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Posts about Columbia Heights


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 1

If you live in U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, or nearby neighborhoods, you probably live in Ward 1. Here are our recommendations for seven competitive races for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats in that area on November's ballot.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.

These are our Ward 1 endorsements:


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 1, we chose seven candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses many unopposed candidates.

The Columbia Heights fountain, which is in Ward 1. Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

In ANC 1A we endorse Valerie Baron, Darwain Frost, and Amanda Frost

ANC 1A covers Columbia Heights and Park View north of approximately Harvard Street, give or take a block. The main housing-related activity in the area involves redevelopment plans for the old Hebrew Home, on Spring Street at the ward's northern edge, and Park Morton, a public housing complex just east of Georgia Avenue.

Debate has also been raging online about whether the neighborhood is "going downhill" after one (former) resident sent an angry letter to PoPville about trash, crime, and a litany of other complaints; others, like ANC 1A chair and occasional GGWash contributor Kent Boese argued his characterization of the neighborhood was unfair.

The neighborhood, and all of Ward 1, has a high level of transit ridership and many bus lines in addition to the Green Line Metro service, but buses often spend a great deal of time stuck in traffic. Bicycle ridership is also high and rising, but there is a big need for bike connections to nearby areas, particularly east and west.

In district 1A01 near 14th and Spring, Valerie Baron and Ernest Johnson are vying for an open seat. We're endorsing Baron, who says she supports "fairly dense housing near the Metro" and would "prioritize affordable housing at the Hebrew Home." She bicycles regularly and endorses improving bus service.

We asked all candidates how they would react to proposals that make bus service better (such as with a bus lane) but require removing some parking. Baron was one of the few candidates to give a specific suggestion: Spring Road just east of 16th Street.

Ernest Johnson is unwilling to consider speeding up bus service if doing so takes away even a small amount of parking. He also thinks both housing and retail are "over-developed" and does not want more of either. His responses showed no vision for a better future for Columbia Heights beyond vague claims to want affordable housing; Baron is the clear choice.

A few blocks to the east in 1A07, Sharon Farmer is challenging sitting commissioner Darwain Frost. We're endorsing Frost. Farmer's answers were short and vague, except to clearly oppose contraflow bike lanes on one-way streets, bus lanes if they affect parking, or other changes. In his questionnaire answers and record on the ANC, Frost has shown much more openness to learning and considering possible solutions to neighborhood problems.

1A10 is the commission's southeast corner, along Columbia Road and the Soldiers' Home. There, we support Amanda Frost against incumbent Rashida Brown, who did not respond to our survey. Frost showed an open-minded view about growth, saying the Hebrew Home should prioritize "density, sustainability, maximizing and maintaining public space, and economic and environmental impact" to "balance livability with growth"; she'd also like to add housing at vacant properties along Georgia Avenue. On transportation, she'd like a bike lane and better sidewalks on Georgia, and praised the recent Sherman Avenue streetscape.

Photo by Craig James on Flickr.

In ANC 1B, we endorse Jonathan Goldman

The U Street area and hill up to Columbia Heights, as well as LeDroit Park, make up ANC 1B. Besides many of the same issues around crime and the area's evolving demographics as 1A, readers wanted to hear what candidates planned for improving transportation options, in particular bike infrastructure.

There is only one contested seat among the twelve districts in this large ANC, LeDroit Park's 1B01. The open seat there has two candidates, Jonathan Goldman and Anita Norman. We're endorsing Goldman, who is "never opposed to more bike share stations," and is paying particular attention to the "deplorable condition of the Kelly Miller", a public housing complex in the neighborhood. He plans to make working with those residents to improve conditions a top priority, and while he seems in favor of building more housing near the Metro, he says that it will be difficult to add more density because the SMD is "mostly historic."

Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

In ANC 1C, we aren't endorsing anyone

1C is Adams Morgan and the neighborhoods (Lanier Heights, Kalorama Triangle) which some people also refer to as Adams Morgan. By far the biggest issue in 1C is the SunTrust bank building and plaza, which could soon be redeveloped.

Sadly, ANC 1C historically has exemplified the public image of ANCs as entities that only say "no." Here, the ANC has been steadfastly opposed to essentially anything replacing this SunTrust building; they want to preserve the plaza, but also don't want a taller building that could make preserving the plaza feasible.

Over the last year, the neighborhood has seen other, similar battles where the ANC has opposed new housing, including zoning in Lanier Heights and a development at the Meridian Center on 16th Street.

