Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Aimee Custis

Aimee Custis is the Communications Manager at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. She's a policy wonk by training and a communicator by profession, but weekends you'll find her at home in Dupont Circle or practicing her other love, wedding photography

That weird-looking Metro car is probably full of money

Ride Metro long enough and you'll see plenty of non-passenger carrying vehicles on the rails, from The Pickle, to maintenance vehicles, to... The Money Train! Reader Sarah writes in with a question about what, exactly, that is.

A WMATA money train. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Sarah writes,

"I was waiting for a Silver, Orange, or Blue train at Federal Center SW around noon yesterday, and a no passenger train went through. The first car was very bizarre looking and I'm almost certain was #8003. What is this mystery car?"
Our Metro-expert-in-chief, Matt Johnson, had the answer.

Cars 8000, 8001, 8002, and 8003 (formerly 1010, 1011, 1044, and 1045) are the "money train" cars.

WMATA collects coins and bills from the ticket vending machines (TVMs) around the system using railcars modified for that purpose. Throughout the day, Metro employees escorted by MTPD officers use special carts to empty fare revenue from the TVMs and store the carts in rooms in the station until time to put them aboard the Money Train. The Money Train makes two sweeps through the system each weekday.

There are two pairs of Money Train cars. It is not clear to me whether they use both each day or whether they rotate them. Regardless, two Money Train cars are paired with two regular cars and run through the system as a 4-car train. The Money Train cars are used for the carts. The other cars are just backup power and to make sure the train doesn't get caught in any third rail gaps longer than 150 feet.

The Money Train cars are specially modified in a few ways. First, they have extra tinted windows, making it nearly impossible to see inside. All seats have been removed to make way for the carts. The floors are also reinforced to hold the weight of the carts. They also apparently have shotgun racks for MTPD officers to defend the train as necessary. On the exterior of the train, the cars still have plastic mylar rollsigns (as opposed to flipdot (1000 & 4000) or LED (2/3000, 5000, 6000, 7000) signs on revenue cars).

These four cars will be the last 1000 cars running in the system for regular service, though without passengers. Metro's plans call for replacing the Money Train cars with specially-built cars as part of the 8000-series order, which will likely be executed in the early 2020s. That order will replace the Money Train cars, the 2/3000 cars, and may be used to expand the fleet size beyond 50% 8-car operation.

Have a question? We regularly pose reader questions to the Greater Greater Washington contributors, and post appropriate parts of the discussion. Send us you questions by email to We can't answer every question, but we're most likely to answer fact-based informational questions like the one in this post!

If urbanists practice empathy, bike lanes on 6th Street could bridge communities

A church on 6th Street NW opposes plans to build a bike lane there. As a bike advocate, it's easy to be frustrated with that. But really, this is a chance to make region better by putting ourselves in each other's shoes.

New bike lanes on 14th St NW. Photo by the author.

There are a lot of people who want new bike lanes along 6th Street NW, but also a lot who don't. Members of the United House of Prayer, a church with a rich history in DC, are among the most vocal opponents.

If your urbanist-nerd social media stream is anything like mine, you woke up this morning to a flurry of news and commentary about last night's DDOT public hearing on the matter. And reading through some of the arguments against the bike lanes, I got mad and exasperated. Did you?

But wait. Urbanism and smart growth should be about building stronger communities, yes usually through the built environment. But building better communities for everyone. Our movement, our community, whatever you want to call it, doesn't always do a very good job at this. We can do better. We talk a lot about wanting to do better.

So let's stop for a minute.

Those of us who consider ourselves urbanists should look past how and what the churches are saying for a few minutes and think about why the churches saying it the way they are. I am trying, as much as I can, to put myself in those church members' shoes, and to give their motives the benefit of the doubt. And you know what happens when I do that?

I can start to see a very different perspective from my own. I can see how a decades-long history of those in power ignoring my race and culture's needs and voices starts to wear thin, and I can see how this would just seem like the latest in a never-ending stream of decisions that don't take what I want and need into consideration. That don't address what I see as priorities.

If seeing it through that lens seems unfathomable for you, I encourage you to keep privilege in mind. Ask yourself if you might be having a hard time sympathizing because, to you, this is just an instance of one particular group wanting special privileges. But what if it is YOUR OWN group NEVER EVER feeling respected for your wants and needs.

