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How do you fix Ballston mall? Make it less like a mall

Problem: The Ballston Common Mall isn’t working very well. Solution: Open the mall up to the surrounding streets, so it becomes the center of a lively community rather than a walled-off separate place.


Concept for Ballston mall renovation. Images from Forest City.

Ballston is one of the smallest malls in the region. It can’t compete well against bigger centers with more stores, like Pentagon City or Tysons Corner. Instead, the mall generally only draws customers from a small area nearby, and thus makes less money than other, bigger malls.

Meanwhile, being an enclosed mall that serves mostly local traffic, it saps sidewalk retail away from Ballston’s neighborhood streets. Stores that would otherwise be on the sidewalk are instead bottled up in the mall.

To fix this, developer Forest City plans to face more stores to the sidewalk, and give them more inviting storefronts. It will replace nondescript mall doors with open-air plazas that naturally extend the street into the mall. Capping the building will be a new 29-story residential tower.


Concept for open-air plaza.

Forest City still needs to work with Arlington County to finalize and approve plans. For now, these are just concepts. But if all goes well, the 1980s-style Ballston Common Mall will transition to become the contemporary Ballston Center in 2017 and 2018.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 1st, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, urbandesign



Northern Virginia skyscraper rivalry has a new leader: Fairfax approves 470′ Capital One tower


Proposed Capital One skyscraper. Image from Fairfax.

Last Friday, Fairfax officially approved a new headquarters tower for Capital One in Tysons Corner. At 470 feet tall the new building will be the tallest in the DC region after the Washington Monument.

If that news sounds familiar, it’s because in May of 2013 developers proposed a 435 foot tall building, then the tallest in the region yet. And when Alexandria approved a 396 foot tall tower, that also would’ve been the tallest. Meanwhile, Arlington’s 384 foot tall 1812 North Moore tower recently finished construction, officially taking over the title of region’s tallest skyscraper (for now).

There may not be an explicit competition, but the fact is undeniable: Northern Virginia’s in a full-on skyscraper rivalry. And Tysons is pulling insurmountably ahead.

At 470 feet tall, this new Tysons building will be the first in the DC region to officially eclipse Richmond’s tallest, the 449 foot tall Monroe Building. Baltimore and Virginia Beach each have towers above 500 feet, often considered to be the breaking point for a true skyscraper.


 
  Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

May 20th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: architecture, development



NFL stadiums belong in the suburbs

Should Washington’s football team relocate back to Washington? The DC Council is considering replacing RFK with a new stadium, hoping to lure the team back to DC, from Maryland.

It’s a terrible idea.


FedEx Field and its acres of parking. Photo by the US Navy.

Some people will no doubt oppose this idea simply because it’s expensive. But that’s not the problem. Stadiums are cultural amenities that people want, so it’s appropriate for cities to subsidize them sometimes.

This is a terrible idea because football stadiums specifically don’t fit well in cities. NFL stadiums are only used for 8 home games per year, and need large surface parking lots to accommodate the tailgating culture ingrained into football fandom.

The RFK site may not be in the middle of a walkable neighborhood, but surely there are better uses for it than a rarely-used stadium and vast parking lots.

I’m glad we have an NFL team in the region, but let’s leave their stadium in the suburbs.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

February 26th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, government, urbandesign



Construction progress at Gaithersburg’s two new town centers

Gaithersburg’s collection of walkable new urbanist neighborhoods is growing, with impressive construction progress at both the Crown development and Watkins Mill Town Center.


Ellington Boulevard in Downtown Crown, seen from the north.

Both neighborhoods are planned around future stations of the Corridor Cities Transitway, which will someday connect a whole string of walkable neighborhoods in upper Montgomery County to Shady Grove Metro station. But with rapid transit service still years away, construction is working from the outside in, focusing first on sections farther from planned transit stations.

