Tuesday, January 17, 2012

new DTSS apartment building includes live-work units

Last month, County Councilmember George Leventhal wrote an op-ed in the Gazette asking whether new development accommodate small businesses. One way to help small businesses is by providing low-cost work spaces.

1150 Ripley Street
The Solaire, a new apartment building in downtown Silver Spring, will include "live-work" units. Rendering and plan courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Board.

The Solaire, a new apartment tower being developed by Bozzuto and Washington Property Company that's going up at 1150 Ripley Street in the new "neighborhood" of the Ripley District," will offer nine "live-work" apartments. They may not be cheap, but at least they'll save tenants the cost of finding a separate place to do business. After all, you already live there.

Live-work units are exactly what they sound like: homes with a dedicated space for working. Though they're often found in converted loft buildings, they can be built new as well. Arts District Hyattsville, a townhouse development under construction in Prince George's County, has several homes with a shop on the ground floor. In the District, a new building called the Brookland Artspace Lofts provides apartments with dedicated "studio" spaces at subsidized rents to working artists.

Each of the nine live-work units in the Solaire has a bedroom, a kitchen, and a large "live-work" space that looks like a giant living room. They also have high ceilings, concrete floors (not as cozy as home, but hard to mess up) and since they're located on the ground floor, each unit will have a direct entrance to Ripley Street, allowing customers to march right in. The layouts are interesting: the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen are at the rear of each apartment and can be closed off with sliding doors, leaving the rest of the space open for work.

The website describes these units as "ideal for artists, entrepreneurs, and other soulful types," which I admit makes me a little queasy. The Solaire hasn't set its rental rates yet, but judging from the rents of other new buildings in downtown Silver Spring, I can't imagine artists having the means to live here.

Another person that won't live here are shopkeepers and restauranteurs. These units aren't set up for retail, as building codes would require fully separated living and working spaces, along with handicap-accessible bathrooms for customers. And that might be fine. Last fall, Charles Nulsen of developer Washington Property Company, which is building The Solaire, told TBD that there wasn't a "critical mass" of people on Ripley Street to support retail shops anyway. Having live-work units seems like a nice compromise: it provides a venue for small businesses that don't rely on foot traffic, while giving people a reason to wander over there anyway, providing more "eyes on the street," an effective crime deterrent.

Patio, The Silverton
Outdoor patios at the Silverton help bring life to this stretch of East-West Highway.

Having apartments that directly open to the sidewalk also make for more interesting streets. One building that already does this is the Silverton condominium on East-West Highway. It's fun to walk past this building, admiring the gardens and decorations people put on their patios, and say "hi" if anyone's outside.

Downtown Silver Spring benefits from having a diversity of housing options. Providing live-work units is a great way to support local businesses while creating more interesting neighborhoods, and I hope to see more of them in the future.

A side note: check out these "incredible panoramic views" taken from atop the Solaire. This may not be news to those of y'all who live in a DTSS high-rise, but as someone who no longer resides in a "deluxe apartment in the sky," I get excited by them. You can see the new Silver Spring Transit Center is well on its way to completion.


Joe said...

Well on its way to completion. ;-) I get jokes!

Woody Brosnan said...

Another advantage is that a person who is truly self-employed can deduct a portion of his rent or taxes as a home office deduction. So that might help with some of the cost. This is a very smart idea for Silver Spring.

Evan Glass said...

This is great news. If there's one thing small business owners in Silver Spring need, it is more daytime foot traffic.