MV+A Gets Deals Done – Entitlements – Part 2

DESIGN BRIEF | August 2019

MV+A Gets Deals Done – Entitlements – Part 2

Expanding on our journey through entitlement enlightenment, let’s take a look at how the entitlement process has shaped aspects of some MV+A projects.

East Liberty, Pittsburgh, PA

The project site’s odd configuration, besides being hard to develop, swaddled an interior neighborhood park – a curious and not uncommon feature of planning in the East Liberty neighborhood. The project site and adjoining interior park parcels required reshaping to work better with today’s development standards while delivering an improved park experience.

East Liberty | Pittsburgh, PA
View from Penn Avenue and South Saint Clair Street.

The first few solutions unfortunately did not win any fans. Matters worsened and the courts got involved. Mediation was then suggested to find a workable solution that would help retain millions of dollars of investment in the community. The development team entered mediation along with members of the public, countless neighborhood groups, and the city planning department.  MV+A assisted the team for several months of debates and discussion helping lead to a plan that allowed viable development to have a shot, while also improving access to the neighborhood park. With mediation wrapped up, the plan won PLDP (Preliminary Land Development Plan) approval followed by FLDP (Final Land Development Plan) approval for Phase I. Phase I, featuring a Whole Foods Market and approximately 260,000sf of Office space is close to breaking ground. What seemed like an endless couple of months in mediation is resulting in a real-life project that everyone involved can be proud of.  Being patient, having an open mind and making use of all the opportunities on the table was certainly the best way forward for the East Liberty entitlement process.


Click here for a brief overview of the project.

East Liberty | Pittsburgh, PA
New site plan concentrating development along Penn Avenue with the internal park daylighting along Euclid street and a newly introduced South Saint Clair Street and Eva Street creating urban sized city blocks. New site plan layout concentrating development along Penn Avenue with the internal park daylighting along Euclid street.

Many jurisdictions are requiring greater oversight for design on practically all projects – for example, Baltimore County’s Design Review Panel process or Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s oversight to ensure viable additions to their jurisdiction. Some developments trigger the requirement for entitlements when they are sited in specific locations, overlay districts, or are of a specific size or level of intensity, prompting local jurisdictions to want additional oversight of the design and planning. Generally, locales want to understand what public benefits a project will provide in return for added density. The paths to realizing projects vary depending on the jurisdictions, and they in turn determine how the design team approaches the entitlements phase of the project.

Crossroads at Towson Row, Towson MD

Oversight and approval by Baltimore County’s Design Review Panel is required for practically every project in the county. The objectives of the panel are to directly improve design quality and to allow members of the public and the committee to have a say in the design and development of their community. The process involves constant communication and numerous meetings with Baltimore County’s Planning department with the goal of a successful presentation to the Design Review Panel. These earlier meetings with the Planning department provide a unique test to the design and planning of the project while also understanding the County’s aspirations for a particular site.

The Towson Row project is comprised of a number of buildings with MV+A’s Crossroads building featuring a Whole Foods Market, other retail, and rental apartments. The Planning department focused on accessibility around and between the buildings to allow for better integration into the Downtown neighborhood. Also of concern was a historic railroad abutment at an important corner of the building and the development team’s solution to integrate such an element. The project received Design Review Panel approval with a requirement that the development team continue working with the Planning department. This follow-up allows MV+A to present additional details about the presented design and continues to allow the county to have a role in ensuring the design intent is carried through to final construction. The project is currently being detailed and is due to break ground in the last quarter of 2019. Designing and building a project in Baltimore County involves an ongoing effort, with the participation and willingness of all parties involved, so that the completed project effectively meets the goals of the community for that project.


Click here for a brief overview of the project.

Public spaces, amenities and design are a focus of Baltimore County's Design Review Panel

Broad and Washington, Falls Church, VA

The project located at the intersection of ‘main’ and ‘main’ in Falls Church was required to go through entitlements to allow for 1) mixed-use development that 2) required portions of the project to go over the height limit. The entitlement process in Falls Church takes the development team down a lengthy, but well-defined path that includes city council meetings, boards and committees, site walks, meetings with neighbors, and presentations to the general public. As of today, this intersection is primarily known for traffic passing thru rather than as an important destination. MV+A felt strongly that this would be a chance to change the narrative and recapture this intersection as an active, pedestrian oriented, urban destination. The design and program followed suit to put this vision into play.

Broad & Washington | Fall Church, VA
Broad & Washington | Fall Church, VA

The development team received a long list of comments at every stage of the entitlement process. Some of the comments challenged MV+A to find a way to provide a public gathering space or plaza, and others tasked us to reduce the impact of the project on the surrounding single-family properties. Considering the challenges of the tight site, the development team responded by converting a raised private courtyard into a publicly accessible plaza. Subsequent meetings with council members, city staff, boards and committees improved accessibility, visibility and connections to the plaza from various destinations around the project. Working with the immediate neighbors, several solutions were proposed for the massing of the building, with the development team accepting a neighbor’s suggestion to flip the courtyard to face the neighborhood thereby presenting a softer edge. The strategy the development team ended up following at Broad and Washington was to take a hard look at what MV+A initially planned and designed and allow those assets to be shaped by the larger population for the greater good of the community.


