Posts about Capitol Hill
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners work on many subjects besides development, but challengers for a few seats on Capitol Hill want to make the election a referendum on a single project, the Hine school.
Such a narrow focus ignores the many subjects that ANCs work on, like public safety, liquor licenses, and just helping connect residents with public officials who can solve their problems.
Members of ANC 6B spent hundreds of hours listening to resident testimony and brokering a compromise on the important Hine project. A committee negotiated with the developer, Stanton-Eastbanc, around community concerns, such as noise, loading, and accommodating the flea market that currently uses the parking lot each Sunday.
Many weren't happy with the ultimate compromise. The developer took off one floor to please neighbors. Some felt that made the building aesthetically worse, while other immediate neighbors wanted an even smaller building.
Another concession to neighbors removed street-activating retail at a prominent corner. Still, the ANC pushed for changes that allayed many residents' concerns while maintaining many of the benefits of the project.
A pair of residents who wanted the ANC to more strongly oppose the Stanton-Eastbanc proposal are running to unseat the commissioners in the districts right around Hine, Ivan Frishberg in 6B02, and Brian Pate in 6B05. These opponents, Gerald Sroufe and Steve Holtzman, respectively, specifically cite Hine as the primary, if not the only, reason for running.
The Hine project is a good one for Capitol Hill. It will activate this major corner, bring new customers to local businesses, increase housing choices near Metro, and add retail space to better connect Barracks Row to the south with the 7th Street commercial strip and Eastern Market to the north. If the election is a referendum on Hine, voters should resoundingly return Pate and Frishberg to the commission.
However, elections shouldn't turn on a single development project alone, especially not over issues that are now essentially settled. Hine isn't the only reason to re-elect these 2 incumbents. They have worked hard to listen to their neighbors on this and many other issues. They have toiled to improve the quality of life on matters that will ultimately affect residents far more than the number of floors on the Hine project.
Pate pushed to restore a Capital Bikeshare station at Lincoln Park after DDOT almost took it away. He and Frishberg both ran 2 years ago on a platform of improving the procedures of the ANC, involving more residents and increasing transparency.
Ironically, Frishberg and Pate had the support in 2010 of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), an organization that fought implacably against the Hine project this year. EMMCA hasn't visibly supported one set of candidates, but Hine was the only concrete issue they asked the candidates about in their voter guide.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Hine aye votes Dave Garrison (6B01) and Brian Flahaven (6B09) are running unopposed, as is Francis Campbell (6B10), who voted against the project. There is also only one candidate in the open seats for 6B07 and 6B08, Sara Loveland and Chander Jayaraman, respectively.
Longtime commissioner Norman Metzger, who voted for the Hine compromise, is not running for re-election. 2 candidates are vying for the seat: Philip Peisch and Randy Steer. Steer says he would have opposed Hine, while Peisch would have supported it; single-issue voters would therefore be best off supporting Peisch.
But that's again not the only reason. When listing the challenges the ANC face, Steer's statement in the EMMCA voter guide focused primarily on opposing things, like liquor licenses on Barracks Row, or future buildings that might be even a little tall. On the other hand, Peisch talked more about building consensus and also helping Barracks Row thrive while balancing its needs against resident issues such as noise and trash.
Kirsten Oldenburg (6B02), another vote in favor of Hine, has a write-in challenger, Tim Britt. Britt does not make any overtly anti-growth statements and generally seems supportive of some change. Meanwhile, Nichole Opkins and Chris Harlow are running against incumbent Jared Critchfield in 6B06, who voted against the Hine project. Both Harlow and Opkins emphasize the bread-and-butter ANC issues like being accessible to constituents; Opkins says that she got involved because Critchfield wasn't reaching out to the people in his district.
I met Opkins at a recent event and was impressed with her commitment and energy, but ultimately, as with the districts where Hine is the primary issue, residents of these districts are best off trying to meet their candidates directly, or reading the candidates' online statements and platforms discussing the many issues that affect the community.
On the calendar: Speak up for Hine, Montgomery BRT; learn about Prince George's medical center, Arlington CaBi
Important and interesting hearings and forums are happening in the next few days about the Hine project (tonight), Arlington's Capital Bikeshare (tonight), Montgomery BRT (tomorrow), and next week, a forum about where the Prince George's medical center should go.
