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Making upper Georgia Avenue a great street

The DC Council held a hearing this afternoon on the Upper Georgia Avenue Great Streets Plan. Georgia Avenue is a long, continuous commercial corridor with some successful shops, some vacant ones, and many in between.

Concept drawing of Gateway development near
the Maryland border. Via DC Office of Planning.

Kelly Shuy, proprietor of Ledo Pizza on Georgia Avenue and a resident of Shepherd Park, testified about the difficulty of maintaining a successful retail space in the corridor. The people and architecture in the neighborhood are wonderful, she said, but after eight years and much promise of revitalization Georgia Avenue "still serves as little more than a boundary line." The many empty storefronts make Georgia "uninviting for local residents and for entering the city from Maryland."

The streetscape itself is uninviting, with narrow sidewalks in many places and few pedestrian amenities. Shuy herself lives only two blocks from her pizzeria yet drives to and from work because "it's the prudent thing to do." She'd love to walk instead of drive, but the way Georgia is today, people don't feel safe walking up and down the avenue to eat.

To solve this problem, the plan focuses on key "nodes", including a "gateway" area near the Maryland border, at Piney Branch Road, and at Missouri Avenue. By filling in empty lots with street-facing retail and adding residential units above, the plan aims to create an inviting pedestrian experience with more local residents to support the businesses.

Needless to say, many residents spoke on both sides of this issue. One resident suggested the area instead emulate the Palisades (one of DC's lowest density neighborhoods). Another specifically spoke to keep her corner (Georgia and Geranium) development-free because there is enough activity that people can't always park directly in front of their houses. That didn't affect her, since she has a curb cut and driveway, but sometimes the driveway gets blocked.

Proposed development on the
eastern edge of Walter Reed. Via
DC Office of Planning.
The most controversial part of the plan revolves around Walter Reed, currently slated to close in a few years. The federal government currently plans to reuse the property for some undetermined need, but Bowser is pushing to the feds to let DC develop the edge facing Georgia Avenue. Federal policy for secure facilities is to maintain a security "stand-off area", but as the plan points out, "recent federal developments, such as the ATF Building on Florida and New York Avenues NW, have included ground floor retail in the stand-off area."

If it is possible to develop the edge, the plan recommends a neighborhood park, a municipal parking garage with ground-floor retail, a "civic building with adjacent open-air marketplace plaza", and finally moving fire engine company 22 to the southeast corner with a small retail building in front. The parking garage would provide more parking that could be shared between federal employees and neighborhood uses; the civic plaza would allow for farmers' markets and outdoor conerts, and the fire station would speed response times throughout the ward (the current station is much farther south).

I'm not going to criticize the parking, because the fact is that this area still has insufficient transit and the corridor is struggling. More and more parking is a terrible idea on top of Metro stations or in areas with robust retail patronage today; here, we need more of a balance. Shuy said she located the pizza shop on a lot with parking, and Councilmember Kwame Brown gave a long speech about how he's just not planning to take Metro from his home in Southeast up to Ledo Pizza.

The best solution is to build the proposed Georgia Avenue streetcar, making it much easier for Kwame Brown and other residents, commuters, and tourists to get to the Gateway area and the other "nodes". Meanwhile, a balance on parking makes sense, though one anti-Walter Reed resident may have had a point when he said a big municipal garage at Walter Reed, where there'll only be a small amount of retail unlike the Gateway Area, may be just the wrong place to put it.

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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The 7th Street-Georgia Avenue corridor virtually bisects the city and has been neglected for decades. There's absolutely no reason that it shouldn't be rivaling Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues, if not blowing them out of the water.

As for WRAMC, the sooner they tear down that cesspool of a hospital, the better off that corridor will be.

by David Murphy on Jun 10, 2008 6:06 pm • linkreport

Quick question:

I've seen some buildings in Rosslyn and Seattle have retail on the ground floor and the parking on the 2nd and 3rd floors before adding office or residential from the fourth up. I know for the DC central business district the land is so expensive and the max height so restrictive that it's better to build below ground parking than above. But would it make sense and be a little more cost effective elsewhere in the city?

I think the National Stadium parking garage should have atleast done this... Ridiculous that 1/2 the walk from the Metro to the ballpark is a dead block due to those garages.

by FourthandEye on Jun 10, 2008 8:46 pm • linkreport

Inadequate transit? What about the MetroExtra along Georgia between Silver Spring and Archives? It zips along the corridor and makes only 15 stops its entire length, arriving every 10 minutes. This March it became an all day weekday service. If streetcar is ever built, it is likely to mirror and replace the existing MetroExtra service.

by ColHts on Jun 11, 2008 6:21 pm • linkreport

Related to my other comment in this thread - seems Rosslyn's newest skyscraper plans to have two stories of above grade parking.

by FourthandEye on Jun 17, 2008 6:32 pm • linkreport

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