The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Baltimore just got bikeshare, and lots of its bikes are electric

A month ago, Baltimore got its first bikeshare system, Bmorebikeshare, and ridership is already high. Forty percent of the fleet is made up of electric bikes that make it easier to go up hills, and as the system expands people are likely to want more of those.

A Bmorebikeshare dock. Photo by the author.

The City of Baltimore has partnered with Bewegen Technologies to run the system, which cost $2.36 million to set up. Part of the contract includes operations by a company called Corps Logistics. With 22 stations (largely in the flat basin around the harbor) and 175 bikes, Bmorebikeshare has has generated almost 6,000 rides so far.

The system is designed for to work for both residents and visitors who need to do everything from commute to run errands to just enjoying riding around. I would add that it's also great for those who want to reach places where parking availability is tight.

Existing Bmorebikeshare stations around the city. Image from Baltimore Bike Share.

Electric bikes are a hallmark of the system

Beyond being new, Bmorebikeshare stands out because it has North America's largest fleet of bikes with an electric motor that helps you pedal (a technology known as pedal-assist-technology, or pedelec).

I tested the electric bikes on an uphill climb on the newly created Maryland Avenue protected bikeway, and it was amazing how helpful pedelec was. The extra giddy up made for a ton of fun whether on a hill or flat land.

Baltimore's Maryland Avenue protected bikeway. Photo by the author.

But since Baltimore is a little like a funnel that generally slopes toward the harbor, the boost was particularly helpful when going uphill. The electric bikes will be a prerequisite for many users who seek higher altitude destinations such as Johns Hopkins University or Druid Hill Park or eventually Hampden, Morgan State University.

This spring, the system is set to grow to 50 stations with 500 bikes. And since many of the new stations will be uphill from where stations are concentrated now, the pedelecs will be in even more demand.

Is expanding the pedelec fleet actually doable?

Liz Cornish, Executive Director of Bikemore, Baltimore's bicycling infrastructure and policy advocacy organization, said the pedal-assist bikes cost $1300 compared to $1000 for the regular bikes.

If the bikeshare expanded by another 500 bikes and they were 100% electric-assist, it would only be $150,000 more than an all regular bike purchase. This is not much money if the world of transportation expenditures.

Of course, bikes with pedelec may cost more to fix and maintain. But in a hilly city like Baltimore, splurging on the electric bikes to tilt the percentages of the fleet toward the pedelec bikes will likely make sense.

The best step forward would be for Bewegen to track which bikes are being used in order to get data on user-preference. If my hunch is true—that more people in Baltimore will travel to more places by bikeshare thanks to the new pedelec bikes—it'd be great to find a way to make sure that's what's added to the system.

A shot of Baltimore landmarks you can now take bikeshare to. Photo by the author.


Exodus: Why DC's Jewish community left the center city, then came back

Beginning in the 1950s, synagogues and other Jewish institutions left DC's central commercial corridors for Upper Northwest and Maryland, and they didn't return until the late 1990s.

Photo by Matthew Dailey on Flickr.

Washington's Jewish community was relatively small in 1920s, standing at less than 15,000 members. Today, it's got over 200,000.

This interactive chart depicts the Jewish community's proximity to the US Capitol over time:

Graph by the author. Click for an interactive version.

Before World War II, Jewish residents, like their African American counterparts, faced housing discrimination through racially-restricted covenants that excluded Jews from being allowed to live in some DC neighborhoods, mostly in Rock Creek Park, along with some areas of Montgomery County including parts of Chevy Chase.

Also, Jews were not welcome at institutions like country clubs, leading the area's Jewish community to create its own clubs. Notably, the Indian Spring Country Club moved from Petworth to Silver Spring and eventually to Layhill, mirroring the path of neighborhoods where Jews were able to live.

In the 1940s, the legal foundations of restrictive covenants were weakened, meaning the city's African Americans were no longer boxed into subneighborhoods and the city's Jews had greater freedom to move into Maryland. Also, DC suffered a severe housing shortage during the war, with the capital's population booming while construction material and manpower were diverted to the war effort.

These factors led to DC's white population falling precipitously after the war, with whites taking new federal highways to newly-built outlying areas and buying first homes with GI Bill loans that, for them, were easy to come by.

Image by the author.

