Posts about Development
At a recent town meeting, Prince George's County planners asked where the county's downtowns are. That meeting inspired me to think more broadly about where and how the county as a whole should grow in the coming years, which I look at in a new policy paper.
Titled "Plan Prince George's 2035: Thinking and Growing Smartly Downtown and Beyond," my paper is a response to Plan Prince George's 2035, an ongoing update of the county's General Plan. County planners envision most future growth taking place in a few "downtowns" around the county. Over the past year, they've hosted a town hall meeting for community members and released two reports of their own, Where and How We Grow and Typology and Prioritization.
But have planners selected the right areas for new downtowns, and should we focus on them at the expense of other areas? And will emphasis on "new towns" in greenfield areas undermine the plan's goals? These are the issues I look at in my paper.
After reviewing the project team's two reports and attending the town hall meeting at the University of Maryland along with 300 other community members, I initially had some questions about the criteria that the planners used to rank potential downtowns.
Their quantitative analysis tool gave a higher priority in the top 10 list to places like Cheverly, Suitland, and Riverdale, which aren't really suitable for intense development, than to places that are, like Greenbelt and Largo. Other stations previously recognized as prime development opportunities, like Morgan Boulevard and Addison Road, didn't show up anywhere in the top 10. It didn't make sense to me that certain site-specific factors, such as the presence of available land for development and re-development and the absence of steep slopes, flood plains, and other barriers like railroad lines and highways, did not factor in more prominently in the diagnostic tool.
More broadly, though, I was concerned about what appeared to be a near-singular focus on the county's "downtown"-capable Metro station areas, to the exclusion of other station areas. I was also concerned that the preliminary recommendation to include a "new town" center typology in the General Plan Update seemed to be tacitly endorsing the troubling concept of non-transit-oriented, outer-Beltway greenfield developments like Westphalia, which are contrary to the county's stated land use priorities and basic smart growth principles.
Focus on the whole county, not just downtown
In Thinking and Growing Smartly, I attempt to more fully examine the questions posed by the M-NCPPC project team's earlier two policy papers: where and how should we grow, and how should our transit stations interact with each other to form a coherent growth strategy? To reach those threshold questions, I explore a number of issues:
Change the classification of land: Today, Prince George's County uses an amorphous, three-tier system to classify different parts of the county as either "Developed," "Developing," or "Rural." The project team has sensibly indicated that it intends to adopt and implement the place categorization guidelines developed by the Maryland Department of Planning in connection with PlanMaryland, the statewide development plan.
Those guidelines classify land into one of five categories: Targeted Growth and Revitalization Areas, Established Community Areas in Priority Funding Areas, Future Growth Areas, Large Lot Development Areas, and Rural Resource Planning Areas.
I recommend that Targeted Growth and Revitalization Areas should cover only areas that are within: a 1/2-mile radius around around existing Metro and MARC rail stations, designated 1/2-mile districts along General Plan-designated transitways, and transit-accessible areas in designated Maryland Sustainable Communities and Maryland Enterprise Zones. Future Purple Line stations that aren't in one of those areas already would become Future Growth Areas. All of those areas should be built under the county's new form-based zoning requirements.
Define the place typologies: I generally agree with the planners that different place types belong in a hierarchy that describes the desired land use mix, housing and employment types and targets, and densities. However, the densities that county planners initially proposed are generally too low to support heavy and light rail. They also don't distinguish between areas within 1/4 mile of a transit station, where densities should be highest, and areas within 1/4 and 1/2 mile.
I propose five distinct place typologies, each with their own recommended densities, most of which are higher than those originally proposed by the project team. In descending order, they are: Central Business Districts, Major Urban Districts, Neighborhood Urban Districts, Special Use/Employment Districts, and Transitway Districts.
