Posts about Real Estate
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?
DC's Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) policy requires developers to set aside units in new construction for low- and moderate-income households. But zoning commissioners say the units may be priced too high for those families who truly need affordable housing.
During a discussion Wednesday night on the zoning code rewrite, DC Zoning Commissioners said that they are ready to revisit the income requirements for IZ units, which are priced for households making 50% or 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). For a family of 3, that equals about $50,000 and $78,000, respectively.
If $78,000 for a family of 3 sounds high to you, that's because it is. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute has often pointed out that the biggest need for affordable housing is at the 50% AMI level and below. And commissioners agree that an 80% AMI target is too high to address the needs of most families who find themselves priced out of DC's rising market.
IZ units begin to enter the market
After adopting the policy in 2006, the Fenty administration delayed its implementation until 2009, following the housing market crash. By then, many already-approved projects had stalled. As the housing market recovered, these grandfathered projects, which didn't have inclusionary zoning units, moved through the construction pipeline.
One of those projects is The Louis at 14th and U streets NW, where a new Trader Joe's is slated to open soon. The original design for the project included IZ units, but they were eliminated due to the delay in implementation. Meanwhile, across the street is another sizable residential project that will also be completed soon, but since it was approved later, it has IZ units.
Only now are significant numbers of IZ units entering the market. According to the DC Office of Planning, as of July there were 265 IZ units on the market or about to be. That's about 11% of a total 2,404 units subject to the IZ law. Over the next several years, the pipeline is likely to contain about 1,000 IZ units.
Of the 265 IZ units the DC Office of Planning (OP) is tracking, 85% will be affordable for households making 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), while the remaining 15% will be affordable for households making 50% AMI.
Housing market has changed since IZ began
At Wednesday's hearing, Zoning Commissioner Michael Turnbull asked OP if it would be feasible to require a larger set aside than the current 8-10%. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning indicated that they could look at it, and that the policy might be able to offer additional bonus density. And Office of Planning Deputy Director Jennifer Steingasser said that her agency is planning to introduce a separate discussion on revisions to IZ regulations in January to address concerns about income targeting and other issues.
DC's real estate values are higher than they were before the housing bust, when the Zoning Commission adopted the IZ policy. This means there's more value in the bonus density that IZ gives a development as compensation for the cost of units rented or sold below market rate.
Not only does the current policy require builders to set aside IZ units based on income level, but it also distinguishes between high-rise and low-rise development. For high-rise buildings, which are more costly to construct and are generally 6 stories or higher, developers only have to set aside 8% of their units, and price them for households at the 80% AMI level.
But for low-rise construction with typically 5 or fewer stories, the set aside requirement is 10%, and the income targets are split between 50% and 80% AMI. Commissioner Peter May asked OP if this distinction gives developers an incentive to seek high-rise designation for projects that could also qualify as low-rise construction, and Steingasser said it does.
Housing prices in DC continue to rise. Despite a number of administrative problems that the city is still working to manage, IZ can offer an important source of new affordable homes and help preserve mixed-income neighborhoods.
Prince George's County has stubbornly stuck with sprawl, preferring development outside the Beltway and away from transit. Could it learn a new way to grow from Atlanta, which is swiftly metamorphosing from "Sprawlanta" to new urban paradise?
A recent study from George Washington University professor Christopher Leinberger finds that most of metropolitan Atlanta's growth now occurs in walkable urban places, or WalkUPs. Close-in walkable neighborhoods, especially those near rail stations, are now home to 60% of Atlanta's office, retail, apartment, and institutional development.
But how did Atlanta get there, and how could Prince George's do the same? By creating plans and sticking to them, coordinating people and resources, making the case for smart growth to developers, and embracing the possibilities.
Talk is cheap, actions matter
In Atlanta, city officials are fully committed to carrying out a bold vision for transit-oriented development. It centers around the Atlanta Beltline, a comprehensive revitalization effort that will turn a 22-mile historic and virtually abandoned railroad corridor surrounding the city into a network of public parks, multi-use trails, and transit. In addition, the city has partnered with MARTA, the regional transit agency, to redevelop more of the areas around existing transit stations and also to augment regional rail transit with local streetcar and bus routes.
