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Another donut with too much parking at Eastern Market?

Reader D. attended a community meeting in late April about redeveloping the site of Hine Junior High at 8th and C Southeast, one of the school buildings slated to be closed. Barracks Row Main Street and Capitol Hill Restoration Society both passed identical resolutions calling for smart growth, mixed use facing Pennsylvania Avenue, green space, live-work studios, reconnecting the street grid by restoring C Street, small-scale development, and lots and lots of parking.

Drawing of sample development on the
Hines Jr. High site at 8th and C SE.

Almost all of these goals are quite laudable. Mixed-use development in just what we need on this site. But as D. tried to point out in the meeting, the idea of smart growth conflicts with the desire for limitless free or cheap parking. D. isn't sure about restoring C Street to allow traffic, but it's good urbanism to maintain a connected street grid with lots of street frontage and it's okay to let cars share the road. I also hope we can get something a little less bland and monolithic than the classic donut-shaped block developers churn out (and we can see here).

D.'s complete summary of the meeting:

Tommy Wells hosted the meeting. A brief presentation was handed out, which included a pro-bono rendering based on the resolution passed by both the Barracks Row Main Street and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. They stated the goals that the new building should:
  1. Comply with the recently enacted comprehensive plan
  2. Be the best example of smart growth and sustainable development
  3. Reflect the importance of the location
  4. Be compatible with the surrounding zoning and existing building scale
  5. Restore the original L'Enfant Plan by reopening C Street between 7th and 8th
  6. Provide for commercial uses on 7th street compatible with the existing commercial uses
  7. Set aside Pennsylvania Avenue for mixed use with retail on the first floor and office above
  8. Design the 8th Street frontage as residential and include a substantial percentage of workforce housing
  9. Consider live/work studios on C Street
  10. Accommodate one to two underground levels of parking over 100% of the site, so there is parking for the residential, commercial, and weekend parking for the Eastern Market
  11. Provide for green space as well as an outdoors areas for craft vendors, food vendors and the flea market
We broke into groups and I tried to discuss how some of these principles were incongruent. Namely I found that 2 levels of parking over 100% of the site immediately across the street from a metro station could not be a "best example of smart growth" or "be compatible with the surrounding zoning" as there is little underground parking in the area. Additionally, if underground space were to be provided, it would be best used providing English basement living and below ground stores and venues and thus best provide for commercial uses and provide workforce housing.

Obviously I was opposed to building parking on that site. With a metro station serving two lines, the busiest bus line in the city (the 30s) as well as the 90's and the N22, and in the most walkable and bikeable neighborhoods in town, it seems ridiculous to build much (if any) parking.

I was also opposed to reopening C Street to car traffic. Holding up the L'Enfant plan like it was some holy text is a trick. There will be limited public space, is a road really how we want to use it? Next to the Market, we'd be better served with a public walk, allowing for bike/ped traffic, sidewalk vendors, a small sidewalk performance space, open air cafes etc...

When groups presented their conclusions, most wanted parking. Most wanted to tear down the building already there (which I was fine with), though some wanted to keep the school. Some actually opposed green space arguing that no one used the green space at the metro plaza that already existed. Many agreed that a second metro entrance on the south side of Penn should be built.

So, some good, some bad. Hopefully the parking and C Street connection can be removed and green space retained.

D. is absolutely right about parking. While it's true that many people do drive to Eastern Market, many don't, and this is absolutely an area whose future development should center around non-auto uses. If we need some more parking, we should minimize the amount (two whole levels is gross overkill) and charge a market rate for it so we aren't subsidizing driving over other ways of reaching the area.

I'm not as opposed to reopening C Street. A narrow street with ample room for pedestrians and bikes but also some room for cars isn't necessarily a pro-car measure. Reconnecting the street grid improves "eyes on the street" and a neighborhood feel of an area as well as cutting congestion at major bottlenecks. Slow traffic driving by brings customers to stores. Cars can be part of a vibrant streetscape as long as they aren't given priority and the street is built to a human scale. And smaller blocks create more individual buildings, more sidewalks, more opportunities for interaction between pedestrians and the built environment.

Finally, the just-for-discussion architectural rendering has too few buildings. Look at the diversity of buildings in the surrounding blocks compared to the nearly block-long monoliths in this drawing. So common from modern developers, single huge buildings engage the street at fewer points and provide less visual texture than building more individual structures on smaller lots. But it's cheaper, so we get one boring donut after another.

