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NoMA has no parks thanks to flawed upzoning

When DC officials rezoned the land north of Union Station to create NoMA, they triggered the creation of a brand-new neighborhood. Unfortunately, they forgot to leave space for a park, and created an economic dynamic that virtually ruled out any parks. Last week, Tommy Wells introduced a bill to try to fix this glaring omission.

Photo by CurrentFlickr on Flickr.

As Michael Neibauer explains in a Business Journal article (unfortunately behind the paywall), NoMA has no parks in its 358-acre territory, a "major oversight."

Basically, before the rezoning, a number of different property owners had some land that was fairly valuable. After the rezoning, they all had land that was extremely valuable. Then, many of them sold the land to developers. The developers paid a high price, knowing that they were entitled to build 10 FAR on their sites. But that also meant the developers now have to build 10 FAR to cover their investment.

DC created a lot of value when it upzoned the land. But that value all went instantly into the pockets of the current owners of the land. It increased the likelihood of the land being developed, but it also made it almost impossible to ask for any amenities, like parks.

Plus, the height limit means that developers can't get their 10 FAR by, say, building a 20-story building on half the lot and retaining the rest for a park. DC can't even give this right to a single property owner for a single park.

This is exactly the mistake Larry Beasley warned against in his recent talk. Instead of simply adding as-of-right height, he suggested coupling higher development with requirement to provide various amenities. This is the approach Montgomery County is using at White Flint, for example. This means that a portion of the economic gain goes to the property owner, but some of it can go to making housing more affordable, or providing parks, or schools, or bike paths.

Image from NoMA BID.
There are few development sites left and as development proceeds opportunities for a park will dwindle. It's too bad DC gave away all of its best tools years ago. In the map at right, blue and yellow properties are already built or under construction. The teal spaces represent unbuilt, planned projects; any park would have to displace one of them.

According to the WBJ article, Wells proposes allocating up to $51.5 million in tax revenue from NoMA into a special fund, but only if the revenue exceeds the 2010 level so it doesn't take away from the District's budget.

The NoMA BID and local developers support the plan, but perhaps they should also support increasing their tax rates a bit, at least in the future for a number of years, since they will benefit from the park and can sell units for more money (which will also generate more property tax).

And in the future, all cities and towns should avoid making the same mistake. Libertarian-leaning urbanists like Market Urbanism have recommended fewer development restrictions and greater reliance on the free market. In many cases that makes a lot of sense, but the NoMA experience shows a need for at least some mechanism to reserve for public goods some of the value an upzoning generates. Is there a more free market way to handle this?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I agree that the upzoning was flawed and that the property owners at the time of the upzoning were the biggest beneficiaries. The current property owners do need to build max 10 FAR to support the prices they paid. Additionally, while some people think the rents in NoMA are just arbitrarily set to gouge people they are also based on the value of the land and the construction. The apartment companies economically need to charge the prevailing market rate rents to support the prices they pay to purchase the building from the developer.

Anyhow, back to the issue at hand: parks. I don't think this dilemma justifies altering the height act which the city doesn't have control over anyway. I think the solution should be for the city to make a land swap. Swap one of the current landholders either a similar sized parcel of district land in a better location or a larger parcel in a slightly less advantageous location. The city can then turn the NoMa parcel received into a park.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 1:48 pm • linkreport

Another solution would be to build a park on top of the rail tracks approaching Union Station.

Expensive, but doable. I-66 is capped with a park in Rosslyn.

by BeyondDC on Nov 29, 2010 1:52 pm • linkreport

If they could manage it, the land-swap idea sounds like it could be a win-win. Setting aside $50m of DC's very-tight budget for a park simply isn't going to happen (although you'd think that the developers would be willing to chip a bit in, given that a park could justify higher rents in their buildings).

Also, even though it's not directly in NoMA, doesn't the city already own the entire 300 block of M St NE?

by andrew on Nov 29, 2010 2:02 pm • linkreport

how about closing 1st street from K to N or NYA? make it a pedestrian street, add some greenery, tables, benches, maybe a couple of lunch kiosks/food trucks. it looks on google maps like there are a couple of curb cuts for surface parking lots that could be reconfigured to one of the east/west streets. it looks like the ATF has a garage or loading dock off first, which might be reason enough not to have it go all the way up to NYA.

by dano on Nov 29, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport

Somehow I can't get angry that a development doesn't have a government-mandated park. By increasing the supply of housing, the developers are driving down the cost.

