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Walter Reed's main street should be Georgia Avenue

The Walter Reed campus is one of the largest redevelopment sites in the District. It may one day become the biggest node of activity between Columbia Heights and Silver Spring. Three teams are competing for development rights, and it's now up to DC to select which team will get the opportunity to build.

Hines' proposal. All images from the Walter Reed Local Development Authority.

Much of the media coverage of the 3 options has so far focused on which of them might accommodate a Wegmans grocery store. But the physical form matters more than the individual tenants. To function as a neighborhood downtown, Walter Reed must be walkable, as transit-oriented as possible, and fully integrated with the surrounding neighborhood.

Specifically, Georgia Avenue must be the main street. Developers of large properties often try to mimic shopping malls and pull the center of activity inwards, towards the center of their own site, and away from the edges. That's why Ellsworth Drive became the center of Silver Spring, and why CityCenterDC's central plaza won't face a public street.

But that arrangement makes a place feel artificial, and limits the spillover economic benefits to surrounding parcels. It also pushes more people to drive, when the main transit spine isn't front and center to the densest cluster of development.

With no Metro station at Walter Reed, and Takoma station a long walk to the east, the major transit access will be from Georgia Avenue. First the 70-series bus line, and eventually streetcar. Since Georgia Avenue is both the transit spine and the community's existing main street, it should be the heart of activity for Walter Reed.

Hines and Roadside proposals

Site plans of Hines' (left) and Roadside's (right) proposals.

The Hines and Roadside concepts are similar. Both propose the southern half of the property be suburban in character, with a town center clustered in the northern half.

Hines shows a public park fronting on Georgia Avenue, which would be a nice amenity. But that park has the unfortunate effect of pushing the hub of its town center back nearly 2 blocks away. One rendering even shows the streetcar pulled off Georgia Avenue, rerouted to better serve Walter Reed and more poorly serve everywhere else.

It's harder to tell from the plans whether the Roadside proposal treats Georgia Avenue, Dahlia Street, 12th Street, or 13th Street as the main street. It appears to be about the same density as Hines, but without the town center park.

Forest City proposal

Site plan of Forest City's proposal.

Seemingly the densest of the 3 proposals, Forest City is the only finalist team that attempts to urbanize the southern half of the property. It also maximizes building frontage along Georgia Avenue, while providing ample parks along 13th Street.

Forest City does propose to make Dahlia Street a retail spine, while they do not say what sort of land uses would front on Georgia Avenue. There may be enough added density in their proposal to support both Dahlia and Georgia as retail spines, or maybe they'd make Georgia all residential. The former would be fine, the latter wouldn't.

At first glance, Forest City's proposal appears to be the best of the 3, but all the development teams must release more details, especially their proposed ground-floor land uses for every street.

No matter which team is ultimately picked, a town center near Georgia and Dahlia is better for DC than what's there today.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Indeed, this stretch of Gerogia Avenue is in a solidly middle class neighborhood with a decidely down-scale commercial vibe along Georgia Avenue. I think Dan is right, that redevelopment that focussed attention on Georgia Avenue could be a catalyst for redeveloping a major swath of this street.

by Crickey7 on Jul 31, 2013 10:38 am • linkreport

Can't really go into why I know this but the problem with the higher urbanized plans (in the south of the property) is they are ignoring the massive cost increases due to the site topography in that region as well as all the utility outfalls that are to be maintained for the other piece of the property not part of this development.

Also making Geo. Av the main street might not be to the best wishes of the homes on the other side of the street which have been a bit tentative to embrace the removal of the army for noisier, more crowded roads and shops.

This neighborhood liked the Army presence from what I can tell because they were quiet, screened off, and didnt disturb them.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 31, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

The Hines and Roadside proposals are more sensitive to the existing land use pattern in the area, especially relating to the residential land use across Georgia Avenue. There is nothing wrong with having greater density within the site as long as it is designed well and has pedestrian connections to transit.

by Washingtonian on Jul 31, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

One would hope eventually Dahlia street would be redeveloped with retail going all the way to the metro.

by Richard B on Jul 31, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

Great analysis Dan.
"The physical form matters more than the individual tenants. To function as a neighborhood downtown, Walter Reed must be walkable, as transit-oriented as possible, and fully integrated with the surrounding neighborhood."

I couldn't agree more, especially that
"Georgia Avenue must be the main street."

