North of Tilden: Construction Phases

It’s spring, and that means it’s construction season. Particularly in Tenleytown, a number of big projects have finally started, some after 6 years of delays. The headlines:

  • Planning: AU presents their twenty-year plan to ANC 3F meeting. Hilarity ensues.
  • Design: Shalom Baranes designing Babes site.
  • Approvals: Chevy Chase Park will gain field lights.
  • Demolition: If the Van Ness Walgreens is coming in, the gas station has got to go.
  • Staging: Fences are up at Wilson.
  • Site Preparation: Janney sets up temporary classrooms.
  • Foundation: A 4-story condo is going up on Harrison street
  • Structure: The Tenley-Friendship Library is no longer a hole.
  • Commissioning: The placeholder building at Tenleytown is complete.
  • Commercial Fit-out: The 4900 block is getting a pizza place.

And the stories below…

American University Campus Plan

Main campus plan. Click to enlarge.

I think starting with AU’s Campus Plan proposal puts a nice poetic touch to the ouroboros of Ward 3 development fights. As new buildings that were subjects of fierce fighting for years rise up, the response at the ANC and in the Current has portended another year of fighting. AU’s plan is actually a 2011 plan, so they know what they’re getting themselves into. The gist of the plan is to increase the amount of space available for research, build new dormitories, and move the law school to the Ward Circle campus. AU would construct several new buildings on the parking lot on Nebraska Avenue, fill in a few holes in its main campus, and build a new law school facility behind the former Immaculata School building on Tenley Circle.

All told, the proposed construction, would increase AU’s Floor Area Ratio from 0.5 to 0.8. Since AU will likely not build all of their proposals, this number will be lower. In spite of the largely suburban character of the University, neighborhood residents fiercely criticized the plan for being too dense. In the February ANC 3E meeting, complaints tended to bemoan the loss of green space, the presence of more students, and the strategic planning for the campus. Concerns about imposing structures, such as the large dormitories built in the 1950s are legitimate.

However, AU can and should work to create a distinctive and urban Nebraska Avenue. AU’s recent buildings, such as the Katzen Arts Center, Business School extension, School of International Studies, and upcoming School of Communication show that they actually have picked a good range of local architects and worked with them to produce actually exciting work. But good buildings are useless if they have to be compromised to expand later on. So that Nebraska Avenue looks good in 50 years, I suggest AU build dense and leave room for future expansions that do not bunch and cluster architectural features randomly.

On the other end of this debate, AU students have a bad reputation as neighbors. At both the February and March ANC meetings, residents listed off complaints about constant partying, a lack of upkeep, and general disrespect from college-age tenants. One reason so many students live off-campus is because AU hardly has enough room for 2/3 of its students, and that includes cramped triples and improvised dormitories. So, to me, it seems counterintuitive to want to limit the number of dormitory spaces AU can build, as some speakers demanded. Residents should be asking AU to look at meeting all possible demand for spaces, and even encouraging on-campus life with a diversity of housing types, such as townhouses, apartments, dormitories, and residential houses. For example, where I went to school, the university owned all but one of the fraternity houses. It helped keep things under control.

Wisconsin & Brandywine

Previously the Maxim Condos.

Douglas Development has announced that they have hired Shalom Baranes to design a low-rise residential structure at the Babes Billiards site. This project will be the third attempt to build on the property since 2005. Baranes, who designed the Cityline Tenley, is good news, but this is one of the more infamous building warehousers we’re talking about. Who knows if anything will get built.

Chevy Chase Park

Up in Chevy Chase, the Department of Parks and Recreation has received approval to construct field floodlights at Chevy Chase Park. The site will undergo renovation later this year. For the most part, the lights will support the many athletic programs that make Upper Northwest a great place to grow up – and grow up with an appreciation for the outdoors.

Wilson High School

Forever ours.

Some fencing has gone up around Wilson to protect the construction staging areas. DCPS is still finalizing the design with Cox Graae Spack, but at least they are approaching construction. As a quick reminder, the renovations will thoroughly rearrange the interiors of the structure. I hope to detail it further in the future, but “adaptive reuse” is taken to an extreme degree.

