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Posts about Capitol HIll

Transit


We know where most of DC's population lives. Does Metro run through those places?

The maps below show where DC's most densely-populated pockets are, as well as where its Metro stops are. It turns out they aren't always the same places, or in other words, DC isn't building enough around transit.


Highest density census tracts comprising 50% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay. Map by John Ricco, overlay by Peter Dovak.

Back in July, John Ricco created a pair of maps showing that 50% of DC's residents live on 20% of the land, and a quarter of the population lives on just 7% of the land. Peter Dovak, another Greater Greater Washington contributor, did me the favor of overlaying John's maps onto the Metro system.

Looking at the map above, which shows where 50% of the population lives, there are some obvious areas of overlap between density and Metrorail access, including the Green/Yellow corridor through Shaw, Columbia Heights, and Petworth. The southern area of Capitol Hill also has multiple Metro stops and is relatively dense.

But what stands out are the dense places that aren't near Metro. The northern end of Capitol Hill, including the H Street corridor and Carver Langston, as well as the areas to the west around Glover Park, a few tracts to the north near Brightwood, and two larger areas east and west of the Green Line in Ward 8, near Congress Heights and Fort Stanton Park.

All of these places show that DC's growth isn't being concentrated around its transit (its transit isn't being extended to serve dense areas either, but that's harder to do).

Of course, Metro is far from the only way to get around. Residents of high density, Metro-inaccessible neighborhoods rely on buses and other modes to get where they need to go; specific to northern Capitol Hill, for example, there's also the DC Streetcar). Also, some areas next to Metro stops are low density due to zoning that restricts density or land nobody can build on, like federal land, rivers, and parks.

Still, it's useful to look at where DC's high-density neighborhoods and its high-density transit modes don't overlap, and to understand why.

25% of DC's population lives close to metro... mostly

Really, the S-shaped routing of the Green Line is the only part of Metro in DC that runs through a super dense area for multiple stops.

Looking at the map that shows 25% of the District's population, the Green/Yellow corridor helps make up the 7% of land where people live. But so does Glover Park, Carver Langston, and a tract in Anacostia Washington Highlands near the Maryland border—and these places are a long way from a Metro stop.


Highest density census tracts comprising 25% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay.

There are historical reasons for why things are this way

According to Zachary Schrag in The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, Metro wasn't meant to be an urban subway; it was always meant to be a regional rail system. It explicitly bypassed the relatively few people in DC's high-density areas, in favor of speeding up rides for the greater number of through-commuters. Apparently, DC had little say in that decision, which is evident in the map.

On the other hand, the citywide streetcar plan was meant to bring rail access to many more DC residents—partly because, well, it was to be built by DC's government, for DC's residents, which Metro was not.

The first version of this post said that a tract was in Anacostia, but it's actually in Washington Highlands.

Politics


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 6

There's a lot to Ward 6. On one end, you can be standing in Navy Yard, outside of Nationals Park, while on the other you're in Shaw. And as you travel between the two, you might pass the Supreme Court! Ward 6's neighborhoods have experienced a lot of change recently, and many of its Advisory Neighborhood Commission races are hotly contested. We looked through these races and found seven candidates to endorse.


Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.

 

What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 6, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.


Photo by Ryan Blanding on Flickr.

In ANC 6A we endorse Yair Inspektor and Stephanie Zimny

ANC 6A is the northeastern corner of Ward 6, including the neighborhoods east of 8th Street between East Capitol Street and Florida Avenue/Benning Road. Sections of the H Street Corridor and Lincoln Park are part of this commission. Maryland Avenue cuts diagonally across the ANC, meaning commissioners will have a chance to influence the outcomes of the ongoing Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project, a multi-year process by the District Department of Transportation to fix the corridor which has "a history of hazardous conditions for pedestrian travel."

For ANC 6A05, directly in the middle of this neighborhood, we endorse Yair Inspektor. Citing examples from many conversations with neighbors about the Maryland Avenue Project, Yair is cautiously "in support of the plan," though he does believe that"additional traffic mitigation and diversion strategies should be considered." He claims that as commissioner, his "aim is to build relationships with and between all of our neighbors, and to insure that Capitol Hill remains a home for people of various incomes and backgrounds."

Yair's opponent did not complete our survey despite multiple attempts to reach him, and our one complaint of Yair is that he seemed at times hesitant to take firm positions on an issue. Nonetheless, we are impressed by Yair's commitment to community and his willingness to learn and engage with neighborhood issues.