I also agree that the Forrest City plan feels right. The southern edge ought to be urbanized, afterall, this is what we're talking about with regards to densifying other parts of the city rather than only downtown. Especially considering there's a huge natural park to the west and ample formal spaces throughout the design. I especially love how well it integrates the surrounding neighborhoods bringing them into the site and reducing the cordoned off campus feel the hospital had. Most importantly, for the street car line that will stop here, the main publid space should be right off Georgia Avenue. To bury it would be a big cold sholder to what is clearly the central spine of the whole area.

by Thayer-D on Jul 31, 2013 10:55 am • linkreport

I sort of agree. The problem is that many of the existing people around them don't want massive new development by their property.

The APA actually had a presentation last night from the team that put together the small area plan and is overseeing the redevelopment. I could be wrong, but it sounded like they almost certainly intended mixed-use retail or other active uses to go along Georgia as well as residential. In general I am ok with using GA Ave and Fern as buffer areas to step up density from the small multifamily and single family homes across the street.

I agree that diverting the streetcar off Georgia Ave at this point would not make sense.

Also as Tysons mentioned (and I havent been to the site myself) there are significant topographical issues - Cameron Creek used to run through the center - which will affect the feasibility of different layouts.

by Alan B. on Jul 31, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

Also making Geo. Av the main street might not be to the best wishes of the homes on the other side of the street which have been a bit tentative to embrace the removal of the army for noisier, more crowded roads and shops.

Georgia Ave is already a pretty noisy street. Do more businesses really mean that much more noise? If so, doesn't the added value of those properties compensate the owners? Also, it seems like there's only one block, maybe 1 1/2 blocks that are truly residential (w/ Row Houses). The rest are already apartments.

by thump on Jul 31, 2013 11:09 am • linkreport

If so, doesn't the added value of those properties compensate the owners?

Some people view "peace and quiet" as an intangible - perhaps invaluable - asset rather than a commodity that can be bought and sold.

Whatever added monetary value provided by those new shops may not be enough compensation for some residents.

Especially residents who don't want to sell their homes any time soon.

Also, it seems like there's only one block, maybe 1 1/2 blocks that are truly residential (w/ Row Houses). The rest are already apartments.

Apartments aren't residential?

by Scoot on Jul 31, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

"Apartments aren't residential?"

Not in NIMBY parlance "OMG the eevil developers and their hipster friends in the planning office want to build apartments here - don't they know this is a residential neighborhood?" ;)

I can sympathize with apt dwellers who want to keep peace and quiet - I wonder how quiet and peaceful Georgia Avenue really is - I've only been on that stretch a couple of times and only to drive by. I would think the traffic on Ga Ave might lessen the peace and quiet.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 31, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

All this discussion goes to the question of how DC will grow. A thorough study of where and how much growth by right all portions of the city could handle would go a long way towards explaining to the general public that growth will need to be absorbed by all sections of the city (assuming existing or proposed) transit.

Like in Silver Spring where older residents want all the benefits of a town center without having to share them with the additional residents required to make that investment feasable. I just don't think there's any other street in upper DC better designed to handle growth.

by Thayer-D on Jul 31, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

The southern end of the complex abuts a residential area, with ramblers across from the Southern periphery. Despite the hotel nearby (an old bachelor officer's facility that's had several rounds of mismanagement), a "suburban" plan isn't entirely out of place although well planned residential development with street entries would probably help upgrade the neighborhood and the pedestrian environment.

There is residential on the northside too, but its mostly commercial from there to Silver Spring on Georgia Ave. The property should serve as a spur to the commercial strip to the North. It's on odd area, with solid middle income neighborhoods to the East and middle to upper-middle to the West and yet almost nothing that serves the neighborhood beyond a few restaurants. It's been like this for decades and without a real spark, it probably will stay like this. Some consideration should be given to the kinds of businesses that would complement the chains that a developer is likely to bring into the area. There are several successful locally owned restuarants that might benefit from proximity, and perhaps some of the small office buildings might attract rehab or redevelopment. there are potentially very attractive places like the old Park & Shop at the other end of the Georgia strip that would benefit from inclusion in some comprehensive plan.

BTW, the Metro isn't exactly next door, but it isn't that far away. On all but the worst days of summer, it's a pleasant walk.

by Rich on Jul 31, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

re: "The physical form matters more than the individual tenants. To function as a neighborhood downtown, Walter Reed must be walkable, as transit-oriented as possible, and fully integrated with the surrounding neighborhood."

I wish you would have made this point in your writings on the various proposed Walmart stores that aren't particularly or especially urban.

by Richard Layman on Jul 31, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

According the plan last night, in addition to general retail and office, they have a reuse plan for the historic structures and have lined up some non-profits (schools, homeless services, medical providers) and plan to incorporate some creative uses in southern end though that apparently is more nebulous. Generally it sounded like less intensive and residential uses on north and south sides and more intensive/commercial along GA Ave and Dahlia.

