Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Shaw

History


Read about one of Duke Ellington's favorite Shaw hangouts

To work against gentrification nasty's reputation of erasing a neighborhood's history, it can help to keep stories about places and people alive. Case in point: a block in Shaw sandwiched between 6th and 7th Streets NW. It's where young Duke Ellington might have crossed paths with the son of a Russian landlord in a fabled Shaw pool hall in the years leading up to World War I.


624 T Street NW, site where Frank Holliday's Pool Hall was located. Photo by the author.

Around 1913, Edward "Duke" Ellington—barely a teenager—began hanging out in a pool hall in a building in the 600 block of T Street NW owned by DC physician Louis Kolipinski and operated by Frank Holliday.

Kolipinski was a Russian (Polish) immigrant who graduated from Georgetown medical school. He began practicing medicine in 1897, and by the first decade of the 20th century was investing in real estate throughout Washington. He owned several buildings in the 600 block of T Street NW including the two-story brick building where Holliday and later proprietors operated a pool hall. The Howard Theater, completed in 1910, is located across an alley just east of the building.


The Howard Theatre vicinity around 1919. The arrow is where the Frank Holliday pool hall was. Image from Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia.

The entire block was a hotbed of African American entrepreneurialism and artistic expression. The businesses there straddled the line separating "proper" Washington and the city's underworld, which was populated by numbers men, bookmakers, and bootleggers. Ellington credited his time on the block with being critical to forming his identity. There does not appear to be any evidence that Ellington and the Kolipinskis ever met.

Dr. Kolipinski died in late 1914 and his wife assumed control of his real estate assets, which remained in the family until 1987. Today the one-story building constructed in 1931, which replaced an earlier two-story building, is a brew pub that opened in 2013. The Ellington connection is a key part of the establishment's nostalgia narrative: "Established on the spot where Frank Holiday's Pool Room once stood—next door to the Howard Theatre and where Duke Ellington learned how to play jazz as a teenager."

The Kolipinskis had several children, including Andrew Leopold Kolipinski. Andrew was born around 1910 and was not that much younger than Ellington. Though Washington was rigidly segregated in the early twentieth century, underworld establishments—like pool halls, after hours clubs, and brothels—were among the few places where people of different races and classes could mingle. Holliday's pool hall's heterogeneity, at least when it came to class, was one of the things that attracted young Ellington.

"Ellington also spent significant time as a teenager in a less rarified area of black Washington, at Frank Holliday's poolroom in the Shaw neighborhood," wrote Harvey C. Cohen in his 2010 book, Duke Ellington's America. "The poolroom attracted a mix of people who Ellington claimed educated him as much as his schoolteachers did: 'pool sharks,' lawyers, well-traveled 'Pullman car porters,' 'professional and amateur gamblers,' a slew of piano players, and Dr. Charles Drew.

Ellington biographer Mark Tucker wrote about Ellington's time in the T Street establishment in his 1991 book, Ellington: the Early Years:

Ellington also learned race pride could be carried too far, as when the "proud negroes" of Washington opposed school desegregation because they did not want their educational standards lowered. And he saw how this pride could become prejudice in a black community where caste distinctions were made on the basis of skin color. Perhaps to escape this stratification, Ellington sought out places like Frank Holliday's poolroom at Seventh and T streets, a place that showed "how all levels could and should mix." There he found college graduates, professional gamblers, Pullman porters, law and medical students (probably from nearby Howard University), and musicians. In school Ellington studied Negro history and learned to be proud of his people; in the poolroom he was taught "the art of the hustle" by card sharks, check-forgers, and pickpockets. But even these small-time criminals, with their worldly airs and slick style, were worthy of emulation: "At heart, they were all great artists."

The Howard Theatre and former Holliday pool room (left of truck), January 2016. Photo by the author.

Ellington had acquired his nickname, "Duke," by the time he was hanging out in Holliday's pool hall. Andrew Kolipinski died in a car crash at age 21. According to his November 1931 obituary he had acquired the nickname "Duke" while attending Randolph-Macon College. There don't appear to be any documents or narratives surviving that describe how the Kolipinskis interacted with their tenants and the businesses housed in the buildings they owned.

