Local developers are anxiously watching to see how long Montgomery County officials leave in place a moratorium on commercial and residential building, imposed last week in response to building code violations in Clarksburg.
The County Council is meeting tomorrow to consider what types of new procedures may be needed to prevent similar violations and when to allow building to resume.
Developers said that while the moratorium was a threat to their businesses, they would use the upcoming review to argue for changes in a planning process they think has become too long and bureaucratic.
"There are some people who have left the county because they can't deal with the process," said Susan J. Matlick, executive vice president of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, an industry trade group. "It's a very complex process, more so than other jurisdictions, and it's a situation that really needs to be looked at.
"The review process needs to be made cleaner and easier to go through and updated."
The system in the county needs some "more checks and balances," said Douglas M. Firstenberg, a principal at Stonebridge Associates Inc., which has developed about 1.5 million square feet of office, retail and residential space in Montgomery.
"I don't think it's a case where people are violating codes and no one's checking them," he said. "It's when you're doing more complex approvals that they need the proper enforcement mechanisms in place."
Others in the industry say they have gotten used to the ins and outs of the system and worry that delays would cost them time and money.
David Flanagan, president of Elm Street Development, which has been developing houses in Montgomery for 25 years, said he believes the system in Montgomery is very sound, although it may need to be streamlined.
"I'm afraid there's a backlash that's going to change the system so much where all of the authority is taken out of the hands of the people who know it the best," he said. "Minor changes are needed to catch the height issue and it shouldn't be any more than that." Houses in Clarksburg were built to a height of 45 feet, rather than the approved 35 feet.
Robert D. Youngentob, a major housing developer in Montgomery and the region, said the process in Montgomery, although sometimes long, is "fair and predictable."
"It's unfortunate what happened in Clarksburg," he said. "But I think the process itself is not flawed."
Youngentob said he double-checked his approvals and plans to build 150 townhouses in Potomac after the Clarksburg controversy. About one-third of them are under construction now, and he still needs building permits for the rest. But that could be delayed depending on what the county decides.
"Everybody is going to suffer from the short-term policies and procedures they put in place," Youngentob said. "But my hope is that whatever plans they do put in place will enhance the system."
Costa to Oversee Buildings
Anthony E. Costa, a deputy commissioner at the U.S. General Services Administration, the federal government's real estate arm, will serve as the acting commissioner of the agency's Public Buildings Service.
Costa is replacing F. Joseph Moravec, who said last month that he was resigning after four years on the job to return to the private sector. Before serving as a deputy commissioner under Moravec, Costa worked for six years as an assistant regional administrator for the agency's National Capital Region, which oversees real estate in the Washington area for government agencies.
Costa will oversee about 5,500 employees and 345 million square feet of office space that federal agencies, courts, border stations and laboratories across the country lease or own.
Yale Laundry to Become Condos
The historic Yale Laundry building on New York Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth streets NW in the Mount Vernon Square area, is going condo.
IBG Partners LLC, a District developer, said it is buying the old commercial laundry building, a few smaller buildings and a lot from Michael Minkoff Development Corp. of the District. The Yale East building, where the smokestacks stand, is being sold for about $10 million, an IBG executive said. The developer plans to spend more than $30 million restoring the historic building and constructing new units. About 300 condominums are to be built.
The laundry building was erected in the early 1900s and operated until the 1970s.
A few years ago, Minkoff had talked about turning the laundry building into a hotel but shelved those plans. Some area neighbors said they are worried about increased traffic, noise and difficulty parking with the new residential units.
IBG's project at the Yale Laundry building is one of several in the Mount Vernon Square area. There are about 1,900 housing units underway and plans for 62,000 square feet of retail, including a Safeway grocery store at 5th and K Streets NW, according to D.C. development officials.
Construction on the Yale building is expected to start in the fall and be completed in 2007.
Akridge Buys Stadium Land
D.C. developer Akridge paid Pepco $75 million for nine acres of land in Buzzard Point SW, just a few blocks south of the proposed baseball stadium, according to a filing Pepco made Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Developers have been trying to buy up property in that area, which is mostly industrial buildings and parking lots, in anticipation of future development around the stadium. The stadium is expected to open in 2008.
Akridge said it plans to build nearly 3 million square feet of office, residential and retail on what are now parking lots. Land around the stadium has been selling for $25 to $55 per buildable square foot, or more than double what it was worth a few years ago.
"We believe in the property and the site and the long-term value," said P. Brian Connolly, a senior vice president at Akridge.
The U.S. Coast Guard has offices next to the Pepco site, overlooking the Anacostia River. Just north of the site, D.C. developer Douglas Jemal recently bought land he plans to turn into a mix of offices and retail.
* Mark Winkler Co. of Alexandria is selling about 20 properties, including office and apartment buildings, and some development parcels in the District, Alexandria, the Dulles Airport development corridor and Reston. The portfolio is estimated to be worth $1 billion. Among the larger buildings for sale are two buildings, at 1875 and 1801 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, which are 316,000 square feet and 182,000 square feet, respectively.
* Sunstone Hotel Investors Inc. of San Clemente, Calif., paid $160 million to buy the Renaissance Washington Hotel at 9th Street and New York Avenue NW, near the new convention center, from local developer Giuseppe Cecchi.
* Columbia Equity Trust Inc., a real estate investment trust in the District founded by developer Oliver T. Carr III, bought an office building of about 103,000 square feet at Loudoun Gateway Corporate Center in Dulles. The building is fully occupied by America Online and was sold by an affiliate of Alter Group, a Chicago real estate investor.
* Kimpton Group Holding LLC bought the 300-room Radisson Barcelo Hotel in Dupont Circle. It plans a $32 million renovation of the property and will turn it into a boutique-style hotel.
* Vornado Realty Trust of Paramus, N.J., said it paid $247 million for H Street Building Corp., which owns two office buildings in the District containing 577,000 square feet and 34 acres of residential and retail developments in Pentagon City.
Dana Hedgpeth writes about economic development and commercial real estate. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.