In the 1950s, greater Washington was the sixth largest Jewish community in the United States, with 81,000 people (today it's ranked fifth in the US). Half of that population already lived outside the city, mostly in Montgomery County, which you can see here:

Graph by the author.

A 1956 survey captured DC's remaining Jewish community in the midst of the change, two years after the District's schools desegregated. The survey found large percentages of Jewish families planned to move within six-months, mostly to Montgomery County and neighborhoods in the northwest part of the city, west of Rock Creek Park: 21% of families planned to leave the northeast quadrant; 25% planned to leave neighborhoods in the southeast and southwest quadrants.

Even in many neighborhoods in the part of DC's northwest quadrant that's east of Rock Creek Park, the bastion of Jewish DC, 16% planned to move. Beginning in the 1950s, the Jewish community also had more options in the outlying areas. Among the most appealing destinations were new subdivisions built by Jewish real estate developers in areas of Montgomery County like Silver Spring. Kemp Mill attracted an Orthodox Jewish community. Langley Park in Prince George's County become predominantly Jewish in the 1950s.

The map below is of Jewish landmarks in DC and Maryland during the mid 20th century compiled by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. If you click to the interactive version and then click the link with each icon, you can view photos. The collection also features pictures from the archive of Giant supermarket, run by a local Jewish family until 1998. That map makes clear that, while DC had many serious social problems in the 1940s, widespread "food deserts" were not among them.

Click for the interactive version.


A developer has agreed to build shorter and less dense than the law allows, but neighbors are still fighting it

An apartment building is slated to go up at the site of an old grocery store near American University. Some residents oppose the new housing and only want a grocery store to return there, but apartments are likely coming to the site no matter what. It's the grocery store that the opposition could kill.

This could turn into a grocery store with apartments on the bottom... or it could just turn into apartments. Image from Google Maps.

The old Superfresh site at the corner of Yuma and 48th Streets NW off of Massachusetts Avenue has been vacant since Fresh and Greens, another grocery store, closed in 2011. But that's set to change thanks to a proposed building from Valor Development.

The proposed development, called the Ladybird, would bring a grocery store and 230 units to the area, including 200 rentals and 30 condos, with 10 percent of these units set aside as affordable through DC's inclusionary zoning program. It also includes a public park that would connect the site with other stores in the area, making it easier for residents to walk from place to place.

Image from Google Maps.

According to the developer, these units would be aimed at attracting current residents in the area looking to downsize. The development would also connect the Spring Valley Shopping Center and rest of the neighborhood with a pedestrian avenue between the two buildings.

Instead of just apartments, the developer wants to build a grocery store too

The Superfresh parcel is zoned to allow "moderate-density mixed-used development" in a low- or moderate-density residential area like the one surrounding the site. That means that if it wanted to, the developer could build the proposed 230 residential units, just without commercial space (i.e. the grocery store), without any special approval.

Valor does want to build a grocery store, though, so it's proposing a deal: while the new building could have up to almost 32,000 square feet on a penthouse level, the current proposal only uses 14,000 square feet. And the proposed design includes almost 15,000 square feet of public space, which isn't required at all.

That deal, however, means the developer must submit their proposal for review by the Zoning Commission. This is because the grocery store causes the development to deviate from the standards allowed as a matter of right. The process here is different from a Planned Unit Development because Valor is not proposing to change the building's density (with the grocery store, it will be shorter and have fewer residents), but rather to change the building's use.

The diagram below compares what can go up on the Superfresh as a matter of right with the development that has been submitted to the Zoning Commission for voluntary design review. Note that "FAR" means floor area ratio.

Photo from of Valor Development.

It looks like the developer wants to give neighbors what they want, but neighbors are still opposed

Some residents, however, oppose the proposed development. A group led by Citizens for Responsible Development argues that even though the zoning says a moderate-density apartment building can go up, that shouldn't be allowed because the Future Land Use Map included in the DC Comprehensive Plan says the parcel should be "low-density commercial." They also argue the additional apartment units would strain schools and bring unwanted traffic into the area. Some are concerned that the development will lower property values in the area.

Residents have joined together to oppose the 230-unit development proposed for the old superfresh site (pictured in background). Photo by the author.

