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More than one missed opportunity

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A now-dwarfed rowhouse, but is the site really useless?
Photo from Google Street View.

Today’s Washington Post features a cautionary tale of real estate greed, in which the owner of a Massachusetts Avenue building who wanted to cash in by selling to developers demanded such outrageous prices that the suitors dried up and built around him, rather than deal.

Yes that’s right, the greedy party in the story wasn’t the developer.

While I think the Post is right on in laying the blame for this missed opportunity at wealth on the feet of the building’s existing owner, whose poor treatment of the site makes it obvious he has no great love for the community (there’s no sidewalk out front, just a patch of dirt), the story also illustrates something extremely unfortunate about contemporary development.

No, I’m not talking about the fact that larger-scale redevelopment happens. This is Massachusetts-freaking-Avenue, right in downtown Washington; it is wholly appropriate that redevelopment happen here. Indeed, there is no better place.

Here is the bit of the story to which I object:

Jackson Prentice, a broker who on behalf of the Trammell Crow development company said … “Once they build around you, you’re done.”

Other developers say: The parcel, at nearly 1,800 square feet, is too small to accommodate underground parking.

In other words, a perfectly good piece of downtown property is unusable because – the horror – it’s too small for its own parking garage.

Excuse me, but I know some developers who might disagree. If they can build a 42-story condo building in Toronto without a parking garage, then somebody can surely use a little lot in downtown Washington for something. Dedicated parking is not now and never was a necessary component of redevelopment. Some redevelopment needs it, sure, but not all redevelopment. In fact, the city of Washington is absolutely full of buildings that don’t have dedicated parking, not all of them from the 19th Century.

This lot sits at a fantastic location, directly fronting on one of downtown’s most important avenues. Yes, its owner was wrong to hold out for unreasonable amounts of money, and yes, it would have been more valuable as part of a larger redevelopment scenario, but considering this lot to be unusable because it’s small is just flat out wrong. We can build tall, narrow buildings in this city. Eventually, somebody will do that here.

June 18th, 2010 | Permalink
Tags: development, preservation, urbandesign



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