Just north is 6A06. Here, we support Stephanie Zimny. Stephanie is fully in support of the Maryland Avenue project, and has years of experience addressing development in the neighborhood, serving on the 6A Economic Development and Zoning Committee. She believes that "a good working relationship with all community members and business interests, as well as a knowledge of zoning rules and development insight can lead to smart development that benefits the whole community." We're with you there.

In general, all of Stephanie's answers revealed a reasonable, well-informed, and capable candidate. We did not received a response from either of Stephanie's two opponents, but our readers pointed out that one, Peter Grant, has "been leading the effort to halt the Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project," and in fact "[s]topping the project may be the reason why he is running." We see Stephanie as a solid choice in this race.


Union Station. Photo by www.GlynLowe.com on Flickr.

In ANC 6B we chose not to endorse, and in ANC 6C there are no competitive races

ANCs in Ward 6 are generally known for being positive, productive, and reasonable, as many have spent years deftly negotiating important developments across the ward. 6B in particular has proven home to strong neighborhood leaders over the years, moderating the debate about the redevelopment of the Hine school and incorporating smart opportunities for housing and transportation developments throughout the neighborhood.

There is only one contested race in 6B: K. Denise Krepp and Cam Norris are vying for the 6B10 seat, with Krepp being the incumbent. Both candidates' surveys had some good points and some vague sections, and we didn't feel that there was a clear choice. Please read their responses carefully and make your own decision here.

ANC 6C includes much the area surrounding Union Station and is also home to many talented commissioners. This election, all of these candidates are running unopposed, so we did not offer endorsements here as per our process outlined here.


Buzzard Point. Photo by Geoff Alexander on Flickr.

In ANC 6D, we endorse Gail Fast, Cara Lea Shockley, and Katelynd Mahoney.

If you live anywhere in the growing areas around the Navy Yard, Waterfront, and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stations, you probably live in 6D. These neighborhoods have experienced extraordinary amounts of growth and change in recent years, and commissioners there need to be sharp and active to keep pace and keep neighbors informed.

Two waterfront developments dominate conversation in these neighborhoods: the redevelopment of Buzzard Point around the new DC United Soccer Stadium, and the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park, an elevated park reminiscent of the High Line in New York City that will span the Anacostia River.

Four candidates are running for a seat in 6D01, the area in between 14th and 4th Street SW and from Independence Avenue to the Washington Channel. Out of the two who returned our questionnaire, we really liked Gail Fast.

Gail in unafraid of the many changes happening around the area, acknowledging that redevelopment in all of Southwest "is already in full swing, and done correctly should be a benefit to all the City, with increased tax revenue from new development, added housing, and better use of the waterfront for all of the community."

Gail is supportive of the plans for Buzzard Point but gives an entirely thorough explanation of why she believes "that there is a lack of monitoring and enforcement on the part of the city" and that "there could be (if there isn't one already) a public health threat" in the area, primarily from pollution.

Gail is also excited about the workforce development proposals incorporated into the 11th Street Bridge Park plan, seeing the project as a chance "new employment, for social integration, and for social equity." She vows to strongly advocate for more affordably housing among all the construction in the area, and has experience serving on many planning committees for the neighborhood.

Opponent Wes Ven Johnson also completed our questionnaire, but did not impress us as much as Gail. When asked about accommodating more housing in his district, Wes's primary concern was "that the new buildings blend in with current buildings and do not block out their views." He also was against the recent Bard development, which would have brought both cultural space and housing to the area. He says he advocated for the proposal that cut the buildings floors from nine to four or five. The other two candidates here did not respond to our survey.

The area generally surrounding South Capitol Street south of Independence Ave is 6D02, and there we endorse Cara Lea Shockley. Like Gail, Cara is most excited about the job opportunities present in the 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan, only she hopes these promises are made good this time around, as similar local hire proposals have not been upheld in the past. At Buzzard Point Cara was unique among candidates in sharing that she thinks "putting the soccer stadium there is a mistake," providing a dire analysis of the traffic impact she imagines it will bring.

Transportation is a key issue for Cara. She thinks "[b]ike lanes are extremely important," and wants "to see fewer cars" in the neighborhood, in part by advocating for adding more car sharing locations. On parking: "I've seen cities work which have little or no street parking, and I think it should be the direction we move in." We didn't get a response from Cara's opponent, and we like a lot of what we see in Cara's responses.