In the two contested seats in 1C, none of the candidates distinguish themselves. In 1C07, Wilson Reynolds, the incumbent "is opposed to removing parking in Adams Morgan," even for bus improvements, and is in favor of using "[e]very legal tool... to diminish the size and impact" of development "on our citizens," such as plans on the 1700 block of Columbia Road.

Reynolds is facing Chris Otten, if anything an even more well-known and outspoken opponent of new development. Even though he did not complete our survey, Otten has been touring the city trying to drum up opposition to the zoning update, which won approval in January and has now taken effect; he is threatening to file a lawsuit against it, based largely on a series of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what the update would actually change.

1C08 lies just to 1C07's east. Sitting commissioner JonMarc Buffa chairs the ANC's planning & zoning committee, and has led much of the SunTrust opposition. In his responses, he said he was in support of affordable housing and thinks "providing protected bike lanes is important," but is "proud to have supported the downzoning of Lanier Heights." His opponent, Amanda Fox Perry, did not return our questionnaire.

If you live in either SMD, please consider running for ANC in 2018.

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

In ANC 1D, we endorse Jon Stewart, Paul Karrer, and Benjamin Mann

One issue is animating many of the contests in Mount Pleasant's ANC 1D: what to do about a strip of vacant land where Lamont Street would be if it continued up a steep hill, but it does not. Many Mount Pleasant residents would like some play equipment for children in this area, but many residents of the adjacent 1900 Lamont Street building do not.

Of course, that's not the only issue in Mount Pleasant, and candidates also talked about ways to add more housing within the scope of the neighborhood's historic status, improve the vitality of the neighborhood main street, make walking and bicycling safer, and more.

Jon Stewart is challenging incumbent Frank Agbro in 1D01, in the center of the neighborhood. Stewart, who we're endorsing, is a daily reader of Greater Greater Washington and says the blog "helped spark [his] interest in running for ANC." He's for a playground on the contested vacant land, for live music at neighborhood bars and restaurants (an age-old Mount Pleasant controversy), for better bike and pedestrian safety, and for preserving the strong Latino community and businesses in the neighborhood. He as a clear goals for preserving and creating affordable housing in his neighborhood, and improving bus options and infrastructure.

Stewart had perhaps the most humble response to our question, "Why are you the best person to represent" your district, saying "Honestly, I'm not," but he thinks he can do better than Agbro, whom he says missed five ANC meetings, has threatened the neighborhood farmer's market, and more. (Agbro did not respond to our questionnaire). Stewart wrote, "I own a house, ride the bus, shop on Mount Pleasant St, walk around the neighborhood, schlep to other neighborhoods' parks, and buy produce at the farmer's market. Mount Pleasant is great... and it could be greater. :­)" Sounds good to us.

We're also very impressed with Paul Karrer, who's one of three candidates competing for an open seat in 1D02 along 16th Street in the neighborhood's northeast corner. The other two, Alex Hastie and Capree Bell, did not answer the questionnaire, but that's not the only reason to vote for Karrer.

His questionnaire had a great answer for why historic preservation can be valuable ("who doesn't love our brick sidewalks, our trees, and our beautiful rowhouses?") but also not inconsistent with adding housing. His quote: "I think about Mount Pleasant [as] being a 'neighborhood for all'...Our ANC should support sensible and sustainable development that meets the goals of historical preservation but doesn't hinder our homeowners… [and] our ANC should advise our elected officials and government agencies to craft policies addressing affordable housing, transportation options, and quality of life that will make Mount Pleasant a great place to live well into the future."

Huzzah. We hope voters will select Paul Karrer to serve on the ANC.

The final contested seat in 1D is 1D03, a northwest section of the neighborhood that abuts the controversial Lamont Street potential parkland. Incumbent Jack McKay has a long and notable record of service to the neighborhood, but we recommend challenger Benjamin Mann.

McKay says the 1900 Lamont residents should have "decisive say" over the park, and nobody else; he had no suggestions for adding housing within the context of the historic district; and he thinks bus service is good enough. Is there a bus improvement sufficient to warrant prioritizing it over on-street parking? "I don't see that as a real possibility," he said.

Mann, by contrast, had excellent answers to many questions. He wants a more inclusive approach to the park that considers many residents' needs. He'd like to preserve the neighborhood but also add some housing, such as through accessory apartments, saying that "DC needs more housing to help make homeownership and renting more affordable." He's open to changes that rebalance the use of street space as well, again only after an inclusive community process.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 1 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 1. You can also see the responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page. 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 recommended endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


When the Metro first arrived in Shaw and Columbia Heights, they were far different than they are today

During rush hour, northbound Yellow Line trains need to reverse direction at Mount Vernon Square because there isn't enough capacity for all of them to run to Greenbelt. That's because when Metro designed the Yellow Line, it was hard to imagine neighborhoods like Shaw and U Street developing as rapidly as they did.

