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97 Blog Posts Since 2003
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Perhaps the third time will be the charm for the long-empty lot at 801 Virginia, as in recent weeks the bureaucratic wheels have been turning on a new plan to put 22 condos and 3,000 square feet of ground-floor retail in a four-story building on the southeast corner of 8th and Virginia.
Both Urban Turf and Capitol Hill Corner have reported on the plans by Northfield Development, which include 16 one-bedroom units, three studios, and three two-bedroom units, along with 11 ground-floor parking spaces tucked in behind the ground floor. Both the parking entrance and the resident entrance will be on L Street.
Developers apparently told a supportive ANC 6B that they anticipate breaking ground in March 2016, making it a busy time for that stretch of Virginia, which is currently closed for the Virginia Avenue Tunnel reconstruction.
In late October the Historic Preservation Review Board found the plans to be "generally compatible" with the Capitol Hill Historic District, though the developers are being asked to "refine the design so that it has more of the character of Capitol Hill, including a weightier base, an attention to details and materials, [...] and more substantial corners."
If one takes a long stroll through the JDLand archives, one can read about how the land was bought in the summer of 2005 (not a typo) for $2.5 million with plans for a mixed residential/office/retail building advertised in 2007 as "The Admiral." The former gas station seen here that stood on the site was demolished in early 2006 (#34 in the Demolished Buildings gallery), but the lot remained unbuilt. Then in the fall of 2008 it reappeared as a planned office building, which actually got BZA approval before also not moving forward. Then the land was purchased by Northfield in July, for what property records say is $1.825 million.
While for a few years the tunnel construction will be yet another hurdle (literally) to getting visitors at the main section of Barracks Row to cross under the freeway, the opening of Ziaafat Grill as well as the arrivals Any Minute Now of Las Placitas and the Brig at 8th and L plus potential plans by the National Community Church for the Blue Castle could perhaps be the first tugs southward that Lower Barracks Row has been looking for. We Shall See.
As for the condo lineup in the neighborhood, the list of potential projects is finally starting to grow, with PN Hoffman's 140-unit building at 4th and Tingey (Yards "Parcel O") looking to be the first out of the gate with construction expected to start next year. The Jair Lynch Companies have said that a portion of his project to fill in the Half Street Hole will be condos, and of course there's the possibility of a condo building on Square 767 in the Capper redevelopment footprint. And 10 Van Street is being "contemplated" as condos, as is the MRP building slated for the Navy Yard Metro station Chiller Plant site at Half and L. It will be interesting to see what comes to fruition.... (If you are keeping track at home, the last [well, only] condo building to be built in the neighborhood was Velocity, which opened in 2009. The co-ops at Capitol Hill Tower opened in 2006.)
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More posts: 801va, Development News, 8th Street

* LOWER LAS PLACITAS: Capitol Hill Corner reports that the owners of Las Placitas told ANC 6B that they hope to open in their new location at 8th and L Streets SE on Nov. 1. The space will have 40 seats inside and another 38 along the building's north side.
* 'CAPERS: Excerpts from the one-woman play "'Capers," about how residents of Capper/Carrollsburg dealt with the housing project's demolition, is being performed tonight (Oct. 15) at 7 pm at 400 M St. SE, hosted by the Arthur Capper Carollsburg Community Village. You can also catch the entire play four nights next week at the Forum Theatre in Silver Spring.
* DSS BARRY CEREMONY: The Display Ship Barry isn't actually leaving just yet, but on Saturday Oct. 17 the Navy is holding a departure ceremony at 10 am inside the fences of the Navy Yard. See the announcement for details, including how to get into the base if you wish to attend. It was announced in February that the ship will be dismantled and removed from its home along the Anacostia Riverwalk.
* WATCH. BOX.: A "watch box" (guard shack) that stood as part of the sentry post at the Navy Yard's 8th Street entrance from 1853ish until 1905ish and was passed through by Abraham Lincoln just hours before his assassination has been restored and formally ribbon-cut on Oct. 8 after its return earlier this year from a 110-year stay at Indian Head. (Though unfortunately it's on display on a portion of the grounds that most of us will never see.)
* SODOSOPA: South Park took on gentrification last week, with the new neighborhood of SoDoSoPa, the Lofts at SoDoSoPa, and the Residences at the Lofts at SoDoSoPa. And there was this: "What this town needs is a Whole Foods. It will instantly validate us as a town that cares about stuff." (And yet you people still refuse to adopt my new name for this neighborhood, Near Capitol Ballpark River Yards, #NeCaBaRY.)
* BRIDGE BEFORE AND AFTER: DDOT's historic photos Tumblr recently included a shot from 1966 of the early construction of the downriver 11th Street Bridge span. And I realized I have a photo taken from a very similar location as the span was dismantled in 2012 and its offspring was built. (The piers remain in the water, though, as the potential underpinnings of the 11th Street Bridge Park.)

