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Uber, Lyft Now Legal in D.C.

D.C. Taxicabs in a honking convoy along the Connecticut Avenue underpass.

D.C. Taxicabs in a honking convoy protest in October along the Connecticut Avenue underpass.

App-based ride services like Uber and Lyft are now legally able to operate in the District of Columbia thanks to a 12 to 1 vote by the District Council in favor of The Vehicle-for-Hire Innovation Act of 2014.

Coucilwoman Mary Cheh (D, Ward 3), chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, along with Councilman David Grosso (I, At-Large) introduced the bill in May and on Oct. 28 the full council voted on the legislation, which provides oversight of the previously unregulated new industry of app-based vehicles for-hire. All councilmembers except Councilman Jim Graham (D, Ward 1) voted in favor of the legislation; Graham said the law was unfair to traditional  taxicab drivers.

The new law requires liability insurance standards, background checks and vehicle inspections of drivers including UberX and Lyft drivers who use their personal vehicles.

Drivers are required to hold primary liability insurance whenever a driver partner has the app on, but has not accepted a ride covering: at least $50,000 per person per accident, $100,000 to all persons per accident and $25,000 for property damage. The company must provide primary liability insurance up to $1 million from the moment a driver accepts a ride request through the completion of the ride. These requirements are in addition to personal automobile insurance requirements.

Uber celebrated the bill’s passage in a blog post:

“We are thrilled to announce that the Council has passed a comprehensive ridesharing framework, providing a permanent home for uberX in the District. With this legislation, DC has become a trailblazer in the transportation industry by embracing innovation, supporting consumer choice and empowering small business owners.”

Drivers are not covered under their company insurance policies when they are driving without the app on, a point of contention for taxicab drivers who are required to register as commercial vehicles and hold liability insurance at all times. Taxicab drivers protested the new law again after its passage.

UberX coverage infographic. Image courtesy of Uber.

UberX coverage infographic. Image courtesy of Uber.

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Featured Properties by Lindsay Reishman Real Estate

D.C. First-time Homebuyers Could See Relief After Election Year Passes

Home for sale in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Lindsay Reishman Real Estate.

Home for sale in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Lindsay Reishman Real Estate.

As housing prices continue to climb in the District, first-time homebuyers could see some relief in the new year–once election year is over.

The First-time Homebuyer Tax Credit Amendment Act of 2014, introduced into Council by Councilmen David Grosso (I, At-Large) and Jack Evans (D, Ward 2), is tabled for the remainder of this year, but Grosso expects his colleagues will be more amenable to considering the measure in the new year once the looming election is behind them. Neither Grosso nor Evans faces re-election in 2014.

The measure would reduce to 0.725% the recordation tax levied on buyers for first-time D.C. homebuyers who will occupy the property as a primary residence–the current recordation tax is “1.1 % of consideration or fair market value for residential property transfers less than $400,000 and 1.45% of consideration or fair market value on the entire amount, if transfer is greater than $400,000.”

The measure would leave the transfer tax payment as the responsibility of the seller, unless the parties negotiate otherwise.

Grosso said he wants the District to offer a first-time buyer credit to “give people a leg up.”

“I believe that it’s important. We used to have a first-time homebuyers tax credit for first time home buyers in the District and it was very popular,” said Grosso. He used a previous now-expired credit program to help him buy his first home in D.C.

The District of Columbia Association of REALTORS® (DCAR) supports reducing the taxes, which are significantly higher than D.C.’s surrounding jurisdictions.

“We want to support first time homebuyers who come into our city as much as we possibly can and the costs are prohibitive. We have the highest transfer and recordation tax in the United States with the exception of New York City,” DCAR President Bonnie Roberts Burke said in an interview.

A May 2013 study from the Department of Economics at Howard University found that D.C.’s transfer and recordation tax rates are five to six times higher than rates in neighboring Virginia counties and cities and 85% to 193% of rates in nearby Maryland counties.

