319 R Street the plan

319 R St NW, 20001Okey dokey. The fugly, and I’m gonna call it fugly, ’cause it was a plan of ugly of freaking magnitude, plan of replacing the top level of 319 R St NW with a meh 3rd floor and an out of proportion dunce hat is no more. The Historic Landmark application, killed that.

So the developers played chicken, lost and looks like they’re gonna try to recoup their money by selling it, unimproved, for $1.05 million. Unimproved. I don’t think the plans are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that’s just my opinion.

So what’s the plan? Go down.

New plan for 319 R St NWThere will be three floors but you’ll have to go down, into the basement. Have they dug the basement? I don’t think so, so there is no guarantee of anything. If they haven’t, you could hit water. Anywho. The top floor is a rooftop deck of sorts, because you can’t change the top anymore. Because of historic stuff. If they just left the damned turret alone, like 210 P Street NW, they would have had more freedom to put on a 3rd floor.

210 P St NW Open House
Turret on 210 P St NW.

But, noooooo. They had to plan to destroy the original turret or threaten to tear down the building. Now they expect someone to pay over a million dollars for the mess they made.

319 R St NW

319 R St NWI ran into a neighbor who apparently went to the last BACA meeting. I stayed home because of a sick kid. He’s fine now, thanks for asking. Anyway, she informed me of what is going on with 319 R Street NW.

For those of you new to the story, here is the Cliff Notes version of the 319 R Street NW saga. The property was sold by a Korean Presbyterian church to a developer. The developer wanted to chop off the roof and turret and make a fugly building. There was some pushback by neighbors and the developers threatened to demolish the building as a matter of right. The developers, and other people, forgot that 319 was on a block built by celebrated developer Harry Wardman and a majority of the structures on the block were Harry Wardman originals. When it looked like the developers were going to be able to get their fugly building with a dunce hat of a turret, someone submitted a historic landmark application for the whole damned block. The submission and the approval meant no changes could be made, so no ugly 3rd floor or dunce hat, but unfortunately a bunch of innocent homeowners got caught up in it like dolphins in a tuna net.

Anyway……

The developers got permits to make changes (but not the fugly building) and plan to sell 319 R with the approved permits. They played chicken and they lost. Depending on how much they sell the building, a talented developer like Ditto could turn it into a two unit, million+ property.

So after 20+ years Shiloh might do something with its vacant properties

My usual path no longer takes me along 9th Street anymore. Trips to Giant stops right at 8th Street. I might wander over to 9th to see if Buttercream has any ho-hos. And so the search for specialty cake products brought me over to the 1500 block of 9th Street NW and I was surprised to see what looked to be work on Shiloh Baptist Church’s long vacant properties.

Shiloh maybe getting their act togetherThis might be old news to some, as I did notice another Shiloh property on the opposite side of the street appeared no longer vacant. And the poster celebrating Victory Village looks, old. When doing a Google search for Victory Village and Shiloh, I came across a 2010 CityPaper article about the project. That doesn’t provide a lot of confidence. What does provide confidence is the scaffolding up along the sidewalk. And the fact that the block is a little less vacant than 10 years ago.

Shiloh maybe getting their act togetherNext to the National Park Service’s Carter G. Woodson House, formerly owned by Shiloh were some 3 story high scaffolding with the banner of a contractor, Thomas Archer on it. That looks a bit more real, and this thing might actually happen. Maybe. Hopefully. Lord willing.

I pray that in 5 years the 1500 block of 9th Street NW is as healthy as the 1500 block of 7th St NW. I hope that Shiloh will no longer be known as the church with all those run down vacant properties. I don’t expect Shiloh to gain the real estate mojo of UHOP, that would be akin to expecting Keneau Reeves to out act Christian Bale.

 

This has been cross posted with the DC Vacant Properties blog.

Condo, Condo, Cahn-do

Tell me what they will build there?
Tell me
Condo, Condo, Con-do!
Things cropping up everywhere,
Open house just tell me when.
-to the tune of Quando, Quando, Quando

Gray Condo on NJ Ave NW
So I have a bias against condos. Just for myself, not other people. If you have stayed in the same 1 mile or 1/2 mile area for 10 years, and are renting, you might want to consider buying a condo…. unless you can afford an actual house, where you own the bricks or board and the dirt beneath.

Unfortunately, condos are the most “affordable” things that are livable around here. Probably not these condos, considering Compass is involved. The Chapman Stables have some studio and 1 bedroom units in the $300K range. Yes, not including the condo fee, you’re paying a little over $2K, provided you put down a decent down payment for 1 room. No parking space. I think Chapman has 1 studio left for $333K. Should the owner of this fine unit ever decide to rent out their unit, because they fell in love, added another human to their life and needed more space, they would probably need to charge nearly $3K a month to break even (condo fee, property management, business license, etc).

