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14th in flux

Rampant construction expected to bring hundreds of renters to Logan, beyond

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A new apartment building being built across from the Black Cat on 14th Street NW in Washington. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Construction on 14th Street N.W. in Washington is nothing new — anyone who frequents the uber-gay area has been seeing chain-link fences, closed sidewalks and cranes for months as various massive projects are underway. But with ground now broken for the Louis, the former Utopia spot at 14th and U that will be a mixed-use space featuring 267 new apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail street-level space, it feels like the whole stretch is one massive construction zone from about R to W.

With so many projects underway at once, what effect will all this ultimately have on the street? And what exactly is planned at each spot?

It’s an unusual part of town in the sense that past Thomas Circle and the downtown area, 14th varies extensively in character and nature. Much denser with commercial business than its 13th or 15th street neighbors, 14th encompasses parts of three different neighborhoods (Logan, Columbia Heights and the U Street corridor), several ANC zones and two city wards (one and two). It’s also a street that has seen massive change in the last decade. And if all the construction seems rather sudden, long-time residents and those following city zoning news know these projects have all been in the works for years. Much of the simultaneous ground breaking is due to financing now being more readily available than it was in the few years just after the 2008 stock market crash.

“Those of us who live here have known about these projects for five to six years,” says Ramon Estrada, the 2B09 ANC commissioner that encompasses part of the street. “When a project is approved by zoning, they have a two-year window but for some of these projects, that hit right in the middle of the recessions so they asked the ANC for extensions. We wanted these projects to be built so all we had to do was re-approve them.”

Among the projects underway are:

  • The aforementioned Louis, a mixed-use project that will replace the Taco Bell/KFC and other shops formerly on the west side of 14th Street just south of U. The project, according to developer JBG, will be a nine-story, 267-unit apartment building with street-level retail space. JGB partnered with developer Georgetown Strategic Capital after their original plans stalled (the project was originally called Utopia). Construction started in February. JB and Georgetown Strategic Capital are working with architect Eric Colbert & Associates and interior designor Cecconi Simone on the project, according to Urban Turf, a site that monitors new condos and apartments coming to D.C.
  • District Condos, another JBG project, is a 125-unit residential project being built at the corner of 14th and S, according to Urban Turf and other sources. This is the spot that was formerly a Whitman-Walker AIDS drop-in clinic. Originally planned as condos, the building will now be studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.
  • The massive Jefferson 14W project (Jefferson14w.com), a Perseus Realty and Jefferson Apartment Group project at 14th and W N.W. that will have 231 apartments, a 40,000 square-foot YMCA and 10,000 square feet of street-level retail that’s slated to be finished by fall.
  • At 14th and Belmont (the 2400 block), a nine-story highrise that, according to the Prince of Petworth blog, will be 255 condos, street-level retail with underground parking and other amenities. This spot was formerly the Nehemiah Strip Mall.
  • View 14 (view14.com) has been finished since 2010 (and has been sold) but still has retail space for rent and represents the new wave of development on the street. The 185-unit building was originally planned as condos but is now rental apartments.
  • Level 2 Development plans a seven-story, 144-unit condo building at 1905 and 191714th Street, by the Carpet & Furniture shop. This project is more in the planning stage and has met with some opposition from residents.
  • Two condo buildings are going in at14th and R — one in the Verizon building, the other in the former auto repair shop beside Miss Pixie’s. Look for between 30 and 40 condos in each.

Several gay D.C. residents the Blade spoke with said the changes are mostly positive.

“I think first of all on the14th Street corridor there was just enough land available for some of these really cool projects,” says Evan Johnson, a local Realtor who’s gay and has an eponymous real estate group. “Whether they’re apartments or condos, I’d obviously prefer condos since I’m in the sales side, but either way, the more residents it brings in, that brings the opportunity build more stores … I think it provides a tremendous opportunity to clean up some of the older buildings that needed attention and it’s still close enough to Dupont and Logan … that it’s a highly sought-after area. I don’t see any real negative impact.”

