Monday, June 12, 2006

Heard on the Street


Hal Phipps, the Division Chief in Planning & Zoning whose oversight includes historic preservation and Board of Architectural Review support staff, is retiring. He will stay on part-time while P&Z Director Eileen Fogarty searches for his successor.

Mr. Phipps, whose title is Division Chief, Zoning and Land Use Services, is the second Division Chief to step down this year. Kimberly Fogle, head of Neighborhood Planning & Community Development, left earlier this spring to accept a job in the Fauquier County Planning Department.

The End of Condo Mania?

Several prominent condo developments in our area appear to be stalled or in trouble.

The condo project at 1602 King Street, which was to be designed by prominent local architect Lee Quill and had already been presented informally to several area civic associations, is now DOA. Mr. Quill canceled an appearance at the Upper King Street Civic Association just hours before its May meeting. The project would have preserved the historic Wardman-style townhouses fronting on King Street but some preservationist purists felt the condo building to be constructed in the rear would be too large and too dense for the district.

The Growler also hears that it's not local buyers but Italian and German investors who are snapping up the condos atop the Whole Foods Market at Duke Street and Holland Lane. Not a good development for potential owner-residents, who may find financing hard to obtain with so many investors and rentals.

At the Planning Commission work session on the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan last month, commissioners noted that several projects intended as condominiums are now slated to be rental apartment buildings.

And ironically, just the day after a City Council work session on affordable housing, the Washington Post ran a prominent feature article about two major condo conversions that have now been cancelled, including Monument Realty's Park Center proposed conversion at Park Center in the West End.

Affordable Housing

The aforementioned work session on affordable housing featured a series of stellar speakers, but curiously the topic of the rapidly deflating housing bubble didn't feature much in the discussions. Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason University flashed a slide which showed among other things that in the early 1990s there was a surplus of housing over demand. If you've been around awhile like the Growler, you remember that there was a bust in the real estate market at the very same time (along with a recession).

Conditions may be somewhat different now, but it still seems likely that cooling prices and overbuilding may help make housing somewhat affordable again.

Certainly nothing is selling in Parker-Gray at the moment and Realtors are telling customers to expect their sales to take at least 60 days. Some houses in our area have actually been on the market for four to five months. Prices are also being slashed: one near neighbor started at $725,000 and within two weeks dropped the ask to $695,000.

The question for Parker-Gray residents is whether or not we need more "affordable housing," which in the City's rubric usually means public housing.

And are there plans afoot to add more in our community? Stay tuned ...