Metro Makes Available Wi-Fi at 30 Stations

Metro announced on Thursday that free Wi-Fi is now available in 30 stations. This an increase from the six stations (Metro Center, Gallery Place, L’Enfant Plaza, Judiciary Square, Union Station and Archives) which began offering free Wi-Fi in April.

All remaining stations are expected to have Wi-Fi by mid-2018.

See below for which stations now have free Wi-Fi:
•Farragut North
•Dupont Circle
•Cleveland Park
•Van Ness-UDC
•Friendship Heights
•Medical Center
•Forest Glen
•McPherson Sq
•Farragut West
•Foggy Bottom-GWU
•Crystal City
•Mt Vernon Sq
•Columbia Heights
•Navy Yard-Ballpark


Airbnb Causes Rifts

Amy is fed up with her misery-inducing neighbors. Except her name isn’t really Amy, and her neighbors rarely stay long. “Airbnb-holes, that’s what I call them now,” she says.

Amy is a tenant at 1301 Thomas Circle, a luxury building on M Street NW. Rents there currently start at more than $2,500 a month for a one bedroom and rise to several thousand dollars a month for coveted three-bedrooms. Garage parking comes at an extra fee.

For regular leaseholders like Amy, steep rents yield various amenities, including modern appliances, high ceilings, large windows, a rooftop swimming pool, a 24-hour fitness center, and a game room. The pet-friendly building attracts young tenants and is located within walking distance of downtown and thriving nightlife.

But some of Amy’s neighbors pay more than she does, on a daily basis, for basically the same benefits. She says so many people cycle in and out of a few units on her floor every week that it’s difficult to keep track of who actually lives there. Recently, keyless-entry systems were installed on their front doors. Amy often sees strangers with luggage roaming the building.

Some of the guests appear to be foreigners, not speaking much English. Others are families or groups who throw parties, crowd the building’s common areas, and make residents feel unsafe. “Sometimes it’s a bunch of guys staring at me as I go into my apartment,” says Amy. “One time I opened the door to my apartment, and there was a half-smoked cigarette on the floor outside.”

Amy has lived at the Logan Circle property for more than a year. Citing fear of reprisal from her landlord, Colorado-based real estate investment trust UDR, she requested anonymity to openly discuss the activity that’s been going on since she moved there and spiked last spring and summer. She says it shows no signs of ending and she’s ready to leave.

According to both Amy and another tenant speaking on background for the same reasons, as well as the property’s Yelp! page, several online listings, and emails from two UDR employees obtained by City Paper, somewhere between 10 and 30 apartments in the building are being used for short-term rentals.

This has led to security risks, noise, and slow service from building staff, tenants say.

“Originally, when we moved in, they said, ‘Oh, we have a small amount of corporate housing in the building, people are staying for business purposes,’” recalls a male renter who’s resided at 1301 Thomas Circle for about a year. “It wasn’t really explained to us that this was a vacation tourism, hotel-type operation. Our lobby, on any given Saturday or Sunday, looks like a hotel.”

In the past, that’s resulted in long-term tenants having to wait for 15 or 20 minutes just to pick up packages while front desk staff attend to short-term visitors. Tenants add that the building’s staff frequently seem more solicitous to the guests than to them.

Those guests allegedly make excessive noise, too. “For the past 3 months I have lay awake 3-4 nights per week due to blasting music and parties going on in the apartments around me,” Yelp! reviewer Aisling B. wrote last July. “I have made so many complaints to management and leasing and no one has ever even responded to me aside from a late night security man who tries to help at 3am when I call to ask him to do something about the noise.”

Amy says she has also complained about the situation in formal surveys, but received no reply to her concerns. “We pay so much in rent already,” she says. “I feel like one of the things we’re paying for is safety—and luxury or whatever—and it’s just not worth it.”

Building managers and UDR’s corporate office did not respond to requests for comment. The company owns 26 properties in the D.C. area, including five in the District, per UDR’s website.

Another one of its D.C. buildings nearby, Andover House, has short-term rentals too, a listing on Stay Alfred, a Washington (state)-based startup that provides furnished apartments, shows. Founded in 2011, Stay Alfred rents apartments and buildings in U.S. downtown areas, offering cleaning, booking, and customer service to standardize stays, according to tech site GeekWire.

In the case of 1301 Thomas Circle, the landlord enters into lease agreements with Stay Alfred, which in turn rents out certain apartments, emails from UDR staffers suggest. UDR itself doesn’t advertise on short-term rental sites, but corporate clients with which it contracts do.