Also another big unknown is what State will do with it's ~34 acres. Layout and mainly grid connections could have a huge impact on how the rest of the site functions.

by Alan B. on Jul 31, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

Good post. Also if DC is truly serious about reaching its sustainability targets of 75% non-auto modes share by 2030 (?), then every major new development has to maximize access to transit, and design a walkable, bikable, and highly interconnected street network, with parking pricing, street retail and so on. Every development--especially large opportunities like Walter Reed--that gets this mix right is another step towards achieving those aggressive targets.

by Jonathan P on Jul 31, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

In the Metrobus 14th Street Line Priority Corridor Study completed in October 2012, WMATA recommended additional bus service to serve the proposed development on the Walter Reed Campus. This included a rerouting of the 50s Line service from Aspen Street to a new roadway connection, Main Drive and Butternut Street through the campus to the Takoma Metro Station.

In addition, a neighborhood connector bus route was recommended to operate between the Takoma and Silver Spring Metro Stations via Butternut Street, 12th Street and Elder Street on the campus adjacent to the proposed retail development. This route would serve downtown Silver Spring via Georgia Avenue, East-West Highway and Colesville Road.

by Douglas Stallworth on Jul 31, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

@Alan B. :) Bingo. Though actually the two aren't as inter-dependent as you think.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 31, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

I'm a Shepherd Park resident with a big anti-NIMBY attitude. To me, the more dense and connected the WR development is, the better.

It is a little worrying to attend the public meetings and be outnumbered 4 to 1 by neighbors whose interests lie mostly in keeping things as close to the way they are as possible. They ask for "more parks", "swimming pools" and other extremely low impact amenities. I totally respect their POV, but frankly, most of them are not going to be around when this project hits its full stride in 10 or 20 years. I might not be either. But as long as we're doing this, let's maximize the opportunity. The site is so big that there is plenty of room for green space to the west.

GA Avenue is a bad joke as far as retail (in three years I've only managed to purchase gas, McDonald's and an occasional roti from Teddy's. Doing anything less than the max to activate Georgia from Aspen to Silver Spring would be a crying shame.

by hoos30 on Jul 31, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

@Alan B: At the presentation I attended last week they mentioned that State had agreed to allow DC to open up Dalia street all the way to Alaska. That was the key, it doesn't matter as much what they do with their share.

by hoos30 on Jul 31, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

Dalia already is opened up all the way to Alaska, thats not the issue, its that there is currently a huge stair case between the DC side and the govt side that has to be mitigated in the road design and slopes. The issue isn't Dalia going to Alaska, its Dalia going to Georgia (in other words, DC's gotta figure out a solution to that topographically)

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 31, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

In addition to the S's and 70's which will probably handle the bulk of bus traffic. It would be useful to have a cross town route, say from Takoma to Friendship Heights or Tenley via Military. Right now it looks like the closest crosstown route goes well south of the site. Realistically if there is a lot of commercial, most of the workers wont be from the area and will need solid transit connections.

by Alan B. on Jul 31, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

BTW, geologically speaking, this site would have been perfect for DC's first attempt at high rises. Would have never flown with the neighborhood, but god it has glorious geology.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 31, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport

hoos, that sounds right. At the end of the day State can pretty much do whatever they want with the parcel and DC can do just about squat. In the current age of overreactive security measures, I am going to remain a little skeptical until proven otherwise. Even if there is a road/path, if its gated off, wont do much good to people.

by Alan B. on Jul 31, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

@Alan B. I'd suggest you go see the following address

Intx of International Drive NW and Van Ness St NW

I think it will make you feel better about the future of the parcel.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 31, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

It won't have the orange barriers (thats required because of the on-street parking on International Drive located at this site, not the case at W.R.)

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 31, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

Yes that is a good outcome if thats how it works. Unless I'm mistaken that was built pre 9/11?

by Alan B. on Jul 31, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

9/11 won't have anything to do with W.R. site. Also if it was a concern post 9/11 at that existing site, they would have had a perimeter upgrade installed.