11th Street Bridge Park Proposal. Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan (click for link).

Finally, the southern tip of the ANC encompasses much of Buzzard Point and Fort McNair. Here there is another highly-contested race, with four candidates running for the seat of 6D05. Three of these responded to us, and while two seem strong, we decided ultimately to endorse Katelynd Mahoney.

It's not every day that you find a commissioner who describes the "influx of housing coming to all corners of the neighborhood" as "[a] major blessing." You had us at hello.

But seriously, Katelynd's detailed and researched answers were good on a lot of points. She has particular recommendations for bike infrastructure and sidewalk improvements, and even though she claims both bus transit and parking are "severely lacking in ANC6D," she is willing to prioritize the needs of the bus system over more parking. Last, while she has some specific reservations, Katelynd supports both the controversial homeless shelter planned for the area and the redevelopment of Buzzard Point.

At least one reader is also very excited about the prospect of Katelynd winning this election: "Katelynd is the perfect example of what an ANC commissioner should be." That's a very high bar to clear, Katelynd!

In this race, Dana Lutenegger also seems like a reasonable candidate, but again, we felt that Katelynd was the strongest in the end. Dana wants to strongly advocate for more affordable housing, and had great answers on how to address crime and add new bike lanes. She He did seem reticent to remove any parking even to improve bus service, and was unsupportive of the the Bard development, saying it's too tall.

The incumbent, Roger Moffat, also responded to our questionnaire, but he did not articulate clear stances on many issues. What is more, many readers wrote in that they were unimpressed with Moffat's tenure, saying he did not always attend ANC meetings, was not responsive, and was more focused on parking than any other transportation issue.

All in all, we strongly favor Katelynd for ANC 6D05.


Photo by beautifulcataya on Flickr.

In ANC6E, we endorse Alexander Padro and Lily Roberts

This northwestern arm of the ward stretches narrowly out into Mount Vernon Triangle and Shaw. A large portion of this area is called Northwest One, and it's the former site of a collection of troubled low-income housing developments that was demolished to make room for mixed-income housing. Today it's mostly parking lots, though one remaining cooperative, Sursum Corda, is progressing with plans for redevelopment.

In the far northwest of the ANC, 6E01 is the neighborhoods surrounding Rhode Island Avenue between 11th and 7th Street. Incumbent Alexander Padro earned our endorsement for this seat.

During his tenure, Alexander negotiated to ensure Sursum Corda residents have a right to return after the redevelopment of their cooperative and was able to secure over $500,000 in community benefits for the surrounding recreation centers and service facilities. He is very experienced and knowledgeable (eight terms as commissioner), and had solid answers about housing and transportation in the neighborhood, including clear support for the controversial bike lanes along 6th Street.

We empathize with Alexander's characterization of parking as "[t]he 'P' word" in neighborhood politics, and while we get it that "[o]pposition to removal of on street parking is almost universal among residents," we hope he endeavors to try and find ways to ensure bicycle and bus infrastructure get appropriate priority as well as automobile needs. Alexander's opponent did not respond to our survey.

Truxton Circle and the district north of New York Avenue near Dunbar High School comprise 6E04. This is another four-candidate race, and we think Lily Roberts is the best of them.

Lily strongly advocates for "[a]dding housing at multiple price points," and wants to see the large surface parking lots throughout the area removed in favor of diverse housing and development options. She is excited about the work being done at Sursum Corda, though she thinks there are "far too many parking spaces (about 4x the required number)" included in the plans "in one of the most walkable parts of the city." Lily is also adamant that the government move faster this time around compared to how it acted with places like neighboring Temple Courts.

Her answers on transportation showed an in-depth understanding of the issues and her neighborhood, and she self-reports that she is not afraid to get wonky on things like "data-driven parking regulations." Join the crowd, Lily.

As one reader put it, "Lily's understanding of planning issues is both granular and global, and as both a social worker and a policy analyst, she has the right combo of brains and heart to do the job right."

One other candidate, Phil Tsolakidis, also completed our questionnaire. Phil had good and thoughtful answers to many of our questions, but he was unwilling to consider removing any street parking to improve bus service. Overall, we believe Lily is the best candidate between the two.

