| ST. ELIZABETH'S: WILL SHE BE THE SAVIOR OF WARD EIGHT?
This lengthy new section deals with the redevelopment of the 300-acre St. Elizabeth's hospital site East of the Anacostia. NARPAC considers this to be a very important test case in the future development, and financial stability, of the nation's capital city.
o It begins with a description of the background of this part of the city and the hospital itself;
o and singles out two preemptory decisions that impact significantly on the financial potential of the site.
o A lengthy analysis by the Urban Land Institute sets the stage for the development process;
o and a summary of the RFP, used to choose a contract master plan developer, indicates some of the limitations built into the program.
o This is followed by a NARPAC Commentary raising nine specific areas of concern, and finishing up with
o an illustrative quantitative method for estimating the financial return to the city of various development choices.
Ward 8: DC's Socioeconomic Basket Case
It is customary to consider all of DC's land East of the Anacostia as a wasteland of over 90% black poverty, ignorance, crime, and despair. But the fact is that there are significant differences between the 3700-acre Northeast sector, Ward 7, and the slightly larger, 4000-acre, Southwest sector, Ward 8. Ward 8 is by far the poorest of DC's eight wards. With 10% of the city's population and total housing units, it has only 6% of the city's total household income, and only 4% of the single family houses, resulting in a tax base is way below average. At the same time, its demands on municipal services are well above average with way more than its share of kids (13%), households in poverty (16%), and families with young kids (19%), mostly single moms.
To make matters worse, a good 75% of all Ward 8 acreage belongs to the federal or city governments, or to non-profit (i.e., non-taxpaying) organizations. All of these 3100 acres are very poorly utilized and contribute little to the city's economy. And all of those acres essentially look across the Anacostia River to Downtown DC West of Pennsylvania Avenue, and the National Mall, or across the Potomac to Arlington, Alexandria, and National Airport. By all measues, Ward 8's geographic position should have granted it a preferential commercial and residential status. The hazy snapshot below shows the view of the Washington Monument from Douglas Road, just East of St. E's across Suitland Parkway.
NARPAC recently developed a technique for at least crudely estimating Census Tract "productivity". Using that same approach, it is estimated that in FY03, Ward 8 will cost DC's local operating budget some $340M more than it provides in revenues, while Ward 7 to the north will do somewhat better, consuming only $270M more in city resources than it contributes in revenues. They are the city's 'loss leaders'.
A One-time Opportunity to Change the Balance
Virtually in the middle of Ward 8 lies the 300+ acre campus of St. Elizabeth's, once the country's leading Hospital for the Insane, and a source of steady and proud employment for many of the Ward's residents. Over time, however, federal laws have emptied these institutions, laid off their employees, allowed their facilities to fall into disrepair, and become a symbol of a bygone era, whose major present current claim to fame is to have been declared a National Historic Site. It also has Mussolini's brain in a jar.
Now, in 2002, the Federal Government has decided that their half of the site has become surplus to their needs, and DC is willing to relinquish a good share of theirs. The tortuous process has begun to devise new and more "productive" uses for this key area. It is, in fact, a once in a lifetime opportunity for Ward 8 to become less of a dependent ward of the city. And the key question is whether the city and the ward will rise to this unique occasion or somehow squander the opportunity. NARPAC intends to do whatever it can to encourage the best possible use for this extraordinary property.
History of St. Elizabeth's Hospital
Established in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, St. Elizabeth's Hospital has had a distinguished history in the treatment of the mentally ill. The Hospital's early mission, as defined by its founder, the leading mental health reformer Dorothea Dix, was to provide the "most humane care and enlightened curative treatment of the insane of the Army, Navy, and District of Columbia." During the Civil War, wounded soldiers treated here were reluctant to admit that they were in an insane asylum, and said they were at St. Elizabeth's, the colonial name of the land where the Hospital is located. Congress officially changed the Hospital's name to St. Elizabeth's in 1916. By the 1940s, the Hospital complex covering an area of over 300 acres housed 7,000 patients. It was the first and only federal mental facility with a national scope.
In 1987, the federal government transferred the hospital operations to the District of Columbia, while retaining ownership of the western campus. The patient population has steadily declined, and the Hospital now houses 600 patients. The original 1850s building has been designated a National Historic Landmark, but it is not in use because of its state f disrepair. On the grounds of St. Elizabeth's, there is also a Civil War cemetery where 300 Union and Confederate soldiers who died here are buried (see photo). The Hospital complex is located on a hill in southeast Washington, overlooking the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. However, it is closed to the public.
Sometime in early 2002, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services declared that St. E's (north)western campus was no longer needed and, as is customary, turned the property over to the General Services Administration (GSA) for disposition. This is essentially the same process as was used to separate the Southeast Business Development Center property from the Navy Yard, and permit its current ongoing development. The preferred option appears to be to re-join this 182-acre parcel with the 120-acre eastern parcel transferred to DC's Department of Mental Health (DoMH) 15 years ago.
The GSA is currently going through the process of preparing the site for disposition, which involves everything from assuring there are no other valid federal uses for the property to stabilizing its aging buildings; satisfying NEPA and NHPA environmental remediation issues; and preparing the paperwork for competitive sale if no other public uses are found. There has been some speculation that the site should be used for the permanent home of the new federal Department of Homeland Security, but this would severely limit the site's productivity for DC. Transfer of the Federal property to DC is apparently considered the most likely outcome at this time.
While the site appears on the map as a simple rectangular property divided diagonally by a major neighborhood thoroughfare, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, it is in fact a hodgepodge of brick and other buildings built at various times since the latter half of the 1800's. Some of the early American architecture and massive walls are indeed unique, but the entire physical plant was intended to be self-sufficient, and also includes a big coal-burning power plant, and scores of nondescript outbuildings for supplies, farm implements, animal stables, etc.
