have split neighborhoods because residents didn't feel like they had the input."
Was Thompson talking about the Hine school development, the mixed-use project at Eastern Market Metro? Among other things, yes, and he had this to say:
Clearly something didn't go right. A lot of folks are outraged. I've talked to folks throughout Ward 6 and that part of Capitol Hill often, and folks feel like
— some feel like it's too large. I think it's too large. I think under the current proposal we've got right now it's important we go back and look at this again.
Even talking about the affordable housing units that are offered, they're not like the market rate units. So we're creating housing for 2 different classes of people and making sure people clearly know that's what we did. That's not right.
We're talking about building something that's much larger than anything else in the surrounding neighborhoods. So I think, again, we should have proper community input; input that actually is meaningful and is adhered to before we sign off on projects. It's important. Lots of folks would like to see that project done, including myself, but not under the current proposal.
On this, Allen does not agree. I asked him over email for his view, and he wrote:
This is a project that will create a vibrant mix of housing, retail, office, market space, and important affordable housing in the heart of Capitol Hill and on top of a Metro station. Fitting the character and context of the community is crucial and I believe the Advisory Neighborhood Commission did an outstanding job of managing the complex array of issues and interests put before them.To get the best sense of Thompson and Allen unfiltered, watch the whole 10-15 minute housing exchange I had with each. In upcoming days, we'll look at the two candidates' views on education and transportation.
In regard to affordable housing, a much needed mix of affordability will be created in both the north and the south buildings, including dedicated affordable housing for seniors to help ensure our city prioritizes successful aging-in-place within our neighborhoods.
The project has been the focus of countless community meetings, living room conversations, and many hundreds of hours of public work by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, neighbors, the project's Community Advisory Committee throughout the decision-making and zoning process.
We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Both locations are now in Ward 6 following the 2012 redistricting (but we talked to the Ward 1 candidates there, too). Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.
One thing was clear at last night's public hearing on plans to create a transit-oriented town center and biotech hub in White Oak: almost everyone wants more jobs and amenities in White Oak, even those who aren't comfortable with new development in their backyards.
This month, the Montgomery County Council took up the White Oak Science Gateway plan, which seeks to draw companies who want to be near the Food and Drug Administration's campus near Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue. It proposes over 8,500 new homes and 40,000 new jobs in several urban neighborhoods, which would sit on three of the county's proposed Bus Rapid Transit lines.
Support for the plan was high, with 20 of 34 speakers in favor. As in a previous hearing at the Planning Board in May, residents were eager for new investment after decades of waiting. Even those who were skeptical of the plan's emphasis on transit and feared it would create a "tsunami of traffic" on Route 29 said East County needed the investment.
The County Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development committee will discuss the plan in a series of worksessions later this month before the entire council reviews it. No vote has been scheduled, but it's likely to happen within the next several weeks.
I live-tweeted last night's hearing and compiled the highlights in this Storify:
As the Silver Line arrives in Reston, Fairfax County is working on an update to the area's master plan, looking at ways to accommodate new growth while encouraging transit use.
A planned community that began construction in the 1960's, Reston's urban vision has evolved over each successive phase. The original concept was for a suburban community that retained some walkability and had a mix of housing types. Starting in the 1990's, Reston Town Center sought to give the area a more urban character, if one with lots of parking, and became a de facto downtown for the area.
Fairfax County began working on a new master plan in 2009 as a way to plan for expected growth from the Silver Line, which will have two stops in Reston, at Wiehle Avenue and Reston Parkway. The plan represents a new phase for Reston that doesn't assume that everyone will want to get around by car.
The plan would address Reston's transportation challenges by making it easier to walk, bike, and use transit around the area's two future Metro stations, while minimizing the need to drive. It also calls for "aggressive transportation demand management programs to reduce vehicle trips."
Notably, the plan doesn't call for more and bigger roads to accommodate this growth, though it does recommend widening a short section of Reston Parkway to 6 lanes. Instead, county planners want to connect streets with a grid to disperse traffic, reducing the need for big, wide roads and providing an opportunity to build complete streets from the ground up.
Extending Reston Town Center to the north and south
Part of Reston's popularity is the easy access to the Dulles Toll Road, but the road also bisects the community. There are only a few crossings, and all of them are designed primarily for cars. The plan calls for 5 more crossings for all transportation modes, which could facilitate better movement between Reston's two halves.