Last but not least, ANC 6E05 is Mt. Vernon Triangle, formed by New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and 4th Street. Both candidates here responded to our questions, and we had a hard time choosing a clear winner for our endorsement.

Incumbent and chairperson Marge Maceda did not write much, but was generally supportive of bike lanes (including those proposed on 6th Street) and other transportation improvements. Challenger Alex Marriott clearly understands the benefits of, and favors, adding more housing. He also promises to increase communication between the ANC and residents. Both candidates were opposed to removing street parking under any circumstance.

We couldn't identify a clear choice here; both say some good things, and neither raised any red flags for us. We encourage readers to look carefully at their options and make what seems like the best choice to them.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 6 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 6. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

History


There are tunnels under Capitol Hill. Here's how they got there.

A sprawling pedestrian tunnel system under Capitol Hill allows staffers and members of congress to move underground between the office buildings, Library of Congress, and Capitol building. Today they are an integral part of security on the Hill, but when they were first built it was for a far less important reason.


Back when Studabaker cars ran through the Senate's tunnels. Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

Originally there were only two tunnels: 1909 passageways that connected the Dirkson and Cannon buildings with the Capitol's basement. They were built because of Washington's disgusting weather, not for any security reasons.

The Washington Post wrote in 1907 that "The tunnels have been planned with the idea of providing an easy access to the offices, particularly in bad weather. By using them it will not be necessary for the senators and representatives to go out into the open at all in order to reach offices from the Capitol, or vice versa."


The Cannon Tunnel today. Photo from the office of Gregorio Sablan.

The Senate, accustomed to greater luxury as the "upper house," explored several people-mover systems for their tunnel. The House of Representatives thought about it, but ultimately decided that their members could walk. The raised and partitioned walkway in the Cannon tunnel shows where pedestrian traffic would have been separated from the never-built House subway.

Superintendent of the Capitol Elliott Woods initially wanted to use a Tunis Monorail in the Senate tunnel. This ambitious proposal featured an enclosed car that had an aerodynamic shape similar to that of a ship. Passengers would have sat inside on swiveling wicker chairs.

The Senate ended up going with a much more modest solution, bringing in custom-built Studabaker electric cars to shuttle senators back and forth along the short tunnel. The cars are shown in the image at the top of the article.

Enthusiasm was high for the system when it was initially built. Contemporary newspapers were full of stories about senators, tourists, and even Vice President Charles Fairbanks enjoying joy rides on the early automobile.

The Washington Post amusingly wrote that "the question of a speed limit in the subways has not been raised, but there will be no chickens in the road, and as the walk for pedestrians is fenced off, there is thought to be no reason why the senators should not have a run for their money if they wish."

The cars become a monorail

By 1915 the Senate had tired of the cars and was in search of elegant means of transportation. The Columbia Construction Company built a unique monorail to pass through the tunnels, constructing it at the nearby at the Washington Navy Yard for $9,500.

Senators could summon the carts by ringing a bell three times. According to a Washington Post article from the time, the wicker benches could accommodate "12 senators" or, rather absurdly, "36 pages."


The Senate monorail, with the front seat reserved for senators. Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

Another new tunnel

In 1958 when the east front of the Capitol was being expanded, they built an entirely new tunnel with a station under the Senate steps. The new tunnel had a modernized subway system, and the old car was moved to the Russell basement rotunda, where you can visit it today.


Here, the old tunnel is marked in yellow. Image from the Library of Congress.

The old tunnel was repurposed for the Senate recording studio, various mechanical shops, and a fallout shelter.

Crossposted from ArchitectoftheCapitol.org.

History


Part of the US Capitol building is in Rock Creek Park

There are heaps of sandstone in the heart of Rock Creek Park that used to be a part of the Capitol Building. They were taken down in 1958 when part of the iconic building was expanded and rebuilt in marble. Now, they've kind of been forgotten.


Photo by the author.

J. George Stewart, the architect of the Capitol, wanted to see the eastern front rebuilt in marble. The old facade was cracking, it didn't line up with the Senate and House extensions that went onto the building in the 1850s, and he thought marble was just nicer.

Steward, a former one term congressman from Delaware, had never actually received any architectural training, and he faced a huge uphill challenge convincing people this was a good idea. A bitter war played out in Washington's editorial pages over the following months between the sandstone purists and the marble backers.

Powerful Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn liked the idea. But the American Institute of Architects blasted the proposal, calling it a "desecration" and labeling Rayburn as a "historic barbarian."