Frank Holliday's pool hall is the stuff of local legends, and Ellington's personal story. It occupies a prominent place in Ellington biographies and it connects existing places, like the Right Proper Brewing Company's brewpub, with a past Washington that is rapidly disappearing from aging residents' memories. Inside 624 T Street, patrons, sightseers, and history buffs collide in gentrified space that doesn't erase the past, but builds on it.

It may be that Duke Ellington and Duke Kolipinski never met. It's also possible, however unlikely, that their paths crossed in Washington's Shaw neighborhood. I wonder what a pair of teens, one a talented and curious African American and the other, the son of European immigrants, would have talked about had they met each other in or around Frank Holliday's pool room.

Bicycling


A church in Shaw thinks bike lanes make streets safer

Some churches in Shaw are fighting hard to block a proposed north-south protected bikeway, but not all churches think it's such a bad idea.


Hemingway Temple AME Church. Photo by Martin Moulton.

Hamingway Temple African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, at 5th and P streets NW, has sent a letter to the District Department of Transportation suggesting "a fair balance" in its ongoing study of ways to add a protected bikeway around 5th, 6th, and/or 9th streets.

The letter says,

We realize that as our neighborhood becomes more heavily populated, its needs also become more diverse. Preserving church parking is important to our members, but we appreciate the Mayor's Vision Zero initiative and strategies that will make our streets safer and eliminate all traffic related fatalities. ... Separate protected facilities for cyclists keeps them out of the way of motor vehicles. Reducing the width of roads makes them safer for pedestrians to walk across.
(Before someone jumps on the church's seeming to claim the only benefit of bike lanes is to keep them out of drivers' way, cycling advocates have long been arguing drivers should support bike lanes for this very reason—they're actually potentially in the interests of people bicycling and people driving alike.)

The letter credits Martin Moulton, board vice president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, for engaging with the church. The nearby KIPP DC Shaw Campus, for which Moulton has worked as a consultant on community outreach, also has for some time let church members park in its parking lot on Sundays.

This demonstrates, first, that reaching out to engage constructively with churches is important; and second, that there can be creative other solutions to churches' parking needs besides forbidding bike lanes entirely. We can hope more churches will engage with area cyclists and find ways to make streets safer while still allowing parishioners to reach worship services as well.

There will be an open house meeting on the bikeway study this Saturday, February 6, from 12-4 pm at KIPP. People who want to speak should arrive at noon to sign up, and public testimony will begin at 1.

Public Spaces


A new pocket park and safer street layout are coming to Florida Ave NW

Much of the discussion around a new development at 965 Florida Avenue NW has centered on disagreement about its affordable housing component. That aside, the project will add a lot to the neighborhood, including a new pocket park and a better layout for the intersection in front.


The new pocket park is the two green triangles on the left side of the image, with the building at 965 Florida on the right. All images from MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group unless otherwise noted.

Developers MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group will build a new 4,478 square foot pocket park on the west side of the reconfigured Florida Ave and Sherman Ave intersection. This will act as a "buffer" between traffic and the existing town houses, their application says.

To create the pocket park, the developers will reconfigure the intersection of Florida Avenue and Sherman Avenue, eliminating the continuous diagonal on Florida and a disused pedestrian island between the northbound and southbound lanes of Sherman.


The existing Florida Ave and Sherman Ave intersection. Image by Google Maps.

The sidewalk along Florida and Sherman will be widened by six feet to 14 feet and there will be a new "private street"—essentially an extension of Bryant Street that is part of DC's plans to reconnect Georgia Avenue and Sherman Avenue.


An eastern aerial perspective of the site.

The project, along with others proposed for the block of Florida Ave between V Street and Sherman Avenue, will create a nearly unified streetscape of mid-rise, mixed-use buildings.


Florida Ave street level elevation.

Affordable housing has been at the center of the controversy surrounding the 965 Florida development. While MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group have committed to setting aside 30% of its 428 residential units for households earning up to 30% or up to 50% of area median income, criticism has erupted over the District government's decision to sell the property for just $400,000 when it was reportedly worth $27.6 million.