As Cheryl Cort discusses in her review of M-NCPPC's Where and How We Grow policy paper, Prince George's County lacks a unified vision and growth policy. While county officials talk a great deal in the abstract about the need to focus on TOD and Metro station development, their actions reveal that they have very little understanding of or concern for what it would take to do so.
M-NCPPC staff is in the process of revising the county's General Plan, the official road map that is supposed to guide the county's growth and development through 2035. However, it remains to be seen whether the County Executive and County Council will actually commit themselves to carrying that vision forward, instead of just paying lip service to it.
Proper coordination of personnel and resources is essential
In Atlanta, the planning, building, and housing offices are organized within one department, Planning and Community Development, with a single commissioner. The commissioner's office provides leadership, policy direction, and centralized staff support for all three offices. A single quasi-independent development authority, Invest Atlanta, promotes the revitalization and growth of the city and serves as the city's economic development agency.
Invest Atlanta created a separate entity to implement the Atlanta Beltline vision called Atlanta Beltline, Inc. Atlanta's mayor and appointees from the city council, city school board, and Invest Atlanta serve on its board. These organizations and offices coordinate extensively with the public.
In Prince George's County, it's unclear who is responsible for developing and carrying out any TOD priorities. The planning, redevelopment, housing, and economic development functions are scattered across various independent agencies, including M-NCPPC, Economic Development Authority, Housing Authority, Redevelopment Authority, and the Revenue Authority, each of which has a separate board of directors.
Two different division heads within the county executive's office interact with these agencies. None of the agencies have any meaningful engagement with the public, except for M-NCPPC, the bi-county planning agency established by state law.
Encourage the development community to embrace smart growth
In Atlanta, city officials appear to have leveraged their good working relationships with the development and real estate communities such that they have become willing partners in the city's smart growth transformation. Take a look at Mariwyn Evans' fascinating account of how the Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors (ACBR) worked to educate its fellow members and community leaders about the benefits of transit-oriented development, and also to promote smart growth as one of its top legislative priorities.
ACBR even helped create an extensive redevelopment action plan for the Edgewood-Candler Park MARTA Station, which is located in an older, formerly distressed neighborhood in southeast Atlanta. Both before and after the plan's creation, ACBR worked with city, MARTA officials, and community groups to ensure that the plan would become a reality.
MARTA, in turn, worked with a developer to acquire and develop the Edgewood-Candler Park station in a public-private partnership. Once the new development is finally built, ACBR's members will again play an integral role by brokering the various leasing deals.
Unfortunately, Prince George's County has a long and tortured history of corruption that discourages many good and honest developers from doing business in the county. Additionally, the county's development review process is overly-politicized as a result of the council's discretionary "call-up" procedure, which allows the council to delay or demand changes to projects previously approved by M-NCPPC.
These hindrances make it cost-prohibitive and otherwise undesirable for reputable developers and real estate professionals to bring quality transit-oriented projects to the county. Instead, developers pursue the easiest, cheapest option: greenfield sprawl development.
Embrace the possibilities!
The biggest lesson that Prince George's County should learn from Atlanta is that it is possible within a relatively short amount of time to effect fundamental change in the county's growth and land use policy. And that can change the way ordinary citizens, political leaders, developers, and real estate professionals alike see the future of their communities.
Prince George's County's political leaders can decide that they are going to embrace and follow a true smart growth strategy. They can decide to reorganize the various agencies and departments in a way that maximizes accountability and unity of vision and purpose.
County leaders can decide to stop funding, focusing on, and advocating for suburban sprawl projects. They can decide to invest heavily in the revitalization of the county's established, economically distressed inner-Beltway communities, so that they can become more attractive to prospective residents and economically viable to prospective developers and retailers. That includes improving the county's public schools as well.
Prince George's can take meaningful steps to cultivate positive relationships with the development and real estate communities. This includes de-politicizing and eliminating any appearances of impropriety, unfair dealing, and corruption in the development review process.
In the current climate, it's hard to imagine the Prince George's County Association of Realtors or the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association taking an active role in facilitating TOD in the county. Indeed, as demonstrated just a few days ago, these organizations frequently are among the fiercest advocates of maintaining the suburban sprawl status quo. Yet, the example of ACBR in Atlanta illustrates that such a collaborative, pro-smart growth approach is possible.
