Greater Greater Washington

Brookland neighbors ask Metro for development with a side of green

As new investment rejuvenates Brookland, WMATA is seeking a developer to build at the Brookland Metro station. But neighbors and local nonprofit Casey Trees want to ensure that future development leaves room for green space as well.


The proposed development with amendments as envisioned by neighbors, including a preserved Brookland Green (in red). All images from Brookland Bridge.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) plans to seek a developer to build a mixed-use joint development on the property surrounding the Metro station, including the bus bays, a kiss-and-ride lot and a vacant lot along Michigan Avenue NE. Also slated for development is what residents call the Brookland Green, an approximately .75 acre green space adjacent to the Metro station entrance that boasts 20 mature trees.

Neighbors are asking WMATA to amend their joint development solicitation to preserve the Brookland Green. They have the support of Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Casey Trees, a nonprofit organization based in Brookland best known for planting trees. They feel that it is not only possible, but also more desirable to redevelop the Brookland Metro station while preserving this park space as a core asset for the growing number of DC residents that call Brookland home.


The "Brookland Green."

Building around Metro stations like Brookland, typically referred to as a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is more sustainable than traditional development because it puts people near public transportation, reducing their dependence on automobiles. While the presence of transit and density are two components of TOD, truly sustainable communities also provide access to green space and trees.

Preserving the Brookland Green fits with Mayor Gray's Vision for a Sustainable DC, which recognizes the benefits of trees. The plan sets goals to provide parks or natural space within a ten-minute walk of all residents, as well as to increase tree canopy coverage to 40% across the District.

Research indicates that the green spaces we experience everyday have a greater influence on our health and wellbeing than those that we visit occasionally. Our major national parks, such as the National Arboretum, the National Mall and Rock Creek Park, are wonderful places to visit. But the Brookland Green's proximity to the Metro provides a greater number of people with the daily access to nature and can improve the surrounding urban environment, by decreasing stormwater runoff, filtering our air and cooling the city.

Furthermore, the presence of trees near business districts can enhance sales: several studies have shown that people are willing to visit more frequently and travel farther to business districts with trees, and they are also willing to pay an average of 12% more for goods and services in these areas.

The Brookland Metro station is fortunate to have an existing amenity that provides both of these elements of green space and a lush tree canopy to its residents. So why should we not preserve that within the new development?

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Maisie Hughes is the Director of the Planning & at Casey Trees where she works with Emily to advocate for great urban tree policy and developments. She is a certified arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture, an associate member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the American Planning Association.  
Emily Oaksford is the Planning Associate at Casey Trees. She is a LEED Accredited Professional and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. 

Comments

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Green roof?

by Richard on Dec 19, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

As a Brookland resident, I agree. I'm all for increased density in the neighborhood and more transit oriented development, but let's keep that green space. There also is other space to develop close to the metro (although not owned by WMATA) like the empty car repair place on 12th and Otis.

by Kate W. on Dec 19, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

Green roofs are great, but they aren't mature trees and they generally aren't open to the public.

by Kate W. on Dec 19, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

This doesn't seem like a wildly unreasonable request - I'd hope the neighborhood would be okay with increased density in the rest of the site to balance it out.

by Distantantennas on Dec 19, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

After looking at it on street view, it appears to be a lot more space than I thought it was from the map in this post.

by Richard on Dec 19, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

I don't think that WMATA actually solicited any sort of proposals for development on the bus bay, as the article suggests. I think the they're seeking proposals for two parcels, one composed of the kiss-and-ride together with the "Brookland Green," and the other being the empty parcel immediately to the north next to Michigan Ave. Honestly, I would prefer that they develop the bus bay and save the "Brookland Green," but it might be more complicated to do so.

by JPG on Dec 19, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

Metro explictly states that the bus bay area is NOT up for development.

That leaves just the kiss and ride area for the portion south of bunker hill road.

by drumz on Dec 19, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

So why should we not preserve that within the new development?

The argument would be that land that is very close to a Metro station is exactly the land we should develop because it maximizes our investment in transit. That may or may not be compelling, but that's the argument.

The development that doesn't go here will likely go somewhere else - to another green space perhaps - and so from a regional and environmental standpoint it may not make any difference, but from a TOD and low-car impact standpoint it would.

If I were Richard Layman I would say that we need a comprehensive land use plan.

by David C on Dec 19, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

I whole-heartedly agree! The community has spoken unanimously to save the green. Walking among 100-year old trees as you come out of the metro station is a great way to decompress after a busy day at work. The green keeps Brooklanders feeling serene. WMATA, please be good neighbors: we want smart development around metro stations that also preserves this small stand of trees for community enjoyment!

by Amanda Frayer on Dec 19, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

We have lost a lot of trees the last several years to the Monroe development and more recently from the parking lot developed by the Monestary. As a Brookland resident that supported the Monroe development, I always hoped at least some of it by the Metro would be preserved. It will be very grim in that area if we don't figure out how to do some of it.

by DC Parent on Dec 19, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

To David C's point

In the absence of the kind of comprehensive I too would want, were I Richard Layman, would transferable developement rights work? Since the proponents of the park seem to want to save the parkland but are not opposed to density? Would it be possible for WMATA to sell the development rights to owners of nearby parcels (any unbuilt parcels close to the station left?) and allow them to build beyond current by right FAR?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

As others have noted, the premise of this post is incorrect. The above image from Brookland Bridge is their desired plan, which has little relation to the actual plan from WMATA.

WMATA specifically excludes any redevelopment of the bus loop.

An area of 2.4 acres immediately west of the "South Parcel (joint development area)" contains the WMATA bus loop. . . . This 2.4 acre portion of the South Parcel is not being offered for joint development and should not be included in any Proposal.

by Gray on Dec 19, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

I should mention that the above quoted passage is from the WMATA's Joint Development Solicitation, which the author linked in the post above but apparently didn't read. The ridiculous amount of emphasis is WMATA's.

by Gray on Dec 19, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

I definatly agree this site should be built-up but most good town centers have a public space and this parcel looks to be a great dimension for just that. Maybe they could move developable rights somewhere else if that's an issue but a larger plan like Layman and AWITC are calling for seems appropriate to see the larger community picture/needs.

by Thayer-D on Dec 19, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

VERY SIMILAR to the NIMBYs up in Takoma, DC station. One man went so far as to name the green space.

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 19, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

From my perspective part of the issue is that there really are parcels of land that would be much better suited to development within two blocks or three block of Brookland Metro. Like the defunct car repair place on 12th and Otis or the Shell gas station across the street for it. Or the single story storefront down the block. Of course no quasi public agency has control over any of those parcels of land.

by Kate W. on Dec 19, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

I live in Brookland and use this station every day. I am very surprised that WMATA would bother to develop any of this property without including the bus bay. I suspect the only way to get an economically viable project that could also protect green space would be to put the bus bay under ground, extend 9th and Newton through the site, and provide more building height near the tracks and near Michigan. Why wouldn't WMATA let new development incorporate the cost of replacing the giant ugly surface lot bus bay, such as at Rhode Island Ave station?

by Eric on Dec 19, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

You're showing the bus loops within the development area but my impression was that that wasnt within the development foot print recommended. Though it could be incorporated as a thruway (more easily i think than a loop) underneath the building like bethesda station.

by BTA on Dec 19, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

I've lived in Brookland several years, and I'm amused that I'd never heard of "Brookland Green" until the tree lobby NIMBYs came out of woodwork since the WMATA proposal. Now, I had heard of (and walked through) the isolated, dark, slightly sketchy patch of grass and trees where nary a soul can be found, night or day. But I guess "Brookland Green" sounds better.