Rayburn pushed the plans forward in any case.

On December 13, 1958 the Daytona Beach Morning Journal wrote that "Workmen are saving everything, even the debris and rubble, and storing it safely on the Capitol grounds".

The old Aquia Creek sandstone facade was taken apart piece by piece by the John McBeath & Sons company. They finished the job in seven months, dutifully cataloging each stone and stacking them by the House of Representatives.

In their place went Special Georgia White marble, provided by the Georgia Marble Company for $2.8 million. The new front was 33 feet farther than the original, and lined up with the House and Senate stairways.


Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

What to do with the stones?

According to the Washington Post, when the project started nobody had thought through what to do with the stones. "Eventual disposition of the dismantled portions is to be determined [at a later date] by the Commission for Extension of the Capitol, headed by House Speaker Sam Rayburn."

Steward and Rayburn consulted with the advisory architects who suggested donating the stones to the Smithsonian, or reconstructing them into a new museum. However, Steward (who was being crucified in the press during all of this) had spent the last year trying to convince everyone about all the ways in which sandstone was deficient.

Highlight the stones in a new museum? No way! He wanted the blocks out of sight and out of mind.

The stones first traveled to the Capitol Powerplant, where they sat until 1975 when facilities there expanded. That's when they made their way to a National Park Service facility deep inside Rock Creek Park.

At the time, they were under the custody of the now-defunct Commission on the Extension of the United States Capitol. According to a 1982 Washington Post article, possession of the stones then passed to the House and Senate office building commissions.

Present day

The stones have been sitting in Rock Creek Park for the last 40 years, slowly gathering moss and sinking into the ground.

The United States Capitol Historical Society has been cutting up a small number of the stones and selling them as bookends (with permission from the Speaker of the House). The stones are also occasionally used for small restoration jobs in the Capitol and White House.

The 22 corinthian columns from the old east front were rescued from obscurity in 1984 by DC local Ethel Garrett, who successfully lobbied to have them moved to a more fitting location. Today, they stand sentry over a reflecting pool and 20 acres of meadow at the National Arboretum.


Photo by Fred Dunn on Flickr.

Cross-posted from ArchitectoftheCapital.org. If you enjoyed reading about the capitol stones you might also like the old Civil War fort hidden in Rock Creek Park.

History


Was your neighborhood "obsolete" in 1950?

The National Capital Park and Planning Commission, forerunner to today's NCPC, declared most of Shaw, Mount Vernon Square and Triangle, Capitol Hill, Southwest, Buena Vista and other neighborhoods "obsolete" in 1950. Yes, amazingly, they really used that term.


"Problem areas" and "obsolete characteristics" according to NCPPC, 1950.

That's some of the astounding information in the 1950 document Washington, Present and Future from NCPPC. ShawNeighborhood listserv participant RayM scanned a number of pages showing plans to radically remove multi-family dwellings from historic neighborhoods and force the kind of low-density, single-use, less walkable pattern of development that permanently destroyed many urban areas.

What was wrong? People lived in neighborhoods with alley dwellings, some of which were less well maintained. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs talked about how planners in Boston declared the North End a similar "slum" simply because people lived at a certain population density per acre, and the view at the time was that government had to force people to live more spread out.

There are certainly reasons to believe race played a part as well; these neighborhoods were predominantly African-American. The solution, people thought at the time, was to tear down the old neighborhoods and build new ones in the "towers in the park" style of the housing projects we all know and loathe today. Here is their plan for Shaw:

Fortunately for Shaw, a thriving neighborhood with beautiful old row houses and some of DC's best-preserved carriage homes, most of this plan never came to pass. It largely did, however, in Southwest:

Besides wholesale demolition of neighborhoods, planners tried to push people out of so-called "blighted" neighborhoods with zoning. On Capitol Hill, for instance, the zoning plan wanted to take the fabric of different size buildings coexisting and declare that illegal. Instead, all commerce in the NE quadrant of the Hill would be restricted to H Street, Massachusetts, and a 2-block stretch of 8th, and all multifamily to Maryland Avenue.

They also wanted to widen 11th Street and demolish everything for 2 blocks on either side of East Capitol to create a new extended Mall. (This is the reason that the street between A and C NE is Constitution, not B, and likewise in SE is Independence, even though the original L'Enfant plan called them B Street).

