MENU

Long Range
Projects for
DC's Future
This new chapter, established in November, 2002, will present information and commentary on many of DC's large new projects which are beginning to completely reshape our nation's capital. Together, they represent an enormous commitment to making a truly exceptional new city. Though many of them are not completely to NARPAC's liking, our comments generally point towards doing more, not less. These items will be listed latest items, first in the hopes of making it easier to download the latest ones more easily. These include:

o a lengthy discussion of the possibilities for redeveloping the 12-acre site of the recently demolished Old Convention Center. NARPAC believes that it should involve some future-looking landmark for the city and be linked to the redevelopment on Mount Veron Square, with its horrendous and increasing traffic problems.

o A preliminary outline for a plan to redevelop the Walter Reed Army Medical Center site in far Northwest DC. It includes a suggestion to relax DC's antiquated building height limitations so far from "downtown" and so near DC's largest "edge cities", Bethesda and Silver Spring;

o NARPAC has conducted a detailed analysis of DDoT's draft study plan to upgrade New York Avenue and, because of its length, put in into a separate chapter. It suggests again that transportation planning in DC leaves something to be desired in setting the context of their efforts.

o A revised South Capitol Street Plan has been put forward by a multi-agency NCPC Task Force. It seems to be devoted to making major sacrifices in arterial transportation capacity in order to generate "urban vibrancy". NARPAC finds it very shortsighted indeed. NARPAC's latest comments on this ill-advised proposal were added in October, 2006;

o DC's Department of Transportation is conducting a half-million dollar study to determine the feasibility of "deconstructing" the Whitehurst Freeway. It appears to be yet another foray into losing arterial transportation capabilities in order to improve the quality of life around that essential Georgetown by-pass. NARPAC sees no reason why one should be sacrificed for the other: that's what planners are for. Some amateurish sketches of a possible new urban deck complex to "hide" the freeway are shown to stimulate such thought by professionals. NARPAC's latest comments were added in October, 2006. This material has now been expanded further and moved to a separate chapter.

o A new two-acre, high-rise complex in Rosslyn, VA will soon become one of the most densely developed sites in the region, and surely within DC's "topographic bowl". It is a tribute to what 'smart growth' enthusiasts like to call "transit-oriented development".

o A separate chapter has been prepared analyzing planned redevelopments in Columbia Heights that could improve the "net productivity" of planning area Cluster 2. Self-imposed limitations make this a very tough challenge.

o Preliminary work has begun on a major effort to rebuild South Capitol Street as a major "gateway" into DC from the South and East;

o A plan to completely "Rebuild the Southwest Waterfront" facing the Washington Channel is reaching its final stages with the cooperation of its neighborhood. It can provide a significant increase in financial productivity for this area near the Arena Stage theater complex;

o A plan to "reconnect the Kennedy Center" to the "monumental core" is progressing during 2002. It should become the first application of an "urban deck" within DC, and provide a new way to lessen the impact of existing major highways within the city ;

o a draft master plan was released in May, 2002 for redeveloping the DC General Hospital site as part of the process of transferring "Reservation 13" from Federal to DC control;

o the decision to place the new St. Coletta's School right at the entrance to the Stadium/Armory metro station raises doubts about "transit-oriented development" on "Reservation 13";

o A major billion-dollar long-range DC sewer upgrade plan is working its way through the approval chain, with a major potential impact on the cleanliness of DC's rivers; DC's Navy Yard and its immediate surrounding area.

o This now includes an interesting new Maritime Plaza now beginning construction to the east of the Navy Yard.

o There is also an important new Anacostia Waterfront Initiative to develop DC's waterfront to "rival that of any of the great cities of the world, and serve to maintain the City as one of the most beautiful cities in the world". Detailed commentary on the emerging plan is available in the section on issues East of Anacostia.

o There are also some interesting new development plans in Northern Virginia for Alexandria's Potomac Yard as well as for a new Dulles Town Center.

o And the King Farm near Gaithersburg, MD demonstrates how a large 450-acre farm can be transformed into a modern community in less than 10 years to serve the new "Biotech Corridor".

o Metro is also firming up its development plans for the last large undeveloped site near the White Flint Metro Station on the Rockville Pike in Montgomery County.

o New plans were outlined in the Fall of 2000 for revitalizing the Georgia Avenue Gateway; and expanded downtown area; and perhaps most important, a substantial effort to renovate several areas east of the Anacostia River;

o And at about the same time, the Washington Post summarized a series of major economic developments in Annapolis, Md which should begin to counterbalance the current economic "tilt" in the metro area west of DC;

o And in early 2002, DC undertook a new Transit Development Study that could lead to the introduction of a Light Rail Transit system to complement Mtero Bus and Mterorail. NARPAC has considerable reservations about such a "MetroLite" addition to the mix;

o But the section of DC that most needs a serious, ambitious long-range plan is the depressed area East of the Anacostia River. An ongoing effort (January, 2000) indicates that attempts to develop a useful "people's plan" for that area will be hopelessly inadequate. Nevertheless, by November of 2000, a major effort was announced which must be acknowledged as an important first step in Anacostia's future

REDEVELOPING THE OLD CONVENTION CENTER SITE, AND MT. VERNON SQUARE AS WELL

summary

NARPAC is concerned that the current master planning for the Old Convention Center site suffers from too narrow a vision of its surrounds and their influence, and too broad an acceptance of arbitrary knee-jerk planning constraints. We do not see enough emphasis either on the hundred years ahead for our nation's capital city, or the pressing need to resolve current urban mobility (transportation) deficiencies that could well stifle and degrade further DC growth and prosperity.

background


Earlier in 2006, DC's Old Convention Center (OCC) was torn down and replaced (temporarily) with a huge macadam parking lot. The photo above shows this vast site looking southwest from the western edge of Mt.Vernon Square. The site is nicely landscaped around its edges, and boasts an interestingly decorated north/south walkway complete with artificial grass and an outdoor art display created by the National Trust. This path (shown in the snapshot below) follows the trace of 10th Street between H Street and New York Avenue. That section of 10th Street, along with an equivalent segment of I Street between 9th and 11th Streets, had been erased and subsumed within the 12-acre "super-block"assembled for the huge convention center.

A design team has been selected to re-develop this site, starting with a Master Plan due out by the end of Summer, 2006. As might be expected, numerous advocates are clamoring to have their special interests memorialized on this key site on the Southeast corner of Mt. Vernon Square. These include enthusiasts for underground parking; restoring L'Enfant's original street layout; relocating DC's Main Library from its current location two blocks south; downtown residential; upscale and local shopping; a "destination" where up to 1000 people can spontaneously congregate; more local green park space; inclusion of affordable housing; emphatic "street walls"; and so forth. But it is very unrealistic to separate the future of the OCC site from the future of the Square. City planners appear to have fallen into this trap.

Mt. Vernon Square itself is host to the historic Carnegie Library, most recently the home of the now-defunct Museum of the City of Washington, after years as the location of the Architecture Department of the University of Columbia.. More important from a practical point of view, the Square (which is really a rectangle and certainly not a circle) is the intersection of four principal arteries: New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, K Street, and the major north/south arterial, Georgia Ave/7th St., plus the less significant 9th St. It also interrupts the north-south traverse of 8th St. It is living proof of Pierre L'Enfant's limited vision of future urban traffic problems. The photo below is taken from the middle of New York Ave where it bends to pass Mt. Vernon Square. The elegant old Carnegie Library is to the left, the elegant new Convention Center to the right. An elevated "express pedestrian walkway" encircling the Square, discussed later, would be at approximately the height of the marquees over the Convention Center entrances:

Until recently, Mount Vernon Square was at the northern edge of "downtown", separating the business district from the relatively quiet, but decaying, neighborhoods north of New York Ave. The intrusion of the New Convention Center on the northern side of the Square (over the dead bodies of many Shaw neighborhood activists), plus the redevelopment of the huge triangular tract between New York Ave and Massachusetts Ave (NoMA) to the east, will fully engulf the Square within "downtown", and further increase its traffic woes as well.

NARPAC Commentary

a frame of reference

The draft Master Plan appears to be evolving without any reference to the influences of its immediate surrounds. NARPAC has suggested recognition of these relevant factors:

o the 800-pound gorilla, and biggest attraction here, is the new convention center (NCC);
o the biggest obstacle is the grotesquely bad traffic pattern around Mt. Vernon Place;
o the biggest white elephant is the outdated Carnegie Library;
o the biggest equalizer is NY Ave, a major :"service entrance" into DC with 24/7 heavy trucks;
o Mass Ave is a major commuter route from fashionable NW to influential Capitol Hill;
o K Street is to become the major surface transit route from Georgetown to Florida Ave (?);
o there are big parks at Franklin, McPherson, and Lafayette for demonstrations, rock bands;
o the site is blessed with three nearby Metro stations (which are not mentioned in the plan!);
o the existing MLK library, two blocks away, should be renovated, with developer assistance;
o the NoMA development can offer similar special interest amenities, compete for "retail";
o the site, near downtown's northern fringe, will be shaped by activist neighborhoods like Shaw;

re-opening streets for the love of L'Enfant:

After visiting the site, it seems clear that there is little point in re-opening a one-way 10th St to provide yet another intersection on NYAve, and no point in re-opening I St, since its Western end is dead and its view blocked. It is worth noting that both I Street below Mt. Vernon Square and L Street above it are essentially "discontinuous": i.e., they don't "line up" when they cross New York Ave and Massachusetts Ave, respectively to the west, or obversely to the east. Drivers are forced to make "Z-jogs" to continue on either street. The western discontinuities show clearly on the original engravings of the city plan as finished by Elliott and Bannecker (after L'Enfant had been dismissed for "non-performance"). The photo below looks directly west from the center of the OCC site. Dead ahead is the ludicrous old art-deco bus station on New York Ave, which most of its riders would prefer to forget. But I St. is not where is should be: it has zagged to the north. There is no continuous streetscape here:


We see no rational purpose in trying to re-establish this right of way "glitch" and think the almost four acres recovered would be far more profitably used for non-vehicular use. If they are replaced by (narrower), "pedestrian ways" there seems little reason to mimic the rectilinear pattern of the streets: For instance, NARPAC would prefer to see a diagonal "promenade" from 11th & H to Mt. Vernon Square. The present view from that corner is shown below, with a fuzzy view of the south face of the NCC barely distinguishable in the background:


going "3-D" in a city running out of surface area:

The OCC site is clearly boxed in by site limits, building height limits, and (perhaps) by re- establishing L'Enfant's street plan. Accessibility to the site is also going to be increasingly risky as traffic grows even horrendous around Mt. Vernon Square. We believe this would be a good place to apply "urban decks" to elevate pedestrian travel above the plane of city traffic. We think it would be a valuable innovation to be able to walk, bike, or ride a segway from the NCC to either Metro Center or Gallery Place without ever crossing an at-grade intersection. This could give real meaning to the fashionable notion of providing "pedestrian experiences"(!) in urban planning. The precedent has been established by the Labor Dept building spanning 3rd St. and more recently extending the NCC over and under L St, as shown on the photo below. (L St is I St's discontinuous mirror image to the north):


Cities must eventually separate vehicular and "personal transport" systems, and welcome grade- separated intersections. We need raised "promenades" that exclude vehicles, not "boulevards" that mix dissimilar elements. Deck height would be just about the same as those temporary "canopies" over the 10th St walkway, and as the current marquees over the main entrances to the NCC (above), and the new "flat iron" building on the northwest corner of 9th Street and NY Ave (below).

below-ground delivery systems, parking, and underpasses:

NARPAC subscribes to the OCC developer's proposal to use "below-ground" delivery systems to keep parked trucks off the streets and curbs. An alternate approach, of course, would be to use some of the space at grade level but beneath urban decks, thus not requiring these giant trailer trucks to maneuver up and down ramps. Specific points of entry might well be where the extensions of I St. and 10th St . would enter the site. These "gated" entrances would serve as the entry/exit points for "destination traffic only", including deliveries and parking for both residents, shoppers, and workers. This enormous "below deck" (but at grade level) volume could also house various city services from a fire station to a fancy "intermodal" tour bus transfer station. One such entrance would certainly be on the north side of H Street (the southern border of the OCC site) shown in the photo below. This is a major (continuous) street in DC, but only the very sharpest eye will discern the elaborate gate to Chinatown in the far background:


NARPAC fully supports the principal of underground parking, almost anywhere. We also heartily endorse the use of high tech "robotic parking" as a means of doubling or tripling the volumetric efficiency of urban parking facilities. At this particular site which could easily support, say, 35' of below-grade excavation, it is practical without intermediate floors or ramps to vertically "stack" (or more correctly "shelve") seven "normal cars" or five SUVs. The vertical retrieval systems require little more than the footprint of one vehicle to service two (front and back), for an area efficiency of 65%. This OCC site could easily provide parking for one car on each 50 square feet of "basement" plan area. Though it is admittedly unlikely, this empty OCC 10+-acre basement volume could hold over 80,000 cars, at a nominal fee of $15 each, generating $1.2M a day. For comparison, the land on which this OCC sat is assessed for 2007 at $590,371,000 (without "improvements"), which equates to land property taxes of $32, 400 a day. In extremis, parking fees could raise 40 times this much, for whatever that may be worth!

We would also incorporate RFID-based parking fee collection, which can (if so desired) charge fees proportional to vehicle "urban-friendliness". At one time NARPAC proposed (to thin air) that the current surface parking lot on the OCC site be used temporarily to demonstrate robotic, stacked parking in an open structure as a means of gaining public and municipal acceptance for the concept of hidden ones later here and elsewhere. For more details on this subject, please click on our chapter on automated parking.

accommodating heaving traffic without "disconnecting" the NCC from downtown

The traffic problems swirling around Mt. Vernon Square should be a major embarrassment for the nation's capital, particularly as pedestrian/vehicular accidents increase, and deaths make national news. These problems could well limit the full exploitation of either the OCC or the NCC itself. One solution is to elevate "express" pedestrian travel above current sidewalks and cross walks. Another is to limit the number of streets feeding directly into the Square (such as 8th St. and K St.). The third is to eliminate two-way traffic on one major entering street, 7th St, which becomes the heavily traveled Georgia Ave further north. Nineth St, which is one-way south, and 7th St would become one-way north would rejoin a few blocks up at their intersections with Rhode Island Ave. If nothing else, this would streamline the planned addition of "express" buses to the Georgia Ave corridor.