When I try to put myself in UHOP's shoes, I can begin to see some of the fear, and frustration with a changing city and changing times that's causing them to act that way. If they know they won't be listed to because of their skin color, maybe something else we value in this country—freedom of religion—WILL be listened to.

So as we try to build bridges with communities that don't look and sound like us, my plea today to those of you who look like me is to imagine yourself in church members' shoes (and try not to doubt the genuineness of their motives) today.

Have a little compassion for neighbors with a long history of being downtrodden, hurt, and afraid. And then ask yourself, how can we talk about this, and find a solution, that isn't us-vs-them. Even if down the road, others say it is. We can do better.

It sounds from WABA's Freedom of Information Act request that the need for bike lanes here really is a safety issue. I hope we build the lanes. But even more, I hope the urbanist community stops thinking of the people at last night's meeting as "them". "They" are our neighbors. Part of our community.

We should really make an effort (and not just a show of one without any real personal effort and soul-searching) to at least understand where these members of our greater community are coming from. And that's not to shortchange any of the public outreach DDOT has worked to do so far.

If urbanists and smart growth advocates want traction, we should welcome as many people as possible; not shut people out before they've ever had a chance to interact. Let's try to act and speak from a place of compassion, not one of frustration and anger. Let's be open to others' perspectives, motivations, and histories.

For just a moment today, let's set aside the arguments against the bike lanes, and talk of religion and taxes and everything else. Let's try to understand the underlying why of our neighbors (whether they live in the District, or in Maryland, or wherever) making these arguments. Whether or not arguments against the bike lanes are factually correct, or whether we agree with those arguments, let's understand the emotional and historical reasons people opposing the bike lanes feel compelled to speak up.

This isn't our first and won't be our last opportunity, but it is hard. We need to start a real conversation that results in compromises that actually make sense. It's tough to have a fight when there's so much tension on both sides. But I think it's on us to figure out how to make it happen.

I hope we'll give it a try. It's being a good neighbor to our fellow human beings, and it's a good thing to do. Race, and inequality, and history, and understanding are all vital to the future we all want.

The YMCA is closing its downtown branch, and our contributors have something to say about it

The DC YMCA recently decided to close its downtown National Capital location. Many community members are unhappy with the decision to sell the 37-year old location for redevelopment.

YMCA National Capital branch. Image from Google Streetview.

In fact, we received a letter from a reader expressing frustration (edited for clarity):
I'm sending this along as a Y community member distressed about the peremptory closure of the facility as of the end of this year...I learned about the closure Friday morning from a fellow swimmer... I am shocked at the lack of any public process whatsoever in the trade of a vital community facility for what [I] understand are condos. This seems par for course for DC... that there are no community programs or resources in downtown DC (see Franklin School) and a lack of fiduciary responsibility on the part of the Y Board. The YWCA downtown (where I swam previously) was also closed in a similar fashion to make way for the corporate office building that is there now. I hope the GGW will consider covering this matter.
As a member of the National Capital Y, I can certainly sympathize with this reader. Like others, I was also upset to learn that the branch is closing from Borderstan rather than directly from the organization, no less.

But is it really fair to characterize this as selling out to greedy developers? The YMCA's board made the decision to sell its 37-year-old building as part of an effort to both expand programming beyond the gym and do more for communities that need help.

Situations like these, along with ones like the controversy over plans to redevelop privately-owned church land at 18th and Church Streets nearby, are a reminder of one constant in neighborhoods: places change. When I moved into Dupont Circle about four years ago, many of my favorite businesses and places didn't even exist there yet. Change has not lessened my neighborhood; it's made for a net gain.

The pool at the closing YMCA National Capital. Photo by Esther Dyson on Flickr.

