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DC kicks off planning for Southwest's future

What should Southwest DC look like over the next few years? Will it continue to be a quiet neighborhood despite increasing development around it? Or will it become a bustling area with more people and retail?

Will Southwest see more development like this? Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

On Wednesday, the DC Office of Planning held a kickoff meeting for the Southwest Neighborhood Plan, which will be the Small Area Plan that will cover most of Southwest DC. The plan will address some of the development pressure that the neighborhood is experiencing, thanks in part to DC's growing population.

The neighborhood is currently surrounded by large development projects, like the Southwest Ecodistrict, the Wharf, and the Yards. Nationals Park borders the neighborhood, as well as the future DC United stadium and associated redevelopment in Buzzard Point. This creates a challenge for planners trying to craft a distinct vision for Southwest.

As the name "kickoff" implies, OP is still in the very early stages of putting the plan together. Right now there are no preconceived notions of what the plan will look like. Theoretically, everything is under consideration. The plan will focus on development along I and M streets, but plan will address issues of conservation, sustainability, and connectivity in areas to the north and south.

During this stage, OP is seeking input on what values are important to the community. Many residents value the diversity, affordability, green space, and access the neighborhood provides. But while some residents want more restaurants, retail, and bars, others are worried that competition will force out existing businesses. Neighbors also differed on whether a streetcar on M Street would be a good idea.

At the meeting, Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning seemed optimistic that the neighborhood could build on its shared values to overcome differences and mold a plan. She pointed out that people aren't for or against the streetcar because it's a streetcar, they are for it or against it because of the perceived effects a streetcar will bring to traffic and the neighborhood. OP will continue to take input and then analyze and report back in late fall. They hope to have a final draft of the plan by Spring 2014.

Much of the land in the area is currently occupied by housing, which seems unlikely to go away over the next several years. But DC owns a fair bit of land that Tregoning called "underutilized." These are shorter structures like the DMV branch and inspection station and the DC Fire Department repair shop, located on M Street SW about halfway between the Waterfront and Navy Yard Metro stations. In the future, this area could sit right on a proposed streetcar line.

OP will continue to seek feedback through community meetings, an interactive website, and the #SWDCPlan tag on Twitter.

Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  


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FWIW, DC doesn't do "neighborhood plans," if by plan you define the initiative as "comprehensive." For the most part, "small area plans" in DC are what I call "build out analysis and management plans." So for the most part, they don't address much outside of land use and transportation.

If you want a comprehensive "neighborhood plan," sector plans as produced by Arlington or Montgomery Counties are a better model, although ArCo also produces sub-district "neighborhood" plans, which don't have the same regulatory force as a sector plan.

Unless DC has changed its system of planning, which I don't think it has.


by Richard Layman on Sep 13, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

But DC owns a fair bit of land that Tregoning called "underutilized." These are shorter structures like the DMV branch and inspection station and the DC Fire Department repair shop
If you want a city, you've got to put the repair shops, cement/asphalt mix plants, and scrapyards somewhere. Buzzard Point may not be the right place, but is there actually room for all of these municipal/industrial functions down at DC Village? Time to reserve space along the rail lines?

by David R. on Sep 13, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

Interesting, Richard. And yet, for all of that planning, Arly and MoCo are nowhere near as easy to get around, or as bustling, or as full of character as developed and developing areas of DC.

by Anon123 on Sep 13, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

David R. -- years ago DC did do an industrial lands study.

that was an area of interest of mine for awhile.

Most of the land zoned thusly is along the rail lines. And as neighborhoods become more popular there is great pressure to change this land use.

which is further complicated by churches and schools outbidding industrial users on noneconomic criteria and not having to pay property taxes either.

The best study on this general issue was in SF. I saw a great presentation by the SF planning office in 2004 at APA.

by Richard Layman on Sep 13, 2013 12:45 pm • linkreport


My impression's been that the study didn't make much of an impression on OP. (You'd have a better sense of that.) The consultants recommended action to consolidate and protect land for industrial use, but the city's done the opposite, and with no plan.

by David R. on Sep 13, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

David R. -- yep, even though Karina Ricks was the project manager, OP ended up not caring very much.

anon -- DC has a lot of leeway for f*ing up or being less purposeful in land use planning because it enjoys the legacy of the walking city era urban design, which called for mixing uses, walkability, a grid street design, small blocks, and the then innovation of radial avenues which shortened walking distances for longer trips. This urban design was equally beneficial for the addition of transit, especially streetcars and today's subway system.

Thank L'Enfant, the city's original planner.

As I say compared to the planning orientation in ArCo, just think if in DC we really tried, how great we could be.

by Richard Layman on Sep 13, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

Sure, a city needs industrial service uses, but we're talking Half & L SW, not Buzzard Point (which is not part of this plan). There's not really any good reason why an emissions testing station, a USPS parking lot, repair shops for DCFD and Capitol Police, and MPD surface parking need to be 1200' from a Metro entrance, along a streetcar line, in an area surrounded by high-rises.