It could also let the urban fabric of Reston Town Center continue further south towards the Metro stations, which will sit in the median of the Dulles Toll Road, and across the highway to the other side. Today, the areas next to the Toll Road consist of a strip of spread-out office parks about a 1/2-mile wide, which serve as a buffer to the residential neighborhoods beyond.
How Reston Town Center could grow to the north and south. (The image is rotated; north is to the right.) Image from Fairfax County.
The plan proposes redeveloping these office parks into urban neighborhoods similar to Reston Town Center. But there isn't a lot of room to build around the future Metro stations. In order for this to be successful, the county needs to zone for enough density and commit to good urban design so there are enough people and activity to encourage the use of alternatives to driving.
It may also be a challenge to convince multiple landowners and commercial tenants of office space to change their property to fit into this vision or give some up land for a new street. The CIA's Open Source Center sits directly between Reston Town Center and the future Reston Parkway Metro station, and the agency may resist changes that would make that campus more open and closer to development.
But while there is a space crunch between Reston Town Center and the Dulles Toll Road, there is a lot more room to grow to the north, as well as more committed landowners. This area consists of strip malls and a large, suburban-style medical center, which are ripe for redevelopment and sprawl repair. INOVA Hospital has expressed interest in redeveloping the medical facility as an extension of Reston Town Center and submitted this plan to Fairfax County.
This area is at least 3/4-mile from the nearest Metro station, but good development with a commitment to a complete streets policy could greatly extend the walkable range of the Metro station. There is also a call for a new urban park, community center, and library to help anchor this area and provide new open space for residents.
Parking maximums and the end of free parking
The report is pretty adamant that parking will be treated differently than it has before. There will be fewer subsidies that artificially lower the cost of parking, and the expectation is that most parking will be paid for by the users themselves. The plan also calls for the implementation of parking maximums in areas and a reduction or elimination of surface lots.
When it opens later this year, Wiehle Avenue will be the terminus of the Silver Line until Phase 2 is up and running. At that time, some of the parking being built now for transit riders could eventually be turned over to nearby developments, reducing the need to build new parking.
This plan is just the beginning
This is an ambitious plan, especially when you consider that the county is trying to do many of the same things in Tysons Corner as well. But Reston has the advantage of an existing, well-defined urban center and it has fewer traffic problems than in Tysons. This may make stakeholders more willing to devote resources to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit.
However, this plan is still a draft and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors needs to approve it. Once that happens, the real work of actually implementing the plan begins.
Funding concerns are always an issue, and there will be lots of discussion on what strategies are best. Another concern is about being able to coordinate with a wide variety of landowners; the report mentions this problem, but doesn't offer potential solutions. But Reston already has a long history of working within established plans over the past 50 years, suggesting it will pull through.
For decades, eastern Montgomery County has lacked the jobs and amenities the more affluent west side has long enjoyed. But plans to finally deliver those things, along with the transit to support them, could get hung up on concerns about car traffic.
The White Oak Science Gateway plan would transform sprawling office parks and strip malls around the Food & Drug Administration campus near Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue into a town center and biotech hub. County officials say they've already heard from international pharmaceutical companies who want to be nearby.
With 8,500 new homes and over 40,000 new jobs, the plan would double what's on the ground today, and many are concerned about the traffic it might bring. County planners say that not doing anything won't get rid of White Oak's congestion, and that the real solution is to improve transit and bring people's daily needs closer to home. The County Council will hold a public hearing on the plan tomorrow night.
Traffic concerns stop development in East County
Once the inspiration for the idyllic family sitcom The Wonder Years, White Oak has long suffered from disinvestment, lagging the rest of the county in everything from shopping options to public school quality.
A promised rapid transit line on Route 29 was never built, and for decades, the area was under a development moratorium because of traffic on 29. Instead, growth and investment simply went further out to Howard County or west to Rockville and the I-270 corridor, meaning that people simply had to drive farther to get what they needed.
Anxious for change, residents have generally expressed support for the plan. County Executive Ike Leggett has made a proposed research park called LifeSci Village, to be built in partnership with local developer Percontee, a priority for his administration, and is already shopping the project around to Chinese business executives who want to be near the FDA.
However, the County Council rejected an earlier draft of the plan last fall because it didn't meet the county's "subdivision staging policy," which requires local roads to meet a certain congestion level, usually by widening them or building new ones, before development can go forward.
