Tag: development

The problem with Ted Lerner’s lifetime achievement award

Washington has no greater homegrown real estate executive than Ted Lerner. From World War II to today Lerner redefined the places where locals work, shop and live, whether it was Wheaton Plaza, White Flint or Dulles Town Center. He turned a sleepy crosssroads in then-rural Fairfax County into the regional retail destination Tysons Corner Center, returned Major League Baseball to local ownership in the nation’s capital and amassed an estimated $6 billion along the way.

He did not, however, do everything that was said of him last week when he received a lifetime achievement award from the Urban Land Institute.

Lerner accepts few of the awards he is offered and makes few public appearances. He said in a brief interview before dinner at the gala dinner Thursday at the National Building Museum that he agreed to only after being convinced by his 13 grandchildren.

“They are the reason I’m here,” he said. In his acceptance speech, Lerner said he was proud to have developed 20 million square feet of real estate while remaining relatively anonymous.

“I guess I have a different approach to real estate than Donald Trump,” he said.

At the gala Lerner’s partners in business and at ULI pulled out all the stops for the 90-year-old magnate. Wolf Blitzer of CNN, a family friend, introduced him. Lerner Enterprises filled nine tables up front and countless partners and associates bought advertisements in the awards brochure congratulating him.

A nearly 9-minute video extolling his life’s accomplishments played featuring warm compliments from Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, former George Washington University president Stephen Trachtenberg, former baseball commissioner Bud Selig and current commissioner Rob Manfre.

Real estate magnate and Nationals owner Ted Lerner received a lifetime achievement award from the real estate group ULI. (Urban Land Institute)

Some of the testimonials take liberties with the facts. For instance, columnist George F. Will gestures to Nationals Park in the background behind and congratulates Lerner for having built it. Actually the D.C. government oversaw construction of Nationals Park and paid for nearly all of it as well, at a cost of $670 million to D.C. taxpayers.

Will also praises Lerner for having opened the Nationals Baseball Academy, in Southeast D.C. The Nationals and its charitable arm paid for $3 million of that project, about 20 percent of the cost (and about what they pay pitcher Max Scherzer for a third of a season). D.C. taxpayers put in $10.2 million and Major League Baseball paid $1 million.

There’s no crime in employing a touch of hyberbole when lauding such an accomplished entrepreneur. But there is a question why ULI so celebrated a man whose building practices are now being critiqued by many of its members.

Though it is a real estate association, ULI often acts as a think tank for those interested in revitalizing cities. It has grown in membership and influence as people and companies have flocked back to urban areas in recent years. It is dedicated to “the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.”

Lerner is rightly credited with doing more to create Tysons Corner than anyone but the modern Tysons — one of the most congested, sprawling suburban areas anywhere in America — isn’t the sort of thing ULI members generally celebrate. Indeed, much of the work in Tysons today has to do with undoing the single use suburban malls and office parks that made Lerner and his table mate Thursday, zoning king Til Hazel, so wealthy.

ULI specializes in considering how to remake places with Tysons-like problems into flourishing urban areas. It frequently publishes work and holds forums on how to retrofit places like Tysons (“Not Your Parents’ Suburbs”) and Landover Mall, which Lerner built but had to demolish after it failed, into other things.

Unlike many ULI members who extol the virtues of public transit, Lerner has sometimes held a different view. When Metro agreed to build a Silver Line station on his doorstep in Tysons, he sued Virginia over how much he would be paid for the staging area (a jury sided with the commonwealth). When a Nationals playoff game ran late into the evening, his team refused to pick up the $30,000 tab to run extra cars.

Lerner plays hardball in more ways than one, and in real estate that sometimes means lawsuits. Lerner sued the District over ballpark construction, asking $100,000 a day in damages because he said work was still not done two months after it opened. He sued Fairfax County five years ago over development rights in Reston. When Lord & Taylor officials asked that he not tear down White Flint Mall in violation of his contract with them, he did it anyway. A jury awarded the department store $31 million in damages. (This was after Ted’s brother Lawrence sued him over the mall as well.)