But the zoning map, not the Comprehensive Plan's Future Land Use Map, determines what can be built where. And as the DC zoning map illustrates, the question to ask about the Superfresh site is not whether there will be apartments, but whether those apartments will be built on top of a grocery store. If residents succeed in shooting down the developer's latest proposal during the design review, they may find themselves with an apartment building but no grocery store.

"There seems little doubt that housing will be built at the site one way or another," said ANC 3E Chair Jonathan Bender. "To the degree neighbors mobilize to negotiate about issues such as traffic management and public space design, they can potentially make the neighborhood a safer, more livable, and perhaps even more fun place. I, and I believe all of my ANC colleagues, will work hard to see that the developer does all that is reasonable to accommodate neighborhood consensus on such issues."

The apartments—both market price and those made affordable thanks to inclusionary zoningand grocery store would bring much-needed amenities to the area. The neighborhood surrounding the Superfresh site is largely made up of single-family homes, and Ward 3 has lagged behind the other parts of the city when it comes to building affordable housing. The closest full-service grocery store, meanwhile, is the Whole Foods in Tenleytown.


Breakfast links: Paid leave makes leaps

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.
One step closer to paid leave: By an 11-2 margin, the DC Council gave initial approval to a bill that would provide eight weeks of paid parental leave for DC residents workers through a payroll tax on employers. (WAMU)

Bowser meets Trump: In a private meeting, President-elect Trump and Mayor Bowser discussed Metro, local education, and the city's uniquely complicated relationship with the federal government. The mayor said Trump is a supporter of the District. (Post)

McMillan breaks ground ... sort of: A groundbreaking ceremony will take place today at the McMillan Sand Filtration site, but it won't be followed by any actual construction until an ongoing lawsuit from a civic group is resolved. (DCist)

Billboard bill burns brighter: The DC Council is standing behind a bill that would allow electronic billboards at Nationals Park, over some residents concerns. The Council will take a final vote on the proposal in two weeks. (CityPaper)

Grimke back to the drawing board: The developer who won the city bid to transform the historic Grimke school into a mixed-use development has backed out. Last month the local ANC chided DC officials for the long delay in construction. (WBJ)

More VRE, please: Virginia transit officials are calling for additional VRE tracks to run between Arlington and downtown Fredericksburg, along with a new bridge that would make it possible for all trains to make stops in downtown Richmond. (WTOP)

That's no monument: The new stone walls where 17th St meets the National Mall are part of DC's system of flood levees that protect the National Mall and federal buildings from the threat of Potomac flooding. (AoC)

And...: The head of Metro's biggest union says riders share the blame for the system's struggles (WTOP) ... There are plans for a W&OD trail bridge over Route 29 in Falls Church. (FCNP) ... A Bethesda movie theater is closing to make way for the Purple Line. (BethesdaBeat)

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Should a "historic gas station" keep new housing units from going up in Dupont?

A new building with housing and ground-level retail was set to go up just west of Dupont Circle, but the project has stalled because some DC officials say it would harm a historic gas station building. There's often tension between wanting to preserve historic buildings and needing to build more housing for a region that will continue to grow. We asked our contributors what they think should happen in this situation.

The Embassy Gulf Service Station. Image from Google Maps.

Marx Realty & Improvement Company recently proposed potential designs for a nine-story, 34-unit residential building with ground floor retail at 22nd and P Streets NW.That address is also home to the Embassy Gulf Service Station—today a Sunoco—that was built in 1936.

The building was designated a historic landmark in 1993 because it's a particularly good example of the neo-classical design used by many urban gas stations during the 1930s to make the car-oriented buildings more palatable to planners and zoning officials of their day.

In all three of Marx's design options, the plan was to slightly move the gas station building so there was more room for the new one, and to adapt it for retail use. In some of the plans, there was to be a connection on the ground level between the old and new buildings.

Marx submitted these options to DC's Historic Preservation Review Board, which decides whether new building proposals fit with the historic landmark. Technically, the HPRB is only an advisory board, but if it says no to a design, it's rare that the DC government issues a permit to build.

The HPRB said in its report that none of the designs would work because of the "disparity in height" between the single-story station building and the nine-story proposal:

This is the principle the HPRB staff operated on: Any adjacent new construction should be substantially lower in height than is proposed so as to not loom over the landmark.