Planners say there's really no way to fix congestion in the area. There isn't room for new highways and much of the traffic on major roads like Route 29 comes from Prince George's and Howard counties, which Montgomery County has no control over.
The Planning Board decided that reducing the density wasn't an option, because it would take away the incentive for the development people want while forcing people to travel long distances for work or shopping. Instead, it proposed creating a new standard for measuring traffic, midway between that of suburban areas that are totally reliant on cars and urban downtowns like Bethesda where there is Metro service.
Plan relies on transit, but will it get funded?
The Board also tried to encourage the creation of more alternatives to driving. They also propose creating a Transportation Management District, which would help residents and workers find ways to get around without a car. There's a similar one in existence in North Bethesda. The goal is to have 25 to 30% of all trips made without a car by 2040, which is a little higher than the rate today.
To do so, the Science Gateway plan already proposes a new grid of streets with sidewalks and bike lanes. It also requires a more compact, urban form of development, with a mix of housing and commercial uses.
Planners also added language about the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan, which would serve White Oak with lines on Randolph Road, New Hampshire Avenue, and on Route 29, calling it "essential to achieve the vision of this Master Plan." They propose that any impact taxes or fees the county collects from developers to go straight to BRT to ensure it gets built.
But the board also removed a requirement that the full amount of development not go forward if the BRT lines aren't funded or under construction. It's likely due to pressure from Leggett's administration, who are worried that the high cost of building transit and delays in development approvals could discourage investment.
Economic development shouldn't mean lower standards
White Oak's suburban built form, coupled with decades of leapfrog development to more distant communities, force its residents to travel long distances by car or transit. The area has become less desirable than other parts of Montgomery County, and without easy access to jobs, shopping, or other amenities, that will only get worse.
Traffic tests that tie new development to new highways won't work for White Oak, but residents still need some promise that there will be adequate infrastructure to support the growth they want to happen. Instead of eliminating staging requirements, county officials need to ensure that there's enough funding for transit.
Planners estimate that a BRT line on Route 29 would cost about $350 million, the same as three highway interchanges on the same corridor. While the interchanges would simply make it easier to drive to Howard County, transit would better support the creation of the town center everyone wants.
White Oak has waited decades to catch up with the rest of Montgomery County. While folks may be impatient for economic development, it's important we get this right.
The first phase of Pike + Rose, the massive strip mall redevelopment on Rockville Pike, is scheduled to open this fall. Recently, I got to tour the construction site as it slowly transforms into a neighborhood.
When it's finished several years from now, Pike + Rose will contain 9 city blocks with 3.5 million square feet of apartments, offices, shops, and restaurants, as well as a movie theatre and music venue. I'll be five times the size of Bethesda Row, which developer Federal Realty also built.
After about 18 months of construction, Pike + Rose is beginning to look like a place. Cladding is beginning to cover the buildings' frames, and windows are starting to go in. Grand Park Avenue, envisioned as a bustling street lined with storefronts and dining patios, is still a mud pit, though it now has curbs.
Around the corner is Muse Alley, the first of several public spaces in the development. Evan Goldman, Federal Realty's vice president of development and my tour guide, explained that the lower level would be a deck with movable tables and chairs and surrounded by a "forest" of birch trees. Overlooking it will be a beer garden.
There are three buildings in the first phase. Two are apartment buildings: Pallas, an 18-story building that's still being framed, and PerSei, a mid-rise building that will open this spring. Aaron Kraut at BethesdaNow got to take a look inside PerSei last week.
Like many new apartment buildings, it's been designed to look like several smaller buildings in an attempt to break down its block-long size. Goldman said that the developer wanted to draw from the area's history. One section is designed to look like a repurposed warehouse building, while the cream-colored section pictured above will get a mural inspired by a bakery that was once located nearby.
The third building, 11800 Grand Park Avenue, contains several floors of offices atop a health club, a high-end movie theatre, and a four-star restaurant. Federal Realty worked with Strathmore, whose music hall is a mile away, to create a jazz club as well. It was originally supposed to be an open-air space, but instead will have sliding glass walls, allowing it to double as a corporate meeting space during the week.
Having this many entertainment venues next to each other, and all opening at once, could create a critical mass of activity in White Flint almost instantly. It's similar to the way that restaurateur Joe Englert sought to make H Street NE a nightlife destination by opening several bars and restaurants at once. "This will be the entertainment center of the county," Goldman says. "We hope this is that place everyone goes on the weekends."