This pre-2004 map shows original full-time Yellow Line service. Image from WMATA.

Why can't Yellow Line go farther north full time?

For the Yellow Line to operate north of Mount Vernon Square full-time, there would need to be a pocket track somewhere between that station and Greenbelt, so that Yellow Line trains could turn back towards Virginia without impeding Green Line trains at rush hour. (Right now, a few Rush+ Yellow Line trains do go all the way to Greenbelt, but usually only about four per hour during peak periods).

The tunnel that carries the Green and Yellow Lines under 7th Street and U Street NW opened in two stages: from L'Enfant Plaza to Gallery Place in April 1983, and from Gallery Place to U Street in May 1991. These tracks initially only provided service for the Yellow Line, but the Green Line would soon utilize the tunnel when it began operation from U Street to Anacostia in December 1991. Check out the Evolution of Metrorail graphic below, which we initially ran two years ago to see how service has changed:

The tracks running through the 7th Street tunnel had always been intended to be shared by the Green and Yellow Lines, but only for a short portion. Although it was intended for the Green Line to operate along the entire length of the tunnel - continuing onwards to Petworth, Fort Totten, and northwest Prince George's County - the Yellow Line would short turn at a pocket track somewhere along the route, so as not to overwhelm operations at Greenbelt (as I discussed in my first post on this topic).

Metro's planners opted to build the necessary pocket track at Mount Vernon Square station, which meant that Yellow Line trains would have to end their route and turn back towards Virginia without serving neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Petworth. Except for the brief six-month period between the opening of Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and U Street stations in June 1991 and the commencement of Green Line service that December, the Yellow Line has always terminated at Mount Vernon Square in regular rush hour service.

Off-peak Yellow Line service all the way to Fort Totten began in 2006. This has certainly been a first step towards meeting the increased demand in DC's Mid-City area (generally thought of as the neighborhoods served by the Green Line from Shaw to Petworth). However, these areas have now grown enough in population that full-time Yellow Line service is warranted, despite the significant obstacles that stand in the way.

The growth of Mid-City has led to a need for increased Metro service

Massive redevelopment in Mid-City began around the turn of the century, and has continued at a frantic pace to the present day. That's meant increased demand for service along the Green/Yellow Lines at all hours.

When the Mid-City section of the Green Line opened in 1991 (between Gallery Place and U Street) and was completed in 1999 (from U Street to Fort Totten), the area was still reeling from the destruction caused by the 1968 riots. Shaw and Columbia Heights were still plagued with empty storefronts, and the landscape was pockmarked with empty lots where incinerated buildings had once stood.

Aftermath of DC's 1968 riots. Image from the Library of Congress.

The corridor has since benefitted from an incredible amount of reinvestment since the opening of the new Green (later Green/Yellow) Line stations in the 1990s. New construction has ranged in scale from projects like Progression Place, a huge mixed-use center that was recently built directly atop Shaw Metro, to smaller infill developments aimed at repairing the urban fabric.

Apartments at the Columbia Heights station. Photo by Alice Crain on Flickr.

A problem inherent in the system's design

Unfortunately, plans for Metro service patterns in Mid-City didn't anticipate the future growth that these neighborhoods would face. The Yellow Line was designed to provide a direct connection from Virginia to downtown for the commuting crowd; it travels express between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza, then provides a connection to each of the other Metro lines downtown before turning back at Mount Vernon Square.

The system's planners didn't predict that a significant amount of Yellow Line passengers would desire to travel past downtown, to neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights. Thus, it was assumed that the Green Line would provide adequate service for this portion of the line. Hence the pocket track going in at Mount Vernon Square, rather than at a more northern station like U Street.

So, could Metro build a new pocket track to account for the development spree?

Unfortunately, because this service pattern is cemented by the chosen location to build a pocket track, any attempt to correct this past oversight will be very laborious and costly.

It would be extremely difficult to add a pocket track to the Green and Yellow Lines anywhere between Mount Vernon Square and the District line because the tracks run almost entirely underground all the way to West Hyattsville. It would be prohibitively disruptive and expensive to excavate along the existing route and construct a pocket track between the mainline tracks—a WMATA study placed the cost of a Fort Totten pocket at $150 million.

Although the lower platform at Fort Totten is mostly built in an open cut (a shallow excavation that puts the tracks slightly below ground level), the tracks emerge directly from tunnels on both sides. The necessary location for a pocket track - the east side of the station, on the far side of the platforms from the city - is also the location of the B&E Connector track, a non-revenue link between the Red and Green Lines. The combination of these factors would make the construction of a pocket at this location very complex.

