Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Carver-Langston

Government


New ANC 5D selects meeting location that avoids residents

The new ANC 5D, which includes the neighborhoods of Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver Langston, and Gallaudet University, will hold its second monthly meeting next Tuesday at a location outside the ANC's boundaries. Why would the level of DC government closest to the people purposely meet at a place that makes it difficult for residents to attend?


Boundaries of ANC 5D. Image from Office of ANCs, annotated by the author.

When the ANCs were redrawn last year, I was part of the team that created the map for Ward 5 which the DC Council adopted.

We made a serious effort to push for geographically-smaller ANCs than the 3 large ones the ward had previously. One significant reason was to help residents reach meetings without driving long distances. We purposely drew what ultimately became ANC 5D to unite dense, urban, rowhouse neighborhoods in the southeastern part of the ward into a compact commission.

There are multiple community spaces that could house meetings within the ANC: Gallaudet University, churches, two recreation centers, multiple schools, and other locations open to the public. It would be easy to find a place where residents could walk a couple blocks to interact with their elected representatives.

Last month, the newly-seated ANC met for the first time at the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District headquarters, on Bladensburg Road in the Arboretum neighborhood. While located outside of the new ANC, this location is within the boundaries of the former ANC 5B, which included all of the new ANC 5D as well as more area to the north (Arboretum, Gateway, Brentwood, Langdon, and part of Brookland).

It made sense to hold the meeting at a familiar location, and I assumed this would be a temporary location until the commission chose a regular meeting space inside the new ANC's boundaries.

Unfortunately, at this meeting, the commission announced they would continue to meet regularly at the police station. They gave spurious reasons:

  • Meetings would be held at the police station because people's emotions run high at these ANC events and it would be good to have the police nearby in case things get out of hand. If this were the case, why don't other ANCs all hold meetings in police stations?
  • There is nowhere in the ANC that could hold the thousands of people who live in the ANC all at once. I have attended ANC meetings for years now, and I've never seen attendance higher than a couple dozen people. As noted above, there are many places in the neighborhoods that could hold ANC meetings.
  • Everyone drives to these meetings anyway, so it doesn't matter if it's far from the homes in the constituent neighborhoods. This is the most facetious reasoning of all. It's a chicken-and-egg situationpeople drive to the meetings now because there's no easier way to get to the meetings. Biking is difficult because the most direct route (Bladensburg Road) is a dangerous six-lane arterial with speeding commuters and a long, steep hill.

    Only one bus route (the B2) runs up to the police station from where most of the population lives, and it doesn't run frequently in the evenings when meetings are held. The end result is that those without cars have multiple reasons to not attend ANC meetings.

    According to the latest Census estimates, approximately 51% of the households in ANC 5D have a car. By holding the meetings in a place where driving an automobile is the most logical way to attend, the ANC is selecting for a certain type of resident, and not receiving the input of at least half of the community.

The ANC did announce that they would hold some meetings inside the commission boundaries at some point, but there's no reason not to hold them all there. They should rescind as soon as possible the decision to hold meetings at the police station. It's the smart, sensible, democratic thing to do.

Rob Pitingolo, NeighborhoodInfo DC, assisted with data for this post.

Government


Ward 5 needs more, smaller ANC's

The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force recently began the process of deciding if and how to redraw the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). The task force should create more ANC's with fewer Single Member Districts (SMDs) in each.

SMDs are the individual districts that make up each ANC. Each SMD serves around 2,000 constituents. Commissioners are unpaid, non partisan, and elected to 2-year terms.

Every ward has their ANCs arranged slightly differently. The most common set up is 4 or 5 commissions with fewer than 10 SMDs in each. For example, Ward 7 has 5 commissions, each consisting of 7 SMDs.

Currently, Ward 5 has only 3 ANCs, each with 12 SMDs. This is problematic because each covers a large geographic area, encompassing a wide range of neighborhoods with vastly different characteristics and needs.


Current ANC boundaries.

A more responsive system could be created by revising ANCs to be based on historic neighborhood boundaries, future economic development prospects, and common-sense issues of geography. This would improve local governance by ensuring that commissioners were voting on issues that they were engaged in and would impact their constituents. It would also make it easier for interested citizens to attend meetings and get involved in local government.