I'm all for the idea of green space, and chose Brookland in large part because of how much it has. But let's be honest about the space in question. It is unused and (until now) unloved. It's not a place of picnics and walks and playing children; we have Bunker Hill and Turkey Thicket and plenty of other green space for that. And I'm befuddled that anyone committed to principles of sound urban planning, as I'm sure many readers (and posters) here are, would fight greater density almost on top of a Metro station.

For me, if a developer is able to save a few trees and a bit of green space, wonderful. Maybe this campaign is the opening parry. But leaving "the Green" in its entirety would be a wasted opportunity, both for Brookland and the city as a whole.

by John on Dec 19, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

To everyone pointing out that the JDS from WMATA does not include the bus bays - yes, that's correct - this post is about the request for an amendment to the JDS, and the map is illustrative of what that amendment could look like.

by Jaime Fearer on Dec 19, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

Why not fix that awful street grid while they are at it. I can't imagine what role 9th st NE plays. Cutting that out and making Bunker Hill one way (eastbound only) would free up some development space and then you could make the bus loop a one way pull through since the entrance is already one way it's not a big change. Again since it's one way you could remove the parking and put bus bays on both sides and get ~8 bus bays in. Something like this http://goo.gl/maps/QVSOH

by BTA on Dec 19, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

@Jaime Fearer: Except that the authors describe the JDS incorrectly:
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) plans to seek a developer to build a mixed-use joint development on the property surrounding the Metro station, including the bus bays, a kiss-and-ride lot and a vacant lot along Michigan Avenue NE.
That's specifically not the case, as I pointed out earlier.

by Gray on Dec 19, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

@John: I was wondering about nearby parks. Isn't Fort Bunker Hill a full block of green space, only two blocks from this "green"?

by Gray on Dec 19, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

The trees seem like a great way to shield the neighbors from what could be a larger development that included at least part of the bus turnaround.

Also, as BTA mentions right above, the leftover bits of Otis & Bunker Hill are pretty useless.

by Payton Chung on Dec 19, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

I mean yeah they clearly did mistate WMATA's position, but I don't think it's entirely unworkable they propose. I'm trying to think of an enclosed bus pull through in DC but the nearest I can think of is Bethesda or Crystal City. I don't see why Brookland couldnt get that type of facility though. Of course it would be nice if they developed an urban park there if they keep it - at least some walkways and seating.

by BTA on Dec 19, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

I believe I saw a tweet in regards to this that WMATA has the bus bays reserved for a land swap agreement as part of another Joint Development project; that is the reason they were not included in the request and why they are not available as a trade in order to save the trees.

Regarding Sustainable DC: the plan also calls for 250,000 new residents in the city and a large increase in use of non-auto transportation - dense development at Metro stations checks both of those boxes and needs to be balanced against the desire to preserve mid-aged trees.

I think there's room for a deal here, preserving most of the Green in exchange for greater density on the remaining parcel - but the neighbors must then go along with the 'greater density' part, as well.

by Alex B. on Dec 19, 2013 3:00 pm • linkreport

Now that's it been cleared up. If we could convince WMATA to do what's proposed it could work very well.

by drumz on Dec 19, 2013 3:00 pm • linkreport

@Gray - The post is updated now to reflect that.

by Jaime Fearer on Dec 19, 2013 3:06 pm • linkreport

No one gave a rat's ass about this land until it came time to develop around the Metro. Now it's the "Brookland Green." Whatever. If you want a park so much, where's the plan for funding and maintaining an actual park with tables, some sort of sense of place, and sports facilities?

At first glance, this appears to be NIMBYism trying to pretend they're not NIMBY's. The Save the Trail cabal in Chevy Chase also claims they're about protecting mature trees.

by Cavan on Dec 19, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

Whatever the ultimate motivation it's not a bad proposal if workable. Putting in development there merits a little greenspace anyway I would say for new residents to use. And for the record this looks like about a third of the Takoma site.

by BTA on Dec 19, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

^^^^^^^^^

Absolutely what Cavan said. Was just going to come here to say that.

Someone who lives on the east side of 10th street is mad they're going to have an apartment building across the street instead of a bunch of trees.

Where has this group been for the last 35 (since the station opened)? Look at this lovely desire path through the beautiful treasured Brookland Greene: http://goo.gl/maps/YMCJZ

by Nick on Dec 19, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

@Jaime Fearer: The caption on the image is still incorrect: "Parcels WMATA wants to develop, including the Brookland Green."

by Gray on Dec 19, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

Wow, there's a lot of negative energy and vitriol in more than a few of these comments.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 19, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

Amanda FrayerWalking among 100-year old trees as you come out of the metro station is a great way to decompress after a busy day at work.

Those trees are not 100 years old. Not even close

by Richard on Dec 19, 2013 3:26 pm • linkreport

@Gray - Also updated, thanks for pointing them out.

by Jaime Fearer on Dec 19, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

Geoffrey, I call a spade a spade. I've been at this advocacy thing long enough to recognize all the NIMBYism tactics even though they've gotten more sophisticated and post on GGW too.

by Cavan on Dec 19, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

I do not see anger expressed in the OP. I see it expressed that parks are a legitimate part of TOD (and indeed they are, see Navy Yard and NoMa for example) and a desire to keep this bit of green space as a park.

are there unanswered questions? sure. Are other existing green spaces in the neighborhood adequate? How will programming for this space be financed? Can development rights be transferred to other nearby properties.

That calls for exploraton, not villification.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

This article is right on. An ask for publicly-accessible green space at a central metro location is in no way NIMBYism. Why shouldn’t preserved park land be just as accessible as a corner Starbucks or Potbelly’s?

by NIMBY4Life on Dec 19, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

Right? They should just plunk some towers on Farragut Square and Dupont Circle while they're at it.

by BTA on Dec 19, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

As someone who is Pro-901 Monroe, Pro-TOD, and live in Brookland, I object to this being called NIMBYism.

Much of the neighborhood has been clear to WMATA Over the years, dating to the 90s, that this space is to remain open and green and undeveloped. Again, our protest group wants development on the western half of the south parcel and the north parcel, and even the bus bay (which has been associated with a proposed land swap with Doug Jemal for the property just north of the bridge there)

Brookland does not have a ton of public park space. It has programmed fields at Turkey thicket, private fields at the monastery and HUSD, school space at Bunker Hill, and our only real public park is AstroTurf.

This would be a good amenity to remain for the community.

To close: it's okay to keep the green and develop the rest, this isn't a nimby situation, this is a community across multiple usual fault lines saying "leave this be."

by Tom Bridge on Dec 19, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

Metro's own proposed drawings in their RFP shows green space. Just as a central courtyard instead of what's proposed here.

by drumz on Dec 19, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

Again I ask, what's wrong with the full city block of parkland that is only two blocks from this "green"? Is there some concern that the National Park Service will develop Fort Bunker Hill Park or something?

by Gray on Dec 19, 2013 3:50 pm • linkreport

As it happens, the Brookland Green has been getting spoken about, by that name, in civic association and ANC meetings for years now, going back to the Small Area Plan negotiations.

It's true that it doesn't see tons of use right now except as a cut-through and isn't especially well-lit, but that's kind of the point, isn't it? Wouldn't it see more use as part of a well-considered development at the Metro station? No one (at least no one sane and reasonable) is saying "Don't build anything at the Metro station." Most of that property is unattractive anyway, and the entrance to the Metro itself is a deathtrap in the rain. The community has been vocal that they just want to see proposals that preserve as much of that green space as possible.

Don't forget that this is in a context where the green space on the OTHER side of the Metro has had the Monroe Street Market project put on it (multi-story, mixed-use), and where the Col. Brooks tavern directly across the street has been razed with the intention of putting in a 6 story building. I favored both of those developments, because I strongly believe that next to a Metro station is a great place to put stuff. But that doesn't mean every square foot has to be covered, or that new trees are an equivalent replacement for old trees.