The track layout at Fort Totten. Light-colored tracks are below ground. Graphic by the author.

The next logical place to build a pocket track beyond Fort Totten is in Prince George's County, at the point where the tracks emerge from underground near West Hyattsville station. However, while construction of a pocket here wouldn't require excavation, it would still be extremely difficult and disruptive because the tracks are side-by-side on an elevated viaduct.

Because a pocket would have to be built between the existing mainline tracks, Metro would have to reconstruct a roughly 600-foot section of this elevated viaduct in order to pull the tracks apart and create space for a third track in between. This would be comparably disruptive and expensive to constructing a pocket track underground near Fort Totten. What's really required is a section of track that is at-grade, e.g. resting at ground level rather than underground or on a viaduct.

The Green Line viaduct and platforms at West Hyattsville. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The next feasible place to build a pocket track would be at the above-ground embankment behind Home Depot on East-West Highway near Prince George's Plaza station (although that, too, might be difficult due to the curve at that location).

Of course, a pocket track gets less and less useful the further it is from downtown. The next possible location for a pocket would be near College Park, at which point Yellow Line trains might as well continue all the way to Greenbelt.

It looks like for now, stations north of Mount Vernon Square will have to make do without full-time Yellow Line service. Until WMATA can procure $150 million to add an expensive new underground pocket track at Fort Totten, as well as $100 million for new rolling stock (plus millions more in annual operating funds), rush hour Yellow Line trains will have to continue to terminate at Mount Vernon Square. But the temporary terminus at U Street offers us a glimpse of what could have been if Metro had built a pocket track there back in 1991.


What do 80,000 people in a square mile look like? Depends on where you put them.

When we talk about dense housing, many think of New York City skyscrapers, or Soviet blocks. But as images maps of different neighborhoods in DC show, not all density looks the same.

A high-density block in Columbia Heights. All images from Google Maps.

Google Maps recently unveiled its auto-generated 3D imagery for DC. Using this feature, I compiled snapshots of what different levels of density—measured by people per square mile (ppsm)—look like throughout DC and Arlington. The population density numbers come from the 2014 American Community Survey, and I calculated at the census block group level.

5,000 people per square mile

In the Palisades, winding streets are lined with large houses (~5,000 ppsm):

And in Brookland, detached single family homes sit on lots with front setbacks and spacious backyards (~6,000 ppsm):

15,000 people per square mile

Though walkable, most of Georgetown isn't particularly dense, with blocks of tiny rowhouses clocking in at about 15,000 ppsm:

Lamond-Riggs achieves a similar population density with suburban-style duplexes (~13,000 ppsm):

20,000 - 30,000 people per square mile

With a mix of both historic and new-construction rowhouses, this block group in Hill East sits at around 22,000 ppsm:

This section of Fort Dupont is similarly dense, but looks much different. Garden apartments centered around green space and surface parking give this area a density of roughly 27,000 ppsm:

30,000 - 40,000 people per square mile

In Glover Park, rows of attached houses line a network of relatively narrow streets (~31,000 ppsm):

A mix of duplexes and garden apartments puts this part of Shipley Terrace at about 35,000 ppsm:

40,000 - 50,000 people per square mile

These blocks bordering the south end of Adams Morgan are almost entirely filled with large rowhouses, with a few bigger apartment buildings situated on the main thoroughfares (~45,000 ppsm):

In Rosslyn, parking lots and highways surround these 7- to 10-story apartment buildings (~47,000 ppsm):

50,000 - 60,000 people per square mile

These apartment complexes on Massachusetts Avenue near American University don't cover a lot of land area, but their height makes them relatively dense (~53,000 ppsm):

Dupont Circle's streets blend rowhouses with 4- to 8-story prewar apartment buildings (~55,000 ppsm):

80,000+ people per square mile

This section of Columbia Heights is mostly close-together 4-story apartment buildings, giving it both a high density and a human scale (~80,000 ppsm):

At the north end of Mount Pleasant, a large apartment complex pushes this block over 85,000 ppsm:

Just south of Logan Circle, bulky apartment buildings both old and new give rise to densities over 100,000 ppsm:


Google Maps gives DC the 3D treatment

For a number of years now, Google Maps has let you check out the buildings and topography of most medium to large cities, and increasingly even smaller towns, in 3D—but not DC. Now, nearly all of the District and parts of Arlington come in three dimensions.

Image from Google Maps.