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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Why do we have to settle for the same flat roof treatment for all new buildings? Why can't the designers try to echo the beauty of the old Wallach School that was stupidly demolished in 1950- a masterpiece of 19th century architecture? Why is parking so damn critical when we have one of the country's best mass transit systems right adjacent to the site? Why not create a town square where the playground is located ? The "green space" at the Metro plaza is already adequate and we need more residential taxpayers in DC - so priority should be given to building new for new people and for commercial spaces that give us more options to shop w/o going to Northern Virgina.By all means restore C street but make it a pedestrian zone. Consider expanding the Eastern Market by making a permenant building where the temporary structure now sits. Strive for harmony and density- not for just another flat roofed box that will age badly.

by will fleishell on May 27, 2008 12:33 pm • linkreport

Interesting set of issues here.

I absolutely agree that the parking proposed would be excessive. I think the parking ought to be underground, and that which does exist should be charged for - and any pricing needs to be set in conjunction with pricing of metered on-street spaces.

I can't see the justification for a 2nd Metro entrance. doing so would be incredibly expensive, and would probably require a massive re-working of the entire mezzanine. I don't think the Eastern Market escalators are at capacity yet - what they need is another escalator from the platform to the mezzanine on the opposite end of the existing mezzanine - I don't know why they don't have one, as the current escalators drop you on the short end of the platform. Furthermore, if WMATA was going to add another entrance to this station (again, I highly doubt they need to or that it would be worth it), they should do so by adding an entirely new mezzanine on the eastern portion of the platform with surface access to the other side of the square, where Penn, 9th, and D streets converge.

As far as C street goes, I think it absolutely needs to be restored as a right of way, but perhaps not opened to auto traffic (though I don't think opening it to cars would be all that detrimental, really - especially if they want to keep 7th closed on market days). Restoring that ROW is important, not due to preserving the L'Enfant plan, but because otherwise that long stretch of 7th and 8th is awfully long without a chance for pedestrians to cross through - not something Jane Jacobs would advocate for.

I'd also agree that more green space isn't needed - the existing square is spacious and underutilized, I think there ought to be a focus on better use of that space.

I can go along with the calls for respecting the scale of the neighborhood, but I would like to see a proposed massing that takes advantage of this relatively large site. Specifically, I'd love to see a proposal that adds density while still preserving the 4-5 story cornice height along Penn Ave. I'm thinking of a structure on the southern portion of the site with a 4-5 story facade right up on the street, and then a substantial setback with 2 more stories above. This could maintain the visual character from the street while adding density at a key location within the city. The northern portion of the site would scale down to the existing heights.

I can't say the flat roofs really bother me, nor does the 'donut' configuration.

by Alex B. on May 27, 2008 1:03 pm • linkreport

Let's also add an entrance to the metro under this new building. It would make it much more convenient for those living on that side and it would be safer. Also maybe folks won't trapse across the median on Pennsylvania Avenue and the grass would grow back!

by J. Sacco on May 27, 2008 1:08 pm • linkreport

While it seems counter-intuitive, it is worth supporting parking at that location, especially as it will support those of us who fight the Eastern Market merchants every month over the closing of 7th St. between C St. and North Carolina on the weekends. We want the street closed. They complain about the loss of parking. It's a massive, ongoing "difference of opinion" that is very tiresome. (I am on the board of Eastern Market.)

E.g., I keep making the point about the provision of shared delivery services--wouldn't you want one delivery truck making 8-10 stops, rather than 8-10 people driving to the market? And that falls completely and totally on deaf ears.

And while I am against providing parking generally, it makes sense to consider providing parking there, not just to serve Eastern Market, but also Barracks Row and Pennsylvania Ave. I would rather than EM because the parking lot operator, as it needs additional revenue streams, and the Lexington Market in Baltimore makes tons of money from charging for parking (although it is in a particularly good location for this, which Eastern Market is not). But yeah, it sucks to support creating parking at Metro Stations. But when the City government "privileges" other business competitors with this, such as Harris Teeter at NY Avenue Metro, Giant in Tivoli Square, and the DC USA site immediate abutting Columbia Heights Metro, it is not fair to disempower the Capitol Hill commercial district by not considering the creation of a level playing field.

But it should come only with the creation of a transportation management district (not a parking district), and it should address all transportation issues.

And D. really blew it, not understanding the necessity of restoring the street grid by restoring C Street between 7th and 8th Streets SE.

Jessica's point about a north side entrance is very good, although it would cost a pretty penny, I am guessing many millions, but it's worth getting a cost estimate.

by Richard Layman on May 27, 2008 9:22 pm • linkreport

Richard: I'd be afraid if we built a lot of cheap parking, then merchants would still scream about closing 7th St because their expectations about parking would just go up.