I'd invite people making NIMBY accusations to actually come to Brookland and walk around a bit, looking at all the construction happening just within a couple of blocks of the station. It's eye-opening.

by Tiffany on Dec 19, 2013 3:53 pm • linkreport

This space ought to be preserved and improved into the area's town green. It is actually adjacent to the Brooks mansion -- would be better if that could be part of the park as well.

This isn't a case of NIMBYism. There is a lot of development in Brookland and many of these residents have been in support of all of that. They are asking for some green space to accompany the new development and anyone who knows anything about successful TOD is that this type of small park space can be a real boon to the community.

I am sometimes amazed at the insufferable opinions of some commenters on this site who seem to have an aversion to any kind of opinion that appears to be anti-development. A park here is pro-development -- it helps the rest of the new density.

by norb on Dec 19, 2013 3:59 pm • linkreport

Also, no one who had ever tried to USE Fort Bunker Hill Park would be seriously asking what's wrong with it. It's an NPS-managed site (and "managed" is a generous term for it) that's overgrown and riddled with poison ivy. Not exactly a place to take your kids to play.

Noyes Park, a few blocks south, is better, but it's a heavily-programmed space, and the playing field is artificial turf.

by Tiffany on Dec 19, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

Gray: Bunker Hill is dense forest. That's nice on it's own, but other than beauty, it's pretty much otherwise unusable. There's a quantitative and qualitative difference between it and the area being called "The Brookland Green."

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 19, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

Cavan: Sorry you feel that way, but your analysis in this case is misguided.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 19, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

1. It is difficult to see how a proposal that seeks development on other parcels while preserving the core of the Brookland Green is NIMBYism. Nobody is questioning the need to develop next to a Metro stop. We do question whether that needs to include an area of mature trees that has long been a focus of community pride.

2. The graphic for proposed development in the article includes the bus bays, but the WMATA solicitation for bids does not. WMATA has said this is because they are seeking a land swap with someone north of the tracks, so they plan to solicit for development of the bus bay at a later time when that is complete. The community response is: what's the hurry? Finish the land swap and then put out a solicitation for an integrated project rather than doing it piecemeal. The additional land that would be available would enable a beautiful and smartly designed transit hub that includes mixed use development and green space, as has been done so effectively and imaginatively in other cities.

Again, no NIMBY'ism here, only smart urban planning.

3. @Cavan and @Nick are wrong on several points. One cannot create park plans or raise funding to maintain space that is owned by WMATA; this has stymied past efforts to make something more out of the Green.

People do and always have given a rat's ass about the Green. Several years ago a large number of residents insisted that the Green be preserved during the creation of the Brookland Small Area Plan. Despite that strong community feedback, the final version of the plan provided for development of the Green, with a possible "green option" that might preserve the Green in the alternative. The resulting SAP is what WMATA relied upon in crafting the solicitation, while choosing to ignore the "green option."

Contrary to what the SAP says, residents do not consider the "green option" to be optional, and we will continue pursuing every avenue at our disposal to preserve the space while advocating for the sensible development that Brookland needs.

by Jose on Dec 19, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

Contrary to what the SAP says, residents do not consider the "green option" to be optional, and we will continue pursuing every avenue at our disposal to preserve the space . . .
What else would you like to demand of local landowners? How about tying up CUA in court when they try to renovate their dorms, or protesting loudly until any new restaurants serve exactly the kind of food you want?

by Gray on Dec 19, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

Tiffany, I make NIMBY suggestions because I've been on the ground enough to see a pattern. I could be wrong this time and this could be the exception that proves the rule.

What would you put in the park? What recreation needs have area residents expressed a desire for, rather than just wanting to preserve the status quo?

Years ago, I wrote a post about successful urban parks. First, they're seldom as big as this so-called "Brookland Green." Second, they tend to be well laid out and programmed with interesting activities and gathering spots. Third, they tend to be located at the center of many pedestrian routes and surrounded by many other activities.

Your so-called Brookland Green is none of those things. It's just an empty parcel that's neither fish nor fowl. Too big and unprogrammed to be a park. It's not at the center of any activity. Now, if you want to get a plan about how to shrink the park and make sure it's at the center of activity and well programmed, that's another topic. But your post just says that you'd like to leave it as is. It appears that you aren't really shooting for NIMBYism, but are unwillingly being the [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] for a faction of NIMBY's.

by Cavan on Dec 19, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

In that years old post about successful urban parks, I used this passage:
In her classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote,

In orthodox [modernist] city planning, neighborhood open spaces are venerated in an amazingly uncritical fashion, much as savages venerate magical fetishes [sic]. Ask a houser how his planned neighborhood improves on the old city and he will cite, as a self-evident virtue, More Open Space. Ask a zoner about the improvements in progressive codes and he will cite, again as a self-evident virtue, their incentives toward leaving More Open Space. Walk with a planner through a dispirited neighborhood and though it be already scabby with deserted parks and tired landscaping festooned with an old Kleenex, he will envision a future of More Open Space.
More Open Space for what? For muggings? For bleak vacuums between buildings? Or for ordinary people to use and enjoy? But people do not use city open space just because it is there and because city planners wish they would.

An urban park is not the same as a suburban park, or a wilderness nature preserve park. No one drives for miles to visit Dupont Circle or McPherson Square.

by Cavan on Dec 19, 2013 4:33 pm • linkreport

The Brookland-CUA Metro Small Area Plan called for 115 rowhouses, each with it's own driveway for a CAR. Office of Planning was talking out of both sides of it's mouth. Transit oriented development should require residents to sign an affidavit that they will not own a car.
The SAP had high sounding "Guiding Principals" for preserving neighborhood character, historic preservation, and enhancing and increasing parks. Not a word of this "planning" document is turning out true.

WMATA is playing a cynical game with the beautiful stand of mature trees (which is used), and offering a hodgepodge of sections to develop instead of a high level coordinated process to give us excellent development. What is wrong with these public service agencies, and the people who have reached high office? The station could be left alone too. It is just fine to have decent open space, and unhealthy to over-crowd.
WMATA and DC govt. are spending $1 million for some "same old same old" memorial to the casualties of the nearby metro crash. Our pretty natural stand of trees at the Brookland Green could be a living memorial to the 9 killed in the crash and put the money into supporting the families and children survivors.

by Daniel Wolkoff on Dec 19, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

Daniel's comment certainly bolsters my arguments...

by Cavan on Dec 19, 2013 4:43 pm • linkreport

First, they're seldom as big as this so-called "Brookland Green."

its less than an acre, IIUC. I beleive thats comparable to the squares downtown like Farragut and McPherson. Its far smaller than succesful urban parks like Meridian Hill or Patterson Park in Baltimore.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

The Brookland Green space isn't "too big to be an urban park," it's maybe a .75 acres in total size, at least the part that we want to preserve here. As it stands, all of our existing open space is heavily programmed, made of astroturf, or isn't usable as common space.

While we're not against improvements to the Green to make it more welcoming - up to and including purchase by the city - it's certainly a space that has been treated as a casual park and should remain that way.

As we try to build more canopy in the city, cutting down the older, larger trees doesn't make sense, either, Cavan.

by Tom Bridge on Dec 19, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

Everyone would agree that all things equal, it's best to keep the Brookland Green undeveloped(preferably with improved lighting, benches, etc).

The question then becomes, how do we compensate WMATA for essentially taking their financial resource (land); after all, they have a responsibility to balance their budget).