Some ULI members have quietly questioned whether this constitutes award-winning behavior. In an e-mail Lisa Rother, executive director of ULI Washington, explained why Lerner was chosen:

ULI Washington is honored to present its Lifetime Achievement Award to Ted Lerner because of the tremendous impact he and his family have had on this region.  As a visionary real estate developer, generous philanthropist, MLB team owner, and a pillar of the community, Mr. Lerner has positively changed the face of the region over his decades of commitment to making the area the best that it can be.  His integrity, high standards and commitment to excellence are evident in everything he has done.  Residents proudly wear the Curly W to show their pride in the Washington Nationals.  They shop, live and work in the buildings and communities that Ted Lerner envisioned and built  and benefit from his generous philanthropy in universities and other civic amenities.

It’s easy to say simply that things were different when Lerner was making his name. Shopping malls at the time were where people wanted to shop and office parks were where they wanted to work. People preferred driving so of course they needed more roads.

Lerner is surely not to blame for all the region’s ills. But that type of development is one of the reasons that Washingtonians now endure some of the worst traffic and most polluted air in the country.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a transit advocacy group, said he appreciated the way Lerner had come around later in his career toward more environmentally sustainable practices.

“In the first decades that Mr. Lerner was developing the region, few understood the negative impacts of separated uses and completely auto dependent development,” Schwartz said. “We certainly face traffic and environmental challenges today due to the way the region grew.”

In Schwartz’s view, it may be difficult to condemn Tysons and shopping malls while celebrating Ted Lerner. But not impossible.

“Mr. Lerner has had a huge influence on regional development and we are pleased to see the commitment he has made to the new generation of transit-oriented development in Tysons, White Flint and the Nationals Stadium,” Schwartz added. “In this next generation for his firm, it will be critical that they include a focus on walkable urban design and creating great places as experienced by the pedestrian.”

Read at The Washington Post >>

Dollars and sense: City Council aims to ease the pain of Richmond’s approach to economic development

“On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to have an at-large, directly elected mayor,” says Schwartz, who lives in Richmond and is a board member of the Partnership for Smarter Growth here. “But the separation between the executive and legislative branch seems to create inefficiencies, and it can create a system where the executive branch is not as willing to share all the information it should with the legislative branch. “It puts staff in a difficult position because they’re hired and fired by the executive and yet they’re asked to be completely forthcoming by the legislative body.”

Prince George’s adds incentives to get developers on track

Developers just received more reasons — a package of reasons, to be exact — to bring business plans to five Metro stations in Hyattsville, Largo, New Carrollton and Suitland. Prince George’s County officials announced the new incentives Monday at the University Town Center, a mixed-use project located near the Prince George’s Plaza Metro, and in front of the site where a $23 million Safeway supermarket project is expected to break ground in May.

Prince George’s County pushing development around five of its 15 Metro stations

​Prince George’s County announced a new strategy Monday that officials say is aimed at spurring development and growth around the county’s transit centers.​ Officials plan to focus on five of the county’s 15 Metro stations, using investment in infrastructure, financial incentives and regulatory policies to jump-start development.

Takoma Metro Development Set for Approval, Despite Cross-Border Opposition

Nearly every new development project that’s taller than most of the surrounding neighborhood raises a few hackles among locals. Less common is one that arouses opposition across state lanes.

Tomorrow, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board will vote on plans for an apartment building at the Takoma Metro station. The plans are the latest in an effort to redevelop the area around the station that has spanned two decades. They’ve changed form a few times, from townhouses with two-car garages that neighbors found insufficiently transit-oriented, to abuilding with five residential stories that neighbors found too tall, to the current scheme, which is one story shorter and contains about 210 apartments. The latest proposal has won plaudits from the Coalition for Smarter Growth as a compromise between suitability to a Metro-adjacent site and compatibility with a medium-density area.

