- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Imagine if “getting to work” meant walking down a flight of stairs. There would be no need to dress for the weather, no need to check the traffic, and you wouldn’t have to wake up early just to get to work on time.

Many folks have dedicated spaces where they work or home offices within their homes, but live/work housing features both a residence and a full-fledged business that has street visibility. An updated take on the historical concept, these mixed-use buildings resemble the typical Main Street of the early 20th century with retail businesses on the sidewalk level and residential units upstairs.

New live/work developments are all the rage in such places as California, and they are slowly picking up steam in the Washington region. Experts say that this type of housing appeals to shop owners as well as artists who need studio space, attorneys with a smaller client list or semiretired professionals who still want a business presence.

Arts District Hyattsville, created by Bethesda-based builder EYA, is home to several live/work units. The community is two miles from the District in Hyattsville and will feature a mix of town homes, retail shops, restaurants and a community center. The newly created Arts District replaces the vacant land left when several auto dealerships closed.

The live/work units have street-level retail space (up to about 648 square feet) with living space above (up to about 2,500 square feet). With Route 1 street frontage, these businesses enjoy high visibility.

Once completed, there will be 13 live/work units. Ten have been built, with one being used as a model, and seven have already sold. According to the Web site for EYA (www.eya.com), a Wyeth model is available for immediate occupancy.

The Wyeth model features a two-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath living space with the option of adding a roof terrace. There is a half bath on the ground floor with the retail space. Prices start from $495,000.

Preston Innerst, vice president of sales and marketing at EYA, said that the units appeal to entrepreneurs who are looking for both a place to work and live. So far, a bookstore, cafe, hair salon, art gallery and design studio are among the types of businesses in the neighborhood.

“I see it [live/work housing] becoming more popular, especially in areas that are destinations themselves,” said Mr. Innerst.

Neil Ashby is looking forward to moving into his live/work space in the Lofts at Del Ray Village in Alexandria. He spent 10 years working at the Recording Industry Association of America in the District as a vice president and now has his own business as a graphic designer.

“My goal was to start my own company,” said Mr. Ashby. “I wondered if I should lease space or work at home.”

Mr. Ashby met Gaver Nichols of Gaver Nichols Architect, who was in the early stages of designing a plan for the site in Alexandria that will be the Lofts at Del Ray Village. Over time, Mr. Ashby got involved in the live/work housing development as a partner.

The development broke ground last week. Mr. Ashby said that buyers have the choice of using the main-level space for commercial or residential purposes.

Mr. Nichols said that the eight-unit building has generated a lot of interest from the community. The three-story development was designed to be mixed use with four residential units on the top two floors and 4,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. The units on the top two floors will have two bedrooms and range from 2,053 to 2,949 square feet of living space.

“Conceptually, we feel that with the ‘greening’ of America and the cost of energy, more people are sympathetic to the environment and look for opportunities where they don’t need to commute,” said Mr. Nichols.

The attractive building will feature soaring 13- to 16-foot ceilings and an aluminum roof.

When doing research for the project, Mr. Nichols said that he looked in small-town-America places (like Leesburg and Charlestown, W.Va.) for examples of buildings that housed both commercial and residential life. He said that the older live/work buildings would not meet the building or zoning codes of today.

Mr. Nichols said it took seven years to get the building permits and project approved for the Lofts at Del Ray, adding that the city of Alexandria rewrote the zoning guidelines to allow for the live/work concept.

“Mixed-use design is popular, but it’s difficult to finance and get [plans and permits] approved because there is a lot to consider,” said Mr. Nichols.

Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders, said that energy efficiencies could be achieved by more live/work developments.

“We should also keep in mind that while 40 hours (per week) of telecommuting might not be the norm, telecommuting one day per week is becoming common,” said Mr. Melman.

He added that the topic reminds him of President Obama’s recent remark about enjoying “living above the store.”

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