Proposals supporting increased density (more height), in exchange for keeping the Brookland Green undeveloped seem completely reasonable. (More height allowed means WMATA can sell/lease the land for more money, outweighing the lost income from the Brookland Green.)

By a show of hands (comments) who would be in favor of allowing an extra two floors (an extra 20 ft) of height in exchange for keeping the Brookland Green?

by JB on Dec 19, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

"As we try to build more canopy in the city, cutting down the older, larger trees doesn't make sense, either, Cavan."

And not building housing in the District will put pressure to build more housing in currently undeveloped wilderness. That'll cut down a heck of a lot more older, larger trees than anything on your so-called Brookland Green.

I apologize for being incorrect about the size of the parcel. 3/4 of an acre is an appropriate size for a successful urban park. However, a successful urban park needs to be programmed well, with attractions that people will use. What recreational needs/planning vision have been expressed in the community, other than keeping the status quo?

by Cavan on Dec 19, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

WMATA has always intended to develop the entire site. The bus loop was not included in this RFP because plans to relocate the bus loop are contingent on acquisition of an overpaved and underused parcel adjacent to the tracks north of Michigan.

I am sure WMATA had reasons for offering the balance of the site it owns for development now, but the current offering has distorted the possibilities for the site as a whole. Were the entire parcel on offer now, I would bet dollars to donuts that some visionary developer would come up with tallest/densest mixed-use building nearest the station, with tiers of residences tapering down along the east, where they would benefit from the views and environmental services of the copse of trees that starts with the Brooks Mansion grounds and continues north through Brookland Green.

Such a development would be profitable for the developer, produce revenue for WMATA, and help meld "smart growth" with the scale of Brookland's existing residential areas.

by Fearing Dysphoria on Dec 19, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

Cavan, I can speak mostly for myself here, and not in my Civic Association President role, and say that the space could use lighting, seating and perhaps a small central space, but it can get all of those things without decreasing the canopy that's present at that site.

by Tom Bridge on Dec 19, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

" What recreational needs/planning vision have been expressed in the community, other than keeping the status quo?"

A better question. Could a passive park, with benches, and places to walk, to sit, perhaps to eat lunch, and of course, to look at from the new (and hopefully 20 ft taller as in JBs suggestion) TOD be an acceptable suggestion? AFAICT lots of urban squares function exactly that way, and do so quite nicely.

Here is one I once lived near and very much enhanced the neighborhood.

https://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl&q=park%20avenue%20bolton%20hill

by Exbaltimoron on Dec 19, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

JB, two floors wouldn't be anywhere near enough to make up for all the housing lost from not having any sort of building on this currently abandoned parcel of land that you cynically call "Brookland Green."

This is the politics of exclusion and resistance of change. Nothing more. Not using that parcel for housing will contribute to housing unaffordability as there are currently far more people who want to live next to the Metro than there are units available. It also contributes to global warming as they then have to live far away and burn lots of gasoline commuting.

by Cavan on Dec 19, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

As for other options, the best way to preserve the Brookland Green for longer stretches of time, and not run the risk of development projects capturing the space as an amenity for their development alone, is for the city to purchase the land from WMATA. This isn't a rare occurrence, and Mr. Wall at WMATA has said that they're open to that as a way to preserve the Green itself.

by Tom Bridge on Dec 19, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

Cavan I am flabbergasted. Many new urbanist projects include parkland, which complements density well. Right now I am thinking of Strawberry Park in the Mosaic district, Long Bridge Park in Arlington (granted thats VERY heavily programmed) proposed parks in Tysons, Canal Park and Yards Park in Navy Yard, the proposal for a park in NoMa, as well as many older parks in DC - from passive squares like ones downtown and in Capital Hill to larger parks like Meridian Hill, the waterfront parks in Old Town Alexandria, and parks in many other cities, including the Emerald necklaces in Boston, Ft Greene in Brooklyn, etc, etc.

I beleive Ms Jacobs was referring to dead areas amidst tower in the park hi rises - not a well framed green space. Or perhaps she feared existing old buildings being torn down for parks (which is not the case here).

I do not understand the level of vitriol.

as for 2 stories, maybe thats too small. Of course not all the development rights need to go to that building, but could go to all suitable locations in the neighborhood.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Dec 19, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

Cavan, saying something over and over and over again doesn't make it true.

This is an issue that has very much united the Brookland community in defense of the Green, and which puts the BNCA, the ANCs, our Councilmember, the Brookland Bridge readership, Casey Trees, and other neighborhood groups all on the same page.

That's not happened in quite some time, and it can't be ignored. Again, the community is saying: develop the bus bays, develop the north parcel, develop the Kiss & Ride lot, but leave the Green be.

This isn't obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism.

by Tom Bridge on Dec 19, 2013 5:02 pm • linkreport

Reminds me of that old Chapelle skit (paraphrased):

You may not be a NIMBYer, but you are using NIMBYs tactics. How is what you all are proposing any different than the Friends of McMillan folks?

PS - I've never seen anyone enjoying that "park." Indeed, all the photos posted so far show no one at it.

by h st ll on Dec 19, 2013 5:03 pm • linkreport

Jane Jacobs lived in the West Village

I point to http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/christopherpark/history

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Dec 19, 2013 5:04 pm • linkreport

To me, this is a "both/and" situation - we have an opportunity to have good, dense, transit-oriented development that enhances our neighborhood, brings new people in, creates walkable space, and reduces people's dependency on cars. It is also the perfect opportunity to take a beautiful, public, open green space (admittedly under-utilized because the current owner, WMATA, treats it like a back lot) and transform it into a real amenity for the community (both the newcomers and the old). That adds real value in terms of a cleaner environment, aesthetics, recreational and communal space, and overall quality of life. And those things, believe it or not, translate into dollars and cents, if $-oriented developers ever took the time to actually research it.

Let's face it, there are NIMBYs in every neighborhood, town, and city in the USA. But the group of residents who are working on this simply are not in that class. What we are advocating for is an optimized balance of multiple sustainability and socially beneficial objectives.

by Dan Schramm on Dec 19, 2013 5:05 pm • linkreport

"A park here is pro-development -- it helps the rest of the new density."

Exactly. At a muuuch bigger scale but similar concept, New York City pulled out the whole of Central Park from the original 1811 platted grid for exactly that reason, to make the city livable and thus allowed for that much more density.

by Thayer-D on Dec 19, 2013 5:06 pm • linkreport

H Street

I beleive the proposed park here is smaller than what the developer has proposed for park space at McMillan.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Dec 19, 2013 5:06 pm • linkreport

I don't know much about what's happened since the Small Area Plan, so can I ask why WMATA doesn't want to rebuild the bus loop? That site seemed like the best place to put a building.

Also, the plan called for the park space behind the Brooks Mansion to be the community green space, no? Would the proponents of the Brooklyn Green be willing to build on part of that site?

Also, if the green succeeds, would the residents be willing to rebuild the surrounding building stock as townhouses or buildings, in order to better define the park? I think the idea of a local park is great, but we can't dither on how much housing we need to build.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 19, 2013 5:11 pm • linkreport

In the streetcar plans one of the lines goes to Brookland. Could that be another driving reason behind why the bus bays are not being developed? Could the acceleration of those plans help with the development of the entirety of the parcel giving WMATA or the developer a little more flexibility with the "Green" space.

Also, something that is not being brought up is WMATA's desire to have dedicated parking within the new development. Why is this dedicated parking needed? The RFP wants two separate garages within the building which seems like a waste of money.

Additionally, personally observations suggest the current lot is rarely fully utilized and that a number of spots are use by WMATA employees.

by Rob P. III on Dec 19, 2013 5:12 pm • linkreport

To those who think smart growth means maximizing housing density on every last available foot of space in DC, think for a minute: There were 200,000 more people living in DC in the 1950s. Yet there was also substantial green space, including the Brookland Green, then as well as now.