Rethink greenfield sprawl: Rather than endorsing greenfield sprawl projects like Westphalia and Konterra by according them their own "new town" category, the county should rethink and rezone those areas before major development occurs there, which would further undermine the county's transit-oriented development goals. Those land areas are not in a Priority Funding Area, Enterprise Zone, or Sustainable Community; therefore, they should be classified as either Large Lot Development Areas or Rural Resource Planning Areas.
Use Transitways to connect and revitalize the county: I also recommend 17 "Transitways" where the county should provide frequent bus service to connect major population centers to existing rail transit stations and major commercial and government centers.
Through the master planning process, the county should designate various Transitway Districts as focus areas for revitalization and intensive infill development. This would be a good solution for aging or deteriorated automobile-oriented commercial sites like Penn/Mar Shopping Center, Iverson Mall, and Langley Park Shopping Center.
Incentivize private sector development: I recommend that the county take a two-pronged approach to encourage more high quality jobs and development. First and foremost, the county should implement the necessary structural reforms that will foster a more sensible, faster, and less politicized development process. That includes placing appropriate restrictions on growth outside of targeted areas, streamlining the development review process, rewriting and simplifying the zoning ordinance, and eliminating the dreaded "council call-up" review of individual site plans.
Secondly, the county should focus public investment on those high-potential stations most in need of infrastructure improvement to catalyze private sector interest. Three good places to start would be New Carrollton, Addison Road, and Capitol Heights, which are older and less-prepared for new development than their counterparts on the Green Line and the Blue Line extension to Largo. They've also received less interest from public sector institutions, like the FBI or the University of Maryland Medical System's new regional hospital, which could bring jobs that stimulate the local economy.
The planners need to hear from us
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with the M-NCPPC project team to discuss an earlier draft of my Thinking and Growing Smartly policy paper. Kierre McCune, lead coordinator on the Plan Prince George's project, was happy to receive and discuss the paper, and noted that he was particularly pleased to see that at least someone outside of the Planning Department had taken the time to read through the project team's prior materials and provide thoughtful feedback.
Similarly, planner Sonja Ewing remarked that citizens often don't realize the value in providing this kind of feedback to the planners. She said it is helpful for the team to hear and be continually challenged by an outside-the-bubble perspective. And Planning Supervisor Kipling Reynolds said now was a good time for people to give input, since county planners are still refining their first draft of the Plan Update, which goes to the Planning Board in September.
What are your thoughts as to how Prince George's can think and grow smartly? You can let county planners know by emailing them or following them on Twitter @PlanPGC2035. Even after it's released, the public will still be able to offer suggestions. I hope that many of my recommendations will find their way into the draft as well.
National Harbor was originally going to be called Port America, and it almost included a skyscraper that might have been taller than the Washington Monument.
By 2008 when the first part of National Harbor opened, the concept of suburban town centers was tried and true. But developers have been trying to build a town center there since the mid 1980s. When they started, it was the most progressive of ideas.
The original plan for Port America dates from 1987. It would have included a neo-classical mixed-use town center in the same place as National Harbor's waterfront, plus a large office park on the adjacent property that is now under-construction to become an outlet mall.
The office park would have included a 52-story trophy office tower. It would very likely have risen above the 555-foot Washington Monument, and definitely would have dwarfed the DC region's current tallest office building, Rosslyn's 384-foot 1812 North Moore.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Residents and community leaders are unhappy with the District's chosen developer for a city-owned property at 965 Florida Avenue NW in Shaw. Instead of choosing a development scheme behind closed doors, could DC just auction it off and let the market decide what's best for it?
The winning proposal. Image from MRP.
Last week, the Deputy Mayor's Office of Planning and Development (DMPED) selected a proposal from MRP Realty, Ellis Development Group and Fundrise to build apartments and a market over one from the JBG Companies, Gragg & Associates, and Moddie Turay Company to build housing, offices, a hotel and a Harris Teeter supermarket.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, of which I am a member, voted for JBG, which many residents preferred. But we did so without knowing an important piece of information: the price that each development team offered DC taxpayers. Neither bid has been made public, but DMPED's spokesperson said that MRP's was higher. By ignoring how much the bids are, politics, not the best use, decides how DC allocates public land.