ANC's should comprise neighborhood clusters that are near each other and have similar densities and zoning characteristics.

For example, ANC 5C includes some of Ward 5's most densely populated neighborhoods along the North Capitol Street corridor, sparsely populated areas around the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and most of Catholic University. These neighborhoods have little in common and cover an area almost 3 miles from north to south.

This variation is problematic when the whole ANC votes on something that will in reality only impact a few SMDs. The controversy over Big Bear Cafe's attempts to secure a liquor license pitted commissioners from miles away against supportive commissioners from the neighborhood.

Issues can also arise when commissioners deal with changes or challenges from areas outside their borders that do not affect the larger ANC. For instance, the Eckington and Truxton Circle neighborhoods in ANC 5C are located very close to development in the newly branded NoMa neighborhood. They have to deal with related economic development and housing issues that will have little impact on 5C commissioners from farther north.

Many of the problems inherent in ANC5C's makeup could be solved by reducing its size and moving its northern most SMD's to another commission. A better, smaller ANC 5C could look like this:


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

Similarly, the neighborhoods of Trinidad and Carver-Langston in ANC 5B, located north of Florida Ave and Benning Road, NE are part of the rapid economic development based around the H Street corridor. But ANC 5B stretches for miles towards the Maryland border. It includes the National Arboretum, and has several SMDs clustered around Rhode Island Avenue, NE.

These areas have different economic centers and geographies. It makes little sense for them to be involved in each other's parochial decisions.

These issues can be solved by creating a smaller ANC representing Trinidad, Carver-Langston, Ivy City and Gallaudet University:


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

As currently constituted, several of Ward 5's economic corridors, historic neighborhoods and institutions are split between multiple ANCs. This makes it difficult to create coherent and effective policy.

Catholic University, the surrounding neighborhood of Brookland, and its main street of 12th Street are currently split between three ANCs. The nearby Rhode Island Avenue corridor also touches three separate commissions. Creating one ANC to encompass Catholic University, Brookland and neighborhoods to the north and south of Rhode Island Avenue, NE would allow local leaders to make smart decisions about the future of this area without undue outside influence.


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

These examples do not form a complete plan for redrawing Ward 5's ANCs. But they do show that the existing commissions can be broken down in a more logical and effective manner.

The three ANCs in Ward 5 are vast. The current setup does not make participation in local politics easy for anyone, but it is especially problematic for seniors, people with small children and those without cars or easy access to transit.

Ward 5 isn't the only ward considering more, smaller ANCs. In Ward 1, which is currently divided into 4 commisions, ANC 1A and 1B each have 11 commissioners. 1B would now grow to 13 commissioners if its borders don't change. Kent Boese has proposed adding a 5th ANC in Ward 1, giving each 6-9 SMDs.

Creating smaller ANCs will make it easier for regular citizens to get involved in local affairs. This line of thinking appeared at the first task force meeting when members suggested that citizens will be more likely to attend meetings if they know it will be a short trip from their house.

The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force has a chance to improve governance and get more people involved when making their recommendations. They should move forward by creating more ANCs and decreasing the size of the existing commissions.

Their next meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 24 at the 5th District Police Station, 1805 Bladensburg Road NE. Visit the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force's blog for more information.

Zoning


Terrible Aldi design shows need for new parking zoning

Carver-Langston is a dense, urban neighborhood, and is about to benefit greatly from the H Street-Benning Road streetcar, which will run across the entire southern edge of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, commercial developers still seem to think they are located in a far-flung suburb, miles from the city.


Photo by Joe+Jeanette Archie on Flickr.

Along with the increase in transit options for the over 5,500 residents of the neighborhood, a new grocery option is on its way. Aldi will be opening a new store in the neighborhood, but the design and layout show absolutely zero creativity or understanding of how to build in a transit-friendly, walkable area.

Much of the entire southwest corner of the neighborhood is commercial in nature, but has been laid out in a suburban style. This isn't just inappropriate for this part of the city, it's clearly a waste of prime real estate.

Here's the preliminary site plan for the new Aldi store:

As you can see, the store, which will be located at the southeast corner of 17th Street and Maryland Avenue NE, will not address the street. Rather, a majority of the lot will be an asphalt parking lot, which is almost identical to the standard plan that Aldi provides to developers (PDF):

It doesn't have to be this way. Aldi's European operations have shown that they can operate stores that fit into an urban environment:


Image from Google Maps.

