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NoMa BID gets green cash for green space

DC will spend some green to get some green in NoMa. Mayor Gray recently authorized $50 million for new parks in the fast-growing neighborhood.


Photo by Cristina Bejarano on Flickr.

Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed a measure to let the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) spend $50 million in parks and public realm funds for the neighborhood.

The first of the parks is planned for the underpasses under the tracks approaching Union Station, on Florida Avenue and K, L, and M Streets NE. The NoMa Parks Foundation is evaluating at least four more sites for future green space in the area.

Green space is sorely needed in NoMa. Aside from the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT), the only available park lands are privately-owned lots that are sometimes available for popular neighborhood events.

For example, the NoMa Summer Screen outdoor movie screenings attracted up to 1,200 people per viewing in 2013. However, the screenings happen on an undeveloped lot on 2nd Street between K and L NE. Toll Brothers City Living owns the lot, and plans a mixed-use development there in the future.

Since there's no public land available for parks in the neighborhood, Mayor Gray's budget includes $25 million to buy land, and another $25 million for physical park construction.

Many blame zoning for the lack of parks, as the city failed to buy property for future green space in NoMa before it upzoned the territory. This significantly raised property values, making a park far more expensive.

But the lack of parks hasn't detracted new residents or businesses. More than 3,000 people live in NoMa, with 714 additional residential units scheduled to open in the 2M and Elevation developments this summer, according to Doug Firstenberg, chair of the NoMa BID Board of Directors.

"NoMa as a residential neighborhood continues to grow," Firstenberg said at the neighborhood meeting. "It's really delivering on our goals to become a mixed-use neighborhood."

On the commercial front, NPR moved into a new headquarters building on North Capitol Street last year, and Google is scheduled to move into new offices at 25 Massachusetts Ave NW later this month.

NoMa BID data shows that 49% of planned square footage is undeveloped property. This includes about 6,247 residential units, roughly 548,349 square feet of retail space, and 9.32 million square feet of commercial space.

"It's absolutely phenomenal what is happening right now in the District of Columbia," said Gray, who said that NoMa is the largest part of the city's overall growth. "We're adding 1,100 to 1,200 people a month here in the city."

Other progress in NoMa

First Street NE is on schedule to reopen with a new separated bike lane in May, says NoMa BID President Robin Eve-Jasper. The opening will conclude a year of construction work that turned arguably the neighborhood's main street into a maze of potholes and construction barriers. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has repaved the street, begun striping, and is adding the bike lane. A block party is planned for the street's reopening next month.

However, major road construction in NoMa is far from over. DDOT is evaluating options for a significant redesign of Florida Ave through NoMa's northern section, to make it a more pedestrian and bike-friendly thoroughfare. No timeline for the project has been set.

NoMa BID also unveiled a free outdoor wi-fi system on select blocks earlier this month. The system can handle up to 1,000 users at a time and will continue to be expanded and improved, according to Eve-Jasper.

Edward Russell is an air transport reporter by day with a passion for all things transportation. He is a resident of NoMa and tweets frequently about planes and trains. 

Comments

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zoning has nothing to do with the failure to plan for parks. It was a failure of the NoMA Small Area Plan and the lack of a strong parks planning effort generally and the failure to develop and extend ideas and concepts concerning the provision of park spaces in the core of the city, in places that lacked parks.

The problem with the TDR zone is that it allowed intense development without having a plan in place to ensure a set of complete amenities for the re-created district.

Again, that's planning, not zoning.

by Richard Layman on Apr 17, 2014 2:19 pm • linkreport

It's both planning and zoning. Had there been better planning, there'd be different zoning. And we're about to replicate the same problem under the proposed new code. Matter of right density would double under the current plan with no quid pro quo (no affordable housing, no PUD amenities, no green space or recreational space). 40 foot increase in height plus the elimination of any restriction on residential FAR means there's no incentive to leave open space on the ground in order to realize the available height. And commercial FAR is a function of density credits sold on a developer-controlled market.

by BTDT on Apr 17, 2014 2:47 pm • linkreport

Why is the city giving the BID money? Isn't the whole point of BIDs that they can raise their own revenue in order to fund benefits that are specific to their district?

by Tom Veil on Apr 17, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

The private developers that bought up land in NoMa when it was cheap should have had to fund at least the land acquisition. This is a huge gift from the city to them. I still do think it's a good investment for the city (as are most park expenditures in general), but the monetary benefits in terms of real estate equity will accrue mostly to a small handful of very wealthy developers. They didn't have either the foresight or civic mindedness to set aside some of the formerly industrial land they acquired a few years ago for parks, then they lobbied the city to buy back some of that land at higher prices, and improve it at the city's expense, thereby improving the value of their remaining holdings in the neighborhood. Well played, I guess.

by dno on Apr 17, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

They'll have to find some incredibly shade-tolerant plants if they want to have "green space" in the underpasses. Or maybe they could put grow lights in the streetlamps?

by jimble on Apr 17, 2014 4:56 pm • linkreport

This reminds me of the $50 million the District gave to Abe Pollin a few years ago to replace the screen and other improvements at the Verizon Center.

I think the logic with NoMa is that it will continue to bring tax revenue from new residents and businesses and that this is a relatively small investment over the next 30 years.

That said, at least the District gets the phone booth back in 2047. Does the District own the park?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/19/AR2007031901727.html

by Randall M. on Apr 17, 2014 5:08 pm • linkreport

I see a lot of big parking lots awfully close to a metro station...

by BTA on Apr 17, 2014 5:42 pm • linkreport

1. BIDs are management districts. They aren't expected to spend this kind of money on infrastructure. They get a little add on to property taxes. It isn't a huge amount. Which they use to clean the streets and do marketing and promotion.