Initially, Google Maps only showed prominent landmarks in 3D, as models had to be crowded-sourced and created by hand with Google Sketchup, the company's modeling software. Then in 2012, Maps rolled out a way of automating 3D generation through a process known as stereophotogrammetry.

Nearly all of DC is now included in the feature, as well as Rosslyn and National Airport.

Though the automated modeling process isn't perfect, it really makes the city pop when you turn the feature on. To check it out, go to Google Maps, turn on satellite mode, and click the "3D" button in the bottom right. Be sure to rotate the view to get the full experience! Holding the control key will allow you to click-and-drag the camera angle.

Some of my favorite spots to view with the new feature are Woodley Park and the National Cathedral, Columbia Heights, the National Arboretum, and upper Georgia Avenue.

The National Cathedral in 3D.

There has been speculation that the reason DC was excluded from 3D display was for security reasons. The areas that were excluded from rendering seem to confirm that might have been the case: in DC, the areas around the National Mall, the White House, Federal Center SW, and Foggy Bottom are conspicuously absent from the feature.

Image from Google Maps.

While you can now see the Rosslyn skyline from your computer, the rest of Northern Virginia and Maryland haven't been included, though they may be added later.

Let us know what interesting things you find with the 3D feature!


50% of DC residents live on only 20% of the land

Also, a quarter lives on just 7% of it. I made these maps to illustrate that.

Maps produced by the author. Data comes from 2014 ACS five-year estimates.

According to survey data from the Census Bureau, 50% of DC's population lives on just under 19% of its total area (bodies of water are included). In absolute terms, that's almost 315,000 people living on roughly 8,000 acres.

Zooming in even more, we see that 25% of people living in DC inhabit just 7% of its land. These residents are mostly clustered around neighborhoods like Logan Circle and Columbia Heights, where housing is dense and transit is plentiful.

For comparison, 50% of New York City's population lives on only 11% of its land area:

Do you notice anything interesting in these maps?


The Hebrew Home's neighbors want density and affordability

Neighbors of Petworth's Hebrew Home, which will soon be redeveloped, recently spoke up about what they'd like to see happen with the property. They want a dense building, lots of affordable housing, and better, more sustainable uses of the surrounding public space.

The Hebrew Home. Image from DMPED.

The Hebrew Home building provided senior housing and medical care for over 40 years before the District bought it and turned it into a mental health care facility. The building became vacant in 2009, and multiple efforts to redevelop it have stalled out.

In April, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development renewed the effort, making the Hebrew Home part of Our RFP, a process in which the city solicits input from community members on how to use a site before developers start submitting proposals.

More than 100 residents of Petworth and Columbia Heights attended the second Hebrew Home OurRFP meeting earlier this month to review the outcome of the first meeting and provide feedback on design and density, what kind of housing should go on the site, and public space and sustainability. There were presentation boards with a number of options for addressing each category, and meeting attendees ranked their preferences by placing stickers on measures they considered most important.

Here's what they said they want to see happen with the building:

Build as much housing as can fit

96% of the meeting attendees supported maximizing the possible density of the site through a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which allows a building to exceed the density that its area allows in exchange for projects that benefit the neighborhood.

The Hebrew Home site is currently zoned for residential rowhouse structures with a height limit of 35' (or 40' with a special exception). While the zoning does not impact the existing historic structure—which already exceeds zoning limitations—it does restrict the new construction planned for the eastern section of the property. A PUD would permit additional height and massing.

The profile of the building if there are no zoning exceptions. Image from DMPED.

The profile of the building if there are zoning exceptions via a PUD. Image from DMPED.

While there are many amenities a developer can provide to a community as part of a PUD process, one of those amenities can be (and often is) additional affordable housing units. More on this in just a bit.

In addition to wanting more density, 60% of the participants favored incorporating historic elements of the Hebrew Home building into the new construction. This would probably mean using materials similar to the ones used for the current building, or at least designing a more traditional building.

38% of residents would also like the project to exceed the District's green building requirements. District owned or financed residential projects 10,000 square feet or larger must meet or exceed the Green Communities Standard, but residents say they want the building to do even more to use less energy, consume fewer natural resources such as water and forest products, and emit fewer pollutants into the environment.

Make the housing affordable

As many as 200 new housing units could be part of the Hebrew Home's redevelopment. A key discussion point has been how affordable these units will be.

The Hebrew Home is public property, which means 30% of any housing that goes up there has to be set aside as affordable. Yet 94% of the participants in the June OurRFP meeting indicated that 30% was not enough affordable housing, and that they want to see more. Many participants would like to see significantly more, in fact, and they indicated this by writing 100% on their stickers.

