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Posts about Capitol Hill

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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Development


Construction is starting on a mixed-use building at Eastern Market. It took seven years to get this far.

In a ceremony on Friday, a mixed-use development formally broke ground at where the closed Hine Junior High School used to stand, across the street from Eastern Market Metro. This hard-fought project has been in the works since at least 2008, and is a good example of how long many of these projects can take amid community battles.


Image from the development team.

Here's a quick chronology of the Hine project that covers some, but definitely not all, of the steps:

1864: A beautiful building is constructed for the Wallach School along Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 8th.

ca. 1893-1938: Some other school buildings start filling in more of the square, including one for a new public high school and junior high, the latter called Hine.

1950: The Wallach building is torn down.

1966: The Hine school is built, covering most of the entire block from 7th to 8th, Pennsylvania to C. The parking lot on the north side also spans where a closed C Street used to be. Its design relates poorly to the surrounding streets and it forms a dead zone between the Eastern Market and Barracks Row commercial areas.


Left: Wallach School, 1864-1950. Right: Hine Junior High School, 1966-present.

1993: The flea market at Eastern Market starts using the Hine parking lot.

2007: The Hine school closes. Discussions begin about redeveloping the site.

May 2008: Councilmember Tommy Wells hosts a preliminary community meeting about the redevelopment proposals.

June 2009: Four development teams present their proposals. One proposal, from Stanton and Eastbanc, stands out, David Cranor writes. It's also the densest.


The "green blobs" plan, one of four proposals for the site.

September 2009: The DC government selects Stanton/Eastbanc's proposal.


The winning plan.

Early 2011: Stanton/Eastbanc go to various community meetings to present their more-detailed proposal. Some nearby residents focus on fighting the overall size of the project, which has sections ranging from four to seven stories (taller on Pennsylvania Avenue, shorter elsewhere). Others who are more supportive of new housing near Metro focus on architectural issues that wouldn't affect the overall opportunity to add housing.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission creates a committee to work on Hine, which ultimately supports most of the overall size and advocates for a set of other changes based on community feedback.

April 2011: The project goes to the Historic Preservation Review Board, where many people oppose the height. Preservation staff, however, argue that a building of this size is appropriate for a prominent corner like this one.

2012: The project moves on to the Zoning Commission. The same debates over height continue to rage.

October-November 2012: Hine opponents try to unseat ANC commissioners who supported the committee's recommendations and didn't fight the project's size more fiercely. The incumbents win reelection.

November 2012: The Zoning Commission approves the project. The developers say they are hoping to start construction in summer 2013. Neighbors appeal in court.


Photo by Bill Walsh on Flickr.

August 2014: The DC Court of Appeals rejects the appeal. The opponents petition the court for a rehearing in the case.

November 2014: Some Hine opponents again run for open ANC seats in the two districts nearest the project, but are not elected.

January 2015: The Court of Appeals rejects opponents' petition and clears the way for Stanton/Eastbanc to begin construction.

June 2015: Demolition begins on the old Hine building.

July 17, 2015: The project formally breaks ground.

June 2017: The first building, on the south side along Pennsylvania Avenue, should open if all goes according to plan.

One thing that stands out from this timeline is how long opponents successfully blocked the project with their court challenge. It took about two years from when Stanton/Eastbanc won the bid until they had all of the necessary approvals; that's not quick, but not so unusual in DC, and this was a large and complex project with many small changes along the way. Then, the court case blocked progress for almost two more years.

It's clear that opponents primarily do not want to see mid-sized buildings like these on the site, but one of their arguments was that this site didn't have enough affordable housing. Unfortunately, the long delay ensured that needed housing, both market-rate and affordable, was not available for a long period of time.

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Politics


In some DC neighborhood commission races, urbanism, walkability, and growth are the issues

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in many DC neighborhoods have a reputation for just being obstacles to any change, but that's not always true. In many parts of the District, ANCs have been a positive force for steps to improve communities. Will this election bring representatives who would continue or arrest those trends?

Each ANC covers one or a few neighborhoods and is divided into Single-Member Districts of about 2,000 residents each. You can find your district at here and a list of candidates here.