Some argued DC coud build more affordable housing if it sold the plot outright, while others said the deal guaranteed that affordable housing would go up in DC's core.

Either way, 965 Florida is moving forward and will bring many attractive—and needed—improvements to the Shaw and U Street neighborhoods.

Note: If you read this post when it first published, your eyes aren't deceiving you! We re-ordered it to emphasize the key changes coming to the neighborhood.

Development


A new Florida Ave development is getting more affordable units than originally planned

Plans for the much-discussed development at 965 Florida Avenue NW now include 129 affordable residential units, almost 18% more than earlier plans. The additional housing may alleviate some concerns over whether the DC government made the best deal for the site.


Rendering of 965 Florida Avenue. Image by MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group.

The planned 10-story mixed-use building includes 428 apartments, with 30% set aside for the District's inclusionary housing program, leaving 299 to be rented at market rates. The affordable component includes 32 units for households that make up to 30% of area median income (AMI) and 97 for households making up to 50% of AMI.

DC will auction off the affordable units to households through its inclusionary zoning lottery. Households must register for the lottery by providing documents proving that their size and combined income meet the AMI requirements.

AMI for a household of four in the Washington DC metropolitan area was $107,300 in 2013, according to the DC Department of Housing and Community Development. Using this number, a household making up to $32,190 would qualify for 30% of AMI units and one making up to $53,650 would qualify for 50% of AMI units.

The previous proposal for 965 Florida included 107 affordable units out of 352 planned in the new building.

More units but still just 30%

While there will be more affordable units, the developers, MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group, are also building more apartments overall. That means the percentage of below-market units at 965 Florida isn't going up.

The 30% number follows a bill by Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie requiring that 20% to 30% of residential units built as a result of public land deals are included in the District's affordable housing program.

Questions have been raised over whether the District made a poor deal when it agreed to sell the 965 Florida site for just $400,000 and a 30% affordable unit commitment from the developers when the plot was reportedly worth $27.6 million if sold outright.

Some argue that DC could have created more affordable dwelling units by selling the plot and using the proceeds to build below-market units elsewhere in the city.

Others point to the fact that the project guarantees that affordable housing will be built in one of the city's most popular, transit-oriented neighborhoods rather than just on its fringes.

The debate has died down somewhat since the DC Council approved the deal in September.

Bicycling


If urbanists practice empathy, bike lanes on 6th Street could bridge communities

A church on 6th Street NW opposes plans to build a bike lane there. As a bike advocate, it's easy to be frustrated with that. But really, this is a chance to make region better by putting ourselves in each other's shoes.


New bike lanes on 14th St NW. Photo by the author.

There are a lot of people who want new bike lanes along 6th Street NW, but also a lot who don't. Members of the United House of Prayer, a church with a rich history in DC, are among the most vocal opponents.

If your urbanist-nerd social media stream is anything like mine, you woke up this morning to a flurry of news and commentary about last night's DDOT public hearing on the matter. And reading through some of the arguments against the bike lanes, I got mad and exasperated. Did you?

But wait. Urbanism and smart growth should be about building stronger communities, yes usually through the built environment. But building better communities for everyone. Our movement, our community, whatever you want to call it, doesn't always do a very good job at this. We can do better. We talk a lot about wanting to do better.

So let's stop for a minute.

Those of us who consider ourselves urbanists should look past how and what the churches are saying for a few minutes and think about why the churches saying it the way they are. I am trying, as much as I can, to put myself in those church members' shoes, and to give their motives the benefit of the doubt. And you know what happens when I do that?

I can start to see a very different perspective from my own. I can see how a decades-long history of those in power ignoring my race and culture's needs and voices starts to wear thin, and I can see how this would just seem like the latest in a never-ending stream of decisions that don't take what I want and need into consideration. That don't address what I see as priorities.

If seeing it through that lens seems unfathomable for you, I encourage you to keep privilege in mind. Ask yourself if you might be having a hard time sympathizing because, to you, this is just an instance of one particular group wanting special privileges. But what if it is YOUR OWN group NEVER EVER feeling respected for your wants and needs.

