The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Development

Bicycling


A new bike trail could connect the Met Branch Trail to 4th Street NE

Plans for Rhode Island Center, which is set to replace the Big Lots and Forman Mills at Rhode Island and 4th Street NE, include a number of changes to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The trail would move so there'd be less of a chance of cyclists and pedestrians colliding in front of the Metro, and there'd be a connector to the bike lane on 4th Street.


The proposed Rhode Island Center development with the realigned MBT and spur to 4th Street NE in orange. All images by MRP Realty unless noted.

The new off-street bike trail to 4th Street NE from the MBT would stretch about 0.2 miles through the proposed development, says Michael Skena, vice-president of development at MRP Realty, who is developing the Rhode Island Center project.

"We've made integration with the trail a big part of it," he said at an Eckington Civic Association meeting earlier in March.


The planned bike path to 4th Street through the Rhode Island Center development.

Only about half of the trail will be built with the first phase of Rhode Island Center, which is scheduled for completion in 2019, says Skena. The remaining portion will go in with the rest of the development, which he cautions could take up to 20 years because the developer is allowing Big Lots and Forman Mills to remain on the site until their leases expire.

MRP will continue to try to make it easier to bike along the existing shopping center roadways during the interim, he says.


Only half of the bike path to 4th Street will be built with the first phase of Rhode Island Center.

The connection will improve access to the MBT for residents of Edgewood. This is in line with the trail improvements outlined in the NoMa Business Improvement District's (BID) safety and access study that recommends increasing neighborhood connections and awareness of the trail.

Realigning the MBT

MRP also wants to move the MBT under the stairs to the Rhode Island Avenue station bridge where it currently goes around them, says Skena. This would cut back on pedestrian-trail conflicts at the base of the stairs, which will become the focal point of a new entry plaza to Rhode Island Center.


The realigned MBT in orange with the planned entry plaza to Rhode Island Center.


The current MBT alignment past the stairs to the Rhode Island Avenue station bridge. Photo by the author.

Cyclists will be able to safely pass underneath the existing stairs, says Skena in response to resident questions.


The realigned MBT under the stairs to the Rhode Island Avenue Station bridge.

MRP is also working with the local advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) on a community benefits agreement, which will likely include new callboxes and improved lighting on the MBT as well as better wayfinding to the trail, he says.

Rhode Island Center will include about 1,550 residences and and 250,000 square feet of retail, including space for a large grocery story, when it its fully built out, says Skena.

MRP plans to include 8% of the residential units—or 124 units—at Rhode Island Center in Washington DC's affordable housing program. Roughly 93 units will be available to families of four that make 80% area median income (AMI) and roughly 31 units to families that make 50% of AMI.

Development


Housing atop Georgetown's Safeway would have strengthened the neighborhood

Retail is struggling in upper Georgetown, and a big reason is because not all that many people live there. Safeway could have added housing when it redesigned its Wisconsin Avenue store, but says it didn't because doing so would have delayed building. That was a lost opportunity.


The Wisconsin Avenue Safeway. Image from Google Maps.

Affectionately called the "Social Safeway" for its fame as a place for singles to meet, the Georgetown Safeway got a full makeover in 2010. The old version was a traditional grocery store with a big parking lot in the front, but the new one fronts the sidewalk and fills in the street. The company also added a strip of retail spaces below and adjacent to the grocery store.

The Safeway itself was obviously done well, as most people who used the old Social Safeway probably continue to use the new one. There are more grocery options across the city than there were 10 years ago, but for western Ward 2 and lower Ward 3, the Georgetown Safeway is still a solid option.

But the retail market around the Safeway has struggled. Noodles and Co. at Wisconsin and S closed after only a couple years, and the Roosters barbershop, tucked away in a poor location off Wisconsin, barely lasted a year. The northernmost street level space under the Safeway briefly had a Verizon store before it sat vacant for years. Other spaces in the older buildings between the Safeway and R Street have also been vacant for years.


Photo by the author.