City Paper found several listings for apartments in the building on Stay Alfred, Airbnb (II, III), and VRBO (II, III). Stays for dates in January ranged in price from $150 a night to $1,150 a night, depending on the size of the unit and not including taxes and fees. Per an Airbnb listing, one weeklong stay in a three-bedroom would cost about $10,000 in total; a Stay Alfred listing touts the building’s “prestigious address” and it being in one of D.C.’s “most effervescent neighborhoods.”

This is something that vexes the tenants, who aren’t allowed to sublease or use their units for short-term rentals under their own lease agreements with UDR. “If we can’t do it, why can they do it?” says Amy, who adds that short-term rentals may be inflating overall rents in the building.

Whether services like Airbnb make housing less affordable in the aggregate by removing some units from long-term use is a question that both economists and lawmakers are debating.

The D.C. Council is still weighing legislation proposed last January by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie that would require hosts to register short-term rental listings with the District. It would also restrict both the number and length of bookings made through Airbnb and its ilk.

McDuffie says the bill would curb abuses by commercial enterprises that effectively operate unlicensed hotels, yet would preserve homeowners’ ability to generate income. Short-term rental companies have cast the proposal as draconian, harmful, and misguided.

Housing activists have uncovered a few rent-controlled buildings in D.C. being used for short-term rentals, and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued California firm Ginosi for illegal ones. The parties partially settled the case in the fall, freeing up dozens of units to long-term city residents.

1301 Thomas Circle is not a rent-controlled building, and it’s unclear whether the business activity occurring there is unlawful. Regulators can penalize individuals and companies for unlicensed rental activity, but, because enforcement is driven by complaints, it’s inconsistent.

A spokesman for the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees short-term rental licensing and would be charged with additional responsibilities under McDuffie’s bill, confirmed that a division within the agency “was assigned to this matter last week and an investigation is pending.”

In the meantime, tenants plagued by random visitors await intervention, or for their leases to run out.

“We’ve had friends who have lived in this building, and they all have the same story,” the male tenant says. “We just don’t want people to experience the pain and agony we’ve experienced.”


Wawa is Here

Since Wawa opened its first store in Delaware County, Pennsylvania in 1964, it has grown to over 800 stores across six states with a legion of crazed fans devoted to its made-to-order hoagies and convenience store coffee. But only now is it finally arriving in the District. The first of many DC stores debuted at 1111 19th St., Northwest this morning. Stop by for free coffee over the next three days.

This Wawa, however, is strangely self-aware. The DC location will feature interactive digital screens—essentially selfie stations—where fans can upload photos and messages that will flicker inside the store.

While Wawa is better known as a staple of the suburbs, the DC outpost aims to cater to its urban setting. The flagship store—the chain’s largest to date—is decked in subway tiling and lots of exposed brick. The look is more hipster bistro of 2012 than highway gas station. And rather than a place you’re going to be in and out of in three minutes for a bag of Doritos, the store’s Wild Goose Cafe has indoor and outdoor seating plus free wifi for lingering. Also new: a made-to-order salad section. While there are no gas pumps, District bikers can take advantage of free air pumps.


Possible Changes in Adams Morgan

In August, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) in Adams Morgan floated the idea of closing off a portion of 18th Street to vehicular traffic during the weekends to make the popular nightlife strip safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and revelers. Now, a step is being taken to make some form of traffic control a reality on the street.

The ANC 1C Planning, Zoning and Transportation Committee has drafted a letter recommending that the full ANC study and solicit feedback on a draft proposal that would create designated pick-up and drop-off zones for vehicles on Friday and Saturday nights between 8pm and 4am. The plan would be to create up to five 120 foot-long vehicular zones along 18th Street between Columbia Road and Florida Avenue NW, utilizing existing parking or loading curbside areas.

The potential areas could include two zones on the eastern side of the street and one zone on the western side of the street on the block of 18th Street between Columbia and Kalorama Roads and one on each side of the street on the block between Kalorama Road and Florida Avenue. Each would be able to accommodate as many as 5 cars simultaneously.

The goal of the proposal is to ease congestion on the street that is partially due to an increase in ride-hailing services. The committee is also asking the ANC to study the effect of lowering the speed limit on that same stretch of 18th Street, however neither measure would preclude the idea of closing 18th to vehicular traffic on some nights, a notion proposed most recently after a hit-and-run incident in June.