A fourth remedy is to incorporate a traffic circle, if the overall flow around it can be reduced. And the most obvious move would be to add underpasses to funnel major traffic streams under the Square, and/or its adjacent streets. NARPAC sees no insurmountable problem in tunneling under the Carnegie Library, and a major advantage in having continuous K street traffic (soon to increase!) avoid the Square. The photo below shows the K street approach from the West. The reader should have little difficulty visualizing added green park space in the foreground, or even an elevated pedestrian way above it:


Other than for parkways and freeways, DC has remarkably few separated-grade intersections. That may be, of course, because L'Enfant did not have underpasses or overpasses in his original late 1700's planning mindset. Nevertheless, traffic problems are somewhat eased at both DuPont Circle (for Connecticut Avenue) and Thomas Circle (for Massachusetts Avenue), not far from Mt. Vernon Square, by combining a rotary and underpass for one major axis of traffic. NARPAC thinks it is high time to provide the same amenities at Mt. Vernon Square for at least a portion of the intermingling traffic. The photo below looks up the relatively narrow (2-lanes each way) Mass Ave where it reaches the Square from Thomas Circle. That traffic splits between continuing downtown toward Capitol Hill on Mass Ave, or bearing left to leave town on NY Ave. It is one of the most heavily traveled "arterials" in DC:


how to make the old convention center into a new "destination":

NARPAC is by no means sure that every downtown block in DC, even a big one, can be a "destination". Some blocks are simply way stations on the way to somewhere else. We certainly do not share the mayor's hopes of turning this site into "DC's Baltimore Harbor". But if becoming a "destination" is a serious objective, and is tied, for instance, to attracting visitors to other businesses at the site (such as retail shopping), then it will probably require a relatively large, centrally located "landmark" on the site. Perhaps this could include some sort of spectator/participant activity around or under some central pavilion. The notion of a unique "L'Enfant Pavilion" for band/ensemble concerts, military tatoos, dance contests, small circuses, ice skating, "ethnic evenings", etc. comes to mind.

If the area proposed for reconstituting streets can be otherwise utilized, preferably as a raised deck, then some of the major buildings could look inward onto some central plaza fed by (diagonal?) "promenades" from various entry points. This might draw the site's residents and workers, as well as people from surrounding hotels, offices, NCC, MCI center, Chinatown, and Metro stations, all (perhaps) converging without grade-level street crossings. One criterion for such a plaza should be to gain a space bigger than, say, DC's Theater-in-the-Round in Southwest, and another to make sure it makes the tourist guide books!

DC planners have apparently established a requirement to bring substantial "retail" business to this site, both the larger "upscale" stores, as well as the more mundane specialty shops for DC's small businessmen. We recommend that the bigger stores like Nieman Marcus should line the inner promenades and plaza because they serve "intentional customers"(who like to shop slowly and by car!). These stores could benefit from additional shopping floors and resupply facilities below the promenade deck level. The mom&pop novelty stores, by contrast, might better line the street- level sidewalks around the periphery to catch "casual customers" walking or driving around town.

There also appears to be a requirement for an open space capable of accommodating an ad hoc (spontaneous?) gathering place for1000 people. NARPAC finds such a "need" dubious at best. What are the characteristics of such groups? Are available spaces so used? Why here rather than at Freedom Plaza, on the Mall, or inside the Convention Center? What do the cops say? We suggest offering a more "controlled" gathering spot, primarily for planned events.

In this same vein, DC planners tend to ignore the city's endemic poverty&crime issues in their urban design criteria. NARPAC believes that downtown sites like this one, hoping to attract a large component of "market rate" (i.e., well-off) residents, should be specifically designed to discourage muggers, homeless, panhandlers, et al. We see no harm in "controlled" entrances and exits, even "gated" during prowlers' hours. We also favor the development of high-density, inward-facing multiple-housing units (courtyard style) rather than those opening directly and individually on the city streets. We would "terrace" them back to avoid overpowering the promenade. In this vein, we are somewhat surprised at the continuing pressures to preserve existing DC street-lining rowhouses.

NARPAC is never quite sure whether it is better off describing these preferences without showing a specific design, or whether a very amateurish "notional plan" improves visualization of what we have in mind. As usual, we have opted for the latter, and (with apologies) show one freshman approach to linking the OCC and the NCC. We strongly urge a substantial effort to separate the 21st Centry pedestrian experience from its incompatible vehicular experience.


affordable housing pressures

Insisting on "affordable housing" for (permanently) "unaffordable households" in/around downtown often seems to NARPAC to be the epitome of misguided social engineering. Then insisting on "affordable shopping" (other than a residential convenience store) is even more fanciful. There needs to be an accepted system by which developers can "pool" affordable housing units to form whole "affordable communities". The as yet un-redeveloped area directly East of the new Convention Center might provide such a location for a "critical mass" of deserving households.

multiple building designs:

There appear to be growing demands to use significantly different building designs within a single development cluster. NARPAC believes this should be approached with great restraint. Different facades on four sides of a single building should be avoided as a short-lived fad, like external structural elements. We submit that what's really needed is some sort of variable skyline.

"bow-tie parks" and "green roofs":

City planners seem determined to preserve DC's distinctive "bow tie parks" in high-density urban areas. They are the inevitable left-over fall-out of combining diagonal avenues with rectilinear grids: the streetscape equivalent of the "hanging chad". Venerating them is a waste of time, a destination for undesirables, and a source of eyesores. DC planners need creative design thinking to increase visual novelty but discourage loitering and littering. Likewise, "usable roofs" on urban buildings are probably a good idea, but how "green" they should be is a different matter. We wonder if some of these tiny parks could be relocated to the roofs of newly developed buildings. We also wonder if there are ways other than greenery to chemically improve urban air quality.

summary

NARPAC is concerned that the current master planning for the Old Convention Center site suffers from too narrow a vision of its surrounds and their influence, and too broad an acceptance of arbitrary knee-jerk planning constraints. We do not see enough emphasis either on the hundred years ahead for our nation's capital city, or the pressing need to resolve current urban mobility (transportation) deficiencies that could well stifle and degrade further DC growth and prosperity.

return to the top of the pageOPPORTUNITIES AT THE WALTER REED MEDICAL CENTER CAMPUS

As a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommendations, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center will close within the next few years (2011?), and there is a good likelihood that the property will be transferred to the District (via the GSA). Although this may seem a long time away, it is certainly time to generate an estimate of its development potential for the city. As is NARPAC's wont, we will explore a maximum plausible potential productivity for the site, in our continuing effort to demonstrate that the nation's capital city can eventually become strongly financially independent by proper use of its limited land.

Existing Circumstances

general site location

The medical center is located roughly one mile inside the northern tip of the District "diamond". It is almost four miles north of DC's L'Enfant-designed core, a barely distinguishable "topographic bowl", and five miles from its notional center (the Washington Monument). By comparison, it is within two miles of the smaller edge city of Tacoma Park, and the much larger edge city of Silver Spring, MD with its 20+ story office buildings to its northeast. To its northwest, it is within three miles of the equally large edge city of Bethesda, MD. It is not at all surprising that a large share of Walter Reed's current employees live in Montgomery County rather than DC.

the site

The campus is roughly 113 acres of relatively flat, partially developed land. It has a variety of buildings on it, some starkly modern, some of the classic Georgian architecture that preservationists seem determined to save wherever they may be. The road network within the campus bears no relation to the more regular, generally rectilinear, grid outside.

site boundaries

The campus would be essentially rectangular if the a large piece of northwest corner were not lopped off by the diagonal Alaska Avenue. That cut-off triangle is occupied by 56 primarily residential residences with an average assessed value of $695K The western boundary is the major north/south arterial, 16th Street (which runs directly south to LaFayette Park in front of the White House. The eastern boundary is the equally major Georgia Avenue. More local roads define the east/west boundaries: Fern St. to the north and Aspen Street to the South.

e surrounding neighborhoods

The campus is surrounded by firmly established, relatively prosperous, residential neighborhoods. Shepherd Park to the North (average home value $690K; Tacoma to the East and Brightwood to the South (average home value $350K to $475K). The western side of Georgia Avenue is zoned for low density commercial with a few local convenience and fast-food stores. Across 16th Street to the West lie the upper reaches of Rock Creek Park, almost a mile wide, and with a deep "valley" that has classically formed a major "barrier" between the "blacker" population of eastern DC, and the more prosperous "whiter" population of northwestern DC.

planning cluster comparisons

Walter Reed forms the southeastern boundary of Planning Cluster #16, and the northwestern boundary of Cluster #17. There are very substantial differences in their 2000 demographics. Cluster #16 includes the city's three northern-most "neighborhoods", North Portal Estates, Colonial Village, and Shepherd Park. Cluster #17 includes Tacoma, Brightwood, and Manor Park. Compared to Custer #17, #16 has relatively few residents (4,000 vs 18,500), somewhat lower fraction of blacks (73% vs 79%), but a much higher share of whites (22% vs 9%), and far fewer Hispanics (3% vs 13%).

Both are very predominantly residentially zoned (83% vs 80%), though #17 has a somewhat higher commercial sector (8% vs 2%). Cluster #16 has fewer kids (18% vs 20%) and more seniors (22% vs 17%), more high school graduates (93% vs 79%) and far more college graduates (64% vs 29% [in '90]). As a result, Cluster #16 is far more prosperous in terms of median household income ($107,700 vs $45,800!), and therefore far higher home ownership (90% vs 52%). Nevertheless, Cluster #17 is somewhat better off than the DC-wide average. It suggests that Cluster #16 is a professional, white collar area, compared to #17's working, blue collar cast.

transportation access

Georgia Avenue and 16th Street provide excellent north/south access to the Walter Reed campus. Military Road, the major east/west artery crossing Rock Creek Park, is a few blocks south of Aspen Street. East-West Highway, connecting Bethesda and Silver Spring just barely skirting the northern tip of DC, provides another major east/west access. There is bus service on each of these major routes, but very little Metrorail access. The only two metro stations are on the Red Line, very close to the DC/MD boundary. The closer one is the Tacoma Park Station, well over half a mile eastward. The more heavily used one is at Silver Spring (over a mile northeast), where "transit oriented development" is producing a very prosperous edge city, unhindered by DC's pervasive zoning restrictions. The nearest stations west of Rock Creek are over two mile away. (There is no Metrorail crossing of Rock Creek).

Future Potential

the size of the site

One hundred and thirteen contiguous acres with good transportation (roads at least) on all sides will (would?) be a real addition to the revenue-producing capacity of the city. The chart below shows six different sectors of the city, with the shaded outline of the medical campus superimposed, gives a feel for what the future might hold. The Walter Reed site is also included bottom center. It covers the entire central area of Georgetown (top left), about half of the "high- end" Spring Valley residential area (top center); the core area of the Soldier's Home (top right and also planned for partial redevelopment); perhaps a quarter of the total "official" "downtown" area (bottom left); significantly larger than the entire downtown GWU campus (center); and perhaps a third of the Near Southeast/Navy Yard now undergoing major development, with the baseball stadium still to come (bottom right).

general guidelines

While NARPAC purposely tends to seek the highest practical development density, to provide an upper limit' on site potential, we still obey some general guidelines:

respecting the neighborhood interfaces

o the eastern boundary facing Rock Creek Park across 16th Street should be suitable for relatively high-density residential (such as exists along Connecticut Ave below Rock Creek);

o the southern and northwestern (Alaska Ave) boundaries should reflect the residential properties they face across the street: lower density along the streets, higher density apartments/condos behind them;

o the northern boundary can at least partially reflect the higher (seven story?) height of the major modern new hospital building;

o the western boundary, Georgia Ave, should be zoned commercially to build up the local economy of the area, and provide better amenities for all surrounding neighborhoods; behind them taller commercial properties should be acceptable;

remembering Walter Reed

o the core of the new campus should memorialize the medical center by keeping the large square hospital building (suitably converted), and the most historic core brick building directly south of it. It will be an interesting challenge to devise a suitable use for this "classic" (dated) building, such as a "period piece" hotel, or even a college dormitory if the campus develops a relevant theme;

accommodating vehicular traffic

o a good portion of the "regular" street layout should be re-established within the campus, but modified to the "save" the symbolic core;

o all off-street parking should be within/below major buildings;

getting the monkey off DC's back

o if there is ever to be a test case for relaxing DC's outmoded building height limits, it would be for a major site such as this, several miles from the area covered by the historic L'Enfant city plan. If in fact, a good rationale can be developed for developing this site as a new "city" within DC, there seems to be little reason why it should suffer from constraints that do no apply to its neighboring "edge cities". Perhaps someday an "Uptown" to match the current "Downtown". The tall buildings would be set back perhaps a thousand feet (1000 ft.) from the site boundaries on all sides, and would be almost completely shielded by "normal" DC height buildings closer to the boundaries.

Revised Layout

The notional design developed in this paper restores two east/west streets, plus three north/south thru-streets, plus a symbolic "beginning for 13th Street south of the old Georgian Hospital. A simplified sketch is shown below:

o high density mixed residential and commercial development, should essentially surround the "symbolic core" comprised of the new and old hospitals and the Hoff Memorial Fountain;

In accordance with the guidelines above, there are six proposed categories of land use for the 113 acres (including roads), as described below:

o Special memorial uses (22 acres, including old and new hospitals);

o Low Residential: (15 acres along Alaska Avenue and Aspen Street);

o High Residential: (25 acres along 16th Street, and behind the low residential and low commercial);

o Low Commercial (7 acres facing on Georgia Ave);

o High Commercial (44 acres bounding the "memorial uses" on three sides); and

o Very High Commercial (15 acres of the 44 high commercial above) with variable heights up to double the current limits).

annual revenue projections

Using the property assessments typical of various "squares" around DC (NARPAC is amassing quite a file of these), and the tax revenue-productivity estimating techniques used in the recent GWU Campus study, it is possible to make crude estimates of how much the city could expect to benefit from full redevelopment of the Walter Reed site. In FY2006 DC dollars, we estimate that $170M would be generated by commercial/business activities and $100M from residential uses, a bit more than $2M per acre, even though 22 of the 113 acres are assumed to be used primarily for "memorial" applications.. Those losses are partially offset by generating $24M in additional revenues from 15 acres of 50%-above-DC-height-limit mixed commercial/resident structures. A site composed entirely of low density, single family homes of the quality currently in the area (with the same 22-acre exclusion) would produce roughly $110M at best.

It is none to soon for the city leadership to start thinking about what to do about this lucrative new property in far Northwest Washington. Hopefully, it will be recognized more as a symbol of DC's future than of its past. And perhaps an enlightened leadership will look to break from inappropriate constraints of the past and favor the future needs of the nation's capital city.

