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 07, 2016

At a Capitol Hill site roughly one-half mile from two Metrorail stations, higher density condos or apartments would make more sense than rowhouses

The Washington Business Journal reports ("In Hill East, a multipronged project takes shape on a shuttered school's grounds") that in Capitol Hill, on a site of vacant schools--the site had long ago been sold to a putative higher education project that never got off the ground, residential housing will be built in its place.

The site backs up to the Safeway supermarket on Kentucky Avenue, and is roughly one-half mile in either direction from the Eastern Market and Potomac Avenue Metrorail stations.

Two of the four buildings will be converted to 41 condominiums, while the other two buildings will be demolished and 41 rowhouses--with garages--will be built in their place, as indicated on the site rendering.

The "white building" on the far left depicts the Safeway.  Long term, I could see this site being converted to higher density housing with a new Safeway on the ground floor, such as what was done at the Safeway at 3830 Georgia Avenue NW, which is two blocks from the Petworth Metrorail Station.

1325 D Street SEGiven the proximity to the Metrorail stations, I'd argue that -- although it would drive residents absolutely insane in terms of generating opposition -- higher density condominiums or apartments ought to be built instead of the rowhouses, to:

(1) leverage transit accessibility
(2) add diversity to the housing stock (type and tenure) in that part of Ward 6, which is dominated by single family rowhouses
(3) add more residents to the area, generating more support for retail and community improvement, and generating greater income tax revenue
(4) develop the property to a higher value use in terms of the generation of property tax revenue, even while it is likely that as rowhouses, likely they will sell for $1.5 million to $2 million, depending on the final design.

The five-story South Cathedral Mansions at 2900 Connecticut Avenue NW are located across from the National Zoo.  There are 131 apartments in the building, which was sold a couple years ago in a transaction worth $70 million.

A nicely designed six-story building could fit in well at that site and would extend the range of housing offered in a neighborhood where there will always be greater demand than the available inventory of housing.

However, residents would likely express opposition to the height and the type of housing.

In a situation where housing prices are escalating rapidly, maximum attention should be paid to maximizing housing production in a manner that achieves multiple objectives.

The Safeway with apartments above in Petworth.

Adding rowhouses with parking is somewhat disadvantageous from a sustainable mobility standpoint because even though the site is well located for transit use, and arguably is still walkable-albeit at a distance--to the US Capitol Complex and more distant points, the housing is likely to appeal foremost to potential residents who prefer automobility and use cars, because each unit will have on-site parking, an amenity that is not available to most residents in Capitol Hill.

At a minimum, the rowhouses could be developed to include basement apartments (English basements), which would also extend the amount and diversity of available housing in the area, providing a mix of owner-occupied and rental housing.

Difficulty finding an on-street parking space encourages attraction of residents who get around by means other than the automobile.

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At 8:49 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

If anything, the cathedral garden example is exactly why residents oppose putting multifamily around. That stretch of Conn Ave is seriously depressing with the collection of old, rent control and section 8 housing.

The argument about tenure is very apt, however -- and i'd argue that is the problem with that stretch is all those 1930s apartment buildings are aging at the same time, and there is very little incentives to upgrade them thanks to rent control and section 8.

My girlfriend lives in a similar building. Rocky -- water leaks, non functioning heat and AC, no washer/dryer in unit, terrible windows. The building manager offered to replace windows if all tenants would sign a rent control waiver for future tenants (Not sure that is legal). Tenant association refused, and they are no talking section 8 to drive everyone out.

On street parking, interesting link (from old urbanist)

I agree street facing garage terrible choice. I think in the suburb I grew up in they were illegal (garage had to face the back and that was mandated back in the 1930s). However in this site there is ample opportunity to dig and put in an underground garage. The steadfast street parking pricing proponents (false Shoup prophets) don't want to make that investment on the theory that buildings last 30 years. They don't.

You might be amused that the post is reporting Sweetgreen is moving to LA.

The sweet green founders house in a few blocks away and they can't sell it (about 1.2M ) which suggest the market for actual SFH in the city is worse that it might appear in certain submarkets.