Is it not conceivable that we can achieve very high metrics of TOD and smart-growth in the City at the same time as preserving and enhancing valuable urban green space?

by Dan Schramm on Dec 19, 2013 5:13 pm • linkreport

Partially echoing "h st ll" I also have not seen people relaxing in the park. The image of the park to me is large trees, squirrels, and people cutting through it. It is odd to see so much undeveloped or minimally developed (parking lots) land right next to a train station so close to downtown.

What Cavan suggests, a park that is more than tall trees that people cut through, is probably what is needed if one wants to truly save the entirety of Brookland Green.

What is the vision for the use of the Brookland Green once the area around it is developed? How is the Brookland Green going to complement the development and add value to the community AND THE developer? Once that question is addressed I can see WMATA, or the developer, being much more agreeable to keeping the Brookland Green with its large trees in future plans.

by Rob P. III on Dec 19, 2013 5:24 pm • linkreport

DC's higher population during the 1950s belies a few things: 1: downtown was smaller, 2: families were bigger, 3: apartments were much smaller, 4: A lot of that population was in ADUs. 5: it was before Urban Renewal.

Parks are clearly part of Smart Growth, but so is maximizing residential density around transit. Balancing those two is what's important.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 19, 2013 5:28 pm • linkreport

I don't know much about what's happened since the Small Area Plan, so can I ask why WMATA doesn't want to rebuild the bus loop? That site seemed like the best place to put a building.

They do, but they're working on a land swap deal separate from this process.

Also, if the green succeeds, would the residents be willing to rebuild the surrounding building stock as townhouses or buildings, in order to better define the park? I think the idea of a local park is great, but we can't dither on how much housing we need to build.

Agreed.

I would also note that if you were starting with a blank slate and wanted to incorporate a park into a new TOD on this site, you probably wouldn't put it in the current awkward location. As you note, the western edge is ill-defined.

Improving the city's tree canopy is great, but that's one sustainability goal of many that need to be balanced against each other. I don't like the idea of a litmus test that argues any loss of trees on a private parcel like this therefore invalidates the development plan. This is not akin to building in a park (such as the above references to Farragut Square or Dupont Circle); I think Cavan's reference to the Purple Line is a good one - one of the costs of that worthwhile project will be the loss of a few trees, but that's not reason to stop the Purple line.

by Alex B. on Dec 19, 2013 5:32 pm • linkreport

I am the authority here in Brookland, and have a surprisingly sizable green of my own tucked away from street view. I would be for saving it, but if a compelling reason can be advanced for developing it, I could be persuaded to side the other way.

by NE John on Dec 19, 2013 6:28 pm • linkreport

The Bunker Hill site provides wildlife, crazy kooky city wildlife (including a hobo or two) sanctuary.

by NE John on Dec 19, 2013 6:53 pm • linkreport

Cavan why does every park need endless paving and a "sports facility"?

by asffa on Dec 19, 2013 9:28 pm • linkreport

"Also, if the green succeeds, would the residents be willing to rebuild the surrounding building stock as townhouses or buildings, in order to better define the park?"

This is a very good point. I think this park parcel is more about a public space at the train station where the community would gather rather than another 3/4 acres of tree canopy, like the anti-purple line folks like to say. But if the park is designed properly, it should be built-up to make it read and function well. No that single family homes can't surround a public square, but this is right by metro, it needs to be dense to take advantage of the public's (tax) investment in good transit infrastructure.

Is there something about form based codes that could apply to urban design? Meaning, if you are this close to transit and are building an open space, shouldn't that automatically trigger an up-zoning to the surrounding areas? Which brings up the political battle that the OP keeps avoiding. It's clearly easier to raise the building height to accommodate growth, but we can't run away from the obvious logic of building up these low scale sites is an essential part of smart growth. This kind of building up was the natural course of city growth in America since it's inception. When and how did development become a bad word?

To my mind, this knee jerk reaction against development (Nimbyism) is a direct result of the public loosing faith in the planning, architecture, and development culture of this country. Our most cherished neighborhoods and cities tend to have a strong sense of place, one developed before WWII. It's not that Nimbism is the exclusive provenance of modern times, but before WWII, it was generally understood that new buildings would be better than older ones. But after decades of urban renewal, anti-urban architecture, and huge losses of farm land, many people are suspicious that any change will be for the better. It's not that developers making money in the process is particularly offensive, it's that the end result has tended to impoverish the public realm, so all people think of is the profit being made with nothing to show for it.

I hope the city/metro takes this opportunity to address the fact that planning for growth will mean some re-zoning in many of our neighborhoods, but to that end, they have to do a better job of convincing residents that what will come is something that will add to the sense of community. They need to produce a design that people will love, not because it's cutting edge, but because it will create a nice backdrop for living one's life, that it will add to the sense of place that attracted many residents to the community in the first place.

by Thayer-D on Dec 19, 2013 9:28 pm • linkreport

Parks are clearly part of Smart Growth, but so is maximizing residential density around transit. Balancing those two is what's important.

Exactly. This is a cost-benefit analysis question. It depends on how much you value open space or mature trees - among other things. And so there are some value judgments involved here.

I guess one way to look at it is to ask this question. Let's say WMATA was willing to sell this land for $1 M. And you just happened to be in charge of spending $1M on land to expand DC's park system. Is this what you would buy with that land? Land farther away from the Metro could probably be bought for less. But maybe that isn't as accessible? Etc... It's not so open and shut.

by David C on Dec 19, 2013 9:56 pm • linkreport

@ JPG

Why do you want WMATA to develop the bus bays; the bus system is already treated like the red headed stepchild why make the service worst for the riders.

Every development involving bus bays has made the area worst for people taking the bus to the rail or transferring between buses. Rhode Island Ave, Vienna, Dunn Loring, White Flint, Silver Spring, Ft Totten have all become worst since the development around the bus bays has happened from longer walks, further from the stations, having to cross streets to more traffic effecting the buses

by kk on Dec 19, 2013 11:26 pm • linkreport

I see people sitting on a towel in the sun, on the Green. And the contrary folks who keep saying that the Green has no activity, and it's an empty lot, can denude their own property, and I ask them,,,what do you want the trees to do? If you want a kiosk on the Green, ask for it, a stage, a series of movies, a craft day for children, make it happen. Have you ever imagined leaving a nice natural area alone, just nice grass and nice trees. What is wrong with that, do the trees have to put on a ballet for you, sponsored by Mayor (unindicted) Gray or DPR.
We can help WMATA and DC save $1 million,,cause it's a perfect natural memorial for the 9 victims of WMATA negligent homicide, and the two senior engineers that were killed working on the tracks while the entire system was closed! WMATA has been about the most wasteful, unreliable, and negligent agency in their mission, we are really crazy to use the subway. Now being socially and environmentally conscious is presenting our neighborhood with a fight. We need to ask, what the hell is going on in DC?
Cavan, I have no idea what, where or how you get your ideas, but it's scary. Are you natural?

by Daniel Wolkoff on Dec 20, 2013 6:12 am • linkreport

David C -- ah, there's the rub. You can argue for preserving this plot on historic preservation grounds, it was part of the grounds of the designated Brooks Mansion, which it abuts.

At the scale of "comprehensive" in the neighborhood, you can argue for keeping the green "green" to serve as a related public space-square-park-plaza as part of the Metro area, depending on the development plan for the site. You could argue too from the standpoint of an "integrated public realm framework" that it would complement the hardscape plaza on the other side of the Metro, at the Monroe Street Market site.