This store, located in Frankfurt, Germany, is at the junction of multiple streetcar lines and shares a building that includes other uses (which appear to be offices) above the ground floor. Bicycle parking in front (and a U-Bahn station below) add to the transportation options available to shoppers (of course, access by foot is a given).

Why couldn't a store like this be built in Carver Langston? There's little incentive to do so. Sure, this isn't the central business district of the city, but there's no reason that we shouldn't prioritize every parcel of limited commercial land in DC to serve a higher purpose. More property taxes could come from a multi-story building that has office space in addition to a grocery store. Income tax could come from residents living above such a store. Instead, the city has settled for the lowest common denominator.

How can we make sure things like this don't happen again? A first step is to make sure that the Zoning Commission passes the parking regulations from the zoning update. The Commission extended the period when they'll be accepting testimony, so there is still time to send in a letter stating your agreement that we need to prioritize non-automotive growth within the city.

Submit your comments to the Zoning Commission by fax or email. Emailed comments must be signed and sent as a PDF of not more than 10 pages. Send your signed PDF to: zcsubmissions@dc.gov. Written testimony must be received before 3 pm on Monday, December 20th.

Retail


Thinking inside the box: Reusing Ward 5's empty big boxes

Julia Christensen has become the authority on adaptive community reuse of empty big box stores with her 6-year project and now recent book, Big Box Reuse. Empty stores have transformed into community centers, museums, charter schools, markets, and more. While Christensen's project focuses primarily on the suburban landscape, we are dealing with a similar loss in DC's northeastern Ward 5.


Photo by iwasteela.

This past November, National Wholesale Liquidators, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In little over a month we had two empty big boxes less than two miles apart: one at 514 Rhode Island Avenue NE in the Rhode Island Avenue Center, and the other in the Hechinger Mall at 1600 Benning Road NE. Conversations over what should next fill the space have erupted and died down many times since on neighborhood email lists.

Many residents suggested filling the dead space with higher-end retail, including the ever-elusive Trader Joe's or Harris Teeter. However, Safeways already anchor both suburban-style strip malls. While the NWL on Rhode Island Avenue replaced the Ames department store (which took over Zayre's) when it left the mall during that company's death throes, we are currently in the midst of a recession. That makes the prospect of finding another big box retailer to fill 60,000+ square feet two times over in DC almost certainly impossible.

Ryan Avent, in response to Jebediah Reed's interview with Christensen on the Infrastructuralist, envisions creating a dense, mixed-use neighborhood in place of dying strip malls. This fits with recent literature on "retrofitting" or "recycling" suburbs and is, in fact an integral part of the THINK Rhode Island Avenue Great Streets Initiative. But that project has just begun and is on an extended timeline. What do we do in the interim?

Edgewood's ANC-5C08 Commissioner Marshall Phillips has seen the Rhode Island Avenue Center transition over the years, and he began thinking outside the box before he'd even heard of the big box reuse movement. At the March 17 ANC-5C monthly meeting, Phillips took the floor during the Commission's "Workshop on Infrastructure Issues" and spoke from the heart of his desire to work out a deal between property manager Vanguard Realty and the DC government to fill the dark space with community services, perhaps a combination of CSOSA, an MPD-5D substation, and a larger space for the overcrowded Brentwood DMV. The DMV is constantly overwhelmed, yet Mayor Fenty is proposing to close it in his new budget.

Phillips would like to see community services rent the space for approximately 7 years. That's enough time for the economy to rebound and the Rhode Island Avenue Great Streets to hopefully move from planning to the beginning stages of inception. Currently, Vanguard is looking for a retail tenant to sign a 30-year lease. H&R Retail manages the Hechinger Mall, and is likely looking for similar terms. Neither site is listed in the Washington, DC Economic Partnership database, though I'm not sure that would necessarily help right now.

Communities across the country are, in varying ways, reclaiming private space for public benefits. This movement, suburban in its genesis and at first glance contrary to New Urbanist ideas, sets a great precedent for what we can do with existing infrastructure here in DC, even if not ideal or urban in its form. I commend Commissioner Phillips on his vision, and hope both the community and the District government are able to work together to reopen these dark spaces as soon as possible.

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