You'll know the answers soon enough, but it has been publicly stated already that circulation will be allowed.

by Tysons Engineer on Jul 31, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

Um, I remember now, from the presentation, the reason the development is pushed so far back into the property is that they are intending to reuse a bunch of the underground parking that currently sits under (and to the west?) of the hulking hospital building.

by hoos30 on Jul 31, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

What will the buildings in the northwest section of the campus be used for in the future?

by Frank IBC on Jul 31, 2013 7:52 pm • linkreport

@Frank IBC, you will know that within the next couple of months, but they aren't GSA/FED, that has already been noted in public presentations. Sorry, can't say more than what is publicly noted.

by Tysons Engineer on Aug 1, 2013 7:35 am • linkreport

Why don't they extend the yellow line up Georgia Ave. Branch of Petworth stop, and add two stops at Georgia and Military. The last stop will be Walter Reed???

by Jiggy on Aug 1, 2013 9:56 am • linkreport

Alan B. -- you can't have a crosstown route up there, there is no crosstown street other than Military-Missouri-Riggs Road. I don't know what the ridership is for the E buses, which do go crosstown from Friendship Heights to Fort Totten/Riggs Park even further south in part on Kennedy St. but getting from either of those routings to Walter Reed is pretty far.

The other east west routing would have to be East West Highway, but that's pretty far out of the way.

Jiggy -- in the LTR response report we did discuss the failure of DDOT to do any streetcar integration planning with either the proposed developments at GA and Missouri or WRMC, and current streetscape improvements (which will have to be torn up to put in streetcar tracks).

We didn't discuss the concept of a proposed separated yellow line but yes, obviously, stops at Kennedy, Missouri, maybe Piney Branch, WRMC, and South Silver Spring (either at Eastern Ave. or just a little north in MoCO) would be in order.

... although speaking of Dan Reed's separate piece on underzoning for TOD in MoCo, to be able to do this, the block on either side of GA Ave. would have to be upzoned for greater density, to make it pay, like what ArCo has done in the Wilson Blvd. corridor.

That is likely to be very controversial.

by Richard Layman on Aug 1, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

@ Rich

I dont know what you consider far but the Metrorail is far. I have walked there several times and have ended up sweaty and or tired upon reach from Walter Reed. I guarantee most people would choose to not walk that distance if there is an option.

by kk on Aug 1, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

The distance from Metro to Walter Reed is roughly a fifteen-minute walk through a rather pleasant residential neighborhood. I live on Dahlia myself, across from the Elementary School. Walter Reed isn't close to Takoma Station by any stretch of the imagination but it's no further off than Georgetown from Foggy Bottom station or Adams Morgan from Dupont Circle. It's not ideal but it's certainly not inaccessible, either. And the bus bay outside the station seems to provide the opportunity to bridge the gap for those less willing to walk the distance.

by Pennsy on Aug 2, 2013 12:53 am • linkreport

I would love to see a Friendship Heights to Takoma or Brookland cross-city connection.

by Andrew on Aug 2, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport

@ Andrew

Whats the point of creating a new bus that will take almost the exact same route as the E2,3,4 or H2,3,4. Other than some of the small windy roads (which I doubt would be used for a Metrobus) what other way would you go.

The question that should be asked is why are there so few spots inwhich one could cross Rock Creek Park in the first place. What is needed are two more crosstown roads one between East West Hwy and Military Road and another between Military Rd and Klingle Road.

This is the one time where I would not mind eminent domain or the construction of a new road. As there will never be a Metrorail line to cross DC east/west north of Adams Morgan and any bus route created would have to follow already present H or E routes.

by kk on Aug 2, 2013 5:50 pm • linkreport

@ Mr. Malouff

We have a unique opportunity to develop something extraordinaire at Walter Reed. (Wegman's shouldn't be the anchor) Couple blocks down Georgia Ave at the corner of Quackenbos St and Georgia is a cellphone tower that can be seen from miles around. Developers should consider building DC's first skyscraper on the Walter Reed site. It would balance out the skyline near the cellphone tower.

If we don't build a skyscraper here. When and where would one ever be considered. If not a skyscraper, at least why not consider DC's own Space Needle like Seattle. This rotating restaurant would overlook Rock Creek Park with vistas of the Capitol and Washington Monument. It would be our gem in this new Forest Heights concept for DC.

Preliminary plans seem shortsighted and visionless. Whatever is planned should be a destination. Sorry my neighbors at Shepherd Park.

by Who Dat? on Aug 3, 2013 9:41 am • linkreport

In DC, higher density should be downtown at Metro Center.

by SilverSpring on Aug 5, 2013 12:30 pm • linkreport

@ Who Dat?

What purpose does a Space Needle serve? We have enough non functional spaces in DC why add more

by kk on Aug 5, 2013 8:18 pm • linkreport

Forest City looking to pay off Vince Gray for Walter Reed Deal rights? See -

by eskimo k on Aug 6, 2013 11:11 pm • linkreport

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