For a home that costs $399,999 and qualifies for the 1.1% tax, that comes to about $4,400 on top of any down payment. For a home sold at the median sale price for a home as of Sept. 30, $502,796, the rate would be 1.45% and in D.C.,  or just under $7,300 at closing for the buyer.  Under the new tax credit, assuming the buyer qualifies, the buyer would pay about $2,900 and $3,645 respectively.

Roberts Burke noted that these taxes levied at closing cannot be financed so buyers need to have to pay them out-of-pocket.

“It is hard to get all the upfront money to get into the District,” said Edward Krauze, CEO of DCAR.

So why is the tax so much higher than surrounding jurisdictions? Part of the reason is D.C. uses 15% of the tax receipts from these home sale taxes for the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF).

HPTF provides funds to support affordable housing development in D.C.

Grosso said the HPTF is the reason his colleagues will not touch the tax rates.

“They don’t want to be seen as not supporting affordable housing” he said.

But Gross said he supports providing a more predictable source of revenue for affordable housing. He would like to see the HPTF funded through the general fund of the D.C. budget rather than recordation taxes.

This year the Council approved an annual commitment of $100 million to the HPTF from the general fund. Grosso would like to see that sort of funding stream continued.

He and Evans will likely reintroduce their amendment in the new year once the  November election is a thing of the past and a new administration and new Council colleagues are in office.

“It’s going to be a big push, but I think we’ll be able to do it. It’s just going to take some time to get it through,” said Grosso.

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Making Room for Families in DC’s New Construction

Making Room for Families in DC’s New Construction

As developers build new condos and apartments across the city, there is a growing clamor for larger units–more than two bedrooms–to accommodate families wishing to stay in the city. The demand and lack of supply of housing for families was partially to blame for a delayed Zoning Commission decision on requested additional height and density for the latest phase of the Yards project coming to the Navy Yard neighborhood.

Forest City went before the Zoning Commission Oct. 16 to request a change in the overlay impacting the maximum height and density for its next phase of development, Yards West. To date Forest City has constructed about 700 new residential units at the Yards and the developers expect by the time the entire project is built out, they will have created 2,800 residential units.

The site is currently zoned differently from other plots under redevelopment nearby, with a height limit of 110 feet and a density limited to 6.0 floor area ratio (FAR). Forest City wants their parcels to fall under another zoning overlay that allows structures of 130 feet with densities between 7.0 – 8.2 FAR for residential development. The additional density and height would result in approximately 264,000 square feet of additional gross floor area.

Yards West is made up of five parcels: Parcel A, which fronts on M Street SE, and Parcels F, G, H, and I, which are located south of Parcel A and between 1st Street SE and Canal Street SE.

The request received the support of the local advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) with one caveat–a request that the developers commit to building units larger than two bedrooms.

ANC Commissioner Roger Moffatt told the Zoning Commission that his ANC supports the height and density request and welcomes the additional affordable housing that would come with more residential units.

“The land at issue has already been purchased with the belief that the current density would be in place. Any addition to that density will be an increase to the value of the property—a windfall,” testified Moffatt.

With that “windfall” should come community benefits he reasoned.

“ANC 6D supports growing DC into a larger population, but we don’t want to exclude families who have children from being able to live in our section of the District,” said Moffatt.

His comments found sympathetic ears.

Commissioner Marcie Cohen asked the applicants to respond to the ANC’s request.

Ramsey Meiser, senior vice president of development for Forest City, told the commission that they are not planning out specific buildings or their layout at this time, but that they would be “willing to consider” the request for larger units as they begin to refine the plans for each new building.

Cohen said since the developers are asking the zoning commission for something they could “make a greater commitment for larger units.”

“I believe that families are being pushed out of the city,” said Cohen.

Commissioner Peter May balked at the nonchalance with which the developers requested the 264,000 square feet of additional gross floor area. He said he would hope Forest City in turn would consider doing “something that serves the greater good” such as the requested family-sized units.