The St. E's site is also topographically deceptive, since its northern face is one of the steepest bluffs in DC (overlooking the Anacostia to the nation's capital), and both its northern and eastern boundaries include deep irregular stream valleys. The eastern valley was used for over 150 years for extensive dumping of incinerator fly ash and other environmentally risky waste and debris from a self-contained, somewhat isolated hospital facility. EPA has now decreed that fly ash to be non-hazardous, though that pronouncement may have little effect on neighborhood apprehensions. It became a major issue in the building of Metro's Green Line, which essentially avoided the problem by tunneling under the mess, and putting its only nearby rail station outside the southern boundary of the site along Alabama Avenue. This Congress Heights station is shown in the adjoining photo. Because of the upward slope of the tunnel under St. E's, it may not be possible to add an 'infill station' except near the Suitland Parkway bend but even that would still be approximately equidistant between the Anacostia and Congress Heights stations. It is, in fact, a very complicated site.
The New, Smaller St. E's Hospital (and spill-over)
Meanwhile, DC's DoMH has plans of its own to downsize since the institutionalized population has dropped to a fraction of its former size. No more than about 500 inmates are currently in the sprawling complex which at its peak could accommodate about 7000 patients. The Federal decision to release all those patients who presented no significant danger to their communities has, of course, resulted in the great increase in homeless across the US, a country that also lacks any sort of "poor houses" for its indigent. Newer federal decisions create new uncertainty as to how many patients will be left.
By the Spring of 2003, DC's Department of Mental Health was well along in the process of designing a new building to house 290 individuals in need of inpatient psychiatric care. During the process all operations for the existing complex have been moved off the West Side of the St. E's Campus and have been consolidated onto the East Camp. In fact there are no longer any DoMH operations or personnel on the West Campus.
Plans for the new St. E's Hospital complex are as follows. The new state of the art building will have the capability to provide residential inpatient care to 290 inpatients, and incorporate the latest thinking in mental health treatment. A needs assessment was conducted for DoMH in 2001 and showed that, based on historical patterns and the current population, the need for beds at St. E's would likely only be between 290 and 350 in three years. This is based on several factors: a) the current hospital population is aging and new admissions are constant, so that attrition alone will lower the census; b) the US Marshals and Secret Service are using the hospital less (!) which also lowers the demand; and c) the federal court is requiring that persons who do not need to be at the hospital should be discharged. Approximately 250 current patients could leave if sufficient community services were available, . It is not clear how fast DoMH can develop these desired community services. Hence DoMH is renovating three other buildings (RMB, CT- 7 and CT -8) to provide additional space as long as it is needed.
The new building (a current architect's model is shown to the left) will be divided into two parts: secure and non-secure and all administrative functions for the hospital will reside in the new building, primarily one-story, ground-floor only. In addition to residential facilities, the new building will have two treatment malls, two gymnasiums and a 250-seat auditorium. The new building will be located on approximately 49 acres between the current John Howard Pavilion and the Congress Heights Metro Station. This 49-acre site "will provide ample grounds to enable those residents who are able to stroll the grounds in safety and privacy as well as leave the campus". There will be totally secure outdoor space for those residents living in the secure section of the facility. The location was selected in considerable measure to provide appropriate privacy, and a relaxed setting. From the standpoint of caring properly for some of our most deprived citizens, the new St. E's hospital will apparently be a significant step forward. Its basic planform is shown to the right, overlaid on the available area north of the large "continuing treatment' complex of about 200,000 sqft. now almost empty.
From NARPAC's heartless, analytical viewpoint it is a great step backwards. It takes well over 50% of the available unencumbered property in a priceless location and puts it to a use that by its very nature will consume more resources than it provides in revenues. In so doing, it ignores the existence of nearby property which is condemned by historical preservation dictats to remain relatively unproductive. For those few who see wisdom in numbers, it is worth parsing the "49 acres", which does not include the 6 additional acres of "overflow reserve":
o Add the 6 acres of overflow reserve to the baseline '49' = 55 acres
zoning for this unencumbered 25 acre parcel would probably permit a "FAR"
of 3.5 (See UCC discussion below) for perhaps 20 of the 25 acres, amounting
to some 3.35 million sqft. The actual floor area of the planned hospital
building is almost exactly 10% of that, for an efficiency of only 10%.
Simply for demonstration purposes, the alternate overlay to the left shows
that the new hospital planform would fit within the preserved continuing
treatment complex, while four buildings with the same footprint as the
Howard Pavilion, and one the same as the now-surplus Haydon building,
would fit neatly in the 25 acre parcel. With a height of ten stories (vice
five), they would provide a total of 2 million sqft of revenue-producing
high-density mixed residential/commercial use. In conclusion, it might
also be noted that this prime property is within the customary 2000-ft
radius of the only Metro Station in the 3200 or so acres in Ward 8 South
of the Suitland Parkway. As shown on the table and graphic below, 52%
of the Congress Heights circle will be essentially off limits to any commercial
development, and only 8% is currently available to up-zoned for high-density
development. It is the antithesis of urban smart growth.
The Unified Command Center
In the second case of letting a worthy cause trump a potentially productive new parcel of DC land, almost 12 acres of prime, virtually unoccupied property at the northern tip of the eastern campus has now been reserved for a DC "Unified Command Center" (UCC). Site preparation began in April, 2003. It is intended to centrally house the many communications functions of the DC government, from 911/311 police/emergency calls and traffic management, to the mayor's call center, and emergency management center, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's administrative center. Apparently, most of these functions are best performed on a single open "call floor". It will also be home to a new one-acre, one-story child care center employing almost fifty people. It seems an odd adjunct to a presumably key, high-risk national capital emergency center.
As shown to the left, some 35% of the UCC tract will be devoted to roads and surface parking for almost 300 cars. And 'security requirements' will dictate that the 100 feet closest to MLK Ave remain vacant (and can't be used for parking?), thus wasting two more otherwise valuable acres. In fact, the basic UCC uses only about 2.5 acres, under which an underground, and far safer, parling facility could be built. A tightly designed secure facility could easily have been sited on the remote baseball field of the new DoMH hospital described in the previous section. According to their proposal before the NCPC, the site would have a "Floor-to-Area Ratio (FAR)" only one-ninth of that allowed by the C-2B/PUB zoning category, and include a maximum building height well under that allowed. This presents a major DC government underutilization of a potentially prime piece of commercial property. Another site should be sought, perhaps on the grounds of one of DC's many surplus schools, or behind the stone walls of the historically- challenged West Campus.