In 2008, the city appraised the 1.45-acre parcel at over $17 million, and land values in this neighborhood have climbed considerably since then. Despite the high demand for space in the area, the price that either developer bid did not factor into the public discussion about a taxpayer asset. Instead, during the process each developer presents a development proposal, and the price is only revealed in closed-door discussions with DMPED.
DC law says that the ANC, a neighborhood-level governing body that makes recommendations on local land use and licensing issues, is entitled to "great weight" in determining which developer purchases city land. This means that if DMPED chooses to award the site to Ellis Development Group, it must explain why it went against the ANC's recommendation.
Rather than soliciting proposals for city-owned land disposition, DMPED should simply auction off government land to the highest bidder. The current process has two primary flaws. First, it invites lobbying from developers in an attempt to win land deals for their firm. Earlier this month, WAMU did a series on the city's land disposition practices, revealing that it has sold $200 million of land for near-zero prices in the past five years.
In many cases, city-owned land sells for a price well below market value based on the assumption that the projects will provide affordable housing and jobs for DC residents. But as the series points out, sometimes these promises fail to materialize, and some of the developers who have purchased valuable city-owned land for a song have also made large contributions to mayoral and council campaigns.
Once the city awards a parcel to a developer, the price that the winning firm pays will become public record, but the price offered by the competing firm will not. Closed-door conversations between DMPED and developers create an opportunity for corruption in which politically-favored firms win land deals over firms who would provide the development that residents are most willing to pay for.
Second, removing the price system from land use decisions prevents residents from getting the type of development that they want. Land prices indicate where customers want to live and work and which areas have the greatest demand for new buildings.
By removing the price system from city-owned land, DMPED also removes the signals that show developers what kinds of residential, office, and retail space their consumers are willing to support. And selling land at below-market rates dampens the profit and loss signals which tell entrepreneurs whether or not they are correctly interpreting this demand, limiting the ability of the city to evolve to meet residents' needs.
Land disposition presents an appealing tool for policymakers to provide benefits to their constituents without using general fund revenues. But selling city-owned land for below market rates turns the request for proposal process into a beauty contest. Developers compete to make their projects look like opportunities to achieve policymakers' goals instead of on the price they are willing to pay for a taxpayer asset.
Rather than issuing a request for proposals, the District should simply auction surplus land to the highest bidder, permitting land to go to the highest value use as determined by the market process. Public policy goals should be carried out through direct subsidies that are more transparent and preserve price signals in the market for land.
For almost 90 years, 1827 Adams Mill Road welcomed drivers with an Exxon gas station. Soon, this lot at the heart of Adams Morgan will make way for a new condominium with several features to encourage future residents to bike or use transit instead.
Neighbors generally support the 36-unit building, which will be built in a partnership between PGN Architects and Perseus Realty. They're excited about what establishments could fill the project's 8,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space. But others worry that losing the gas station and repair shop, which first opened in 1926, will make it hard to get their cars fixed.
The Board of Zoning Adjustment agreed to give Perseus and PGN an exception to the height limit, allowing them create a rooftop communal space, which should have great views of downtown Washington. They will also allow the developers to build just 24 parking spaces instead of the required 37, which will reduce the cost of building expensive underground parking.
In April, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C, which represents the surrounding neighborhood, voted 7-1 in favor of the project with several concessions, including that they don't want nightclubs or taverns in the building's retail space.
Residents will get 18 of the building's parking spaces, while the rest would go to commercial tenants. The residential parking spaces will be sold separately from the units, meaning people without cars won't have to pay for space they won't use. Everyone in the building will have to get a chance to buy one parking space before anyone can buy a second, and non-residents will be able to rent any excess spaces.