2. It's not unreasonable for a city to do this for a district within the city. Yes, I'd rather there be a master parks plan and system of priorities and funding that way, but so far that's not how DC is managed.

Not only did the NoMA BID make a compelling case, they made a case.

by Richard Layman on Apr 17, 2014 5:53 pm • linkreport

Richard,

I hardly think NOMA Bids 1.3 million dollar yearly revenue to be insignificant, especially considering the square footage in the NOMA approved pipeline would increase the bids square footage by 40% over the next 5 years.

And the downtown bid has a 10 million yearly budget, others 4-10 million, hardly what I would call insignifiicant. 10 million buys a lot of trash removal and yearly landscaping.

by Noma on Apr 17, 2014 8:05 pm • linkreport

If you look at the cover the Met Branch Trail plan, you see a big park on the space near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro that is now parking and storage of construction equipment, the PEPCO facility and an open field. DC had always planned to buy that land and make it into a park. When they were ready to go, all the lawyers who handle land acquisition were busy buying up land for the baseball stadium. So they waited. When the lawyers were available, they found that all that land had been purchased. So instead of a direct path through a park, we have a Z-shaped turn south of an ugly pile of asphalt material.

That would have been a great park.

by David C on Apr 17, 2014 10:31 pm • linkreport

Neither $1.3M nor $10M buys much land. And it is pretty small in the great scheme of things. The DC budget is $11 billion.

And $1.3 million is about $4,000/day.

WRT the Downtown BID, their service area is much bigger. It's all relative.

by Richard Layman on Apr 18, 2014 7:28 am • linkreport

If it's a public park, then DC should pay for it. Public spaces are for the public, if it was some exclusive place for NoMa bid-related activities then no, but I'm not under the impression that's the case. I agree the staging of park planning was way behind but the city should provide amenities in all areas including ones that are doing well.

by BTA on Apr 18, 2014 9:14 am • linkreport

could someone clarify the Capital Riverfront BID's involvement in the parks there - I don't think they paid for them, but I think maybe they do clean up and security, as well as sponsoring events. How does that compare to the NoMa situation?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 18, 2014 9:20 am • linkreport

It's a nice idea...but where?

http://www.nomabid.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/NoMaDevelopmentMap_WEB.pdf

Seems like parks aren't part of the plan. Every single parcel has a building on it or in the works. I live there and love it but for an actual park to exist some developer is going to have to give something up. Perhaps Tishman Speyer at 1150 First or StonebridgeCarras at 150 M?

One more thing: trying to pass off the art installations under the bridges as "parks" is more than a stretch, as most people's expectations of a park isn't a place that never receives direct sunlight and is totally devoid of life aside from the errant pigeon or homeless person.

by Michael on Apr 18, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

Michael, a park is whatever works and whatever people recognize as a park. It doesn't need to have trees, grass, and a statue. In Silver Spring, the Turf (now replaced by the successful Veterans' Plaza) was the most minimalist park and a rousing success.

by Cavan on Apr 18, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

@AWITC

Canal Park was built by "developer contributions, grants, new market tax credits and a contribution from the District," and is currently run by WC Smith. No city money is used to run the park.

Yards Park was built using money from the District, Forest City, and the GSA. It's owned by the District and operated by the BID. No city money is used to run that park either; it's sustained by contributions from Forest City and the BID tax.

http://envisionmcmillan.com/public-private-park-partnerships/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yards_park

So both parks received city money, but neither was funded entirely by city money.

by JES on Apr 21, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

Even the planned bike infrastructure is inadequate. The 1st street cycletrack is pretty much just a short extension of the MBT. It does nothing to connect NoMa to Northwest DC.

Until they do something about either Dave Thomas Circle and/or non-car crossings of New York Avenue, they have not solved the fundamental problem of NoMa's isolation.

Watch bikes and pedestrians trying to play frogger to get to the bus stop on Florida Avenue or to the R St. bike lane. The prioritization of Maryland commuters over NoMa residents and employees continues to wreak havoc and hold back NoMa's integration into the western part of city.

by Ward 1 Guy on Apr 21, 2014 12:17 pm • linkreport

The 1st Street cycletrack isn't really meant to connect NoMa to NW DC. But both 1st Street and the MBT connect to R Street which does connect NoMa to NW. As does L and M if one is OK with riding on K. Where is it that a connection is needed?

Besides improvements to Dave Thomas Circle are in the works. DDOT is not done with bike improvements yet.

by David C on Apr 22, 2014 9:59 pm • linkreport

@David C -- 1st St. NE does not connect to R St., not without significant sidewalk riding and you have to cross New York on the left side of the street as if you were a pedestrian. I'll try MBT to R, but it looks like a long route to avoid Florida and Dave Thomas Cir.

I haven't seen a bike/ped friendly proposal for Dave Thomas Circle but then again, I may have missed it or found it hard to read those fancy road diagrams.

by Ward 1 Guy on Apr 24, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

1st St. NE does not connect to R St., not without significant sidewalk riding and you have to cross New York on the left side of the street as if you were a pedestrian.

All of which means that it does connect.

Example, heading north

Step 1. Pull over to right at NYA and wait for ped light to cross 1st to the SW corner of NYA and 1st.

Step 2. Proceed to 1st Street north of Fla avenue exactly as a pedestrian would.

Pretty simple. Slow, but simple.

by David C on Apr 24, 2014 2:59 pm • linkreport

Why not use emminent domain and annex undeveloped properties? I agree that the PEPCO lot next between trilogy and the MBT is a perfect aquisition target.

by Steve on May 7, 2014 6:03 am • linkreport

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