As the projects were being considered, City Councilmember Jim Graham (Ward 1) said he had some concerns, but they’ve been addressed.

“I’m certainly glad we’re keeping the post office,” Grahm, who’s openly gay, says. “They will have ground floor space with street access at the Reeve building. I welcome all this new activity because we have worked very hard and very successfully to keep our low income housing. Many of the big buildings north of Florida Avenue are low income apartment buildings which we have not only preserved, but they’ve also been rehabilitated all the way north of the Target. We haven’t lost that diversity and that’s very important as we welcome new people into the area.”

Tim Christensen, president of the Logan Circle Community Association and a Logan resident since 1989, says there are some concerns Logan residents have such as parking restrictions and extended hours for liquor sales, but he’s been active in voicing his concerns and those of his neighbors with their ANC elected officials.

“I’m a huge fan of mixed-use development and we’ve seen a lot of it in Logan through the years,” Christensen, who’s gay, says. “I think one of the biggest challenges for our businesses will be making sure they have enough foot traffic throughout the daytime on Mondays through Fridays. They’re fine in the evenings and on weekends when you have a lot of foot traffic, but if it’s very quiet in these areas during the work week, that can really mean the difference between success and failure for some of our businesses.”

And as for the hustle and bustle of the actual construction? Estrada says he hasn’t heard any significant grumbling about it.

“I think it’s just a temporary inconvenience. All of these neighbors are aware of the extent of how big these projects are so I think everybody is dealing with it just fine. I haven’t received any complaints.”

And why are so many rentals over condos? The reasons, observers say, are complicated. According to Mark Wellborn, editor-in-chief of Urban Turf, large projects have to meet certain sale/percentage benchmarks with non-government financing before they can proceed. Since government-backed financing through entities like FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are how most buyers proceed, that can stymie construction. Projects with rentals don’t have the same requirements.

Observers predict the apartments, once finished, will rent for about $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom and will bring a 15-18 percent increase in residents to the area likely to match a similar spike the area saw since the 2000 census. The new residents are not expected to drastically alter the percentage of LGBT residents in Logan or Columbia Heights.

“I think it will be good for gay people overall,” Graham says.

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Real Estate

Leather and lace in your home decor

From couches to countertops, add some flair

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Leather isn’t just for couches anymore; you can find it in countertops and a wide range of décor.

When I was very young, I would visit my maternal grandmother and marvel at the hand-tatted and crocheted doilies that adorned the arms and backs of her sofa and chairs. They were also found on her dressers and side tables, and on the dining table as coasters and placemats, to prevent scratches on the furniture. Like snowflakes, the designs of the doilies were both intricate and individual.

I’m convinced that people had better posture in the early 20th century, because I never saw the remnants of men’s hair tonic, Macassar oil, or pomade on Nana’s doilies, even though they were there to keep the furniture from absorbing those hair products. Certainly, people weren’t the couch potatoes lounging on sofas then that we are today. Being able to Netflix and chill was a long way off.

I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone into such a little piece of fabric, so I later tried to learn to crochet. Sadly, all I was able to accomplish was string after string, never having been taught how to join those strings together to resemble a doily. At least with knitting, I was able to form squares large enough to be blankets for my Barbie.

In my mid-century childhood, doilies were put away and saved for grandchildren who, years later, would neither want them nor appreciate their historical value. The ‘50s saw polyvinyl chloride (PVC) go from a commercial substance used frequently in post-WWII construction to a residential fabric that we now refer to fondly as “pleather.” I can still remember the sound of my thighs peeling off the vinyl banquette at the diner when I would get up to leave a booth.

To be without a leather couch in the ‘60s was déclassé and, although styles have changed, such a couch remains a timeless piece. These days, if you are looking for a little more leather in your life and in your home, you can look beyond that couch and chair, where options range from the subdued to the highly decorative.

While vinyl is still the least expensive leather-look fabric, we now have “bonded” leather, made with scraps that are bonded together using polyurethane or latex. As you can tell from the prices of such furniture, the actual leather used in the process can vary from 10-90 percent.