Here's the HPRB staff's ruling: The disparity in height between the nine-story new construction and the one-story landmark is stark, discordant and incompatible, and would result in the gas station being left in shadow. While the open lot site to the south is under separate ownership and apparently not available for development, its presence adds to what is an unsatisfying urbanistic solution in which the weight of the new tower is pushed uncomfortably close to the landmark while a large open parking lot would remain on the other side.

It's somewhat confusing to hear that a nine-story building would provide an "unsatisfying urbanistic solution" when many nearby buildings, including a ten-story apartment building directly across the street, are around that height.

We asked our contributors to weigh in on the decision and the broader competing interests of preserving historic structures while allowing DC to grow for the future.

Several contributors, like Tony Camilli, disagree with the HPRB's ruling:

DC already has more than 18% of its property designated as historic vs. 4.7% in Boston, 3.6% in New York, and 2.2% in Philadelphia. Yet these other cities are over a century older than DC. This particular gas station is prime real estate in an area with many other transportation options and was built long before Metrorail and bike lanes came about.

Modern cities have to change over time to remain relevant (see Detroit and other rust-belt cities for examples of failures to adapt). DC has gotten very expensive and needs more housing, so 1-story gas stations located in densely-populated areas with many transportation options should not be saved even if the architecture and use are historic. Document the station and archive its existence yes, but don't hold DC hostage to the change it needs to be a 21st century city.

Dan Malouff simply tweeted the following:

David Alpert sees a double standard when it comes to building designs and building heights, and argues that DC needs to take advantage of limited infill housing opportunities:

I support having historic preservation. I think we have many wonderful buildings which add architectural and historic diversity to the city and are worth keeping.

But the preservation office says new buildings should be "of their time" in terms of architecture (look contemporary, not like replicas of old buildings) even if that means a super modern building is next to an old one, the thought being that such a move would just emphasize the historic. Okay, but then they say that new buildings should not be very different in size.

Why should a building be faux-historic in height but not design? Why shouldn't the new building be "of its time" in size? Wouldn't having a tall building next to a short one emphasize the historic height?

I think preserving valuable buildings is a great thing to do, but when we're talking about new construction on vacant land I think HP can be too restrictive about "compatibility."

Dan Reed raises the point that "preservation" is often about one group's definition of history, but not another's:
This makes me think about the fate of Phase 1 (before it Apex and Badlands), the gay club a few blocks away, which is being converted back to its "historic" appearance as a carriage house.

These preservationists don't just want to save the gas station, they want it its surroundings to look like it did when it was built, nevermind how the context has changed since then. As a queer person, I personally think the "recent" history of Phase 1/Apex/Badlands overrules the 1900s history that none of us were there for and can apply any meaningful context to. But we often privilege the "built" history over the cultural history because the built stuff feels more tangible.

Jacqueline Drayer says that on the other hand, historic gas stations are extremely unique:
Very, very few gas stations in the US are protected (for good reason) - but they represent an integral part of 20th century US history. This one has both an unusual style and speaks to the lost practice of actually creating inspired station architecture. It is perfectly reasonable to maintain the spatial qualities of the still functioning gas station.
Steven Yates agrees, and wondered if a shorter building would work:
I'm OK with the gas station being historic. It is in fact fairly old (dating back to 1936) and a style we don't see anymore (and not bad looking either). But to say a tall building is incompatible with it really ignores the context of the surrounding neighborhood (like across the street). And at what height does it no longer tower over? It's only a one story building so would three stories still be too high?
What do you think? Should a building go up as long as the gas station isn't harmed? Is moving the gas station to face another way ok? Should the gas station stay around at all?


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 96

It's time for the ninety-sixth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


In defense of "political theater" for Metro

Jack Evans, DC Councilmember and chair of the WMATA Board, is making noise. He's shouting that Metro needs $25 billion to fix everything that needs fixing. On Friday, members of Congress accused him of "political theater" and "rampant parochialism." But perhaps some theater is just what Metro needs right now?

Photo by Tommy Wells on Flickr.

I talk about this issue, and more, with WAMU's Martin di Caro on this week's Metropocalypse podcast and a Facebook Live video we recorded right after the podcast taping. Check it out!

Let's leave aside the irony of two members of the United States House of Representatives decrying "political theater." Gerry Connolly, one of those leveling the attack, is not an unserious person and has done a tremendous amount for our region and for Metro. In fact, on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, he unflaggingly pushed the Silver Line through decades of studies and inaction, and he deserves a lot of credit for it happening.