ANOTHER SHOT AT REDEVELOPING SOUTH CAPITOL STREET MISSES THE MARK at least according to NARPAC


Comments on Completion of the Grade-level Intersection at the New Ballpark

By early September, 2007, the South Capitol Street overpass at Potomac Avenue had been replaced by a grade-level crossing, right on the southwest corner of DC's new baseball stadium. NARPAC's unfavorable comments on this counterproductive development were published in "TheMail" on September 3rd, 2007.

Abridged "Blunt" NARPAC Comments on South Capitol Street Corridor Developments to DC's Department of Transportation in April, 2006,
(This section is added at the beginning of this section for ease of access. The body of this report was written years earlier.)

This responds to your request for comments on the subject development. ...(We try to represent), Americans everywhere who want to be extremely proud of their national capital city...

General Comments (no atmosphere of "grand design"):

Nothing (in this presentation)...suggests that you are dealing with the long-range future of the world's most envied and scrutinized national capital. This city deserves the best, and can expect, via the US Congress, to be suitably funded by the American public for its valid major infrastructure needs. You don't have to nickel and dime the capital's urban mobility, and you shouldn't be captive to the idiosyncratic hobbies of its elected or appointed officials....Our objections to this approach to planning by DDoT (and other DC agencies) cover perhaps one quarter of our web site...Our issues with re-inventing South Capitol Street remain essentially unchanged from our lengthy critique presented below prepared in October 2002,...

Goals of South Capitol Street Corridor (SCSC) Improvements (mostly inappropriate): ceremonial gateway? The underlying aim to convert the major purpose of the SCSC from a utilitarian "service entrance" to downtown DC into a "ceremonial gateway" (for elephant trains carrying galactic poohbahs?) is starkly inappropriate, If you wish to add some sort of red carpeted side door for once-a-month dignitaries being whisked in from Andrews AFB, then make that a separate add-on design, but do not destroy or limit essential SCSC workaday functions. This theme is expanded... (in our article) dealing with upgrading DC's other major "service entrance", New York Avenue.

No emphasis on developing "southeast quadrant"?

Most broad-based regional planners seem to agree with us that the southeastern quadrant of both DC and its regional extension to the Chesapeake should receive the top attention over the next 50 years. Developing DC East of the Anacostia and redeveloping big sites like St. Elisabeths and/or NAS and BoIling AFB are key to this effort. Future Defense Dept base realignments and closures (BRAC) in the aftermath of the now discredited Iraq war will almost certainly free up additional land for development EoA, and probably at the Navy Yard as well. Andrews AFB could well evolve into some sort of21st Century airport and corridor (like Dulles). The SCSC is already a major composite commuter, 24/7 truck, and emergency evacuation route, and all three of these functional demands must increase for the future good of the metro area. In fact, the SCSC should be as much a gateway to Anacostia as the reverse.

no heavy traffic tunnel?

It is short-sighted to essentially dismiss the bolder, longer range, concept of a large functional tunnel under a smaller high-profile ceremonial bridge. Surely you couldn't/wouldn't add a tunnel later, and/or dig up the new SCSC to accommodate multi-level flow at a later date. This seems indicative of not looking far enough ahead (25-50 years) or accepting the national capital metro area for what it is. It also adds unnecessarily to the cost of the bridge and its oversized draw span, by including heavy traffic better suited to a tunnel.

totally unnecessary draw-bridge?

It is (also) shameful not to successfully challenge the future need for a clear deep-water navigable channel extending no more than 500 yards upstream of the new bridge. Failure to emphasize the cost and folly of a huge draw bridge that opens at best only a few times per year seems disingenuous. It suggests failure to exercise the full powers of America's capital city or to invoke Congressional help. Use part of the $75-100M draw span cost to provide a Navy/Coast Guard dock downstream of the bridge, possibly at Ft. McNair or across the river at the foot of St. E's proposed (and strangely inappropriate) Coast Guard HQ. Use the rest to "rough in" a tunnel.

no changes when stadium added?

There don't seem to be any changes in SCSC planning to accommodate a 40,000 seat stadium right at the foot of the bridge. This gives the impression that corridor design is not influenced by extra surges in vehicular or pedestrian traffic. Don't double-headers and night games overlap with evening rush hours? Is this where traffic circles and at-grade intersections shine?

no accommodation of added Metro capabilities?

This study does not seem to address possible Metrorail system modifications, or even Metrobus and tour bus access and parking for the stadium. Is this part of compartmentalization? Isn't there a crying need to connect the Green Line Navy Yard Metro station to the Blue/Orange Line at Potomac Avenue, and thence to Stadium-Armory and beyond? Isn't there a need to add a new Navy Yard station within walking distance of Navy Yard and Maritime Plaza? Isn't there is also a strong need to connect the Yellow Line from Pentagon to Green Line at Waterfront, without requiring changing trains at over-crowded "L 'Enfant Plaza? Ignoring these needs reflects DDoT's foolish policy not to add any Metrorail capacity or alternate routes within DC for the next 20 years. At what bureaucratic level was that decision made? Was it made to justify clogging DC surface arteries with trolleys? Is it sensible that over 80% of all subway baseball fans pass through or change trains at one of Metro's three already-clogged downtown stations to attend a game? Won 't DC be adding new Metrorail track and stations to support transit-oriented growth EoA?

no growth in vehicular traffic capacity?

Another sub-rosa DDoT plan essentially proscribes any growth in vehicular traffic capacity anywhere in DC over the next 20 years (read its draft for DC's new Comprehensive Plan). DDoT policy also includes "calming" (slowing?) existing traffic by adding dozens of new grade-level crossings with traffic lights along major city arterials like SCSC converted into scenic boulevards. Did the mayor, the Council, or the Congress approve these decisions? Is it just a sop to DC's very few bike and trolley enthusiasts? Who certified that DC economic growth can be supported indefinitely without expanding commercial or private vehicular use? What is the fascination with grade-level intersections? Does DDoT have valid studies showing that traffic flow is increased, or pedestrian/vehicle accidents decreased, by at-grade intersections? What happened to Chairman Cropp's interest in exploiting "air rights" on the way to DDoT?

gateway to nowhere?

Neither solution is acceptable when involving grade-level intersections, mundane access to a new ballpark, and fixed or reduced SCSC traffic volume for the next 50 years. Moreover, how can a rational decision be made about this new four-block boulevard with no plan to upgrade SCSC from M Street north to the SE Freeway interchange? And isn't SCSC's northern terminus at Independence Avenue permanently blocked off? Isn't this "boulevard" a gateway to nowhere?

too much bridge?

Among four inappropriate designs with oversized, unnecessary draw spans, only one... is a clear winner. It's too bad that the subtle sailboat motif runs unrealistically crosswise, rather than up and down, the river. It's too bad it couldn't be an American design. Furthermore, the careful attention paid to keeping walkers and bikers alive on the bridge seems inconsistent with killing them at grade-level intersections at each end.

sneaking the camel's nose under the wrong tent?

The proposed near-term improvements should facilitate the construction of a tunnel consistent with later new-bridge and multi-level SCSC needs. Fixing on grade-level intersections from the outset (appears) dead wrong. It...(comes across as) a transparent device to lock in inappropriate "boulevardization" of a high-density traffic artery, possibly without high-level approval.


(Basic report begins here)

background

A recent report from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) takes a fresh look at what might be done to redevelop South Capitol Street, based on a series of major decisions that have evolved independent of the NCPC's 1997 "Legacy Plan", previously reported by NARPAC. In view of the progress in formalizing the plans for the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, and more recently, the decision to put DC's new baseball stadium just about where the NCPC had envisioned a new Supreme Court building (!), a new multi-agency South Capitol Street Task Force was formed and has recently posted their visionary report as a 'publication' on their web site . In summary, the task force visualizes "a grand urban boulevard and waterfront gateway with spectacular views to and from the US capitol as the centerpiece of the new South Capitol Street corridor. Green space, mixed-use development, new commemorative works, and a beautiful new Frederick Douglas Memorial Bridge would help turn the area into a vibrant boulevard bustling with life and activity."

Carried over from the earlier "vision" however, is the continuing effort to essentially destroy the overall arterial transportation capacity of this central area of the city south of the capitol. At tremendous cost, it proposes to eliminate both the elevated Southeast Freeway with all its major approaches, and the major freight and passenger railroad rights of way for CSX, AMTRAK, and the local Virginia commuter railroad (VRE, which is independent on Metrorail). It proposes a 'elegant' new bridge from Anacostia, with no greater traffic capacity than the present one, and introduces a large ornamental traffic circle (oval, actually) between the bridge and "new" South Capitol Street. That oval would also serve to "mix" the traffic from the local Potomac "Avenue" with the rush of six-lane bridge traffic. To add congestion, the new baseball stadium would be at the northeast "corner" of that oval "race track". In addition, it assumes there will be no further expansion of Metrorail in this area (such as a north/south route from Union Station down into Anacostia). However, it does consider the addition of a surface light rail system to share the new roadways and at-grade intersections.

NARPAC perceptions

NARPAC considers the notion of "spectacular vistas" from the capitol to the Anacostia River to be extremely unrealistic. The topography does not encourage the long view, nor does the existence of two very large and very permanent House Office Buildings; Rayburn and Longworth which are barely 100 feet from each other across South Capitol Street at its origin. NARPAC last year photographed that last block of South Capitol Street because it is now essentially permanently closed to traffic for Capitol Hill security reasons. This barrier is barely visible beyond the CSX railroad bridge shown below from the E Street intersection:

Oddly enough, the Task Force is also still proposing to block the view of the Anacostia River with either a) a major memorial and amphitheater; b) a major memorial and major public gathering places; or c) a major museum/cultural building. So much for looking at the river, which is in fact, just about one and a half miles from the capitol dome. NARPAC cannot help but observe that it would be far easier to get a relatively unobstructed view from the capitol to the River along New Jersey Avenue. This adjacent radial from the capitol is to date virtually undeveloped, and has no major dedication to regional traffic. Furthermore, this "grand boulevard" is only planned for the southern third of the distance from the capitol to the river. Lesser improvements would be made north of M Street, clearly the major intersection for this area of the city. For reference, M Street South runs from the waterfront at Washington Channel in Southwest, across South Capitol past the Southeast Federal Center and historic Navy Yard, both under extensive development, to the brand new "Maritime Plaza" just beyond the 11th Street Bridge. The Metro Blue/Orange Lines run under it. The snapshot below shows the real distance from the M Street overpass (with South Capitol Street running below) north to the capitol. It is also obvious that the major SE/SW freeway overpass does not obscure the view of the nation's most famous symbol, because it is actually below the sight line.

suitable application for an "urban deck"

This perspective (and a similar one facing south) suggests that a long urban deck could be built above the current grade level of M Street (at the crown of the overpass) that could stretch all the way to the SE Freeway overpass. For reference, the deck would be roughly the same height as the flat red and white roof of the Amoco (?) station left center. It would provide a stroller's promenade rather than a vehicular boulevard whose charm began to decline with the advent of the internal combustion engine. It could provide approximately ten uninterrupted acres of statuary gardens, public meeting spaces, and whatever else provides urban vibrancy other than vehicular emissions, noise, and danger. This urban deck would be entirely "green" with the exception of a central two-lane road for the National Park Service "tourmobiles", and occasional use by VIP entourages making ceremonial entries to the city (presumably primarily from Andrews AFB at the other end of Suitland Parkway.

3-dimensional urban transportation planning

This entire sweep is about the distance from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. It would have several major advantages, primarily deriving from its elevation above all vehicular traffic, to say nothing of divorcing all transportation lanes from at-grade intersections. It could also provide almost ten acres of covered parking lots between the cross streets for everything from tour buses to baseball fans, and including Capitol Hill staffers who now enjoy some 30 acres of surface parking lots immediately around the Capitol and in surrounding buildings. The crude cross-sectional sketch shows the three dimensional focus of NARPAC's proposal compared to the NCPC's all-in-one-flat-plane solution. The equivalent grade level for the NARPAC design is M Street, with the deck above, and three levels of transportation activity below it. Note that the bottom level is the existing Metrorail tunnel that runs under M Street. (Note also, its depth is a guestimate!)

It should be noted that, while this approach may seem extreme, its major advantage is to satisfy the objective of a placid "human activity surface" above several layers of essential mobility associated with an urban center with growing population, commerce, and regional mobility needs. Immediately below the 'cross-street&parking' layer are 8 lanes of light vehicular transit: essentially that flow using the elegant new bridge. Two of those lanes allow for exit/entrance lanes as in the I-395 underpass (tunnel?) Under the Mall. This level is essentially at the lowest grade of the existing South Capitol Street below the M Street overpass.

The next level down may be the most controversial, but it allows for four lanes of heavy vehicle traffic that might be associated with a companion tunnel under the river for traffic not suited to the stylish new pedestrian-friendly bridge. Finally, NARPAC firmly believes that Metrorail coverage should be expanded, and that transportation planners should be leading the way rather than resisting such growth. Hence NARPAC has added (or reserved width for) two subway tracks in the new river tunnel. (This is not unlike the two lanes on the new Wilson Bridge to be reserved for Metrorail.) It would be part of a line that went directly north from Anacostia to Union Station and/or the recently opened New York Avenue station. Such north/south redundancy is key to mitigating station congestion at DC's three limiting downtown "hub stations". A summary table of the NCPC objectives and NARPAC's critique of them is provided below:

NARPAC comments to NCPC:

NARPAC provided formal commentary to NCPC earlier in the year:

NARPAC COMMENTS ON NCPC'S SOUTH CAPITOL STREET VISION

Should We Convert a Major Regional Artery into a National Gateway Park?

NARPAC has yet to see a world-class, future-looking "vision" plan for any part of our nation's capital city. We are generally out of step with those seemingly intent on preserving rather than evolving a national capital city that all Americans can be proud of. We believe long-range planning should stress the acceptance of inescapable future trends. We seek creative designs to absorb these trends into an existing fabric that preserves the best elements of the past but does not deny the inevitability of changing demographics and lifestyles. As in other recent "vision documents", we see five areas where the inexorable course of change seems to be ignored:

Generalities:

1. The realistic boundaries for the capital planning area are expanding apace and cannot be ignored. DC's first plan envisioned a small City of Washington within a modest "topographic bowl" occupying less than 25% of the initially surveyed 10-mile square. 200 years later, DC represents only 2% of the contiguous metropolitan area, 12% of its population, and only 8% of its wealth. DC is a shrinking part of an expanding metro area whose future is indivisible.

2. Land use within the city's boundaries must continue to change significantly. It cannot expect to be a mini-replica of the metro area with the same proportions of residential, business, public, and non-profit sectors. DC will inevitably continue to specialize in those functions best done by the constrained high density core of a spreading area.

3. The city must continue to accept additional population, both residents, workers, and visitors. The density of activity will continue to increase within its relatively fixed base area. Hence its functional volume must increase. The notion of our core city as a two- dimensional plane rather than a three dimensional volume is simply outdated.