The tip of this UCC site currently offers rudimentary shelters for many of DC's homeless, as well as four ramshackle old empty cottages of some dubious historic value. Ironically, those homeless people are perhaps the only DC residents with a claim on the property, albeit indirect. They, too, however, might be better served behind the historic stone wall that has provided privacy to the residents of the West Campus.
The West Side Notch
There is also a large 11-acre "notch" in the western boundary of the site, diametrically across from the proposed UCC site. Labeled a "school site", it included two main buildings: one appears to have been a remodeled ice skating rink (or other windowless sports arena) which has recently been converted into a small start-up Southeast Educational Excellence Charter School. Next to it is what appears to be a closed public school now housing the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club. While both of these may be meritorious endeavors, neither makes productive use of very valuable commercial property, and could benefit from better facilities.
The St. E's Planning Process
The DC Office of Planning (OP) has been given the responsibility for developing a comprehensive plan for the redevelopment of both campuses, in conjunction with DC's DoMH. OP intends to fully involve the Ward 8 neighborhood in this new plan. But its first major step was to request the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to put together an Advisory Services Panel to provide an objective, professional assessment of how best this property might be redeveloped. This is an ad hoc, volunteer, ULI service which has been used successfully many times across the US since its inception in 1945. One particularly active member of the St. E's panel is currently in charge of returning the Fort Ord military base along the California coast to private uses, and several have been active in other US base-closing efforts.
The panel convened ten nationally respected experts for five days in May, 2002, and the results of their efforts were presented to the public at DC's National Building Museum in June. The results of their efforts are summarized below, and followed by an extensive NARPAC commentary.
The second formal step is now well underway, building on the strong ULI recommendation that the entire site be under the control of a single master planner, if not developer. An RFP has been distributed to a substantial list of potential development consultants, and the announcement of the city's choice is expected in October, 2002. Hopefully, that choice will not be totally ignorant of the socioeconomic problems of DC, and its many unfortunate dependents East of the River.
The Recommendations of the ULI Advisory Services Panel
The three overall recommendations of the panel for ensuring success were for the DC government to: a) exert unified control of the property; b) provide strong leadership now and in the future; and c) form a partnership between the city and some master developer. They point up the importance of a uniform, single voice that is clear to all stakeholders, including community, government, and the master developer.
They were concerned by a number of evident 'impediments': the present bifurcated ownership, the Federal disposition process itself, and the remaining responsibilities to local mental health consumers. Beyond those, they sensed problems with DC's current approval and planning process; the serious deterioration of "significant" buildings; and the piecemeal reuse already underway. Finally, they noted the lack of protection for various site assets under the local historic preservation statute; and potential problems in community perceptions about what was going to happen to their central landmark.
To these various 'challenges', the panel offered various generalized solutions:
The issue of bifurcated control can be solved by legislative establishment of a redevelopment entity; the expedited transfers of property titles; and adequate funding for that transition. They see St. E's as an anchor and gateway to unlocking the treasures East of the river.
They suggest that a master developer be selected by using a competitive procurement process; creating a partnership with the city; and by ensuring decisiveness and reduced timing.
Streamlined development processes are recommended based on the priority of the redevelopment, using a 'concerted positive approval process'.
To assure a comprehensive plan for the mental health consumers, they suggest that new construction proposals be expanded, and consumer needs be recognized.
Perhaps most important is the need to communicate with the interested parties, recognizing the impact of this redevelopment, the need for regular communication with the community, and the 'imperative of transparency".
They suggest that potential financial benefits can be shared, using current development partnership models, and structures, and funneling benefits to the community. They point out that careful planning and agency cooperation can also preserve tax benefits.
Among the transfer mechanisms, they propose using long term ground leases rather than property sale; the preservation of marketing and tax enhanced options, and the development of 'mechanisms for public control of views and public spaces'!
They see the DC Government role as leading the creation of the new entity, and then focusing on public safety, mental health and other social issues; land use regulation, and a potential source of financial revenues.
And they see the Federal roles as supporting the creation of this new development entity and providing needed appropriations, expanding their stewardship and caretaker functions on the West campus, and then transferring the property to the development entity.
They see the next steps as selecting the master developer; preparing an information/engagement program by which to assure effective community participation, involve educational institutions; and starting the master planning process.
Meanwhile, they emphasize one major development issue: the current physical condition of many of the historically most important building is rapidly deteriorating. In essence, they say that there must be expedited resolution of this decay, or there will be 'demolition by neglect'. To some observers, that might well be a blessing in disguise.
Site Analysis by the ULI Advisory Services Panel: Three members of the panel devoted special attention to a preliminary site analysis which begins to indicate the complexities of the redevelopment process if all of the various distinctive and repetitive elements of this site are to be maintained. The chart below is an attempt by NARPAC to amalgamate the material on several of their charts.
Four large islands within the two sites site are singled out for distinctive treatment based on their original and continuing usage. Two are on the 182-acre western campus overlooking the river and downtown DC. They call the first the Central Building Campus (see A). Its courtyard is dominated by a huge, sprawling multi-storied building with many other smaller buildings grouped around. Built before 1900, they occupy perhaps 30-acres and can be accessed from Martin Luther King Avenue at the eastern end of the site. Next to this campus is what they dub an Administrative Campus (B) of perhaps 50 acres, dominated by seven large buildings built in the early 1900's, four of which parallel the western side of MLK Ave behind a high brick wall all the way to the large 11-acre 'notch' in the southern boundary at the avenue.