Heck, a reasonable plan long ago would have kept the relatively inaccessible Buzzard Point, or Maritime Plaza (where M ends at the Anacostia) for such low-people-density, auto-intensive uses, but instead we have them in the middle and high-density office at the edges. Oh well.

by Payton on Sep 13, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

Karina Ricks is one smart cookie, but I have the sense that when she was at DDOT, her objectivity and calling things as she saw them might not always have been in line with Tregoning's OP agenda. Now, DDOT is more compliant with the agenda. Ricks' replacement, Sam Zimbabwe notes at public meetings that DDOT now "has a different philosophy" and he has none of Ricks' frankness in pointing out traffic problems with major projects. However, I do think the day is approaching when DC can finally exclaim, "Tregoning, going, gone!"

by Sally on Sep 13, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

I don't even think it's just use, it's also layout. Stuff like DMV or parking lots (especially employee parking!) can be accomplished in denser way with multi story structures. A place accessible with walking from 4 different metro lines and many bus lines shouldn't need that much parking anyway.

by BTA on Sep 13, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Does anyone know who owns the 2-story warehouse off of 7th Street SW, next to the football field and behind the US Dept. of Agriculture building? The building is vacant. I asked one of the planners from the DC Office of Planning and he said the building is form 1912, so it might be historic but was uncertain about who owns the property. The building has so much potential being a couple of blocks away from both the Wharf and the SE Ecodistrict.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 13, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

"Stuff like DMV ... shouldn't need that much parking anyway."

And many people learn the lesson the hard way not to drive and park on the street when visiting DMV. With the very long waits and sometimes multiple lines, when you come out there can be a couple of parking tickets on the car... which may necessitate yet another trip to DMV. And the cycle continues.

This may be DMV's business model. :)

by Sally on Sep 13, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

I would like to see both the US Capitol Police lot and the Post Office site redeveloped. I don't want to sound like a a tea-party Ayn Rand-disciple but these are excellent locations close to three metro stations. There is no reason to have government-owned surface parking lots and one-story buildings here.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 13, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport


At Wednesday's meeting these properties were identified as high-opportunity sites. A private developer owns the US Postal Service site.

Another excellent opportunity that was discussed is a public/private partnership to replace the library in Southwest (and hopefully include housing above it).

by 202_cyclist on Sep 13, 2013 1:55 pm • linkreport

As I said, parking could be structured and for many trips you don't need a car to be there. I've been to the DC DMV to get my license replaced or renewed a couple of times. I'm sure there are people that drive there because there is parking not because there is any reason to do so. I also don't think any city employees near transit should get getting free parking unless there is a clear need like overnight work schedules.

by BTA on Sep 13, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

@202, You might be looking at Square 0414, Lot 0825, in the southwest corner of Jefferson Field, which is west of 7th Street between G and H Streets SW. The actual address of that building is 720 9th Street SW, and according to the tax records, it is owned by United States of America.

by OtherMike on Sep 13, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

fwiw, the industrial lands study was when Karina was at OP. Probably the Fenty Admin. in general didn't care about the issues.

Later, in 2009, when I submitted comp. plan amendments, including one to make the CM zoning category more restrictive, to not make church and schools matter of right use, it was rejected.

by Richard Layman on Sep 13, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport


Perhaps you're right. The warehouse is covered in ivy. It is an attractive old building but what is the fed govt doing holding onto a vacant warehouse right between two areas that are going to be redeveloped? They should auction this off as soon as possible.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 13, 2013 3:03 pm • linkreport

@202, You can see the property tax assessment photo of the building that I described at

That photo is from 2004,so you can see what it looks like without the ivy.

by OtherMike on Sep 13, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport


Thank you for posting the link-- that is the buiding. Why is the US govt keeping this building vacant? I understand that being located next to a school and the US Dept. of Agriculture might complicate redevelopment but this is a decent-size parcel. The federal govt should either use this or auction it to someone who will use it.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 13, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

At the very least, the US Capitol Police can use this building for vehicle storage/repair and sell their Half Street property to a private developer.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 13, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

sorry to miss the meeting...

I wonder what was mentioned about the elephant in the room? (all the public house - greenleef gardens, james creek, etc.)

by wd on Sep 13, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

Re: public housing, the SW SAP explicitly considers Greenleaf's possible redevelopment. (Greenleaf is 40% of Southwest's DCHA family housing.) OP has been circulating a map (can't find it online) showing that the area between Eye and M is where they'll consider more extensive redevelopment, and areas beyond Eye or M to be "conservation" areas where little new development is expected. James Creek and Syphax Gardens are within the latter "conservation area."

I'm working on a later post about Buzzard Point, #SWDCPlan, and the rather limited scope of redevelopment opportunities therein.

by Payton on Sep 13, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

Maybe the DMV would not need much parking if they actually had locations all over the city which they dont instead of trying to funnel everyone to 2 maybe 3 locations at present.

In reality we should have atleast 5 DMV locations spread out around the city; one in upper northwest, one in the southern portion of DC, one downtown, one in the far eastern portion the Benning area of DC and one in the middle near Columbia Heights or Petworth areas.