Connolly was upset specifically because Corbett Price, the other WMATA board voting member from DC, made a provocative suggestion. He posited that if Virginia doesn't step up to fund Metro, perhaps DC should veto the opening of the Silver Line to Dulles and Loudoun County. Needless to say, Connolly isn't happy about this idea.

I don't want Metro to cancel the Silver Line. Price and Evans don't either.

They were saying that Metro is in a crisis, and Virginia didn't seem very eager to fix it. Evans, Price, DC CFO Jeff DeWitt, and others have suggested a regional sales tax to give Metro a reliable funding source. Mostly, that proposal was met with hemming and hawing from both Annapolis and Richmond.

In a nutshell, this is how the discussion has gone:

DC leaders: Hey, the house is on fire! We should put out the fire!
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan: I don't think we should. On second thought, I'm okay with if if Montgomery and Prince George's Counties pay for the firefighting work, but I don't want to.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe: I think our house should demonstrate it can take steps to improve its structural integrity before we put the fire out.

Who's job is it to fix Metro?

The buck stops with nobody. DC, Maryland, and Virginia (a collection of Northern Virginia cities and counties, more specifically) share the governance of Metro, which means no chief executive can take decisive action to fix it, and also no chief executive is personally blamed if it fails.

Riders get angry at Metro for its failures, not at McAuliffe, Hogan, and DC mayor Muriel Bowser for not pushing for fixes.

So, Evans and Price are trying to make people pay attention by being controversial. It's not surprising that's rubbing some other leaders the wrong way, but has something else worked better?

The last two board chairs, Tom Downs and Mort Downey, were not politicians and not loud. They were transit experts who ... um, hired their friend Rich Sarles to run the place for a few years, during which time, unbeknownst to nearly everyone, the system got even worse.

I can understand the impulse to keep politics out of Metro, but we had not-politics and the problem did not improve in any way. So Evans and Price tried to pressure Virginia using the Silver Line. Perhaps that was a good tactic, or perhaps not, but doing nothing was not a good tactic either.

Should the Silver Line be under negotiation?

Their argument about the Silver Line isn't totally crazy. Based on the formula that decides how much various jurisdictions pay for Metro, even though the Silver Line extension is entirely in Virginia, DC and Maryland will pay some of the cost of running it. Starting the Silver Line also, sadly, precipitated a crisis where Metro suddenly couldn't get enough railcars out on the tracks each day.

Still, it's dangerous for one jurisdiction to block new service in another. DC and Maryland do benefit from more people having access to Metro. The board might do one thing to help one jurisdiction this time, and another the next. Metro can only work if DC, Maryland, and Virginia are trying to work together, not at cross purposes. The Congressmembers accused DC's reps of acting parochially, and the board needs less parochialism, not more.

(Connolly should also tell that to Maryland's Michael Goldman, a paragon of parochialism on this board. Goldman suddenly announced that Maryland didn't want to pay its share of the 5A bus to Dulles, for instance. He also stopped Metro from funding required retirement benefits and refused to fund upgrades to power systems to allow more 8-car trains.)

Conflict between jurisdictions is inherent to Metro's structure

Metro is more like urban subway in most of the area inside the Beltway, and mostly a suburban park-and-ride commuter train outside. That could change in Tysons, eventually, and elsewhere, but there aren't a lot of people living outside the Beltway who forego owning a car because Metro makes it easy enough to get places without one.

That means, as Metro is constituted now, there will always be some battles between DC, which wants more frequent service and service over more hours, and suburban jurisdictions where longer mid-day waits are less of an issue. There are always going to be budget fights about whether the parking fees should go up when fares do, or not. Or the maximum fare—riders going the longest distance don't pay as much per mile as others. That's either fair or not depending on your point of view.

Most of all, Metro needs all local governments to take Metro's problems very seriously. A lot of experts think it could stop being financially viable within a year if something is not done. The Silver Line should not be canceled, but maybe a bombastic politician who gets headlines (along with a capable manager who's actually fixing problems) could get this issue the attention it needs. Other methods haven't worked any better.