When I try to put myself in UHOP's shoes, I can begin to see some of the fear, and frustration with a changing city and changing times that's causing them to act that way. If they know they won't be listed to because of their skin color, maybe something else we value in this country—freedom of religion—WILL be listened to.

So as we try to build bridges with communities that don't look and sound like us, my plea today to those of you who look like me is to imagine yourself in church members' shoes (and try not to doubt the genuineness of their motives) today.

Have a little compassion for neighbors with a long history of being downtrodden, hurt, and afraid. And then ask yourself, how can we talk about this, and find a solution, that isn't us-vs-them. Even if down the road, others say it is. We can do better.

It sounds from WABA's Freedom of Information Act request that the need for bike lanes here really is a safety issue. I hope we build the lanes. But even more, I hope the urbanist community stops thinking of the people at last night's meeting as "them". "They" are our neighbors. Part of our community.

We should really make an effort (and not just a show of one without any real personal effort and soul-searching) to at least understand where these members of our greater community are coming from. And that's not to shortchange any of the public outreach DDOT has worked to do so far.

If urbanists and smart growth advocates want traction, we should welcome as many people as possible; not shut people out before they've ever had a chance to interact. Let's try to act and speak from a place of compassion, not one of frustration and anger. Let's be open to others' perspectives, motivations, and histories.

For just a moment today, let's set aside the arguments against the bike lanes, and talk of religion and taxes and everything else. Let's try to understand the underlying why of our neighbors (whether they live in the District, or in Maryland, or wherever) making these arguments. Whether or not arguments against the bike lanes are factually correct, or whether we agree with those arguments, let's understand the emotional and historical reasons people opposing the bike lanes feel compelled to speak up.

This isn't our first and won't be our last opportunity, but it is hard. We need to start a real conversation that results in compromises that actually make sense. It's tough to have a fight when there's so much tension on both sides. But I think it's on us to figure out how to make it happen.

I hope we'll give it a try. It's being a good neighbor to our fellow human beings, and it's a good thing to do. Race, and inequality, and history, and understanding are all vital to the future we all want.

Bicycling


Here's where a protected bikeway could go on the east side of downtown

People who want to ride a bike north-south along the east side of DC's central business district and in Shaw could soon have a new protected bikeway to do it. A new study recommends four options, including 6th Street NW, 5th and 6th, or 9th.


The 15th Street protected bikeway. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been studying options for a bikeway to connect areas between Florida and Constitution Avenues. This bikeway would connect central DC neighborhoods, downtown, and the existing major east-west bikeways like the one on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This area has high levels of bicycling and many popular destinations but a distinct lack of quality bike facilities. Currently, 7th Street has the most bicycle traffic, but usage is pretty evenly spread out. 5th stands out because a large number of people ride south on 5th despite the road being one-way north.

DDOT planners studied an assortment of designs, considering every street between 4th and 9th. They first eliminated 4th and 8th because they were discontinuous streets. After a round of data gathering, where they looked at parking, parking utilization, auto and bicycle traffic, transit, potential pedestrian conflicts, cost, loading zones, events, and institutions along the route, they eliminated 7th Street because of heavy transit and pedestrian usage; they didn't want the bikeway to become an auxiliary sidewalk.


Data on transit ridership (left), pedestrian volume (center), and Capital Bikeshare usage (right) in the study area. Images from DDOT.

During this whole process, they have also been involved in a public outreach effort, meeting with institutions, businesses, churches, council staff, and other stakeholders. With data screening complete, there are four alternatives which they have made public and plan to discuss at an upcoming public meeting. After that, they will narrow the alternatives to three, which will get more intensive study and planning before choosing a preferred alternative sometime this winter.

Here are the alternatives:

5th and 6th couplet: Alternative 1 would place a one-way northbound protected bikeway on the east side of 5th Street up to New York Avenue and a painted bike lane north of that. A one-way southbound bikeway would go on the west side of 6th.

This would remove a travel lane on 6th north of New York and a parking lane south of there. On 6th south of New York Avenue, the bikeway would be adjacent to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane converted from what is now a southbound travel lane. While DDOT considered using angled parking on 6th, that didn't make it into the final design.