There are a total of 61 buildings on this side of the Avenue, with a total of some 1.3M sqft, of which less than half is usable. Most of the remaining half of that site, closest to its western face towards the Anacostia and beyond, is of dubious value due to the stream valleys, and the precipitous drop to the edge of Route 295 and the Anacostia Freeway. The ULI team suggests that this site is perhaps best suited to some kinds of 'special lifestyle' residential uses.
The panel points out two somewhat smaller clusters on the eastern campus. The Maple Square Campus (C) of perhaps 15 acres is set back from MLK Avenue and is also comprised of a group of early 1900's buildings around a smaller courtyard. Set back from the southern corner of the eastern campus is the fourth grouping called the Oak Street Campus, consisting of eight identical patient ward buildings built before 1950 and clustered around a central kitchen/cafeteria building. They sit on perhaps 20 acres. This half of the campus is bisected by a stream valley, heavily used as a dumping ground over the years, and of little developmental use, except possibly for transportation and access to and through the site to the Metro station on Alabama Avenue.
Scattered about the whole campus are five major buildings built since 1950. One is a large Warehouse at the foot of the cliff on the west face. Another is the large , colorless eight-story Dorethea Dix Building, typical of its times, facing north onto MLK Avenue. Certainly it is a candidate for redevelopment as offices or residences. Two more specialized hospital buildings adjoin the rear of the Oak Street Campus, and yet another, the Howard Pavilion stands alone in the eastern corner with a view of the (tax-free) Civil War gravestones. This last building is slated to become a part of, or be replaced by, the proposed new DC mental hospital. It appears to be a good, somewhat removed location for this residual DC mental health function.
In addition to these major sites, the ULI panel singles out other "special places" that in their words could 'offer amenities to the area and the community. These include a theater; a ballroom; a firehouse; an ice house; and various stables, barns, and guard houses. NARPAC can only dream about potential names and uses for these structures in keeping with the St. E's theme.
Among what's left, the panel strawman singles out seven potential areas for development totaling a meager 42 acres (painted in beige on the map above). On the western campus, they include 9 acres between then Warehouse and John Howard Sites, at the edge of the west slope to highway level, on which they suggest perhaps 550K sqft of office space; a 7-acre Greenhouse Site along the northeastern boundary on which they visualize perhaps 200 housing units; and two infill sites adjacent to the Central Building Campus.
Across MLK Ave, there is a small Hayden Area behind the Oak Street Campus, and two major strip areas: the larger, some 20 acres along the east side of MLK Ave (to include the large 8-story Dix Building) for mixed uses, and a smaller 7 acre strip along Dogwood Street and Alabama Ave, on which they hypothesize only 50 single family homes.
The panel offers a few thoughts on 'connections', suggesting additional means to cross MLK Ave and Alabama Avenue, and certainly more creatively, a bridge of some sort across the Suitland Parkway (a major gateway into the city up South Capitol Street) to join this St. E's site to the Stanton area to its northeast. Other suggestions concerning transportation are notable only by their absence.
Market Potential by ULI Advisory Services Panel:
Two other members of the panel (both from Chicago) focused their efforts on St. E's market potential, and seemed to have a little more difficulty in expressing themselves clearly. Behind their words (on the presentation charts, at least) NARPAC finds a certain ambiguity lurking that is not present elsewhere. They join the others in wanting a single unified development plan, but add that this plan should include the surrounding area, and should also have credibility of implementation.
. They point out that changes both on and off site will affect the acceptance of a (redeveloped) St. E's within the community, and will affect its perception in the market place as well. Hence the market potential depends on defining and communicating both an acceptable (to the community) and credible (to the investors) vision for the site. These panelists emphasize that the history of St. E's and its historic buildings and landscape are what distinguishes the site from its surroundings, and that the preservation of views and historic assets are critical to the value of the site in the marketplace.
The experts note that the DC.metro area job growth has led the nation,
but that neither DC nor Ward 8 have "gotten their fair share". They acknowledge
that the population decline appears to have stopped, and that a new growth
in jobs and residents can be expected. However, in surveying the area
around the site, they note an "overabundance of public and affordable
housing and poverty". They appear unsure of residents commitment to the
community or St. E's, and conclude that the site must overcome the
perception of its location. The abandoned buildings of Bolling View
Apartments nearby (see photo) easily contribute to this concern. On the
positive side, they note that past statistics do not capture the anticipated
growth in Ward 8 as a result of the large investments in new housing ($600M)
now being made. They also note that the St. E's site can create a product
not available elsewhere in Ward 8.
One contractor will be selected to "provide a redevelopment framework plan for the east and west campuses of St. Elizabeth's", and he is to be assisted by a Community Engagement Consultant to sure that the planning process is "conducted with meaningful public input that nurtures community consensus building". This engagement process is to include public meetings, stakeholder interviews, press releases, TV and radio announcements, web surveys, and other means.
DC Government inputs will be provided through a Mayor's Advisory Task Force that includes representation from nearby ANCs and neighborhood associations; appropriate historic preservation, business and real estate development organizations; and other government and community organizations picked by the Office of Planning (OP). A Working Groupof no more than 10 members will meet regularly with the contractor and include people from OP, the DoMH, Office of Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, and the GSA.
A four-phase program is called for beginning, not surprisingly, with gathering information and gaining understanding of the study area., and followed by an extensive Assessment and Analysis Phase (see below). The "study area" appears implicitly restricted to the east and west campuses. The third phase will involve "conceptualization" and the preparation of three alternative plans, suitably fleshed out with drawings, models, fiscal impact and funding analyses, and a "build-out" analysis including "projections of potential additional real property tax revenues". When the preferred approach has been selected, the contractor will refine his plan, and develop implementation strategies for land disposition, financing, implementation, and continued community engagement.
NARPAC finds two aspects of this RFP to be particularly informative, in that they reflect OP's intentions and capabilities:
Goals of the St. E's Redevelopment Program:
Virtually everything that NARPAC would like to see done could be rationalized among the goals stated above, though the emphasis on generating net city revenues from the site and considering neighboring properties seems underplayed, while the emphasis on pleasing Ward 8's residents and the preservationists appears excessive, albeit probably for good and sufficient reasons. NARPAC has added italics to the three items above it believes are most important.