Here is what other Greater Greater Washington contributors have to say:

Dan Malouff talks about the situation in the context of city amenities:

The Y may not be a park exactly, but as a community space it sort of functions like one. And sure, obviously it sucks to lose a "park." But there are some important differences that make this a pretty understandable move for YMCA. The Y is a private organization, with private goals. It's not like the city, or some evil developer, is forcing them to leave the neighborhood. They want to sell because they think that's the best move for them. Why's that? Because YMCA's mission—their whole reason to exist—is to bring social services to underserved communities. And as much as Dupont residents may enjoy a cheap gym, they aren't the Y's target market. Duponters have other options. By selling their 17th Street building, YMCA will make boatloads of cash, which they can spend on improving services in parts of the city where they're more needed.
Owen Chaput builds on Dan's point that the Y is free to make this decision:
The YMCA's board is selling an extremely valuable property in a prosperous neighborhood to improve its services in other (perhaps less prosperous) neighborhoods. That sounds fiscally responsible to me, and anyways it's up to the board to decide how to use its limited resources to meet the organization's mission.

Regardless, it's ultimately at the discretion of the YMCA board to interpret their mission and use their assets as they see fit. If the public doesn't like it, they can not donate to the YMCA or encourage DC government to remove any public support it offers the YMCA. Absent a contract with DC stating otherwise or evidence of some illegal activity, I don't understand why government should have a say in whether a non-profit operates services at any particular address in DC.

Payton Chung talks about non-profits who have to make often difficult decisions:
A lot of private institutions hold land for the public purpose. But like any other business, even a non-profit will sometimes need to make decisions that might sometimes upset some of their customers or neighbors.

Ten years ago, a social services center that actually was in my backyard, in a fast-gentrifying Chicago neighborhood, sold its building for development. Unlike the people they served, or facilities in the many neighborhoods that didn't gentrify, that organization was able to sell its building, move services closer to the families that it served, and build an endowment for the future.

On 14th St. NW, several social service organizations have used surging real estate prices as an opportunity to further their missions. In some cases, where the clientele remains in the neighborhood, the organizations have done joint-venture deals to remain on the site while developing above—as with the Anthony Bowen YMCA or Whitman-Walker Health's Elizabeth Taylor building.

For the Central Union Mission and Martha's Table, though, 14th St. isn't a convenient location for their clientele. Both are using millions of dollars gained from selling their land to expand their services and to move to new locations that better serve their clients. Yet when these groups announced their plans to leave 14th St., there wasn't hue and cry on local blogs' message boards.

The YMCA, too, has seen its clientele leave from Scott Circle. Its membership has dropped by 70%, despite spending millions of dollars to upgrade the facilities. A decline of that magnitude would put just about anything else out of business, and it's honestly surprising that the Y held on so long there.

Plenty of other smaller things bothered me about this letter. I once owned a condominium, and resent when the term "condos" is bandied about as if places for human beings to live are somehow a bad thing.

David Alpert says this might be the right move for more people than first meets the eye:
On a slightly different tack there is a general urbanism/planning question that comes up about whether "the market" takes care of things like recreation. Certainly we don't let education be based on the market need; cities put public schools in rich and poor neighborhoods. They also put in parks and playgrounds.

The market often doesn't seem to meet the need for things like parks. We're seeing that with NoMa, where because of a mistake when the area was upzoned, there's no place set aside for a park and a strong economic disincentive for any property owner to put one in. Plans like the one for White Flint are trying to deal with some of this by tying maximum density to provision of one of a number of public services the area needs.

In the case of indoor recreation, the market isn't really providing fitness opportunities in low-income areas that well, which is why nonprofits like the YMCA are playing a needed role, but in the wealthier areas the market actually seems to be doing okay. There are a lot of private fitness facilities in new buildings in the downtown area. They cost more to use than the YMCA, for sure, but while I don't know the economic circumstances of this letter writer, financial hardship might not be the reason she uses the YMCA.

For all we know, Akridge is already thinking about putting a fitness club in some of the building they plan to build.

So, personally, while I'm super-bummed to be losing my YMCA (especially that glorious pool!), I also recognize that it might well serve the YMCA's mission to close the branch. And with YMCA Anthony Bowen a mile away, and at least four other gyms/fitness centers (to say nothing of city-owned rec facilities) as close a walk from my place as the closing Y branch, this too shall pass.

A net loss for me? Sure. A net win for the Y's mission of serving underserved populations? Yes.

What do you think about the YMCA's decision? Let us know in the comments.

Here's where to enjoy Park(ing) Day tomorrow

A 2005 San Francisco idea that's become an annual international event, Park(ing) Day takes over the DC region on Friday, bringing pop-up parklets to curbside parking spaces across the region.

A 2013 Park(ing) Day parklet in Arlington. Photo by the author.

