ULI Washington News

ULI Washington Panel Provides Recommendations for Brainard Warner Adaptive Reuse in Kensington, MD

A Project Analysis Session (PAS) was held on November 3, 2017 at the Town of Kensington’s Town Hall.  The sponsor of the PAS was the Montgomery County Department of Parks (MNCPPC) which is the current steward of the 4.5-acre property.  The site includes two historic buildings that had been used as a nursing home facility for about 50 years.   The original house on the site was built in 1891 by Brainard Warner, the founder of the town of Kensington and a significant figure in the development of Montgomery County and Washington D.C.  Mr. Warner used the property as his summer home.  There is also a 1910 carriage house on the site.  Two wings were added to the original house and it was used as a nursing home from the mid 1950s through 2005.

The Parks Department bought the site in 2005-2006 through the Legacy Open Space program to preserve the historic landscape that has served as de facto public parkland for decades, and to preserve the historic buildings by providing a public benefit through their adaptive reuse.

Initial efforts to find a use for the historic buildings in this park focused on finding a private partner to fund the capital costs of rehabilitation in return for a no-cost or low-cost lease on the buildings.  After significant coordination with the community over a two-year period, and RFP was published in February 2008 to seek a private partner for an appropriate reuse of the buildings.  Despite extensive outreach efforts and significant verbal interest, the lengthy search process did not result in any viable applicants that met the RFP criteria. The Planning Board instructed the Parks staff to pursue more public use.  In 2011, a Facility Plan was created for a Cultural and Natural Resources Center and offices for the Parks department. The plan included archaeology and aquatics labs, classrooms, parks staff offices, and community meeting room. This plan was unanimously approved by the Planning Board.  However, the County Council declined to fund the public use, noting the planned Wheaton Headquarters building under construction for County agencies precludes the location of departmental satellite uses.

Between 2011 and 2016, the historically non-contributing nursing home wings were demolished and much of the exterior of the historic building was rehabilitated. The Parks Department has continued to seek uses and financing for putting the buildings into productive occupancy and use again.  There are specific redevelopment constraints including a Maryland Historical Trust easement, state bond bill funding that precludes a purely private use, and lack of direct connection to Metro, Marc train and bus routes nearby.  ULI Washington was engaged by the Department to bring together a group of multidisciplinary, market-based experts to review the status and future possibilities for the property. 

The following individuals comprised the panel:

– Andrew Brown, Stanford Properties, LC

– Brian Cullen, Keane Enterprises

– Juanita Hardy, ULI Creative Placemaking Project

– Richard Perlmutter, Argo Development Company

– Gilles Stucker, DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development

– Dave Vos, The Alexander Company

After touring the property and receiving a presentation from the Parks Department staff and participating in a Q & A session with staff and neighbors of the property, the panelists spent several hours formulating a set of recommendations for the sponsor.

Three specific options were recommended as viable for the site including

  • Housing (market rate, 55+ independent and assisted, or a bed and breakfast)
  • Multi-disciplinary Arts Center (Theater, gallery, arts studios, dance and education)
  • Low Impact Office (foundation offices, embassy residence, co-working space, health and wellness)
  • Co-working space
  • Health and wellness

The housing option is considered the most viable from an economic perspective.  Housing on the site would require an addition of new construction to make it pay for itself (similar footprint to the previous nursing home wings).  Housing meets a demand in the County and region for workforce housing and it is relatively easy to finance, with adequate funding sources, including the potential for use of historic tax credits.  There is an opportunity to target specified populations such as veterans or teachers to meet existing needs.  If developed as housing, the building does not need to be retrofitted to meet ADA standards.

For the Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center use, there would need to be an outside source of financial support and an outside operator.  This use would satisfy the growing needs in the county for artist studios and performance space.  This use is permitted under current zoning and provides a programmatic connection with the existing library.  The Carriage House can be used as a seasonal stage or black box theater, and there could be complementary uses for youth and senior activity programming, and for use as a venue for instruction.  Sources of financial support were identified including ArtPlace America, NEA Our Town Grants, the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery, ArtSpace (a nonprofit developer), the Maryland State Arts Council, or a foundation (Cafritz, others).

Low Impact Office was another recommended use although funding may be a challenge for this use.  Such uses as a co-working space or incubator would be ideally suited for the space, utilizing the main house and carriage house, with no addition required.  Other potential uses could be offices for some of the many foundations located in Montgomery County, a consortium of nonprofit organizations in a collaborative workspace, or a local government teleworking hub.

A critical emphasis of the panel was the need to create a process to manage the disposition and reuse of the property, specifically engaging a process manager, either in the government or as a consultant, who will be experienced in all aspects of real estate development.  Prior to releasing the RFP, the County should entitle the property so that bidders are clear on the parameters of development and the zoning is in place. The RFP should include a rough financial and feasibility analysis, and the parameters of how a public private partnership would work to develop the property.  The work should be coordinated with the legislative and the executive branches of County government; the expertise of the executive branch in real estate disposition, management, and marketing should be tapped as part of the process.  Marketing techniques for the RFP should include conferences, Preservation magazine, commercial brokerages, and a mailing list for developers and professionals involved in public private partnerships throughout the country.

The final information provided by the panel was a variety of financing options and incentives that can be used for the redevelopment.  One funding source could be federal and state historic tax credits (would need a qualifying lease and improvements would have to be approved by the Park Service and SHPO. Other possibilities are Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), CDBG and HOME, operational subsidies such as VASH and County programs.  The panel cautioned that there are legislative risks possible to some of these sources because of Federal tax reform proposals now in Congress.

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