Perhaps I haven't had my ear to the right parts of the ground, so it's a bit of a shock to see these photos, passed along by the official JDLand stringer this morning, announcing that Ziaafat Grill and Restaurant is now open for business at 1102 8th Street SE, in the old Levi's Port Cafe space and next door to the eventual new home for Las Placitas.
The menu shows a lineup of Indian food, with a buffet at all times as well as chicken tikka, kabobs, lamp chops, biryani, and karahi. And nan, of course.
I do not know the hours (not seeing a phone number to call on the menu posted in the window), so if anyone feels like heading over there for lunch and coming back with a report, you'll get a JDLand Gold Star. UPDATE: The BID says the hours are 10 am to 10 pm daily.
(I'll update here as I get more info, but didn't want this dish to be served cold, as it were. Also, the "Muy Pronto" sign in the Las Placitas window is pretty funny.)
If you never went to Levi's, you may not know that it's not exactly a spacious interior, so be prepared for more of a carryout option than fine sit-down dining.
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More posts: 8th Street, Restaurants/Nightlife, ziaafat

It was back in July that the Barracks Row folks tweeted out that 8th Street mainstay restaurant Las Placitas would be moving to the old Quizno's space at 8th and M SE--but now it's being reported by PoPville that the new location will actually be the old Chicken Tortilla space at 1100 8th St., SE, on the southeast corner of 8th and L.
And if I had just walked on that side of the street during a long photo-taking excursion on Sunday that included multiple shots at 8th and L, I would have seen the signs in the window, but at least the high resolution of my camera can now confirm that the signs were/are there.
This spot is one block south of the freeway, and let's call it three blocks south of Las Placitas's existing home, which will eventually become expansion space for Matchbox.

I cannot tell you a thing other than what is contained within this tweet from Barracks Row Main Street, so I will just repeat it:
"Very happy that Las Placitas is staying on Barracks Row! They'll move this fall to the old Quiznos space at 8th and M on lower 8th Street."
Las Placitas with its Mexican fare is of course one of the mainstays of 8th Street, but it had been announced a few weeks back that its lease was not being renewed, and that next-door neighbor Matchbox would be expanding into the space.
As for the new location, there hasn't been much going on since Quizno's left a few years back, and other restaurants in the 1100 block of 8th--Chicken Tortilla and Levi's Port Café--have been closed for a while as well.
This space, on the northeast corner of 8th and M, is immediately to the north of the Navy Yard's Latrobe Gate, and is also across the street from the Blue Castle, which was bought late last year by the National Community Church. Plus, one block to the north is where The Brig will open, someday. And this may be especially good news for the eventual tenants of the Lofts at Capitol Quarter, now under construction at 7th and L, who will have a sit-down restaurant a block away.