While Park(ing) Day is an all-day event, you're most likely to find a parklet operating between 9 am and 3 pm, so be sure to check it out over your lunch break.

District parklets

DDOT has posted a map of its officially-sanctioned 2015 parklets in the District:

Click for interactive DDOT map of 2015 DC Park(ing) Day locations.

DC has 33 registered parklets this year, and they'll be very diverse, ranging from free 9am coffee at 5th and I NW, to a "doggie beach" in NoMa. The parklet at First Street NE, between M and Patterson will host a table with a blown up map of the neighborhood for people to post comments for DC's Vision Zero Initiative.

Maryland parklets

MNCPPC and MCDOT will host a parklet in Silver Spring, at the corner of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue from 9am-4pm, featuring plants, seating, and a game of cornhole.

In Rockville, find a parklet at Rockville Town Center, from 10am-4pm.

Bethesda will be home to two parklets, an outdoor cafe-themed pop-up near the corner of Norfolk and Cordell Avenues, and a "reading room" near the corner of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues.

In Twinbrook, find a parklet with putt-putt and cornhole from 10am-2pm at 5635 Fishers Lane.

Virginia parklets

In Arlington, artists Scott Pennington and Melissa Webb will host a Park(ing) Day space at Courthouse Plaza in conjunction with a the program Art on the ART Bus.

Fairfax County will host a parklet along the entrance drive of the Herrity Building, located at 12055 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax.

Help us crowdsource even more Park(ing) Day info

Know of another planned Park(ing) Day installation we missed? Please share it in the comments. And if you stop by a parklet, snap a photo and put it in the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool or tweet it (#parkingday) and tag us (@ggwash). We'll feature images from parklets around the region in a roundup next week.

What is affordable housing? Is it different from housing affordability? Should we care?

Read the comments on almost any of our posts that talk about "affordable housing" and you're likely to get a headache trying to figure out what different people mean by those two little words.

Confused people from Shutterstock.

We asked our contributors what policies and problems come to mind when they think of "affordable housing." We also asked about policies they support or don't support, and why.

They had a LOT to say.

Tracy Loh says that we're not the only ones baffled by this:

This topic came up on my neighborhood listserv recently, and several people on the listserv conflated "affordable housing" with "government-subsidized non-market housing."
To me, there is a circle called "affordable housing," which is housing that can be rented or mortgaged for 30% of the median household income in an area, and contained within that circle is a smaller circle, "subsidized housing," which governments may choose to do for a variety of reasons. But the "affordable housing" circle is much, much bigger than just the "subsidized housing" circle, and includes a huge variety of policies, issues, and people that are not within the "subsidized housing" circle.
Brian McEntree agrees that the term is rhetorically problematic:
Sometimes I wonder how much better discussions around the topic would go if instead of using 'affordable housing,' urbanists talked about 'housing affordability.' I think that way it's clearer that we're talking about the price of housing in a given area and not idea of any particular kind of affordable housing (government subsidized, etc.)
Canaan Merchant also sees a dichotomy between government policies and the market prices most people face, but explained it differently:
I think it's important to note case: Affordable Housing and affordable housing. The former are specific programs that help people live somewhere they wouldn't be able to on their own. The region has come a long way and has a long way to go with its Affordable Housing.

But then there is simply the prices any person may need to pay and whether they can afford them.

The great part is that the two concepts can go hand in hand, and by and large that's what many local governments are doing. There doesn't need to be a disconnect in what people are talking about because we can move on multiple fronts. No one solution is going to work anyway.

Ben Ross chimed in too, not only to agree on the problems with semantics, but to point to why it's important to get it all straight when we're communicating:
We need to emphasize housing affordability as a need for all income levels below the very top. Thinking of affordable housing as something that must be targeted to just the poor is an enormous mistake, both for planning and politics.

From the planning perspective, we want cities to be places for all income levels, not just the very rich and very poor.

Politically, affordable housing as something just for the poor just won't be built. No one will accept it in their own neighborhood. Housing (and urbanism!) will only be politically successful if it's for the majority. You can see this in the political success of social security and the political unpopularity of welfare.