All of the regular neighborhood battles crop up in ANCs as well: density, bike lanes, sidewalks, parking. Good ANC commissioners work to shape change for the better instead of block it. They find ways to build consensus for better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. They work to make development projects better respond to community needs rather than just oppose them or push to make them smaller. They listen to neighbors, but also recognize that after everyone has a chance to be heard, there comes a time to make a decision and move forward.

Here are a handful of the many ANC races across the city. In these districts, a resident stridently opposed to a change or to a particular project may be challenging a more constructive commissioner, or someone is challenging a more obstructionist incumbent, or two candidates with differing views are vying for an open seat.

3E (Tenleytown)

Many parts of Ward 3, in upper Northwest DC, have warmed up to urban-friendly growth in the past few years and even led with key steps to improve walkability. A lot of that comes from hard work of a few ANC commissioners who face challengers in Tuesday's election.

ANC 3E includes the Wisconsin Avenue corridor from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights. The commission worked out a good deal for a new parking-free building at Brandywine and Wisconsin and endorsed new bicycle boulevards.

Tom Quinn represents 3E04 in Friendship Heights east of Wisconsin Avenue, and received our endorsement two years ago. He has been a champion of smart growth with particularly enthusiastic support for the zoning rewrite. Quinn faces Sandy Shapiro, who has said she would like the physical neighborhood to stay the same and expressed a desire to further delay zoning changes that have been under consideration for six years.

In 3E01 around and west of the Tenleytown Metro, the incumbent is stepping down, and the two candidates present dramatically different views. Anne Wallace has expressed a desire for a mixed-use and multi-modal Tenleytown. In an interview on TenleytownDC, she talked about how much she loves the diversity of the neighborhood and wants to see it thrive.

Her opponent, Kathleen Sweetapple, is running on a platform criticizing the current ANC commissioners and their efforts. She often says she worries about "outside influences," "one-size-fits all approaches" and smart growth strategies that she says do not fit in Tenleytown. Tenleytown needs responsive commissioner, but one who sees neighborhood's issues in connection to the challenges that all of the city faces.

3G (Chevy Chase)

In the leafier parts of Chevy Chase DC, Barnaby Woods, and Hawthorne, ANC3G has been fairly moderate, pushing for positive change instead of outright opposition on a new building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue and strongly supporting pedestrian safety activities.

Carolyn "Callie" Cook, the incumbent in 3G01, dissented from the rest of her ANC to oppose the new residential building at 5333, supporting instead a legal challenge to the by-right building. She testified to keep in place the District's often-abused disability parking placards. Brian Oliver is running against Cook. He is a parent of school-aged children and is interested in school improvements, revitalizing the Connecticut Avenue commercial area, improving parks, the library, and sidewalks.

In 3G06, an open seat, Dan Bradford is a small businessman who has promised a balanced focus on issues like pedestrian safety while seeking to preserve the vitality of the current community. In contrast, Alan Seeber has been a strident opponent of the more progressive elements of the zoning rewrite, and continues to criticize the idea of reduced parking minimums in transit zones. He also promises to fight any increased cross-town bus transit if it runs on roadways through Chevy Chase.


ANCs 3B (left) and 3G (right).

3B (Glover Park)

Farther south in Glover Park, the incumbent in 3B01, Joe Fiorillo brings an honesty and enthusiasm to a diverse district that includes both single-family homes and high-density apartments. Two months ago he voted in favor of a small new development in his district. That move brought him an opponent, Ann Mladinov, who felt that she and her neighbors were not heard in the process.

She's facing no opposition, but it's worth mentioning that GGW contributor and editor Abigail Zenner is on the ballot to represent 3B03. She will surely make as valuable a contribution to the ANC as she has to Greater Greater Washington!


District boundaries for ANC 2B.

2B (Dupont Circle)

Moving eastward, ANC 2B, which spans from the Golden Triangle area to Rock Creek to 14th and U, will be changing substantially between this year and next. Four of the nine members are not running for re-election this year, and two of those districts are contested along with two others where an incumbent faces a challenger.

In 2B02, west of Connecticut Avenue, Daniel Warwick and Jonathan Padget are both vying to succeed Kevin O'Connor, who moved out of the neighborhood. Perhaps reflecting the way this district is rich in transit, bicycling, and walking, both candidates answered a question about parking by discussing ways to reduce parking demand rather than add more parking.