4. Unplanned urban technologies (and risks) continue to unfold. Nobody advocates returning to the horse and its manure, mud streets, outdoor plumbing, chamber pots, gas lights, soft coal fires, town criers, gallows, etc. Current urban planners show no better foresight concerning clean, renewable fuels; personal transport systems; automated storage and material collection and/or distribution systems, global warming needs; body implants for navigation, communication, identification, health monitoring and fee-paying; bio-engineered changes in family composition, child-bearing, education; life-span; etc. We are even ignoring lethal urban vulnerabilities that cry out for greater diversity and redundancy in vital urban infrastructure elements.

5. Demand changes too. The demand for, dependence on, and evolution of personal, family, public and commercial transportation systems is probably the most pervasive and influential on urban infrastructure and planning. It seems to be ignored in recent "vision documents", including the future of South Capitol Street. There seems to be no accepted linkage between the city's economic prosperity and the prompt, reliable movement of people and goods by the full (and expanding) range of transportation systems demanded throughout a modern metro area.

Specific Issues: (consider past, present, future)

For those who specific issues over platitudes, here is a list of NARPAC's specific questions:

South Capitol Street and Douglass Bridge (SCS) as a Major City/Regional Artery

1. What role does the SCS play in connecting parts of the city and the region?

2. How is the mix of the flow changing between commuters, trucking, public transport, tourists, visitors, dignitaries etc.? For whom should it become a major gateway (either in or out of DC)?

3. Is it designated as a major 24/7 heavy-trucking route? How does it figure in emergency evacuations from the city? Does it serve the essential trash transfer functions?

4 How will the use of this route be impacted by the forthcoming development of the Near Southeast, the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, and the Baseball Stadium?

5. What are the expectations for future growth of the southeast quadrant (SEQ) of the city and the region beyond? Is "Reality Check" germane? What are the major likely/emerging "destinations": Annapolis? Chesapeake Western Shore? Andrews AFB? Northeast Corridor Bypass?

6. Are there alternative routes if the flow rates of SCS are reduced or capped at current levels?

7. Is this route significant to the future economic growth of the least developed parts of both the city and the state of Maryland?

8. Is SCS key to developing a more robust, redundant regional public transportation system? Are there needs/plans to expand Metrorail or intermodal parking along this route as SEQ develops?

9. Does this "vision" depend on "deconstructing" the SE Freeway and CSX RoW? At what cost and to what real-world objective? Are major transportation features detrimental to a modern city?

10. Are their immutable design requirements for a new Douglass Bridge? How much more traffic should it accommodate and of what type? Is it realistic to require deep-water ship passage?

South Capitol Street as a Grand Urban Boulevard and Ceremonial Gateway

1. What is the advantage of a grand urban boulevard as opposed to a grand promenade or esplanade? Why does it have to be at current-ground level? Aren't rotaries getting obsolete?

2. Should the development of this ceremonial/monumental capital plaza be done at the expense of the city's real and expanding transportation needs?

3. Why not construct an urban deck for a promenade, or even a restricted-use boulevard, with a major artery, parking facilities and other transportation amenities on lower levels?

4. Why not build a two-level bridge with the upper level sharing pedestrian, recreational, and/or ceremonial uses, and the lower level for heavy traffic and possibly Metrorail lanes as well?

5. Why should the view down the promenade be blocked by a major building rather than remain unobstructed down to and across the city's "internal" river?

6. Why not build another urban deck over the I 295/I-395 intersection and include it as part of the SCS esplanade? Isn't it then possible to eliminate the costly urge to dismantle the SE Freeway?

return to the top of the page STUDYING THE WHITEHURST FREEWAY

This section has been further expanded, and shifted to a Separate Chapter

return to the top of the page MORE HIGH DENSITY DEVELOPMENT FOR ARLINGTON

In late June of 2004, the Arlington County Board approved the design and development of a new million square foot office/hotel/condo complex on a scant two acres on the northern tip of Rosslyn, the business district for Arlington County, and DC's most prominent 'edge city'. It will sit just east of the Virginia end of Key Bridge, across the Potomac from DC's Georgetown. The 3-lot site at 19th and North Lynn Streets is currently occupied by three nondescript office buildings (in center of photo to right), all taller than the average high density structures in DC. These will be torn down within the year to make room for a new twin-tower structure 24 stories, and 300 feet tall, more like the tall new building to their right rear. So much for preserving Washington's "topographic bowl" on the Virginia side of the Potomac!

Preliminary designs call for "Waterview" to include 620,000 sqft of office space, a 155-room hotel, and over 180 high-end condos selling for up to one million dollars each. The resulting FAR for the site will be roughly 11.5 sqft of useful floor space per sqft of lot footprint. The architectural firm chosen for this major project also built Washington's Holocaust Museum and the Reagan Office Building. The site is nominally four blocks from the Rosslyn Metro Station on the Orange/Blue Line, and is clearly consistent with 'smart growth' advocates' "transit-oriented developmet. The general layout of Arlington, with its commercial developments concentrated around each of its Metro stations is shown below, along with a detail of the site location, and an early artist's sketch of the proposed structures. (Maps and sketch are taken from the web sites of Trizec Properties, Inc. and Arlington County.)

top of the page

DC KICKS OFF STUDY OF SOUTH CAPITOL STREET GATEWAY FOR CONGRESS:

In October, 2002, DC's Depart of Transportation, in conjunction with the Office of Planning and several other DC and federal offices, kicked off a $900K study of how to improve the southern approach to DC. South Capitol Street , like those for other three points of the compass, aligns directly with the national capitol building. Primarily a major commuter route now from areas East of the Anacostia, it is also the inner terminus of Suitland Parkway, which connects DC with Andrews Air Force Base, where the presidential aircraft are kept, and where foreign dignitaries most often arrive. The mundane photo below is taken from the pedestrian path on the Frederick Douglass Bridge over which South Capitol Street crosses.

The materials provided for the kick-off briefing are summarized below, essentially verbatim. One might note the extensive repetition of the word "neighborhood", which remains the mantra for all current DC development projects, even those of national import.

Draft Vision For South Capitol Street Gateway:

The study has as its ultimate vision the creation of a grand and lively urban boulevard serving the neighborhoods, the District of Columbia, the capital region, and the nation as the principal gateway to the U.S. Capitol, the Anacostia waterfront, and the Southwest, Southeast, and Buzzard Point neighborhoods.

Study Purposes:

Provide a balanced, sustainable, multi modal transportation network that knits the neighborhood together and handles commuters with minimal impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Transform the South Capitol Street Corridor into a significant gateway to the Nation's Capital, one that serves the District, the region and visitors from the nation and the world.

Create a great urban boulevard in the tradition of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Support the development of a new mixed-use employment corridor, benefitting existing residents and providing transportation support for a diversity of new housing and economic development activities.

Provide better access to waterfront areas on both sides of the river, including Poplar Point and Buzzard Point, and better serve Historic Anacostia, Near Southeast, and Southwest Neighborhoods.

Enhance the vitality and safety of the District's roads and the neighborhoods around them by creating great places and destinations for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Tie into and support the planning efforts of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.

By achieving a high level of public involvement in the study, gain public buy-in and engage the public in the implementation of the study recommendations.

The study area is outlined in red on a somewhat degraded aerial photo (copied from briefing material and tinted by NARPAC to show certain points of interest. The capitol building is at top left, with South Capitol Street dropping straight south to as dog-leg over the Anacostia River where it joins Suitland Parkway (bottom right) and US Rte 295 (bottom center). The yellow tinted area above the Southwest/Southeast Freeways is the highway interchange area where NARPAC held a student design competition to construct an large urban deck. The orange tint (upper left) just above M Street, which runs straight across the photo, is the newly named Waterfront Mall to be rebuilt in conjunction with the Waterfront redevelopment.

The dark square east of South Capitol Street below M Street, in one possible location for the proposed new DC Baseball Stadium. Next to it, the pink tint defines the Southeast Federal Center development, the blue tint, the redeveloped Navy Yard, now employing nearly 11,000 office and professional workers, and the purple tint of the Maritime Plaza mixed-use area now being built. The green tint (bottom center) is the upper end of the 300-acre St. Elizabeth's Hospital site, currently being studied for redevelopment.

NARPAC COMMENTARY:

The following commentary was submitted by NARPAC to the DDoT shortly after their presentation. It reflects (and in many instances repeats) our continuing concern for the lack of full planning for DC's future transportation infrastructure.

1. The Big Picture:

o It is by no means clear that all these various separate local plans are part of some integrated master plan, based on some overall objectives for the growth of our national capital city.

o It is clear that planning for the city is not coordinated with an even grander plan for the metro area. The impending growth in Southern Maryland seems to be treated as an awkward outside nuisance rather than part of the coordinated growth of the metro area's lagging Southeast Quadrant.

o The impression is strongly given that virtually any neighborhood demands will be heeded to the exclusion of any constraints imposed by larger-than-neighborhood dictats. A few thousand local cyclists get more attention than expanding one of the world's finest Metro rail systems.

o The plan's "purpose" to "provide a network that knits neighborhoods together with minimum impact from commuters on them" suggests that the federal government, non-profits, embassies, and businesses in the nation's capital are all secondary to local interests. While this may play well to local constituencies, to others, it suggests a lack of understanding of the role/purpose of our national capital city.

o City planners still seem ambivalent about whether the city should give higher priority to "middle class" residents, or to commercial businesses. This may be good politically, but it is foolish economically. The city would be far more financially secure with twice as much commercial acreage and ten percent less "average" residential acreage from the standpoint of net revenue productivity.

o As in other DC planning studies, the region East of the Anacostia seems to be treated as some foreign land where poverty is rife, and the land unsuitable for development. NARPAC believes it represents the major potential for economic growth over the next century despite the reservations of some local residents. This SCS study should also provide a gateway from the Capitol to Anacostia! o There is a common myth amongst local planners that federal lands will always remain sacrosanct and beyond conversion. Yet this is demonstrably not the case re SEFC, St. E's, Reservation 13, and many other areas. The productive re-use of such patently surplus areas as Bolling AFB, the Naval Air Station, NRL, and yes, Andrews AFB must be considered in long-range planning. Even the ugly surface parking lots within sight of the capital dome should be challenged for their waste.

o Because Anne Arundel County is not considered part of the metro area, the attractive and rapidly growing state capital city of Annapolis on the Eastern Shore does not exist on regional maps. It is ignored as a destination or even as a corridor for growth like the Dulles Toll Road, or I270 north to Gaithersburg. This biases transportation and growth planning (if any) to the north and west of DC.

2. The Transportation Picture:

o Although the emphasis on transportation issues has risen somewhat with the advent of a separate DDoT (for which NARPAC testified in the affirmative), the impression is still given that the major purpose of transportation improvements is to follow growth, not lead it. This is dumb growth. Some decisions in and near this SCS zone should be based on just the opposite: how should an expanded transportation infrastructure lead the growth and productivity of as yet undeveloped areas? This is key to the full development of DC East of the Anacostia, and not a decision for Anacostia neighborhoods.

o There seems to be political pressure to ignore the Metro rail system, and its need for substantial upgrading and expansion. One seldom hears about the need to move away from the initial hub- and-spoke design towards a "matrix" design to by-pass the impending downtown bottlenecks. (NARPAC has recommended joining the yellow line to the Green Line at Waterfront Station, linking Navy Yard o Blue/Orange Potomac Avenue under M Street SE and adding a new station closer to the actual Navy Yard. This would enhance growth there and provide a downtown bypass).

o There is a relatively new tendency to propose all sorts of alternatives to heavy (underground) rail. The most dangerous of these is the growing pressure from certain officials and politicos to return to trolleys to further clog limited surface arteries. Bad enough in secure times, such track- restricted systems will play havoc in an era of terrorists, militant activists, and other threats faced by our capital city. (NARPAC recommends the more flexible Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), if surface transit augmentation is needed.)

o There is something seriously wrong with the highway system paralleling the Anacostia River on the southeast side. This will make it impossible to resolve the SCS interchanges on the Anacostia side since this issue is well beyond the limits of your study. SCS and US Rte 295 duplicate each other to the southwest, and there is no US Rte to the northeast (just the locally maintained Anacostia Freeway) to link up with US Rte 50. Properly redesigned and aligned, a single US route and a heavy rail right of way could run together from Minnesota Ave Station to--and over-- the Wilson Bridge.

o It is shameful that there is still no plan for Metro rail to share the new Wilson bridge to connect Alexandria to Southern Maryland and Anacostia, and eventually out Rte 50 to Annapolis.

o No mention is made of major interstate highway additions to relieve Beltway traffic, and skirting DC to the East with an improved lower Potomac Crossing. This would impact on SCS utilization.

o Only one of the local area plans NARPAC has reviewed includes an intermodal parking facility (at Bannecker Overlook), though most should have included such facilities. It was not mentioned among SCS upgrades, though it should be a key element of any new "gateway" to DC. (NARPAC suggests one where Suitland Parkway abuts the St. Elizabeth's site, just outside the SCS boundary).

3. Individual Snapshots:

o The biggest waste space and eyesore within your SCS boundary is the northern end of 395 where it disappears underground. This is an ideal location for a major urban deck to cover over this great cement divide. NARPAC ran a student competition to redesign this 15-acre wasteland for business, residential, and monumental uses: it is on our web site, and might suggest some ideas.

o Planning to reconstitute New Jersey Ave down to the River is very sound. We suggest also considering re-establishing some sort of right of way along Delaware Ave connecting SW to the capitol grounds. This requires "threading the needle" through the ramps, elevated freeways and railroad tracks, but some type of small gage public transport should be possible, one lane in each direction.

o There was no mention of the potential baseball stadium site at the intersection of Potomac Ave and SCS. NARPAC prefers this site near the Navy Yard metro station to those near Union Station.

o One totally ignored transportation issue immediately 'south of the freeway' is the horrible condition of the CSX railroad rights of way. It would be a trivial exercise to re-finish the rusted and archaic-looking bridges and "gussy up" the rights of way (from SCS to the Washington Channel) so they look at least as up-to-date as federal highways. A dynamic railroad system zipping through a city can add charm and interest. NARPAC discusses this issue elsewhere on its web site neither CSX, nor Amtrak to the north, can afford to upgrade their own real estate. DC and the Feds should step up to this simple job.

o Ft. McNair is a significant asset to the city. It might be possible to add to the east side of this military property in a trade for some wasted military property across the river. For instance, the Air Force uses a lot more space than it needs to house some of its Washington-based officers at Bolling AFB. They could easily be accommodated near Buzzard's Point in an extended Ft. McNair. NARPAC urges that land-swaps of government properties not be overlooked.

o One of the challenges in diminishing the 'barrier' impact of elevated freeways is to find ways to elevate the properties along each side with uses not inhibited by the freeway itself. Parking garages (and switching centers) can serve this purpose, north of 1st St, SE, east and west of SCS.