Neighbors visiting the three topic boards and placing stickers on their priorities at the latest Hebrew Home meeting. Photo by the author.

While the outcome will likely be a mix of housing affordability across the income spectrum, there is no reason why a significant number of the housing units can't be affordable at some level—and due to available tax credits, affordable units can be easier to build than market rate units.

Less than a mile to the south, the 273 unit building planned as the "build first" site to replace Park Morton has been proposed with 94 public housing units and 108 workforce units for families earning 60% AMI. The remaining units would be offered at market rate.

In additional to support for housing affordability, 36% of the participants support reserving housing for seniors, 32% would like to have family-sized units included, and 20% would like the Hebrew Home development to create opportunities for home ownership.

Revamp the public space around the building

The Hebrew Home project has significant potential to improve the site's public space and sustainability. As the site exists today, 10th Street at the eastern edge of the property is technically part of the site. Unlike the east side of 10th Street which has sidewalks, trees, and grass, the west side of 10th Street has no sidewalks, no trees, and contains a large surface parking lot.

Image from Google Maps.

There is also a large open grass area between the historic building and its neighbor to the west at 1131 Spring Road, which could be a community garden, a playground, or an improved park space.

The grass area just west of the building. Image from DMPED.

There was more diversity of opinion on this aspect of the project than there was with Housing and Density. Still, participants' preference for sustainability was strong with 76% of them indicating that they would like to see the project incorporate sustainable public space improvements. DMPED defined such improvements as including storm water management, sustainable landscaping, and permeable surfaces.

With the exception of incorporating public art, which only received support from 8% of the participants, support for the other priorities was fairly evenly split with 40% wanting upgrades to 10th Street exceeding DDOT standards, 40% for passive uses of green space such as a community garden or public benches, and 36% wanting active uses of the outdoor areas such as a dog park, playground, or educational programming.

What's next?

After getting a strong sense of what the community wants through two community workshops, DMPED plans to formally open the window for developers to submit proposals for the site in late June. Once a developer is selected, there will be additional opportunities for community engagement.

The historic nature of the site and potential PUD will both provide opportunities for Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 4C and 1A to weigh in. In addition to ANC review, residents will be able to engage through public hearings at the Historic Preservation Review Board and Zoning Commission.


New bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes could connect Columbia Heights and Brookland

People want more ways to get around by foot and on bike in the corridor that runs from from Columbia Heights to Brookland, and they want them to be safer. After receiving that message, DDOT drafted potential plans for making it happen.

The study area. All image from DDOT.

DDOT's Crosstown Multimodal Transportation Study focuses on an area defined by Kenyon and Harvard Streets between 16th and Park Place; Irving Street and Michigan Avenue around the Washington Hospital Center; and Michigan Avenue from the hospital center to South Dakota Avenue. Cars in the area zip along Irving and Michigan, but for people on bikes and foot, there isn't a safe or easy way to get around (a fact compounded by the congestion once drivers get to either side of the hospital).

Also, the area's transit isn't great. Both the H2 and H4 bus routes connect the Columbia Heights Metro Station, the Washington Hospital Center, and the Brookland Metro Station along the Irving/Columbia Road-Michigan Avenue corridor. However, Medstar also provides shuttle service on the same route between the hospitals and the Columbia Heights Metro every 10 minutes during rush hour and 30 minutes during other times. This service largely duplicates WMATA's service and adds additional traffic to already congested streets.

After the first public workshop about the study, nearly 700 people commented on how to address all of these issues. Back in April, DDOT unveiled three concept plans for the corridor. Here's a summary:

A new street grid

Each of DDOT's proposals suggests removing the Michigan Avenue overpass and creating a street grid west of the hospitals. Doing so would go a long way in making the area safer for people on foot and bike, as it'd get rid of unnecessary high-speed ramps and car lanes; it'd also mean chances to add new green space. How many surface streets are in that grid depends largely on where bus and bike lanes need to be.

One of the options for a new street grid.

More options for bike riders

Those who gave DDOT input were clear that they'd like to see more bike connections, and that those connections be made made up of space that's only for bikes. The proposals include a few options for doing that, from protected bikeways that run in both directions to off-street lanes next to pedestrian walkways.

Around the hospitals and toward Columbia Heights, the stronger proposals would create bike lanes in one of the existing travel or parking lanes. With one exception in one proposal, bikes and buses would not share the same lanes, and west of the hospitals, bike lanes and bus lanes would not be on the same streets.

One option is to add a bike lane along Michigan Avenue.

