Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

More about "Matt Yglesias' building"

It turns out this warehouse building is located on the 400 block of L Street NW/New York Avenue and has been most recently leased to the BATF as a laboratory (hey, they need to know how to make illegal drugs among other things) but is currently vacant.

The potential redevelopment project was written up in DC MUD in 2009. The address is 460 New York Avenue NW. The building was constructed in the late 1920's as storage. It has 20,000 square feet, 3 floors, 2 drug testing labs, 2 safe rooms, and a lot of mold. It's possible the building will be torn down when the site is redeveloped.

1. The building isn't historically designated. It is eligible based on age, but historically and architecturally it's not a special building. (However, it wouldn't be out of the question for the owners to file a nomination to be eligible for federal historic preservation tax credits, but this is probably unlikely given the building will eventually be converted to housing, and that tends to require significant changes.)

2. The building is still owned by its long time owner.

3. Who entered into a joint venture agreement with a major developer based in the DC region (a few months ago I happened to have a conversation with someone from this company about another matter, and a question he asked me about something else clued me into this relationship, because I knew the person who had been negotiating for temporary use of the building, although those agreements are always subject to change).

4. And the building has major interior problems. (It had been a lab for the BATF.) And unfunctioning sprinklers and what not that would have to be repaired--expensively--for even a temporary use.

5. The developer claims to not be interested in tearing down the building, but I haven't discussed that with them.

What upset me about the original post was a presumption that the hearsay was correct about historic preservation rules making the necessary rehabilitation of a nuisance but potentially quality building less likely, when my experience is that mostly people who say stuff like that recounted by Matt Yglesias don't really know what they are talking about.

All of us have a tendency to make a similar mistake, when we hear something that may not be true but seemingly confirms our already extant beliefs, we then spout off, write blog entries, etc. I have done this a few times myself, to my regret.

For example, when social workers were fired by Mayor Fenty after the murders of her children by Banita Jacks, I wrote that it was great that accountability was expected and that there were consequences for inaction--while it's true Jacks was inadequately supervised by child services personnel, at the same time, the caseloads for these workers are too high, and the support systems and assistance provided to the workers to accomplish their very difficult jobs are too often inadequate. But I fell into the narrative of lazy government workers, just as Yglesias believes that historic preservation regulations hold up desirable development.

Yglesias' post shows a lack of real understanding about urban revitalization generally and the real estate development process specifically. I have spent many years trying to figure it out, and I am still learning every day. But it's been a long time since I've been willing to rely on hearsay from others when it comes to matters I am involved in or concerned about.

I wonder if any people in his building are involved in the local ANC's planning and zoning committee? (which I served on from 2003-2005).

They ought to be, both to learn the reality of how real estate development processes work, and to contribute to neighborhood improvements.

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