Development—of land, of mixed-use real estate, of apartments—is a science directly tied to demographics, and for McLean, Virginia-based Kettler Inc., which does much of its business in the ever-shifting Washington, DC, area, such statistics are difficult to rely on for long. The firm and its subsidiary, Kettler Management, which oversees more than 19,000 apartments in 85 communities and more than 1.7 million square feet of office and retail space on the East Coast, thus make a point of championing strategies of versatility while watching for trends. Lately, they’ve had their eye on the infusion of 25- to 34-year-olds in the nation’s capital, and it has led to the design of their new m.flats apartment brand, which is green, sustainable, and oriented toward young, single renters.
“The m.flats brand recognizes that there is a single-tenant-occupied market,” company owner and president Bob Kettler says. “Household formations are being delayed, as is child-raising, so there is a large market in this sector.”
An important indicator the company tracks is the area’s transforming employment landscape, and with competitive hiring, job cuts, and lower-salary service jobs becoming more common, people are looking for lower rents and lower-impact lifestyles. Kettler Inc. is trying to accommodate these very needs. “We base our rents on square footage, so if you minimized that square footage, you can cut the price,” Kettler says. “So our m.flats projects average 85 percent studios and one-bedrooms to 15 percent two-bedroom and more.”
Kettler’s decision to create this new line of renter-friendly apartments was informed by his 35 years of experience in the business. He founded his company in 1977 as an extension of the work he was doing in the homebuilding industry. “I was building homes up until around ’81, when I got drafted to buy some development property, and Kettler evolved fairly rapidly into a development company,” Kettler says. “We were developing some large properties, but when the savings and loan crisis happened at the end of the ’80s, we diversified, moved into apartment development, and formed Kettler Management in 1988 to manage those new properties.”
In the early 2000s, Kettler Inc. began moving into mixed-use and commercial properties because of changing developmental needs and a changing population in the DC area. After that, “since 2008, we’ve shifted to apartment development,” Kettler says. “Land development used to [make up] around 50 percent of our volume, but now it accounts for less than five percent.”
The three m.flats projects are important components of the firm’s shift toward apartment development, and the first of them broke ground in early summer 2012 at 450 K Street in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood of Washington, DC. The 13-story building is being constructed at a cost of $80 million and will include 233 units—primarily studios and junior one-bedrooms—with the minimum amount of square footage necessary to be competitive in the DC rental market while still remaining sensibly priced.
Designed by R2L:Architects, m.flats–Mount Vernon Triangle takes architectural cues from the historical Mount Vernon row house aesthetic, but its modern façade and receded massing still set it apart. The lobby has been planned with 6,576 square feet of retail space that will be adapted to a restaurant concept.
“We’re marketing to a younger demographic, so our amenities are more oriented towards that demographic,” Kettler says. In addition to bike racks, workshop spaces, and pet-grooming stations, the development will incorporate socially oriented common spaces designed by ForrestPerkins, including meditative gardens, rooftop cooking stations, pool cabanas, dining areas, lounges, and a two-story lobby that mimics an art gallery.
Kettler is looking to attain LEED certification for the developments. “From a social and environmental perspective, seeking LEED certification is the right thing to do,” Kettler says. “Our partners and jurisdictions are beginning to require LEED certification.”
While the m.flats projects earn easy LEED points for development density and alternative transportation, they will score points in other areas for their sustainable construction and finishing methods. The Mount Vernon Triangle development, for instance, has been planned as a nonsmoking building with green roofs and low-e finishes throughout the interior. All the lighting and temperature controls will be fully adjustable, and at least 10 percent of the building material is to be composed of recycled content. Additionally, the development is aiming to reduce water use to 30 percent below LEED NC requirements, and it similarly wants to keep energy use at 15 percent below ASHRAE 90.1-2004 standards. Finally, more than 75 percent of the construction waste is being recycled, and five percent of the parking spaces on-site are to be reserved for low-e fuel vehicles.
Beyond the m.flats projects, Kettler Inc. has other developments in the works, including a residential tower for Macerich, a nationwide shopping mall developer. The building will be the tallest in Tysons Corner, a census-designated place in Fairfax County, Virginia, and it will be part of the largest suburban mixed-use project in the United States. Also, Washington Metro’s new Silver Line stop at Tysons Corner Center is directly connected to the project by a covered walkway.
The project represents yet another trend the firm has been able to capitalize on thanks to its successful commitment to versatility. “We’re creating a specialization in redeveloping areas around suburban malls because these have such intense infrastructure, land, and parking fields,” Kettler says. “We’ve also been asked to look at a number of other projects—from New York to DC—to do the same sort of development work.”