To reduce the amount of car trips future residents will make, everyone will get a $75 SmarTrip card or one year membership to Capital Bikeshare or a car sharing service. According to the building plans, there will also be 20 bicycle parking spaces.
The developers will pay to repair the "Pueblo Desmuralizado" mural, shown in 2007. Photo by Keith Ivey on Flickr.
In addition, the developer will set prices for any required Inclusionary Zoning units at a level that people making 50% of the average median income in Adams Morgan can afford. They'll also hold a public meeting with ANC 1C residents about their proposed construction traffic plan, and provide a one-time contribution of $2,000 to repair the "Pueblo Desmuralizado" mural on Columbia Road, otherwise known as the Ko Gi Bow Bakery mural.
After the building's finished, they'll continue to pay for upkeep at the pocket park at Adams Mill Road and Lanier Place NW, including periodic irrigation, fertilization, mulching, seasonal plantings, and installation and maintenance of tree boxes.
The developer's agreement with ANC 1C ensures that this project will make a great contribution to Adams Morgan, by supporting new residents who don't drive and giving current residents more shops within walking distance. This is just one of several condo projects in the works in the neighborhood, which altogether will add 175 units.
Any ideas on what you'd like to see on the ground floor?
The Walter Reed campus is one of the largest redevelopment sites in the District. It may one day become the biggest node of activity between Columbia Heights and Silver Spring. Three teams are competing for development rights, and it's now up to DC to select which team will get the opportunity to build.
Much of the media coverage of the 3 options has so far focused on which of them might accommodate a Wegmans grocery store. But the physical form matters more than the individual tenants. To function as a neighborhood downtown, Walter Reed must be walkable, as transit-oriented as possible, and fully integrated with the surrounding neighborhood.
Specifically, Georgia Avenue must be the main street. Developers of large properties often try to mimic shopping malls and pull the center of activity inwards, towards the center of their own site, and away from the edges. That's why Ellsworth Drive became the center of Silver Spring, and why CityCenterDC's central plaza won't face a public street.
But that arrangement makes a place feel artificial, and limits the spillover economic benefits to surrounding parcels. It also pushes more people to drive, when the main transit spine isn't front and center to the densest cluster of development.
With no Metro station at Walter Reed, and Takoma station a long walk to the east, the major transit access will be from Georgia Avenue. First the 70-series bus line, and eventually streetcar. Since Georgia Avenue is both the transit spine and the community's existing main street, it should be the heart of activity for Walter Reed.
Hines and Roadside proposals
The Hines and Roadside concepts are similar. Both propose the southern half of the property be suburban in character, with a town center clustered in the northern half.
Hines shows a public park fronting on Georgia Avenue, which would be a nice amenity. But that park has the unfortunate effect of pushing the hub of its town center back nearly 2 blocks away. One rendering even shows the streetcar pulled off Georgia Avenue, rerouted to better serve Walter Reed and more poorly serve everywhere else.
It's harder to tell from the plans whether the Roadside proposal treats Georgia Avenue, Dahlia Street, 12th Street, or 13th Street as the main street. It appears to be about the same density as Hines, but without the town center park.
Forest City proposal
Seemingly the densest of the 3 proposals, Forest City is the only finalist team that attempts to urbanize the southern half of the property. It also maximizes building frontage along Georgia Avenue, while providing ample parks along 13th Street.
Forest City does propose to make Dahlia Street a retail spine, while they do not say what sort of land uses would front on Georgia Avenue. There may be enough added density in their proposal to support both Dahlia and Georgia as retail spines, or maybe they'd make Georgia all residential. The former would be fine, the latter wouldn't.
At first glance, Forest City's proposal appears to be the best of the 3, but all the development teams must release more details, especially their proposed ground-floor land uses for every street.
No matter which team is ultimately picked, a town center near Georgia and Dahlia is better for DC than what's there today.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Should DC raise its height limit? A study aims to answer this question, but we can't consider this issue entirely in a vacuum. The real question is, where should DC grow?
