Last night, the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association heard a long-awaited presentation from Paul Millstein of Douglas Development on the project that includes property they had amassed over the last fifteen to twenty years in the area just east of the Washington Convention Center. In September, the Washington Business Journal discussed the scope of the project and speculated on what might come to an area that is full of vacant property and parking lots. I highlighted some of the reported details on Life in Mt. Vernon Square.
Millstein provided an underwhelming few more details last night. The Triangle blog provides the specs and a map of the site. I won't repeat that information here.
The project is still very much in the conceptual stage. There were no detailed renderings available, just the massing sketch from 30,000 feet visible in the photo above. Douglas Development plans on presenting this concept to HPRB next month, but I would not be surprised if the presentation is postponed. Mr. Millstein committed to returning to MVSNA with more information in the future. This project is still far off -- at least 6 to 12 months as the concept develops, they'll need HPRB and Zoning approval, then add a year for permitting -- 2, most likely 3, years until groundbreaking. They do not yet have financing.
For the time being, Millstein was receptive to considering improving lighting on the 600 Block of L Street, which is near pitch black and experiencing increased pedestrian traffic between the metro and CityVista/Yale Lofts. They are also open to temporary uses of the property, such as the Fringe Festival hosted at AV Restorante earlier this year.
Here's a few things we learned about the project. Douglas Development is DONE amassing property. They've thrown in the towel on some of the hold outs, such as Marakesh, the corner lot at 6th and New York, and one of the historic properties on the 1000 Block of 7th Street NW. They do own property including The Eagle and the club formerly known as Avenue. There are still a few properties on which to close.
Mr. Millstein reported that Douglas Development has given up on the property they own on the northwest corner of 6th and L Streets NW. MVSNA had reviewed a proposal for housing at that location about a year or two ago - it includes a historic house where Thurgood Marshall reportedly lived at some point, a vacant lot, and a small condemned structure that is sometimes used as an illegal billboard. Apparently, the site is now considered unbuildable for financing reasons. Sad and disappointing. The house is falling apart. I guess it joins Carter G. Woodson's home on the list of dilapidated and forgotten black history.
So back to the project. It involves:
- Fully restoring the historic properties along 7th Street;
- Literally picking up and consolidating several historic properties to make room for new buildings;
- Retail, restaurants, I believe, a hotel, and entertainment at the ground level with offices above. Regarding the entertainment anchor, Milstein said, "I think they have a phenomenal entertainment venue" lined up that would open at 7th and New York Avenue. What it is, however, he could not yet say. Past articles have noted the potential for a House of Blues in the project;
- Below-grade parking (no amount discussed); and
- Zero, none, zilch residential units.
That last bullet is likely to be the most controversial aspect of the project. Currently, zoning laws would require a residential component -- it's part of the push to create a living downtown. Mr. Millstein mentioned seeking something called a "CLD," which would apparently allow them to forego the residential requirement by paying money to support housing somewhere else. Does anyone know how this works?
Should a project of this size and at this location include a residential component?
My initial reaction is mixed.
On the one hand, DC has come great lengths since I first moved down here from the-city-never-sleeps NY and was surprised to find a downtown ghosttown. Incorporating residential into Penn Quarter certainly helped. DC's population has increased to about 580,000, but that is still far short from its historic pre-riot high of over 760,000. There is plenty more room to grow. It would seem the portion of the project on the 600 block of L would be ideal for residential. Currently, the plan for that block is to use it for loading docks and a parking garage entrance for the retail/office frontage on New York Avenue, continuing the dead zone. Think the 1400 Block of Church Street in Logan Circle, where they turned the Rainbow auto repair shop into a unique condo.
On the other hand, has the massive condo and apartment explosion maxed out, particularly in the area surrounding this site? Over the past few years, in addition to the Penn Quarter units, we've seen condos and rentals come online at 400, 450, and 555 Massachusetts Avenue, the Sonata, and the Whitman. Most recently, Yale Laundry, CityVista, and Madrigal Lofts have opened their doors. (Note: Yale has filled about 65 of 140 units so far). Yale II is under construction. How much more housing can the area sustain? What will the current financial market allow? As Mr. Millstein notes, there's plenty of unfilled demand for retail and restaurants in the area. It's amazing how consistently packed Bus Boys & Poets is within weeks of opening.
At some point, the community will be asked to weigh in on a request for zoning relief from the residential requirement. Let the debate begin.