Montgomery County's approach has some serious downsides. Many of us believe the county is essentially blackmailing developers and the result isn't all that great. It discourages investment at the margin and that is not a good thing.

In sum, I totally disagree that no park = "a major oversight."

by WRD on Nov 29, 2010 2:06 pm • linkreport

A park is certainly an important, needed asset for NoMA, and this bill by Tommy Wells will hopefully go a long way towards filling that need. The neighborhood needs a large, central urban park along First Street NE, along with a series of smaller, neighborhood scaled parks for playgrounds, dog runs, etc. on side streets on both sides of the tracks.

However, it's not true that the developers received some sort of free pass for the added FAR in this area. Instead, the landowners helped pay for the New York Avenue Metro station which has enabled much of this growth, and they continue to pay added fees through the BID tax, which helps pay for landscaping, cleanup crews, special events, and other neighborhood enhancements.

by Tony G on Nov 29, 2010 2:06 pm • linkreport

Asking for a "free market" sort of begs the question, doesn't it?

Providing for a public park is inherently "statist," no?

If so, there are two ways to get it: the government buys it (through eminent domain or through a private negotiation), or else receives it in exchange for some density incentive.

If the land is condemned or bought through negotiation, does it get bought at the price of land before the upzoning? In practice, that would be hard, as it would require grabbing the land before any rumblings of an upzoning take place.

If the government were instead to set in place a straightforward exaction schedule, e.g., "8.0 FAR by-right" with additional FAR available for each of the following: 0.1 FAR extra for every $100k toward a park fund (up to 1.0 FAR), 1.0 FAR for the inclusion of 0.5 FAR residential, that would set up an understandable "market".

In real life, the "market" only exists within some set of rules that have been set, even in regions with the least regulation (property tax rates, height restrictions, etc.)

The key, though, is for the rules to be schedulized as much as possible (rather than at the discretion of government staff/pols), so that developers can know what they're getting into when they invest in property.

In Virginia, such schedules are generally illegal, and so gaining density is always a game, unique to each parcel and the whims of the local government. But DC can pretty much do whatever it wants.

by Joey on Nov 29, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport


I would not be in favor of that suggestion for 1st St NE. The grid connectivity in NoMA is already a little marginal due to the train tracks, 2nd St NE being missing from the grid, and the unit blocks being double wide blocks. To eliminate 3 blocks of 1st Street would hinder circulation greatly.

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport

@BeyondDC: The air rights over the tracks at Union Station are also slated for development.

@Andrew: The 300 block of M is owned by Wilkes Corporation - they just lease a portion to a couple DC agencies. It's also planned for a large, mixed-use development.

Also, while a land swap would be ideal for obtaining a large site (such as at the SE corner of First and M NE), this money could help pay for obtaining smaller sites as well for playgrounds, etc. The construction of the park itself would also take millions of dollars. So a land swap alone couldn't get this done.

by Tony G on Nov 29, 2010 2:11 pm • linkreport

People still believe in the "free market"?

by Karl on Nov 29, 2010 2:11 pm • linkreport

I am all for decking over the train tracks. It could definitely help that area heal from the giant scar that is the train tracks. It would also make Douglas Willinger very happy that the Grand Arc would be built.

Though how could that work with the re-development of the Uline, wouldn't the height of the decking essentially bury it (or create a urban canyon between the park and the building).

by anon on Nov 29, 2010 2:18 pm • linkreport

@anon: The air rights lots over the tracks extend from Union Station north to K Street. The areas North of there are still owned by the railroads, and are unlikely to be built upon because they are far narrower and don't have the same easy access from the H Street overpass. So the Uline is safe!

by Tony G on Nov 29, 2010 2:23 pm • linkreport

Beyond DC-


I say add tear dropped glass canolpy over the railtracks immediately behind Union Station (scrap the existing so-called Burham plan- its UGLY AS SIN), and then just north, the park built between the extended service roads widening the right of way- called Grand Arc.