Brent Bolin put a point on Ben's perspective, with a real-world example:
How this is discussed really matters. Section 8 is not inclusionary zoning is not workforce housing is not affordable housing. For too many people, anything not market rate = Section 8 AKA "poor people moving to my neighborhood and my property values going down."

A few years ago Mount Rainier issued a request for proposals to redevelop the city-owned property at the corner of Eastern and Rhode Island Avenues. An extremely reputable non-profit developer proposed a LEED Gold residential building that would have used a variety of tax credit strategies and targeted something like 70-80% of the AMI. In other words, housing for teachers, non-profit workers, young professionals...the kind of people needed in every community but who are struggling to get into ownership in the DC metro area. The developer kept calling it workforce housing (despite my warning them not to) and a lot of supposedly progressive people went BANANAS. The city does have over a thousand units of post-war apartment units, but despite popular perception those are not really a "low income" population anymore either.

For the last 40ish years, Mount Rainier has been a diverse, working class, socially progressive, and artistic community (i.e.: mostly people who aren't rich). We are a tiny piece of the larger DC metro area real estate market, but we are starting to feel the pressure and the population mix of our recent history is starting to change. People in town are talking about "housing affordability" and who is getting priced out, but misunderstanding of this issue makes it very difficult to tackle. (Not that our tiny town could make much of a dent given the broader market, but still.)

Finally, Elina Braave summed up just how much more our contributors had to say on this:
I think what I'm hearing echoing throughout these comments is that there are a a few key challenges to developing affordable housing across the spectrum of incomes (moderate, low, extremely low), including
the negative stigma/public perception of affordable housing and the high cost of construction/land. I think another issue not-mentioned overtly is the shrinking pot of resources at the federal level (for the programs that support the lowest income renters in particular).
Clearly, as Greater Greater Washington takes on more affordable housing issues in the coming months, we've got plenty to talk about.

What does "affordable housing" mean to you, and what are your opinions on it? Can we all agree that "affordable housing" encompasses both "government-subsidized non-market housing," and "housing affordability" in the wider market? Sound off in the comments!

A new highway would improve access to walkable White Flint, but for whom?

The Maryland State Highway Administration wants to build a new highway in White Flint, one of the region's most celebrated transit-oriented redevelopment efforts.

Project map by the author from SHA base map.

White Flint supposedly needs the grade-separated highway to improve access to new developments and the Metro station, bring down congestion, and improve safety. But how well will the project really do these things, and for whom?

The highway in question is Montrose Parkway East, a planned $119m, 1.6 mile divided highway running between Rockville Pike to the west and Viers Mill Road to the east, paralleling the existing Randolph Road, just north of the White Flint Metro station.

Base image from Google Maps.

Montrose Parkway has been on the drawing board in various iterations since it was originally conceived in the 1960's as part of a mostly-mothballed Outer Beltway. After years of controversy, Montrose Parkway West opened in 2010 between Tildenwood Drive and Rockville Pike (MD-355).

The highway would "improve" access, but only for people in cars

In engineering-speak, the project would "improve" access for though-traveling motorists by cutting the number of lights they encounter between Rockville Pike and Viers Mill Road.

But those are the only people whose access would "improve." The project would bring a massive single-point urban interchange (SPUI) to Parklawn Drive. This kind of interchange is the exact opposite of walkable and transit-oriented, which is what's being cultivated elsewhere in White Flint.

Proposed SPUI interchange at Parklawn Drive and the proposed Montrose Parkway East. Diagram from SHA.

According to emails MCDOT (to whom SHA would eventually turn the project over) has exchanged with Friends of White Flint, the agency supports modifying the exact layout of the SPUI to support the community's desire to see a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly solution. That's encouraging. The project proposal also incorporates ten-foot mixed-use path on one side and a five-foot sidewalk on the other.

But any intersection and highway of this scale, regardless of the exact configuration, presents a major challenge to knitting a walkable urban fabric. The large scale of the highway and interchange would create a visual and geographic barrier that would discourage walking across such a long distance to reach destinations on the other side.

SHA built a similar intersection a block west from where the SPUI would be built,at Rockville Pike and Montrose, in 2011. There, missing sidewalks force pedestrians to walk on narrow shoulders and across dirt paths, while the crosswalks that do exist are placed at the foot of high-speed on/off ramps.

Pedestrian conditions at the existing interchange between Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway. Images from Google Streetview.