Many of these decisions were efforts to segregate

It's important to recognize that some characteristics of the District today come directly out of explicit "social engineering" decisions that planners pushed on the District when the 1958 zoning code was written. Rules against accessory dwellings and corner stores, parking minimums and single-use zoning were all efforts to zone many of the people, mostly African-American, out of the neighborhoods.

That's just one reason to be pleased that last January, DC's Zoning Commission adopted a new zoning code that will take effect on September 6th, doing away with the code that came from this era.

This post originally ran in 2012, but since the history hasn't changed and the new zoning code goes into effect soon, we wanted to share it again!

Retail


Take a closer look at these houses. They used to be stores.

For generations, DC had a healthy mix of stores and homes in every neighborhood. Only a fraction of that diversity is still there today because 60 years ago, the city's zoning laws changed to outlaw new retail from going up in residential areas. Some corner stores are still there, but most have turned into homes. In the photos below, check out former storefronts that are now somebody's living room window.


The entrance and windows in the front 9th and Q Street NW don't look like what's on most houses. That's because it used to be a restaurant. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

In 1958, DC's Zoning Commission designated a number of residential areas as R-4 or R-5 zones, meaning they were for row houses or apartment buildings, respectively. New retail space isn't permitted to open inside either type of zone.

The retail that was already there was grandfathered into the new law, meaning it's been allowed to stay (though if a store closes and remains vacant for three years, the location can no longer be commercial).

On the map below, which looks at the area north of East Capitol Street and south of H Street NE, the Zoning Commission's change limited new commercial buildings to the places in yellow:


Base image from Google Maps.

Below are a few examples of Capitol Hill buildings that used to house retail. We focused on that area because it's where we live, but as the photo above indicates, you can find buildings just like them all over the District.

1201 F Street NE


Photo by the authors.

Located at the intersection of 12th Street, F Street, and Maryland Avenue, this corner building once housed a grocery store owned by William G. Pond (you can read about that in Boyd's Directory of DC). The former bay window of the store is now the entrance to a home and the former store entrance facing the intersection is now a small window. The concrete steps leading to the original entrance are still visible on the right side of this photo.

711 E Street NE


Photo by the authors.

In 1910, Edward T. Noll built this one-story retail building and its twin at 713 E Street NE. The buildings have large, protruding bay windows and decorative overhangs, but are now both homes.

627 3rd Street NE


Photo by the authors.

Abutting an alley, this building has housed several grocery stores throughout its existence, including stores owned by Herman W. Menkin in 1909 (Boyd's Directory of DC, 1909), Myer and Rae Band from 1933 to 1969, and Cynthia Sewell as recently as 2011. The first-floor windows used to flank the entrance, with a sign overhead, but the entrance for the home is now on the right side of the building.

1000 Constitution Avenue NE


Photo by the author.

The corner of this building used to have an entrance facing the intersection, which has since been replaced by bricks. A door leading to what was once the entrance for the upstairs apartment is visible on the right side of the photo. In the early 1900's, Leon Skop ran a grocery store from this space.

The five buildings described above are among the many red pins in this incomplete map of former retail locations in or near the Capitol Hill Historic District. Photos and descriptions for each of these pins are available at our blog, DCFormerRetail.tumblr.com.


Red pins are homes that once included retail spaces. The pins are clustered in the Northwest corner of the map because the authors have not yet systematically catalogued former stores east of 14th Street NE and south of East Capitol Street. Base image from Google Maps.

In some places, corner stores are coming back!

After a laborious eight-year process, DC's Zoning Commission adopted a new zoning code that will take effect on September 6, 2016. For the first time since 1958, the code will permit new corner grocery stores by right.

Also, limited types of other corner stores will be allowed under a variance in seven of 34 types of residential zones. The areas zoned R-4 on Capitol Hill are included in this change.

Despite the well-documented benefits of street fronting stores—they provide an opportunity to meet neighbors, increase the number of eyes on the street, and create a pleasant place to complete your daily errands by foot—some DC residents opposed the 2016 zoning change out of fear that "corner stores would alter residential neighborhoods by bringing in a commercial use."

But the historical record demonstrates that commercial uses along today's residential streets would not be unusual in this part of the city. Indeed, without retail, the Capitol Hill Historic District is less true to its name than many residents might realize.