Warwick served as the ANC's Public Policy Fellow recently and also helped start the transportation committee. He has a very deep understanding of many issues, as is clear from his interview on the Short Articles About Long Meetings blog. Padget expressed good ideas as well, but in much less detail, and Warwick's valuable work on the ANC already seems to make him an ideal candidate.

Nicole Mann, who commutes by bicycle every day from north Dupont to H Street, has been an integral part of the ANC's transportation committee, which I also serve on. She is bidding to represent 2B08, as recent ANC chair Will Stephens is stepping down. Meamwhile, Mann's opponent, Robert Sinners, sounded quite pro-car-dependence and anti-new-residents in his SALM interview.

The ANC's chair, Noah Smith, has has done an excellent job as commissioner and chair of the transportation committee. He also drawn a challenger in his district 2B09, Ed Hanlon, who focuses extensively on his complaints about growth and argues for one-side-of-the-street parking which would be very problematic without additional tweaks in Dupont Circle.

In the neighborhood's southeast, commissioner Abigail Nichols in 2B05 has been a regular voice against new housing, nightlife (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not), and other elements of a vibrant, urban neighborhood. Jonathan Jagoda takes a more balanced view of many of these issues.

6B (Capitol Hill)

Last year, we highlighted two key races in southern Capitol Hill's ANC 6B, where residents staunchly opposed to development on the Hine school site were running on an anti-growth platform against Ivan Frishberg and Brian Pate in the two districts closest to the site.

Pate and Frishberg are stepping down this year, but the races in those districts still maintain the same tenor. In 6B05 northeast of 8th and Pennsylvania SE, Steve Hagedorn is running for the seat. Hagedorn has been involved with the ANC already as part of its Hill East Task Force, and as a volunteer with Congressional Cemetery.

He faces Carl Reeverts, one of the leaders of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), which has organized opposition to Hine and is part of litigation trying to block or delay the project. Ellen Opper-Weiner is also stridently against the development and many other changes in the neighborhood.

Just to the west, the race in 6B02 pits Diane Hoskins, a wetlands lobbyist and environmentalist (formerly with the District Department of the Environment) against Jerry Stroufe, another EMMCA leader who ran last year against Frishberg.

And many more!

There are hundreds of ANC seats across the city, many contested, many not. Many have a spirited contest which doesn't turn on policy to the extent that some of these do. And there are far more races worth talking about than we have time or space to discuss.

What ANC races in your area are worth watching?

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Public Spaces


Virginia Avenue is an untapped resource; let's tap it

Over a decade ago, the federal government closed Virginia Avenue between South Capitol Street* and 1st Street SE, and then seemingly forgot about it. Could the street become a bicycle and pedestrian path instead?


Closed section of Virginia Avenue. Image by Google.

In 2003, in order to provide a construction staging area to expand and improve the Capitol Power Plant, the federal government closed a block and a half of Virginia Avenue SE. Those projects wrapped up in 2012, but two years later Virginia Avenue is still closed.

According to a statement from the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) office, the government "continues to have major infrastructure construction projects that require the use of Virginia Avenue." So for now at least, the AOC will continue to use Virginia Avenue as a staging area.

Will it ever reopen? Maybe not. In 2006, as part of the Capitol Complex Master Plan, the AOC said one way to improve security at the power plant would be "permanent closure of Virginia Avenue to vehicular traffic."

But Virginia Avenue is four blocks from the Capitol dome. It's a waste to leave it completely unused. Whether security really demands the AOC permanently close Virginia Avenue to vehicles is a debate the community should engage in. But even if the answer is yes, there are other options besides simply closing it completely.

How about a bike path?

Conveniently, planning is already underway on the parallel Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project. That provides a nice opportunity to bring up the closed blocks of Virginia Avenue.

The tunnel project stretches from 2nd to 12th and includes a side trail. The DC Safe Rail group suggests extending the trail along Virginia Avenue's closed right-of-way as a bicycle/pedestrian path only.

Combined with the Southeast Boulevard project, which will also have a multi-use trail, this could create a continues bicycle/pedestrian path from Barney Circle and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail all the way to South Capitol Street.

A trail is only one possible use of the space. Another option is to expand Garfield Park, with trees, grass, and bioswales. Or the road could reopen fully and return as part of the street grid. Or maybe something else.