At the scale of the city and even the region, you can argue differently, that developing this site completely leverages the big investment in Metro, and generates more revenue for the city. At the region scale, developing in the core reduces sprawl, although city planning doesn't usually consider that as an important goal.

FWIW, I've always favored keeping the Green undeveloped, for historic preservation reasons and as a potential complementary public space integrated into the Metro site (along the lines of my "Transit, Stations, and Placemaking" entry).

I think the point about allowing higher density on the rest of the property to make up for it is a reasonable tradeoff, because not keeping the Green would otherwise reduce the value of the project to Metro.

by Richard Layman on Dec 20, 2013 7:03 am • linkreport

FWIW -- the data presented on the link between trees and business district success is irrelevant as this site isn't in the business district, and those studies have been made _in_ business districts, which for the purposes of Brookland would be considered _12th St. NE_.

by Richard Layman on Dec 20, 2013 7:05 am • linkreport

AWITC -- TDR doesn't work so well in DC, because the zones where you could transfer DR already are being built up to their maximum, and we don't have regulations that allow for going beyond FAR in a significant way, other than PUDs, which allow for a 20% increase in density.

Actually, TDR would be interesting to broach with regard to the height limit in the core.

I don't know the specifics, but TDR was used somehow wrt NoMA and not building housing downtown. I think anyway...

by Richard Layman on Dec 20, 2013 7:09 am • linkreport

Thayer-D -- re your point about upzoning and transit, I was just thinking about that the other day, as another missed element in the discussion about the height limit and DC zoning regulations. (And another way that the discussion could have been framed, had the discussion about height limit changes been adequately and professionally handled as a "campaign.")

We don't have those kind of fine grained treatments in our zoning code, and it looks like we're not going to get them either. At least not for awhile...

by Richard Layman on Dec 20, 2013 7:19 am • linkreport

Cavan -- I hate to say this, but it's not clear that you're looking at parks planning theory and practice in a continuum.

Of course, JJ was right. A lot of park spaces not located in well trafficed areas (pedestrians, residents, day time uses) don't do very well.

And the current Brookland Green has all of those same issues. Today, right now. But it is a mistake to argue that underdevelopment of these areas today, will when the area is developed in the future, generate the same conditions.

As the area around the Metro site develops--Monroe Market, what happens on the Metro site, 901 Monroe + over time, stuff on 12th St.--there will be much more use of the Metro site, much more activity, and the potential for the Green site to be well integrated into an overall program of vitality then exists (e.g., the discussion in my post about "The Layering Effect" using Silver Spring as an example).

Not having a parks and rec. master plan (and I am still not sure that the new one being developed will reach my expectations of what it should be although I have been assured that the scope has been expanded significantly, perhaps in response to my comments a few months ago), not having a master sense of how to integrate parks and rec. spaces at three scales within the city: city-wide; sector/district; and neighborhood; ,makes these discussions very difficult.

In fact the same issues are raised over the green elements of the VMP plan. They aren't all that stupendous even if argued such in a post here.

Note though that excellent integration of this space into the developments around the Metro probably mean that 12th Street will decline, and will no longer be the main commercial district for the neighborhood, as energy and vitality shifts to the Metro as the new "Brookland Town Center" for the neighborhood.

Note that in response to comments by neighborhood activists on the Brookland SAP, who said there shouldn't be a comprehensive approach to zoning the 12th St. commercial district, but deal with it lot by lot, I disagreed stating that likely they are consigning 12th St. to, if not failure, decreasing relevance. I think that's likely to happen because of the lack of a comprehensive approach.

(Note e.g., that the CUA bookstore is moving to Monroe St. I recommended that it move to 12th St. back in 2005.)

by Richard Layman on Dec 20, 2013 7:31 am • linkreport

I think this discussion has pretty much convinced me that it might be a good idea for WMATA to wait until they are ready to do whatever they want to do with the bus bay piece and then lump the Kiss N Ride section in as part of that to preserve this green space. Additional density and height should be supported at that time. If they were not planning on developing the bus bay part in the future then the calculus would be different.

This isn't like McMillan at all - this is one acre, vs like 25 acres at McMillan. This space is already open to and used by the public, McMillan is not.

by MLD on Dec 20, 2013 8:39 am • linkreport

"Note though that excellent integration of this space into the developments around the Metro probably mean that 12th Street will decline, and will no longer be the main commercial district for the neighborhood, as energy and vitality shifts to the Metro as the new "Brookland Town Center" for the neighborhood."

This dosen't have to be the case if designed and programmed properly. 12th street has long tied the whole neighborhood together, so it's unlikely that a development only 1.5 blocks away would materially hurt this strip, unlike a mall in the burbs used to spell doom for ye olde main street. Otis St. could be zonned to connect a square with 12th street, but all the more reason to have a comprehensive master plan that can guide development in such a way that infill will build upon the great character Brookland has.

by Thayer-D on Dec 20, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport

This kind of building up was the natural course of city growth in America since it's inception. When and how did development become a bad word?

Ever since the imposition of zoning codes. The kind of natural growth you described has not been legal for the better part of a century.

I hope the city/metro takes this opportunity to address the fact that planning for growth will mean some re-zoning in many of our neighborhoods, but to that end, they have to do a better job of convincing residents that what will come is something that will add to the sense of community.

I would note that in the golden age of incremental urban intensification you cited above, the burden of proof wasn't on the developers. They didn't have to convince residents at all. The growth happened - it didn't require any re-zonings.

But after decades of urban renewal, anti-urban architecture, and huge losses of farm land, many people are suspicious that any change will be for the better.

There's also little support for the idea that the residents liked it any more then than they do now - but the legal framework has changed completely. Instead, we've shifted the burden onto those who seek change. Thus, we get an immense status quo bias.

by Alex B. on Dec 20, 2013 8:57 am • linkreport

Here's my question to the opponents of this development:

What are your goals for the future of this space?

Is it to provide some green space as the area around the Metro station develops? Or is it to preserve the trees on this one particular plot as-is?

http://dc.gov/DC/Planning/In+Your+Neighborhood/Wards/Ward+5/Brookland+CUA+Metro+Station+Small+Area+Plan

I ask because I think the illustrative plan on the cover of the Brookland Small Area Plan shows a strong vision that accomplishes the first of those goals: by including dense development around a newly-built street grid, it turns the Brooks Mansion grounds into the area park, replacing the current surface parking lot on that plot with open space. It takes this park and frames it on all sides as a proper neighborhood square. To me, that would hit on all of the key goals: improved green space, transit-oriented development, restored street grid, etc.

However, if preserving trees on the awkwardly-shaped parcel trumps all other goals for the development, I don't know that I would support that. The 'Yes/No' diagram in the post provides for an awkwardly shaped park, one that would be a challenge to frame with both streets and TOD.

This isn't to say that respondents to WMATA couldn't come up with creative solutions (provided there is community support for the tradeoffs, such as additional density and height on the rest of the building area), I'm just curious about which goals are most important to the neighbors: improved green/open space, or preserving all of these trees?

by Alex B. on Dec 20, 2013 9:09 am • linkreport

Alex,

Your "opponents of this development" label is framing the entire process incorrectly. You make it sound like anyone who has concerns with the way things are going currently, based on WMATA's current plans, are opposed to development at all by starting out with that assumption.

It makes it difficult to read the rest of your questions without seeing them tainted by a denigration of reasonable positions that aren't "either/or."

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 20, 2013 9:14 am • linkreport

Fair point: How about "opponents of this WMATA joint development proposal"?

You make it sound like anyone who has concerns with the way things are going currently, based on WMATA's current plans, are opposed to development at all by starting out with that assumption.

Of course, this is not my intention. I do, however, want to understand what a potential compromise looks like. If signers of the petition are opposed to WMATA's concept, what about the illustrative example from the Small Area Plan?