Of course, top grain leather is the most expensive, and we have suede, die cut, embossed, patent, and a variety of other techniques used to change the look of a hide. In addition, there is now vegan leather.

For something unique for your kitchen or bar, check out the tooled leather countertop from Kosel Saddlery (koselsaddles.wixsite.com/marty) in Montana. They also make saddles and chaps.

Instead of the shiny granite counters that we all know, MSI Surfaces (msisurfaces.com) makes honed and leathered granite finishes for a more subtle appearance and has dealers throughout the DMV. 

For a do-it-yourself application, Amazon sells the Aspect brand eight-pack of leather glass, peel and stick subway tiles for backsplashes in five neutral colors for less than $20 each.

EcoDomo (ecodomo.com) in Gaithersburg offers a variety of custom leather treatments, including countertops, door and cabinet panels, floor planks and tiles, and wall systems. Your color choices aren’t limited to black or brown either. They can manufacture pieces in blue, red, green, and even in custom colors to match other items in your décor.

Many online stores such as Wayfair and Overstock carry real and faux leather headboards, footstools, poufs and benches at affordable prices. 

There’s always something in leather at Pottery Barn, even for the conservative budget: pieced leather pillows, tufted stools, basket collections, and even a leather-bound coffee table book for cigar aficionados. 

If you’re looking for small accent pieces, try a leather coaster, placemat, napkin ring, or my personal favorite, a cutlery pouch for your tableware collection from Lucrin Geneva (lucrin.com). They also offer office accessories such as crocodile desk sets, wastebaskets and storage boxes.

And for the connoisseur of leather, vinyl, rubber, or even neoprene items of a more personal nature, head to the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency this Friday through Sunday for Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend. With plenty of specialty items, high-impact fashion, toys and games for all ages and yes, even custom-made furniture among the vendor exhibitions, you’re sure to find something that will tickle your fancy.

Just remember that you (and your puppy) must both be vaccinated and masked to attend. We take COVID (and rabies) very seriously here in D.C.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate.  Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Dining

Winter Restaurant Week a welcome escape from the cold

Enjoy D.C.’s diverse culinary scene at great prices

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KNEAD Hospitality + Design’s Gatsby is among the hotspots participating in this year’s RAMW Winter Restaurant Week. (Photo courtesy of KNEAD Hospitality + Design)

Saving Washington, D.C. diners from winter doldrums, RAMW Winter Restaurant Week is back in action. It returns Jan. 17-23 with the motto of “Dine Out. Take Out. Eat Up.”

The city’s signature winter dining event is back as a one-week promotion focused on dining out and tasting the city’s diverse culinary scene. Yet it also is providing diners with newer programs that they have grown to love over the past few cycles. These include the popular “RW-To-Go” takeout dinner meals, outdoor dining spaces, as well as cocktail pairings, allowing diners to take advantage of a range of indoor/outdoor comfort levels and dining opportunities.

Participating restaurants are set to offer multi-course brunch and lunch menus for $25 per person, and multi-course dinner menus for $40 or $55 per person for on-premises dining. Most are offering the traditional three-course meals, while others may include extras.

Many restaurants will also offer the RW-To-Go dinner meals, a program introduced in 2019, available at two price points: $70 or $100 for two people and $140 or $200 for four people.

More than 200 restaurants across the area are participating. 

“Our restaurants have shown resilience, creativity, and perseverance over the past two years, and they continue to count on the amazing support of loyal diners and newcomers through promotions like Restaurant Week,” said RAMW President & CEO Kathy Hollinger. “Designed to get diners out to experience all our great food scene has to offer, we have evolved this turnkey promotion to help meet diners where they are in terms of comfort. With offerings to include RW-To-Go, curbside pickup and delivery, heated patios, cozy igloos and indoor dining, there is truly something for anyone looking to support their favorite spot or try something new.”

New restaurants participating in Winter Restaurant Week include Ala, Bar Chinois, Bistro Du Jour, The Mayflower Club, Officina Cafe, Penny Royal Station, and Urban Roast in the District; Diabolo’s Cantina at MGM and Rosa Mexicano at National Harbor; North Italia Tysons; and the newest The Capital Grille location in Fairfax.

