Monday, November 06, 2006

More proof that amenities come with density

As Marc Fisher and the Northwest Current recently reported, the movie theatre at 4000 Wisconsin Avenue is closing this month. Apparently Cleveland Park's Uptown is also at risk for being closed.

The whole thing makes you wonder. New theatres are opening in the city -- two downtown at E Street and at 7th Street, one at Bethesda Row, and another in Georgetown. These places are exciting, experiencing new mixed-use development, and attractive to investors.

4000 Wisconsin is closing due to a corporate merger, but if our neighborhood was experiencing the sort of re-birth that say, Chinatown, has (or even a quarter of that) -- would the new owner be so fast to close the theatre? I doubt it.

Good retail and good entertainment options come with residential density to survive, and the movie theatre and the old Left Bank Cafe are proof of that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

WAMU Metro Connection Segment on Tenleytown (2004)

Your's truly and a member of the Friendship Neighborhood Association engaged in a "fun" debate on WAMU's Metro Connection program back in 2004. The subject was the Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Study, which was killed not long after this was recorded thanks to intense anti-growth pressure. You can listen to the piece here (listed under "Tenleytown Development").

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Marc Fisher redux

Casting Some Votes for Sense
By Marc Fisher, Washington Post, 9/14/06

"...In the city, however, voters resoundingly rejected candidates backed by the vocal but tiny minority of residents who have made enough noise to stall or kill transit-oriented developments that the District requires to expand its tax base and serve citizens most in need. Voters in upper Northwest's Ward 3 chose Mary Cheh, the one council candidate who forthrightly said she will stand up to the NIMBY crowd and fight for a denser, more urban feel to the upper Wisconsin Avenue corridor."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Silent Majority

Yes Virginia, there is a silent majority!

As usual, Marc Fisher has got it right with his biting assessment of the Ward 3 Council race. From Potomac Confidential's Election Night coverage:

Mark in Adams Morgan: Why is Kojo Nnamdi reporting results with 75 percent of precincts reporting and the Post's got NOTHING?

Marc Fisher: We've got plenty--

DC Ward 3 council, with 11 of 17 precincts reporting:

An easy, dominating win for Mary Cheh, with 46 percent of the vote so far in a nine-way race. That's a powerful endorsement by the silent, pro-development majority against the NIMBYs and suburban wannabes who have fought against transit-oriented development around Metro stations.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Why we need a greater diversity of housing options in the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor

Arguments against building multi-family housing on the Upper Wisconsin Avenue corridor because there is no market demand for them are just silly. Attracting more folks of whatever income bracket to whatever type of housing in other parts of the city like Ft. Totten requires improving city services particulary public safety and the schools. While I don't believe that those improvements necessarily depend on more funding that is at least part of the equation and that funding has to come from somewhere. Theoretically the new development could pay for the cost but developers aren't going to take their chances on projected sale values based on a theoretical. And while land acquisition costs at, say, Ft. Totten may be less than they are in Friendship Heights, the construction costs don't vary and in fact may be higher. The whole reason there are those large tracts available for development along the other side of the Red Line is because really that area, originally along the railroad tracks, represented one of the only parts of the city where there was any industry so there is likely to be some siginificant clean up costs. And this doesn't even take into account the value of having industrialized land uses in a city that is almost completely built out - please see this recent Washington Post article for more on that (or maybe no-growthers should advocate that our underutilized lots in Upper NW be rezoned for for light industrial uses - surely such uses would adhere to their fixation on heights and densities). And of course the lower yield per unit or square foot in fact will make it tougher for those units to subsidize the lower and middle income housing we need in every corner of the city.

All along the Red Line we have diverse housing types - in fact if you think about it it is the Connecticut avenue corridor that has the high rise apartment/condo buildings and then you segue to the rowhouses and a bit further away the single family homes. Near Wisconsin we have just a couple of buildings with condos, which are mostly new, a handful of rowhouses (and some duplexes), mostly in FH, and then mostly single family homes. So in fact what is lacking are multi unit/family buildings.

There is a good argument that there is a shortage of multi-room housing being built, but current zoning does nothing to help this - in fact by limiting the available pool of all housing it hurts the overall housing situation in DC. It's not just a shortage of family housing or affordable housing - it's a shortage of housing in general in DC that have driven up costs and priced people out of the city. If indeed more family housing is what we need, why not try and amend the current proposal to mandate inclusion of family (multi-bedroom) units? When it comes down to it, limiting height and density is always going to be the opposition's determining factor in approving a new development, nothing else, no matter how badly it is needed.

I would take this argument a step further and add that one of the benefits of multiple types of housing is that it creates more supply and enables more folks to move in and out of different types. For example young folks can get in first to a condo, live there a few years building up equity, maybe move up to a row house and then in middle age when they may have teenagers hopefully get into a single family house with the most space. And once the kids are gone they can start to move the other direction and start downsizing. But the lack of diversity in housing options inhibits that movement.