This building includes a number of outdoor spaces; the restaurant, health club, and jazz venue all have roof decks. Today the views are of parking lots and strip malls, but over time, it'll fill in as White Flint grows a skyline.
Back on the street, 75% of the retail spaces have been leased, including several restaurants. Many of them are chains, but there are places that only have a few other locations nationwide, meaning they'll be the only ones in the DC area.
Some of these restaurants will face Old Georgetown Road, a busy state highway. This fits in with the county's vision to make it a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly street, though both Montgomery County and Maryland transportation officials have been reluctant to do so. Hopefully, creating activity on Old Georgetown now will push them to redesign it as an urban street.
In May, work on Pike + Rose's second phase will start by demolishing the rest of the main strip mall, while a small retail building at the corner of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road will get a facelift to help it blend in with the new buildings. Most of the remaining tenants have left; some have moved to other Federal Realty-owned shopping centers along Rockville Pike, while Chipotle, Starbucks, and La Madeleine will move to new spaces on-site.
The second phase should open within two years, but Federal Realty has no timeline for the rest of the site, including the building on the corner. Plans show that it could eventually become a high-rise office building, though that probably won't happen until there's funding for a new entrance to the White Flint Metro across the street, which would make that site much more valuable.
White Flint has been in planning for years, and it'll take decades for it to fully become a more urban place. The first phase of Pike + Rose offers us a glimpse of White Flint's future, but also suggests a path forward for other aging shopping centers around the region.
Check out this slideshow of Pike + Rose under construction.
Baltimore's downtown jail is a source of blight and a physical barrier between the city center and some of its most impoverished neighborhoods. Could moving it help heal the city?
The city's existing penal facility is a forbidding, sprawling 27-acre campus between the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus (JHMC) and downtown. It consumes vast amount of acreage on potentially lucrative real estate. Surface parking, blight, bail bonds, and strip clubs are the jail's only neighbors.
Most cities have sensibly relocated their prisons away from their economic centers. Moving Baltimore's jail from downtown was a pie-in-the-sky idea until Maryland began planning to sink over $500 million into demolishing and rebuilding the jail in place. Instead, what if the state spent the money to move the jail out of downtown entirely, freeing up the land for more constructive uses?
City Marketing 101 says you shouldn't put your jail as the welcome mat to your downtown or your top research hospital. By doing so, Baltimore sends the thousands of people coming to visit, to work, or to invest a grim reminder that the city immortalized by "The Wire" houses lots of dangerous people.
The jail's current location may be convenient for visitors and employees. It's transit-accessible, and the criminal courts are nearby. But if you consider the land's far greater potential, relocating the jail to Jessup, home to several other prisons, or abandoned industrial zones are better options.
Moving the jail presents Baltimore with many opportunities. Opening up space between downtown and Hopkins, the nation's #1 hospital, could create synergy between the hospital and area businesses, or drive investment to Jones Town, the long-stalled redevelopment of Old Town Mall, or the array of surface parking littered about. Some land could even become a park to serve downtown residents.
Meanwhile, the surrounding property would be more attractive to investment without a prison to repel more promising development. And in any scenario, redevelopment could generate jobs for the city, while retaining existing prison jobs elsewhere. Portions of new revenues from development could support other investments, like jobs for youth.
We should be cautious about building costly new prisons. America must find a way to reduce its world leading incarceration rates, while preventing violent crime. Locally, Baltimore's recent prison issues are certainly as much about management as with the aging physical facility.
Improved training and wages for prison guards and personnel would be astronomically cheaper than constructing new facilities. However, at some point, new facilities are going to be built. Good money should not be spent on a misplaced location.
Relocating large prison facilities from downtown is not only not unprecedented, it is common. New York City's main prison is an island in the East River. Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard is now leading a plan to relocate its jail out of downtown. Aaron Renn explains how doing so could be a "game-changer" by eliminating multiple barriers to redevelopment.
Maryland is projected to add a million people by 2040. Baltimore needs to position itself to capture a portion of this growth. Adding dozens of acres available for development adjacent to the city's most prominent employers, as well as I-83 and the subway, is a promising opportunity.
