Lots of new homes going up, but who can afford them?

March 22, 2013

Geographically dispersed but locationally desirable projects in this region show the varying character and cost of new homes. They also show that most new homes are unaffordable for many people.

CityCenterDC is taking shape on Washington’s 10-acre, former convention center site bounded by New York Avenue, 9th Street, 11th Street and H Street NW. Near several Metrorail stations, the project, master-developed by Hines, is within easy walking or biking distance of much of downtown D.C.’s business, retail, cultural and governmental destinations.

This dense, mixed-use ensemble of 11-story-plus buildings will encompass 2.5 million square feet of retail and restaurants, condo and rental apartments, office space and a hotel, plus a plaza, public park and underground parking.

Master-planned by Foster + Partners and Shalom Baranes Associates, CityCenter reconstitutes three city blocks by partially restoring the historic L’Enfant street grid. Extending a block west from 9th Street, I Street will intersect the extension of 10th Street running north through the site from H Street to New York Avenue. CityCenter’s shops and eateries will animate the canyon-like pedestrian passageways and civic plaza.

At the site’s southeast corner stands the Residences at CityCenter, a glass-clad, balcony-lined condominium apartment building designed by Foster + Partners. The building’s amenity list is long: concierge, spa, fitness center, event rooms, wine and media lounges, and rooftop “park” space landscaped and furnished for outdoor cooking, eating, entertainment and sunbathing.


Affordable housing (Roger K. Lewis)

Varying greatly in size, 216 one- and two-bedroom apartments are equipped with European-style kitchens and bathrooms, closet storage systems and floor-to-ceiling windows with solar shades. All have access to a narrow balcony, a Juliet balcony or a landscaped terrace. LEED silver, a rating denoting energy efficiency by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the sustainability goal.

One-bedroom apartments, ranging from 689 to 1,003 square feet, start at $471,000 and go up from there. One-bedroom-plus-study units start at $551,000.

Two-bedroom apartments, ranging from 937 to 1,824 square feet, start at $789,000; with a study, prices begin at $973,000. Two-bedroom apartments with roof terraces, from 1,389 to 2,158 square feet, start at $2.054 million and soar past $3 million.

Who buys these apartments? Well-paid Washingtonians without kids and older folks with enough assets and income to cover down payments, debt service and condo fees.

Far from CityCenter DC, One Loudoun is billed as Loudoun County’s “new downtown.” The 358-acre, New Urbanist development is taking shape three miles north of Dulles International Airport, adjacent to Route 7 and the Loudoun County Parkway. One Loudoun’s Web site touts this would-be suburban downtown as “the all-encompassing place for living, working, shopping, dining and recreating.”

One Loudoun’s master plan, initially prepared several years ago by Torti Gallas, envisions 3 million square feet of corporate office space; 700,000 square feet of commercial retail space — shops, gourmet grocer, restaurants, multi-screen movie theater; a four-star luxury hotel; an elementary school; extensive recreation facilities, including a ballpark; a town green, pocket parks and natural parkland; and a goodly amount of housing.

But unlike most aspiring downtowns, One Loudoun includes single-family detached housing suitable for families with school-age children. Residential developer Miller & Smith is offering what it describes as its “downtown collection” of “Chicago-style” homes. Several New Urbanist design characteristics account for the Chicago-style label.

Houses and lots are narrow but deep, with minimal front and side yards. At the rear of each three-level home, a two-car garage faces an alley. Closely spaced homes near the sidewalk increase density and better frame the intimate streetscape. Reduced lot frontage uses infrastructure more efficiently and economically — lengths of utility mains and house connections per lot are less.

Placing service alleys and garages behind homes eliminates curb cuts and enables uninterrupted curbside parking for visitors along subdivision streets. And as an additional aesthetic benefit, front facades are garage-door-free.

Designed by Creaser/O’Brien Architects, each of two traditionally detailed, brick-clad model homes contains four upstairs bedrooms and a loft space, 2.5 baths, a main floor “great space” — kitchen and sitting-entertainment area — and a dining room or library. Options include a studio atop the garage and basement recreation room.

The “Greenwich,” up to 2,755 square feet in size, starts at $565,990; the 2,619-square-foot “Tribeca” starts at $590,990. At about $225 per square foot, these condos cost much less than CityCenterDC’s $1,000-per-square-foot condos yet still are out of reach for many households.

Townhouses of all vintages, styles, sizes and prices continue appealing to people desiring some of the advantages of single-family living but also some of the conveniences of apartment living. And few Washington-based housing developers have focused more on townhouse development than EYA.

EYA’s newest project, Little Falls Place, will be a compact cluster of 30 upscale townhouses in south Bethesda. Unlike condos at CityCenterDC and homes at One Loudoun, Little Falls Place is not in an urban setting or future downtown. Rather, it is an intimate enclave of homes nestled in woods between Little Falls Parkway and the Capital Crescent Trail.

Although not near a Metro station, Little Falls Place nevertheless will be only minutes by car or bicycle from shopping, restaurants, civic amenities and transit available in downtown Bethesda, Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase.

Townhouse floor plans are fairly conventional: At street level, a two-car garage with recreation and utility rooms behind; on the floor above, an open-plan great room with a modern kitchen, Energy Star appliances and access to a balcony, rear yard or patio; and on the third floor, a master bedroom and bath, plus two bedrooms and bath. With 9-feet-6-inch ceilings and large windows, daylight will fill interiors controlled by home environment automation systems.

Much less conventional will be the unique fourth-level of the luxury townhouses, a spacious roof-top terrace with built-in kitchenette and optional fireplace, wood decking, overhead shading system or hot tub rough-in.

Townhouse exteriors likewise are unconventional, having none of the traditional decorative elements or historicist details seen so often on townhouse facades. Lessard Design, architects for the project, created a style that EYA refers to as mid-20th century modern.

Of the 30 townhouses in the cluster, 25 are luxury models: the 2,430-square-foot “Berkley” starting at $1.375 million; and the 2,635-square-foot “Carlton” starting at $1.495 million. The $565 square foot cost is more than double that of One Loudoun homes.

Within the cluster, five moderately priced dwelling units — the “Duvall” model — required by Montgomery County will contain about 1,600 square feet and sell for approximately $180,000.

Clearly, EYA can build reasonably priced town houses, as it has in recent years in Hyattsville’s 25-acre, downtown Arts District, a suburban municipality in the process of urbanizing. Restaurants and local shopping are at hand, and D.C., the University of Maryland, the Mall at Prince George’s and Prince George’s Plaza Metro station are only a short distance away by car, bus or bike.

A new set of stylistically modern, three-bedroom units — EYA at Arts District Hyattsville — opens next month. Featuring gourmet kitchens and rooftop terraces, units range in size from 1,600 to 2,200 square feet and will be priced from $350,000 to $450,000.

Developers have figured out this market, as have some local governments now revising obstructive, outdated zoning regulations to allow such projects.

Nevertheless, despite best efforts by developers and governments, financing and producing housing for those unable to afford what the market offers remains a daunting economic challenge.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland. His cartoon may be seen at washingtonpost.com/realestate.

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