Tonight is the final Zoning Commission hearing on the Hine project at Eastern Market, and the commission needs to hear from supporters to help the project over its final hurdle. The hearing starts at 6:30 pm in room 220-South of One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street, NW.
For Montgomery residents, tomorrow is an important meeting, organized by County Executive Ike Leggett, on the BRT proposal. Show up at 6:30 pm to sign up to speak, and the meeting starts at 7 in the county office building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, in the 1st floor auditorium. If you can attend, RSVP with CSG.
Where will Prince George's build its medical center? The county definitely needs a regional medical center, but will it go at a Metro station or a car-dependent exurban location? A Coalition for Smarter Growth forum will discuss that very important question next Wednesday, July 18, at the New Carrollton station.
Finally, Arlington will present its plan for expanding Capital Bikeshare tonight at 1501 Wilson Blvd, Suite 1100, from 7-9 pm. Plus, BikeArlington is offering a free 1-year membership to one lucky attendee!
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.
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).
Restore the zoning code to legalize historic neighborhoods
The current DC Zoning Update is rewriting the 1958 zoning code that came from this era. When evaluating it and other proposals, 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 at the time.
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. When the Office of Planning suggests relaxing certain rules, often that's because the rule doesn't describe what's in the neighborhood today, or what was there in 1950, since the 1958 code was deliberately trying to zone out historic uses.
Accessory dwellings, corner stores, and more are all ways to let the city be what it naturally grew to be, before people around 1950 decided to force it to change. You can help by joining Pro-DC today.
Once listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the most endangered historic sites in the country, Congressional Cemetery has come a long way, a shining example of residents taking guardianship of their built environment. A new book, Historic Congressional Cemetery, examines some of the history preserved in the cemetery.
"A lot of folks who live right around here in Hill East don't recognize what a real treasure this is to the neighborhood," says Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven. "There's so much history here, but it's one of the few places that's not over-run with tourists."
Historic Congressional Cemetery is an introduction to some of the cemetery's more notable, as well as infamous, grave dwellers. Photos are accompanied by a concise paragraph explaining its subject, setting readers up to explore the cemetery themselves. All proceeds from the book's sales go to the cemetery's restoration fund.
In the more than 2 centuries since stonecutter William Swinton became the first burial at Congressional Cemetery in 1807, the grounds have grown from 4.5 acres to a sprawling 35 acres with more than 55,000 interments. Co-author Sandra Schmidt has gathered information on nearly 30,000.
"It took me 18 years to go through every newspaper from 1807 to, well, now I'm up to 1945," says Schimdt. "I started out looking for obits, but then I began to recognize the names and now we have a good deal of information about them while they were alive."Elbridge Gerry, who is buried in Congressional. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and 5th Vice President, Gerry is better known as the etymological inspiration for the term "gerrymandering."
When the dust settled, Congressional Cemetery remained in Ward 6, while Ward 7 instead absorbed the DC Jail.
"It's a very democratic cemetery," Schmidt says while walking the grounds. "It's not just rich people, it's people of every occupation scattered together."
The scope and diversity of American history is well represented by famed Marine Band leader John Philip Sousa, Choctaw Chief Push-ma-ta-ha, and also the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court, Belva Lockwood. Congressional also holds the remains of the renowned Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, along with Lincoln assassination conspirator David Herold, and even famous Civil War era madam Mary Ann Hall.
A kind of after-life fashion trend can be tracked by the composition and presentation of the graves and monuments of Congressional Cemetery, says docent Kirsten Sloan. Initially, monuments were fashioned from sandstone, and later marble was in vogue. These days, most monuments are made from granite.
The sandstone and marble has not weathered well. Granite better stands the test of time, as evidenced by the nearly pristine Manigold family monument topped by a geographically accurate globe.Uniontown developer John Van Hook, and the upended cannon monument of Navy Lt. John McLaughlin. The cemetery also contains more than one hundred Victorian-era obelisks, sometimes referred to as "Cleopatra's needle." Other than the tablet, the obelisk is Congressional's most common monument style.
Schmidt's co-author on "Historic Congressional Cemetery" is Rebecca Boggs Roberts, daughter of noted political correspondent, Cokie Roberts. Her late grandfather, the very colorful House Majority Leader, Hale Boggs, is remembered on one of the cemetery's 171 Benjamin Latrobe designed cenotaphs. The family, obviously, feels a strong connection to the cemetery.