4. Those Four Scenarios in Development:

No mention was made of the nature of the four scenarios required to be developed as part of this short study. NARPAC proposes that one of them involve "stimulating economic growth East of the Anacostia and in Southern Maryland". This would acknowledge that improving transportation infrastructure can stimulate economic development, and that DC's land East of the Anacostia is a strong candidate for such treatment.

return to the top of the
page

REBUILDING THE SOUTHWEST WATERFRONT

NARPAC has been watching with interest the development of new plans for the revitalization of the Waterside Mall, and the nearby Southwest Waterfront properties. Both the Mall and the waterfront had been declining in recent years, and the relatively small population of the "Near Southwest" neighborhoods have been vociferous in their quest for improvements. As the planning process reaches its conclusion at the end of 2002, decisions have been made which will significantly improve the area, and very substantially increase its productivity.. By the time these improvements are completed, the area will be producing significantly more revenues for the city than it will consume in city services. It will also increase the productivity of the only Metrorail station in this vicinity.

The Waterside Mall itself, will be redesigned to be less "massive", and 4th St, SW which has been blocked off by the "big (mostly empty) box" mall, will be reopened to local traffic. In addition, the office space above the shops will be reworked for commercial tenants, instead of the federal government employees (from EPA) that have been there. It will be renamed "Waterfront" to match the larger area along the Washington Channel, currently home to DC's fish market, several restaurants, and the popular Washington marina and Capital Yacht Club with its many berths for upscale yachts. The artwork below shows the current configuration of the 48-acre Waterfront property, and an artist's sketch of the future Waterfront Mall.


The new configuration of the SW Waterfront will replace the few restaurants (and the redundant Water Street) with a much higher density of commercial and residential properties, as well as a new hotel, and a new cultural attraction to complement the popular Arena Stage theaters across Maine Avenue. Almost 2 million square feet of productive floor space will be added to the 48-acre site with a water view. It will also bring in 800 new, primarily upper income, households. And, most important, it will incorporate the suggestions and subsequent approval of the neighborhood. Perhaps because most of the Near Southwest households are home owners, they are interested in assuring the increased value of their present properties. It is clearly a "win-win" situation for the city as well as its current and future residents. The photos below show the waterfront area from across the Washington Channel on the Park Service's Hains Point.

The diagram below (purloined from an Office of Planning brochure) shows the latest version of the development plan, with its improved street layout, better access to the water, and combination of new buildings. But what is not immediately evident are two features of particular interest to NARPAC. The first of these is the inclusion of a major underground intermodal parking facility underneath a major site for a monument or small museum on the unfinished Banneker overlook, which anchors the southern end of L'Enfant Plaza (at top of redevelopment area).


The second, and probably more important, feature of this development is its interrelationship with the broader long-range plan for the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. This combination of parks, paths, bikeways, and other developments is expected eventually to stretch continuously from the Georgetown waterfront on the Potomac (at Washington Harbor) all the way to the National Arboretum on the upper Anacostia River. A welcome coordination and division of responsibility has been reached between the AWI and the SW Waterfront.

return to the top of the
page

KENNEDY CENTER PLANS ACCESS IMPROVEMENTS AND MORE

Plans to improve the environs of the Kennedy Center provide an interesting development which doubtless could be repeated elsewhere in DC. As physical space within the city becomes increasingly scarce, and as vehiculare traffic of all kinds continues to grow, new refinements to urban design are needed to keep cities from strangling themselves. This report, highly condensed by NARPAC from available Kennedy Center literature, indicates how change can come into being.

Background

The John E Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts today exists amidst a sea of roadways. Despite a magnificent setting on the Potomac River at the west end of the Monumental Core, worthy of a monument to a President and national showcase for the performing arts, the site is cut off from direct access to the river and to the city by a confusing tangle of parkways and freeways. These roads render access by foot or bicycle a daunting and dangerous proposition.

Historical Context

Planning for a National Cultural Center began in 1958 when President Eisenhower signed bipartisan legislation for its creation. Selecting a site sufficiently large and appropriate to its national character proved difficult; all sites considered had substantial drawbacks. The selected location on the Potomac River had to conform to the new Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and its connecting roadways. Compromises made to fit the Center within this constrained site resulted in the rectilinear building that we see today, separated from the river by the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and cut off from Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, and the Mall by 1-66 and the E Street Expressway.

The Kennedy Center Access Study {KCAS) (1998~2000)(Phase I)

The purpose of the Kennedy Center Access Study (KCAS) was to propose feasible ways to overcome the physical barriers that isolate the Kennedy Center from the rest of the city. Authorized by Congress, the KCAS was a cooperative effort of the Federal Highway Administration and the partner agencies including the National Park Service, DC's Dept of Transportation, and, of course, the Kennedy Center itself..

The KCAS built upon previous plans and guidance was provided by a steering committee from the four partner organizations. Thirty other organizations were consulted, and several open house meetings were held for members of the public which revealed strong public support and valuable insights. In 1999, a survey that identified access conditions problems that still exist today:

o There is no direct path between the Kennedy Center and the National Mall; connection with the river front is inadequate; and pedestrian and bicycle access is difficult and unsafe.

o Traffic, particularly when coincident with events at the Center, is often extremely congested, especially when such traffic overlaps with the weekday evening rush hour. Almost 200,000 vehicles use the roadways and ramps adjacent to the Center.every day;

o The Foggy Bottom Metrorail Station is too far from the Kennedy Center for convenient walking, and finding the Center is sometimes difficult. The shuttle from the station to the Center helps, but it must travel through congested residential streets.


Based on these and other findings, the KCAS team developed a number of alternatives to increase access to the Kennedy Center and provide a setting in keeping with the Center's designation as a presidential memorial and its location in the Monumental Core. After evaluating several alternatives, one overall design concept emerged that was both satisfactory and feasible: It is depicted in an artist's rendition to the left. Its essential elements are:

o A new Kennedy Center Plaza atop a deck over the Potomac Freeway, east of the Center would afford a stately approach to the Center from the east and could provide space for two new buildings with a large public square between them;

o A grand open stairway to link the Kennedy Center west terrace to the riverfront promenade, while facilitating pedestrian, bicycle, and perhaps boat access;

o Extending E Street westward would link the Center to President's Park and the core of the city. Through traffic would continue to use the E Street Expressway, below the plaza deck.

o New connections between the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and the Potomac Freeway in the vicinity of K Street would make the freeway more useful and more attractive to motorists.

o An improved intersection of Ohio Drive with the freeway and the parkway would increase safety and relieve congestion.

o Better pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access would be provided by the plaza, and the shuttle could use a more direct and non-residential route (E Street).

o.Parking below the deck could accommodate 500 vehicles to better serve the needs of the Kennedy Center and of the proposed new buildings.

Kennedy Center Access Improvements Environmental Assessment (Phase2)

The concepts in the KCAS are now providing the basis for the Kennedy Center Access Improvements Environmental Assessment project. Initiated February 1, 2002 by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in cooperation with the National Park Service, and DC's Department of Transportation, this assessment will develop and refine the concepts of the KCAS. Initial steps will be to collect information on traffic, ambient noise levels, safety hazards, neighborhood plans, views, pedestrian and bike pathways, nearby historic sites, monuments, parks, and natural resources. Next, three to four alternatives will be selected for initial design in order to evaluate their feasibility, environmental impacts, and costs. Ultimately, a preferred course of action will be selected, further designed, and analyzed in the environmental assessment (EA), along with a no action alternative. The EA will be published in late 2002.

Study Focus Areas:

Based on the findings of the 2000 KCAS, the Kennedy Center Access Improvements Environmental Assessment will target the areas shown to the left. From north to south, those focus areas include:

  • The intersection of Virginia Avenue and the Rock Creek Parkway near the Whitehurst Freeway.
  • The interrupted street grid at 25th Street between E and F streets.
  • The E Street Expressway west of 23rd Street.
  • The waterfront across from the Kennedy Center
  • The Potomac Freeway and adjacent ramps east of the Center to be covered by the proposed plaza
  • The interchange between the E Street Expressway, Constitution Avenue, and the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge.
  • The approaches to the Potomac Parkway, Potomac Freeway, and Ohio Drive northwest of the Lincoln Memorial
These are areas where transportation-related features, including bicycle and pedestrian paths, may be improved.

NARPAC Commentary

NARPAC find this particular project to be encouraging for several different reasons:

o there is promise of untangling some unbelievably bad local traffic conditions which have been an embarrassment to the nation's capital city for 30 years;

o the federal and local governments can work together towards a common worthy goal;

o this is a typical urban project that has far broader implications than the particular local interests of its "neighborhood", or of the monumental core, for that matter;

o it is a "productive asset" (bringing in more revenues than expenses to the city), even though it is a non-profit organization on federal property;

o it is demonstrating yet again that a relevant federal agency such as the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) can be the lead organization with good results;

o good urban design can integrate several different functions (transportation, parking, non-profit and commercial activities) and integrate properties with different owners and operators;

o solutions to urban crowding will often involve "layering" of one vital use over (or under) another, such as underground parking, urban decks, use of "air rights" for private, commercial, or government buildings and public spaces. See NARPAC's design competition NARPAC's to cover over Rte 395 south of the Botanic Gardens; o citizen inputs can be made (see below) and acknowledged by the lead agency;

o there are many other opportunities around DC to use this same approach, from the very promising Anacostia Waterfront Initiative to the redevelopment of the old DC General Hospital site;

NARPAC submitted its own suggestions for the Kennedy Center access improvement program stressing additional parking under/around the revised traffic intersections; additional public transportation facilities, including a new "Boathouse" metro station closer to the Center and Georgetown which would also serve a new "light surface transit system" running parallel to the river's edge and stopping at Watergate and the Kennedy Center. See NARPAC's analysis of light transit systems. Our design sketch is shown below. We also suggested that

 

"the Kennedy Center itself looks like the packing box (carton) the Watergate complex came in. Anything to reduce its overpowering "squareness" and "flatness" would be helpful. Its K-Mart appearance is completely out of character with other nearby buildings including the Watergate complex, the gentle curves of the Potomac River and Freeway, and the contours of the major structures to the East of that freeway. We would strongly recommend you try to introduce curves into the decks and new buildings you now contemplate surrounding the Center."


return to the top of the
page DRAFT MASTER PLAN EMERGES FOR OLD DC GENERAL SITE

In May, 2002, a draft master plan has emerged for the redevelopment of "Reservation 13", a 67- acre parcel of land south of the east end of Independence Ave (where it passes the DC Armory and RFK Stadium and merges with Constitution Ave to become East Capitol Street as it cross the Anacostia River. 40 acres of this parcel have been devoted to DC General Hospital and related health care facilities, while the 27 acres south of an extended Massachusetts Ave is home to the relatively new DC Jail, which will remain unchanged. DC General was closed in August 2001, and new uses for the site have been under discussion since.

This land was excluded from the basic "L'Enfant Plan" laying out the core of DC's city streets and reserved for federal use (hence "Reservation 13"). The land is still officially owned by the Federal Government's General Services Administration (not the National Park Service), but the GSA has offered a "Transfer of Jurisdiction" from the USA to DC. The DC Council voted in March 2002 to accept this transfer conditional on gaining the approval of the National Capital Planning Commission, hopefully in June of 2002. After that, the DC Office of planning will initiate a "zoning case" for the site to the DC Zoning Commission based on this draft master plan. By the end of 2002, the Zoning Commission should establish the zoning policy and the building (and landscape) design guidance.

The Office of Planning will then collaborate with of the DC Office of the Surveyor and the new DC Department of Transportation to lay out the proposed street plan. This will extend the current rectilinear street design (adding a total of 14 new blocks), and the Mass Ave diagonal down to a new "Monumental Circle" at the edge of the Anacostia River. This new circle will also to become a key feature of the developing Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (AWI) extending the length of the river within DC's boundaries.

The Draft Master Plan has emerged from several months of effort by the DC Office of Planning, using extensive citizen input, two contractor teams, and funding from DC's Departments of Health and Corrections. It has been a particularly sensitive effort due to the high emotional fervor of the relatively depressed surrounding neighborhoods that deeply resented the closing of DC General, the city's major (vastly oversized, in fact) former provider of health care for the indigent population. The Office of Planning was thus confronted with the recognition on the one hand of the importance of this brand new DC land resource at an underutilized Metro station and its role as a gateway to the AWI, and on the other hand, of local citizen concerns and "the site's potential to contribute to the quality of life in the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods". It therefore evolved a set of "planning principles" which include:

  • connecting and integrating Reservation 13 with adjacent neighborhoods and AWI park....
  • ...meeting diversity of public needs for health care, education, employment, government services and administration, recreation and housing,
  • extending the existing pattern of local streets....
  • maintaining "human-scale" building heights, rising as site slopes donward.....
  • connecting the neighborhood to the river with tree-lioned streets, recreational trails....
  • demonstrating environmental stewardship...
  • promoting the use of mass transit by introducing new uses near the Metro station....
  • creating attractive "places" of unique and complementary character...
  • keeping correctional facility improvements south of Mass Ave...



The net result is summarized on the map above, showing proposed "buildable site, not proposed buildings".

Only the correctional facilities (in black) persist from the "now" buildings to the draft plan. The yellow indicates 2-4 story buildings, the blue 4-7 stories, and the green, 7-10 stories. Four new "districts" are envisioned: a) 3 blocks along Independence Avenue; b) 6 blocks for a "C Street Neighborhood"; c) a 5-block "Massachusetts Avenue District"; and d) the National Park Service Waterfront District including a 15-acre "Meadow", with connections to RFK Stadium parking, and the Kingman Island nature preserve. In addition, four new "places" are identified: 1) the Village Square with housing-over-stores at the metro entrance; 2) a 1-block public park in the middle; 3) the Monumental Circle; and d) the Meadow (really part of the AWI). If this master plan were developed to the full extent shown, the Office of Planning estimates that there would be 35,000 gross square feet (gsf) for retail uses, about 800 dwelling units, and 3,200,000 gsf for health care, clinics, and offices. The plan notes that the three big blocks along Independence Ave should suffice if a large new hospital is needed, though DC does not presently see a shortage of hospital beds in the city. On the other hand, a good portion of the services and office space is planned within the 27 acres south of Mass Ave, immediately surrounding the correctional facilities. These sites may have somewhat dubious appeal, though they would have unobstructed views across the river and the Congressional cemetery to the south.