Dedicated bus lanes

The plans aim to improve bus service (shorter trips, specifically) by creating dedicated lanes for buses. While the extent of dedicated lanes varies among the concepts, they all suggest dedicated lanes on either Irving Street, Columbia Road, and/or Harvard Street west of the hospitals. This would be accomplished by using one lane currently used during rush hour and parking during off peak hours.

The dark blue lines are dedicated transit lanes.

No more cloverleaf

None of DDOT's three options would do away with the North Capitol Street overpass. All of them, however, would replace the freeway-style, cloverleaf-shaped ramps that run between North Capitol and Irving with more direct connections. Doing so would make it much easier to keep car speeds down and control traffic flow.

The cloverleaf is on its way out.

DDOT has scheduled its third Crosstown Study workshop for June 9th at Trinity Washington University. You can give input on the potential plans there.

In addition to the third workshop, DDOT will have two Public Engagement Events on Saturday, June 11: one in Brookland, at the Monroe Street Farmers Market (716 Monroe Street NE), and one on the west side of the Columbia Heights Metro station (3030 14th Street NW).


Where DC used to bar black people from living

One of many pieces of America's shameful racial past was when racial covenants forbade people in certain areas from selling their houses to an African-American family. DC had these in several neighborhoods, particularly Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Petworth, Park View, and Bloomingdale.

According to Mapping Segregation in Washington DC, an interactive map created last year by a group called Prologue DC, covenants took two forms throughout the first half of the 20th century: restrictions in the property's deed, often set up by the developer when building a set of row houses, or an agreement that neighborhood activists would circulate as a petition around a neighborhood.

Lots with racial covenants in DC. All maps by Brian Kraft/JMT.

As the interactive map's text explains, covenants like these did more than just bar African-Americans. Covenants in some areas also prohibited Jews—"In DC this was more common west of Rock Creek Park," says the text.

These effectively kept black residents out of many neighborhoods through the early twentieth century, as this map of the area around Columbia Heights shows.

Lots with restrictions (purple) and the percentage of non-white residents (darker = more non-white), 1934.

Many covenants imposed other limits as well, like requiring "that only single-family houses be constructed or that buildings be a certain distance from the street. They also might prohibit use of the property as a school, factory, or saloon." As Ben Ross explains, covenant limits on building size and use is the forerunner of modern zoning.

Covenants fall and segregation takes new forms

Black homeowners and groups like the NAACP challenged these restrictions—often unsuccessfully—in lawsuits from the turn of the century until finally winning the seminal Supreme Court case, Shelley v. Kraemer, in 1948, and a corresponding case in DC, Hurd v. Hodge (which used a federal civil rights law instead of the Fourteenth Amendment since DC is not a state).

Percentage of black residents by Census tract, 1930 (left) and 1960 (right). Darker colors signify more black residents.

In the years after legal restrictions fell, the percentage of black residents in nearby neighborhoods increased—just what the covenants' creators and defenders, illegally and immorally, feared. Amid this shift, the end of legal school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and other civil rights advances, many white residents moved to the suburbs.

There, whether intentionally or not, communities wrote zoning rules and school district boundaries in ways that perpetuated de facto segregation.

How covenants from the past still hurt people today

While this legal tactic is long gone, its effects remain. Emily Badger wrote about a study of how young black people are far less likely than their white and Hispanic peers to get help from their parents to afford the down payment on a home. Each generation invests in real estate and gains wealth in doing so, which it then uses to help the next generation—except if, a few generations ago, residents and the government stopped your ancestors from getting some wealth in the first place.

Badger writes, "Historic disparities in the housing market are transmitted over time, from parent to child to grandchild. Earlier generations of blacks were excluded from homeownership by lending practices and government policies, and as a result those generations didn't accumulate the housing wealth that enabled them to pass money onto their children."

Or, as she put it pithily on Twitter:

Correction: The initial version of this post identified some covenants as being in Truxton Circle, but they were actually in Bloomingdale. Also, a sentence has been updated to emphasize that the disadvantages to black residents came from a combination of both the government and private citizens.


The first two efforts to turn Petworth's Hebrew Home into housing failed. Will the third time be different?

Just a few blocks from the Petworth Metro, a District-owned apartment that most call the Hebrew Home has been vacant since 2009, and DC is asking for resident input on its latest effort to redevelop the land (the first two fell through). The end result could be 200 new units of mixed-income housing, along with retail and park space.

The Hebrew Home, looking west on Spring Road. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

Located at 1125 Spring Road, the Hebrew Home's name is a reference to the building's original use serving the elderly Jewish population with housing and health care. From 1925 to 1969, the property grew to include an array of social services available to young and old within a community that both understood and supported the specific religious, linguistic, and cultural needs of its clients.