When asked about Congressional's management plans, Roberts points out that the cemetery's history calls for something more than short-term plans.
"You don't even need a five-year plan here, you could have a hundred-year plan," Roberts says. "Even those of us who sort of count ourselves in the know are still discovering new things. And the people who still think of this as a secret cemetery they have years worth of things to discover. So there's no point in just thinking five years. We've been here two hundred years, let's think about the next two hundred."
If you're looking for trip back into Washington's and America's history, pick up a copy of the book and go explore Congressional Cemetery, one of DC's greatest hidden treasures, yourself.
Opponents of the Hine project have been trying to discredit anyone who supports it, claiming they have business relationships with Stanton-Eastbanc, don't live in the area, or other. That's false.
I geocoded the first 30 complete addresses from people who sent letters in support of Hine through our form on Tuesday. One was in Arlington; the others are all on the map above. To protect privacy, I had Excel randomly adjust each address up or down by a small amount (up to about half a block) and only show this map at a distant zoom.
One person who left a comment opposing Hine said support comes "from folks that do not live [sic] or frequent the area." That seems fairly clearly not true, as you can see from the map, and the people who sent letters who don't live right in the area clearly noted how they often frequent the area.
Didn't get a chance to send your own letter? It's not too late. Opponents are trying to put pressure on pro-project ANC commissioners Ivan Frishberg and Brian Pate, and to ask for more concessions, including now setting back another floor of the building after the developers took the top, set-back floor away to try to satisfy opponents.
David Garber, Near Southeast resident and ANC commissioner, has written an excellent letter supporting the proposed Hine school development at Eastern Market Metro. He addresses arguments from some other residents who have been pushing hard to shrink, limit, or entirely block the project.
The ANC has multiple meetings on this project in coming weeks. If you live, work or shop in the area, please take a moment to send a letter to the ANC commissioners and Zoning Commission asking them to support the project.
If you want to see the plans and speak to the developers, Pro-DC has arranged a briefing
this tomorrow evening at the Hill Center. Space is limited so RSVP right away.
In his letter, Garber points out how valuable the project will be for the neighborhood, but says that taking one story off has made it look more boxy at the expense of its "graceful transition" to the sky.
Some say that there won't be enough room for the flea market in the planned plaza along C Street, but Garber notes that closing 7th Street on weekends would create plenty of room. Another recent change placed a daycare at a prominent corner instead of retail. It would be better to locate the daycare elsewhere as long as it doesn't reduce affordable housing.
Here is Garber's letter:
Dear Chairman Hood and Members of the Zoning Commission:
I am writing in support of the Stanton-EastBanc development team's Hine School redevelopment project. Please note that although I serve as the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the Navy Yard neighborhood and as the Vice Chair of ANC 6D, my comments here are not meant to represent the opinions of my entire ANC.
I have been a regular visitor to Eastern Market my entire life; I have been following this redevelopment process closely since the school was closed in 2007; and I currently live one mile southwest of the Hine School site. I engage with the site almost daily
— whether shopping or dining nearby, swimming at the Rumsey Aquatic Center, working from the neighboring coffee shops, or visiting with friends and family in the adjoining neighborhood, and can confirm that as much as the Eastern Market area is an amenity and point of interest for those immediately adjacent to it, it is also an important place for people from all sides of Capitol Hill, the city, and the region.
Our goal for this redevelopment should be to create
— through architectural and urban design, landscaping, tenanting, and programming — 1) an atmosphere that will bolster our mutual affection for the immediate area, 2) a diversity of options in affordability, size, and type of residential, office, and retail spaces, 3) connections across the site that do not exist now, and 4) a place that will sensitively take advantage of its location above the Eastern Market Metro station to bring more residents and daytime employees to the neighborhood already flush with local retailers that will only be strengthened by the presence of additional customers brought in by this project.
Acknowledging that no one development or design proposal will meet everyone's individual or group ideas for what is most appropriate, I support Stanton-EastBanc'current proposal because it goes a long way to accomplish many of the diverse hopes for the site. Their proposal communicates architecturally with the surrounding neighborhood without inauthentically bowing to it, adds a significant amount of affordable housing in an area that increasingly needs it, reopens C Street SE across the site, and respects the scale of the existing neighborhood while adding appropriate new density to a transit-accessible location.
