Thursday, July 12, 2007

Godzilla vs. Mothra?

At last night's ICCA meeting, the developers of the Madison and Planning & Zoning staff came forth with yet another plan for the site at 800 N. Henry Street, and from what the Growler can see it is going to make the Monarch down the street look diminutive in comparison.

First, let's get the preliminaries out of the way: there will be no grocery store at the Madison, now or probably ever. The developers and attorney Duncan Blair portrayed the City and AEDP as aggressively going after every possible chain or boutique grocer in the months since the Harris-Teeter deal collapsed, but to no avail. In fact, we were told Bloom is now going in at Landbay G in Potomac Yard.

We also heard new riffs on why Harris-Teeter backed off. Originally we were told by P&Z staff that it was because of issues relating to the parking entrance ramp. Now we're hearing that it was a business decision based on focus group discussions and Harris-Teeter's growing experience with urban stores. Also thrown in was the fact that space would have to be sacrified for "cartolators," escalators to parking capable of carrying shopping carts.

Whatever.

Here's some of the details the Growler heard about this project, which is still morphing.

Having failed to secure a grocery store tenant, the developer Trammell Crow is now reducing the total amount of retail space to 10,000 sf in the south building and 25,000 in the north building.

That leaves more space for residential density. Now there will be 344 residences -- mostly one or two bedroom apartments with a handful of studio units. The floor area ratio (FAR) will be 2.5, where the Monarch was 2.33.

The buildings will be from five to seven stories tall. Originally the plan called for condos, but there were suggestions that the project would probably be built as rentals until the condo market improved. Mr. Blair denied there was ever a plan for townhouses.

The developer plans to provide 521 parking space, of which 83 will be for retail. This is less than what CRMU-H zoning currently requires, but Trammell Crow wants to take advantage of the reduction in parking requirements that will be in the new Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan. What a boon to developers that little nugget will be? Digging deep parking garages cuts into their profit.

But of course the tenants will use Metro so there won't be a problem, right?

Then there's open space. Some 27% of the site will be open space on the site, but there will be no publicly accessible area in the mammoth north building. For the south building, we will once again have a hidden courtyard, this time approached through an archway on Wythe Street that resembles a mousehole.

The only good news was that heights were reduced on the N. Henry Street side to 50 feet. But the rest of the building will rise to 72 feet on the other sides, some 10 feet higher than the Monarch.

The audience was also tantalized with the possibility that a major drug chain may sign for some of the retail space. That would be good news of a sort, but given the history of this project, it would be prudent to hold off celebrating until there's solid proof that the deal has been consummated.

On the issue of when the project will go to Planning Commission, the spokesmen said they want to go in concurrently with the Braddock Road Plan in September. That, and the developers' reliance on the parking reduction proposed in the old plan, cast doubt on whether the new plan we'll see in September really represents fresh thinking and a new start.

So in conclusion, it looks like the Monarch of Henry Street will not enjoy its lonely pre-eminence too much longer and that the battle of the Titans will soon begin. Which will be the biggest, baddest, and ugliest: Godzilla or Mothra?