Contractor Assessment and Analysis:
It is the experience of senior NARPAC members that the decisions that make or break major development projects are often made in the conceptual phase. Wrong assumptions, artificial boundaries, and intentional exclusions can often doom an effort before the detailed plans are laid. In relatively small projects, it may not be important to get the principals right. In an undertaking as big as this, it is essential that the ground rules be thoroughly vetted with as few limitations as possible. NARPAC has no insider information to suggest that DC's preliminary planning is headed in the wrong direction, but we would nonetheless like to raise nine flags of potentially serious missteps that could be made during the early part of this planning cycle.
1. There is No Evident Master Plan for the Growth of the Nation's Capital City
It is evident from both the ULI briefing and the RFP for the master development framework contractor, that the DC Government has no master plan for the future growth of our American capital city. It inevitably seems to turn to others (such as the recent Rivlin Vision of DC's Future) for guidance about how the city will or should grow. In this instance, it seems to be asking the master contractor to come up with a vision of his own, by analyzing past and current trends throughout the region and then applying them to this specific task. But what they are analyzing is essentially what happens if there are no master plans in place. The city is letting the cart pull the horse. The coupling of land use to city revenues appears casual at best, and the coupling of land use to city expenditures non- existent. Clearly, the city has not really made up its mind based on quantitative analysis whether it wants more residents or more businesses (see DC Analysis by Census Tract. It surely hasn't decided how the area East of the Anacostia fits into this master plan and somehow expects the city's most impoverished residents to make that decision for themselves.
The absence of such a master plan also generates the absence of any long-range master planning for the city (or the metro area) concerning major transportation upgrades. From this exercise, as well as others such as the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, it seems clear that DC considers transportation improvements to be something that follows urban growth rather than leading and directing it. Again, the city government appears to have juxtaposed cart and horse. It is, in fact, the antithesis of "smart growth" and deserves a name of its own: "dumb growth". Surely the vital transportation improvements needed for economic growth East of the Anacostia cannot be left in the hands of the St. E's master contractor.
2. St. E's Is an Unusually Big Site
300 acres may not seem like a large area, but DC is a small place and most of its existing land has already been spoken for (and fought over!). In NARPAC's mind's eye, there are actually four sites as indicated below:
There are two major sites, one on each side of the avenue (yellow), but each clipped off: the southeast corner of the east campus is already reserved for DC Government use (red), and cut off from the remainder by an environmentally unfriendly 15-acre gulch running down towards Suitland Parkway. And on the western campus, the parts nearest the Rte 295 are virtually inaccessible to the rest of the site (blue area). In NARPAC's imagination, these 70-acres would be traded off for more readily developed parcel(s) elsewhere East of the Anacostia. The three diagrams that follow provide color overlays over the black-and white maps of Georgetown, Downtown, and the Navy Yard area south of the freeway.
3. Overdoing the Historic Aspects
Turning this site into scores if not hundreds of acres of memorial to generally discredited mental health facilities and practices seems foolish at best. Save a few buildings for their architectural originality, but develop some sort of scale models and hi-tech documentary to preserve memories of its heyday. Put Mussolini's brain on display in a jar if necessary, but don't waste DC's valuable space. Preserving historic landscapes (grass?) and "view corridors" is an invitation to wasting the site's potential. The fact is that DC cannot afford to keep the accepted FARs (floor area rations) of yesteryear, particularly if half of the current floor area is no longer habitable.
4. Overdoing the Influence of Ward 8 Residents
This site is being turned over to the DC government, not to Ward 8. The notion that its development can be stunted by local preferences is simply not appropriate. Decisions on the city's future cannot be made by special interest groups without citywide fiscal responsibility, particularly when those local interests are not paying their way for current city services and want/need more. Obviously, however, neighborhood concerns should be sought and honored wherever possible.
5. There Is No Established Comprehensive Plan for Developing a Full-Blown Transportation Infrastructure in the SEQ
Like the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, there is a substantial risk that the St. E's master plan will be developed without any foundation on an expanded regional transportation network, essential to growth throughout the EoA area. Surely this is not a task that can be assumed by the redevelopment contractor. Current public rights of way are designed to pass through, but not nourish the economic development of EoA or SEQ. Expanded Metro (so successfully demonstrated by the newly-opened Green Line commuters) should be accompanied by more new heavy rail lines, not just "light rail" and buses. Metro could easily do for EoA's economy what it did for Arlington and Alexandria. Besides providing infill stations on the Green Line, a new line should be seriously explored from Minnesota Ave Station along MLK Avenue and down to National Harbor, and across the Wilson Bridge to Alexandria. Such a new rail line (shown in brown below) would impact heavily on the eventual St. E's site development density.
Major street upgrades may also be in order. MLK Ave and Alabama Ave may need widening. A better confluence between Malcolm X Avenue (leading over to Bolling AFB), MLK Ave, Alabama Ave and Wheeler Road (leading south out of DC) may be warranted (as mentioned above). It could involve an ornamental circle, square, or triangle which could leave a remnant of additional land for redevelopment with the St. E's site. Better access to Greater Southeast Hospital may be appropriate (along 13th St SE), now that it has assumed some of the functions of DC General. There is also some initial planning on replacing and realigning the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge which carries South Capitol Street over the Anacostia to the Suitland Parkway: one of the major "gateways" to the city.
The highway system and its related intermodal parking facilities are not adequate either. The future of I295 and the Anacostia Freeway will impact on St. E's western boundary and control the growth of traffic bypassing downtown DC. Further upstream, this is being treated by the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, but AWI does not reach this far west. Any development of the St E's West Campus below the bluff (see below) would require a separate access road parallel to these major regional routes. The future growth of the Suitland Parkway to the east of St. E's will dictate the growth of the radial traffic flow in an out of downtown towards the East. There is no easy connection from it to MLK and Alabama Avenues, but one could easily run through St. E's.