The Zoning Commission was touching on an issue the Office of Planning has been looking at recently as well.

During a recent public meeting on changes to the R-4 residential zones in the city, Jennifer Steingasser, deputy director of Development Review & Historic Preservation at the Office of Planning (OP),  said three-bedroom housing options are among the smallest growth group in the District though they have the highest resale value because of high demand for family-sized units. In the last three years, the price of three-bedroom units has risen at three times the rate as one-bedroom units, according to OP records.

Commissioner Anthony Hood acknowledged that a zoning text amendment was perhaps not the most natural place to have a discussion about housing for families, but said he wanted to begin thinking about demand for larger units as a commission as they review projects across the city.

Forest City did not get a decision from the commission last week, but instead was asked to continue discussions with the Office of Planning about including larger family-sized units.

The commission will have an opportunity to consider changes to the R-4 zone during upcoming January hearings on the Office of Planning’s proposals.

Image by Flickr user Adam Fagen https://flic.kr/p/dc65rY.

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The American Closer to Bringing Summer Garden, Pub to Blagden Alley

Conceptual drawing for The American. Image from ANC2F records.

Conceptual drawing for The American. Image from ANC2F records.

The American, a new pub concept from Xavier Cervera, will bring gastropub cuisine and craft beer to what is currently a boxing gym and parking lot. The American just received a positive review from staff in the D.C. Historic Preservation Office for its design for the Blagden Alley building.

Designer Orestes del Castillo proposes a  stucco-clad, 1-story,  15 x 38 foot addition to the east of the existing structure and a paved and landscaped garden enclosed with a fence in the current parking lot.

Cervera is known for his other enterprises smattered around Eastern Market, to include Boxcar Tavern and Lola’s. He sold those properties to a management company in late 2012.

The new restaurant coincides with his move to Naylor Court, another historic alley in the District’s downtown. The Washington Post reported in 2013 that Cervera’s inspiration for his new restaurant was much like his inspiration for his previous endeavors: he wanted the sort of bar near his home that he would want to patronize, so he made it happen.

“The business will be in an alley, and my home will be in an alley,” Cervera told The Washington Post.

The Historic Preservation Review Board includes The American on its consent calendar for Oct. 23.

 

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Gabe Klein is Sticking Up for Streetcars

Streetcar testing on H Street, NE. Image courtesy of DDOT.

Streetcar testing on H Street, NE. Image courtesy of DDOT.

Streetcars have been getting some bad press lately–they’re too expensive, they’re too slow– but the former head of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Gabe Klein says we need to remember there’s more to streetcars than just getting from A to B.

Vox writer Matthew Yglesias called streetcars particularly the H Street Line  in D.C. the “worst transit project in America” because in addition to being costly, he argues they actually make transit worse.

In a July article in Vox, Yglesias wrote:

“The current fad for streetcar construction is actually bequeathing quite a large number of terrible projects to the country. And the very worst of these — like Washington, DC’s maybe-opening-soon streetcar line — aren’t just expensive, they actually make mass transit worse.”

Yglesias faults the lack of a dedicated lane for making the streetcar inefficient. Without a dedicated lane–one solely for streetcars rather than shared with vehicular traffic–the streetcars can become stuck behind a double-parked vehicle or caught in traffic behind turning cars and unlike buses, they cannot change lanes to avoid those traffic headaches.

The H Street streetcar does not have a dedicated lane and throughout testing local reporters have frequently covered the problems drivers in training face as they wait for a tow truck to remove a car in the vehicle’s path or for an errant driver to return to his or her car.

Klein was DDOT’s leader under the Mayor Adrian Fenty administration and oversaw the H Street streetcar line now in its final testing mode along Benning Road and H Street, NE.

“Don’t let the mistakes made on H Street bias you too much” Klein said to a group of urban planners, public transit proponents  and smart growth enthusiasts at a recent event in support of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. 

“The thing about the streetcar is it’s a more emotional attachment,” said Klein. “It’s about creating place. It’s not just about moving through the city as fast as possible.”