It makes it difficult to read the rest of your questions without seeing them tainted by a denigration of reasonable positions that aren't "either/or."

I'm not trying to force reasonable positions into an either/or framework, but I am asking for folks to prioritize what's most important to them in this case. And I think that is a fair question to ask.

by Alex B. on Dec 20, 2013 9:21 am • linkreport

@Alex B.:

The primary goal is specifically to preserve the mature trees on the Green. Designating another area as green space and planting small trees there is simply not the same; those small trees would be enjoyed at maturity by residents' grandchildren.

The secondary goal is to have an integrated, comprehensive development plan that looks at the entirety of the remaining area around the metro stop together rather than piecemeal. It doesn't make sense to plan and develop part of the area now, and then come up with a different plan once the land swap for the bus bays is complete. The available land would be used much more intelligently with an integrated approach.

Residents are generally supportive of a development option roughly along the lines of the Brookland Green concept listed in Appendix A of the SAP. I can't speak for everyone, but I suspect there would be general support for additional height and density on the remaining land.

by Joe Barrios on Dec 20, 2013 9:59 am • linkreport

I think that those of you who are promoting greater height at the bus bay to preserve this green space are ignorant if the beauty of the Height Act. One of its attributes is how it helps to spread out development. Instead of having all the development on the bus bay and none on the green - which I think we all agree is unfair - the height act allows for equal development on both plots. I feel like have more air and sunlight already.

by David C on Dec 20, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

Thayer-D -- actually 12th Street is incredibly disjoint, with 3-4 disconnected conglomerations of retail activity, along 1.5 miles of the street. Even the center (the two blocks from Monroe to Otis) isn't much of a center.

MLD -- of course you are right. It's better to wait to pull all the elements together rather than to jump the gun and separate ownership at a moment where that could preclude the best possible result.

It wouldn't be surprising that this might happen, given the number of postponements by the WMATA board wrt signing a contract with EYA for a development in Takoma.

by Richard Layman on Dec 20, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

If someone put a few benches and lampposts on the Green, a lot of people would use it. That's all it would take to make it inviting and usable.

by Sarah on Dec 20, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

Thayer-D -- sorry. Because of the disjointness is why 12th St., post theater-days doesn't function well. It worked in the old days when people had limited opportunities to shop. In the modern day, it doesn't work.

In the argot of revitalization, it needs to be "restructured". When I was a Main st. manager there, I outlined some ideas about that. The problem for that with some land owners is that it would mean "de-accessioning" some sites in favor of focusing from Lawrence to Michigan Ave.

But yes, if that were done, the Monroe St./Metro projects would complement 12th St., and that was what I recommended back during the Small Area Plan days.

2. Note too that this discussion is a perfect illustration of my point that Small Area "Plans" aren't neighborhood plans, definitely aren't comprehensive neighborhood plans, but are more "Build Out Opportunity Analysis and Management Plans."

A lot of my "criticism" of how DC does planning, as well as my writings about what better planning would be, is based on heavy involvement in the H Street, Cluster 23, and Brookland planning processes, from say 2001-2007.

by Richard Layman on Dec 20, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

Perhaps it would be a good idea for the local ANCs to go in on a resolution saying the project should be combined with the bus bay project, and that the ANCs support additional density at the site.

by MLD on Dec 20, 2013 10:07 am • linkreport

@David C
I think that those of you who are promoting greater height at the bus bay to preserve this green space are ignorant if the beauty of the Height Act. One of its attributes is how it helps to spread out development. Instead of having all the development on the bus bay and none on the green - which I think we all agree is unfair - the height act allows for equal development on both plots. I feel like have more air and sunlight already.

Absolutely right.

Looks like building heights here are constrained to 50 feet, which is a problem.

by MLD on Dec 20, 2013 10:10 am • linkreport

Alex, I agree you have a tendancy to frame things a bit too black and white, even though I support your general point.

"Ever since the imposition of zoning codes. The kind of natural growth you described has not been legal for the better part of a century."

I understand your frustration with onerous zoning and beaurocracy, I share that frustration, but zoning has always existed in some form or another. Maybe not to the extend as today but even George Washington prescribed certain aspects of Washington DC's future growth to align with some common vision of what the city should be. Making zoning out to be a boogey man is a bit like the anti-government folks who constantly bash government for their own personal agenda.

"I would note that in the golden age of incremental urban intensification you cited above, the burden of proof wasn't on the developers. They didn't have to convince residents at all. The growth happened - it didn't require any re-zonings."

First of all, that wasn't a golden age, it was how cities grew period. Also, compare the 1890 version of Madision Square Garden with the current 1968 incarnation. Regardless of any particular style, the 1968 version was a big middle finger urbanistically compared to the 1890 one. Or look at Penn Station vs. the current one. You had a lot less convincing when you where adding to a city's civic greatness (while making your money) than when you build a building that gives nothing back to the street. The burden is unfortunatly on developers when they want to land a big glass spaceship in the middle of Chevy Chase DC, rather than something that might compliment peoples neighborhood.

by Thayer-D on Dec 20, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

Richard, You're right that people have many more opportunities to shop today, but that's not why mainstreets are comming back. Look at this article by Ken Benfield that talks about just that. It's more about placemaking and creating a social space rather than buying goods.

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/is_the_traditional_downtown_a.html

by Thayer-D on Dec 20, 2013 10:16 am • linkreport

I understand your frustration with onerous zoning and beaurocracy, I share that frustration, but zoning has always existed in some form or another.

Two things:

No, it hasn't. And for someone alleging my views are too "black and white," I would note that you can't just lump all land use regulations together in a binary fashion as you just did. The specifc form in 'some form or another' matters tremendously.

Yes, DC evolved with land use controls, but people tend to underestimate how controlling the current laws are. If DC had a massive disaster, something akin to the Great Chicago Fire, it would be illegal to re-build most of DC's pre-war neighborhoods as they are today.

The degree of control matters. Our zoning codes have been getting more and more contolling as time as gone on.

Take New York's landmark 1916 zoning code - it checks in at just 12 pages in length!
http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/history_project/1916_zoning_resolution.pdf

Maybe not to the extend as today but even George Washington prescribed certain aspects of Washington DC's future growth to align with some common vision of what the city should be.

Washington's prescriptions for the city have more in common with a plan backed by law than the intense regulations we see today. The difference is both a matter of degree and a matter of kind.

Making zoning out to be a boogey man is a bit like the anti-government folks who constantly bash government for their own personal agenda.

I'm not trying to make zoning out to be the boogeyman at all; I am saying, however, that the rise and intensification of zoning directly answers your question. You wanted to know why we haven't seen incremental growth to connect 12th Street and the Metro station. My first instinct is to look at what constrains that growth; and zoning provides a serious constraint.

There wouldn't be much of a need to re-zone Brookland as you proposed if DC were governed by a much simpler code, akin to New York's 1916 law.

by Alex B. on Dec 20, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

"The degree of control matters."

Agreed.

by Thayer-D on Dec 20, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

@Joe Barrios - The primary goal is specifically to preserve the mature trees on the Green. Designating another area as green space and planting small trees there is simply not the same; those small trees would be enjoyed at maturity by residents' grandchildren.

The secondary goal is to have an integrated, comprehensive development plan that looks at the entirety of the remaining area around the metro stop together rather than piecemeal.