On the northwest corner of 8th and L streets, SE, work is proceeding on the space that will become the beer garden now known as The Brig.
As we found out a few months ago, the design has been scaled back from a restaurant with a roof deck and patio to a more typical beer garden look--a big outdoor space with tables along with a "service" building that has no seating.
As you can see, there is definite progress on the service building, with a mid-year-ish opening looking to be doable.
The driveway at the west side of the lot will allow for food trucks to sell their wares.
The photos give a feel for the amount of patio acreage as well, and show that some noontime shade will come from a group of trees along L Street, though they could maybe benefit from a bit of a haircut (to, ahem, spruce the look up a little).
You can read my past posts on The Brig to catch up on the long and winding road to this point. And this group of before-and-afters shows the lot over the past not-quite-10-years. (And I can't decide if I need to add the corrugated tin shack visible behind the stockade fence in the early shots to my Demolished Buildings Gallery.)
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It was a blockbuster piece of news a few weeks ago that the National Community Church had decided to buy the Navy Yard Car Barn, aka the Blue Castle, at 770 M St. SE.
There hasn't been any official statement about the purchase from the church, but recently its lead pastor, Mark Batterson, agreed to reply by e-mail to a list of questions I sent his way about how this move came about and what the church may be envisioning for the landmark building. (Hyperlinks added by me.)
JD: How did the idea of buying the Blue Castle end up on your radar?
MB: Our team had been actively seeking ways to build out our Virginia Ave property, but we’ve been in a holding pattern because of the CSX project. When we heard that the Blue Castle was for sale, it made sense. We just had to make the math work. After quite extensive research with a development team, we came to the conclusion that it will be easier, faster, and perhaps less expensive, to build on top of the castle than it would be to build on Virginia Avenue.
We feel very fortunate to have gotten the contract. We know this is an incredibly iconic building that is interwoven into our city's history. We hope to steward it well.
JD: What are your plans for the building? i.e., Will it be purely uses for your church, or will the neighborhood see some sort of benefit as well? Also, do you have any plans to expand the building itself? How much additional square footage could that potentially include?
MB: We plan to develop the Blue Castle property by building what NCC needs on the roof deck of the existing structure. The key components of the build-out are a multi-purpose performance space with 1500-2000 seats, as well as a central location for our staff. The performance space will be designed for seven day a week use as a music venue and/or theater space. We will assess community needs to make sure the castle serves the best and highest use. We have some preliminary ideas that we think the community will be excited about, but we need to get a little further down the planning road. One thing we know for sure is that we’d like to build out another Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse, like our coffeehouse at 201 F Street, NE.
JD: What about the existing tenants?
MB: The existing tenants have a lease through July of 2018. We have not made any decisions beyond that, but our goal is for the space to serve community needs. Part of our process will be listening to the needs and goals of neighbors, as well as figuring out what best compliments NCC. We will explore a wide variety of uses, along with current uses; in determining it's future.
JD: What sort of timeline are you looking at for making it into what you are hoping it will be?
MB: Until the architectural designs are completed, we can't estimate an accurate timeline. But we have already initiated some conceptual design work. So the wheels are turning. National Community Church continues to outgrow our spaces, so we need it as soon as possible. We also know that there is a timeline and protocol to follow. This is an iconic building, and we want to make sure we get it right.
JD: How does this impact your previously announced plans for your land along Virginia Avenue?
MB: We view the Blue Castle as a better path forward in addressing spacing needs because development of the property is not directly impacted by CSX. The building is also three times larger than Virginia Avenue. This will help us move toward our 2020 vision of 20 expressions of NCC by 2020.
Ultimately, our goal is to master plan both the Blue Castle and Virginia Avenue. Because we own both properties, it positions us to have a more coordinated development.
JD: And, finally... What. About. the. Blue?
MB: Honestly, we hope that someday the Blue Castle will just be the Castle. Of course, we have to factor in the financial impact. And we'l obviously need to work with DCRA and HPRB to make a determination on any changes to the exterior of the Blue Castle.