Congestion is declining, even without a parkway

SHA project documents estimate that average daily traffic along the existing Randolph Road will reach 42,000 vehicles by 2020, and suggest that the capacity increases the parkway brings would help mitigate that projected congestion.

Leaving aside that it's widely understood that giving roads more capacity just leads to more people driving on them, traffic in the area is currently declining. SHA's own traffic counts for Randolph show that traffic there has decreased by 32% since 2002, falling to 23,052 in 2014.

Graph by the author.

Part of what SHA wants is to improve a railroad crossing

The project's purported safety benefits relate to an existing at-grade rail crossing on Randolph Road.

The new road would divert much of today's existing traffic away from the existing at-grade CSX railway crossing at Randolph Street, to a new above-grade crossing on the Parkway. But it would leave open the existing at-grade railroad crossing at Randolph Street, leaving open the possibility of collisions.

More to the point, an MNCPPC analysis found the number of railroad accidents at the existing intersection was negligible compared to the number of collisions between cars.

The highway mindset is still common

This isn't the first time the State Highway Administration has tried to push through plans for over-engineered roads in White Flint. Last year, the agency provoked an outcry when it sought to widen Old Georgetown Road, backing down only when the County Council threatened to pull funding for the project.

While this gulf between projections and reality may be jarring, it is typical. Transportation and land-use patterns are in the midst of a structural shift, one which many transportation agencies have been unable or unwilling to acknowledge.

The White Flint community supports walkable transit-oriented development, not highways.

Many local residents don't want to see Montrose East move forward. Residents, property owners and elected officials in the White Flint area have consistently supported the area's redevelopment into a walkable, transit-oriented activity center, and are organizing with the help of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Also, Friends of White Flint is organizing an effort to make the project at-grade and walkable.

Montrose East would be a major blow to the walkable, urbanist White Flint vision. Not only would the project extend a physical barrier through the heart of the community, county tax dollars would fund it, at a time when the county cannot afford to advance the Rapid Transit System and is laying off teachers to close a $50m budget gap.

MCDOT's comment period for the project closes this Thursday.

Help us rebrand and relaunch our website with a short survey

Yesterday, we were so excited to share the big news that Greater Greater Washington is growing. We're also (thanks in part to our new resources) starting on a site redesign. Can you help us by taking a very short survey?

Redesign image from Shutterstock.

The last time the site got a major facelift was 2009, and it's high time we got another one. This project will take several months, and we'll be sharing our progress and asking for your feedback at many points along the way.

To kick things off, we're starting by thinking about our brand and logo, a first step to redesigning the site. We hope you will take the survey below. Thanks so much!

A development on Florida Avenue would add affordable housing, but the DC Council is stalling

Around Florida Avenue and 9th Street are large superblocks of mostly-vacant land. Current plans to redevelop one long-debated parcel would bring activity to the area, a grocery store, and substantial new affordable housing—but only if DC Council moves on the project.

Rendering of 965 Florida Ave. NW by MRP Realty.

The project, led by MRP Residential in partnership with The JBG Companies, will include 352 apartments including 106 affordable units, anchored by a ground-floor Whole Foods.

The affordable housing will meet the requirements of a new law passed this spring last fall to increase the city's affordable housing supply. Under the law, when the District sells off public land for new housing development, 30% of that housing must be affordable to "deeply affordable" levels. This is especially important here, since the site is so close to a Metro station and major bus lines.

Accordingly, 106 of the project's 352 apartments (30%) will be permanently affordable for households earning below 50% of the area median income (AMI) and 30% AMI. For example, a two bedroom apartment affordable to a family earning 30% AMI would rent for $722 rather than the market price of more than $3,000.

The project is also slated to incorporate support for a number of job training and local business assistance programs. These will include a Community Grants Program to support local non-profit organizations provide employment training and skill development for DC residents, as well as a Local Retailers Assistance program to provide rent subsidies for nearby small businesses.

The surrounding area. Image from Google Maps.

Community members support the project, but it hasn't moved forward

The DC Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) reached an agreement to sell the land to developers MRP and Ellis Development in 2013, but it was then modified to comply with the new law requiring substantially more affordable housing at deeper levels of affordability.