2021 RAMMYS Winners and finalists participating include Convivial, Cranes (also Michelin-starred), Espita, Estadio, iRicchi, and Sababa. 

In the 14th Street and Dupont Circle areas, popular participating restaurants include Agora, Cork, Duke’s, Floriana, and Sushi Taro, among others. 

Winter Restaurant Week also extends beyond core neighborhoods, stretching far past the city’s borders. Areas like Takoma Park and Bethesda in Maryland, and Alexandria and National Landing in Virginia, are also hosting participating restaurants. 

Some spots are offering additional deals, extended timelines, and other options. “I’m excited about the creativity of our local restaurants,” says Hollinger, “with their offers and spaces that give diners great experiences during the promotion, and the flexibility to dine in the way that works for them whether indoor, in heated outdoor dining spaces or at home with our Restaurant Week To-Go program.”

For example, Ambar (both the D.C. and Clarendon locales) will have a $70 seven-course to-go menu for two people. The deal includes a bottle of wine in addition to the food. 

Schlow Restaurant Group has a $40 gift card for more than three meals at any of its restaurants, including NAMA Sushi Bar and TICO in D.C. and Alta Strada Italian Restaurants in D.C. and Fairfax. 

James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Schlow says, “This is a great way for Restaurant Week diners to experience more of our menu offerings, and perhaps explore some of our restaurants they haven’t tried yet. Plus, with [our] Restaurant Week extended an additional week through Jan. 30, there’s ample time to dine.”

Gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design group is involving all its restaurants in the promotion. The group’s restaurants include Gatsby, Mi Vida, The Grill, and more. Owner Jason Berry notes that he is “excited to participate in this year’s winter restaurant week. Each year Restaurant Week brings new diners to our doors to experience the creativity and talent our staff continues to showcase at our restaurants.”

Recall that the city has reinstated mask mandates for indoor spaces. In addition, On Jan. 15, 2022, per Mayor’s Order 2021-148, the District of Columbia adopts a citywide vaccination entry requirement that requires COVID-19 vaccination to enter indoor facilities within the city. This includes restaurants and bars.

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Real Estate

What to know if you’re buying or selling in 2022

Research interest rates, contractors now before spring arrives

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Spring will be here before you know it so prepare for buying and selling a home now.

The years 2020 and 2021 were wild on the books for real estate. Many successfully sold a house, bought a house, or sold a smaller residence and bought a larger one due to the new “needs” that they realized they had.  

After a year or more of staying home, working from home, dining out (at home), studying from home, many just realized they needed a different home than the one they were sitting in.  Many experts are saying that 2022 might be the year we go back to our “normal cycles” in real estate. If that is the case, then what does that mean?  

It means that right now, first time buyers can find deals on one- or two-bedroom condos that are sitting on the market, and the single family home market is going to be ramping up in the spring, when more buyers are out in the streets and more homes are getting ready to go on the market. So, if you are thinking of selling this year, you might already need to be calling painters, carpenters, and other contractors to do those little projects that make a home ready for photographs and to be shown in its best light. Now that the holidays are over, many of the contractors we hire start getting calls, and their schedules start to fill up. As a Compass agent, we have the “Concierge” program that helps sellers to finance, at zero interest, projects that spruce up their home, and then it gets paid back when the home sells. I know other brokerages have some similar programs, also. 

If you are going to buy a home this year, you might want to seriously look at how long homes have been sitting in the market in the neighborhoods that interest you. If the “days on market” are more than 20, 30, 40 or even 50 days, this might be your time to strike. Call a local lender or two and see what interest rate you can get and how much you can get approved for a loan. Interest rates could be going up this year, so you might want to get this done in the first half of the year, if your current situation allows.  

At any rate, if you are thinking of making a move this year, feel free to sign up for one of my homebuyer seminars, or give me (or your favorite Realtor) a call and find out what you need to do to get ready to make this move.

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-587-0597.

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