The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and DC Office of Planning (OP) are running the study, which includes 5 public meetings over the next 2 weeks, starting this Saturday in Tenleytown.
Rapidly-rising housing prices in the District show that many more people want to live in DC than do today. Without extra supply, that means more gentrification, and greater numbers of less wealthy renters getting pushed out of their longtime neighborhoods.
More supply isn't the only solution, but it's an important piece. In short, DC is building housing fast, but not fast enough.
So where should this housing go? There are obstacles to new housing just about everywhere.
- In wealthy neighborhoods, residents file lawsuits against new developments, and the historic preservation process often lops off an extra floor or two for project after project.
- In poorer neighborhoods, many residents also worry about larger buildings, and fear that change will bring gentrification that displaces longtime residents.
- Downtown, the height limit restricts buildings so that there is very little more that can be built.
Beyond that, and even before, the growth has to go to wealthy neighborhoods, poorer neighborhoods, and/or downtown. We haven't had a citywide discussion about what mix of these is the right one. Instead, individual neighborhoods and developers fight the same battle on site after site. Each neighborhood tries to be the best at pushing development to someone else's neighborhood. Some "succeed" more than others.
The same happens for transportation. The MoveDC study is looking at how much to focus transportation investment on the downtown or on neighborhoods. This question goes hand in hand with the question of where to grow. Neighborhoods and BIDs all want transportation investments. The right answer is to locate the transportation investments in and around the places where we want the growth to be.
Not growing is a bad solution for many reasons, and isn't even realistic. The height limit may be one part of an answer. If it's not, then residents need to find answers elsewhere, not stick their heads in the sand.
The 5 meetings are:
- Saturday, August 3, 10:30-12:30 at the Tenley-Friendship Library
- Tuesday, August 6, 6:38-8:30 pm at Dorothy Height/Benning Library
- Wednesday, August 7, 6:38-8:30 pm at the Mt. Pleasant Library
- Saturday, August 10, 10:30-12:30 at Catholic University's Crough Center
- Tuesday, August 13, 6:38-8:30 pm at the Office of Planning in Southwest
Arlington's Virginia Square neighborhood is a relatively quiet counterpoint to its busier neighbors, Ballston and Clarendon. But that may soon change as a black box theater, public plaza, and new cultural space come to the area as part of 2 private developments.
Today, Virginia Square is a mix of apartment buildings and 1-story commercial strips, along with George Mason University's Law School and the former headquarters of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Virginia Square Metro station has the fewest average weekday boardings of the 5 Rosslyn-Ballston corridor Metro stations. This is a great opportunity to take advantage of an underutilized station and provide more amenities for existing residents.
Last winter, Arlington County approved a 9-story office building at 3901 Fairfax Drive, which is home to the now-demolished Arlington Funeral Home and a parking lot for a nearby Mercedes dealership. The building would have ground-floor shops, a black box theater, which the county would lease for 30 years, and a public plaza. Developer BDC Crimson LLC will seek LEED Gold certification for the building, according to an Arlington County press release.
This project will also include a public plaza located on Quincy Drive between Fairfax Drive and 10th Street. It's a departure from the rest of 10th Street, which is lined by parking lots and loading docks. By leading people to the Arlington Central LIbrary and Quincy Park, reinforcing its role as Arlington's "Central Park".
It's expected that work on the new plaza and office building will begin some time this year. While they'll be a positive addition to the neighborhood, other proposed developments have been more controversial. Neighbors aren't happy with a proposed apartment building across from the entrance to the Virginia Square Metro station on Fairfax Drive. They say the property, currently home to a bank and a building with martial arts and dance studios, should remain commercial.
Developer Penrose proposes building a 12-story, 256-unit apartment tower called the Latitude Apartments. The building would have 5,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space and another 2,000 square feet of space for cultural or educational uses. Penrose would place retail on Fairfax Drive and 10th Street, adding sidewalk activity and "eyes on the street" to both streets.