Crown

At the Crown development, construction progress is focused on Phase 1, the western half. A mixed-use town center surrounds the corner of Ellington Boulevard and Crown Park Avenue, with blocks of rowhouse neighborhoods to the side.


Ellington Boulevard, seen from the south.


Crown Park Avenue, perpendicular to Ellington Boulevard.

It’s clear that serious work and expense went into the architectural details.


Downtown Crown.


Downtown Crown.

To the east, the rowhouse neighborhoods are taking shape as well.


Rowhouses on Hendrix Avenue.

Decoverly Drive marks the boundary of Phase 1, as well as the future route of the transitway. Crown’s original plans show an even larger town center surrounding the BRT station along Decoverly. But following actual construction, it appears density has been reduced around the station, and rowhouses line the Phase 1 edge instead.

One wonders if Phase 2 will make Crown a truly transit-oriented place, or if transit will merely run through it.


Decoverly Drive.

Watkins Mill Town Center

A few miles to the northwest, adjacent to the Metropolitan Grove MARC station, Watkins Mill Town Center is taking shape.


Watkins Mill Town Center.

At Watkins Mill, the rowhouses and lower density portions are nearing completion, but the downtown section has yet to begin construction. As a result, a huge field separates the MARC station (and future BRT stop) from the constructed portions of the development.


Urban Avenue, not quite urban yet.

Someday, the Corridor Cities Transitway could make Gaithersburg a second Arlington, a string of walkable communities knit together by transit. Whether that actually happens or not will depend the State of Maryland getting the transitway built, and the City of Gaithersburg insisting on truly transit-oriented places.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

February 24th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: architecture, BRT, development, master planning, transportation



Shipping container restaurant opens on U Street

Shipping containers continue to proliferate as an affordable building material. The latest addition is a new restaurant near the corner of U Street and Vermont Avenue, NW, called El Rey taqueria.


El Rey taqueria on U Street.

In this case, El Rey owner Ian Hilton says it wasn’t actually cheaper to build using shipping containers. But that could be due to El Rey’s particular layout or needs. It’s hard to know for sure.

Elsewhere in the region, shipping containers are used or will be used at Half Street Fairgrounds near the baseball stadium, and possibly in Tysons Corner.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

January 15th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: architecture, development



Downtown & Georgia Avenue Walmarts open for business

Walmart’s foray into urban format stores officially begins today, with stores on H Street and Georgia Avenue opening for business. The H Street store marks the first time in 18 years DC has had two downtown department stores.

I stopped by the downtown store and snapped a few pictures.

H Street Walmart.

The main entrance leads into a small ground floor lobby. The actual store is one floor up. I was surprised to discover that aside from the lobby, the whole store is a single level.

> Continue reading

December 4th, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, economy



New entrance & mezzanine open at Rosslyn Metro station

As of this morning, Metro riders can now access Rosslyn station via its new entrance on the east side of North Moore Street.

The new entrance combines 3 high-speed elevators with a new track-level mezzanine, complete with more fare gates and a manager kiosk. It expands the passenger capacity of the station, providing room for more passengers to enter and exit more quickly.

Rosslyn’s new entrance and mezzanine.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

October 7th, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, metrorail, transportation



Reston’s other town center to expand

Reston’s Lake Anne Village Center could soon expand with a larger main street and more housing.


Lake Anne Village Center, with proposed additions.
Rendering from Republic Land Development.

Reston Town Center is one of the most well-known suburban downtowns in the DC region, but it’s not the only town center in Reston. In addition to the big one, Reston has several smaller village centers spread around the surrounding neighborhoods.

The largest of those is Lake Anne Village Center, which has a pleasant waterfront and a 15-story apartment tower that was Reston’s tallest building for decades. Before the big town center came along, Lake Anne was the heart of Reston.

Now it’s set for a revival. Developers working with Fairfax County propose to expand the village center, with a larger main street, nearly 1,000 new residential units, and a second high rise.


Lake Anne revitalization plan, with proposed new buildings in red.
Image from Republic Land Development.