They do have to stop building do damn close to the RR- that idiotic Securties and Exchanges Commission building demands a partial demolition.

I agree wit hyou about adding parks in citys. yet you stated just the opposite on your blog.

by Douglas A. Willinger on Nov 29, 2010 2:44 pm • linkreport

And here are two of the Grand Arc 'headpiece'

The second includes a photo I took in 1998 or 1999, before that discraceful Securities and Exchanges Commission building was erected (USNCPC should hang their heads in shame for approving it- I quess yet another unaninmous without debate decision). (I say do a partial demolition, and if that agency were not abolished or moved, make the truncated building a museum for the Tucker Motor Car company, given that agencies criminal mercantilist action against Tucker to protect Detriot luddism).

Anon- look at the service roads that flank Union Station, there would be a wall on the western side while on the eastern side it would blend into the hill. The service roads would be extended, with the right of way primarily widened to the east into the hill allowing added RR capacity for a new tunnel southwards.

by Douglas A. Willinger on Nov 29, 2010 3:05 pm • linkreport

Here's my photo of the eastern service roadways before the attrocity of that Securities and Exchanges Commission demolition special:

by Douglas A. Willinger on Nov 29, 2010 3:10 pm • linkreport

Letテや冱 not get confused: there exists a 'market,' but not a 'free market.' A 'free market' has no taxes. Some people trot out the concept of a 'free market' as a justification, as if it implies that the right answer is the one that would exist if a free market existed.

The blog is called テや廴arket Urbanismテや and not テや廡ree-market Urbanismテや because the author recognizes that the latter would be pure speculative fiction.

In a mixed economy (the reality we exist in), the state must come forward in the absence of a consortium of private benefactors.

by Dave M on Nov 29, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

Demolition Specials:


43 segment nearest to RR
29 ALL
18 at least the building closest to the RR
13 northwest tip

28 part
27 part
17 part
16 part
3 part

This list might not inlclude all- owing to the irresponsibility of official planning.

by Douglas A. Willinger on Nov 29, 2010 3:25 pm • linkreport

The "free market" for parks is the same as the market for land. Buyer and seller agree on a price, then the buyer can turn the land into a park. In this case the buyer is the District government. I don't know how folks got it into their heads that the only way to get a park is to force some developer to build it. The city's Office of Planning or Dept of Parks & Recreation needs a long-term plan assessing the long-term need for future parks. Then they draw up a budget. Then they present it to the DC Council. Then the Council determines if it's worth the money.

You can make a convincing argument that developers should pay for parks because they can then sell their properties for more. But you're more likely to end up with a token gesture or a space designed for a small group - maybe even a private park on a green roof (which would be awesome). But sometimes this deal-making can be annoying - the complexity can result in an unfair process, if not a waste of money.

So, yes, the city missed the boat, but only by not buying future park land when they knew the space would be developed. (Would having bought land before plans were announced be considered insider trading?)

Maybe there are more opportunities just outside the border shown on that map; that area is narrow enough that parks just outside the border would be helpful. South of Union Station there are acres of congressional parking lots, waiting to be turned into parkland. North Capitol street has an underpass section which could be decked with parkland too. There are existing parks which could be spruced up, like the small one south of Big Bear Cafe.

It takes visionary leadership to plan stunning public spaces. How many other cities have the Mall or Central Park? Here in DC, I think our park priorities should focus on the waterfront, and creating a new vision for Rock Creek.

by M.V. Jantzen on Nov 29, 2010 3:25 pm • linkreport

Is there a more free market way to handle this?

this seems to me to be a weird thing to say, in light of the fact that 'the free market way' (a lack of appropriate regulation) was what allowed developers to disregard 'the public interest' in the first place. If we don't protect the commons, they won't be protected -- simple.

in fairness to the author, saying "Is there a more free market way to handle this?" does not claim the existence or non-existence of 'a free market' or 'the free market' -- it's just a not great (imo) way of saying "Is there a way to handle this with (even) less regulation?"

it's like, "hey, we're in the middle of a severe recession, harming tens of millions of people, and it was caused by 'the free market way' -- aka a lack of appropriate regulation -- there an even more free market way to prevent this from happening again?

sounds suicidal to me.

