- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Residents of some downtown housing complexes may find themselves less physically fit but more able to pay the rent after a D.C. Zoning Commission vote this week.

The commission voted to eliminate its rule that required developers to set aside 5 percent to 20 percent of their space for recreational facilities in residential projects.

Developers say the rule raised their costs and forced them to charge higher rents or condo fees to residents, who often did not use the facilities. Now, projects that were on hold as developers struggled to find financing are more likely to be built, they say.

The rule applied primarily to residential projects in commercially zoned areas.

Jair Lynch Cos. was one of more than a half-dozen real estate firms that applied for an exemption to the rule.

Jair Lynch is developing a 65,000-square-foot, $20 million retail and condominium project at 14th Street and Florida Avenue called Solea.

Company officials determined that their architectural design left no space to meet the Zoning Commission’s recreational requirement.

“With the current construction costs, it’s really unrealistic,” said Tania Jackson, Jair Lynch’s community policy director. “It would make the project undoable.”

A few years ago, a recreational requirement would have been more practical, she said.

“In the current market, it’s really tough,” Miss Jackson said. “Construction costs have risen exponentially over the last two years. Things that might have seemed minor only a few years ago are major when you factor in the cost of materials. Concrete and steel are expensive.”

Other firms that joined the application to abolish the rule included Greenstein DeLorme & Luchs PC, ICP Partners, Harris Malone Development, Shalom Baranes Architects and Forest City Washington Inc.

Jim Abdo, president of Abdo Development, said the decision to abolish the recreational requirement would encourage development downtown.

“The benefits can be substantial for developers,” Mr. Abdo said. “To get some relief from that requirement can make certain difficult projects move forward.”

Mr. Abdo said he has struggled to figure out how to add recreational facilities to historic buildings he has restored without damaging the original architecture.

“It can make projects difficult to pencil out sometimes,” he said. “When you start adding this requirement, it just makes the underwriting more difficult.”

The exact percentage of space required to be designated as recreational varied with the zoning of each building.

Low-density residential complexes required the most space for fitness centers, swimming pools, walking trails or similar facilities. More than half the recreational space was supposed to be outdoors.

In places where open space was limited, developers often were forced to try to do “creative things on rooftops,” Mr. Abdo said.

In other news …

First lady Laura Bush is scheduled to participate in a ribbon cutting today to mark the completion of a 10-year, $247 million restoration of the U.S. Treasury building next to the White House. Contractors tried to preserve history while updating the building to modern standards, such as with energy-efficient lighting that replicates historical fixtures.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tram [email protected]

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