On November 29, the Friendship Court Advisory Committee took a field trip to Washington, DC to view four different housing developments that are considered relevant to the Friendship Court redevelopment plan. Five resident participants, including two of the youth leaders, three other Friendship Court Advisory Committee members, several Piedmont Housing Alliance board members and staff as well as architects with Grimm + Parker, traveled around the city to get an in-depth look at what the future redevelopment of Friendship Court could include. As the Advisory Committee works towards refining the framework provided by the Master Plan, they are participating in a series of design workshops or charrettes with Grimm + Parker. This tour of several mixed-income developments helped give the resident participants a better understanding of the Friendship Court project, and opportunities for how they may want to live, work, and play in downtown Charlottesville.
The group began their tour at a National Housing Trust-Enterprise site, Monseñor Romero Apartments, located in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of DC. The National Housing Trust-Enterprise, Piedmont Housing Alliance’s partner, gave the group a tour of the property, originally built in 1908. After a five-alarm fire destroyed the apartments in 2008, they were redeveloped with financial help from NHT-Enterprise. All of the Monseñor Romero Apartment units are set aside for households earning no more than 60% of the area median income. The returning residents had rents established based on 30% of a household’s income through an internal subsidy program. The building was renamed Monseñor Romero Apartments after the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador, who was an advocate against poverty and social injustice. Participants enjoyed learning about this story and the commitment to the returning residents, and also enjoyed visiting the rooftop garden with views of northwest Washington, DC.
The second stop on the bus tour took the group to visit a development designed by Grimm + Parker just three years ago called The SeVerna and the SeVerna on K Street, in downtown DC. Situated in the area known as NoMA, it is a multi-generational community made up of two separate buildings accommodating studios, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments, offering affordable and market rate units. The development is located right next to public housing. The buildings, part of a larger master plan for the area, are helping to revitalize a city block between housing, schools, and transportation hubs. At this location, the participants were able to view the interior of one of the two-bedroom apartments and get a feel for the layout. The group embraced the design and scale of the two over two townhome-style units with a front and rear access. They also heard more about life at The SeVerna from a current resident during lunch, giving them a better feel for what life is really like there and in the neighborhood, both before and after the redevelopment.
The next stop was The Summit at St. Martin’s, a 184-unit apartment building in a residential area in Northeast DC that accommodates a unique community of work force and transitional housing with affordable rents. It is a four-story building above a one-story parking garage. While this development has less in common with the proposed plan for Friendship Court, one of the more interesting aspects of this property was its underground parking garage. Seeing this parking option up close gave the group a chance to see how it is secured, accessed, and used for residents and others on a day-to-day basis. There were also outside, above-ground courtyard areas that demonstrated unique uses of space. Some mentioned how much they enjoyed the common areas and other features, such as street-level walk-in units and a café room.
The final stop on the tour was Old Town Commons in Alexandria, comprised of newly constructed affordable and market-rate townhomes. In partnership with the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, EYA redeveloped five city blocks once home to 194 units of aging public housing. The newly-constructed rental homes blend in seamlessly along Old Town’s historic streets, connecting a metro station to the Potomac River. This project achieved LEED certification which has significantly enhanced the living experience for the city’s residents, including central air and heat and in-unit washers and dryers. The scale of this property seemed to be consistent with Charlottesville. This mix of townhomes and multi-family buildings provides renters and home owners with choices in the type of housing that best works for families, singles, and seniors both in terms of design and affordability. Areas of focus in the development of Old Town Commons included interconnected streets and alleys, and walking them helped demonstrate connectivity within the neighborhood.
“The group has a much better understanding now of the proposed project and how it fits in an urban community. They also better understand that they are not alone in helping solve the residential urban condition,” said lead architect Mel Thompson of Grimm + Parker. Mel was very involved in the development of The SeVerna and The SeVerna on K Street and shared much of his first-hand knowledge about working on this project.
Project Manager, Beth Kennan added, “It was just a great opportunity for residents, board members, staff, consultants, and partners to actually come together and view relevant projects together. None of these projects is exactly what the Friendship Court redevelopment will look like, but each featured unique elements, and it was a great visioning opportunity.”
The day after the bus tour, the Advisory Committee participated in a follow up design charrette. This gave them an opportunity to translate their aspirations and observations into constructive dialogue around the site plan for the redevelopment of Friendship Court. Many of them commented on how they realize better now, as a result of the bus tour, how a mixed-income redevelopment is achievable for Friendship Court. The group split up into two groups to work on further developing the different plans to highlight the priorities for the project.
Many thanks to our partners Grimm + Parker, NHT-Enterprise, as well as EYA for these informative and exciting site visits.
In January / February 2018, the committee will review plans derived from design charrettes informed by these site visits. Soon after, discussions with the broader community of Friendship Court residents will take place in order to make sure everyone has a chance to provide input in shaping the new community plan.
For more information, contact Sunshine Mathon at email@example.com.