Education


Eliot-Hine, a DC middle school, is falling apart

Katelyn Hollmon, a student at Eliot-Hine Middle School, cried when she testified before the DC Council last year, saying she and her classmates shouldn't have to attend a school that reminds them of the homeless shelter where several of her friends live. "Just because we're kids doesn't mean we don't have rights... It is not enough to believe in us. You must invest in us also," read her testimony.


All photos by Heather Schoell.

We often look at investments in education in terms of expenditures per student and academic program. But there's another key piece of the puzzle: the poor condition of our school facilities.

Over the last decade, Capitol Hill's Eliot-Hine Middle School has struggled. Enrollment and test scores have declined, but so has the building itself. Film blocks its windows, preventing natural light and fresh air from entering classrooms, and making it difficult to open them in case of an emergency. The heating system is full of dust and dander, and makes the classrooms so unbearably hot that the school has to turn on its air conditioning as soon as the heating system goes on in the fall. And that leads to another problem: Noise from the A/C units makes it too loud for teachers and students to communicate.

According to the District, many of these problems don't exist. In 2008, as a part of the "school blitz" associated with the merger of Eliot Middle School and Hine Junior High School, Eliot-Hine was allocated $8 million for new windows and additional work was done throughout the building. According to DGS data used by the DC Council to prioritize capital spending in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, the condition of Eliot-Hine was rated "good," the same rating as neighboring Stuart-Hobson MS, which recently completed a $40 million renovation.

Last spring, after proposals to further delay the modernization of Eliot-Hine came forward, the community stepped up. Social media was filled with photos of restrooms with trash bags covering urinals, broken doors, and mold. Local ANCs wrote letters and the community spoke out at District Council hearings. Despite these efforts, the Eliot-Hine modernization was, again, delayed, this time to FY2019 and FY2020 (meaning construction will end on August 31, 2020).

However, the Mayor heard residents and the District took immediate action. Last spring, restrooms got repairs and ceilings and radiators were painted, among other repairs.

Still, many underlying conditions persist and other promised improvements—science labs, new furniture, and new technology in classrooms—have yet to be completed.

"Eliot-Hine is old and falling apart," Malia, a 4th grade student who attends one of Eliot-Hine's feeder elementary schools told the DC Council Education Committee last year. "Half the toilets don't work. I don't like using the bathrooms there; they are too disgusting to use."

Underlying problems are resurfacing. Ceilings are again damaged and mold is returning. The heating and A/C systems continue spread years of accumulated mold, dander, and dust. Rodents continue to infest the building.

And it's not like the community isn't aware, nor is the problem that it doesn't care. Over Spring Break, a group of parents, with the support of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, organized the Eliot-Hine Extreme Bathroom Makeover, where they cleaned, painted, and put up mirrors in two restrooms.

Just last week, Eliot-Hine asked the community for help with preparing the facility to host Watkins Elementary next school year while its building is torn down and replaced.

DC can have safe, smart, and healthy schools for all students

The most disappointing part of the story of Eliot-Hine is that billions of our tax dollars have been spent and countless students still attend inadequate facilities. Across the District there are more than 20 schools that have not been renovated, and others, like Eliot-Hine, that fail to provide even the basics for our students. Last summer, the DC Auditor released a report stating that the District's school modernization program lacks accountability, transparency, and basic financial management.

In short, we have failed our students and our taxpayers.

While we can rehash the poor decisions of the past, it is more important that as we move forward we make our first priority that all school facilities (1) comply with applicable safety codes, (2) have adequate heating, air conditioning, acoustics, lighting, ventilation, and meet other basic needs, and (3) meet basic academic programming requirements. Furthermore, decisions about where our District's school modernization dollars are spent must be made in partnership with the community and our decision-makers must be held accountable.

Moving forward at Eliot-Hine

In late March, Mayor Bowser announced her plan to pump an extra $220 million into school modernization over the next two years as part of a $1.2 billion plan. The Mayor announced that her office will be using more realistic cost estimates and that 98 of the District's 112 schools will be modernized by 2022. This is progress, but it still leaves crucial community involvement and transparency out of the planning process.

On March 1st, DCPS and DGS convened a School Improvement Team (SIT) for Eliot-Hine (of which I am a member). Our government agencies came to the first meeting of the SIT with a proposal for a 480 student facility that incorporates space for Eliot-Hine's Radio/TV course, expanded music programming, and various other amenities at a price tag of approximately $30 million. While nearly everyone in the community would be pleased with this outcome, this process fails to address the problems with school facilities planning.