Klein’s comments are timely as DDOT is now considering how to proceed with the next phase of the H Street streetcar line, extending the route from Union Station to Georgetown. At a recent open house DDOT revealed two design alternative for the new section of the line, one has a dedicated lane, one does not; one removes a lane of vehicular traffic, one does not.

The dedicated lane, which would have tracks in west and east directions in lanes parallel to one another, would potentially share traffic with city and Metro buses, but not cars or other non-transit vehicles; vehicular traffic would lose one lane. While the agency has not yet done an analysis for predicted times for the dedicated versus non-dedicated lane options, DDOT’s preferred alternative is the one with a dedicated lane and most transit planners would tell you that would also be the faster travel option.

Learn more about DDOT’s Union Station to Georgetown streetcar line here.

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OMA and OLIN Design Chosen for 11th Street Bridge Park

OMA and OLIN Design Chosen for 11th Street Bridge Park

D.C. could have its very own High Line park development spanning the Anacostia River as a jury unanimously selected the design by OMA + OLIN for the new 11th Street Bridge Park, Thursday. The winning design will feature an amphitheater, rain gardens, a boat launch, a picnic area and an environmental education area, among other uses.

The selection Thursday comes after a six-month nationwide design competition that whittled down to just four design groups from more than 40 teams representing 80 firms who responded to the open call for submissions in March. The chosen design received the most voted in a public poll of more than 1,100 participants, received the highest marks from the Design Oversight Committee and was the unanimous choice of the jury comprised of experts in fields ranging from landscape architecture to public health, according to a press release.

“The OMA + OLIN concept is simply brilliant in the way they captured ideas we heard from residents on both sides of the river and from across the city” said 11th Street Bridge Park Director Scott Kratz in a press release. “These thoughtful designers – some of the best architects and landscape architects in the world – have taken community driven ideas and created a compelling new space that will connect two historically divided parts of the city while adding a new shape to the capital’s iconic monuments.”

The 11th Street Bridge Park would create a new public park on an old freeway bridge over the Anacostia River, connecting Capitol Hill and historic Anacostia. The District government has committed DC City Government recently committed $14.5 million toward the project–about half of the anticipated construction cost, according to information from the Bridge Park organization.

“Our design creates a literal intersection and a dynamic, multi-layered amenity for both sides of the river,” commented OMA Partner-in-Charge Jason Long in a press release. “It simultaneously functions as a gateway to both sides of the river, a lookout point with expansive views, a canopy that can shelter programs and a public plaza where the two paths meet. The resulting form of the bridge creates an iconic encounter, an “X” instantly recognizable within the capital’s tradition of civic spaces.”

OMA is based in the Netherlands and OLIN is based in Philadelphia.

The programming uses for the new park. Image by OMA.

The programming uses for the new park. Image by OMA.

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DC Taxicabs Uber Annoyed at App-based Ride Services

D.C. Taxicabs in a honking convoy along the Connecticut Avenue underpass.

D.C. Taxicabs in a honking convoy along the Connecticut Avenue underpass.

DC Taxicabs could be heard honking their way through Dupont Circle Wednesday, heading downtown protesting app-based ride service companies like Uber and Lyft and the new regulations that would make such new entrants to the for-hire car scene in the District.

Services like Uber and Lyft do not currently face the same regulations as traditional taxicabs in the District, but that is set to change, at least slightly, under new legislation proposed by Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh and co-sponsored by At-Large Councilman David Grosso.

The new legislation would make app-based ride service companies (called Transportation Network Services in the legislation) permanently legal in the District, assuming they follow the rules set out in the bill.

Among other new regulations is the requirement for drivers to have primary liability coverage starting at $1 million that is in effect when a driver has accepted a ride request and is en route to pick up a passenger or when there is a passenger on board.

Companies with digital dispatch to vehicles for-hire (i.e. that can be hailed via an app) will be required to provide 1% of their gross receipts for rides originating in D.C. to the Public Vehicles-for-Hire Consumer Service Fund.