The Department of Corrections is only looking at ways to build a new jail, but that shouldn't limit the thinking of top decision-makers in Baltimore and at the state level. There are innovative ways to reduce incarceration, provide opportunity, and remove barriers to Baltimore's economic potential. Rebuilding the jail in place should not be a rubber stamp. If other cities understand this, Baltimore should too!
Crossposted at Comeback City.
Prince George's wants to encourage development around stations on the southern end of the Green Line. But plans to do so have stalled in an attempt to prohibit "undesirable" businesses there.
A recent study from national consulting firm RCLCO shows that since 2000, the northern Green Line corridor between Columbia Heights and Navy Yard captured a larger share of young, professional, and affluent households than the Red Line in Northwest, traditionally the bigger draw for that population. To do the same thing along the southern Green Line, Prince George's County is working on a plan for sustainable, urban development around the Branch Avenue, Suitland, Naylor Road, and Southern Avenue stations.
The proposal would create an "overlay district" around the stations banning everything from nail salons to strip clubs. While some businesses may not be ideal for areas next to a Metro station, the bottleneck might deter future investment that residents anxious for walkable urban development are eagerly anticipating.
Prince George's lags the region in urban development
In his report The WalkUP Wakeup Call, George Washington University Professor Chris Leinberger identifies the DC area with its 43 walkable urban communities as a national model for urban development. These places not only provide residents with increased local amenities such as restaurants, retail, and entertainment options, but also bring jobs closer, reducing commutes.
However, only a handful of these communities are in Prince George's County. Due to a weak market and decades of disinvestment, parking and vacant lots surround the four Metro stations along the southern Green Line. Creating a vibrant, safe, and pedestrian and bike friendly atmosphere would serve to increase the quality of life as well as the property values of those living in neighboring communities.
In response, the Prince George's Planning Department proposed the Southern Green Line Station Area Plan last summer. It is an excellent step in the right direction, proposing vibrant, walkable, mixed-use development around each station. Real estate consultants RCLCO drafted the design for each station area as part of the Southern Green Line Station Area Plan Market Study the Planning Department commissioned in 2012.
Proposal could inadvertently discourage good development
While the Planning Board and County Council were supposed to approve the plan already, it's been pushed back due to neighbor concerns. And councilmembers have proposed creating an overlay district prohibiting businesses near the stations that might undermine attempts to create an upscale retail environment, such as nail salons, car dealers, liquor stores, and tattoo parlors.
In some cases, overlay districts have been used to encourage more upscale retail establishments, but prohibiting certain types of businesses could discourage developers who are already hesitant about investing in these areas. It would be better to use the county's licensing and permitting processes to tailor the types of businesses that are allowed around Green Line stations. It seems others agree; at a public hearing last night, many business owners testified against the imposition of restrictions on the area.
Hopefully, this proposal will only be a short-term hold up. The southern Green Line has a long way to catch up with the sustainable development that has already occurred at many of the region's other Metro stations, but the approval of the Metro Green Line Sector Plan could be a major step in the right direction. And it will show the development community that Prince George's County is serious about sustainable development.
Ultimately, the county will have to implement an innovative investment strategy to reduce some of the actual and perceived risk that developers face in Prince George's. Reducing barriers is one of the most critical strategies the county can employ in order for the southern Green Line to get the investment it needs.
To voice your opinion about the proposed overlay district and its impact on the southern Green Line, you can still submit written comments to the County Council via their website.
DC is growing by 1100 people every month, and to accommodate them, the city will need more buildings. A new map shows where new construction in the city is taking place.
The Map Attacks blog made this heat map of every active building permit in DC using the District's GIS data. Red areas have the most building permits, followed by orange, yellow, and green areas. The map includes all kinds of permits, from high-rise apartment towers to kitchen renovations.
Not surprisingly, there's a lot of construction occurring in downtown DC, though there's also a significant amount of building taking place near U Street. H Street and Columbia Heights are no slouch, as well as Fort Totten, where a new Walmart is under construction.
It's interesting that those areas all seem to be busier than NoMa or Navy Yard, where entire neighborhoods have risen in the past few years. And it's notable that the bulk of new construction is occurring east of Rock Creek Park.
That's a good thing after decades of disinvestment, but it also illustrates how resistance to new development west of the park has pushed demand further east. Meanwhile, areas east of the Anacostia River still aren't seeing much of the city's new construction.
What do you see in the map?
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