Like Atlanta, Prince George's County has all the building blocks necessary to develop thriving, transit-oriented, and sustainable walkable urban places that could rival any other jurisdiction in the Washington metropolitan region. The only thing the county has to fear is itself.
Will Prince George's County's leaders be bold enough to embrace a new way, or will they continue with business as usual? Will the county's citizens demand accountability from their leaders, or will they continue to elect and reelect individuals who are committed to replicating yesterday's vision of the county as a sprawling bedroom community?
The answers to these questions will determine the county's fate for the next generation.
Crossposted on Prince George's Urbanist.
Once known for sprawl, Atlanta has become a bastion of smart growth and transit-oriented development. In our region, it could be a model for Prince George's County, which struggles with the same issues.
New research from George Washington University professor Christopher Leinberger reveals that most of the Atlanta region's office, retail, and rental residential construction now occurs in walkable urban places, or WalkUPs. The study, The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Atlanta, is a follow-up to previous research of the DC area and reveals several fascinating facts about Atlanta's development landscape during the most recent real estate cycle, from 2009 to the present.
Leinberger, who led the study in conjunction with Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Regional Commission, said it was as significant as the announcement of the closing of the American frontier after the 1890 census. "This is indicative that we're seeing the end of sprawl," he declared.
The study generally follows the same methodology as the DC study, and found similar results. Like in the DC area, Metropolitan Atlanta's 36 established and emerging WalkUPs are located on less than one percent of the region's total land area. 29 of them are located within the I-285 Perimeter, Atlanta's version of the Capital Beltway. And they're 16 times more densely developed than the rest of the region, in terms of gross floor area ratio (FAR).
More than 60% of the Atlanta region's income-producing property, which includes office, apartment, retail, institutional, and all other non-for-sale real estate, is located in the 36 WalkUPs. Meanwhile, 73% of the development in established WalkUPs and 85% of the development in emerging WalkUPs occurred near MARTA rail stations, the region's transit authority.
Multifamily rental housing drove real estate growth in established WalkUPs, which captured 88% of the region's multifamily units. And established WalkUPs are home to 50% of the Atlanta region's newly constructed office space.
Leinberger describes the Washington and Atlanta metropolitan areas as "peas in a pod" and "as comparable as any two large metropolitan areas in the country," in terms of population, character, development form, traffic, rail transit, and status as government and regional capitals.
Prince George's today looks like Atlanta yesterday
As comparable as the Washington region may be to metropolitan Atlanta, Prince George's County most resembles Atlanta in its sprawling past. The county has just three of the region's WalkUPs, even though it has 15 Metrorail stations, more than any other suburban jurisdiction.
Blighted conditions at Prince George's Addison Road Metro Station. Image from Google Earth.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) reports that over the past decade, more than 60% of Prince George's non-residential, income-producing development has occurred outside of the Beltway, in automobile-oriented locations far away from transit.
Additionally, nearly 80% of the approved-but-unbuilt residential development in Prince George's County consists of single-family homes planned for automobile-oriented outer-Beltway suburbia. Only 11% of the nearly 17,000 housing units in the pipeline are of multifamily homes, and only one-third of those, or 616 units, are planned for inside the Beltway.
Rather than revitalizing and developing around Metro stations and inside the Beltway, Prince George's County prefers to tout greenfield edge cities like Westphalia, or to promote elaborate automobile-oriented venues like a proposed billion dollar Bellagio-style casino or a Tanger Outlets center. M-NCPPC has long warned that unless the county reverses course, it will be ill-equipped to handle future market demand and get left behind.
Glimmers of hope for smarter growth
That's not to say that there aren't occasionally glimmers of hope for smarter growth in Prince George's. In recent months, the county has voiced support for two significant proposed transit-oriented developments: a new regional hospital at Largo Town Center and an FBI headquarters building at Greenbelt. Unfortunately, the county's overall approach to TOD tends to be unfocused and haphazard.
Additionally, as M-NCPPC has noted, the county's occasional TOD successes are vastly overshadowed and undermined by its continued support of massive sprawl projects, which thwart the county's ability to concentrate growth in the right places. It is the proverbial problem of "one step forward, two steps back."
There are lots of local examples of how Prince George's could grow differently, notably Arlington County, which has become a national model for how to embrace TOD. But Atlanta's burgeoning TOD transformation may hold even better lessons for the county. In my next post, I will talk about what Prince George's could learn from them.