If we have to have parking, we need to do what Donald Shoup recommends and make sure that 1) the parking is market rate and 2) revenue goes to something that helps the merchants (like improving the streetscape). That way they will see the non-free parking as a benefit not a burden, and there will be enough parking so that people won't need to keep pushing for more.

Alex B: Good suggestion about having some more height but inside the block where it would be less visible.

by David Alpert on May 28, 2008 8:32 am • linkreport

If more parking is added the problem will arise with people driving to the parking lot to park close to Metro. Having parking will encourgae people to drive to the eastern Market station and not walk or cycle.Jessicas idea of another entrance is excellent and is both pedestrian friendly and has safety in mind. We lost a neighbor only last year to an SUV when he tried to walk across Penn Avenue.If a ton of money is available for parking, why cannot that money be used for PEDESTRIANS INSTEAD OF CARS ?We really do need a new entrance and all of the Metro stations suffer from this bad planning on the part of the designers of the system[ they also did not put in redundancy - no extra express train tracks] .

As for flat roof tops- I suppose that to some people aesthetics are not important. Did you ever consider that lack of aesthetics was what got us into trouble when Wallach School was wasted and Horrible Hines was put up?Rooftops in the USA are the JUNKYARD for architects and in other countries- even those less wealthy than ours- making beautiful rooftops is an art form. People used to say nice brick facades were un necessary and too expensive back in the 60's & 70's.Why do we have to settle for less?

I do agree that a setback with higher floors is a great idea. Nice corner towers, domes, spires,turrets, instead of plain Jane facades would brighten up the whole square. And for cripes sake- why not a residential alley inside the block and spaces between the different buildings? And why not one or two vacant lots for future construction? Why do they always try to make it look as if it were built during differnt times when they could add real authenticity and real variety?Monolithic thinking has to be put aside.

by will on May 28, 2008 11:02 am • linkreport

Again, the Additional metro entrance is a nice idea, but a complete non-starter in my opinion. It would cost a lot (several million) and adds very little benefit as the current metro entrance is fine in terms of capacity. Spend a fraction of the money on improving the crosswalks at Penn and 7th - you'll get far more bang for your buck, including assisting people that need to cross the street that aren't coming from Metro.

by Alex B. on May 28, 2008 11:51 am • linkreport

We do not need to spend even more money on super expensive underground parking for people who cannot walk 3 blocks to EM. Im OK with giving some kind of priority street parking passes to merchants who sell at the market - but dont tell me that making a pedestrian access across Penn Avenue is going to be any more expensive than adding two massive levels of free parking for rich lazy people who will never take transit.PEDESTRIANS FIRST.

God bless you Todd- we're trying to fix things down here...

by will on May 28, 2008 11:59 am • linkreport

Uh, I guess I should have made it clear. NO FREE PARKING. It's not that I like the idea of providing parking, I don't, but in the current regime, it's necessary. But no way should it be free. And while it is counter-intuitive, short term parking should be semi-discouraged, because that could encourage driving when we want to discourage it. (Some places have free short-term parking such as for the first hour. This would be really really really bad here.)

And it p******** me off to no end that I can't get any traction on the shared delivery service idea. Well, tonight at the board meeting I will likely say the same kinds of things if they are relevant to the proceedings.

by Richard Layman on May 28, 2008 12:41 pm • linkreport

Having read everyone's comments I'll hit on four points.

1. Parking - I'm not as opposed to parking as I might have sounded. I just don't want it to be excessive or forced. I agree it should not be free.

2. I generally support restoring the street grid (such as at the Waterside mall site in SW) and do support continuing C Street but it should be as a pedestrian walk type area (think Charlottesville). I say that because the presence of EM and its location between two diagnol streets makes this area unique. I could be convinced that the road should only be closed to cars on weekends or opened as a Woonerf-type road, but I'm not there yet.

3. I doubt the 2nd Metro entrance would cost millions. That number was from a previous study of starting from where we are now. But a whole is already going to be dug. All you would need to do is punch a whole in the wall on the north side of the mezzanine and build a small tunnel and connect the mezzanine to it. The need is there as Penn is a tough street to cross and many do it illegally at mid block.

4. the green space at the Metro plaza isn't really green and is underutilized because it sucks and is next to a busy street. A small green space on the NE corner of C and 7th would allow for people watching, public space etc... away from the hum of cars on Penn. I'm talking about a pocket park not something enormous.

by D on Jun 4, 2008 10:47 am • linkreport

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