Wilson was also designated as a historic landmark, a decision that upset a number of parents, who feared that the landmarking decision would stall or prevent renovations. Part of the dispute revolves around the large chimney that was part of the coal-powered boiler that has since been replaced. In order to construct a secondary gym, CGS wanted to demolish the plant. With the historic designation, the public face of the building must be preserved. The debate over the topic  has gotten a little absurd, with letters to the editor in verse form and suggesting that schools should never be landmarked. I’ll stop talking about it because I’m a huge brick snob, and I don’t want to get caught saying that fine masonry should take precedence over competitive high school sports. Which it should. Damnit …

Van Ness Walgreens

Over on Connecticut Avenue, Walgreens has begun demolition of the discount gas store at Veazey Street in Van Ness. I haven’t gotten any better renderings than the lazy SketchUp ones in the above link, but alas.

Janney School Renovation

Janney prep work. Trenching is not fun.

Construction at Janney has begun in preparation for the addition I discussed here. The current demountable trailers will be relocated to the soccer field at the east of the school. I’m not sure whether the original building will be renovated during the year, after construction of the new wing. If  it is renovated during the summer, after 2011, the campus will be respectably trailer free. No word, though about any future plans to renovate Murch, or a committed date for completion of the Deal renovation.

UPDATE: I checked out the Janney Modernization webpage, and sure enough, I found new information including a great FAQ. The project will be divided into two phases, one for construction of the new wing and one for the parking garage and renovations. Main construction will last from March 2010 to January 2011. Then, the fences will be realigned and the garage will be excavated. During the spring and summer of 2011, the building will be landscaped. The majority of renovations will occur during the summer of 2011, but a few reconfigurations will happen this summer.

Harrison Condominiums

Courtesy DCMud and Square 134

Up in Friendship Heights, Square 134 architects and a real estate consortium called Chevy Chase Arts conspired to put a really great as-of-right low-rise structure. The structure matches the beautiful midcentury buildings on Wisconsin Avenue. The Voight Building (which contains Paul’s Liquor) and the Bank of America are some of the most attractive and interesting buildings in Friendship Heights. The new structure is a polite extension with a little retro industrial feel. The stick-built building will be clad in copper, stone, and plaster. The mass of the building will shelter a large courtyard that almost makes up for the horrible garage entrance in the front. Hopefully they’ll look to shield that more when the building opens in “Late 2010.”

DCMud also reported on it recently. They cover it in much more detail, so it’s worth a read. A choice quote, though:

Schneck says the project will appeal to a market of young professionals that have hitherto been ignored in the pricey neighborhood, with most of the 49 condos built as smallish one-bedroom units.

Concrete foundations, wood building.

Upper Northwest is largely ignored by single professionals, because most properties are single family homes. There are a number of two-bedroom apartments in the area While some might get subdivided into group houses for college-age and slightly older groups, the DC side of Western Avenue lacks a substantial population of singles. It’s not ideal to have a population of  nothing but rich twentysomethings, but having a few around, with investment and responsibilities can’t hurt the bobo bar scene. Additionally, by building luxury apartments here, it decreases real estate pressures in less affluent neighborhoods, reducing the negative consequences of gentrification. The only guaranteed way to lower the cost of housing is to build more of it. Here’s a good start.

Some plans show a potential future home site just to the west of the building on another part of the BofA parking lot, but nothing more than velleity  as of yet.

Tenley-Friendship Library

Formwork. Taken on 3/19.

And the Tenleytown Library is quickly rising out of the ground. After breaking ground in September, most work focused on preparing the ground and constructing the foundations. Beginning in February, work on the large beams added to support future construction on top of the library began, completing vertical structure this past Saturday. The image at right is already a few days old. Indeed, the steel for the second floor has already been laid, and as I’m writing this, it’s getting outdated. The photo at the beginning of this post is some of the architectural concrete off of Albemarle Street.

Tenleytown Placeholder Building

The small building next to the Tenleytown Metro entrance appears to be complete. It’s not a work of art, but even the muddiest waters run. Plus, the builders had the good sense to design the rear as less of an alley façade, since a fair number of pedestrians pass through that alley to get to Whole Foods. For some reason I don’t have a picture of it…

Tenleytown Restaurant Renaissance, Pt. IV

And lastly, Pete’s Apizza will be moving into the empty storefront at 4940 Wisconsin Avenue, right on the corner with Fessenden Street. I’ve tried Pete’s “New Haven Style” pizza at their Columbia Heights location. It’s good, and I hope they open before I relocate to New Haven. No word on why the former Quizno’s has shifted to a pizza place just in time to compete.

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