"Connecting" the St. E. site by a bridge (or even better a deck) across the Suitland Parkway to the highlands approaching Stanton Park and the Frederick Douglas Home makes eminently good sense as an assist in redeveloping that area. An equivalent deck across the parkways to the Naval Station does too. Finally, a very large intermodal parking facility with access to Suitland Parkway; the Anacostia Freeway/Rte 295; the existing Green Metro Line and any added lines paralleling the Anacostia; and MLK and Alabama Avenues, should be seriously considered adjacent to the St. E's site at Dunbar Road, or in the 'gully' leading up to the Congress Heights metro station. (see below)
The diagram to the left shows how some of these changes might be incorporated. To the left, beside the major (redundant?) highways, a new access road serves a (purple) baseball stadium and a set of five large (red) condo high rises. The stadium is the same size envisioned for downtown sites, but with underground parking. The condo complex could easily contain two million square feet of upscale condos in buildings as high as 15 stories while still staying below the sight line from St. E's, or adding to the skyline from downtown. At the bottom, a new grand ornamental traffic circle exchanges traffic to the five major roads (see below). To the right, a new major road connects Suitland Parkway and Stanton Park up the 'gully' across St. E's to Alabama Avenue at 13th Street (and the existing metro station). A spur connects to MLK Ave. This "St. E's Connector" could well become a tunnel through a very large regional parking garage (see below).
An ideally located a new Metro Green Line infill station could be added that would be within walking reach of the entire St. E's upland campus. It might be possible to place the new Metro station within the courtyard of the 'historic' horse barn, and possibly convert the 'historic' dry barn into, say, a Smithsonian museum for early farm implements. None of these improvements would be obvious unless one looks at the bigger area picture 'outside the box' of the current St. E boundaries.
Finally, there is a strong need to provide intermodal and local parking facilities that do not use up valuable property that can be more productively developed. The 'gully' that divides the East Campus appears to be an ideal site for a set of multi-level garages which can serve the entire campus, as well as the nearby existing and proposed Metro stations, and provide a major intermodal facility East of the Anacostia. It would essentially be built over the Green Line, and over and around the proposed "St. E's Connector" road. It could be as many as seven or more levels at the Suitland Parkway end. The upper two levels might serve the new mental hospital and the Congress Heights Metro station with 2000 spaces. The next two or three levels might provide 3000 spaces for the rest of the East Campus, including the UCC, and the new infill Metro Station, and the three or four bottom levels might provide 3-5000 spaces in large intermodal facilities where regional traffic could switch to public transit. A crude schematic is shown below (please note the vertical scale is five times the horizontal scale. For comparison, these multi-level spaces could easily provide far more parking space than is now available at Reagan National Airport (7500 cars), where the daily parking rate is $15 per day!
By essentially filling in the gully, almost 20 acres of new flat surface land could be made available for unencumbered revenue-producing high density development. It could at some initial expense compensate for the inefficient use of the UCC and DoMH sites, while providing those municipal facilities with more efficient parking at the same time. It would also tie together the entire East Campus by eliminating the terrain obstacle. As shown on the diagram to the right, four somewhat taller structures with the Dorothea Dix Building footprint could easily provide one million square feet of space, while still preserving a terraced slope down towards the Parkway. It has the additional advantage of taking some of the pressure off the 'historic' areas to find contrived new uses. Full consideration of potential regional transportation needs can actually improve the development and utilization of this site.
6. The Site Should Not be Treated Only As Currently Defined
The strong pressures for planning the development of the site as an entity is without question a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one. Adjacent parcels must be considered for incorporation in the overall planning process; existing tentative allocations of internal parcels must be susceptible to renegotiation; and , in fact, perhaps some newly aggregated parcels may be traded away for future development.
a. Topography Counts
The current boundaries completely neglect topographic realities. As mentioned above, as much as 70 acres on the western boundary toward the parkways is virtually inaccessible from the campus (though readily approached from those parkways), as may be some 15 acres along the Suitland Parkway and 'gully' if not expensively developed. If these areas are not to be productively developed (despite the suggestions offered above), then such acreage should be aggregated into rational packages, and transferred to some other more appropriate agency, most likely the Park Service. It should be possible to swap these packages for acres elsewhere that are better suited to economic development, and less encumbered by Historic Preservation constraints. As indicated above, the equivalent value of these parcels appears to NARPAC to be at least one baseball stadium, three million square feet of high-density revenue-producing property, and as many as 20,000 standard parking spaces!
b. Eliminate Obstacles
Tthere remains some ambiguity about how much land is needed for a new DC mental hospital, if one is in fact justified at all. The DoMH is proposing to use their parcel very inefficiently, and hedging their bets with six acres of property immediately adjacent to the area's only Metro station. At best, about 20 acres should be sufficient for a few hundred patients, including the cemetery. And surely, the finally approved, independently secured, hospital site should not obstruct access to the rest of the St. E's site, either by foot or vehicle (as suggested by the ULI sketches). In addition, a significant effort is probably warranted to "bridge the gully" that divides the East Campus if only to provide some sort of ornamental pedestrian/shuttle bus access within the site.
c. Include Adjacent Parcels
There appears to be no overwhelming absolute for excluding the 11-acre "notch" in the western boundaries to preserve two inefficient current uses (a charter school and a boys and girls club). That unencumbered acreage bordering MLK Avenue could be twice as "productive" as any other parcel on either site. Across the avenue, it may also be possible to add a few more acres, if the current disorganized confluence of MLK , Malcolm X, Alabama Avenues and Wheeler Road are realigned to form some kind of ornamental circle, square, or triangle. At the actual convergence of MLK and Alabama stands the tall, long-empty Congress Heights School, a virtual monument to a failing community. The St. E's site might be extended to the edge of such a new interchange.
d. Trade and Spin-Off Parcels and Zoning
Conversely, the St. E's site might be reduced by a few acres and incorporated into a very major high density development outside the purview of the St. E's development planning team with its strong, albeit understandable, focus on preservation. This introduces the possibility of a different kind of land swap, or more accurately a "zoning swap". By this technique, low-density residential zoning (R-2 and R-5-A, say) could be transferred into the St. E's parcel where low-density uses are inevitable due to historic preservation restrictions, leaving certain areas outside the parcel for much higher density zoning (all the way to R-5-E and C-3-C). Instead of turning the St. E's Campus into a "cash cow for the city", as some interested participants fear, the campus could be preserved as a net consumer of city revenues, while a new cash cow emerges just outside. One wonders if local residents would trade their current relatively modest residences for ownership of newly renovated 'historically-protected' buildings within St. E's. The over-simplified NARPAC "before and after" plan shown below illustrates a very ambitious effort to create a "mini-downtown" of some 70 acres around a new ornamental circle to celebrate St. E's and Ward 8.