there also seems to be some evidence here that upzoning, specifically raising building heights, causes a drastic/catastrophic rise in property values/prices/rents. so, if you want affordable housing, it's best to keep building heights low. myself and others have argued this in previous threads - that availability/density creates demand for more/taller/more expensive buildings, that 'induced demand' may apply to tall buildings, etc.

i'm not sure how awesome parks will be when they will often/always(?) be in the shade, especially in the winter, when the sun is most needed.

if you really care about density/intensification/livability/affordable housing/global warming/etc., then remove all the space for cars and car parking -- including the removal of on-street parking -- and insert parks. no underground parking. no overground parking taking up valuable space inside of buildings. done and done. we know that car parking can add up to $40,000 to the cost of single dwelling, and road and car parking can take up to 20% of the land of a city -- that's the low-hanging fruit -- address those first, before hacking away at the sun. and parks don't have to be huge, though, at least one decent-sized park in each neighborhood would be nice - ideally, a sunlit park.

p.s. it took me a while, but i finally found out what FAR is:

The Floor Area Ratio (FAR) or Floor Space Index (FSI) is the ratio of the total floor area of buildings on a certain location to the size of the land of that location, or the limit imposed on such a ratio.

As a formula: Floor Area Ratio = (Total covered area on all floors of all buildings on a certain plot)/(Area of the plot)

Thus, an FSI of 2.0 would indicate that the total floor area of a building is two times the gross area of the plot on which it is constructed, as would be found in a multiple-story building.

by Peter Smith on Nov 29, 2010 3:45 pm • linkreport

@Peter Smith:
my comment about free markets was aimed more at the owner of the Market Urbanism blog, in response to Joey (7th comment), and in agreement with Karl (10th comment), not specifically at David.

I edited my comment and made it much smaller than I had originally written, for brevity. The next section went like this:

In a mixed economy (the reality we exist in), the state must come forward in the absence of a consortium of private benefactors. This kind of activity on the part of the state has its good points and its bad points, the best example being Robert Moses.

Jane Jacobs, often positioned as the opposite of Moses, begrudgingly accepted government intervention in some cases. While she was not a fan of government, she was also not a fan of corporations. She never believed that the large billion-dollar projects we settle for today were the answer.

My solution (which I acknowledge will only seem viable to those who share my worldview) would be to get rid of the zoning entirely and in its place couple the provision of amenities with any redevelopment of any property. Meanwhile, limit the size of all developments and the proliferation of any single use within the district (like those pesky restaurants going above 25%).

By limiting the size of developments, therefore limiting the profit to be had, therefore limiting the windfall to current property owners, more investors (some without huge banks backing them) could enter this market and develop projects that are otherwise marginalized in the face of required interest on enormous loans. Hence a greater likelihood of providing coupled amenities like parks. - and I would hope it would slow gentrification.

I like to imagine that Jacobs would applaud this strategy, but maybe thatテや冱 just my ego talking.

by Dave M on Nov 29, 2010 3:57 pm • linkreport

I'm confused by Douglas Willinger's posts. I tried to read his blog but it seemed to ramble. His blog seems to be very commuter centric.

by JohnDC on Nov 29, 2010 4:21 pm • linkreport

My solution (which I acknowledge will only seem viable to those who share my worldview) would be to get rid of the zoning entirely and in its place couple the provision of amenities with any redevelopment of any property. Meanwhile, limit the size of all developments and the proliferation of any single use within the district (like those pesky restaurants going above 25%).


by andrew on Nov 29, 2010 4:23 pm • linkreport

The DC Housing Authority owns a building and massive parking lot in NoMA. We might save a lot of money converting the lot to a park. Some of the lost spaces, perhaps for fleet vehicles, can be housed in spaces leased from the new, nearby garages.

by Eric Fidler on Nov 29, 2010 4:28 pm • linkreport

Interesting math:

Step 1: Sell public land used as a gov't vehicle parking lot. Step 2: Rent private parking lot to store gov't vehicles.
Step 3: ????
Step 4: PROFIT!!!

by Fritz on Nov 29, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

@Dave M - your proposal seems like it would slow down development in general. Depending how small you plan to limit the size of developments to be - that could also be a big blow against underground parking. It's alot easier to put a parking garage under a 300 unit building than it is to put 15 parking garages under 15 different buildings. Underground parking has helped enable downtown housing able to attract residents from around the region without the need for surface lots that leave gaps in the urban fabric.