For people talking about moving the DMV somewhere else less transit accessible people go there for more than just car inspections or drivers licences what about non drivers ID's how do you expect them to get there ?

by kk on Sep 14, 2013 1:37 am • linkreport

kk -- wrt your point, it was more like this "before" but the Fenty Admin. closed a couple of the offices. There used to be an office on H St. which moved to Brentwood, there was an office in Georgetown, there was an office I think on PA Ave. SE in Ward 7. I haven't checked to see what the functions are of the DMV office that moved from Brentwood Rd. to Rhode Island Ave. in that development next to the RI Metro Station.

wrt some of the earlier comments and before reading yours, I was thinking again that the points people made about DMV and space utilization (as well as some of the other public facilities) merely reiterate the point I make about DC not having an integrated and public capital improvements planning and budgeting process, and the problems that creates.

Seattle, because they have a municipal utility agency, does have a few instances of co-location of libraries + utility offices (which may be able to take ticket payments too) + some form of lower court (I think, on that I could be wrong).

In any case, you're absolutely right that the city should have a few "mini-offices" spread around the city that could handle related functions, like basic drivers license renewal, ticket payments, etc.

Ideally, that would come out of a capital improvements planning process. But there is no guarantee.

-- wrt Industrial lands, I don't disagree that the nature of this area is changing, just that DC needs to continually right size industrial/PDR needs and make sure that key needs aren't displaced without the ability to be retained when this makes sense economically and transportationally. E.g. we can displace a concrete plant out of the city, but the trucks still have to come in and leave the city on their trips.

Similarly, I wonder sometimes if it would be possible to set up a little freight operation--no freight service is done on the railroad tracks in DC anymore--to support the concrete plant by Ft. Totten and the asphalt plant between NoMA and RI stations to reduce the number of dump truck trips into the city. Similarly, DC could set up a "dirt removal" operation that is railroad based where the trucks that leave construction sites dump the stuff into railroad hopper cars rather than make much longer trips. It would save time, and be better for the environment.

Anyway the last point is not relevant to this thread. Sorry.

by Richard Layman on Sep 14, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

kk, I agree! There should be another emissions testing site too (part of the reason the SW dmv is crowded is because it's convenient for folks who just did the emissions testing).

I have long thought that locating a DMV at the DCUSA mall would be great:

* plenty of excess garage parking
* centrally located near a lot of people's homes and transit lines
* there is vacant retail space
* it would lure people there and then they'd spend money shopping.

by sbc on Sep 14, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

The one good thing to come out of the Dresden like urban renewal of SW is the ability to think big. I know the whole area got re-built and that many people genuinly like certain parts of it, but it seems like a great opportunity to plan for some real density through-out especially considering it's location across the Mall from Downtown.

People love to slam Tregoing and I don't agree with her position on height limits, but I think history will be kind to her for helping to make DC a world class city.

by Thayer-D on Sep 16, 2013 9:11 am • linkreport

This morning it looks like a crime scene.

by Chris S. on Sep 16, 2013 9:38 am • linkreport

@Chris S:
The Navy Yard is in Southeast, not Southwest.

by Matt Johnson on Sep 16, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

Fair enough, but it's only a few blocks away. 4 people reported dead now. I hope they catch the culprits soon.

by Chris S. on Sep 16, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

I work in SW and welcome a plan for it. I walk around at lunch and have read the History Trail signs in SW. They tell the story of what was once a lively, densely developed community that gave the world Al Jolson and Marvin Gaye. Clearly the "urban renewal" that replaced it prioritized cars more than community. The beautiful St. Dominick's once anchored the community, now it's marooned on a traffic island. I can't image a very successful communion with the divine with 16 lanes of 395 a few feet away. That highway was the worst gash in the assault on the SW community. If the urban renewal was an experiment, it failed. The best thing a new plan could do would be to get rid of that highway that rends the fabric of the community around it. Another History Trail marker describes a plan for L'Enfant Plaza to connect the Mall with the river and to have people friendly amenities along its length. Any new plan should incorporate this brilliant old plan. The current L'Enfant is a fiasco: bleak, empty, dead, and nothing but a road and parking. Redo it for people. Connect it with the waterfront and remove the Federal building that, in violation of the original plan, blocks the open connection of river and Mall.

by Jimg on Sep 16, 2013 3:50 pm • linkreport

Jimg -- considering who L'Enfant Plaza "honors" it is really a travesty. I think it should be called Urban Renewal Plaza or something else, anything but the use of L'Enfant's name.

2. It's likely that a lot of the freeway will be built over the next few decades as the rest of the city builds out. It won't likely be finished during my lifetime though. Fortunately, it's wide enough that it will be economically viable to do because there is enough capturable land that can be built over as big enough buildings, like the I-395 project.

by Richard Layman on Sep 16, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

202 cycle,
how many of those old folks at tea party rallies have ever read Ayn Rand? Probably zero.

by Sue on Nov 3, 2013 11:11 pm • linkreport

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