If more people lived in upper Georgetown, more people would shop there

More residents in the immediate proximity would be a boon to businesses along this stretch of Wisconsin, including those in the Safeway properties (that's the grocery store building itself, plus all the buildings down to the Jos. A Bank just north of S).

Residential could have been part of the grocery store's development, but some zoning relief would have been necessary. The southern building (i.e. the old Noodles and the Jos. A Bank) is zoned C-2-A. That allows commercial and residential up to 50 feet tall, far more than the single story Safeway went with. The lot occupancy allowance, however, would have presented a problem: When you build commercial in C-2-A, you can use 100% of the lot (which the buildings now use), but you can only use 60% when you build residential.

The other buildings are zoned C-1. This doesn't allow residential at all except for group homes. It also only allows three story buildings.

Could Safeway have overcome these relatively minor difficulties? Probably. I asked Craig Muckle, a Safeway representative, whether the company considered building residential. He replied that generally Safeway doesn't reveal their internal considerations but that in this particular case a desire to rebuild the grocery store in "as short a time as possible" was a driving concern. He didn't mention it, but the saga of the Cathedral Commons redevelopment by Giant up Wisconsin Avenue probably weighed in on the decision.


Cathedral Commons. Image from Google Maps.

It's not the case the Safeway simply doesn't do residential development. The company proposed developing its Palisades location into a mixed-use project. Faced with community opposition, though, it dropped it and promptly put the property up for sale (although it doesn't appear to have found a buyer).

Safeway also redesigned its Petworth store, adding residential space to that property. It was even done by the same architect as the Social Safeway.


The Petworth Safeway has lots of housing on top. Image from Google Maps.

Whatever reason they had for not adding a residential component in Georgetown, Safeway missed an opportunity to bring a lot more economic stability to this forlorn section of Wisconsin Avenue.

Roads


Could a Fairfax school turn into an urban street grid?

In 2019, the private school Paul VI will move to Loudoun County from its Fairfax City campus. Plans for what to do with the land are starting to take shape, and there's a big opportunity to make the space walkable and transit-friendly.


Paul VI and the surrounding area. Image from Google Maps.

The 18-acre Paul VI campus is located along Fairfax Boulevard (Route 50/29), where the City of Fairfax wants new commercial development. It's across the street from a shopping center anchored by H-Mart, a popular Asian grocery store. Immediately east and west of the campus are detached houses and garden apartments, and immediately south are Pat Rodio Park and the Chilcott baseball field.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington owns the land Paul VI sits on. It has hired a developer, the IDI Group, to come up with a plan for developing it and to work with Fairfax City through the rezoning and special use permit process. The Archdiocese will ultimately sell the land, presumably to a buyer who wants to carry out the approved plan (that could be the IDI Group).


Paul IV. Image from Google Maps.

Paul VI is a chance to make Fairfax Boulevard walkable, inclusive, and sustainable

Most of Fairfax Boulevard consists of large commercial lots dominated by surface parking, but Paul VI's redevelopment could mean a more compact and walkable street grid. A private drive and parking lot on the Paul VI property currently separate two segments of Cedar Lane, a residential street that extends to Chain Bridge Road. The redevelopment could connect these segments of Cedar to one another and to new internal streets.

While Fairfax Boulevard has not traditionally been a place to build new housing, a 2007 master plan for the street says more residential units would make the area more vibrant and economically successful. The plan also envisions a mix of stores and offices along Fairfax Boulevard.

A nearby piece of land increases the chance for a smart growth plan

Coincidentally, last month Fairfax City also received an application for the redevelopment of the Breezeway Motel and adjacent garden apartments, located on a five-acre site just 300 yards from Paul VI. AvalonBay Communities has filed an application to redevelop the Breezeway and adjacent Fairfax Gardens apartments, as well as several smaller properties, as a 351-unit apartment building, and 11 townhomes.

As it stands, that apartment building would span two blocks and break up the street grid that currently exists, as well as replace relatively affordable housing with what are likely to be far more expensive units.

