I have more than once marveled at how the District’s neighborhoods have become hip again, how a place like H Street Northeast can be a magnet for an eclectic mix of trendy restaurants, studios, art galleries and playhouses.
But I didn’t quite appreciate how developers are beginning to pivot off those changes until I read a transcript of AvalonBay Communities chief executive Timothy J. Naughton’s Oct. 25 conference call with Wall Street analysts.
AvalonBay has made a name for itself building, buying and managing luxury apartment complexes big enough to be self-contained, micro-neighborhoods unto themselves. The Arlington-based real estate concern, for instance, bought into Tysons Corner’s Park Crest project that includes a Harris Teeter, Starbucks and more.
Lately, the developer has begun experimenting with a new concept, a brand it calls AVA, targeting those urban-dwelling hipsters and empty nesters happy to trade space for location.
A one-bedroom unit might total 600 square feet or less, compared to the 725-750 square feet you might find in a more traditional AvalonBay project. The smaller footprint means open floor plans and smaller kitchens.
“A pure, pure AVA play like the one that we’re building in H Street here in D.C. [tends] to be a smaller community, not highly amenitized,” Naughton said. “The amenity, in many ways, is the neighborhood.”
Going smaller seems to be catching on outside the city centers, too. “We are seeing some of that translate into even some of our suburban opportunities, where we are introducing some of these smaller floor plans, and to even some of the wood-frame suburban deals that we’re building,” he said.
I suspect this trend has something to do with the state of the housing market. Still, if having less forces people to invest more in their shared amenity — the neighborhood — we could end up with a net positive.