I remain concerned about some recently-altered elements of the project. First, I believe it is short-sighted to use the corner retail space at 8th and D Streets SE as a day care center. That space would be put to better use as a vibrant retail corner that, as such, would go a long way to visually connect retail activity on the north and south sides of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The day care center would be more appropriately located somewhere on or off the site with less retail potential. Any relocation of the day care center within the site should also stear clear of space currently promised for use as affordable housing.
Second, although I understand that the removal of the penthouse level of the office building at the corner of 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE was in response to concerns that the building was too large, a new problem has emerged from its removal: there is no longer any graceful transition between the top of the building and the sky. What was a tiered structure has been left as a box, and I am confident that more can be done to gracefully break up or distinguish elements of the massing while retaining or sensitively adding to the building's existing square footage.
I would also like to speak to the concern that this redevelopment, as proposed, will reduce general open space as well as the size of the weekend flea market currently located at Eastern Market and on the Hine School parking lot. I would like to add my support to the idea of closing 7th Street SE between C Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE for use by the flea market on weekends, and point out that
— although currently underutilized in its present state — the Eastern Market Metro Plaza is a sizable neighborhood amenity immediately adjacent to the Hine School that could be designed and programmed for a variety of uses.
Again, I support Stanton-EastBanc's plans for the redevelopment of the Hine School. I know they are working hard, alongside ANC 6B and neighborhood organizations, to plan a project that will be a benefit to the neighborhood and the city. The inclusion of affordable housing and the reopening of C Street SE exemplify the kinds of community benefits expected from a Planned Unit Development and public land disposition. I am confident that their proposal will only bolster our affection for the site, and will finally bring a sense of completion to a place that has been
— save for weekend market functions that can be redistributed across the site and surrounding streets — an economic and visual hole for too long.
By now, most Washingtonians have heard of Swampoodle, the historic Irish neighborhood that was destroyed by the construction of Union Station. But what about The Island? Pipetown? Bloody Hill and Bloodfield ("the ancient feudal ground of the southwest")?
These were all names of Washington, DC neighborhoods during the decades of the 1800s following the end of the Civil War.
Map of Washington as the city appeared in 1877 when the Washington Post was founded, with the old nicknames for various portions of the city. Photo from the Washington Post.
Post-war DC was a rough place. According to one government official interviewed in the Post in 1902, "Washington passed through its period of lawlessness and disorder fully as bad, if not worse, than that which prevailed in Cripple Creek, Colo. or Tombstone, Ariz."
Small fields of corn and cabbage gardens were scattered about everywhere, many of them within a stone's throw of the Capitol, while cows had the run of the town from Georgetown to Anacostia Creek, grazing on the pavements, breaking into front yards, disturbing the slumbers of the citizens by their incessant lowing, and making themselves generally obnoxious. I recollect there use to be a brick yard at Ninth and O streets northwest and not far distant was a cornfield inclosed [sic] by a stake and rider fence. ...
The war had ended, leaving stranded in this city a vast horde of enfranchised slaves, discharged soldiers, and a cloud of riffraff, bummers, and camp followers... and their arrival soon made this city one of the most disorderly places in America. Fights, murders, stabbing, and shooting scrapes were of daily occurrence.
The neighborhoods with the most infamous conditions had nicknames that were never shown on any official plat. But the Washington Post put together the amazing map above on its 50th anniversary, to show the neighborhoods that existed when the paper was founded in 1877.
Hell's Bottom, a former "contraband camp" extending irregularly from 7th to 14th Streets NW, and from O Street to the Boundary (now Florida Avenue), was one of the most notorious sections of the city. Living conditions were poor and crime was high.
According to a Post article from 1897, some Hell's Bottom residents lived in shanties the size of a "hall-room," with roofs so low that an average person could only stand upright on one side. These homes, which could house up to 3 families, were of "the rudest possible construction, few having any sashes in the window aperture, a board shutter closing out the cold winds, light and ventilation together, when shut. The only salvation from suffocation lies in the gaping cracks existing round the doors and windows, without which many a family would doubtless be found dead in the morning of cold nights."
Keith Sutherland, an old Hell's Bottom inhabitant, said this about the neighborhood in a 1900 Post article:
"Money was scarce and whisky [sic] was cheapThe police were unable to control the crime and violence in Hell's Bottom, and so in 1891, the city refused to renew any of the neighborhood's liquor licenses. It was this act that finally led to the neighborhood's improvement.