But neighbors still aren’t pleased with the plans, on either side of the D.C.-Maryland border. Both the Takoma Park City Council and local Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B have passed resolutions objecting to elements of the proposal.

“The biggest problem is, the building is too big,” says Takoma Park City Council Member Seth Grimes. (The project, by developer EYA, is on the D.C. side of the border, but Takoma Park is just across the street.) Grimes says the “vast majority” of neighbors are opposed to the design, largely because of its scale, which exceeds the standard zoning for the area by about 20 feet. He also personally believes there should be fewer parking spaces to encourage more Metro ridership.

Sara Green, an ANC commissioner on the D.C. side of the border, is frustrated that the neighbors are being portrayed as naysayers for opposing the current plans after getting some of the revisions they wanted from the earlier proposals. “WMATA said, ‘OK, we want to do what you suggested,'” she says. “And we said, ‘Fabulous!’ And then they came to us with something that was so much bigger than the existing zoning! We’re being painted as people who don’t want anything. What we’re rejecting is greed.”

Ward 4 D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser, whose ward includes Takoma and who sits on Metro’s board of directors, argues that the changes to the plans have addressed neighbors’ concerns. “A few issues popped out at everyone, especially involving the green space and how we could maintain it,” she says. “That’s gonna happen. We wanted to make sure that the height was fitting with the community.”

Bowser says she’ll vote for the proposal tomorrow, as, most likely, will the majority of her colleagues on the WMATA board. “We do expect it to be favorably voted by the WMATA board on March 27,” says Grimes, resignedly.

 Click here to read the original story on Housing Complex >> 

Photo courtesy of EYA. 

Testimony Re: Southern Green Line Station Area Sector Plan and Endorsed Sectional Map Amendment

Testimony Re: Southern Green Line Station Area Sector Plan and Endorsed Sectional Map Amendment

Regrettably, the Coalition for Smarter Growth expresses its opposition to the proposed amendments to the Adopted Southern Green Line Station Area Sector Plan and Endorsed Sectional Map Amendment. While we have testified in support of many helpful bills and resolutions that advance the County’s efforts to attract high quality investments around its Metro stations, we regret that this proposed overlay, while well-intentioned, is likely to do more harm than good …

Walking tour explores Fort Totten’s present and future

Development at Fort Totten has been slow despite access to 3 Metro lines, its close proximity to both downtown DC and Silver Spring, its access to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, its green space and its affordability. But as demand increases for housing in the District, this previously-overlooked neighborhood could become a hot spot.


Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.Last Saturday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth concluded their spring walking tour series with “Fort Totten: More than a Transfer Point,” a look at future residential, retail and commercial development near the Fort Totten Metro station. Residents and visitors joined representatives from WMATA, DDOT and the Office of Planning on a tour of the area bounded by South Dakota Avenue, Riggs Road, and First Place NE.

Today, vacant properties and industrial sites surround the station and form a barrier between it and the surrounding area. Redeveloping them could improve connections to the Metro and make Fort Totten a more vibrant community.

There is a significant amount of new residential, retail and commercial development planned within walking distance of the Metro station. But Saturday’s tour began with the only completed project, The Aventine at Fort Totten. Built by Clark Realty Group in 2007, the 3-building, garden-style apartment complex consists of over 300 rental units as well as ground-floor retail space.


The Aventine at Fort Totten, the newest apartment complex in Fort Totten. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.Visitors were ambivalent about the success of the Aventine due to its small amount of retail space and lack of connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods. While residents noted that it created more options to live close to Metro, representatives of the Lamond Riggs and North Michigan Park civic associations agreed the development differed from the original vision for the project.

They called it an example of the need to continually engage real estate developers and local government agencies to ensure that new development is of a high quality and responsive to the local context. Throughout the tour, residents said that future development proposals should adhere to DC’s urban design guidelines, improve pedestrian access and have a plan to mitigate parking concerns.

