Promising developments

Five new developments around town that will hopefully set new standards for welcoming pedestrians and cyclists:

1. Giant apartment REIT Archstone will outfit its new NoMa tower with a DIY bike maintenance facility and an outdoor movie screen. Evidently, these are the amenities that today’s luxury apartment renters want, and the REIT shareholders are going to give it to ’em.

2. A few blocks north, a “Metropolitan Branch Trail Atrium” will feature “an automatic bike pump for maintenance; a water fountain; a refreshment area with vending machines, tables and chairs; indoor bike parking and a natural ventilation system… stairs will have a bike trough” to encourage cycling to work from the elevated Met Branch Trail (which shares said Branch with the Metro and the Amtrak/MARC Northeast Corridor trains) to the Washington Gateway office complex.

Speaking of “NoMa,” everyone should quit complaining about the name. It’s not derivative of “SoHo,” and anyone who claims that obviously suffers from a goodly dose of NYC provincialism; SoHo itself was copied from Soho in London. Besides, no one seem to have no trouble with NoVa, at least written. Granted, I would have preferred a name like Union Quarter or Union Yards to reference its location behind Union Station, but maybe that would’ve kiboshed its appeal to Republican firms. Anyhow, elsewhere in northeast DC:

3. Over in Brookland, the new Bozzuto-Abdo “college town” connecting Catholic University down to the Metro will face the station with an “Arts Walk” pedestrian plaza lined with ground floor studios and convenience retail. The ground floor uses are flexible enough to work regardless of the level of foot traffic, and can evolve as the site develops.

The combination sounds like Liberties Walk in Philadelphia, whose scale and merchandising I’ve admired before:
west block
The emphasis on artisans also sounds like some of the “alleys” in LA’s Old Chinatown.

4. Speaking of pedestrian passages, a proposed Georgetown development would bring secondary retail entrances around to a 10′ wide alley, a la Cady’s Alley between M St and the C&O Canal. Developer Anthony Lanier from EastBanc: “We believe that today’s alleys can be tomorrow’s courtyards, shopping streets, or accesses.” (More on alleys, including a short history of DC coach houses’ removal and potential renaissance.)

5. Annals of ambitious private-sector redevelopment attempts: a developer has offered to buy out a full block of 1970s townhouses — purchased by the tenants as condos in 1998 — along 14th St near Logan Circle. The three-story townhouses now stick out as a relic along increasingly mid-rise, commercial 14th Street. (Heck, just the parking lots could be worth a lot if developed in situ.)

The buildings’ condo ownership structure makes redevelopment (in the absence of eminent domain) incredibly difficult. As Lydia DePillis writes, “each of the two separate condo associations would have to vote unanimously to dissolve themselves. Obviously, this would have been much easier with a single owner (whether a rental building or even a co-op, where only a majority of shares can dissolve the association), but condos’ recent proliferation as a way of making homeownership more attainable has the unintended consequence of hyper-fragmenting land ownership.

That challenge almost makes redeveloping a single-family subdivision, as at MetroWest at the Vienna Metro station, look like a picnic by comparison; in a single-family subdivision, a single hold-out can just be built around rather than holding up the entire process. Add into that contentiousness the added elements of class struggle and, inevitably, race — most of the current owners are moderate-income families of color, with some having lived there for a generation — and, well, I can’t imagine that the condo board meetings go very smoothly.

P.S. Post #1000!

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