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InTowner Article

New Projects Bridging Gap on 14th Street;
U Street & Columbia Heights Linking Up

By Michael K. Wilkinson

Projects Bringing Residents and Retail

PDF Version of this article with better formatting 

With most major development projects along the U Street corridor complete and fully occupied, the greater U Street area is experiencing a flurry of project milestones in a second wave of large-scale development, mainly in the two-to-three blocks north of 14th Street immediately north of U Street itself.


PN Hoffman to Break Ground for Union Row at 14th & V

After nearly two years of preparations, PN Hoffman will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at its Union Row condominium project, on 14th Street between V and W Streets, on May 15.In one of the area’s most interesting adaptive reuse and infill development schemes, the project encompasses a number of rather large, former light industrial buildings on the site, and fills in the rest with new construction. What results is a two-part development with a “surprise inside.”

The Flats at Union Row, as the new construction is to be known, is an all-new, traditionally structured condominium building with 208 residential units ranging from studios to three-bedrooms. While most of the units are standard, single-level apartments, some of the penthouse units on the 9th floor will have an open loft over the living area with access to a private rooftop terrace.

That building will occupy the entire length of the 14th Street block between V and W Streets, giving the street an entirely new facade with 26,000 square feet of retail lining the sidewalk. In the plans, the retail is divided into two halves of roughly equal size, suggesting that the retail­ers selected for the building will be larger, and perhaps fairly well-known. However, because retail tenants are most often only sought and selected in the final phase of construction of large-scale buildings such as this, specifics are unknown at this time.

Set back from 14th Street on the interior of the parcel, two existing buildings will be transformed into “The Warehouses at Union Row,” with 58 “split-level warehouse” units. This portion of the development will feature townhouse-styled, multi-level homes with entrances at ground level plus either one or two additional levels of living space above, and private rooftop terraces.

One of the project’s most appealing fea­tures will be a pedestrian walk running along the interior of the development between the two renovated buildings, with landscaping and a fountain in the center. The developer is marketing this feature as a gathering place for residents and the visual centerpiece of the development.

Each of the two sections of the project has its own parking: the Flats will provide 174 residential spaces for its 208 units plus 50 retail parking spaces, and the Warehouses will have 48 spaces for its 58 units.

Metropolis Delivering Keys to Langston Lofts Buyers

Just across V Street in the block situ­ated just to the south of Union Row and across from the Reeves Municipal Center, Metropolis Development has been working to finalize its Langston Lofts project, an 80-unit loft condominium development with 7,500 square feet of retail lining the 14th Street side of the building. The first buyers began moving into the building in early May, and all units are expected to settle within about two months.

At press time, final touches were being prepared throughout the public areas of the building, with cork flooring outside the ele­vators on the upper floors carefully covered in protective cardboard sheets, and hallways newly painted in vibrant colors, their blank wall spaces beckoning the arrival of the art that is being selected by the developer.

The units vary in size and layout but all fall within the general category of “loft-style.” Metropolis Development has made a name with “platform loft condominiums,” which give the whole unit the same ceiling, but elevate the bedroom space, toward the interior, a few feet above the level of the main living area. This layout gives the bed­room a commanding view of the rest of the unit, as well as visual access to the large win­dows in the main living space. Another unit type in the building actually has two levels, with main living space on the first level and bedrooms and baths on the upper level.

  Along the 14 Street façade, a new res­taurant, to be called Busboys and Poets, is being built, with completion projected for early summer. Owned by Andy Shallal, also proprietor of the two well-known Dupont Circle restaurants Luna Grill and Mimi’s American Bistro, Busboys and Poets will actually contain a bookstore and internet café, a 100- to 125-seat lounge area with casual seating within range of the wire­less network), a 150-seat restaurant with additional bar seating, and a soundproofed theater area which will be used for business meetings, rehearsals for local theater compa­nies, occasional poetry readings. The menu will emphasize individual-sized gourmet pizzas, gourmet sandwiches and pastries, and the café will serve its own private-label brand of coffee. Plans include breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, as well as patio dining.