Between South Dakota Avenue and the Metro station, the Cafritz Foundation will redevelop the old Riggs Plaza apartments to build ArtPlace at Fort Totten. When finished, the 16-acre project will contain 305,000 square feet of retail, 929 apartments, and 217,000 square feet of cultural and art spaces, including a children’s museum. Deborah Crain, neighborhood planning coordinator for Ward 5, noted that ArtPlace will include rental units set aside for seniors and displaced Riggs Plaza residents.


An ad for ArtPlace at Fort Totten at its future home.As one of the largest landowners near the Fort Totten Station, WMATA has a huge stake in future development around the station. They own approximately 3 acres of land immediately west of the station along First Place NE that is currently used as surface parking lot for commuters. Stan Wall, Director of Real Estate at WMATA, discussed the great potential for development on the current parking lot mentioned that the agency will solicit proposals for development of the area in the near future.


Parking lot at Fort Totten station.Anna Chamberlain, a DDOT transportation planner, talked about how streetscape improvements could calm traffic, making streets around the Metro station more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. DDOT is also working to improve connections to the Metro, as some areas lack clearly defined walking paths. The agency will begin designing a path connecting the Metro to the Metropolitan Branch Trail within the next few months.


New sidewalks and street trees on Riggs Road.The final stop on the tour was Fort Totten Square, a joint effort by the JBG Companies and Lowe Enterprises to build 350 apartments above a Walmart and structured parking at South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. DDOT has completely rebuilt the adjacent intersection to make it safer for pedestrians and more suitable for an urban environment, replacing freeway-style ramps with sidewalks, benches, crosswalks and improved lighting.

Jaimie Weinbaum, development manager at JBG, says they’re committed to working with the city and residents to make Fort Totten Square an asset to the community. They’ve promised to place Capital Bikeshare stations there and would like to have dedicated space for Car2go as well.

With help from the private sector and public agencies like DDOT and WMATA, Fort Totten could become a model for transit-oriented development, but much of the new construction won’t happen for a long time. Until then, residents eagerly await the changes and continue to work with other stakeholders toward creating a vision that will benefit everyone.

Photos courtesy of Greater Greater Washington

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Montgomery parking requirements looser, but not enough

Montgomery County’s new zoning code will allow less parking in new developments in order to use land more efficiently and encourage alternatives to driving. However, the regulations still require parking in ways that will hinder the walkable urban places the county wants to build.


Space for people, or space for cars? All photos by the author.For four years, the Planning Department has been revising its complicated, unwieldy zoning code. First written in 1928, the code hasn’t been updated since 1977, when the county was still mostly suburban. The new code will go before the County Council in a public hearing June 11.

Under the current code, buildings must have lots of parking, even near transit or in areas where most people don’t drive. The new parking regulations are simpler and allow developers to build fewer parking spaces, though they do require other amenities, like bike racks, changing facilities and spaces for car sharing or carpools.

New rules require less parking, more amenities

The new code reduces parking requirements throughout the county, especially in its parking benefit districts where public parking is available, like Silver Spring, Bethesda, Wheaton, Montgomery Hills and eventually White Flint.

Restaurants currently must have 25 parking spaces per 1000 square feet, a little smaller than a Chipotle. Under the new rules, a restaurant would only need between 4 and 10 spaces, depending on whether it was in a parking district. Meanwhile, office buildings outside a parking district will only need 2.25 spaces per 1000 square feet, compared to 3 today.

Some rules have been simplified. The current law requires different amounts of parking for different kinds of stores; for instance, a “country market” must provide 5 parking spaces for each 1000 square feet, while a furniture store needs only 2. Under the new code, all stores would be required to have 3.5 spaces per 1000 square feet in parking districts, and 5 spaces elsewhere.

New buildings would also have to accommodate alternate modes of transportation by providing bike parking. Larger buildings will have to include space for car sharing, while developers would be able to swap out car parking spaces for carpool spaces, bikeshare stations or changing facilities.