Folks who are young and want to be close in but aren't willing to take a chance on a more transitional neighborhood like Ft Totten might opt to not live close in because the restraint of supply has driven the cost of 1 bedrooms to a starting level of $300,000+. Conversely the older folks who have more house than they need have no incentive to leave their extra square footage behind - sure they may have a $900,000 home they paid $200,000 for but a 2 bedroom in Chase Point is starting at $800,000 so that move makes no sense for them. But strangely some seem to suggest that the market could soon be oversaturated with these units. Why that is their concern (particularly given their animosity towards developers) I don't understand but the example I just cited is why that could be a good thing even for buyers looking for single family homes - if that 2 bedroom in Chase Point comes down to a more reasonable $500,000 then maybe that retirement age couple makes that move. Enough folks do that it increases the supply of single family homes and slows the inflation of their prices.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What's worth saving?

In his blog post today, columnist Marc Fisher made a side comment about "neighborhood historic preservation radicals" trying to save an outdated firehouse in his neighborhood -- which happens to be Upper Wisconsin Avenue.

This isn't the first time he's raised the subject.

Back in May, Fisher wrote: "Washington is also home to a radical fringe of preservationists who seem to believe that any old building--and even some not-at-all-old buildings--are worth a battle. And that attitude has liberated neighborhood groups that oppose the residential density and retailing necessary to expand the city's tax base to wave the flag of historic preservation as their primary obstructionist tool.

....Anti-development forces in upper Northwest are gearing up to argue for declaring a Metro bus barn across from Mazza Gallerie to be...historic. Metro has been trying for years to sell off that land for an extensive retail and residential development of the kind that is essential to the growth of the under-retailed and underdeveloped Wisconsin Avenue corridor, but the threat of historic designation has scared off some developers."

It's a shame that such a worthy cause -- historic preservation -- is being perverted to stop development that could benefit the Wisconsin Avenue community. And it's a bit disconcerting that the historic preservation argument could compromise adequate fire and rescue services in the neighborhood.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ward 3 Vision

A new development is going on up the street from where I live. It used to be Babe's Billiards, but now the squat building is painted completely flat black, and proclaims that "Maxim Condos" are coming soon. Being the web-addicted person that I am, I checked out Maxim's website, curious to see what I could expect. I read, in the neighborhood section, that "Tenleytown is today one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Washington, prized for its architectural diversity as well as its sophisticated urban environment. Surrounded by trendy shops and caf├ęs, vibrant streets and urban parks, Maxim at Tenley is moments from the upscale shopping of Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase, while Georgetown's legendary nightlife and boutiques lie directly down Wisconsin Avenue." Hmmm, well, I am not so sure about the "surrounded by trendy shops and cafes and vibrant sttreetscapes" part. Not that is couldn't be...

No floorplans available yet, no real inkling of what the building will look like when it is done, no indication that it will be anything other than very pricey custom built condos with the requisite granite counter tops and hardwood floors. I dream of... a street level with new coffeeshops, nifty shops, maybe another restaurant or two to keep me from driving to Bethesda or Georgetown to dine out... But I know that this new development is by the books and within the current zoning laws, as with many others in the works or just completed, as with all the new developments along Upper Wisconsin Avenue if the anti-growth neighbors have their way.

The stretch of Wisconsin Avenue from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights has a lot to recommend it. It also has a huge amount of underused space and wasted potential. Imagine if this block had shops and restaurants and shaded benches all the way up to Friendship Heights. Added residents, too, in condos built atop the shops? I don't see the problem. I like the hustle and bustle of people on the street. We could use a wider variety of residents here. Most of them will be riding Metro and walking. More would be walking if there were more to walk to! We're not talking skyscrapers here, but a few taller buildings with more housing options would be welcome in the neighborhood. Build up from what is already paved or built on, I say, and leave room on the ground for parks and green space.

I am a city girl and I love living in the city. I love walking up the street to drop off my kid at school, stopping at the grocery store, the drug store, the movie store and even Starbucks on my way home. I love being able to take Metro to visit downtown, and not even thinking about the hassle of parking. I love filling my car up with gas only once a month. If I didn't have kids I probably would fill it even less.

I am continually frustrated by the argument that a development does not have merit because it does not adhere to the current zoning laws. The zoning laws for this stretch are ridiculous. Enacted before Metro was even open at this location, the laws don't take into account best transit oriented development ideas. The government should be FORCING more mixed use development around Metro stations. Encouraging neighborhood serving and locally owned retail while building in housing opportunities for more tax paying residents to patronize the retail and keep it thriving. Everyone moving into the District does not need (or want) a yard, a car. Leave the surrounding neighborhoods as they are and build RIGHT on the commercial corridors.

Friday, June 23, 2006


We are a coalition of Ward 3 residents and civic groups working to ensure that new development coming to our community forward-thinking and beneficial to our area. We recognize that our city is growing, and that if done right, new development can give us the community amenities we desire.

Our vision includes maintaining the quiet, residential neighborhoods just a few blocks away from Wisconsin Avenue while anticipating increased demands for housing, transportation, and parking. We are committed to working with city planners and developers to ensure that new development maximizes walking and public transit, minimizes commuter traffic, and brings much needed amenities to our neighborhood.

If you are interested in what we do and would like to get more involved please check out our website at We hope you will join us in fighting for positive change in our community!