The law would also require driver background checks and up-to-date vehicle inspections.

Despite the regulations bringing to an end the freewheeling days of Uber and Lyft in D.C., local taxicab drivers are unhappy with the prospect of their existence becoming both legal and permanently part of local law.

In an attempt to compete with new app-based services, the DC Taxicab Commission (DCTC) last week announced a new mandate for the 7,000 plus taxicabs licensed by DCTC adopt: they will need to adopt the “One City One Taxi” app for electronic hailing. The app will be provided for free to all DCTC cabs and would allow consumers to pay via credit card on file, like Uber and Lyft.

That proposal also saw pushback from taxicab drivers and dispatchers.

Cheh’s Vehicle-For-Hire Innovation Amendment Act of 2014 passed through committee with a vote of 4 to 1 and is now pending review and votes by the full Council.

 

 

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River Pavilion and Pedestrian Bridge Preferred for Kennedy Center Expansion

River Pavilion and Pedestrian Bridge Preferred for Kennedy Center Expansion

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hopes to build several additions to accommodate approximately 60,000 square feet of much-needed classroom space, rehearsal rooms, lecture space and even a floating cafe as part of an ambitious $100 million proposed expansion now going through public review processes.

Last December the Kennedy Center announced Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein will donate $50 million to lead off a $125 million fundraising campaign–$1000 million for construction and an additional $25 million for future programming. The expansion is being designed by a team from Steven Holl Architects.

One of many review steps before the project can proceeds involves determining how various new construction schemes would impact nearby historic landmarks–public comments on the impacts and designs are being accepted through Nov. 10.

The Kennedy Center offers two build options for housing its new space, both of which call for use of land to the south of the existing performing arts center:

  • Alternative A does nothing.
  • Alternative B calls for three land-based pavilions
  1. Pavilion 1 would be 31 feet above grade and would have a footprint of 3,300 square feet.
  2. Pavilion 2 would be 31 feet above grade and would have a footprint of 6,200 square feet. Connected to Pavilion 1 below grade.
  3. Pavilion 3 would be 15 feet above grade and would have a footprint of 6,500 square feet.
  • Alternative C calls for two land-based pavilions and one floating pavilion
  1. Pavilion 1 would be 31 feet above grade and would have a footprint of 3,300 square feet.
  2. Pavilion 2 would be 31 feet above grade and would have a footprint of 6,200 square feet. Connected to Pavilion 1 below grade.
  3. Pavilion 3 would be a 3,900 gross square-foot, two-story structure with about 1,100 square feet of open outdoor space both located on a floating pier in the Potomac River with a footprint of 6,500 square feet.
Massing and location for Kennedy Center river pavilion with bridge. Image from NPS documents.

Massing and location for Kennedy Center river pavilion with bridge. Image from NPS documents.

  • Alternative C also includes two alternatives for getting from the Kennedy Center property to the floating pavilion
  1. An at-grade street crossing of about 120-feet would provide access  from the Kennedy Center to the Rock Creek Paved Recreation Trail and a new pedestrian connection from the trail to the pavilion.
  2. A pedestrian bridge over Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, measuring 140-feet long and 9-feet wide and capable of handling both pedestrian traffic and light-duty vehicles (up to about 4,000 pounds).

The Kennedy Center team prefers the floating pavilion (Alternative C with a pedestrian bridge). However, that concept requires land transfer, the National Park Service (NPS) would have to transfer jurisdiction of a portion of NPS administered property
and air rights to the Kennedy Center.

In case you were wondering how the floating pavilion would fare when the river level rises or the river freezes over, the design will include precautions for just such instances, “A marine engineer, who specializes in floating pavilions, would design and engineer the river pavilion such that its hull and its anchoring system would withstand the effects of not only high velocity water flows during storm events, but also sustained impact loads from ice and debris,” according to the report.