Despite agreement on the revised plan between the development team and the mayor, the DC Council hasn't yet approved the deal. According to the Washington Business Journal, if they don't move soon, Whole Foods could pull out of the project.

On Thursday night, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, where the project is located, passed a resolution encouraging the council to move the project forward. "965 Florida is critical to continuing the growth in our neighborhood, and meeting the expectations of our neighbors, numerous civic and neighborhood associations, two Mayoral Administrations and their agency offices, and the current and previous Ward-1 Council members," said Commissioner Robb Hudson, who chaired the evening's meeting.

Councilmember Brianne Nadeau has introduced an emergency resolution aimed at pushing the project ahead. The bill, which is expected to come up for a vote at the DC Council on Tuesday, would both declare the land surplus and approve of its sale.

Bills to declare the parcel surplus and approve the sale to MRP and Ellis Development have been before the Council's Committee of the Whole since May, but haven't been brought up for vote. If the emergency legislation passes Tuesday, the development team's next step will be to take their plans through the review process at the DC Zoning Commission.

Paying for more affordable housing is the sticking point

The sticking point for Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Mary Cheh (ward 3) may be the proposed sale price of $1.4 million, given that DC government appraisal has valued the property at $27 million.

Despite the District frequently selling DC land for a nominal price in exchange for public benefits, this proposal seems to have caught the attention of some decision makers. As Rebecca Cooper reported, at a hearing in June, Cheh said, "[It] seems so paltry, compared to the other valuations. I'm trying to find out that the District [is] getting proper value for this property."

But DC is getting more value than just $1.4 million; it's getting substantial affordable housing which it would otherwise pay money for. According to Matt Robinson of MRP Realty, the sale price was reduced thanks to the increased affordable housing components earlier this spring, when Council passed the new law mandating 30% of public land deal projects be deeply affordable. That requirement increased the number of affordable units from 65 to the current 106, and made them even more affordable.

Regardless, given the community's strong support of the project, and the urgent need for additional affordable housing stock close to Metro, advocates say the Council should move the project forward.

"Political battles should not be fought over this well-discussed and well-settled development," said ANC Commissioner Hudson. "It's costs are real, but 965 Florida Ave should not fail just because some on the Council are not comfortable with the unintended consequences of last year's affordable housing legislation—namely moving the price of affordable housing from essentially a line item in the budget and into the land valuation of public parcels up for development—we all must pay for it somewhere."

In advance of Tuesday's expected vote, the Coalition for Smarter Growth is hosting an email-writing campaign to the Council in support of the project.

Summer sunsets in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

National Cathedral. Photo by ep_jhu.

U Street. Photo by Clif Burns.

Rosslyn from the Memorial Bridge. Photo by Joe Flood.

14th St. NW. Photo by Clif Burns.

Dupont Circle. Photo by Miki J.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos! If you haven't checked us out yet, Greater Greater Washington is now on Instagram, so give us a follow!

Prince George's is getting a major new medical center. Will it make it easier to walk around?

Preliminary site plans for an upcoming regional medical center at Largo Town Center Metro station could do more to encourage people to walk around the new complex. Missing key elements of a more pedestrian-friendly design could suppress the site's potential as a new walkable downtown and for Prince George's County.

A mockup of the new medical center. Rendering from Dimensions Healthcare Systems.

Prince George's leaders and residents have high hopes for the new $655 million, 231-bed regional medical center, which continues through its approval process at the Prince George's Planning Board later this month. Officials have called the complex a game changer for Prince George's because it could spark a walkable new downtown for the county at the Largo Town Center Metro station.

With a projected 2,000 workers coming to the site daily, a well-designed new hospital could spur economic development around the Largo Town Center Metro station and create a new walkable downtown area and economic engine for Prince George's.

But preliminary site plan drawings show a wide, high speed road separating the hospital from a redeveloped Boulevard at Capital Centre. The overdesigned road creates a barrier to an inviting, mixed-use, walkable environment.

Image by the author.

A more appropriate street design for transit-oriented development would offer a moderately scaled street that knits the area together. This new road, along with all the new streets, could be designed to allow not only vehicle access, but also help people to walk comfortably, and cross the street to patronize nearby businesses, or walk to and from Metro.

If the hospital is an isolated enclave, it will do little to catalyze economic development in the area and miss the opportunity to use the site's great transit access and mixed use environment.

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