The Washington Post

Columbia Heights takes off

Columbia Heights resident Adam Barr strolls among the new restaurants and bars along 11th Street NW, a few blocks east of the Metro station. (Jason Hornick/For Express)

When Adam Barr walked out of the Columbia Heights Metro station in October 2005, he remembers, “it was just kind of a wasteland.” The spot where the popular DC USA mall now stands was an empty lot surrounded by a fence with “boards and graffiti all over it,” he says.

But since the construction of the DC USA shopping center, which houses the District’s first Target store, and several nearby multi-unit residential buildings along 14th Street, the Columbia Heights landscape has transformed into a bustling hub of shops, restaurants and bars that are drawing a younger crowd to the neighborhood.

Between 2002 and August 2013, nearly 3,000 rental units were built or renovated within a half-mile of the Columbia Heights Metro, according to the Washington DC Economic Partnership, which promotes business in the District.

During that time, the rowhouses in the area were joined by large apartment buildings, including Park Triangle (1375 Kenyon St. NW; 202-265-7275) and Highland Park (1400 Irving St. NW; 888-811-5041), which both sprouted up within a block of the Metro station.

Today, 67 rental units are under construction within half a mile of the Metro station, and are all slated for delivery in 2014, according to Chad Shuskey, senior vice president of research and visual communications at the Economic Partnership. A 64-unit project is expected to break ground in the next 18 to 36 months.

Since the Columbia Heights Metro station opened in 1999, multi-unit residential buildings have cropped up all around. One of them is a 153-unit condo building called Kenyon Square (1390 Kenyon St. NW; 202-234-7007). Completed in 2007, it’s where Barr, 31, and his girlfriend, Meghan Roh, have been renting for almost three years.

“The proximity to everything,” is the reason Barr, who is currently between jobs, has remained in Columbia Heights for many years. From Kenyon Square, he has easy access to the DC USA mall and other shops and restaurants along 14th Street NW.

Highland Park sits along the same strip. In 2008, it completed Phase 1, which consisted of 229 units; the 144-unit Phase 2 was completed this year. They’re connected and share the same leasing staff and amenities, which include a two-level fitness center with separate yoga and dance studios, a party room replete with billiards, a rooftop terrace with outdoor grills, and a 400-gallon tropical fish tank in the lobby.

Prices for a 503-square-foot studio in both Highland Park buildings start at $1,610 a month, while a 1,207-square-foot one-bedroom starts between $1,900 and $2,000, according to John Groth, the marketing director of Donatelli Development, which developed Kenyon Square and Highland Park. These are typical market prices for new construction in the area, Groth says.

Groth credits the revitalization of Columbia Heights to the construction of DC USA and to the District, which invested

$1 billion in the development of the 14th Street corridor in Columbia Heights, according to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

The developers have also played a hand in bringing together retail and living spaces by including retail on the first floor of their buildings to “make it more of a full community and bring a little bit more to the area,” Groth says. The ground floor of Highland Park houses the restaurants Acre 121, Pete’s Apizza and Five Guys, while Kenyon Square houses restaurant and bar The Heights, as well as a Chipotle, Starbucks, FedEx Office, and beer and wine store D’vines. Also nearby: a Giant grocery store and the historic Tivoli Theatre.

To the east, 11th Street has become a thriving bar and restaurant scene with The Coupe and Kangaroo Boxing Club joining such staples as RedRocks Neapolitan Bistro and The Wonderland Ballroom.

Andrew Wiseman, 33, who runs the blog New Columbia Heights, appreciates the neighborhood’s proximity to outdoor space, too.

“Rock Creek Park is close by, [and] Meridian Hill Park is there,” says Wiseman, who pays $875 to live in a small room in a group rowhouse on Spring Road.

Group houses are common in the area. Faraji Whalen, vice president of Washington Property Management, which manages rental condos in Columbia Heights, expects to see “more and more rowhouses being chopped up” into group houses to suit young professionals who are willing to live with seven or eight others to pay less in rent — between $800 and $1,100 per room.

You can also expect to see smaller residential buildings sprouting up, including a 28-unit rental building at 1421 Euclid St. NW, which is slated for delivery by June 2014, says Buwa Binitie, managing principal at Dantes Partners, one of the site’s developers. The building will be geared toward low-income renters earning no more than $60,000 a year.

It’s not hard to understand why Columbia Heights continues to be popular. As Wiseman says, “I like it because everything is there.”

With Popularity Comes a Rise in Rent

China Dickerson, 29, a law student at Howard University, has witnessed the transformation of Columbia Heights since moving to the neighborhood in 2005.

Dickerson, who lives in a 670-square-foot English basement studio on 13th Street, likes Columbia Heights for the racial diversity that has come with its development.

While the neighborhood was once full of families in rowhouses, Dickerson has seen more young people in Columbia Heights, recently, as well as more Caucasians. “People look different and that’s cool,” she says.

“I’m definitely all about progress, so I appreciate development,” she says. However, Dickerson does not like the fact that costs have risen and the effect that has had on former residents of the neighborhood. “Unfortunately, the Latinos, and some of the older African-Americans that lived here, they’ve been pushed out because they can’t afford the property tax,” Dickerson says, noting, “That’s what comes with development.”

Dickerson counts herself among the lucky. Since she has lived in Columbia Heights, her rent has only risen from $800 a month to $1,000 a month — with utilities included.

“The only reason I don’t have to pay a lot of rent is because I’ve been there since 2005,” she says. Had she moved here when “everyone else came in,” she says she would not have been able to afford the new studios that are generally smaller than her.



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Holley Simmons · October 18, 2013