My first reaction is that your current secondary goal should probably be your primary goal, and that your current primary goal is a potential output of that process. If you're enshrining an element of a plan as a primary goal without first developing that integrated, comprehensive plan, I can understand why you'd get some raised eyebrows not just about motives ("sneaky NIMBYs!"), but process.

by worthing on Dec 20, 2013 2:40 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D: I haven't read Kaid's piece, but it's fair to say I understand this issue pretty well. BROOKLAND'S 12th Street is nothing like those other places. There are three "main" centers, around Franklin St., from Monroe to Otis, and from Randolph to Michigan Ave. Here and there are random commercial buildings in between. There are three anchors, the hardware store (which is dated), CVS, and the Yes Grocery.

By the corridor being disjoint, it doesn't have the ability to regenerate the way that other places do. That being said there are a couple of surprisingly decent restaurants of late. (Col. Brooks wasn't that great and way overpriced.)

But the thing is, which I have been meaning to write about for a few months but haven't gotten around to it, is the need for some places to build more and new stuff, even if they have "old" buildings, in order to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves TODAY, rather than are based on historic spatial and demographic patterns less relevant today.

Takoma is a good example. The reason that things are happening there is in part a response to the addition of multiunit housing in the core + some turnover of extant housing to younger demographics. And now, given "modern" needs for retail, but mostly driven by restaurants, new spaces are being developed.

This is leading Douglas Dev. to "restructure" part of the building it owns that fronts the SE corner of Willow and Eastern Ave. into retail appropriate space, which was unthinkable even one year ago and is quite creative actually.

In short, Takoma is growing today not just through the recapture of existing buildings but also the repurposing of buildings not used for retail and the construction of new retail and residential space.

Brookland is the same issue. But what is happening on Monroe Street is not happening on 12th St. The owners are disjoint, the opportunities are much more difficult to realize (which reminds me that I've been meaning to suggest a couple to Jim Abdo...). So the fiddling on 12th Street will mean that it gets supplanted.

Regardless of what Kaid wrote, this stuff (the other s word) isn't some lockstep inexorable process. It takes a lot of elements to come together to push revitalization forward and to reap the advantage of opportunities.

It's happening in Brookland despite the old guard, because of there being a handful of developable large parcels around the Metro, that are big enough for modern developers to find attractive. If those parcels didn't exist, Brookland would still be a backwater.

by Richard Layman on Dec 20, 2013 2:56 pm • linkreport

Thankfully we have the option of eminent domain against this sort of abuse of a public access corridor. It's Washington D.C.’s only main transportation corridor and is the legitimate location for I-95, with Madrid Spain showing the proper way for such a highway as a park covered tunnel.

http://cos-mobile.blogspot.com/2011/05/madrid-spain-reclaims-riverfront.html

http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/2008/02/extending-legacy-with-grand-arc.html

http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/search/label/Demolition%20Specials

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Dec 20, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

"By the corridor being disjoint, it doesn't have the ability to regenerate the way that other places do."

I'm only looking at 12th street as an outsider, but there are many a great Main Streets that are not solidly commercial block for block. 12th street might have some holes in it, but it has the bones for a charming street should it get infilled properly. 14th was "disjointed" for years between Mass and U Street, yet look at it now, the old and new cheek to jowl and it looks great. But I'm not sure what infill buildings have to do with "historic spatial patterns", a good urban building is not that hard to do.

Sounds like you went through some serious Nimby battles though. One of the reasons my family and I chose Silver Spring over Takoma Park was the dynamism of its streets despite Takoma having more historical buildings. Speaking of disjointed main streets, Takoma Park has many of the challenges and opportunities as Brookland.

by Thayer-D on Dec 20, 2013 9:48 pm • linkreport

14th Street illustrates my point. The holes, some generated by the riots, have been filled in. It also has the advantage of greater density. But the holes didn't exist before the riot, but existed at a lower density, and long term, after the riots, they could be rebuilt at greater density, which further contributes positively to revitalization.

Brookland's holes have always existed, with small buildings. It didn't matter so much when shopping and entertainment patterns were different. E.g., before tv people went to the movies multiple times per week, so they went to the shopping district a lot.

No riots in Brookland means that it it is much more difficult to rebuild in the low dense filled holes in the commercial district. I can't even imagine the controversy that would come up with that.

Takoma has some of the same problem with the extant building stock, not that I am advocating for tearing it down. It's low density and can't be rebuilt (e.g., the one story block of retail buildings on 4th St. between Butternut and Cedar).

Like Brookland, Takoma is benefiting from the repurposing and intensification of land uses around the Metro, some were gas stations, etc., and it took decades for the economic conditions to change enough to make it worth redeveloping. Like the area around Brookland, these parcels are changing.

But Takoma has the advantage of a "center" in Old Town, the two (or 1.5) blocks of buildings on Laurel and Carroll, and the new buildings will knit over the disjointness that exists. (I bid on a market study for Takoma years ago. My team was second. But in the response we outlined these various land gaps as opportunities.)

The difference between Takoma and Brookland is that the Metro station is on the commercial district corridor, whereas in Brookland it is a couple blocks away from 12th St. (the Monroe Market development is 3-4 blocks away from 12th St.). So the development in Takoma strengthens the commercial district, while it doesn't in Brookland.

In the advisory committee meetings on the Brookland plan, I suggested redefining the 1000 block of Newton as a commercial street, even though it is all large houses, as a way to tie the two areas together. Similarly, that could happen with the 1000 block of Monroe (but the other side of the street is civic or religious and won't ever change).

But that is very controversial too. Look at the not totally unjustified reaction of the people in the rowhouses on the block of 10th St. that abuts the 901 Monroe development.

The reality is that in changing times, some people do lose out. I argue that if you abut commercial property, you can't expect zoning or conditions to remain unchanged in perpetuity. But that's a planner perspective, not a resident perspective.

by Richard Layman on Dec 21, 2013 10:35 am • linkreport

Richard- The riots didn't touch more than a couple buildings on 14th, and those were above U. Most of the empty spaces and 1-story block buildings below U were done by one developer (Jawer) who wanted to tear buildings down before a historic district could be done. HPRB only requires commercial facade preservation so density wouldn't have been affected anyway.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 21, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

Didn't know that. Am aware of the crappy work by Marvin Jawer though...

by Richard Layman on Dec 23, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

Normally I find the push to preserve green space in areas more suitable for TOD development very counterproductive, however preserving this piece of green space is very reasonable. The Brookland Station has had a major problem with a lot of dead space immediately around its station. This is starting to be resolved with the new development completed on the west side of the tracks (looks great by the way), and will be much better if they build on the metered surface lot, which I doubt gets as much use as an apartment building would right next to the station. While the green space helps make the area way too open now, I think it will be a nice compliment to future density if left as it is now. Hopefully they can get some additional park amenities in there too.

by Chris Allen on Dec 29, 2013 9:13 pm • linkreport

There needs to be more discussion of what should and can be done to improve the sad and dismal bus bay area in Brookland, as part of these investments.

If surrounding parcels are developed, what happens to bus circulation and riders? What can be done to improve the rider experience at the station? Most of the shelters are falling apart and many lack roofs, there is no real time information, sparse lighting, etc. A little trailer, energized by generator, has been set up as a make-shift amenity for drivers.

Investments and improvements in the bus bay area shouldn't be neglected as plans for the larger parcels-- and conversations about preservation of the Brookland Green-- proceed.

by RM on Jan 14, 2014 3:44 pm • linkreport

There needs to be more discussion of what should and can be done to improve the sad and dismal bus bay area in Brookland, as part of these investments.

If surrounding parcels are developed, what happens to bus circulation and riders? What can be done to improve the rider experience at the station? Most of the shelters are falling apart and many lack roofs, there is no real time information, sparse lighting, etc. A little trailer, energized by generator, has been set up as a make-shift amenity for drivers.

Shouldn't investments and improvements in the bus bay area be part of any development plan for the larger parcel?

by Rachel on Jan 15, 2014 7:38 am • linkreport

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