Monday, July 23, 2007

Shades Down

Last week the Growler took a mid-day, mid-week stroll over to Braddock Place to take a look at the retail activity or lack thereof.

Basically the walk was a test of the Cranky One's theory that the City is mad for mixed-use development (which grants developers double density) but shrugs when the retail fails to materialize; in fact, officials and politicians may even look the other way when the owner quietly reappropriates the retail space.

At 1310 Braddock Place, the former Le Bon Cafe is shuttered, with only a display table in the window and a placard with phone numbers advertising Splendid Fare catering. This may squeak by under the zoning definitions for retail, but it doesn't seem to be a walk-in business.

Next door, it appears as though the retail space (which the Growler seems to remember was once occupied by a framing store) has been converted to office space, with a staffer flanked by whiteboards hard at work at his computer.

1320 Braddock Place is currently under construction for a new tenant, and the first floor retail space seems to be getting use as a meeting room for the general contractor. The former Braddock Cafe at 1320, which nearby residents tell the Growler has been closed for several years, now sports a sign promising a new cafe. How long that announcement has been up is anybody's guess.

At this site the Growler also noticed something peculiar: part of the building includes a one-story bump-out that resembles a sun room. Was it intended originally as retail space? Inside the room were rows of exercise machines, but the site is not a public gym (another use permitted under CRMU-H). The Growler guesses this is some sort of private facility for one of the building tenants' staff.

The first-floor blinds were closed at 1330 and 1340 Braddock Place but it appears they have also been converted to office use.

The four buildings at Braddock Place are zoned CRMU-H (Commercial Residential Mixed Use High Density). Here's what the Zoning Ordinance says about CRMU-H:
The intent of the CRMU-H zone is to establish a zoning classification which permits developments that include a mixture of residential, commercial, cultural, and institutional uses in a single structure or multiple but integrated and related structures; to encourage a diversification of uses in unified projects located in proximity to metro stations in order to encourage the conservation of land resources, minimization of automobile travel, and the location of employment and retail centers in proximity to housing; and to promote the development of mixed use projects by allowing greater densities than would otherwise be permitted to the extent the proposed mix of uses, design and location of the development warrant. (Zoning Ordinance Sec. 5-300) (Emphasis added)

Among the permitted uses for CRMU-H are "business and professional office" as well as "retail shopping establishment." So there's really nothing in zoning to prevent the owners from turning the buildings back to single use structures after having obtained the desired density.

The Board of Zoning Appeals recently upheld the City's decision not to allow a private school to rent space in Carlyle on the grounds that it wasn't a targeted retail use. Why isn't this happening with Braddock Place?

And here's something else to ponder:

Recently the owner of Braddock Place, ING Clarion Realty Services, sought to subdivide the property into four lots so each building could be owned by different entities. The hearing before Planning Commission was deferred several times, most recently in June, and the application is not currently on the Commission's September docket.

While the application seems relatively straightforward, the Growler was interested by this comment from Recreation and Parks:
This site is a key location within the Braddock Metro Small Area and Open Space Master Plans and the proposed subdivision has potential implications related to open space preservation and long range planning initiatives. The subdivision proposal provides an opportunity to increase open space, open space linkages, and trail options in the area.
So what is the fate of Braddock Place? Are the owners waiting for the Plan to be ratified? Is the subdivision planned so some of the buildings can be converted to residential condo, which would be permitted as multifamily housing under CRMU-H? How does the proposed subdivision provide "an opportunity to increase open space, open space linkages and trail options"?

And above all, why has the City looked the other way when retail died at Braddock Place?