For now, and into the foreseeable future, it appears the government will keep Virginia Avenue closed. But now is a good time to ask if that need always be the case.

* The original version of this post mistakenly referred to East Capitol Street instead of South Capitol Street.

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Roads


A traffic engineer and a planner both study a closed freeway segment. Their conclusions are wildly different.

Let's say you have a closed piece of freeway along your waterfront. What should you do with it? Ask many traditional traffic engineers, and they'll likely answer with some variant of "build a lot of car lanes, maybe with some path for walkers and cyclists if there's room." Ask an urban planner, meanwhile, and the answer could be a more nuanced mix of buildings, parks, roads, or other pieces of a city.

Just look at what traffic engineers versus planners came up with for the piece of DC's Southeast Freeway between the 11th Street Bridge and Barney Circle:


Four-lane road with parking and overpasses. Image from DDOT.


Concept extending DC's street grid into the freeway. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

Advocates of "urbanism" or "livable streets" or "smart growth" often deride the "traffic engineer mindset." This is the attitude of some (but not all) engineers who primarily build and maintain roads. These folks tend to hold an ingrained assumption that more roadway lanes are basically the answer to any mobility problem.

Meanwhile, graduates of most planning schools today will bring a wide variety of tools to the table. They'll often look not just at how to move vehicles or even people, but whether more motion is really the best way to use some land. If people are encountering more traffic to get to jobs, one solution is to build a big transportation facility, but another approach is to create more opportunities for the people to live near the jobs, or to put the jobs near the people.

For one of the starkest illustrations of this "lane engineer" versus planner mindset dichotomy, look at the Southeast Boulevard studies in DC. There used to be a freeway running along the edge of eastern Capitol Hill to Barney Circle. Long ago, plans called for it to connect to a new bridge over the Anacostia—the Barney Circle Freeway, and part of an "inner loop" of freeways around downtown. That would have been a very damaging plan for both DC's environment and its congestion.

DDOT's study thinks very narrowly

In 2005, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) came up with a somewhat better scheme, to essentially widen the 11th Street Bridge by building a new parallel local bridge and convert the freeway segment from a four-lane freeway to a four-lane urban boulevard.

DDOT then conducted a 2014 study of options to replace the freeway segment. The study devised xis options, but all of them basically looked like near-freeways. While pedestrians and cyclists could cross to access the waterfront, and cars could turn on and off to nearby streets in some options, all of the options turned a huge expanse of pavement and empty grass into other huge expanses of pavement and empty grass, sometimes also with tour bus parking.

DDOT's options still primarily focused around moving cars fast, and would all have created big empty spaces that would not create any actual sense of place and would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.


Map of Concept 2. Images from DDOT.


Concept 2.


Concept 4A.

Planners think more creatively

Residents, led by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven, were not happy with the narrowness of DDOT's analysis. Instead, at Councilmember Tommy Wells' urging, the Office of Planning stepped in to do a more open-minded study of how to use the space.

OP's options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road:


Concept C2. Images from the DC Office of Planning.

Or just extend the street grid right through the site with new townhouses like the old ones:


Concept A2.

Or a new avenue fronted by larger buildings:


Concept A1.

Or a hybrid:


Concept B1.

Why 4 lanes?

But even OP's study assumed that there need to be 4 lanes of traffic, as that's what DDOT insists on. OP's presentation points out that 4 lanes of traffic can be a part of residential boulevards, like New Hampshire Avenue in Petworth or East Capitol Street near Lincoln Park. However, these roads still feel much wider than others. Drivers tend to move faster here, often too fast to safely mix with other neighborhood users. New Hampshire Avenue north of Dupont, in contrast, is just one lane each way.

So why do there need to be 4 lanes of traffic? DC just effectively widened the 11th Street Bridge, adding car capacity there. Can't there be a reduction on an adjacent street? More than that, there haven't been any lanes for years now. It seems that a traffic pattern with zero lanes works fine.