I’m not too distressed by the idea that large houses are being broken up into smaller condos. Many of the Truxton houses, the Wardman Flats, and the Bates Street houses were created as 2 unit flats. The value went down and some of them were turned into 1 unit homes. Now developers are turning them back into 2 unit properties. What goes up can go down. This neighborhood pretty much ignored the 2008 housing crash, but I can imagine something that would make those new 1 million dollar condos and houses near worthless. Not anytime soon, and hopefully, not in my lifetime, but a lot can happen in 100 or 50 years.

Baltimore City level of Historic Districts- When you have too many

DC has too many historic districts (HD) and just recently got one more as Bloomingdale fell to this sad fate of HD collecting. So about 1 in 5 DC properties is some historic something or another. DC is on its way to becoming like our sister city Baltimore where some historic districts are respected and others, kinda ignored, making the designation meaningless. Maybe it needs to be made meaningless.

mAP OF bALTIMORE cITY hISTORIC dISTRICTSSo I own a small rental in Baltimore which happens to be in a historic district and the neighborhood is listed with the National Register of Historic Places. Historic districts in Baltimore are a different animal than the HDs in DC from what I observed. When I had a local charm city architect over, I mentioned the vinyl window I had in my house and the other vinyl windows I saw in the neighborhood. He said, “Yeah, they’re not supposed to do that but….” and he shrugged and we moved on to other topics.

Baltimore has over 60 historic districts, DC has over 30. The Baltimore Sun supposed that 1 in 3 buildings was listed on the National Register. I have no idea how many of those include abandoned shells. Baltimore also has a local tax incentive to get homeowners on board, but the logic in how it applies confuse me. There are newish condos just outside the district’s boundaries that advertised the 10 year tax credit. Of course there is a lot in Baltimore where the logic of how they apply a lot of things confuse me.

I wonder if the trend to add more and more historic districts will create an environment where the original intents will be undermined because it brings in too many unwilling participants, thin supporters and stretch the resources of the enforcers. Maybe. We’ll see.

So Asbury Dwellings used to be a school

Three white guys posing in front of Shaw Jr High. Circa 1967-68.

 

Okay, if you are familiar with the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 7th Street NW you are aware of Asbury Dwellings, senior citizens’ apartments.

Well before it was housing, it was a school. It was THE school the neighborhood was named after. Just like Adams Morgan was named after two schools there, with its own urban renewal project, Shaw was named after the Shaw Junior High School. Which was named after Col. Robert Gould Shaw. So the neighborhood being named after the Col. Shaw is sorta kinda true if you’re totally ignoring the urban renewal part of the neighborhood’s history.

So behind the three white guys with rolled up posters, is the school and you may be able to make out the word “High School”. It now reads “Asbury Dwellings”. If you don’t feel like bringing up a Google street view of the place here’s a link to a Library of Congress photo of the current building. When you really look at it, it is a beautiful building.

BACA on Langston School

100_0404.JPGThe Langston School on the unit block of P St NW has been vacant, and crumbling for years, possibly decades. The building is in such bad condition, charters who get 1st dibs on DC school buildings have given it a hard pass.

So after decades of nothing from the city, the Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) has decided to attempt to tackle the problem.  Take a look at the BACA Resolution in Support of Development Proposal for Langston School. To sum it up, BACA says it has been vacant for too long and is hurting the surrounding area, and maybe the National Peace Corps Association seems interested in it, please let them buy it.

 

210 P St NW-open house

210 P St NW Open HouseSo my neighbor, the former architect current artist, IT invited me to join him for an open house in the Truxton Circle neighborhood, 210 P St NW. These are the Clover Court Condos, and the start near a million dollars. There were 2 of the 4 units staged, with one being open and un-staged.

Let me start with the bad and get that out of the way. The price is in the square footage, though some of that seems wasted in some ways. IT was not in agreement with some of the layout decisions. I found a few things not up to par for the price tag. And we both spotted things that didn’t make sense for the way people might occupy the space. One of the toilets in unit #4 is is a very tight alcove where it is very likely someone is going to constantly hit the towel rack. And the alcove is super tight, no linebackers in the can here. The basement wells for unit #1 do let in lots of light but the view and space is lacking. I suggested a mural or plants. The problem with plants in that and the balcony and the roof deck is where is a water source?

210 P St NW Open HouseUnits 3 and 4 have roof deck access. IT has told me on previous occasions that roof decks need things or else they will mainly go unused. You need water and electrical outlets and it helps to have some shelter. There is a tiny room at the top of the stairs, pictured right. It needs an electrical outlet for a fridge. We did not notice any water spigots on the roof. At the price point, one might expect these things on the rooftop space.

Okay the good stuff.

210 P St NW Open HouseIt’s got a turret. You do not need to get rid of the turret (hear that 319 R St NW?!). Just clad that puppy with some metal and build a roof deck around it. We wandered into unit #3 and noticed that there is nothing on the inside to point to the turret up above. IT had looked for some glass to see if it was being used as a light source. Nope.