If the city reviews the Paul VI and the Breezeway projects in the absence of a comprehensive framework for redevelopment, it could miss opportunities to create better transportation connections and plan the right mix of uses. Fairfax City will update its comprehensive plan over the next year and a half, and that could be an opportunity to better coordinate the redevelopment of these two areas.

Community members recently chimed in

Last week, IDI Group held a community meeting to gather ideas about the property's future use. Neighbors, local officials, city staff, and others in the community called for the development to consider the "big picture," including the proposed Breezeway development as well as other nearby sites.

Participants also raised concerns about how redevelopment could affect transportation, particularly the risk of significant cut-through traffic in adjacent neighborhoods that don't have sidewalks. They also voiced a desire for the development to "fit in" with what's already in the area and for planning to account for walking and biking, along with hope that the existing building could be (at least partially) reused and that the site could potentially be home to a youth center, park, and open space.

At a follow-up meeting on March 10, IDI Group will report back to the community on the information gathered at the February 11 meeting and present its initial concept for redeveloping the site.

The Paul VI site has the potential to begin the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard into a well-designed, walkable street with sidewalks, street trees, on-street parking along local lanes, and street-oriented buildings. It is time for the city to implement its master plan and revitalize Fairfax Boulevard, a primary economic engine.

Development


Town and gown clash over development in Takoma Park

Montgomery County's rapidly-growing community college, Montgomery College, wants to expand its northern Takoma Park campus. A number of Takoma Park residents don't like the idea, and are pushing for the college to expand in nearby Silver Spring instead.


Montgomery College sits partially in Takoma Park (inside the red line) and partially in Silver Spring. Image from Google Maps.

With campuses in Takoma Park, Rockville and Germantown, Montgomery College serves more than 60,000 students a year, a number that's growing quickly. Its first campus was built in northern Takoma Park in 1950, and in 2004 it expanded by adding new buildings in Silver Spring.

The college's board of trustees recently approved a new Facilities Master Plan for 2013-2023. The Master Plan is full of proposals and ideas for the Takoma Park campus, such as a new math and science center building, a new health and fitness center, and a new library. According to the plan, Montgomery College's Takoma Park campus has more capacity constraints and "obsolete or dysfunctional existing structures" than Rockville and Germantown.

The plan notes that enrollment has increased 18% over the past five years and is projected to increase another 27% by 2023. All of those additional students will need space for classes and laboratories. In order to achieve greater square footage without acquiring any new land, the plan calls for taller, wider buildings to replace the current ones, which are mostly smaller, two-story structures built to blend into the residential character of northern Takoma Park.

All of that has the college wanting to expand the Takoma Park campus, to the tune of over 56,000 square feet.

RenovationNew ConstructionDemolitionNew Growth
Takoma Park/Silver Spring9,295170,532(113,983)56,549

In the image below, the six buildings colored in yellow are those planned to be demolished and rebuilt, while the orange building is planned for renovation. It's worth noting that the college's daycare center (located on the right side and noted by the letters "DC") will be closed with no plans to reopen, meaning students with kids and some local parents will need to find a new childcare option.


Maps from the Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan.

Neighbors are opposed, but the college says it can address concerns

At a Takoma Park City Council meeting on January 20, 2016, Montgomery College Takoma Park campus provost and Montgomery College vice president Brad Stewart described the draft master plan to both residents and the council.

According to Historic Takoma, a non-profit organization founded to preserve the heritage of Takoma Park and the Takoma neighborhood of DC, the college agreed in writing in 2002 to consult with neighbors and the City Council on any proposed plans that could impact the neighborhood. While Mr. Stewart claims that two neighborhood discussions about the plan occurred (one in Takoma Park and one in Rockville), neighbors of the college claim that nobody told them.