The pick-up and drop-off proposal is similar to one which the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, the Metropolitan Police Department, Department of Public Works and District Department of Transportation teamed up to begin implementing in Dupont Circle this fall, whereby the stretch of Connecticut Avenue between the Circle and Rhode Island Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic Thursday-Saturday nights between 10pm and 7am.

(Urban Turf)

Metro Considers 2nd Rosslyn Stop

Metro officials are taking a small but symbolic step in their hope of someday building a second station in Rosslyn.

On Thursday, the Metro board is expected to approve an application to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to request $2 million in grant money that would help the agency study ways to increase capacity on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines in Northern Virginia.

Metro’s big idea? Build another station in Rosslyn, with its own separate tunnel to the District, then separate the Blue Line from the Orange and Silver lines. That second Rosslyn terminal would be connected to the original Rosslyn station with some kind of underground pathway, allowing riders to travel between the two. Such a project would help alleviate the congestion inside the Rosslyn tunnel, a well-known bottleneck in the Metro system, and it could eventually better connect Northern Virginia with Georgetown.

It could also cost billions of dollars.


The Fight for DC Statehood Continues

One key factor linking the reimagined statehood efforts underway is how they all attempt to elevate the issue outside the District.

“The majority of Americans don’t know about this issue and I think once they do, they move in our direction,” says Bo Shuff, executive director of DC Vote and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 2014 campaign manager. “There are no value-based arguments against statehood, only political ones.”

The idea, detailed in a statehood plan Shuff presented to the D.C. government in April, involves a number of strategies that begin with planting statehood so firmly on the agenda of the political left that it becomes a litmus test for Democrats, as the marriage equality movement did so successfully.

Then a targeted outreach operation, which has already begun, will systematically press the statehood issue in each of the 435 districts that make up the House of Representatives, ideally led by D.C. residents with personal connections to each of those districts.

The final two fronts would be economic and political, where you convince leaders in the economic realm that their interests will be better served by more power in the political realm, which would happen if the District had a voting delegation in Congress.


Happy Hour Office Style

Need a cold one at the beginning/middle/end of the week? Folks work hard here in Washington, D.C., and Anheuser-Busch is offering one less thing to do to get ready for happy hour. The smart Office Bud-e auto-restocking beer fridge can hold up to 180 beers, which the company behind Budweiser is calling the greatest “advancement in corporate culture since the invention of the water cooler.”

That’s why D.C., Chicago and New York City are the first cities to try it out, and offices are getting offered $0 leases.

“Part of our dream at Anheuser Busch is to bring people together, and the Office Bud-e fridge helps to do just that,” Director of Strategy & Innovation Andrew Green said in a statement. “As workplace culture continues to become more social, the Office Bud-e acts as the new age ‘water cooler’ supporting in-office events and promoting employee engagement.”

Just connect the fridge to WiFi, select your favorite beer and it gets delivered to the office. That means you can order Blue Point, Goose Island, Rolling Rock, Shock Top, Budweiser, Golden Road Brewing and Michelob for any occasion. When the beer begins to run out, the fridge sends a message to a local delivery service to automatically deliver the beer chosen by the office manager and staff.


Lebron James Buys Big

NBA legend LeBron James has picked up a brand-spanking new home in Brentwood. James is the first owner of the home, which was completed just this year. The land sold about two years ago for a bit more than $5 million; the spec-built house was listed for $30 million prior to purchase by Mr. James.

The house is a big one: nearly 16,000 square feet of living space, with eight bedrooms and 11 baths throughout. Amenities and specialized rooms pack the home, with a wine cellar and tasting room, home theater, cigar room with air cleaning system, bar and entertainment room, billiards room, home fitness center with steam room and massage room, office, and rooftop terrace with elevator access. Materials are also employed with the object of dazzling the unprepared: marble reclaimed from Spain is used extensively throughout as a textural motive, and French oak floors, slate roof, mahogany dressing rooms, and an onyx bar present a variety of surprises during a tour.

The home’s architecture is French-inflected contemporary, with whitewashed brick and timber exterior walls. Interiors downplay outright ornament, finding expression in materials, classic check and herringbone patterns, and a comprehensive definition of luxury. Plain steel-framed windows and sliding glass doors, and a mix of chandelier and pendant lighting, and a simple hardwood staircase with wrought-iron balusters and bronze handrail place the style somewhere between minimal and very flashy.

The lot extends to nearly seven-tenths of an acre. The grounds are very groomed, with lawns, an outdoor kitchen, and a pool/sunlounge filling out the property.