Breakfast links: Nothing new in Alexandria

Photo by Cliff on Flickr.
No new single-family detached homes: Alexandria didn't add even one new single-family detached home to its inventory in fiscal year 2016. In fact, only a dozen have been constructed since 2010. New housing has instead gone up in the form of high-density, transit-oriented development. (WBJ)

MoCo needs lots more rentals: Relative to the wages residents bring in, Montgomery County needs about 20,000 more affordable rental units. Right now, most households that earn less than 30% AMI are rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income in rent. (UrbanTurf)

Bowser meeting with Trump today: Mayor Bowser will meet with the President-elect today. Possible agenda items include DC statehood, how Trump will impact federal workers, legal issues re: Trump's new hotel, or marijuana legalization. Some hope for common ground by way of infrastructure funding. (Post, Washingtonian)

Can you hear me (in Metro) now?: After first laying plans to put cell service in tunnels in 2008, Metro has installed the first mile of necessary cable. There's now service between the Potomac Avenue and Stadium Armory stops. (DCist)

Questionable bike ticketing: In two recent incidents, drivers hit cyclists in DC but the cyclists wound up getting tickets. That has some questioning MPD's ticketing policies. (WashCycle)

Arlington will likely make car2go official: Arlington will likely vote to permanently allow "free-floating" car share programs like car2go. The system has been in Arlington since last October thanks to a temporary pilot program. (UrbanTurf)

Facebook giveth: Facebook announced that it will give $20 million toward affordable housing and related programs in the communities that surround its massive campus. The company has been accused of fueling the Bay Area's housing shortage. (WSJ)

Is safe, affordable housing for artists possible?: The warehouse that tragically burned down in Oakland last week, killing 30, was also de facto affordable housing for artists. The building was dangerous, but it was also one of the only places the creative community could live affordably. (CityLab)

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Is new housing, most of it for low-income residents, worth giving up an acre of park space?

DC has plans to turn half of a park on Georgia Avenue into an apartment complex that will largely be affordable housing, much of which will replace a nearby public housing project that's in disrepair. Many residents support the plan, but some are opposed, with reasons ranging from not wanting to lose any park space to wanting the building to be shorter.

The proposed redevelopment of the Bruce Monroe site. Images from Park View Community unless otherwise noted.

Right now Bruce Monroe is a 2.5-acre park in DC's Park View Pleasant Plains neighborhood, on Georgia Avenue between Irving Street and Columbia Road. The site was a school until it was torn down in 2009. In 2010, the city proposed making it into a parking lot, but neighbors disliked that idea, so officials constructed a temporary park while they thought about what to do long-term.

Here are the proposals on the table

DC wants to turn half of the land at Bruce Monroe into new housing and keep the other half a park. The redevelopment would have a 189-unit apartment building, a 76-unit senior apartment building, and 8 townhomes (a total of 273 new units). 108 of these units would be reserved for households earning up to 60 percent of area median income (that's about $66,000/yr for a family of four). Another 94 units would be reserved for residents below 30% of AMI. So almost three quarters of the units would be set aside for moderate and low-income households.

The Bruce Monroe development; building A would be apartments; building B would be senior apartments.

To do all of this, DC's Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and its chosen developer, Park View Community Partners, are applying to build higher than the current zoning permits, through a process called a Planned Unit Development (PUD).

Building at Bruce Monroe means deteriorating units nearby

Aside from adding new units to the neighborhood, a big element of the Bruce Monroe development is that it would replace units at Park Morton, a public housing project a little under half a mile up Georgia Avenue, on Morton Street. To be clear, Bruce Monroe and Park Morton are part of the same project; if one gets blocked, the whole thing falls apart.

The Park Morton (top) and Bruce Monroe sites, with proposed redevelopments.

Right now, Park Morton is itself up for redevelopment as part of the New Communities Initiative, which started in 2005 under Mayor Williams. A central tenet of NCI says that when the city redevelops public housing, it needs to build replacement units before demolishing the old ones (a concept known as "build first"). That's the purpose of the units reserved for families at 30% of AMI and below at Bruce Monroe: to replace public housing units at Park Morton, and prevent displacing low-income residents.

New Communities has struggled to live up to this ideal: another NCI site, Temple Courts, was demolished in 2008, its residents scattered (there was no "building first"), and today it's a parking lot. The city is trying to do better at Park Morton, and Bruce Monroe is part of that plan.

Park Morton, meanwhile, would be redeveloped to have 183 units, with apartments and rowhouses mixed around a central park. 53 units would be replacement public housing and 40 units would be set aside for families under 60 percent of AMI.