Your plan sounds like it would yield amenities and would slow down gentrification. Should a city with a limited tax base and high levels of poverty be implementing policies to discourage development? Are poor people and vacant storefronts some sort of precious commodities worth holding onto?

by Jason on Nov 29, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

Fritz, I never said it would make a profit, but it will probably drive down costs far below the $51 million price tag. Converting an asphalt lot of that size into a park might cost $4 - $5 million. Since DC already owns the land, there's no need for an expensive land purchase.

The costs savings from not having to purchase 10-FAR land is enormous.

by Eric Fidler on Nov 29, 2010 5:04 pm • linkreport

The DC Housing Authority owns a building and massive parking lot in NoMA. We might save a lot of money converting the lot to a park. Some of the lost spaces, perhaps for fleet vehicles, can be housed in spaces leased from the new, nearby garages.

boom - good work. let's get a couple of bike sharing stations over there with a few zipcars, replacing that standing army/fleet of city vehicles with a few car shares, and depave the parking lot. everybody wins. sweet!

that said, i'm not sure i'd classify that particular lot as 'massive' - maybe that will be considered 'massive' in our future cities?

here's the google maps satellite overview shot of that parking lot (you can see the overabundance of parking all around the area -- or, it used to be an overabundance, at least).

i tried mapping all the parking lots in blue, but i stopped after a few minutes -- it seems an almost impossible task as the google maps and microsoft satellite images are old, so i have no idea what is actually still there. i need the Pentagon's images.

notice the one lot in the upper left at N and North Capitol that at one point was/is either a parking lot or grass/trees. and there's that other grass strip (?) on North Capitol between M and Pierce. is that suitable for a park? after reading Jane Jacobs i started thinking, 'Wow - designing a successful park requires actual work.'

View Too Much Car Parking in NoMA in a larger map

by Peter Smith on Nov 29, 2010 5:24 pm • linkreport

I work in the area unfortunately known as NoMa, and used to live just outside its borders. It's misleading to say that it has no parks. Within just a couple blocks of the NoMa BID borders are the New York Ave Playground, the Mass/NJ and Mass/395 pocket parks, Columbus Circle, Senate Park, JO Wilson Recreation Center, and Brentwood Park. Plus, many of the already-built developments have privately owned parks that are open to the public.

Likewise, if you want more park space, I think the solution is encouraging more small, privately owned parks within NoMa and building bigger parks outside NoMa. Just off the top of my head, I'd say that some better options for parks would be, first, converting the surface parking lots near Judiciary Square & Union Station, and second, building a park on the portions of the air rights above I-395 and the Union Station rail yards that have not yet been alloted to developers (namely, the portions north of K St).

by tom veil on Nov 29, 2010 5:29 pm • linkreport


I like the idea of the District working with the local developers to figure out a way to get a park (or parks) in there. And like you say, it would have made more sense if they'd just thought of a way of doing this back before they changed the zoning to make the property more expensive ....

But I can't help but wonder about the double standard I'm witnessing here with regards to your views in regards to parks vs ... parking garages.

You say:

Basically, before the rezoning, a number of different property owners had some land that was fairly valuable. After the rezoning, they all had land that was extremely valuable. Then, many of them sold the land to developers. The developers paid a high price, knowing that they were entitled to build 10 FAR on their sites. But that also meant the developers now have to build 10 FAR to cover their investment.

and you also state how having a park in there will make the individual properties more valuable because of this public good:

The NoMA BID and local developers support the plan, but perhaps they should also support increasing their tax rates a bit, at least in the future for a number of years, since they will benefit from the park and can sell units for more money (which will also generate more property tax).

Now substitute 'parking garage' for 'park' in what you've written above, and you've essentially just made the case for why if the Office of Planning is successful in 'upzoning' property throughout the city by reducing or removing parking minimums, we'll later be looking for ways for the taxpayer to finance sufficent parking for neighborhoods ... And you've also made the case that while each property owner has more valuable property if they have adequate parking available, no individual property owner has enough incentive to be the one providing parking on their own ... After all, like your developers in NoMa, these developers will also have purchased their land based on the assumption of building their units without the extra costs involved in putting in garages ... and will just let the District worry about what not adding parking to the pool of available parking in a neighborhood means to that neighborhood and its livablity by all age groups and all socio-economic groups.