NARPAC Commentary

NARPAC reacts to this draft master plan for Reservation 13 with decidedly mixed emotions. A better name for it might be Compromise 13, and presumably that is name of the game in urban planning of a mature, limited space, socially fractured inner city. On the positive side, this provides an excellent example of the feasibility of DC gaining control of valuable but severely underutilized federal property. In this near-ideal case, it comes to DC at no cost, and with no required trading (swapping) of some other DC property (as would be the case in reclaiming land from the National Park Service). It is also a rare and major symbol of DC making a tough decision to close an inefficient, wasteful, outdated facility even in the face of neighborhood objections. Moreover, it is good example of connecting to the more ambitious plan for redeveloping the Anacostia Waterfront.

Even though some 15 acres or so remain committed to an existing DC use (its jail), the other 50+ acres essentially become available for use as DC sees fit. Being both land- and revenue-poor, and whining to the Congress about needing a permanent annual bail-out to make ends meet, it would seem natural for DC to demonstrate that it will make wise use such new territory to increase the city's self-sufficiency. To NARPAC, it would be unthinkable to propose uses for this new property that would permanently raise city operating costs more than it would produce in city revenues. This new land must be "net revenue-productive" for the city, to compensate for the large areas of the city that are "net revenue consumers". Unfortunately, there is no required "Economic Impact Statement" to demonstrate just how productive DC hopes these acres will become. It seems likely that the Office of Planning expects this development to be a net asset for the city. But just how productive will it be?

On the negative side, NARPAC's answer to that question must be: a lot less than it might have been without pandering to neighborhood demands. There are several important issues here which we treat in greater detail below:

The Bigger Picture

o Reservation 13 has historically had city-wide functions (health and corrections) and has never been a part of a single residential neighborhood. It is surrounded on three sides by city-wide facilities: the DC Armory and RFK stadium to the north, each with extensive parking lots ; an inaccessible, polluted river to the east; and the Congressional Cemetery to the south. To the west, across 19th Street, is a relatively modest but tidy residential sector, now called "Hill East", though that terminology is not used in official neighborhood listings. That neighborhood had no claim on Reservation 13 other than the free use of its hospital, and the relatively few jobs it provided. Stated Goal #2 is to "recognize broad-based citizen concerns and desires for the site". Goal #3 is to "recognize the site's potential to contribute to the quality of life in the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods". While Goal #2 may be applicable, Goal #3 seems much too narrow. In fact, the site should contribute to the quality of life of the entire city.

o Broader uses are contemplated for the adjacent areas: 1) RFK Stadium is the central focus of DC's bid for the 2012 Olympics, and Reservation 13 should be available to contribute to that effort. It could, in fact, provide a useful location for an "Olympic Village" if not already occupied by some new neighborhood activist group; 2) If the 2012 Olympics go elsewhere, then both RFK and the DC Armory are due for major redevelopments of some sort: will new close-by neighborhoods inhibit their full development? 3) Kingman Island is to be developed as a nature preserve that will require ready access for visitors and tourists; 4) The NCPC "Extending the Legacy" 100-yr conceptual plan for the "Monumental Core" proposes to turn the RFK Stadium area into a parks-and-major-memorial site, "surrounded by new housing and commercial development". The draft master plan for Reservation 13 is, in fact, quite consistent with that vision, although disturbingly vague about "commercial development", using instead terms like "public use" and mixed-use" rather randomly.

o Apparently, DC leadership is serious about avowing a financial "structural imbalance" that makes it impossible to pay its own bills (and hence deserving of an annual federal handout), dubious as that may be. Surely the city should use this new land to help overcome that revenue shortfall. Clearly, local inputs have limited the full economic exploitation of this site to some extent. The street/block layout is consistent with the rest of DC, and the "buildable sites" per block also appear "normal", though the need for a one- block "park" 3 blocks from a 15-acre park seems unnecessary. The major restriction seems to be imposed by 'human-scale' building height limitations throughout the entire site, even though most of it does not impinge on current housing across 19th Street. This factor alone restricts maximum net revenue productivity by about 50%.

o The biggest uncertainty in revenue productivity appears to be the potential users of the 3.2 million gross square feet of "health care, clinics, and offices". If a significant share of this space is devoted to non-profits and patient-care, then the employment opportunities and the tax revenue generation potential will be seriously curtailed. While current planning should remain somewhat vague on this issue, excessive attraction of public service institutions could easily halve again the net revenue productivity. Small-scale retail shops are notoriously poor revenue producers, but the space devoted to this use is small. Finally, the net revenue productivity of the 800 resident households depends on the number of earners on the positive side, and the number of kids on the negative side. If neighborhood pressures also deny the construction of a substantial number of upscale, small family, dwelling units, then the tax revenues from residents could also be overwhelmed by their needs for city services.

Transportation Planning

o This site could benefit enormously from the presence of the Stadium-Armory Metro station on 19th Street. One entrance is near the Armory and Stadium, the other, smaller, entrance is closer to the main entrance of the DC General Hospital (see photo below). Although the station serves a purpose for the large, but increasingly rare, events at the armory and stadium, it is pathetically underutilized at other times and contributes little to the economic development of the city. The complete absence of high-density housing or business is an important missed opportunity. Even if Reservation 13's 14 blocks are fully developed to the east of the southern entrance, another 20 blocks to the west of both entrances remain low income residential, with no commercial development whatsoever.

o To make matters worse, the City Government agreed to reserve the site's most valuable 4.5 acres adjacent to the metro entrance for the St. Coletta School (for the handicapped). (It is between the elevator booth to the left, and the Armory dome in the background in the photo above). NARPAC believes this bargain was struck in return for the school's lobbying of the Congress to turn over the site to the DC government. The draft master plan then aggravates this poor use with a small scale "village square" which may have local appeal, but virtually no economic potential. In addition, to satisfy local interests, allowable building heights increase the further away from the station entrance: the reverse of what urban planners would prefer. Though the 'real world' may dictate these compromises, it may also assure that this metro station, like many others inside DC (including the nearby Potomac Avenue station), operates well under its economic potential.

o Massachusetts Avenue may someday be connected by a bridge across the Anacostia River to reach "places" (as yet undefined) associated with essential developments East of the Anacostia. Designing this extension of a potentially major DC avenue for the primary use of local residents will make it far more difficult to give it a broader (busier) use at a future date. And no mention is made of upgrading the rest of Massachusetts Avenue on either side of Lincoln Park (though housing setbacks would permit it). Furthermore, the planned monumental circle appears to provide a major access point to the Anacostia Waterfront, but provides no stopping/parking facilities for cars or buses. As proposed, it would appear to fall short of Goal #4: "to make this site an important gateway to the 1800-acre Anacostia River waterfront". To the planners' credit however, considerable thought seems to have been given to providing unobtrusive parking for those living and working at the site.

On balance, NARPAC is somewhat disappointed in this draft master plan. As long as local interests prove stronger than city leadership, the city's ability to pay its way will be seriously inhibited.

return to the top of the
page ST. COLETTA BY THE ARMORY

In NARPAC's May 2003 Editorial we raised the issue of "Wasting Scarce DC resources on Good Causes", expressing dissatisfaction with a planning process that allows valuable and needed assets to be situated in locations that sensible urban design would designate for higher revenue-producing uses. St. Coletta's School for special-ed kids is as good an example as can be found.

About 450 of DC's special ed kids are farmed out to private special ed schools beyond DC's boundaries. These are buta small fraction of the 11,000 or so kids in DC public schools needing some form of special attention, but they are the ones that are "severely disabled, mentally retarded, and autistic" that require the most intensive support, and cost the city on the order of $90 million per school year in transportation and tuition. The non-profit, non-sectarian St. Coletta's School is one of these schools, founded 54 years ago, and currently located in Alexandria, where it is outgrowing its available space. The 19-member Board decided to move into DC where it can grow to serve more needy students and consolidate its growing staff of personnel.

When fully developed it hopes to serve 200 students, and consolidate it staff of 200 or so more (half teachers, half support staff, including therapists, social workers, etc.). Preliminary architects' drawings above show its very distinctive character, which the kids (and young adults) should enjoy, and other commuters find somewhat startling. The drawings do not show the higher-density, taller buildings that will bound and tower over it on two sides, or the homely, outdated, DC Armory across Independence Ave.

The plan for the seven-plus acres, and its location on the 49-acre "Reservation 13" are shown above. Note the size of the site relative to the Armory (right, top, center) and the RFK Stadium (right: top, right). The school buildings themselves are scheduled to occupy some 96,000 sqft, yielding a FAR (Floor Area Ratio) of 0.30 in an area zones for at least 3.5. This yields an efficiency of well under 10 percent, and a productivity of zero, since no revenues will flow directly to DC coffers. It naturally raises some questions, as well as the hackles of some very rare activists who actually support higher density development in this area. Two fundamental questions come readily to mind: why on Reservation 13 at all, and why pre-empt the "high-rent" corner of the development site. The general answer to the first question is that it is a relatively central location for the clientele it serves, and the site is relatively unencumbered with zoning restrictions or frivolous claims of historic preservation. The answer to the second question appears to be that this particular location was "part of the deal" (not factual: a NARPAC supposition). DCPS officials were anxious to get a location near public transportation, since training in the use of such public amenities is part of the future hope for these special kids. The "dots chart" shown below indicates the location of DC's special-ed kids requiring transport to out-of-state schools.

On closer inspection, however, both questions do have other answers, however. There are dozens of other potential sites equally centrally located, and perhaps more appropriate, since this school will handle only a fraction of DC's special-ed needs. Many of those other sites are already off the tax rolls, on both sides of the Anacostia River. Officials at St. Coletta indicate they sought vacant abandoned DCPS school facilities but were apparently rebuffed by the Mayor (!). To the second question, it was desirable to have the school near a metro station, but not necessarily staring down its escalators. The kids that hope to use public transit will also have to know how to use sidewalks and road crossings. With no particular insights into the details of this issue, NARPAC would probably have suggested a somewhat more pastoral site three blocks further from the metro station overlooking "the meadow" and the river.

A third, and possibly more practical, question should also be addressed, however. What could have been done (or might still be done) to accept the real-world decisions already made and still derive some sorely needed revenues for DC? The only obvious one to NARPAC to find a lucrative transit-oriented use for the ground beneath St. Coletta's new school ("dirt rights" as opposed to "air rights"). In fact, informal contact with St. Coletta's staff suggested that they would have no objection to building their ground-level school on top of several floors of underground parking. The terrain, which drops off behind this site, would ease the excavation task. It is an obvious location for an "intermodal" parking facility for transfer to public transit, as well as for visitors to the stadium and armory (and their eventual successors).. NARPAC has made similar suggestions concerning the development of the historic St. Elizabeth's hospital site.

While surface parking abounds around these two facilities at this time, such space could be put to far more productive use if parking is compressed underground. It is also possible that by applying various aspects of "smart parking" developed under NARPAC's suggestions for high-density parking (and already used in Europe), a very high revenue potential could be achieved. But even without applying rudimentary automotive technologies, parking garages can produce significant revenues. A well-used in-town parking lot could easily gross as much as $500,000 per acre per year by the end of this decade. A four-deck, seven acre city- or Metro-owned lot (not unlike one of those now at Reagan National Airport) could well gross $15M annually, which would be quite competitive with a low-rise commercial office complex. Properly designed, it would have no access to, or impact on the important privacy requirements of, St. Coletta's. In fact, it might also provide underground access to the Metro station from the center of the newly developed Reservation 13.

return to the top of the
page DC's LONG-TERM SEWER UPDATE PLAN

During 2001, the DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) presented its Long Term Control Plan for rebuilding its aging, environmentally disastrous combined sewer system. This task is going to require 20 years and more than a billion dollars to complete. Nonetheless, if the Potomac, the Anacostia River, and Rock Creek (which runs north-south through the Northwest sector of the city) are ever to be environmentally updated, such expenses appear unavoidable.

From the advent of covered and man-made sewer systems until about the middle of the 20th century, it was customary to combine storm water drainage from rain and snow with the raw sewage produced residentially, commercially, and industrially and duct it towards the nearest streams and rivers. Increases in population density, plus greater per capita water use (increased six-fold by the introduction of the flush toilet in the mid1880's) resulted in a huge sewer construction effort in most American cities. Later, as more of the city land surface was covered with concrete, macadam, and buildings, rain water run-off (and the street trash it carries) also became a much greater problem. As both the man-made and naturally occurring flows increased, sewage treatment plants were added, and eventually storm water drainage was separated. from the more virulent man-made effluents.

image In DC, most of the area north of the Anacostia and west of Rock Creek (some 13,000 acres) is still served by a combined sewer system, and there appears to be no practical way to separate them. During dry weather, all the sewer flow goes through aging underground pipes (left) to the very large Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant at the southern tip of the District. When it rains heavily, the water rises in the pipes, exceeds their natural "storage capacity", spills over built-in "dams" (left, insert) and discharges the mixture through 17 "outfalls" (see below) into the Anacostia, 13 directly into the Potomac, and another 28 (very much smaller ones) into Rock Creek, which empties into the Potomac at the western boundary of Georgetown. Currently, 2.1 billion gallons overflow into the slow-moving Anacostia and 1.1 billion gallons into the faster-moving Potomac during the course of a year through about 75 different spills (only 30 into Rock Creek). The proposed WASA plan would reduce the total overflow by 92%, leaving a once-a-month spill into the Anacostia, and a once-a-quarter spill into the Potomac and Rock Creek. Outflow of floating street trash would be virtually eliminated.


  
These are two "outfalls" as seen from the slow-moving Anacostia River: at Chicago and Railroad Aves, SE (left), and from the NE Boundary sewer near RFK Stadium (right). (All photos of DC's sewer system provided by Greeley and Hansen, Engineers)

The net result of these efforts would be a very significant reduction in days per year in which the bacteria levels exceed safe-for-swimming levels due to DC-produced sewage from 212 to 15 days per year in the Anacostia, from 57 to 16 days per year in the Potomac and from 22 days to 3 days in Rock Creek. The Giant Hooker in this plan is that upstream bacterial contributions will then be ten times worse than the remaining DC contribution. Although DC will have done its full share, the states of Virginia and Maryland upstream of DC will have to undertake equivalent programs. Hopefully this will happen, and there is welcome movement towards much closer regional cooperation..