Oh, you probably want to know what is the good stuff for a buyer. Well as I said there is lots of space inside. Unit #1 has 1,921 square feet, unit #3 2,245 square feet, and unit #4 a whopping 2,331 square feet. There was so much space I got disoriented and lost in the units. The price is in the wealth of space. You want fancy stuff like an outdoor kitchen, or water spigots, you’re gonna have to put that in yourself.210 P St NW Open House

For unit #4, there is definitely a million dollar plus view. The top of the Washington Monument is visible and unobstructed. IT said you could have a 4th of July fireworks viewing party and charge admission. Seriously, any of you folks with private decks with a view of the monument in the TC or Mid-City Shaw wanna charge me to see the fireworks email me. Just tell me if I need to bring my own water.

Spacepak good and bad

Vent tubes for Space Pak system
Vent tubes for Space Pak system

So our central air died about 2 years ago.

We had it for almost 10 years when it died. The image to the right are the tubes our system, the Spacepak system, used to deliver cool air to the house. Prior to that I used big honking window units. The joy of central air is not having to lug heavy as sin units up the freaking stairs AND down the frigging stairs once a year.

But then we noticed the system wasn’t working that well. Called a well known plumbing/HVAC company to come out and they said the system was leaking coolant and whatever it was the whole system needed replacing because the kind of coolant the system used is being phased out. They brought out a second person to look at the system and got the sales pitch to replace the system, at $12K. To be fair about $3k of that was to hire a crane to replace the unit on the roof.

With that quote, and knowing that most AC systems have a life span of 10 years, that’s $1,200 a year (not including power, filters, and maintenance) for the privilege of central air. For that price I could get someone from Taskrabbit or something like it to come to my house and bring the various ac window units up and down for way less. Hell for that price, I could buy new ac units every friggin year and pay someone to lug them up and down. Also our house is small, and the bedrooms, kitchen and living/dining space is less than 800 sq feet (not counting baths and hall). We don’t need a super system. So not going to replace the system this year, not at that price. Besides, we replaced the roof last month, so that was our big capital project of 2018.

The Spacepak system, when it was running, I really loved it. There were no bulky vent structures and the vents in the ceiling kinda blended in. When the system was on, everywhere, except our bedroom was fairly quiet. Above our bedroom there was a lot of the mechanicals.  We never never had the system below 75F, I hate the cold. I continued to love the system until it died.

It did have it’s faults. The kitchen vent was above a cabinet and I don’t think any air really got in there. As a consequence, I avoided using the oven in the summer. I have my doubts we could have gotten the house ice cold with the system. It, like our heating system, took its sweet time getting to the temperature we set.

I don’t believe the people who quoted us were familiar with small duct high velocity systems, and the price tag was probably for a whole new bulky duct system. We did contact another company that did have some familiarity and after the technician came by they never got back in touch with us, and I didn’t follow up. So alas we are doing window units.

I am playing with the idea of scrapping the system for mini-splits. I have a tiny house (not on wheels, just a tiny townhome) that I put mini-splits in, one unit for each floor. It does heating and cooling. Since the house was ridiculously tiny, I used images of Honk Kong apartments as inspiration and noticed these mini-split systems all over the place. The major downside is appearance, but I’d want one in the kitchen just to deal with the fact that it is the hottest room in the house in summer.

No need for developer hate- who built your house?

So I was reading, okay skimming, through a lot of web posts and articles about housing and there was a fair amount of hate on developers, real estate developers. Apparently all developers care about is money. Okay, but didn’t a developer build your house? Your apartment?

So the newly historic landmarked Wardman Flats were built by a real estate developer Harry Wardman, which is why it is landmarked… Okay it was landmarked because a present day developer threatened the turret at 319 R Street and landmarking is a hammer people can use. Wardman did not build the houses on Square 519 (btwn 3rd, 4th, Florida, and R Streets NW) for charity. He was a builder, that’s how he made money. He built a lot in DC, mainly, for the money.

Bates St Turn of the century A few years  before Wardman built in Truxton Circle and a few blocks over the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) built flats between North Cap, Q, P, and 3rd Streets NW.  Paul Williams has a wonderful blog post about WSIC, so there is no need for me to rehash that history. WSIC wasn’t completely all about the money, more about ‘business philanthropy’. I’m not completely sure, but my reading is that this type of project was to provide dividends to stockholders. So doing good and making money?

My own house is over 140 years old and as far as I can tell, was built by a guy who rented to poor black labors. Can’t find anything that shows he built my house for anything other than the money.

There is no public housing in Truxton Circle. There is HUD subsidized housing, but no public housing. But even city supported or federally subsidized housing involve developers as well. I don’t have any good history about that so, this is where I’ll end this post.