Petworth: where the development climate is anything but Frosty.

In a district of rapidly escalating land values, the natural tendency is for extrusion. Buildings start to stretch upward, growing taller and taller to cram value into a patch of land that, even absent an edifice, is worth a lot. Despite the legal limitations to building heights, Washington DC still demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly. It is a city where the land costs a fortune, and, as a result, we encounter street walls with bigger and bolder profiles.IMG_8025In many respects, this shift is most visible in neighborhoods that, until recently, lacked many buildings of great size, like Petworth.IMG_8027

 

In its own way, Petworth operates as a sort immediate bedroom community to the denser, more commercialized Columbia Heights to the immediate south…which is both a blessing and curse. Columbia Heights is unaffordable to most single-person households looking for a modest rowhouse; Petworth served as a lower-cost reprieve, until recently. But its close proximity to metro stops, the quality of the housing stock, and its general convenience within the DC metro as a whole have made it one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. It’s not quite cool, but it’s a notch down (which in some ways makes it cooler). And the formerly blighted commercial district along Georgia Avenue is manifesting this rising demand with a slew of new apartment buildings.IMG_8028The escalation is has been so rapid and extreme, in fact, that it’s hard to know how to react to this outlier.IMG_8026A standalone Wendy’s with drive-thru and parking lot. A holdover from when Petworth could barely attract any investment. The Wendy’s is that much more remarkable when one considers the context.Petworth Wendy'sOf course it’s next to a big new multi-family. Of course it sits on a corner parcel along the prominent commercial street. Of course it’s the only single-story building left in the area. Of course there’s another big mixed-use apartment directly on the opposite corner.IMG_8034With a grocery store no less!

 

And of course the owner of this specific Wendy’s—presumably a franchise—is sitting on a gold mine. What seems like a wasted opportunity is just brilliant speculation on this person’s part: he or she can continue to wait it out several more years, then sell when the going’s great, and he or she knows it. Within five years—probably less—the Wendy’s will be gone, and we’ll witness a continuation of the visual style already present in the buildings that abut it.IMG_8029At this point, it’s minor amusement for passers-by. So obvious that we’re dealing with speculation that you don’t have to be a blog-wonk to notice it. But you can rely on the fact that a blog-wonk fussbudget will take the time to point it out.

 

10 thoughts on “Petworth: where the development climate is anything but Frosty.

  1. Stephen Padre

    Petworth is our ‘hood, and that Wendy’s is almost a stone’s throw from our house. But we avoid it like the plague because the service is so awful there. I’d be in favor of anything that got rid of the Wendy’s.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Judging from the condition of the exterior in one of these photos, the owner isn’t putting too much new money into it. It looks like a Wendy’s from 1983 as well. Chances are it won’t be long for this world–and the owner will promptly rake in the dough.

      Reply
  2. John Von K

    Ever since moving back from California, I’ve been continually struck by the parallels between DC and LA. This is a prime example, a phenomenon common to both cities that I find really appealing.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      You know El Lay far better than I do (probably DC too), but market demand is the thread that runs so true. No doubt the busy commercial corridors in resurgent areas of LA are watching drive-thrus get replaced by multi-story, mixed-use housing.

      Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Wow, that one still uses the old faux-mansard roof style that was ubiquitous in the 80s and 90s. The lot might be too small–and land values not high enough (at least compared to Washington DC) to justify demo and rebuilding of a four-story apartment building. And, if I recall correctly, that McDonald’s did bang-up business back when I lived nearby.

      Reply
      1. Chris B

        It did when I lived across the street. As did the one-story Roy Rogers a block down.

        But when I lived there, the block looked mostly like the storefront-on-rowhouse immediately to the right (east) of McD’s, and some of it was already parking lot. (I think Smokey Joe’s had been in that block at one point.) Then someone built a small commercial strip that had a PNB bank and old-style CVS between there and Roy’s.

        Now the 70s strip plus a few more lots are covered in a huge urban mass. And the old Roy’s site has a brand-new 6-story building.

        So it wouldn’t surprise me if Mickey D’s and the rowhouse next door got rolled up…and the Mickey D’s could always get a long-term lease on the ground floor in some kind of creative equity swap that the specialists at the W-school would probably structure for a fee… 🙂

        Reply
        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          You could be on to something. Unlike a lot of McDonald’s in more auto-oriented cities, this one probably doesn’t earn a sizable chunk of revenue from drive-thru purchases. It may not even have a drive through (even though it has the architecture of a suburban McD’s). I could easily see a Wharton/planning grad turn that into a creative redevelopment proposal.

          Reply

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