James’ years with the Cavs are the stuff of NBA legend. After a tenure in Miami, he returned to Cleveland in 2014, but is expecting to depart again at the end of this season.


FAO is Back

Brace yourselves for the year’s best news—FAO Schwarz will be making its NYC comeback sometime next fall!

At 19,000-square-feet it won’t be nearly as large as its old flagship store on 5th Ave (which was 61,000-square-feet) but that doesn’t mean we’re any less excited for the toy store’s return!

The new shop will be located at Rockefeller Center, in the space that NBC Experience Store currently occupies. According to a report by Commercial Observer, “FAO’s new space at the Tishman Speyer-owned Art Deco property between West 49th and West 50th Streets will span the ground floor and mezzanine level when it opens next fall.”

(Secret NYC)

Off to the Suburbs for You

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in Shirlington. Clusters of people are sitting outside, dining al fresco at restaurants serving high-end American or Italian food, or quaffing drinks at a pub named for a famous Irish writer. Women walk by with mats under their arms, fresh from yoga class or sessions of massage or reflexology. Shoppers step in and out of an artisanal bakery, a kitchenware store playing peppy French music or a cheese boutique named Cheesetique. All the stores have doors that open right onto the sidewalk, with most people parking at a multilevel garage tucked off the main drag. Newly built apartment towers loom over the scene, although none of the residents are out on their tiny terraces.

Shirlington is a slice of suburban Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. But it could just as well be a retail pocket in any number of suburbs in the D.C. area, or, for that matter, on the edge of Atlanta, Cleveland or Denver. All over the country, suburbs are rushing to develop new mixed-use corridors, complete with dense, walkable shopping areas, often attached to a town hall or performing arts complex, as in Shirlington, and usually surrounded by mid-rise apartment or condo buildings.

Mixed-use developments like these are becoming kind of a cliché in American metropolitan areas — but that doesn’t make them any less revolutionary. After decades offering themselves as safer, quieter alternatives to cities, suburbs are refashioning themselves to become more like them. Development built around cars, with zoning restrictions that strictly segregate housing from office space and shopping, is giving way to the desire to create new downtowns, bubbling with all kinds of activity, and create them largely from scratch. “We’re starting to see some competition even between these comparable types of developments, as consumers and even businesses are looking to have a different atmosphere,” says Julie Palakovich Carr, a member of the city council in Rockville, Md.

Back in the 1970s, Rockville, which is a few miles north of Shirlington, tore out its downtown in order to build an enclosed shopping mall. That mall declined over the years due to local competition and the overall drop in brick-and-mortar shopping, so now it’s been torn down in favor of a mixed-use development. In effect, the downtown has been put back where it once was. Lots of suburbs have torn down dead or dying malls, putting in their place town centers that encourage foot traffic among the shops, while still taking advantage of their proximity to a highway or major arterial road. Office parks are reshaping themselves as well, hoping to hold on to tenants as big companies buy into the trend of moving back to center-city downtowns.

Demographics have also brought changes to what many people are looking for from suburban life. Carr points out that in Rockville, the biggest demand in housing over the next 20 years is going to be from one-person households. That’s true in a lot of places. Around the country, one out of every four households is composed of a single person. Three out of four households don’t have a school-age child living at home. There just aren’t as many traditional families with a couple of kids at home, wanting a big yard, as there used to be.

Certainly, this isn’t the case in every suburb. Suburban populations are still growing fastest in developments further out, where cars remain king and sit in big garages next to big houses on big lots. Meanwhile, many close-in older suburbs with small bungalows built in the 1950s for a blue-collar clientele have entered into decline, with homes turning into downmarket rentals and rundown garden apartments leasing for cheap. Some of these suburbs are becoming pockets of intractable poverty, while others are ports of entry for new immigrants who are moving directly to conventional suburbs, bypassing urban life altogether.

But all of this creates a tempting opportunity to cater to members of the millennial generation who are attracted to cities but can’t afford to live near the urban center. “The downtown housing has gotten absurdly expensive in those cities that have revitalized,” says Dunham-Jones. This explains to a large extent the denser development taking shape in communities such as Shirlington and Rockville. Many millennials — and a lot of empty nesters as well — want a walkable lifestyle, with just about everything they need within a few blocks of their homes. Some suburbs have learned that they can attract this cohort by offering these urban-style amenities, often alongside high-performing schools that are better than their center-city counterparts.