One-way on on each side of 6th: Alternative 2, would replace a travel lane in each direction on 6th Street with a one-way protected bikeway on each side. South of New York Avenue the bikeways would be adjacent to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane.

Bi-directional on 6th: Alternative 3 would remove a northbound travel lane north of New York Avenue and a parking lane south of New York and would convert a northbound travel lane to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane to make room for a bi-directional protected bikeway on the east side of 6th. This is similar to what exists on 15th Street (though the one on 15th is on the west side).

Bi-directional on 9th: Alternative 4 is like Alternative 3, but on 9th Street. A northbound travel lane north of Massachusetts Avenue and a parking lane south of Massachusetts Avenue would disappear, while a northbound travel lane would become an rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane. This would make room for a bi-directional protected bikeway on the east side of 9th. The southbound bike-bus lane would remain.

Bike planners are looking at numerous factors in deciding which to eliminate next. All the alternatives have similar expected travel times for cyclists, so that will not be a factor. But they will be considering turns across bike facilities, pedestrian intensity next to the bikeway, the amount of protection along the facility, and other safety factors.

As one example, the Verizon Center often shuts down a lane on the west side of 6th Street for loading for shows. That could be an obstacle for Alternative 2. There may be similar challenges in other spots for the other alternatives.

The planners will look at which designs affect buses the least, and how to deal with the unique parking needs of churches to accommodate their loading and unloading requirements, large event needs, funeral needs, etc.

Alternative 1 provides the least protection. DDOT has decided not to remove on-street parking in residential areas, which limits 5th street to painted bike lanes north of New York. Another consideration for 5th Street is that it has fewer stop lights, but more stop signs and some speed bumps.

In Alternative 4, 9th is one-way south of Massachusetts, so northbound cyclists would be going the opposite direction from car traffic, meaning it would suffer from the same light timing issues as 15th Street does. Timed lights on 15th mean people riding north hit more red lights than on a typical street.

DDOT has a website with all the designs which is accepting comments. The team is planning a public meeting soon, but haven't settled on details. If a final design is chosen this winter, work could begin before the end of 2016.

Which design do do you think is best?

Development


The controversy over affordable housing on Florida Avenue, explained

A new development in Shaw will bring a Whole Foods and 352 apartments, 107 price below market rate. But there's controversy over whether the DC government should have sold the site for its full value of $27 million, for $5 million, or $400,000.

There are two fundamental questions. First, is it worth paying to locate subsidized affordable housing in wealthier neighborhoods, where the opportunity cost is higher? Second, did the Bowser administration negotiate a bad deal for what it got?


Housing deal image from Shutterstock.

What's this deal?

This building will sit on publicly-owned land at 965 Florida Avenue, where 9th, T W Street, Sherman Avenue, and Florida Avenue come together. In 2013, after a bidding process, DC's Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) chose MRP Realty to develop the site.

There's been a long-running debate in DC about whether, when selling a piece of public land, the city should strive to get as much cash as possible, or include more below-market housing. The DC Council passed a bill later that year, by Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, to require 20-30% of units in public land deals be affordable to people making 30-50% of the Area Median Income.

The city then renegotiated the 965 Florida arrangement to comply with this rule. Last week, the council approved the deal. The next step is for the developers to file a Planned Unit Development with the Zoning Commission with more details about the proposed building.


Concept rendering of 965 Florida. Image from MRP Realty.

What did it cost?

Aaron Davis reported on the project in the Washington Post. According to documents he obtained, the property would be worth about $27.6 million if sold outright.

An appraiser concluded that with the below-market housing requirement, the property is still worth $5.9 million. In the deal, MRP is paying the District $400,000.

The eye-catching but confusing headline, "How D.C. turned $27 million into $400,000," caused some people to confuse the two issues. One is whether it is worth about $20 million to get an affordability limit on 107 units. The other is whether the Bowser Administration blew the other $5 million.

Should "deeply affordable" housing be part of such deals?

Some people don't agree with the McDuffie bill in the first place. There are those who think affordable housing shouldn't be part of a deal at all. Others argue that it would be better to take the cash in the hot U Street/Shaw area and use it for affordable housing somewhere cheaper.