Care to comment on the double standard?

by Lance on Nov 29, 2010 6:11 pm • linkreport

MVJ (Would having bought land before plans were announced be considered insider trading?)

They could have followed the George Washington method ... 'Give me half your land, and room for roads, and I'll make my half of the land so valuable that everyone will want to pay you a lot for your remaining half of your land.' (that's how the District of Columbia got put together ... and why so much of it is still owned outright by the feds ... including our streets.)

by Lance on Nov 29, 2010 6:27 pm • linkreport


slow down development テや sure, why not? (beyond the obvious oh-my-God-we-always-need-growth-to-upgrade-everything-always response?)

underground parking テや could be one of those necessary government interventions, or a coupled amenity, or maybe parking just isnテや冲 worth the price, so no parking

implementing policies to discourage development テや maybe

poor people and vacant storefronts as precious commodities worth holding onto テや yes, the poor people are people and create economies themselves if not prohibited (Dharavi) and vacant storefronts provide cheap places to start small businesses

by Dave M on Nov 29, 2010 6:33 pm • linkreport

@ Eric Fidler

Why would someone sell land that they own then turn around and become a renter of land/space from someone else ?

That makes no damn sense at all. If you own something you dont give it up to become a renter.

What about a park on top/ground level and garage under about 3 stories below ground level its and win win just dont put no heavy trees or playground equipment on top.

by kk on Nov 29, 2010 7:48 pm • linkreport

One idea that's unfortunately a complete non-starter - open up the ATF courtyard to the public.

I don't think decking over the rail tracks is realistic. It's one thing to deck over a sunken freeway (as the I-66 deck is in Arlington), but this is a rail line that's already elevated. Elevating open space above that would be difficult to access and probably not all that effective.

One thing in NoMA's favor is that First St NE has a very wide right of way. Leaving the roadway in the same configuration as it is now means you have substantial sidewalk space to play with. No, it's not a park in the traditional sense, but it can be a substantial part of the public realm.

by Alex B. on Nov 29, 2010 8:33 pm • linkreport

Maybe it's because parks and parking garages aren't the same thing despite their similar names?

by Canaan on Nov 29, 2010 9:05 pm • linkreport

What's 10 FAR?

by Area Man on Nov 29, 2010 9:06 pm • linkreport

"I don't think decking over the rail tracks is realistic. It's one thing to deck over a sunken freeway (as the I-66 deck is in Arlington), but this is a rail line that's already elevated. Elevating open space above that would be difficult to access and probably not all that effective"

Not neccessarily, because the right of way via the Grand Arc concept widens the right of way primarily to the east where the topography rises allowing a flush meeting.

As for the west side, yes, it would be a wall, akin to that on the north side of the Capitol - I need to post those photos -- and style somewhat as seen alongside NCY's 9A south of the GW Bridge, with mixed uses incoporated into the arches.

by Douglas A. Willinger on Nov 29, 2010 9:16 pm • linkreport

10 FAR- no conflict with the Grand Arc

by Douglas A. Willinger on Nov 29, 2010 9:25 pm • linkreport

@Area Man: see Peter Smith's comment at mid-page for a description of Floor Area Ratio (FAR).

10 FAR would mean a quarter-acre lot would be allowed up to 108,900 square feet of floor space (10,890 square feet of lot area * 10). This might play out as a 10-story building filling the lot up to all lot lines, or a 20-story building covering only half the lot. In this example the height restrictions therefore push buildings out the their lot lines, leaving no unbuilt land on private lots.

The area counted as floor often includes mezzanines and basements and attics but not always all stairwells, elevator shafts, and balconies.

by Dave M on Nov 29, 2010 9:25 pm • linkreport

What does 10 FAR mean?

by Steve on Nov 30, 2010 6:48 am • linkreport

@Steve: see comment above yours.

by Dave M on Nov 30, 2010 8:08 am • linkreport


And what happens to those of us who happen to live to the east of the tracks?