When the Hebrew Home determined it could no longer adequately serve the needs of the local Jewish population by remaining on Spring Road, it sold the property to the District government and moved into a new facility in Montgomery County.

The Hebrew Home and the adjacent Robeson School building, at 10th and Spring NW. Image from DMPED.

This isn't the first effort to redevelop the Hebrew Home

From 1968 until its closure in 2009, the District used the Hebrew Home site as a mental health facility for the homeless. Since it closed that facility, the District has attempted to breathe new life into the building without success.

In the fall of 2010, the DC Department of Human Services proposed using the site to shelter families instead of sending them to DC General. That plan would have cost an estimated $800,000 to renovate the building for 74 families. However, the site was removed from consideration due to then-Councilmember Muriel Bowser's concern that the immediate area had an "inordinate amount of group homes" and two homeless shelters within a two-block radius of the site.

More recently, efforts in 2014 to redevelop the historic structure and the Robeson School (which sits immediately adjacent, to the east) resulted in a plan to create approximately 200-units of housing with 90% designated as affordable, including a senior preference for 25% of the units.

The Robeson School building. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

Development stalled again, however, when the District learned that it wouldn't be able to transfer ownership to the DC Housing Authority without a formal Request for Proposals process. Moreover, Bowser expressed reservations about the plan being weighted so heavily toward affordable housing. Due to these factors, the District restarted the process to develop the site in April with what it's calling OurRFP, a process in which the city solicits input from community members on how to use a site before developers start submitting proposals.

The Hebrew Home could become much-needed housing for all incomes

The first of two OurRFP workshops to decide how to redevelop the Hebrew Home was earlier this month. There, officials from DC's office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) shared some key data:

  • The lot is 144,400 square feet in size.
  • The site includes three buildings. The development will not include the small building at the western edge of the site.
  • The former Hebrew Home structure is historic, but the Robeson School is not and can be razed.
  • The property has good access to transportation. It's near the Georgia Avenue Metro station, numerous bus lines, and Capital Bikeshare stations.
  • The site has a walk score of 93 and a bike score in the 80s.

A map of the transit options surrounding the Hebrew Home. Image from DMPED.

Workshop attendees split into 13 working groups to discuss what they would like to see happen with the Hebrew Home.

The site has tremendous potential to provide a significant amount of housing in an area with ready access to public transportation and where housing prices and displacement are of great concern. Within my working group, there was general agreement that the RFP should start from the position of including a strong affordability component, with the financing then driving the configuration of affordable and market rate housing to a balanced level. There was an understanding that the economics of development will have an impact on what can be financed and that, at the end of the day, the development must become a reality for any housing to exist.

With regards to the living units, there's a need for both family-sized units and apartments for seniors. I would like to see every unit (if possible) be ADA compliant; as units become vacant in the future it would be ideal if any resident in need of housing would be able to move into the building and not be prevented due to the unit's configuration.

A map showing existing affordable housing surrounding the Hebrew Home site by location and number of affordable units. Image from DMPED.

As for the type of building that goes up, it is clear that people want the new construction to fit into the neighborhood context. Whether the building was traditional, modern, contemporary, or something else, the materials, massing, and architectural detailing's ability to make it fit the character of what's around it certainly exists.

We also discussed the massing of the new construction on the Robeson site. Some suggested that a by-right approach would be more in keeping with the neighborhood and better fit in. I countered that I would prefer a Planned Unit Developmentwhere a developer provides the community with benefits in exchange for a zoning exception— for three reasons:

  1. A PUD would allow for a slightly larger building. The existing Hebrew Home building is one story taller than allowed by by right, and I think that an additional story on the new construction that matched the height of the historic building would not be out of place, especially as it would be located between the Hebrew Home site and the Raymond School & Recreation Center.
  2. A PUD would also result in more oversight and community opportunities to participate.
  3. As zoned, the building is residential. But the existing Hebrew Home building has a space on the first floor with a separate entrance that could support a small store or possibly another use such as an early childhood development center.
I think the community would benefit from vetting these options to see if they're a good fit rather than not discussing them at all.

One of the last things the group discussed was the public space and sustainability. As part of this discussion, we talked about trees, benches, green roofs, and other possible uses for the existing green spaces. As this is an opportunity to enhance our natural environment, I also mentioned that we should advocate for all trees and landscaping to be native plantings. The green space between the small building at 1131 Spring Road and the Hebrew Home is also large enough for a small park or other type of public space.

There will be another OurRFP workshop in May, and DMPED anticipates releasing the RFP solicitation in June 2016.

A version of this post originally ran on Park View, DC.

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