Members of the City Council sided with the college's neighbors and chided Mr. Stewart about what they said was a lack of coordination on the college's part. Neighbors also complained that the larger, wider buildings contemplated in the master plan would be more appropriately located on the western side of its campus, which borders an urban, commercially zoned area on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

Mr. Stewart tried his best to allay concerns, noting that that Master Plan is not the final document with regard to actual design and construction. He assured the City Council that additional outreach will be done the school hires architects and starts considering building designs.

Regarding the building heights, Mr. Stewart responded that the college's architects heard neighborhood concerns and created setbacks on the top floors of buildings facing neighboring homes.

You can watch residents raise their concerns at the City Council meeting here, beginning around 13:20, with Mr. Stewart's presentation to the City Council starting around 2:02:00.

Residents and the college have clashed before

As noted above, during the January 20th City Council meeting a few local residents alleged that the college failed to conduct adequate consultation with the local community. But deeply embedded in the Master Plan is a section discussing the college's relations with its Takoma Park neighbors that brings into question whether opposing residents' demands about community involvement are reasonable.

Here's the critical part:

New development proposals on the Takoma Park side of Campus are nonetheless still opposed by a vocal minority of neighbors, who insist that the College shift all development to the Silver Spring side of Campus, or acquire new properties along Fenton Street and locate College programs there.
Jokingly referred to as "The People's Republic of Takoma Park," the neighborhood has a rich history as a community that is unafraid to challenge moneyed and other powerful interests. A recent blog post by Granola Park explains that in the 1970s the college sought to condemn and demolish 22 adjacent Takoma Park homes for new school buildings, but neighbors fought and won against the college.

Silver Spring development could be in Montgomery College's future

Interestingly, and perhaps as a result of repeated neighborhood opposition, the Master Plan does gesture towards future development on the Silver Spring side of the campus. The following map shows possible expansion sites:

Three of the four lots above are rather sterile space. The two on the east side of the railroad tracks are a combination of storage buildings, auto body shops and local rental car companies. One lot on the west side of the railroad tracks is a parking lot owned by the college's foundation and the remaining one abuts Jesup Blair Park where the college built a walkway to cross the railroad tracks and connect the campus.

Future expansion into Silver Spring would activate this space and make it more pedestrian oriented, which is great since the college is only six blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station and abuts the planned Met Branch Trail. But all of this would require the college to acquire these lots and then redevelop them, which is more costly and would take longer than to simply redevelop the buildings they currently own.

Crossposted at Takoma Talk.

Development


Eckington is getting some much-needed retail

A new development in Eckington will bring housing and much-needed retail to the area, including businesses that are hyper-focused on the local economy. Some residents are being very vigilant to make sure the project benefits the neighborhood.


Eckington Yards overview. Image from The JBG Companies.

Called Eckington Yards, the project will facilitate a "maker economy" of businesses that keep things local, like breweries or coffee shops that roast their own beans on the premises.

"We try to think outside the box when we bring in new retail not just bringing in five or six restaurants," said Bryan Moll of the JBG Companies, the project's developer, at an Eckington Civic Association meeting earlier this month. "You're not just selling things, you're not just making things. You make it locally [and] you sell it locally,"

The maker retail component will line the interior corridor of Eckington Yards, which will be built on a three-acre site that stretches from Eckington Place NE to Harry Thomas Way NE between existing developments. The corridor will be a rough extension of Quincy Place NE.


Eckington Yards site. Image by Google Maps.

A coffee shop or small restaurant is likely at the corner of Quincy Place and Eckington Place.


The interior corridor of Eckington Yards. Image by JBG.

The additional retail will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Eckington lacks retail in its interior, something that the civic association says was done by design when the area was developed in the late 19th century. Today, the closest restaurants are in Bloomingdale, with a grocery store and pharmacy in NoMa.

Residents are circumspect

Eckington residents want guarantees from JBG and its partners that Eckington Yards will benefit the neighborhood. They point to the developer of the Gale Eckington, formerly Triolgy NoMa, and how they promised a dog park and some retail when it opened in 2012.

Today, only a small corner on Harry Thomas Way—the furthest point of the Gale from the center of Eckington—is a dog park and there is no retail.