Although I'd love for the RR to be lowered and eventually decked-over, the odds of that happening are slim to none. "Raising" all of the land around it doesn't sound any more realistic.

by andrew on Nov 30, 2010 10:09 am • linkreport

Yes, NOMA has no parks because the City it did not want to consider purchasing more ROW for the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which could be a linear park from Franklin Street to the Capital Commerce Center. DC DOT was negotiating the deal and FHWA was funding it, and neither of these entities are responsible for creating parks.

The property was pricey, and there was no vision coming from the Mayor Williams Office of Planning, or the Mayor. The City Parks Dept. was in complete disarray.

I was a contract employee at OP at the time, and have been a long time advocate of creating the MBT as a linear park. Citizen vision in this regard is drawn on the cover of the Concept Plan for the MBT published by WABA many years ago.

I am glad someone else finally realized that the area is sans parks.

Bob Patten

by Robert Patten on Nov 30, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

Neighbors use the fenced-in vacant lot at 300 L St NE as a dog park. Doesn't look pretty, but serves the public good.

by 6 months till Dewey on Nov 30, 2010 10:16 am • linkreport

@ 6 months til Dewey

What good does people using a vacant lot have? They are not the owners nor is having a dog park a public good a public good would be a human park or a park for every being.

by kk on Nov 30, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

Frankly, I think it's a good thing that NoMa is being developed without any parks. The area is just north of the Capitol which has lots of public space surrounding it. At the southernmost part of the neighborhood is Union Station--a vast, indoors public space with beautiful architecture. To the southeast is Stanton Park--again, greenery. NoMa was a pretty nasty area up until this decade, and even with the explosion of development, it's still sketchy with beggars, homeless people who do nothing day after day but loaf around in front of the Postal Museum, and the occasional gunshot/violent altercation. Considering that Farragut Square, Franklin Square, McPherson Square, Rawlins Park, and most of the rest of the green spaces on the other side of town are pee and sleep stops for bums, NoMa can afford to go without a park to get that area cleaned up and developed as rapidly as possible.

by L-K on Dec 1, 2010 7:42 am • linkreport


Having parks near a neighborhood perimeter is not the same as parks within. There are going to be thousands of residents centered around the Metro stations and along First Street NE. It doesn't make any sense for kids to have to go 10 blocks to get to a swing set, or for office workers to walk to the Capitol Grounds to have a nice place to sit for lunch or listen to a lunchtime concert.

As of now, NoMA makes do without dedicated public parks because they have been able to use pending development sites for showing movies and having other events. It's essential to have a central area permanently set aside as a park, and this is precisely what tax revenue is designed to do - provide needed services.

Any argument that any new neighborhood would be better off without a park because NPS has a mixed record of maintaining and programming their spaces is a completely invalid argument, and following it up with comments about gunshots and violence are not only irrelevant, but also completely ignorant of the current status, and future growth plans of the neighborhood.

by Tony G on Dec 1, 2010 11:38 am • linkreport

@ Tony G

In a safe city, there's nothing wrong with traveling to enjoy a public place. Until a month ago, I lived a mile from Dupont Circle and would walk that mile if I wanted to go there. I was about half a mile from Lafayette Square, and if I wanted to enjoy that public space, I would walk there too. Rock Creek Park, the Mall, and any other to where I wanted to go were the same. Crystal City shows movies in its public spaces, and it's less than half an hour by Metro from NoMa. Silver Spring is the exact same albeit in the opposite direction. The potential destinations for entertainment are already limitless. A city is theoretically a diverse collection of neighborhoods, and there is no basis as to why every single one arbitrarily needs a park.

In addition, I must disagree with the idea that a park is a "needed service." Clean water that is safe to consume is a needed service. Safety on the streets is a needed service. Access to food and transportation systems--ample Metro/Metrobus services and/or parking-- based on the developmental style of an area are reasonable concerns. A park for the sake of a neighborhood having a park is extremely frivolous where there are a glut of permanent public spaces in the vicinity.