This 70-odd acres is nominally assembled from: a) the 10-acre under-utilized "notch" discussed above; b) 10 acres of present low-density commercial along MLK Ave; c):10-acres of unencumbered empty land along the south edge of the East Campus; d) perhaps 5 acres of DC- owned, but not used property; a e) about 35 acres of low-density residential in the immediate vicinity of the newly proposed traffic circle. These residential acres are essentially "transferred" into the "Maple Square" and "Oak Street" Campuses (see the earlier ULI analysis) leaving the entire new parcel for higher density development (at least FAR = 3.5). This could theoretically produce up to perhaps eight million square feet of highly revenue-productive development. As much as $50-100 million might be netted (revenues, less expenditures) annually for Ward 8 and the city as a whole. Perhaps it should be named "Cash Cow Circle at St. E's".
7. St. E's Must Be Viewed in the Context of All of DC, and of the Southeast Quadrant (SEQ) of the Metro Area
There is a high risk tendency to look at these redevelopment sites and their very immediate environs as separate from the larger regional socioeconomic perspective, and to hire planners with little familiarity with DC's unsatisfactory relationship with its burgeoning suburbs. St. E's is a big piece of Ward 8. Ward 8's problems are largely shared with Ward 7. Together, these wards East of the Anacostia are an enormous financial drag on the rest of the District. The Southeast Quadrant of the metro area, including DC's parcel East of the Anacostia, is by far the least developed quadrant of its metro area, despite the remarkable potential across Southeastern Maryland to the Atlantic Coast. It is quite possible, in isolation, to produce a plan which results in net additional costs to DC's operating budgets, and to further delay the socioeconomic development of this already backward quadrant. The master planners for this key area must have a strong regional awareness.
Furthermore, there are substantial, albeit individually smaller, developments well within St. E's influence circle. Scores of new housing developments are underway all around Ward 8, some within walking distance of the site (see diagram lower left, adapted from a Washington Post original). One the biggest of the these, Henson Ridge, is DC's latest major Hope VI project, and will replace scores of boarded up public housing units shown in the photo upper left. And just beyond the Congress Heights Metro Station a new shopping center is being planned on the now surplus Camp Simms reservation. And across Oxon Creek Park stands the recently completed Wheeler Creek housing development, next to the Greater Southeast Hospital. The planners chosen for St. E's must have a perception of Ward 8's future far broader and more ambitious than its current residents hold. There are also other unsatisfied planning objectives for the city which may or may not deserve consideration here. For example, the city is looking for an appropriate location for a baseball stadium (see above); needs a better location its new innovation, a grand prix race track; is seeking multiple locations for various memorials; and has often mentioned a new location for at least a part of the University of DC.
8. DC's Long-term Economic Future Depends on the Transfer of Additional Underutilized Federal Properties
The St. E's site, to say nothing of the needed transportation upgrades, should not be considered in isolation from the future urban development of the obviously underutilized military bases along the eastern bank of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Many pundits dismiss the chances of wresting these properties from DoD control (about 900 acres). NARPAC believes that a serious case can be made for a) vastly increasing their business productivity to the city as did Crystal City in Arlington along the Jefferson Davis Highway (and Metro Line); b) increasing its tourist productivity to the city through the addition of various military museums, displays, simulators, etc., and/or c) turning a good fraction of that land over to the city for high-density development, perhaps even swapping some lands elsewhere if local military housing is really needed (adjacent to Ft. McNair?, on St. E's West?). The next formal round of DoD/Congressional base closings is just getting underway, and the city and its planners can ill afford to overlook the potential here.
9. St. E's Master Planning Must Adopt Quantitative Land Use Goals Consistent with Realistic Financial Analyses Current planning efforts in DC, and elsewhere, seem to depend primarily on a group of qualitative platitudes, assumptions, and wishful thinking which cannot be supported by the facts. One is that Americans can be separated from their second most prized possessions, cars, by limiting growth in road and parking facilities. Another is that every new neighborhood should strive to reflect no better than the current socioeconomic norm for the city or surrounding neighborhoods. Another is that virtually any building, or set of buildings, that has outlived its usefulness should be preserfged for historic purposes. Yet another is that all commercial/business development should still be concentrated in the already-clogged (and now vulnerable) "downtown". And perhaps most dangerous, is the erroneous notion that 'average' residents bring the city more (net) revenues per available acre than do tax-paying businesses. Apply those rules here, and the St. E's site redevelopment will cost the city more in added services than it provides in revenues.
NARPAC makes no pretense of having a certified methodology for accurately allocating the costs of all city services, or of accurately divining the precise sources of all the District's locally raised revenues. Nonetheless, it does not take rocket science or a ouija board to make useful first order approximations. Each year's operating budget shows the expenses of every functional agency and shows the component sources of all its revenues. These estimates are generally reported elsewhere on this web site. These techniques were initially applied by Ward, and have more recently be estimated for typical neighborhoods and a few extreme individual census tracts. Based on this existing work, NARPAC offers the following illustrative strawman quantitative guidelines. NARPAC challenges suitably vested authorities, committees, or task forces to improve on these estimates, and to avoid their rejection by the naysayers.