The latter argument is actually the flip side of an issue Martin Austermuhle just reported on for WAMU: DC's housing authority is selling off townhouses in now-hot markets like Columbia Heights for top dollar and using the money in its budget elsewhere. There was also a public land deal in the Mount Vernon Triangle (before the McDuffie bill passed) to put all required affordable housing in Anacostia instead.

On the one hand, you can buy more housing for the same money in a cheap area. On the other hand, residents in those areas already feel that lower-income housing is already too concentrated in their areas. Research has demonstrated that lower-income children who grow up in higher-income areas succeed more in life, so there's some definite value in using resources to create mixed-income communities.

The recent HBO series Show Me a Hero depicted the political fight that ensued when a court required Yonkers, NY to put some public housing in fancier neighborhoods. The Housing Authority sales or the MVT land deal are perpetuating concentration, while 965 Florida deal is the direct result of efforts to spread housing around.


Money floating away image from Shutterstock.

Did the Bowser administration get a bad deal?

Even with the required below-market housing, the appraiser estimated DC should get $5.9 million instead of $400,000. In a committee report on the land deal, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said that DMPED's "record is disappointing" when it comes to being "a shrewd negotiator on behalf of the city."

Mendelson notes that DMPED blocked the council from getting another appraisal, hasn't ensured that the affordable housing would even last in perpetuity (which reportedly the developer was willing to accept), and didn't arrange for DC to get more money if the developer can build a larger building than in the initial bid (which, Mendelson's report says, the developer was also willing to accept).

This reflects many of the concerns people have raised about a Wizards/Mystics facility at St. Elizabeth's. It actually doesn't seem like such a bad idea to put a sports complex here if that's the best way to jump-start development in the area. DC was already going to spend money on St. Elizabeth's, and the rest of the money will come from the sports and convention authority, which only will use its money for things that promote sports and conventions.

The bigger question, and one the Post editorial board focused on, is whether the deal really adds up. A wealthy sports team owner is getting something of value, though so is the city, and the debate mainly centers on how much value each party gains.

Was St. Elizabeth's really stalled without this deal? Will it bring the promised benefits? Maybe so. And even if we're unsure, maybe Congress Heights deserves a gamble.

And it's easy to nitpick any deal. Sometimes in a business transaction, you have to give a little more than you want to make it work. Certainly when any homeowner does a renovation, for instance, some things cost a little more than planned. If every homeowner had a city full of people looking over his or her shoulder at every choice of tiles or lighting, it'd be easy to find flaws.

However, in those cases, and when a corporation negotiates a deal, it's not public money. It's easier for an economic development official, with the best of intentions, to give away a little more taxpayer funding when it's the way to ensure a deal goes through. Maybe that's worthwhile, since when it comes to a land development deal, there's also a big cost to adding years more delay while the site is fallow and generating no tax revenue.

One other factor is what would happen with the extra money. Sometimes there are really worthwhile ways to spend it. But sometimes the alternative is a pile of other pork-barrel projects or tax cuts that won't stimulate economic growth. For all the criticism, some deserved and some not, of the price tag of the DC Streetcar, cutting it hasn't led to an equivalent pile of money ready for a different transportation project that critics liked better.

There's a balance, and residents understandably would like to have confidence that the city is negotiating a good deal while also needing to have a little patience that every deal can't be perfect.

Development


Car-free housing could come to historic Blagden Alley

One hundred twenty-three new units of housing could come to Shaw's historic Blagden Alley. Many residents think that's a great idea, but some aren't happy that the project would contain no parking spaces. That idea deserves support, not opposition.


Rendering of the proposed development.

The misconception that everybody drives and needs a place to park has long shaped cities' zoning codes. But developers are starting to look beyond that assumption and consider buildings that cater to people who want to travel in other ways.

The two small buildings, by developer SB-Urban, would run along Blagden Alley between M and N Streets NW in Shaw, adjacent to the Convention Center and Mount Vernon Square Metro station and close to downtown. Blagden Alley is a unique historic alley for DC, featuring both residences and small businesses including La Colombe Coffee. This alley, and its northern neighbor Naylor Court, are small alley networks that allow for vehicles and pedestrians to share space in a way that is common in European cities.