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous rg said...

I live a few blocks away and I would be fine with higher density. But all in all this is a pretty good project. It is pretty high density when you consider the condos in the old school buildings. It will certainly be a vast improvement over current conditions. I cannot wait until the Safeway is redeveloped. I hate that building. It is from the "let's make the city better by making it more like the suburbs" era. I especially love its blank "murder walls" facing E Street and D Street and the "125 degrees in summer, destroy the Anacostia with a vast sea of asphalt" parking lot. Ugh. One correction: the white building at the left is not the Safeway. The Safeway is in the back of the photo. The white building on the left is the row of houses across D Street from the project.

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

This is likely a by right development. This is a site zoned R-4. The Safeway site is zoned differently, C-2-A. If the developer doesn't feel that it will be worth the additional process and potential fight with neighbors to go through a PUD, then they won't.

So much development follows the path of least resistance. This is an example of that. Which isn't a bad thing, but if you really wanted this to be a denser development, it probably needed to be rezoned a long time ago.

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Alex B. -- yep about by right and the path of least resistance. And it's not just about rezoning a long time ago needed to have happened, it's about building a broader consensus for more housing and housing types more generally as a way to help the city and the neighborhood.

Interesting some of the comments in Takoma, on the apartment building at the Metro issue. Younger people testified that they like the area but there are few housing options for them, other than SFHs larger than they need or can afford.

I wrote a couple pieces about that senior housing proposal for the old Boys Club site. I was shocked at the anti-"affordable housing"/subsidy line by the opponents. Incredibly privileged and tone deaf to the needs of others. Very neoliberal.

2. charlie, very interesting point about the similarly aged buildings in need of extranormal assistance.

While focused on larger buildings, Toronto's "Tower Renewal" program is directed at similar kinds of problems. That'd be something to do in DC maybe. I think NYC had a program like that too. Also though DC does provide energy retrofitting loans, I think, or maybe it's just to HUD-eligible properties.

rg -- the thing about that project is that it will look "funny" on the site, jammed in like that. Comparable to the zero lot rowhouses Chancellors Row done in Brookland on old college land by EYA, and the development of the old Methodist Home on NH Ave. very close to me -- it's almost exactly like this proposed developed. The extant home building dating to the 1930s probably, Colonial Revival, as condos, with but with SFH detached on the outside perimter and crammed in rowhouses on the interior, between the perimeter and the extant building.

... another thing, with the NH Ave. development (Comstock Homes), an HOA was created and they are required to maintain their roads and dispose of their own trash. I wonder if it will be the same for this project.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... wrt sweetgreen, I would think there is so much opportunity on the west coast (even though they were originally a copy of pinkberry, which I thought would have expanded much more quickly than it did), that it makes sense to move.

I was talking about this a lot w/Suzanne in SoCal when we were there (her parents are still there). Orange County itself is 900 sq. miles (not quite 1/6 of the DC metro), with over 3MM residents. Its retail sector is burgeoning (although Macy's is closing one of their stores there), with a fair amount of creativity including a bunch of food halls, a creative home oriented shopping center (South Coast Collection + OC Mix), the various initiatives by LAB Holdings in and around Anaheim.

We went to a couple farmers markets, and even the level of creativity by some of the individual vendors was quite noteworthy. A flavored pumpkin seed vendor had awesome products as did a "rub-spice" producer (typically I don't find such products remarkable, hers were).

But it comes down to so much "market." Like that SusieCakes I mentioned in a blog entry. Granted they are based in NoCal, but they produce great items. They have to, since there is so much competition (unlike I guess cakelove, which never had enough competition to force it to do better, rather than to merely decline).

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

oh, and granted, I haven't been in South Cathedral Mansions since 1989. I imagine if they left it the same way it has deteriorated. But then the apartments were huge, close to 1000 s.f., and under $850/mo. No a/c though. People had their own window units I think.

At 9:34 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Entire project was sold, being converted to modern rental/condos.

and yes, having to use window AC in market rate rentals is a terrible deal in DC.


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