Case #1: Basic
The table below (revised in May, 2003), complicated as it may seem at first, provides a typical spreadsheet decision matrix in which the planners or decision-makers can vary their options and see the immediate results (if of course there is a computer available). The numbers in blue are the variables for the analysts to change, the remaining numbers in black are the remainders produced by the variables chosen.
Step #1: Reconcile the Acreage to be Available: This sample assumes the St. E's site starts out at 300 acres, but adds 10 acres for the "school notch" and another 5 incident to a new ornamental intersection at MLK and Alabama Aves. Subtracted from this total are the 20-acre "gully" on the eastern side (which might be used for a major access road, with the remnants turned back to the park service); 70 acres of lowland along Rte 295 (which might revert to the Park Service or be set aside for, say, a baseball park [Camden Yard requires only 40 acres] and luxury high-rise condos); and 45 acres to be set aside for the new DC mental hospital gracing the small civil war cemetery on the east and south perimeters, and a smaller UCC site. The result is that the planners have only 180 productive acres to work with. The use of those acres will determine the "yield" of the site, in this (best?) case, $78 million in revenues to DC after providing services.
Step #2: Decide How Many Acres Will Be for Commercial:
In this sample, it is decided to develop 50% of the total 180 acres for commercial use (90 acres), and that 20% of those acres (18) will be developed as high density (like downtown)on non-historically-preserved acres. According to NARPAC, they will yield $22M. Another 20% is selected to be "medium density", yielding $14M. The remainder (60% = 54 acres) will be for "low density" commercial, yielding 27M., for a total commercial contribution of $63M.
Step #3: Decide How to Use the Residential Acreage:
The remaining 90 acres (already decided by the first choice above), can be devoted to any of four categories of residential use (as explained in the footnotes at the bottom of the table). In this case, which is looking for a reasonable maximum yield, 20% (18 acres) are set aside for "upscale, dense" development. As indicated in the footnote, this category would involve 25 households per acre (town houses, presumably) with no kids headed for or in public school, and with an average household income of $150K, and a town house value of $500K. They would yield $13M in net productivity. 10% of the residential acres (9 acres) would go for low income households. These would involve 30 households per acre: including 10 poor households, 5 with female heads, and 30 public school kids. Assuming their average household income is $50K and their condos are worth $150K, they would consume $3M more in services than provided in revenues.
Another 10% of the acres are assumed here to be devoted to the poor (below the poverty level), and they would require $11M in "negative productivity". That would leave a remainder of 60% of the acres for middle income residents with an average of 10 kids among the 25 households per acre. Assuming an average income of $75K, and condos or houses worth $200K, they would contribute $16M to city revenues just offsetting the demands of the poor. Hence the residential half would contribute a net of $15M to the St. E's site, for a total productivity of $101M. NARPAC assumes this is close to a "best case" within the limitations now placed on the site.
Obviously there are an unlimited number of alternatives. Here are four with declining net productivity from the base case of $78M:
o Keep a 50/50 split between commercial and residential but lower the high density commercial to 10% of the commercially zoned acres, cut the upscale residential to 10%, and raise the low income household acreage to 20%. Net productivity drops to $63M.
o Cut the commercial acreage to 25%, and leave all the other shares as in the prior example, and the net productivity falls to $38M.
o Retaining the 25/75 split and increase the share of households in poverty from 10% to 20% and the net productivity drops to $18M.
o If from the previous declining alternative all the remaining 9 acres of high density commercial acreage, and the 28 acres of dense upscale residents, are eliminated, then the productivity drops to $9M, almost zero. Having a resident population including 60% middle income does not offset the $40M in costs of the other 40% in low income or poverty. And having only 20% of the commercial acres above low density, can only barely offset the residential losses.
Finally, the bottom line on the table (above the footnotes) indicates that 70 acres have been essentially "swapped away" for planning another day. It has the potential of producing about $47M in net productivity, but again, only if commercial and residential are equally balanced, upscale residents are preferred over middle income or less, and significant fraction of those 70 acres are devoted to high density commercial and residential development.
Case #2: Expanded
A second case is now included which builds on the notion of "swapping" into the St. E's site, some of the low density residential zoning that currently exists at/near the confluence of MLK , Alabama, and Malcolm X Avenues and Wheeler Road. The purpose, as elaborated toward the end of the prior section, is to transfer lower productivity residential zoning into the (extensive) parts of the St. E's site constrained by historic preservation, and "freeing up" substantial potentially unencumbered acreage outside the current St. E's boundaries. The Case #2 table is shown here:
In short, in this case, the St. E's-planned site is reduced to 160 acres, and now produces only $52M (vice $78M) in net productivity as more of the renovated buildings are used for low density residential rather than commercial purposes to match the parcels re-zoned Southwest of the site. But to compensate for this, a larger number of unencumbered acres (130 vice 70) are put to use for much higher density use. In this oversimplified example, the "outside the box" land generates $112M in net productivity, while the more constrained renovation "inside the box" produces less. This alternative may, in fact, be closer to the preferences of those who wish to honor the memories of the former site.
In short, initial planning for land use can easily determine the eventually "productivity", and the difference between contributing to, and detracting from, the city's financial posture will depend on those early decisions. Moreover, it also appears that the multiple constraints on the St. E's site will severely limit the maximum financial benefit that can be achieved by its redevelopment. These include historic preservation restrictions, prior commitments to local government agencies, and topographic limits. This strongly suggests that more aggressive developments might be planned for the outer fringes of the current site. In either event, this site cannot, all by itself, eliminate Ward 8's financial drains on the city, but it could surely help significantly. And swapping acres unsuited for development within the context of St. E's for unencumbered acres elsewhere could help even more. But most important, the future of St. E's, Ward 8, and everything East of the Anacostia depends on the development of a comprehensive master plan with long-range goals, and the firm intention by the city to generate the necessary infrastructure.
Did you find this of interest?
Please give us your FEEDBACK
This page was updated on May 5, 2003