However, the site is currently zoned for commercial uses, and Penrose wants to change it to mixed-use zoning. Residents of the Monroe, a condominium building across the street, issued a statement last month saying that the Virginia Square Sector Plan specifically calls for office space at that location. They claim that apartments would upset the balance of uses in Virginia Square while exacerbating parking concerns.
It's unclear what will happen to this project for now. According to ARLnow, the county has deferred making a decision about rezoning and will likely not pick it up again until November.
This post was edited to reflect that DARPA is no longer located in Virginia Square and that the Arlington Funeral Home has been demolished.
Plans to redevelop a large swath of land along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Anacostia are finally moving forward after a 5-year delay.
A plan to develop multiple parcels along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Anacostia is moving forward. Photos by the author.
Developer Four Points LLC seeks to replace 5 blocks of surface parking, vacant lots and industrial buildings with new homes, shops and offices, including space for several DC government agencies. Meanwhile, DC is preparing other nearby lots for additional redevelopment.
If Four Points' plans are approved by the Zoning Commission, the neighborhood could see nearly 500 new homes, 144,000 square feet of retail, and 900,000 square feet of office space. The developer has already had public hearings for the project, said principal Stan Voudrie earlier this month. Next, they'll submit designs for each individual building for neighborhood groups to review. Since the development falls outside of the boundaries of the Anacostia Historic District, it will not need approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board.
The project's first phase will be to renovate the former Metropolitan Police Department evidence warehouse, located at 2235 Shannon Place SE. In the coming months, construction will transform it from a "white brick building to a building that is wrapped in glass," according to Voudrie.
When completed, it will house the DC Taxicab Commission, the DC Lottery and the District Department of Transportation's Business Opportunity and Workforce Development Center, according to the Washington Business Journal.
DHCD readying "Big K" lot for future development
Meanwhile, the DC Department of Housing and Community Development is preparing land for future development. In 2010, the agency acquired 4 properties across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue from Four Points' site, including 3 historic homes and a former liquor store, which together are known as the "Big K" lot.
While the 19th-century home at 2228 MLK Jr. Avenue has been demolished, the other 2 homes, within the boundaries of the Anacostia Historic District, have been stabilized.
To make room for new construction, DHCD bought several properties at the corner of Maple View Place SE and High Street SE, 3 blocks away. Today, it's a cluster of 4 brick abandominiums that have sat vacant for more than a decade. Tax records show that the agency paid $918,000 for the properties in April 2012.
According to Mayor Gray and others familiar with the ongoing development process, the plan is to relocate the remaining historic houses to a nearby lot. It looks like the city will tear down the abandominiums on High Street and move the "Big K" houses there.
"I suspect the [High Street SE] structures will go down very shortly," a city official familiar with the application said. "The District's DHCD office seems interested in moving quickly on this project."
Last week, DHCD submitted an application to raze the structures to the DC Historic Preservation Office.
Meanwhile, DHCD is planning to dispose of the "Big K" lot within 18 months, according to a presentation Denise L. Johnson, project manager of the site for the Department of Housing and Community Development, gave in March. Chapman Development LLC, which developed The Grays, an apartment building on the 2300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE, was the only qualified applicant who responded to last fall's request for proposals to redevelop the property.
In the coming years, something in Anacostia will have to give and redevelopment will begin. The potential development of the "Big K" lot and Four Points' proposed new office, residential, and commercial space on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE will test the market.
"We have arrived," said resident Reverend Oliver "OJ" Johnson upon hearing of Voudrie's plans at last month's meeting of the Historic Anacostia Block Association. Johnson has lived in Anacostia for 60 years and is known for his decades of activism, from opposing a concentration of drug clinics locating in the neighborhood and advocating for economic development.
"I want to thank those who have always believed in this neighborhood and welcome those who are now pitching their tents here," he said. "We will continue to work and fight together."
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