Selection by NCRC of Parcel 34Developer Raises Process Issues

On February 25th, following a nearly nine-month process, the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC) select­ed a development team for the vacant slice of land at the northwest corner of 14th Street and Florida Avenue, designated as Parcel 34.

Often referred to as a “gateway” between the Greater U Street Historic District and Columbia Heights, Parcel 34 is the last of 10 parcels of land in Columbia Heights under NCRC control. Many say it is the most important NCRC parcel in the neighbor­hood, standing prominently at the intersec­tion of the two rapidly developing neighbor­hoods, on the backbone of one of the city’s fastest changing mixed-use corridors.

The NCRC board selected Gateway 34, LLC, a team led by the Jair Lynch Companies, which has its headquarters around the corner from the site at 15th and U Streets. Gateway 34 won the competition with an $18.4 million proposal that includes 48 units of housing with a 20 percent set-aside for “affordable” housing, 37 parking spaces, and a total of 4,800 square feet of retail condominiums that would be sold to two well-known specialty retailers cur­rently leasing their stores on U Street, Trade Secrets and Zawadi.

The appearance of the building, designed by the noted local architectural firm Sorg and Associates, could be considered more conservative, and is somewhat smaller, than the other buildings proposed and not accepted by the NCRC.

In fact, the Gateway 34 decision came as a bit of a surprise to many neighbor­hood residents and activists. While many acknowledged that the choice was diffi­cult, with each proposal possessing distinct pros and cons, a consensus emerged from several neighborhood groups, including the Columbia Heights ANC, that the best proposal came from a team led by PN Hoffman.

ANC Commissioner Phil Spalding told The InTowner that several factors emerged from discussions with constituents, com­munity meetings, and formal developer presentations pointing to the PN Hoffman proposal: the design was “terrific”; the plan had the highest density (and as a conse­quence, the greatest number of affordable units set aside); and the retail plan was by far the most popular among neighborhood residents because of their intention to attract a small organic market such as Yes! Foods and a café such as Java House. Neighbors had consistently expressed a preference for these types of neighborhood services over a “destination” restaurant, or specialty retail­ers with specialized product lines.

Ernest Springs, president of the Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association (see side­bar), suggested additional concerns with the Jair Lynch proposal, particularly with regard to the process by which they were selected by the NCRC. In a series of meetings with the community, the various developers dem­onstrated very different levels of responsive­ness to community input, with Jair Lynch showing the least amount of flexibility in its plans over the time period. Springs specifi­cally cited concerns that neighborhood asso­ciations and ANC members raised about building density, pedestrian safety, lack of parking, and a lack of enthusiasm among community members for the retail pro­gram. He noted that while other developers, including PN Hoffman, made significant changes to their plans over the course of sev­eral months’ of dialog with the community, the Jair Lynch team won with a proposal that reflected very few of the neighborhood’s suggestions for improvements.

Springs and others concluded that the NCRC, in the end, gave far less consider­ation to developers’ responsiveness to neigh­borhood concerns than they suggested they would in their meetings with the public. Rather, some participants in the process suggested, it was the partnership arrange­ment that Jair Lynch included for NCRC and its RLARC subsidiary that put their proposal over the top in the decision pro­cess. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who had given his public support to the PN Hoffman proposal, told The InTowner that he feared the participation of the NCRC/RLARC would actually slow down the pro­cess, noting his long-standing dissatisfaction with the pace of development on other NCRC parcels. At a minimum, echoing many others’ concerns, he further stated, “The building’s appearance is going to have to change dramatically.”

Newly elected ANC Commissioner Mike Smith, while agreeing that the pro­cess seems to have marginalized the “great weight” of ANC and community group decisions, struck an optimistic note: “I hope we can work with Jair Lynch, develop a good relationship with them, and help him and his team produce a structure that is aesthetically pleasing and contributes to the neighborhood.”