Monday's news that "The Brig", the long-planned beer garden at 8th and L, is moving forward caught certain observers flat-footed, especially certain observers who had lost the thread of the project's long road through the city's historic preservation review process, especially as it reappeared during 2013. (Though, to be fair, certain observers were in 2013 distracted by other circumstances.)
But in reading various documents more closely, the equally big news is that the project has gone from a restaurant with a roof deck and patio to a design that's more in keeping with the idea of a real "beer garden" -- the design that will now be built is of a big outdoor space with tables and room to stand around, plus a small "service" building that has no seating.
In 2011, site owners Mark Brody and Alan Gaunoux had planned what I described at the time as a "one-story building with a roof deck, in addition to the proposed ground-level summer garden. The look of the building (which is closer to 1 1/2 stories high) is very industrial, with large multi-paned windows and lots of "wood rainscreening" on the exterior and the roof deck."
The Historic Preservation Review Board's staff report in Feb. 2011 referred to the design's "somewhat chaotic and unfinished appearance," but the commissioners felt that it was on the right track and "was very close" to achieving acceptance. The next month, the owners returned with a "substantially simplified" design, moving to a brick veneer and other changes. This version appeared on the board's consent calendar, with final approval delegated to the board's staff.
And then we fast-forward to April of 2013, when Brody and Gaunoux returned to the HPRB with a scaled-back plan after apparently having "reevaluated their finances." The HPRB staff report described the new version as "largely an open-air 'use' of the existing lot, with a smaller service building rather than the indoor restaurant space previously proposed."
The new design included a one-story stucco building along the northern edge of the property, just for restrooms, storage, a small kitchen, and the bar opening up to the garden. There would be a roof-type structure projecting 10 feet southward to cover the bar area, and a paved area along the east edge of the site that could provide space for a food truck and trash collection. The bulk of the site would be "paved" with flagstone, and there would be a 6'6" "ornamental" metal fence surrounding the site, plus a central pole anchoring string lights that would provide illumination. All of which, according to the board's staff, would improve on the "visually disadvantageous" parking lot now on the site, as seen in the above photograph from March of 2014.
The service building became a focus, with the Historic Preservation Office having "discouraged the applicants from proposing trailers, shipping containers, or portable toilets." In June, a revision of the revised design updated the service building including signage and new fixed shutters on the building's blank wall along 8th Street, plus a "decorative parapet" and cornice along the roof line, similar to what is seen on several of the one-story buildings along Barracks Row.
On July 11, 2013, the board approved these concept plans, and by mid-August a building permit had been applied for, with a scope of work described as "a prepared food shop with an accessory fast food establishment (food truck) for 210 seats and 399 occupants." That permit took nearly 15 months and numerous corrections to get its approvals, with the permit finally being issued last week and the owner saying that he expects to break ground soon.
(And this huge summary doesn't even get into the Class CT Tavern liquor license fight back in 2011!)
So, all in all, it does sound like if you're one who likes your beer garden to be heavy on the "garden," this will be right up your alley. It also sounds like it's perhaps starting small, without too much of an investment, to see whether it catches on.
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WBJ's Michael Neibauer, with his teeth as always deeply sunken into the news of Lower 8th Street, is reporting what I had heard within the past few days but could not confirm, that the National Community Church is buying the old Navy Yard Card Barn, aka the Blue Castle, at 770 M Street SE.
Madison Marquette, the current owners of the Blue Castle, put it on the market about a year ago, after purchasing it in 2007 from PREI, which had bought it in 2005.
WBJ reports that the sale price is expected to be between $25 million and $35 million, with the church benefitting from a $4.5 million donation to help fund the purchase, along with income from existing leases for the Castle's remaining tenants to help cover the $1.5 million-a-year mortgage.
As you may recall, NCC went on a Lower 8th buying spree back in 2010 and 2011, snapping up 10 lots on the block bounded by Virginia, 7th, 8th, and K, including the old Miles Glass building at 8th and Virginia, which was demolished in 2012. (Their holdings do not include the lot on the corner of 8th and L, where "The Brig" beergarden is going to go.) The church also owns and operates out of the former People's Church a few blocks to the north, on Barracks Row.
When making the Square 906 purchases in 2010 and 2011, it was with an eye toward perhaps some combination of coffee house, performance space, and church offices, though no designs or plans have ever publicly begun moving forward.
The church's Virginia Avenue lots are also right on the front lines of the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel project--and back in August the Post quoted NCC head Mark Batterson as saying, "It’s been difficult to take the first step because we don’t know exactly what or when CSX will build and how that will affect us." Which, alongside today's news, does make one wonder about the NCC-related future of those properties.
WBJ says that Batterson told his congregation that the church "hopes to tack on several new floors" to the building--though I have no doubt that that will be a festive trip through the historic preservation review process, along with the Navy giving the stink-eye from across M Street.

A truly unexpected piece of news has just come across the transom, via WBJ: Apparently a permit was issued Friday that will allow the start of construction on the long-planned beer garden at 8th and L, SE.
It will be called "The Brig," and will seat 210 and serve 299, and property owner Alan Gaunoux told WBJ that he "expects to break ground next week." I believe the seating is configured as 99 indoor seats and another 200 outside. (see update, below)
This project has been so dormant that I haven't written a post about it since November of 2011. I thought it was still languishing in the Historic Preservation Review Board process, but apparently all systems must be go, though, as WBJ says, "early versions of the development were scaled back[.]"
You can see the rendering from back in 2011 and read the multiple posts on the project's early days on my project page, though I don't know how much it resembles what will actually be coming. It is still apparently a one-story structure, with a bar, and some food, and perhaps some live music.
UPDATE: I will write another post on this in a few days--I'm looking at documentation that indicates this is definitely a very far scaled back operation in terms of a "building" from what was being looked at in 2011. Puts the "garden" in beergarden.
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