The small dog park at the Gale. Image from Google Maps.

"Our goal is to activate the space," said Moll on the retail component of Eckington Yards. JBG promises to keep its commitments to the neighborhood, he added, pointing to a binding community benefits agreement they plan to sign with the civic association.

A draft copy of the agreement includes ensuring that the maker retail is viable in the development, investing in a new or expanded Capital Bikeshare station, and planting trees and in and round the site.

The project is light on affordable housing

Eckington Yards is slated to have 695 residential units in four new buildings, said Moll. Only 8% of these, or about 55 units, will be included in DC's inclusionary housing program, he said.

Built on private land, JBG and its partners are not bound to the public land-deal requirement that 20% to 30% of residential units be included in the affordable housing programme.

Of the 55 affordable units, 20% will be set aside for households of four that make up to 50% of area median income (AMI)—about $50,000—and the remaining 80% for households that make 80% of AMI, said Moll.

Not all of the units in Eckington Yards will be rental. JBG plans to initially put units in only one of the four buildings up for rent with the rest condo but, Moll said, they convert another building into rental units depending on demand.

JBG will include both rental and for sale units in the affordable component of Eckington Yards.

The developer plans to seek approval for Eckington Yards from the DC zoning commission in May with construction beginning around the middle of 2017 and opening by the middle of 2019, said Moll.

Development


How the Navy, baseball, and government planners made Capitol Riverfront one of DC's hottest neighborhoods

Capitol Riverfront, the area around Nats ballpark, ranks high on any list of Washington's most rapidly transforming neighborhoods. But it took more than baseball to make that transformation happen.


Image from the 2003 Anacostia Waterfront Framework Plan.

By the last decade of the 20th Century, Washington's Anacostia River waterfront was a crime-plagued and dirty testament to urban neglect. It wasn't a nice place to be.

But beginning in the 1990s, a string of ambitious plans, government projects, and private-sector infusions have turned the neighborhood into a thriving and desirable place to spend time.

Here's the story of how that happened.

Metrorail brings federal workers

When the Metrorail Green Line opened its Navy Yard station in 1991, that opened the door to an infusion of people and money into the neighborhood. That infusion began in earnest in the mid 1990s when two federal groups decided to move thousands of office workers into the area: The Naval Sea Command (NAVSEA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Following post-Cold War military base consolidation, the US Navy opted to move over 5,000 NAVSEA workers from offices in Crystal City to the Navy Yard. Meanwhile, DOT announced it would build a new headquarters four blocks from the Navy Yard complex that would house over 6,000 workers.

Those two massive construction projects, the ensuing permanent influx of employees, and the subsequent ripple effect of service retail and of contractors looking for nearby offices, combined to provide a huge economic stimulus.

The District does its part

Michael Stevens, director of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID), points to the 1999 election of Mayor Anthony Williams as the next turning point.

Under Mayor Williams' direction, DC began a concerted effort to re-plan and better manage the Anacostia riverfront. That effort culminated with the 2003 Anacostia Waterfront Initiative master plan, which provided a consensus vision for what the Anacostia shore could become, including its layout of streets, buildings, and public spaces.

Following the District's adoption of the master plan, the riverfront BID started up in 2007. At first the BID simply worked to make riverfront streets cleaner and safer, but as successes mounted their mission evolved to building parks, running public events, and managing economic development.

In 2004 the Montreal Expos moved to DC, becoming the Washington Nationals. City leaders opted to build a permanent stadium along the riverfront, and Nats Park opened in 2008.

The baseball stadium did unquestionably bring new people to the riverfront, and certainly helped spread the center of gravity south from M Street. Together with other parks, such as the 20-mile Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, the riverfront has become unique among emerging DC neighborhoods with great public recreational spaces being built right alongside housing, retail and offices

Housing pressure mounts

The riverfront's renaissance hasn't been without controversy, particularly where older residential buildings, and the people in them, are concerned.

A $35 million federal grant to redevelop the Arthur Capper / Carrollsburg public housing project surrounding 4th Street SE has been especially challenging.