Photo of current day parkway with imposed image of river pavilion bridge connection. Image from NPS documents.

Photo of current day parkway with imposed image of river pavilion bridge connection. Image from NPS documents.

Have more questions? NPS, the National Capital Planning Commission and the Kennedy Center will hold an open house Oct. 22 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts , 2700 F St. NW.

Review project materials online here.

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Google Express Launches Same-Day Delivery in D.C.

Google Express webpage for Washington, D.C. screen capture.

Google Express webpage for Washington, D.C. screen capture.

You can thank the legions of busy “working moms” in the District for the city being chosen as one of three expansion areas for the newly rebranded Google Express same-day delivery service.

Google launched Google Shopping Express a little over a year ago in Northern California and beginning Oct. 14 is expanding service under the new name, Google Express, to Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

The service allows you to place orders with national and local retailers on your phone and a third party delivery truck will pick up the items and deliver them to your chosen location that same day. Retailers available for orders in D.C. include CostCo, L’Occitane, Giant, BabiesRUs and others.

“Working moms are a pretty core consumer of this because if you can think of anyone who would like more time back in their day it’s working moms,” Brian Elliott, head of Google Shopping Partnerships, told The Washington Post.

When placing each order, the customer chooses the time slot in which to receive the delivery: morning (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.), afternoon (1 p.m.- 5 p.m.), and evening (6 p.m. – 10 p.m.). Preferred delivery windows may not be available, depending on demand.

The service is available on a pay-per-order basis ($4.99) or through an annual ($95) or monthly ($10) membership. Orders over $15 are free for those with a membership.

Google is offer a free 3-month trial, set to expire March 31, 2015.

The full list of stores available via Google Express in Washington, D.C. are:

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Union Place Readies for PUD Modification, Extension with Updated Designs

Union Place Phase II latest renderings. Image from DC Zoning records.

Union Place Phase II latest renderings. Image from DC Zoning records.

On Oct. 30 Toll Brothers will go before the Zoning Commission for an updated Planned Unit Development (PUD) and a time extension for the second phase of Union Place, a year and a half after they purchased the property from the Cohen Cos. Pending Zoning approval and permitting, the project team hopes to begin construction in spring 2015.

The first phase of the three-phase PUD, the Loree Grand, is built and occupied at the corner of 3rd and K Streets, NE. Union Place, the second phase, will take up the remaining portion of the 200 block of K Street and will wrap around 2nd Street and have frontage on L Street, NE as well.

Phase II was originally proposed as a 14-story mixed-use building with 500 residential units (with a 5% plus or minus flexibility granted), just under 14,000 square feet of retail and 329 parking spaces.

Toll Brothers reevaluated the design and developed a “significantly more efficient building core,” according to the zoning application. The new proposed Phase II would add about 35,000 square feet of residential and 3,000 square feet of additional retail and service areas. The result is a building with 525 residential units, of which 10% will be affordable.

The developers are also seeking approval to provide fewer parking spaces than originally proposed, reducing the number to 240.

Another change comes in response to community comments on the design. The project team proposed to relocate the courtyard entrance to K Street and based on community feedback widened the entrance to 40 feet to make the interior courtyard more inviting to pedestrians. The interior courtyard includes water features, seating, grill and fire pit areas as well as a designated play area for the promised daycare, which benefits from some of the additional retail space.

Wider tunnel to courtyard at Union Place Phase II. Image from Zoning records.

Wider tunnel to courtyard at Union Place Phase II. Image from DC Zoning records.

There is retail will take up two stories in some areas and will be present on at least part of all three street-facing sides of the C-shaped structure.

During an Advisory Neighborhood Commission committee meeting one member questioned having retail on L Street, since it would be the first such retail in the area. A member of the project team said when he envisions the neighborhood in the next decade or two, he anticipates retail stretching from 1st Street NE—with the arrival of Akridge’s proposed Burnham Place–through the neighborhood to Union Market.

The Zoning Commission will hear the case Oct. 30.

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