This model of development isn’t going to work everywhere. There has to be enough market demand for builders to be interested in reshaping large parcels of property. But the old suburban model of subdivisions as residential worlds unto themselves, often in a cul-de-sac format, has lost at least some of its luster. An increasing number of developers want to appeal to people who prefer to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive for everything they want. “The suburbs that have gotten that are going to be the winners in the future,” says Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute. “The way people work, shop and move around is changing. Those that have figured that out are going to prosper, and others are going to decline.”

Suburbs have always been shaped by transportation. The ones made possible by carriage and rail lines a century ago that took residents away from the pollution and noise of the big city were given the name of “streetcar suburbs.” Following World War II, the desire to leave the city and attain some space was enabled by the interstate highway system. Those suburbs were built for and around the use of automobiles.

Now suburbs are being reshaped again, but this time more by communication than transportation. You might call them “smartphone suburbs.” There’s less need to go to the mall if you can have goods produced practically anywhere in the world shipped to your door by online retailers — and perhaps more important, can stock up on toilet paper, diapers and medicine without ever leaving home. When you do need to get out, you don’t have to own a car. Taxi service was always notoriously bad in suburbs, but now you can hire a Zipcar for weekend trips to Home Depot, or summon an Uber or Lyft to take you to a distant friend’s house for dinner. “When I was a kid, getting your driver’s license was a ticket to freedom,” McMahon says. “Today, the cellphone is a way to connect without having to get in a car.”

It’s true that millennials are driving less. Teenagers, too. In 2014, only one out of four 16-year-olds had a driver’s license, compared with nearly half back in 1983, according to a University of Michigan study. The share of 19-year-olds with licenses has also plunged, by 21 percent.

If more people are embracing a car-lite lifestyle, they’re also looking for more social interaction. The smartphone may have something to do with this as well. People have gotten used to sharing interior thoughts and intimate feelings over digital devices. They may not be baring their souls to all and sundry around the town center fountain, but they’re not coveting privacy in the way that earlier generations used to. This applies to older people as well as millennials. “The privacy that the aging boomers really valued while raising their kids, now they’re beginning to question that,” Dunham-Jones says. “Do I really want to mow that big lawn? If they’re retired, suddenly that privacy can seem lonely.” Or, to put it another way, the ability to conduct much of one’s life on a cellphone may be generating a desire for in-person contact, perhaps the only thing the phone cannot deliver.

Whatever is driving the demand for walkability in the suburbs, it’s clearly very much in vogue. You’ll pay at least 25 percent more per square foot for housing in Reston, Va., which is built around a town center, than in nearby Sterling, a postwar cul-de-sac suburb that’s the same driving distance from Washington. And there are more urban-style developments emerging all the time. In 2008, when Dunham-Jones and June Williamson published their book Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs, they could come up with about 80 examples of suburban developments built to reduce automobile capacity. Today, their database contains more than 1,500 examples. “People are more willing to have compact housing,” says Williamson, an architecture and urban design professor at the City University of New York, “if it’s in the right location.”

To succeed, mixed-used developments have to be truly mixed-use. Simply moving town hall out from behind its big parking lot and onto a main street isn’t going to magically attract retail. If you build housing on top of retail, but can’t attract jobs to the area, your shops are going to be empty during the day. Or they’ll be empty at night if they’re near offices but no one’s living nearby. Suburban office parks, for their part, are attempting to bring in more restaurants and coffee shops. For decades, there were three rush hours at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina — morning, evening and lunch hour. Forty thousand people work in the park, but until recently there was no place for them to buy a cup of coffee, let alone lunch. Now there is a growing number of choices. The managers of even the most successful office parks admit they will have to change to survive. “Downtowns have a sort of personality that does not exist in a suburban research park like ours,” says Bob Geolas, the Research Triangle Foundation’s former CEO. “A big part of what we’re doing is building a personality that people can relate to and be inspired by.”

It is possible to have a successful retail environment without including either housing or offices, but then you’ve just created, in effect, a roofless shopping mall. An enclave that’s pedestrian-friendly, but which everyone drives to, is not going to be as successful as one that combines jobs and housing and is connected to the outside world by transit, says Armando Carbonell, who leads the urban planning program at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

That may be the most radical change in suburban planning: the growing consensus that transit matters. The most in-demand suburban developments are being built around transit, and this is true even where the share of commuters using transit is still low. Shops and apartments are springing up alongside fixed-rail stations all over the country. New developments are capitalizing on proximity to bus rapid transit lines, or sometimes just plain buses, as has happened with some projects that have taken over former malls. In Carmel, Ind., new housing is built near biking trails that can get residents directly from their doors to downtown Indianapolis.