If there's new development, it would need a road and some lanes to get to it, but to say we need 4 because we already had 4 is circular reasoning without logic, unless you assume that more lanes are always better, and any lane once built must always remain to eternity. That's the ingrained belief of many traditional traffic engineers, and it's the answer I got from Ravindra Ganvir, DDOT's deputy chief engineer, when I asked in February of 2013:

The constrained long range plan (CLRP) traffic model is assigning traffic volumes that would exceed the capacity of a two-lane facility and is showing Southeast Boulevard as a four-lane arterial facility.
Traffic models "show" traffic on a link that varies depending on what kind of link you have built, so to say that the model shows a four-lane boulevard worth of traffic when you have a freeway or boulevard in the plan is again circular. Or, as one contributor wryly paraphrased, "We are building a big road because we need a big road because there was a big road there before."

DDOT needs to re-examine its reflexive assumption that 4 lanes is the only possibility. Regardless, this area now stands a good chance of becoming an excellent urban place now that people who think about spaces broadly and creatively got involved.

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Public Spaces


A greener Eastern Market plaza may be on the way

Where today the parks around the Eastern Market Metro are mostly tired expanses of grass with a few trees, the parks soon could contain an expanded library, formal playground, cafe-style tree bosque and several stormwater management features. The roads and sidewalks around the square could also get a better layout.


The Metro entrance, library entry pavilion, and water feature on the southwest parcel. All images from Esocoff & Associates unless otherwise noted.

The $45 million redesign has gone through years of planning and outreach. The project originally started as a Congressional earmark to Barracks Row Main Street, which funded the Capitol Hill Town Square study in 2008 that considered ways to redesign the intersection, including possibly rerouting Pennsylvania Avenue around a square similar to Stanton or Lincoln parks.

Any changes to Pennsylvania Avenue ran into fierce opposition from immediate neighbors. But the project team continued studying ways to redesign the parks and started a new round of public engagement in 2013, this time assuming Pennsylvania stayed where it is.


The plaza now. Image from Bing Maps.

Architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates recently revealed a final design coming out of numerous community meetings and feedback on two concepts from January.

The most dramatic change would be on the southwest parcel with the Metro entrance. A new pavilion would lead to a massive below-ground expansion of the Southeast Library, across the street from the square. A long courtyard and a water feature would connect this pavilion with the Metro.


Staircase for the new pavilion.

The parcel would also get a shaded tree bosque (an urban grove of shade trees similar to the one at New York's Lincoln Center) with a crushed gravel surface, movable furniture, and an open space along the "desire line" path where people most often walk between the Metro station and Barracks Row.


Artist's rendering of the bosque.

A straight pedestrian path along the South Carolina Avenue axis would divide the northeast section, the largest parcel. A fenced-in children's play area and an open lawn would flank it on the each side. The play areas include a landscape with "Anacostia Hills," a "Floodplain," a "Valley," and a "Ridge," and on that landscape, children will find a tree house, water pump, a pair of jungle gyms and a swing set.


The playground and promenade.

The wide median of Pennsylvania Avenue would become a pair of bioswales surrounded by wrought iron fencing. The bioswales will absorb up to 70% of the stormwater runoff from the inside portion of Pennsylvania Avenue during most storms. Meanwhile, the fences prevent pedestrians from crossing in the middle of the block.

The smaller triangular parcels on the southeast and northwest sides would become green space with stormwater management gardens and trees surrounded by an outward facing bench. The southeast parcel would be further expanded by closing D Street in front of the Dunkin' Donuts and adding the land to the park.


Site plan for the smaller triangular parcels.

Around the square, the plan would make changes to street directions and sidewalks to provide better flow and greater pedestrian safety. The segments of D Street along the northeast and southwest edges would reverse to carry traffic away from 8th Street instead of toward it. 8th Street would get a new left turn lane for those turning west onto D Street south of Pennsylvania.

To aid pedestrians, many intersections would get curb bump outs and pedestrian islands. The northbound bus stop on 8th would move south of Pennsylvania, while southbound buses would stop just across the street from that spot, closer to the Metro station.

Building the parks and plazas will cost an estimated $13,500,000, while the expanded and renovated library would cost $22,800,000. With DC management fees, a maintenance endowment and other costs, the project team estimates the whole project would need a budget of a little over $45,000,000.

The team is still accepting comments and will issue a final report in September. Barracks Row Main Street has some money to help pay for development, but from the (somewhat vague) statements from the project team, it appears they would be looking for city funding to help make the project a reality.

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