The lion's share of the billion dollar costs ($816M) would be for Anacostia River projects, with only $170M needed for the Potomac projects and $40M for Rock Creek. Blue Plains and other WASA facilities would consume $25M more. The major construction costs involve huge deep underground storage and conveyance tunnels (roughly Metro-sized) capable of holding some 130 million gallons. Some of the planned work will be integrated into the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. The entire project is envisioned as requiring 20 years or more, and will require an as-yet undetermined combination of funding by bonds, grants, federal appropriations, and increased DC water/sewage bills. (In Maryland, water and sewage rates are billed separately, with the outflow side considerably higher than the inflow side.)

NARPAC Commentary

NARPAC sees no magic alternative to this program which should have been started years ago. However, it should be noted that the reducing the relatively much larger outflow into the Anacostia River is compounded by both the much-worse upstream conditions, and the much slower running waters of the river itself. Clever means to divert more of the outflow directly to the Potomac are worth exploring, even if some exceptions to EPA policies are required.

return to the top of the
page REDEVELOPMENT OF THE NAVY YARD AREA

From the all-important viewpoint of eliminating "urban blight", one of the most important redevelopment projects in DC involves the 120-acre Navy Yard in Southeast along the northern banks of the Anacostia (since 1799!). The areas immediately outside the yard have some of the worst poverty, crime, and illiteracy in DC, in an area essentially "walled off" from the downtown area by the Southeast freeway. Some of the worst public housing areas are here, and breed despair and crime among their residents.

Under a major program managed by the federal GSA, thousands of office workers will return from Arlington to DC over the next four years; the rundown housing projects nearby are being renovated or razed; and private developers are requesting rezoning to permit the construction of additional office buildings. Pressure was also brought on the Marine Corps to enlarge its historic barracks site at "8th and I (St.)" to encompass areas now occupied by vacant housing units. NARPAC, Inc. believes that the nation's military forces can and should play a significant role in helping to solve the country's urban problems, particularly in the capital metro area, and wrote to the Marine Corps Commandant urging him to participate in this important program.

Changes currently underway include $200M to modify structures once used for shipbuilding and manufacturing for use as offices, preserving the shells, but completely rebuilding the interiors. Three Navy management groups have already moved in, bringing some 1200 personnel, and the 4100 personnel of the Naval Sea Systems Command are due to arrive from Crystal City, Va. before the end of 2001.

More important, perhaps, is to understand the "multiplier effect" of other commercial and business organizations that will accompany the Navy. Five very major projects are already in the planning/design phases, including a seven-story Metro Center Building over the existing station, and a $300M project for a hotel, retail stores, and entertainment along the banks of the river. Equally;y interesting, the economic impact will be felt across the Anacostia River with a 4- building complex just off the 11th Street bridge which forms the eastern boundary of the Navy Yard.

The future of the major site just west of the Navy Yard remains in question. Attempts by GSA and others to bring federal workers to the 55-acre 'Southeast Federal Center' have not met with success, attesting to the limited powers of federal persuasion or the federal bureaucracy. As a result, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is now working to get GSA to release the extraordinarily valuable property for private development. NARPAC finds it inconceivable that this site--more centrally located to the Navy Yard Metro station than the yard itself--will not be fully snapped up within the next two years.

Other supporting developments are also falling into place. A combination of DC and federal infrastructure funds will make it possible to dress up M Street, SE, and with a little common sense and cross-ward cooperation, M Street, SW should be improved at the same time. The extensive cooperation of senior regional Naval personnel deserves more than a little credit for the expanding developments now underway.

NARPAC notes with some frustration however, that the east/west diving line, South Capitol Street itself-- which leads through a maze of poorly developed blocks down from the capitol building to the freeway exit to, and bridge across the Anacostia, seems to be outside the purview of both Southeast and Southwest economic development task forces. This is a perfect example of local developments proceeding ahead of a comprehensive regional plan.

It might also be noted that these areas are just east of South Capitol Street, which is projected by the National Capitol Planning Commission (just above) to be the focus of major expansion of the city's "monumental core" over the next century. Other redevelopment efforts are underway west of the South Capitol Street corridor which could complete the "blight removal" over to the boundaries of the Ft. McNair National Defense University--one of the city's proud landmarks. The combination of these three efforts could have a profound impact on the rejuvenation of the city, and result in embracing the Anacostia River as a major metropolitan asset.

Missing from these plans to date, however, is the merging of the plans for improving the local school infrastructure along with the neighborhoods. If developers can routinely be required to provide underground parking to keep cars off the streets, NARPAC, Inc. wonders why they shouldn't contribute equally to keeping the city's kids off the streets as well.

return to the top of the
page DEVELOPMENT EAST OF THE NAVY YARD

In an awkward triangular 11-acre remnant of land east of the 11th Street bridge approaches (which form the eastern boundary of the Navy Yard property), south of the I395 freeway, and north of the Anacostia River, the Washington Gas and Light Company has held a tract of land-- now a certified "brownfield"--badly in need of development. The Gas Company, in conjunction with the Lincoln Property Company of Dallas, TX, has now begun actual construction of "Maritime Plaza II", a complex of 5-story office buildings (eventually to include 800,000 sqft.), plus surface parking for 1200 cars, and an eight-story, 250-room hotel. The design will feature a central plaza facing the riverfront, and a large formal stairway down towards the newly redesigned Anacostia River waterfront. Washington Gas is a prominent member of the consortium committed to rebuilding that waterfront.

This development would also benefit from an extension of the Metro line along M Street, SE to the Potomac Avenue station. The developers have made no attempt to suggest such a costly long-range development, and will, instead, use a shuttle service planned to serve other facilities along M Street from the existing misplaced subway station. Likewise, the plan makes no effort to provide access from the north side of the freeway (either over or under) to help "reconnect" the waterfront with the body of the city and the under-utilized Potomac Avenue and Stadium-Armory stations. Such broader considerations should have been explored by DC's Office of Planning, but this neighborhood-oriented group still suffers from the lack of any focus on the city's long-range transportation needs.

The Maritime Plaza development also excludes a 3-acre (?) site at its eastern tip on which stand several ungainly fuel storage tanks for a now-defunct secondary powerplant. Combined with the ungainly, low productivity surface parking lot now planned, there is still room for another multi- function development a few years hence. It will be a last gasp for improving northern and eastern access to the area.

return to the top of the
page THE ANACOSTIA WATERFRONT INITIATIVE

On March 22, 2000, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by 20 local, DC, and federal agencies who have agreed to be partners in developing a collaborative plan for the future development of the major land tracts bordering both sides of the Anacostia River (not including the headwaters in Maryland, and not including the Southern bank where it joins the Potomac River). A first public meeting was held on April 29th, and a second 3-day planning meeting was held starting on May 19th.

This is generally believed to be Mayor William's major city revitalization effort (at least for his first term), is consistent both with his own fascination with the River (and canoeing), and with a major thrust of the National Capital Planning Commission's visions for the 2ist Century. While it falls short of NARPAC's more extensive objective for development of the area East of the Anacostia and of the Southeast Quadrant of the entire metro area, it is a major step in developing DC into a first-class capital city. When completed, "the Parties believe that DC's waterfront will rival that of any of the great cities of the world and serve to maintain the City as one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world". As such, it "will be one of the most important partnerships ever made between DC and the Federal Governments.

The 20 agencies who signed the MOU are representative of the many institutions involved in the capital city:

  • General Services Administration (GSA)
  • Government of the District of Columbia
  • Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
  • Naval District, Washington
  • Military District, Washington
  • Commandant, 11th Wing (USAF)
  • Commanding Officer Marine Barracks Washington
  • Department of Labor (DoL)
  • Department of Transportation (DoT)
  • National Park Service (NPS)
  • US Army Corps of Engineers
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • DC Housing Authority (DCHA)
  • Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC)
  • DC Sports and Entertainment Commission
  • National Arboretum, US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • US Small Business Administration
Excerpts from the MOU are provided below to indicate the extent and inclusiveness of what is widely believed to be the largest area within DC ever addressed as a single planning effort:

Preamble

The Parties, each of which owns land on, or otherwise has an interest in the waterfront of the District of Columbia, have joined together to create a new partnership that will help attain a vision for the waterfront areas. ....The "Waterfront Revitalization Endeavor" or "Endeavor" envisions a new, energized waterfront for the next millennium that will unify diverse waterfront areas of DC into a cohesive and attractive mixture of recreational, residential, and commercial uses by capitalizing on one of the city's greatest natural assets, its shoreline. ....contribute to the revitalization of surrounding neighborhoods, provide enhanced park areas, develop Government-owned land for the benefit of the people of DC, and the Federal and DC Governments,...increase access to the water,...enhance visitor participation, ....contribute to urban revitalization,...connect the waterfront and its adjacent neighborhoods, with Downtown, The Mall, Georgetown, Capitol Hill, Southwest, and the Anacostia neighborhoods.

The Endeavor is made possible by the commitment of the US Government and the Federal Parties listed above to devote time and resources...and by the willingness of the DC Government to engage in (it). The DC Office of Planning will develop a plan for the Anacostia Waterfront in partnership with the NPS and the GSA. Over 70% of the subject land area, and over 90% of the subject shoreline is currently publicly owned, with Department of Defense and the NPS among the major land owners.

Agreement

1. Specific Goals

  • realize the full potential of DC's waterfronts.....including such areas as: Southwest Waterfront, Fort McNair, the Navy Yard, RFK Stadium, Anacostia River Parks, National Arboretum, and Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens;
  • ensure the waterfronts are planned and developed to provide the appropriate development potential for DC and Federal Government....;
  • build on existing relationships to ensure...participation and inputs of surrounding communities and community organizations...;
  • assess existing infrastructure with respect to anticipated future demand, particularly with respect the transportation, storm water management, wetland restoration, and bulkhead rehabilitation...;
  • build a framework for a cooperative plan...;
  • develop a timetable and appropriate implementation and management mechanisms..., (assessing the development impact on) environmental quality, economic development, access to open space...,and sustainability of the entire region;
  • build on existing plans...;
  • bring economic development, employment and recreational opportunities to the communities surrounding the Anacostia River....

2. Endeavor

....signatories or their designees shall meet with DC's mayor once a year to review status....

3. Management

...coordination....with be the responsibility of a Joint Management Committee...primary responsibility for coordinating will be borne jointly by GSA and DC Office of Planning...

4. Community Participation

The parties recognize the importance of public participation...

5. Planning.

The parties.... will collaborate with the overall planning effort of ....the DC Office of Planning in partnership with NPS and GSA.....

6. Funding

...the costs of the planning process may be funded by the parties involved....

7. Implementation

.....implementation will be determined by the Joint Management Committee (JMC)...

8. Timetable

Within 60 days, the JMC will agree to the initial scope of...the planning efforts....and develop a list of initial projects that can be completely relatively quickly....and provide momentum...

9. Miscellaneous

NARPAC Commentary

NARPAC, Inc. heartily endorses this effort, but has three fundamental concerns which it is sharing with DC's Office of Planning:

a) This river waterfront is not a coastline, and therefore is not an end-point for development. In fact, the major unexploited economic developments for the city lie East of the Anacostia in DC, and for the metro area, in its "Southeast Quadrant" that lies beyond, and hence:

b) This effort should not be oblivious to the larger demands of the entire region Southwest of the Anacostia waterfront, and should surely involve the participation of Maryland State, or Prince George's County planners;

c) Key to the long-range developments in this metro area quadrant are a more robust transportation infrastructure (bridges/tunnels, roads, Metrorail network, and "intermodal" transportation centers), as well as stepped up efforts to assure that these existing and planned transportation lines do not divide and isolate communities from each other.

NARPAC has yet to see any indication that DC's planners are taking these broader issues into account.

A more detailed discussion of these issues is available at the section on DC's underdeveloped area East of the Anacostia.

return to the top of the
page NORTHERN VIRGINA KEEPS GROWING
Alexandria Approves 20-Yr Development Plan for 'Potomac Yard'

Just south of Washington's Reagan National Airport, and Arlington County's hugely successful Crystal City development along the 'Jefferson-Davis (Highway) Corridor', lies 400 acres of former rail yards, within view of the nation's capitol across the Potomac River. The Metrorail Yellow/Blue lines run through the site in one of its rare above-ground segments, but lacks a station. To its South lies the historic separate jurisdiction of the City of Alexandria.

Immediately across the Potomac in a similar shaped property perhaps four times as large, lies the relatively undeveloped federal properties of the US Naval Air Station and Bolling Air Force Base, no longer fulfilling their original purposes. On the banks of the Potomac River to the south and Anacostia River to the north, and bounded on the West by the Anacostia Freeway (Rte 295), and without access to existing or planned Metrorail service, this enormously attractive property "East of the Anacostia" remains totally beyond the planning horizon of any group interested in DC's future--except NARPAC, Inc.

While District neighborhood and activist factions bicker over the development of a few acres of property at the Columbia Heights Metro station on the newly opened underground segment of the Green Line (one-third the distance from the White House), the Alexandria City Council has approved an ambitious development plan for Potomac Yard. Remaining uncertainties involve only whether (or when) to add a new Metrorail station ($50M), and whether (or where) to include land for a new Alexandria public school for their growing student population (now 11,000).

The Potomac Yard plan calls for 1.9 million square feet of office space, 735,000 square feet of retail space, a 635-room hotel, and 2200 new housing units equally divided between apartments, regular, and stacked town houses. Some objections were raised by one neighborhood group about increased traffic, but two others gave unqualified approval. Once rejected as a potential site for the Washington Redskins football team, and as a home for the massive Patent and Trademark Office, this plan is now expected to attract 5000 middle/upper-income residents, 8000 well-paid office workers, and many more shoppers and tourists. No equivalent plans for economic growth currently exist for growth in DC East of the Anacostia.

Dulles Town Center: A New Satellite City for Loudon County

[spd] A new satellite city in Loudon County is coming into being to compete with Tysons Corner and Reston in Fairfax County. Near the border between the two counties, Dulles Town Center hopes to building on the high name recognition of the airport, and serve the now-maturing "Dulles Technology Corridor" which has grown up along the access road to Dulles airport. A 554-acre tract--at the intersection of Rtes 7 and 28--has now been set aside as the center for this new town--which has had a zip code but no "downtown" focus. With laudable foresight, Loudon County officials have already widened Route 28 to six lanes.

Along with the long-established Route 7, the Dulles Airport access road (now planning to get an extension of the Metrorail system, and the new "Dulles Greenway" road further West of the airport, the County believes that its transportation infrastructure is in place for the anticipated growth in businesses and residents.

While some may decry this further "sprawl" into the rolling Virginia countryside, it is yet another indication of: a) the strength and vitality of the metro region's economy, b) the inescapable tendency for economic growth to cluster around major focal points, and c) the failure of the DC government to capitalize on the potential of its own underdeveloped core city properties.

return to the top of the
page THE KING FARM DEVELOPMENT

The King Farm was for many years a country landmark North of DC between the two main routes to Gaithersberg: the older extension of the Rockville Turnpike; and the newer Interstate Rte 270 which has blossomed into the Biotech Corridor. As "sprawl" spread over the area, the 430-acre King Farm eventually went into bankruptcy, reverted to the City of Rockville, and was purchased for under $1 million per acre, by the Penrose Group, developers in suburban Maryland and Virginia.