— a certain sort of whisky — and the combination resulted in giving the place the name which it held for so many years. The police force was small. There was no police court, and the magistrates before whom offenders were brought rarely fixed the penalty at more than $2. Crime and lawlessness grew terribly, and a man had to fight, whenever he went into the "Bottom."
Murder Bay: The area east of the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue was known for its brothels, gambling, and crime. It was sometimes called "Hooker's Department," after Civil War General Joseph Hooker, who hoped to concentrate the city's brothels in the area.
The "red light district" known as Murder Bay at the corner of C Street NW and 13th Street NW, April 1912. Griffin Veatch, a "night messenger" or child laborer who directed customers to brothels, is leaning against the tree at left. Photograph by Lewis W. Hine for the US National Child Labor Committee.
White Chapel: A dirty alley between 24th and 25th Streets, and M and N Streets, NW. During the 1880s, there was almost constant warfare between the residents of this area and the police.
Pipetown: East of 11th Street SE to the Anacostia River, this neighborhood was made famous by Pipetown Sandy (1905), John Philip Sousa's semi-autobiographical young adult novel about the neighborhood where he grew up. One Post article described Pipetown as "a community of extensive commons, of ash dumps, of tumble-down houses and shacks of nondescript architecture, a place where goats browsed among the tomato cans and the travelling fair pitched its weather-beaten tent."
Bloodfield: This neighborhood was "a vague name for the entire region around the James Creek Canal" (in today's SW near the Navy Yard), and one of the most dangerous and notorious slums in the city. Arrest attempts by police (who would only walk their beat in pairs) resulted in injury or worse to the officer or the resident:
Policeman Muller was attracted to the Shears house by the shooting, and when he arrived there he found Shears lying dead on the floor of the kitchen having been shot in the left temple. Curry was covered with blood from head to foot and gave evidence of having had a terrible struggle. His badge was smeared with blood and his coat was saturated with it.
Brothels, illegal speakeasies, and tough characters filled the neighborhood:
A steel corset stay, pointed and sharpened into a dangerous weapon, was used in an affray early yesterday evening...
Sergt. Daley, of the Fourth Precinct, was abroad in Bloodfield with his raiding clothes on last night, and, as a result, a number of alleged disorderly houses were closed up.
As the city and police force grew, the neighborhood calmed, but it retained its name up to the '20s.
Cowtown: A neighborhood located north of Hell's Bottom and west of 7th Street, NW.
The Island: This swath of land south of the Mall was so called because the canal cut it off from the rest of mainland DC.
I'd much rather live in Hell's Bottom than Logan Circle, wouldn't you?
Cross-posted at The Location.
Reader Corey H has already taken the Capital Bikeshare anonymous trip data, released just a few days ago, and crunched the numbers to come up with some fascinating nuggets of information:
1) Downhill flow. Average trip is -1.94 meters, or over 2,632 kilometers in elevation change total. The average ride from Wisconsin and Macomb loses 55 meters in elevation.
Fairfax Village has the highest start station:end station ratio (71 trips started, only 29 ended).
2) Last mile usage. The four most common one-way trips are Adams Mill/Columbia to Calvert/Woodley and back as well as Eastern Market Metro to Lincoln Park and back.
3) Tourists like to use it to sight-see. The 6th most common one-way trip is from the Smithsonian station back to the Smithsonian Station at 3,586 trips.
The average [such] trip is 2 hours, 48 minutes. 76.1% of [these] trips generate usage fees. Breaking that down between casual and members, 86.0% of casual incurred fees on these rides while 18.8% of members incurred fees.Corey added in an email, "I've already taken the time to clean the data and get it into a usable database. So if there are specific questions you'd like to be answered I can easily put together a query to get those answers (and I'm sure the others can as well)."
4) Casual vs. members usage fees. 40.7% of casual rides incur fees.
3.3%3.3% of member rides incur fees.
*Using GPS elevation data so all caveats apply. And it only factors in station-to-station elevation change.
What would you like to know about Capital Bikeshare usage? He can't necessarily investigate everyone's questions, but if anyone posts some interesting questions that catch Corey's eye, maybe he will analyze them for us.
- It's fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations
- Metro maps out loop line between DC and Arlington
- Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes
- Arlington considers using fees to reduce parking
- Ask Congress to give DC self-rule on building heights
- Sexist Metro ad asks "Can't we just talk about shoes?"
- Downtown & Georgia Avenue Walmarts open for business