The 23-acre housing project was built in the 1950s with 707 homes. But with DC's population increasing and demand for housing skyrocketing, 700-some homes on 23 acres just isn't enough, not four blocks from a Metro station.

Although the plan was to replace low-income apartments on a one-for-one basis, residents were displaced during construction. Gentrification was a definite fear.

But with the redevelopment area now approaching its planned 1,700 units, and full replacement of income-restricted homes guaranteed, the upheaval seems to have been worth it. Hundreds of low-income families have new homes, and added 1,000 households are enjoying the revitalized neighborhood.

With offices, entertainment, and parks in place, and an increasing number of residents in the redeveloped Arthur Capper / Carrollsburg project and elsewhere, the riverfront is truly booming.

Development


DC added record housing in 2015. That's slowing down price increases.

In 2015, DC permitted more new housing units—4,956, to be exact—than in any year since the Census started keeping track in 1980. This pace of housing growth compares favorably to other cities, and there's reason to believe it's helping to slow rent increases.


Photo by Ryan McKnight on Flickr.

The record-setting year is most likely due to both long-term factors (a shift towards city-living among young professionals) and short-term, cyclical ones (federal government job growth having recovered from the sequester).

The composition of 2015's housing permits in DC skewed heavily towards large multifamily buildings, as it has in recent years. Neighborhoods like Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront, where there are fewer neighbors to oppose large development projects, are contributing strongly to the city's overall housing production.


Graph by the author, with data from the Census Bureau.

Accounting for population, DC got more permits than most other major coastal cities

How does DC's year stack up against other cities? Well, it's somewhat difficult to compare these numbers across cities for a few reasons:

  • Initial population matters. For example, 10,000 new units in one year would be a ton for DC, but very few for a bigger city like New York.
  • Population growth matters too. Baltimore has about the same number of people as DC, but there's little reason to build new houses if few people are moving to town.
  • Cities have arbitrary political boundaries. We could use a standardized geographic unit (like MSAs), but that captures a lot of single-family, sprawling development. At the end of the day, we're interested in the extent to which cities are allowing their cores to densify.
But we can still make some back-of-the-envelope calculations. One useful starting place is to scale permits by a city's population. In 2015, DC permitted 7.5 housing units per 1,000 residents.

That matches or exceeds the rates of most comparable coastal cities: Boston (also 7.5), Portland (7.1), New York (6.6, an outlier driven by regulatory uncertainly for the usually low-growth city), San Diego (4.5), San Francisco (4.3), and Los Angeles (4.1). It easily surpassed cities with lower-than-average job growth, like Philadelphia (2.4) and Chicago (2.1). And DC was out-produced by growth-happy Seattle (17.0), Denver (12.0), and Austin (11.0).

There's evidence that all this new supply is slowing rent growth

In recent years, real estate analysts have noted that DC's higher pace of building has led to rents that are slowing in growth, or even declining. This effect is especially seen at the higher end of the market, since most new construction is luxury.

Here's Multifamily Executive covering a new Yardi Matrix report:

The cities that had the smallest rent gains in 2015 were Richmond, Va.; Washington, D.C.; and Baltimore. Echoing other reports, Yardi says Washington's rent gains have been held back because of the large amount of new supply in its market, while Baltimore still lacks job growth. These cities can expect to see similar results in 2016, Yardi says.
A Bloomberg reporter who interviewed DC developers last summer collected relevant anecdotes:
Tepid job gains and a spate of construction that created almost 20,000 units in the past two years made Washington one of the worst markets for US landlords, forcing owners to grant tenants concessions such as months of free rent to keep new luxury apartments from going empty.
And early last year, The Washington Post wrote that an increasing supply had driven down rents, partly by pushing landlords of luxury buildings to lower prices so they could compete.

Any effort to make our region more affordable will require a good deal more market rate housing than what we currently have. Hopefully, DC will build on the successes of 2015 and continue to allow high levels of dense housing construction.

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