Since reaching an enrollment of 348 students during 2011-2012, Eliot-Hine's enrollment has plummeted to a projected 188 students for 2016-17. Given the continued growth of our District's public charter sector, as well as enrollment projections provided to the Maury ES SIT, as that feeder of Eliot-Hine prepares for an expansion, that state "students in 4th and 5th grade will continue to utilize the lottery to access PCS and DCPS alternatives rather than continue to Elliot-Hine MS," it is unclear how Eliot-Hine will return to these old enrollment figures. Even if Eliot-Hine meets these projected enrollment numbers, it will mean that there is still a great deal of under-utilized space within the facility.

Planning cannot happen in a vacuum. Rather, we must engage the community, per the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, to "secure input into the studies on school capacity, utilization and attendance zones." I believe we must also determine if there are additional amenities that the broader community can use. At Eliot-Hine, this could mean lending the second gymnasium to neighborhood elementary schools that lack a full-sized gym or for school-wide performances; a new 9th grade academy for Eastern High School, which is nearing its building capacity; a partnership with the DC Youth Orchestra, Challenger Center for Space Science Education or another organization that serves students from across the District; or co-locating with a charter school. The possibilities are endless and should be discussed.

The fact that the Mayor and Council seem to be much more focused on the school modernization capital budget is a positive sign, but major concerns about out-year projects remain. A number of questions remain, especially in terms of community input. The process should begin with community input and the District's leaders should develop plans that include specifics for each school and the broader community of schools. Only then should architects develop a budget that will fulfill those plans and meet all relevant educational specifications. Without comprehensive community planning on the front end, the District's school modernization budget will continue to be largely a shot in the dark. We can and must do better for our students.

If you want to get involved in the school modernization process, you can testify before the District Council at the DC Public School and Department of General Services FY2017 Budget hearings on April 14 and April 22 respectively.

Development


There's a great opportunity to add housing on Capitol Hill

New housing is going up on a Capitol Hill site that was once meant for a higher education project that never got off the ground. The plan is to make it a mix of condos and rowhouses, but it might be smart to make it all condos.


Base map from Google Maps.

The site, at 1325 D Street SE, backs up to the Safeway on Kentucky Avenue, and is roughly a half mile in either direction from the Eastern Market and Potomac Avenue Metro stations.

Two of the four buildings will become 41 condominiums, while the other two buildings will be demolished and 41 rowhouses—with garages—will go up in their place.


Site rendering from the developers.

In the rendering above, the white building on the far left is the Safeway. Long term, I could see this site becoming higher density housing with a new Safeway on the ground floor, such as what was done at the Safeway on Georgia Avenue two blocks from the Petworth Metro station.

A nicely designed six-story building could fit in well at that site and would extend the range of housing offered in a neighborhood where there will always be greater demand for housing than supply.


The Safeway with apartments above in Petworth. Image by the author.

In a city where housing prices are escalating rapidly, we need to maximize housing production in a way that achieves a number of things.

Given the proximity to the Metro stations, I believe that, while it would probably generate tons of resident opposition, more high-density condominiums or apartments would be a better use of the land than rowhouses. My reasons are:

  1. More people on the site would mean getting more out of its transit accessibility.
  2. A more diverse housing stock (type of dwelling and who lives there) in that part of Ward 6, which is dominated by single family rowhouses.
  3. More residents to the area, generating more support for retail and community improvement and more income tax revenue.
  4. The property would yield higher property tax revenues (this is likely even though, depending on the final design, rowhouses would likely sell for $1.5 million to $2 million, depending on the final design.
Adding rowhouses with parking is somewhat disadvantageous from a sustainable mobility standpoint because even though the site is well located for transit use, and arguably is still walkable to the US Capitol (albeit at a distance) and more distant points, the housing is likely to appeal foremost to potential residents who prefer to use cars, because each unit will have on-site parking, an amenity that is not available to most residents in Capitol Hill.

On the other hand, if it's hard to find on-street parking, it's more likely the buildings will attract residents who get around by some way other than a car.

At a minimum, the rowhouses could include basement apartments, which would extend the amount and diversity of available housing in the area and help provide a mix of owner-occupied and rental housing.

This post originally ran on the author's blog, Urban Places and Spaces.

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