Plans were drawn up in the early '90s for a 10,000 bed community to be divided between 320 half-million dollar single family homes, 1270 quarter-million dollar town houses, and 100 condos and apartments priced between $150,000 and $300,000. 12% of the units were to be affordable homes. The community is to contain a full recreation center, shopping center, space reserved for an elementary school and a junior high school, 3,000,000 sq. feet of office space, and 140 acres of "greenspace".

The City of Rockville cooperated with the development plan, the public hearing drew only 10 interested parties, and approval was essentially routine. There was no established "neighborhood" to contend with, no one to displace, and relatively few design restrictions. The developers approached and gained agreement from the various regional watchdog groups. By the fall of 2000, the development is almost half completed with several different contractors responsible for the various residential and commercial developments underway. The Penrose Group expect the development to be completed in less than five more years.

Property assessments will exceed $1 billion, and the annual income of the resident population should exceed $300 million. Tax proceeds to the City of Rockville and Montgomery County should exceed $40 million, for a continuing revenue stream of at least $100,000 per acre, excluding revenues on the construction costs and initial transfer taxes.

The ease with which this development has proceeded, the evident return to the city and county, and the acceptability of the plan and the now-occupied units speak to the obvious business advantages of "sprawling" over the suburbs as opposed to "infilling" or "refilling" within urban boundaries. The developers acknowledge that it would have been virtually impossible to consummate such a development within DC and that they would have been loath to take on either the neighborhoods or the bureaucracy. On the other hand, the Penrose Group does have interests in various smaller tracts round the city, and would be willing to do more urban development if it looked practical. Time will tell.

return to the top of the

page MAJOR DEVELOPMENT FOR WHITE FLINT METRO STATION

One of the last major undeveloped sites along the Rockville Pike, north of DC in Maryland's Montgomery County, is a 32-acre lot owned by Metro two blocks north of the well-established White Flint Mall. Metro now plans to award a 55-year lease for $66M to a Pennsylvania developer also responsible for the Potomac Yard Development in Alexandria. Current plans call for a $450M investment in high density construction for 1.2 million sqft of office space, 200K sqft. of retail space, and 1338 apartments, plus a 1270-space garage for Metro users. This "smart growth" complex is intended to limit "sprawl" and create over 6100 new jobs. There remain some questions about exceeding current zoning and traffic limits, but approvals are hoped for that would allow construction to begin in two to four years. The chairman of Metro's Development Committee, DC Councilman Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), has criticized slow development around Metro stations, and asserts that "this took enormous energies....(but) is very, very positive for Metro". Time will tell. The same energies are needed at sites within DC.

return to the top of the
page GEORGIA AVENUE REBIRTH

Georgia Avenue, in addition to being one of the major "gateways" into the District from the north, has historically played a significant role in the history of the city, and influenced the character of many of its generally black neighborhoods, such as Petworth, Shaw, Columbia Heights, et al. A combination of civil unrest in the '60s, and the loss of retail stores to the suburbs, had produced a general and highly visible blight which became a symbol of DC's degeneration. Mayor Williams had promised to revitalize this corridor, and in late June 2000, announced his plans to do so.

According to the city's press release, DC will pump $111 million into upgrading some 65 city blocks over the next five years, with a large new DC government facility to be located at the Georgia Avenue, Petworth Metro station along the newly opened Green Line North. In accordance with another mayoral initiative, the Department of Motor Vehicles will relocate there to "anchor" the site, as they say in commercial developments. In the words of the mayor, "I am committed to the revitalization of the Georgia Avenue corridor. Our purpose is to strategically identify District resources that, when partnered with the assets of the community, create a climate for sustained economic growth."

Thirty-two different organizations are credited with "assisting the District in shaping the vision for the revitalization of Georgia Ave. Several federal agencies, Montgomery County, the Council of Governments (COG), banks, non-profit organizations, and local political groups have all had a hand in the planning. According to the mayor, this represents the true spirit of neighborhood action. NARPAC sincerely hopes that the Georgia Avenue Gateway Revitalization Corporation and other leaders of this effort will be able to pull it off.

return to the top of the
page A NEW COMPREHENSIVE PLAN FOR DOWNTOWN DC

In November, 2000, the mayor unveiled a comprehensive new plan for downtown DC that has apparently been almost "a year in the making". True to this mayor's form, he announced that "our vision for a vibrant downtown is one of a true neighborhood--a place where thousands of residents live, work, shop, do business, and bring vitality to our streets and city". According to the Washington Post report, city officials claim that this is their "last chance to guide the evolution of downtown away from sterile office buildings and towards a thriving urban center envisioned by planners in the nation's capital since Pierre L'Enfant".

The plan, developed with the assistance of the influential DC Agenda group, intends to undertake 18 key actions within the next 18 months. These include:

o encourage construction of 4-5000 homes in the triangle known as NOMA (North of Massachusetts Ave) and about 1500 on other city-owned lots downtown;

o streamline zoning laws;

o propose tax abatements and other financial incentives for retail and arts organizations;

o design a 'public attraction' to replace the old convention center, possibly including a big new hotel;

o redesign the Martin Luther King Library;

o beautify the city streets (using $6M of federal highway funds):

o fund a 'trolley' or other 'circulator' to move people from the Mall to downtown points;

o create a downtown development corporation to make deals and coordinate projects;

o fund training for DC residents in new downtown jobs;

o use downtown revenues to subsidize housing in other parts of the city;

o emphasize making 7th St, NW, an arts and entertainment corridor;

o assure the success of the Gallery Place development;

o encourage more retail shops along F and G Sts, NW,

o guide office development along E St, NW towards North Capitol St;

o make Mt. Vernon a 'premier urban residential district;

Unlike the city's newly announced plans for neighborhoods 'East of the Anacostia', city planners expect this development effort to be funded almost entirely by private capital--currently estimated at about $4.5 billion. One of the major developers asserts that DC should expect 'a whole new downtown in the next three years'.

NARPAC Commentary:

NARPAC highly commends all of these new initiatives. They are certain to make the nation's capital a much more attractive city. Nevertheless, we harbor three concerns: first, attempts to establish a 'premier residential neighborhood' within walking distance of the new convention center seems like an inherently contentious objective, and almost certain to rekindle the currently quiescent resistance by activists to that important new city facility; second, skewing the free market development of this area through 'tax abatements and other financial incentives' is likely to reduce potential revenues increases, leaving a burden (of some kind) on those existing residents and businesses who did not need to be bribed to locate here; and third, there is no mention of the need to improve the basic transportation infrastructure through improvements to the existing Metro system and facilities, or of the need for increased parking facilities, 'intermodal' or otherwise. In any event, investing $4.5 billion of private capital into the downtown area over the next few years certainly has to add substantial value and appeal to the city.

return to the top of the
page DC COMMITS ALMOST $1 BILLION EAST OF THE ANACOSTIA
(drawn from a Washington Post article of 11/11/00 by Debbie Wilgoren)

There are few if any commitments more fundamental to the long-term socioeconomic health of the nation's capital than to begin the lengthy process of elevating DC's neglected areas--and least fortunate residents--east of the Anacostia River to full participation in the revitalization of the core of the Washington metro area. While NARPAC's more impersonal, analytical approach would have preferred to see a clearer focus on a long-range master plan, the real-world situation in this bleakest part of the racially divided city probably requires a less dogmatic and more incremental beginning. To this end, firm mayoral commitment to a large investment of the city's own resources--and acceptance thereof by the skeptical residents of this troubled area--is a very significant milestone. NARPAC wholeheartedly supports this initiative as a welcome first step up a long road.

Williams Plans to Rebuild 5 Areas

In November, 2000, Mayor Williams presented the city's plan to spend at least $850 million over the next five years rebuilding five neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River--opening government offices, improving roads and creating affordable housing to spur private investment in those communities. By concentrating on a few specific locations, the city hopes to "dramatically improve long-neglected neighborhoods and make them attractive places for new stores, businesses or residents". Three of these communities are near metro stations, and the other two are obvious sites for metro stations in the future--when the city gets around to considering Metro system growth.

According to Milton Bailey, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development,"The Williams administration wants to get away from the shotgun approach that historically has been taken (in the hopes of creating) a critical mass, so that co-investors come in with us."

According to the report in the Washington Post, " about 130,000 people live east of the Anacostia River, a swath of gentle hills whose once-thriving residential neighborhoods have struggled mightily since the late 1960s, when thousands of poor families were relocated there in a massive public housing campaign that has since been pronounced a failure. Working families fled that part of the city faster than any other as the District hemorrhaged population in the 1990s. But the population has stabilized, and hundreds of new town houses and single-family residences are being built for people who are starting to move back in, said Eric Price, deputy mayor for economic development.

That resurgence, plus the city's ongoing economic boom and a new interest among developers in urban projects, has pushed the mayor to deliver on a campaign promise to rejuvenate the District's eastern side. "For so long, the residents of these neighborhoods have been left out," said Lamont B. Mitchell, Williams's east-of-the-river revitalization coordinator. "We look forward to being included, and we look forward to being the catalyst for economic growth from the private sector." "People will see a dramatic change in the physical infrastructure," said Price, who called the government spending a "down payment" on the area's future. However, Price cautioned that the plans do not guarantee an economic turnaround for this part of the city. Residents will not flock to the area unless government services--notably schools--improve, he said. And retailers will not come unless residents do. "There has to be a realistic expectation of what the government can accomplish," Price said. "We can facilitate development. And that's what we're going to try to do."

Here are the proposed projects:

o At Minnesota and Benning Aves, Williams will spend $50 million to build new offices atop the Minnesota Avenue Metro station for the D.C. Department of Employment Services, currently housed on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Although some neighborhood residents have opposed the relocation, saying it will create traffic and other problems, Williams believes it will spur a "Reeves effect"--a burst of commercial development and activity like that which followed the opening of the Frank W. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW in the 1980s (-- but which was not sustained thereafter). The 200,000-square-foot complex will include offices for hundreds of city employees and retail space for restaurants, dry cleaners or other businesses to serve them and neighborhood residents. Williams also is weighing whether to add a separate building on that site to house a second city agency--possibly the Department of Human Services.

o A second government center will be built on an empty lot at Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE, the city's "Anacostia Gateway." Williams wants to confer more with Anacostia residents before deciding which agencies to move there, aides said, but one leading proposal is to create a public safety hub that would include the police and fire department headquarters, now located several miles away from each other in Northwest. The city will spend millions of dollars repairing nearby Kenilworth Avenue, NE, and its pedestrian bridge and the 6th District police station. It also will provide mortgage assistance and improve parks, recreation centers and libraries in surrounding residential communities.

o On East Capitol Street, Williams will piggyback on a federal Hope VI grant of more than $30 million to rebuild the mostly vacant East Capitol Dwellings housing complex. City plans call for new mixed-income housing, a commercial strip with a Giant supermarket, road improvements and possibly a small office building.

o In the Bellevue neighborhood at the District's southern tip, the city is partnering with Fannie Mae to provide down payment assistance and low-interest mortgages so residents can take advantage of several new housing developments. The construction--mostly town houses--is replacing blocks of decrepit apartment buildings that never recovered from the District's crack and violence epidemic.

o Plans for the Congress Heights neighborhood, south of Alabama Avenue SE, call for new stores and better housing but remain uncertain because of controversy over the future of Camp Simms, the 25-acre former National Guard site. The city expects to sign a deal with a developer by year's end that would include a shopping center and probably some housing as well.

return to the top of the
page MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS COMING TO ANNAPOLIS

According to a feature story in the Washington Post in November, 2000, major developments are on the way for Annapolis, Maryland's scenic and historic capital on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, and home to the US Naval Academy. A relatively small town with a stable population of about 34,000, its suburbs have begun to grow, from 130,000 to 180,000 over the past 20 years, and are expected to grow much faster in the next few decades.

To date, most of the high-tech developments have been to the west of DC, as highlighted in a recent Brookings Study of a "Region Divided" The "dot-com" corridor along Rt 66 to Dulles, and the "bio- tech" corridor along Rt 270 to Gaithersburg have received great attention--and with good reason: they have produced major new businesses in the Washington Metro Area. Now it appears to be Annapolis's turn: high-tech companies have discovered the appeal of being on the Bay and close to the Atlantic Ocean.

Downtown Annapolis has limited room for development without ruining its classic charm. Nevertheless, a subdivision with 139 homes is planned on the site of an abandoned hospital, and the relatively run-down West Street expects a $150M overhaul centered around a new "Park Place". The main growth, however, will be in the suburbs: a 46-acre surplus naval Research property across the Severn River from the Naval Academy is planned to become a $200M high-tech office park employing close to 2000 people, and generating $3M in annual tax revenues to Anne Arundel County over the next decade. Other developments include:

o A big new campus for the Anne Arundel Medical Center;

o "Annapolis Commerce Park" with a large 4-story office building;

o "Annapolis Exchange", involving 600K sq. ft. of office and retail space, plus a hotel;

o "Parole Plaza", to feature 2 million sq. ft. of shopping space, possibly including some 20-story high-rise towers for a hotel and condos;

o Many new and expanding High-tech businesses.

The recently upgraded Rt 50, the Annapolis Highway from DC, stretches east about 30 miles, with very little development along its length beyond the Beltway. It forms the northern boundary of what NARPAC calls the "Southeast Quadrant" (SEQ) of the Washington metro area, and an "Annapolis Corridor" is surely destined to receive the greatest growth in the next ten years.

Beyond that, however, the entire area to the south bounded by the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River are almost certain to grow as well. As NARPAC has pointed out in its major analysis of the area "East of the Anacostia River", the socioeconomic development of this depressed area will depend on attractions beyond the Beltway in Southern Maryland. One of the most obvious landmarks which soon deserves a new mission is the 4500-acre Andrews Air Force Base. It is now seriously underutilized, serving almost exclusively as the home of the presidential aircraft fleet--and two reserve air units. It is high time for state and regional planners to recognize the key role of this facility in the future commercial development of the SEQ.

return to the top of the
page This page was updated on Sept 15, 2007

Please send us your feedback


homeissuesstatusanalysesemail
| HOME PAGE | MAJOR ISSUES | CURRENT STATUS | RECENT ANALYSES | SITE MAP | EMAIL |

SEARCH THIS SITE

© copyright 2007 NARPAC, Inc. All rights reserved