Click here for a brief overview of the project.

Before/After: Private courtyards become public-access plazas and courtyards flip to face the neighborhood

Lessons learned – The opportunity to shape projects can arrive at any time and sometimes from the unlikeliest of places. The best strategy is to keep an open mind and look for solutions that have traction with the larger audience while also satisfying the goals of the development. Every single time MV+A has the opportunity to meet members of the planning committee, neighborhood groups, or the general public is an opportunity to hear critiques and meet challenges of the plan on the drawing board.

Featured Employee – Kai Hu

Kai Hu, LEED Green Assoc., ASAI, joined MV+A in 2016 with over twenty years of national and international experience in mixed-use and planning. He has helped guide MV+A’s success as a Senior Architectural Designer, and his work can be seen in projects such as The Shops at Penn Branch, Liberty Place, and Rock Spring Center retail.

The story behind the photo:

In this photo, I was standing in front of a painting that I did for a studio project at Notre Dame, in which I had to design a new courtyard for the Bamante-designed Tempietto in Rome. I used the figure of Euclid in Raphael’s painting, School of Athens, in my rendering – this created another layer, as Raphael was a student of Bramante and actually used Bramante as a model to paint Euclid.”

What inspires you as an architect?:

Like most people of my generation in China, my parents largely chose my career path for me. Fortunately, this profession fits me well. Since childhood, I have loved all kinds of natural things around me, from plants to animals, and my inspiration for the built environment is our natural environment. Where I was in Beijing in the 1970’s was rural compared to today’s urbanization, so I still had opportunities to enjoy and memorize those beautiful natural things.”

NEWS   |   August 27, 2019

Washington, DC

McMillan Sand Filtration | Washington, DC demolition

Opponents of the long-stalled McMillan Sand Filtration Plant redevelopment are furiously insisting that demolition has started at the site — but District officials say that is not the case.

Activists fighting the project, one of the most delayed development efforts in D.C. history, spotted construction equipment at the McMillan property last week and began circulating emails and news releases claiming that it marked the beginning of efforts to tear down historic buildings on the 25-acre, city-owned property at Michigan Avenue and First Street NW.

Opponent Friends of McMillan Park said it asked for a court injunction aimed at blocking any demolition work on the site, arguing that any work should be delayed until its copious legal challenges are fully resolved. The D.C. Court of Appeals issued a key ruling in July that resolved one of the largest outstanding legal obstacles to the project, but opponents have appealed that decision.

Yet Chanda Washington, a spokeswoman for D.C.’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, is adamant that the activity on the site has nothing to do with any demolition work.

Instead, she says workers are merely starting to perform tests on how any future construction would impact McMillan’s historic resources. The property was once home to a water filtration plant, including large stone silos that have earned the site comparisons to Stonehenge.

Washington noted that the court previously ordered such testing, in order for the project’s developers — a partnership of Trammell Crow, EYA and Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners — to have a full understanding of how any work might “impact those elements we need to protect.”

“We’re just trying to take the necessary time to see what the impact will be,” Washington said. “If we’re at the point where we’re demolishing McMillan, that’d be a huge milestone.”

Before any of that demolition work can actually happen, the appeals court previously specified that the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs will need to certify that the developers look capable to actually complete the project.

And there are still some legal loose ends to tie up. The court has not yet decided whether to grant petitions for rehearing filed by both Friends of McMillan Park and D.C. for Reasonable Development, an activist group that’s earned notoriety for its frequent challenges to large projects.

Legal holdups are nothing new for McMillan. The current development team first sketched out plans back in 2006 and even held a ceremonial groundbreaking 10 years later. But it’s been stymied repeatedly since by court challenges, fueling a push by local developers for the District to change up some of its land-use guidelines to make such legal actions less viable.

The D.C. Council is set to approve many of those proposed changes next month. Developers aren’t completely satisfied with them, but District officials believe that the alterations (in tandem with the court’s latest decision affirming the McMillan plans) signal a new era for planned-unit developments like the sand filtration effort.

Someday, the developers hope to build 2.1 million square feet on the property complete with apartments, townhomes, medical office space, a new Harris Teeter and a D.C.-built park.

NEWS   |   August 12, 2019

Washington, DC

construction projects Reston Halley Rise | Reston, VA

Crane Watch is in a constant state of flux, as it should be.

The vast majority of the projects we started with in 2017 when we launched the interactive map of the region’s largest ongoing construction projects have been completed, and replaced with, essentially, an entirely new set.

All but two of the projects in the gallery above, the top 10 largest projects underway right now (plus one bonus), are relatively recent additions.

The Washington Business Journal generally limits Crane Watch to projects valued at $50 million or more — if we do not have that information, we go with the project’s size, or our gut. The map includes, at this time, 72 projects ranging from massive mixed-use developments to new hospitals. It does not include data centers or large renovation projects.

We also recognize that we might have missed some projects. Please let us know of the gaps. Email

And please check out the full Crane Watch map.