This article is cross-posted on Prince George's Urbanist.
Last week, Montgomery County officials announced that they've picked developers to build on four publicly-owned sites in Silver Spring and Wheaton. Residents worry that the process isn't more inclusive, but are cautiously optimistic about the potential for new investment.
StonebridgeCarras and Bozzuto will get to redevelop two public parking lots and the Mid-County Regional Services Center on Reedie Drive in Wheaton, along with the 3.24-acre Planning Department headquarters on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. In return, they'll build a new regional services center, offices for the Planning Department and another county agency, and a town square in Wheaton.
In July, county officials put out a Request for Proposals to develop all four sites together, rather than put them out to bid separately. The county previously had plans with developers to build on the four sites and had received substantial community input on how to do them, but the deals fell through.
The development team is locally-based and has some experience working on large, mixed-use projects. StonebridgeCarras is finishing the massive Constitution Square project in NoMa, while Montgomery County recently picked them to to build a new police station in Bethesda. Bozzuto has built dozens of apartment and condominium buildings in the region, including two in downtown Wheaton.
Residents want a say in redevelopment
Residents in both Silver Spring and Wheaton say they're anxious about the county's announcement and whether the community will get to provide input after having lots of opportunities to do so in the past.
Bozzuto was also part of the development team for SilverPlace, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission's plan to replace the Planning Department and Department of Parks' 1950's-era headquarters in downtown Silver Spring. The agency invited neighbors to participate in a design charrette, or workshop for the site, which resulted in a proposal to build new offices alongside 300 apartments, a grocery store and other shops, and a public park.
Completed in 2008, the plan had public buy-in, but fell through when the development team disagreed about financial terms. At a June presentation by county officials in Silver Spring, neighbors worried that their previous input won't be included in the new deal.
"Back in 2008, there was a more inclusive process," said Darian Unger, who was chair of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board when the charrette occurred. "There was a discussion, public input was valued."
Meanwhile in Wheaton, the county made a deal with developer BF Saul in 2010 to build several million square feet of apartments, shops, and offices in downtown Wheaton, along with a town square. BF Saul had a website and public outreach team to gather feedback, but the deal collapsed when the County Council balked at the $39.5 million price tag of building a platform over the Wheaton Metro station so BF Saul could build office towers on top.
Instead, councilmembers agreed to instead fund the construction of a new town square and Planning Department headquarters, which the new development team will build. At the time, resident Henriot St. Gerard called the decision a "show of disrespect" to the public.
Now chair of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee, St. Gerard said he first heard about the decision via an email blast from county officials last week. "The county was pretty silent about things and I respected that," he wrote in an email. "I wish we were at least told that a decision had been made and an announcement would be made soon."
County officials emphasize "quality" of new proposals
At the meeting in Silver Spring, Jacob Sesker, who advised the County Council on the BF Saul deal, argued that this process would be more inclusive than had the county just sold off the land. "This is likely to result in more input from the community than the disposition of property would," he said. "It's very important that this community voice its concerns, but to understand that 2013 is not going to be the same as 2008."
The architects who helped craft both SilverPlace and the BF Saul plan offered to work with the county and the new development team. "We would be interested in working with developers that are interested in having that . . . memory, if you will, of community involvement," said Tom Gallas, principal of Silver Spring-based Torti Gallas and Partners, at the July meeting.
County officials say they'll show the developers the previous designs, but won't hold them to it. Al Roshdieh, deputy director of the Department of Transportation, noted that the county used a similar development process in the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring. "The bottom line is the quality of the proposal," he said. "I hope that one day we're proud of whatever the result of this is."
This week, the county will hold two more public meetings to discuss their announcement and where they'll go from here. Tonight, they'll meet at the
Planning Department at 8787 Georgia Avenue Silver Spring Civic Building at One Veterans Place in Silver Spring. On Wednesday, they'll be at Wheaton High School at 12601 Dalewood Drive. Both meetings will be at 7pm.
Community leaders are cautiously optimistic about the new process. "All of us on WUDAC, including myself have some [skepticism] about the process. The best thing we can do as a group though is stay on top of developments and react accordingly," wrote St. Gerard. "It is only fair we approach redevelopment with an open mind as oppose to a place of confrontation and/or bitterness."
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.
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