However, the parking requirements for housing won’t change much. Single-family homes and townhomes would still need 2 off-street parking spaces or 1 if they’re in a parking district, same as before, while new apartments would need at least 1 parking space, regardless of where they are. However, apartment developers could build less parking if they “unbundle” them, meaning that residents could buy or rent a space separately from their unit.

Do we still need parking requirements?

While the new requirements are an improvement, some local groups argue that there shouldn’t be parking requirements at all. The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Montgomery County Sierra Club, and the Action Committee for Transit, where I sit on the board, have all come out against parking minimums.


Parking requirements don’t always make great places.Why? For starters, parking is expensive to build and rarely pays for itself. Construction costs for a space in a parking lot are about $3,500, compared to $30,000 for one in a garage and $100,000 for one underground, not counting the cost of land. Parking fees rarely cover these expenses alone, so the costs get passed on to the public in other ways, like higher prices at a restaurant that’s charged higher rents by its landlord.

Meanwhile, our communities pay for a glut of parking. Surface parking lots that are only full on Black Friday take up valuable space that could be used for buildings or parks instead. And even attractively designed parking garages like this one in Rockville still create a dead space, hurting street life. On top of that, parking lots produce a lot of stormwater runoff, polluting waterways.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have any parking, but the costs of excess parking outweigh the benefits. As Matt Yglesias writes in Slate, people will continue to want parking, and any developer who wants to stay in business will satisfy them without being told to:

Almost 100 percent of Washington-area residents like to sleep on a soft comforable surface at night. But there’s no regulatory requirement that residential buildings contain mattresses. The lack of mattress mandates doesn’t mean people are forced to sleep on the floor. It means that if people want to sleep on a mattressand they generally dothey need to go buy one.

Once you take away the Agricultural Reserve, residential neighborhoods, and other uses, you’re left with about 4% of Montgomery County that’s available for development. That land is valuable, and we need to use it well. Covering it with big parking lots isn’t the right solution, but that’s what our current zoning code requires. While the new law’s a step in the right direction, it may not go far enough to create the kind of places we want.

The County Council will hold a public hearing on the Zoning Rewrite on Tuesday, June 11 at 7:30pm. To sign up to testify or submit written comments, visit their website.

Photos courtesy of thecourtyard on Flickr.

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PG planners propose bold new smart growth future

Prince George’s County has diverged from its smart growth goals, says the county Planning Board in a searing assessment. The board says residents have a choice: push for more transit-oriented development and walkable communities, or “be resigned to business as usual.”


Largo Town Center. Photo by the author.The board released a policy paper called How and Where We Grow as part of an update of the county’s 20-year plan for growth and development. It offers aggressive proposals to tame sprawling, scattered development and focus public resources at Metro stations and priority urban centers.

While official plans and rhetoric say transit-oriented development is important, land use trends show a different story on the ground. The county must recommit to managing its growth in a sustainable way by preserving open space and focusing development around Metro stations, says the board. Otherwise, the county will remain a place known for bedroom communities, underutilized Metro stations, and weak job growth.

Members of the public can offer their input on the county’s future at a day-long town meeting next month.

Prince George’s is at a crossroads

“Prince George’s County is at a crossroads,” the Planning Board states. “Will we choose bold action or business as usual?”

The document recounts how the 2002 General Plan vision for growth and land use fell short of its original goals over the years. Without commitment to a new direction, the county can expect more spread out development, continued failure to capitalize on the promise of transit-oriented development, and lagging investment to spark revitalization of communities inside the Beltway.


Tier boundaries from the Prince George’s County General Plan.Between 2002 and 2010, residential growth in the county departed from the General Plan by spreading out into over 6,400 acres of the “Developing Tier,” a rapidly suburbanizing area outside the Beltway. The lion’s share of the county’s development occurred there, including 73% of residential and 60% of commercial growth.

In the “Developed Tier,” inside the Beltway, growth lagged. It fell short of goals by capturing 25% rather the hoped-for 33% goal. However, what was built there consumed just 5% of the county’s land area.