The new buildings will have no parking

SB-Urban would build two apartment buildings with 123 small, short-term, fully-furnished rental studios averaging 380 square feet. It replaces two vacant lots used for surface parking and restores a historic garage on the interior of the alley. And it would contain no off-street parking. It's similar to projects in Dupont Circle and Georgetown which have already gotten through the approval process.

Units without parking won't be for everyone, but would appeal to the many people who don't need cars to work, shop, or socialize. It's near downtown and near ample transit.

SB-Urban has described the complex as a good fit for an individual who arrives by taxi or Metro with little more than a suitcase. This person prefers to live in a vibrant urban neighborhood and navigate the city by foot, bike, bus and train. An ideal tenant, for example, might be a consultant in town to work for nine months.

Any new housing development in Shaw is likely to succeed. But to make sure the residents can live without parking spaces, SB-Urban will invest $70,000 in a new 27-dock Capital Bikeshare station (and 14 new bikes) and each resident will get a membership. The building will provide car share memberships, real-time transit screens, and a bike maintenance room. There will also be someone on site to advise residents on how to get around without a car.


Rendering of the proposed development.

No parking draws opposition

Despite support from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F, DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment has yet to approve SB-Urban's proposal. Board members worried that despite all efforts to ensure apartment residents will be comfortable without a car, the project will still lead to more cars on the street and a raised demand for parking in a neighborhood where drivers already complain of tight parking.

At a December 2, 2014 hearing, several nearby residents objected to the project's lack of parking. Board of Zoning Adjustment Chairman Lloyd Jordan repeatedly expressed skepticism that building zero of the 62 spaces otherwise required by zoning would not have a negative impact on the neighborhood, despite repeated affirmation by both DC Office of Planning and DC Department of Transportation officials.

"What do we do two years from now when the buildings are up and running and we have a problem?" Jordan asked. He did not specify what he meant by a parking problem. And his and other residents' concerns are misplaced.

This project is smart because there's demand for it

Parking is often far more expensive than most people realize. Fewer people all over the region and country are owning cars. More than a third of households in DC are car-free, and that number is 41% among renters in the Census tract containing the project.

This neighborhood has an astonishingly high walk to work rate: 37%, versus DC's overall 11%, which is already the second highest in the country. This makes sense because of the proximity to downtown.

The Blagden Alley project is not appealing to just a small niche, but rather to a large and growing share of DC's households: young professionals who are much less likely to own a car and more likely to want to walk and bike to daily activities.

The rapid growth of DC, with more than 42,000 people arriving between 2010 and 2013, is led by young adults who are willing to trade larger living spaces and car ownership for living in more walkable, mixed use neighborhoods.

Without the ability to get an RPP sticker, if any residents later decide they do want cars, they will have to rent an existing off-street parking space nearby. Even so, opponents of the development argue that new residents would find a way to get a sticker or at least a temporary permit from the police. SB-Urban representatives stated that the leases in the building would prohibit this.

Blagden Alley apartments will add affordable housing and pedestrians

Shaw is a neighborhood that's in high demand in a rapidly growing city. In addition to adding much-needed housing, the Blagden Alley project is setting aside 11 units for moderate and low-income residents as part of the city's Inclusionary Zoning affordable housing program.

By bringing in new residents who walk to stores, work, and transit, the project will also push its historic neighborhood toward being more pedestrian-oriented. More people walking on the streets help lower crime, support local businesses, and strengthen the case for better transit.

Construction of these buildings with alley addresses and no parking also reinforces the pedestrian orientation of the alleys, which do not have sidewalks. Forcing more cars into the alley would degrade the character of this shared-use space.

SB-Urban also makes the case that this kind of housing minimizes vehicle trips, lessens traffic, and shrinks the carbon footprint of residents. "Buildings with parking attract people with cars; buildings without parking attract people without cars," said project manager Brook Katzen in a statement about the project.

Today, the BZA will continue to discuss the case. These Blagden Alley apartments represent an excellent chance to welcome new residents to the city with minimal carbon footprints.

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