If I had the money, I would be interested in living in NoMa. I like the neighborhood with its potential. I worked in NoMa on two separate occasions: in summer of 2007 and for a year up until this September. During that time and in between, I would head to Union Station to entertain myself or catch a train. However, through the last five and a half years that I lived in the city, I saw firsthand the problems that blight the streets of that area. I have on multiple occasions been followed and approached for money. I have been harassed both in Union Station and outside the Postal Museum. In 2007, my job was in a restaurant in the area, and I regularly had to turn away bums who tried to enter my workplace to use the bathroom as they would come in occupy it for a long time, and leave it a total mess, leaving B.O., urine, feces, and in one case blood splatters behind. This would oftentimes then be my responsibility to clean up. There were a few who also attempted to dine and dash which, of course, is not kosher. In short, NoMa still has a problem with bums. If parks in well-developed neighborhoods are hobo pee and sleep points--by which I mean virtually every green space I have passed between 13th Street NW and the Kennedy Center--then it is almost certain that NoMa's would be abused because it is an area still blighted by bums and crime. The goal of changing an area like NoMa should be development. With the glut of parks both throughout the vicinity as well as the rest of the city and a mentality that D.C.--if not the whole Metro area--should be a pleasant environment for the public to enjoy, one neighborhood can exist without a park for the sake of having a public park.

Hell, if access to a park is THAT important, install another CaBi station in the neighborhood. That way, people will have an easier way to get to a park, and such would increase bike access in the area--a point regarding which most on this blog would probably go gaga for.

by L-K on Dec 1, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

A couple points should be made:
1. The Office of Planning/Zoning Commission rezoned NoMA decades ago, when it was largely vacant land and before there was even a glimmer of a New York Ave. Metro station. It wasn't clear what kind of market there was for development there. Still, the ZC should have required mixed-use development; it was a substantial upzoning, to a zoning category that doesn't even require ground floor retail, let alone some mix of residential.
2. When OP in the Williams administration did a plan for NoMA, it tried to get agreement among the property owners to set aside land for a park, but, as indicated, the increased value had already been created, no one was interested in donating land, and the city was unable to buy land for a park. However, the right of way along K Street is extremely wide, and the NoMA plan does call for a green spine there, and, as pointed out, various individual buildings do have small green spaces that are not walled off.
3. Where the Housing Authority is located is slated to be part of the New Communities redevelopment of Northwest One, which will transform approximately 500 units of exclusively low-income units into a mixed-income community- that preserves the same number of low-income units, but adds workforce housing and market rate units as well, with a new recreation center and elementary school (already completed just west of North Capitol). The plan for the new housing on the Housing Authority site and the other projects include at least some open space as well.
4. The discussion thread about keeping zoning low and then permitting higher density in exchange for public benefits such as parks and more affordable housing is interesting. That is essentially what is involved in the Planned Unit Development process, but each time OP has asked communities to identify what they would want to see as public benefits in future PUDs, there has been a negative reaction suggesting that permitting increased density in exchange for benefits is somehow "wrong".
5. Many contributors to GGW have urged upzoning the areas around Metro stations now, to encourage smart growth. But this discussion thread shows the downside of that --- if land is upzoned, it represents a windfall for the property owner at the time, but provides no mechanism to achieve open spaces, setbacks or stepdowns in design, ground floor retail, etc. Montgomery County does a sector plan, identifies desired amenities but keeps existing zoning low. If a developer wishes to achieve higher density, it is already specified what amenities will need to be provided in return for that increased density.

by Ellen on Dec 3, 2010 4:00 pm • linkreport

Every neighborhood needs a handful of small parks. They are used for walking your dog, taking the kids to play, strolling with your SO, reading a book on a nice day, etc. This is in addition to large parks, which can be located in a different part of the city. If NoMA has room for no small parks whatsoever, that's a problem.

by Eric on May 23, 2013 7:09 am • linkreport

Hi David,

Thanks for the post, it explained a lot of details on the NoMa bid. I am an urbanist from Brazil and I am interested in the NoMa bid as we have many old industrial areas that could benefit from similar initiatives. I am currently working with city and community representatives to drive that kind of development over here.

That said, do you know where I can find info on present and past FARs for NoMa, and/or what kind of benefits developers and landowners got to redevelop the neighbourhood? We want to suggest a prototype regulation for these neighbourhoods, and FARs are definitely an important issue.

by Anthony on Jun 15, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

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