Rendering of the proposed Park Morton redevelopment.

Together, the developments at Park Morton and Bruce Monroe would mean 302 units of affordable housing, a 1-acre park at Bruce Monroe, and another quarter-acre park at Park Morton. The south half of the Bruce Monroe site would remain a park, which would include a playground, community space and garden, a basketball court, and a dog park. And 4,545 square feet (about a tenth of an acre) of the community space wouldn't be eliminated, but incorporated into the buildings' footprint.

Some neighbors don't want to trade park space for affordable housing

Many neighbors support the Bruce Monroe development, especially given three fourths of the project is set aside for affordability. But others are "packing community meetings and flooding neighborhood email lists with their objections" because they don't want to give up half of the park.

Many opponents argue that the city should find another site. But as GGWash contributor and ANC 1A commissioner Kent Boese testified in November, no property owners along Georgia Avenue would sell their land for this "build first" element of the Park Morton redevelopment project when the District first tried between 2011 and 2014.

Boese was personally involved in the search for a suitable spot, and after four years he (and others, including DMPED), concluded that the city-owned site at Bruce Monroe made the most sense.

Many folks do want to see the project completed: ANCs 1A and 1B have voted on six separate occasions in support. And Park Morton residents might like new apartments; their current units were built in 1960.

Image from Google Maps.

Other residents are concerned that the buildings would be too tall (the proposal would make the two apartment buildings 60 and 90 feet tall). But the PUD allows more units, and more market rate units, which subsidizes the affordable units; a taller building means more affordable housing.

You'll have a chance to tell the zoning commission about your opinion on the proposal at 6:30 pm on December 5th and 8th. The meetings are at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW.


Events: Should I-66 get toll lanes inside the Beltway?

To make a positive impact in the community, it's important to do more than just read about and discuss issues online. We publish our weekly events post to tell you about opportunities to get out and act!

Photo by VDOT

Right now, during rush hour, you can only drive on I-66 inside the beltway if you're in a carpool, you're law enforcement, or you're driving a fuel-efficient. But that could soon change with a proposal to open the road to those willing to pay tolls.

What do you think? Weigh in on the project at one of two meetings this week. The first is Monday December 5 at 1301 North Stafford Street in Arlington and the second is on Thursday at 7130 Leesburg Pike in Falls Church. Both meetings are from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.

Can't make it? Check out some of these other great events:

Next Monday, December 12: Happy holidays! Celebrate with Greater Greater Washington at our holiday party next Monday at Il Parco, the new Italian restaurant inside Canal Park in Navy Yard (200 M Street SE). Meet contributors and readers, enjoy drinks and Il Parco's famous Neapolitan-style pizza, and watch the action in the adjacent ice skating rink. Please RSVP to let us know if you'll be there!

Tuesday, December 6: Residents of Arlington's Four Mile Run Valley, near Shirlington, are thinking about changes to the green space, transit, and urban design for the area. There is one more opportunity to weigh in on the design, this Tuesday at 3500 23rd Street South in Arlington at 7 pm.

Tuesday, December 6: New protected bike lanes on Second Avenue and Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring could bring more connectivity to your neighborhood. Weigh in on the project and make it become a reality! The meeting is on Tuesday, at Silver Spring Civic Building (1 Veterans Place) in Silver Spring.

Wednesday, December 7: Are you passionate about parking? A work group in Arlington gets together regularly to discuss parking policies for new mixed-use developments. Attend the open house this Wednesday at 5:30 pm at 2300 Wilson Boulevard to learn more.

Wednesday, December 7: Virginia's commuter rail, VRE, is planning an extension to Gainesville/Haymarket. Attend the third public meeting this Wednesday at 6 pm at 8301 Linton Hall Road in Bristow to hear about rider forecasts, cost, future station locations, and more.

Thursday, December 8: Looking for solutions to DC's housing shortage? Pete Barber, Principal of Peter Barber Architects in London, thinks he knows what might help. Hear from him at a talk this Thursday, December 8 at 6:30 pm at 421 7th St NW. Tickets range from $10 to $35.

Calendar: Beyond what we've highlighted here, there are many other worthwhile events across the region. Check out more great events in our events calendar:

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go on our events calendar? Send it to us at

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