Blog Archives

Successfully Integrating Tree Protection with Development in the “City of Trees”

The District of Columbia (“D.C.”) has a relatively long history of being known for its trees, stemming back to the planting of 60,000 trees initiated by the last Governor of D.C., Alexander “Boss” Shepard in the 1870s.  While his tenure was brief, his vision of D.C. being the “City of Trees” endured as tree planting efforts were continued by the Federal Government, National Park agencies, citizens, and leaders such as Lady Bird Johnson.  (See City of Trees by Melanie Choukas-Bradley 3rd Edition.) Today, the goal of preserving and increasing D.C.’s tree population continues.  One of D.C.’s top sustainability goals is to increase the tree canopy of the city from 35% to 40% by 2032.  (https://doee.dc.gov/service/canopy-3000.)  In furtherance of this goal,

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DC Mayor Challenges Residents and Agencies to Remove Barriers Preventing More Housing

It all started in 1894, when the famous architect Thomas Franklin Schneider designed and constructed the Cairo.  At 164 feet tall, the Cairo was the first residential skyscraper in the District of Columbia (the “District”), causing an uproar among the District’s residents.  The concern was the safety of the structure of such buildings and the ability to fight flames in the event of a fire.  In response, the District’s Board of Commissioners passed a regulation limiting the height of all future residential buildings.  By 1899, Congress passed a law, amended in 1910, commonly known as the Height Act, limiting the height of District buildings to 130 feet. While the fear that skyscrapers in the District could cause the whole city

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Top Four Value-Adds for Hotels in the District of Columbia

The District hotel market is hot.  Statista.com states that 9.58 million people in the U.S. visited Washington, DC overnight within a period of 12 months and that, in 2014, Union Station was the fourth most-visited tourist attraction in the world, with 32.9 million visitors.  Here are four areas where developers, asset managers or private equity funds can look within the hospitality industry and seek to deploy a high risk-return strategy by renovating and repositioning existing hotel assets: About The Author

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In DC, “H” Is Not For a Hairy Deal But, Rather, For Dealing with Historic Districts

It does not matter whether or not you are looking for a “hairy” deal – in DC, you will most likely find a deal that is “historic”.  More likely than not you will encounter (or already have encountered) the complexities of the DC’s Historic Districts. In April 2006, Mayor Anthony Williams said that “preserving buildings isn’t just about retaining architecture.  It’s about preserving our history, our culture, our way of life and our spirit of community.” We have identified three issues created for DC real estate deals by the Historic Districts and related multi-faceted review procedures.  We refer to them as “the three H’s”:  Hard to Avoid; Hyper-Technical; and High-Quality Products. Hard to Avoid:          According to the Office of Planning’s

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Important Dates to be Aware of

About The Author

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The Court of Discontent is a Whale of a Problem

A blue whale grows more than thirty pounds a day and doubles in size in its first six months of life.  Every developer wants to land the whale of a deal.  Many big deals in the District of Columbia require complicated entitlements before the Board of Zoning Adjustment or the Zoning Commission.  Unfortunately, the District’s zoning world has fallen prey to a growing number of challenges before the DC Court of Appeals, and the court is only feeding the problem. What we are seeing is not only an increase in zoning cases that are being appealed, but also greater scrutiny from the Court of Appeals over decisions made by the Board of Zoning Adjustment or the Zoning Commission.  Simply put,

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Alley Dwellings: The Next Frontier or A Zoning Headache?

As the recent census data show, more people are moving to the District each year and sticking around.  While huge cranes dot the skyline in many areas of the city, there may be an unexpected answer to the District’s housing conundrum: alley dwellings.  Throughout the District, the development of alley lots is being embraced as a way to enliven formerly under-utilized spaces and provide a source for more-affordable housing. Such was not always the case.  When Pierre L’Enfant was commissioned to design the City of Washington, he never planned on there being alley communities.  However, as an unexpected result of wide alleys and open plots of land, builders created lower income housing described as “mini-ghettoes” by James Borchert in his

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Into the Belly of the Beast

On the night of March 20th, 2018, I unwittingly walked into hostile territory – the DC Council chamber during the epic 13-hour public hearing on the proposed amendments to the Framework Element of the District’s Comprehensive Plan. Perhaps the Washington Post headline said it best: “Dry DC Planning Document Fuels Hot Debate”. While I was joined by many leaders of the development community, as highlighted in the Bisnow article dated March 20th, I think that all of us were surprised at the angry tenor of the opposition to the amendments.  Guy Durant, of the Durant case fame, went so far as to call us “devil-opers” with the emphasis on the “devil”.  And there were no punches pulled on the members

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Office of Zoning, Office of Planning on the Hot Seat

On February 28th, 2018, the DC Council conducted oversight hearings for the DC Office of Zoning (“OZ”) and the DC Office of Planning (“OP”).  Oversight hearings provide the DC Council and members of the public an opportunity to ask OZ and OP officials questions about their performance over the past year. Sara Bardin, Director of OZ, presented that there was an 8% increase in Board of Zoning Adjustment (“BZA”) and Zoning Commission (“ZC”) cases over the last year and discussed upcoming updates that will allow automatic “sun/shade studies” to be conducted on the OZ website (which is still in its testing phase).  DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson engaged Director Bardin, as well as ZC Chair Anthony Hood and BZA Chair

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EventsDC Seeking Development Partner For RFK Market Hall

EventsDC, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia, recently released a Request For Expressions of Interest (“RFEI”) for the development of a 65,000 square foot Market Hall on the RFK site.  EventsDC seeks a development partner for this initial phase of the comprehensive redevelopment of the RFK campus, located next to Kingman Park in the revitalizing Hill East neighborhood.  Market Hall is expected to offer market, concession, and restaurant space for neighborhood residents and visitors from around the region. Market Hall will be one component of the initial phase of redevelopment over the next 2 – 5 years, redevelopment which will also include: Three multi-purpose recreation and community playing fields, totaling about 5 acres, available to

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getthedirtblog

Real Estate, Zoning & Land Use

Cozen O’Connor has represented residential, commercial, retail, and industrial builders in the development and redevelopment of building lots and millions of square feet of real estate. Our team handles every aspect of the zoning, land use, and development approvals process, from obtaining building permits and variances to negotiating stormwater management and traffic plans.

Head of the DC Zoning Group & Blog Editor