While it makes great sense to add infill to Reston’s village centers, especially Lake Anne, it is too bad this plan is still so car oriented. The main street extension is nice, but the circle-shaped residential area to the north is unnecessarily suburban. If the purpose of dense mixed-use areas is to promote walkability, why not actually make them walkable?

In a location like Reston, it’s true that most residents will have cars. That’s fine. But why so many landscaped setbacks? Why are the parking lots between the buildings rather than behind them? And why is all the car traffic funneled onto a single street with only one connection to the arterial highway, instead of having a grid?

The topography of the site looks challenging, and there may be pedestrian paths that aren’t immediately obviously in the plan. Still, Fairfax should consider these questions as this development moves through the approval process.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

September 26th, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development



Montgomery rethinks Bethesda Purple Line station

The Bethesda Purple Line station is currently planned to squeeze into an existing tunnel below Bethesda’s Apex Building. But planners are now considering an alternate plan to tear down the Apex Building and redevelop the entire site.


Existing plan (top) and alternate proposal (bottom). Images by Maryland MTA.

Between Silver Spring and Bethesda the Purple Line will run on land from a former railroad line. Years ago the railroad sold the development rights above the tracks in downtown Bethesda. Now there are two buildings atop the rail corridor, the Apex Building and the Air Rights Building.

The Purple Line will pass easily under the Air Rights Building, but the Apex Building needs to accommodate a station. And while the tunnel there was designed to carry tracks, it wasn’t originally built to hold a station. The structural columns supporting the building come down into the rail tunnel, severely constraining the space.

Planners can squeeze a station in the existing space, but the result is a narrow platform crowded with building columns.


Apex Building column layout. Image by Maryland MTA.

Meanwhile, there are other problems with the existing arrangement. There’s not enough room in the tunnel for both a light rail station and a bike trail, so the trail is planned to be moved to the surface.

Also, building a subway station under the Apex Building would complicate any potential future redevelopment prospects. Since the Apex Building is only 5 stories tall, it’s already shorter than most other buildings nearby, and it will become a prime redevelopment candidate after Bethesda becomes a key Purple Line / Red Line transfer point.

Redeveloping now could solve the problem

The new proposal suggests tearing down the Apex Building, building the Purple Line station in a new custom-built trench, adding a 2nd tunnel for the trail, and then allowing the owners of the Apex Building to replace it with a bigger building.

Montgomery County is currently in talks with the owner of the building, and is working through a minor master plan amendment to determine the density and height.

If the new plan is approved, all the pieces will work together better. The Purple Line station will be simpler and more spacious, bike riders will have an uninterrupted dedicated trail, and one of the most transit-accessible properties in Montgomery County can be redeveloped at a more appropriate density.

It would be win/win/win.

As long as this doesn’t delay the rest of the Purple Line, I say let’s do it.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

September 10th, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, lightrail, master planning, transportation, urbandesign



Shops begin to open at Brookland Metro development

Monroe Street Market, the large multiblock development adjacent to Brookland Metro station, is making rapid progress. The first buildings are occupied, and shops are beginning to open.


The landmark Brookland sign at Monroe Street Market.

The new town center will stitch together the residential neighborhood, Catholic University, and the Metro station like never before. Although it’s a smaller scale than what’s gone in at Columbia Heights, and will always be more of a local node than regional shopping mecca, it will be no less transformative to the livability of the neighborhood.

One of the first shops to open for business is Analog, a boutique and on-site crafting workshop selling, among other things, DC- and geography-themed paper goods. My wife is co-owner of Analog, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

More small shops and artist studios will open through September, with the larger retailers coming in spring 2014. The largest will be a new Barnes and Noble bookstore, which will include a section for Catholic University textbooks.

Here are a few more pictures of Monroe Street Market and Analog.

Monroe Street Market’s Arts Walk (top), 2nd building (bottom left), and Analog (bottom center & right).

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

September 6th, 2013 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development



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