Development in the pipeline, which has been approved but not yet built, promises more of the same. More than 79% of residential units in the development pipeline are single-family detached houses in the Developing Tier. Yet according to the Planning Board, demand forecasts show that more than 60% of the new housing units to be built should be multifamily units located in walkable communities at transit-accessible locations.


All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.How and Where We Grow points to the costs of these growth patterns: spread-out development at densities that are difficult to support with quality transit or retail services, long commutes, and a future as a bedroom community to the region. Over the past 40 years, a third of the county’s open space, agricultural, and forested land were converted to low-density residential development. The loss of open space has fragmented natural areas and undermined the agricultural economy.

Furthermore, the board notes that the county has attracted the fewest number of new residents of an area jurisdiction from 2000 to 2010. “Without recalibration of county priorities and policies that promote TOD [transit-oriented development] and high-quality, mixed-use development,” the paper says, “it is likely that the county will be at a continued disadvantage to its neighbors when it comes to attracting residents and employers who value the connectivity and amenities that other such communities provide.”

The county needs a unified vision

The board notes that the structure of county government undermines unity and fosters internal competition through the lack of at-large council members on the county council. “While the County Executive can focus and coordinate resources, the nine different Council members, oftentimes with nine different priorities, it is difficult to agree upon a single vision for the county,” says the paper. “In practice this means that public dollars get spread across the county, instead of being concentrated in a few places to make a truly significant impact.”

A “clear mismatch in stated goals and actual infrastructure investment” emerges when assessing the county’s transportation spending priorities, the board finds. There’s also far more commercial and mixed-use zoning than the market can support. The paper notes that the county’s weak commercial tax base makes it a challenge to compete for employers or have the financial resources to address community needs, like crime and poor schools.

Given these tough observations, the planners put forth a realistic agenda for the future with this set of specific recommendations aimed at leveraging existing infrastructure:

  • Define density targets and growth goals for the tiers to shift the focus of development to the centers and the Developed Tier.
  • Make a stronger commitment by targeting new growth to the Developed Tier and increase the growth objectives for the tier.
  • Locate the new hospital center and key government functions at a transit-oriented development location.
  • Reduce the backlog pipeline development (which can linger for decades). Prioritize and phase development by requiring bonding for infrastructure improvements. Also use the water and sewer process to more aggressively discourage greenfield development.
  • Prioritize and fast track building permits in targeted areas (County Council is currently advancing a bill to do this).
  • Revise surcharge fees for schools and public safety, encourage development in the Centers and Developed Tier by reducing fees, and phase growth in the Developing Tier through fee increases.
  • Adopt new zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations. Ensure they are supportive of the General Plan goals, including encouraging transit-oriented development.

The planning board’s honest, stern assessment of the county’s challenges and practical list of reforms offer the chance for Prince George’s County to change its ways. County leadership has shown some appetite for meaningful reforms. At the request of the county council and executive, the state delegation enabled the county to reduce fees for developments around Metro stations during the last Maryland legislative session.

The County Council is also advancing a bill to expedite development review for projects close to Metro stations. Meanwhile, the debate over where to locate the proposed Regional Medical Center has shifted away from expansive open sites to parcels around the Largo Town Center Metro station.

However, the county’s spending priorities still reflect business as usual, with a focus on building costly intersections for new communities like National Harbor and Konterra instead of investments to enhance access to transit stations or improve bus service. Expensive sprawl-supporting highway projects remain high on the county’s wish list for state funding, such as roads to support the 6,000-acre greenfield Westphalia development located outside the Capital Beltway and miles from the nearest Metro station.

Despite the mixed and sometimes contradictory priorities pursued by the county, the Planning Board and staff are making waves by pointing out the costs of continuing old ways that will allow the county to fall further behind.

Check out the Plan Prince George’s 2035 website, and plan to attend the half day town meeting on June 15 beginning at 9:30 am at the University of Maryland College Park.

Photos courtesy of Greater Greater Washington.

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