Posts about Walmart
As the FBI searches for a new headquarters location, most of the options have focused on the suburbs or Poplar Point, but Washingtonian reports on another proposal: Keep it downtown, at H Street and North Capitol Street, NW. But that location has serious downsides.
The proposal would repurpose the existing Government Printing Office buildings on North Capitol Street and add a new extension to the west. The new building would be over 2 million square feet, and would cover multiple blocks from New Jersey Avenue to North Capitol.
Ideally an employer as large as the FBI should have its offices downtown, but the FBI isn't just any employer. Its building is likely to be a security fortress, which means it won't be very good for pedestrians, or have ground floor retail. H Street is an important pedestrian and retail spine. Giving up a long stretch of it to the FBI would be just as bad there as it is on E Street, where the FBI is a sidewalk dead zone.
Actually, a dead zone on H Street might be even worse. Walmart is building an urban format store directly across the street from this site. And love Walmart or hate it, it's going to be one of downtown's biggest retail draws. That means this exact block of H Street is about to become one of the busiest retail main streets in the city. It should have retail on both sides.
One advantage of this FBI proposal is that the federal government already owns the land. That does mean it's already less likely to get retail on it, but putting the FBI building on it would cement that, literally.
There are other questions. DDOT's proposed crosstown streetcar would run along H Street. The FBI has never weighed in on streetcars, but would they throw up security-related roadblocks? It's unknown.
According to Washingtonian, the FBI would close G Street entirely to traffic, as well as obliterating a block of 1st Street. That further cripples the L'Enfant grid at a time when other projects are trying to restore the grid nearby. And would the FBI forbid pedestrians and cyclists on G Street as well as motor vehicles?
Finally, the existing GPO buildings are among Washington's most prominent historic red brick buildings, and were designed by a prominent architect at the time. The FBI concept renderings show a courtyard in the middle of the GPO building, but aerials show no such courtyard currently exists. That suggests the buildings will have to be completely gutted to fit the FBI. Is that a worthy tradeoff?
Any proposal that keeps the FBI downtown merits serious consideration, but given the FBI's security requirements, and given the potential for this location to be redeveloped with something even better, it may be preferable to let the FBI go. Putting the FBI on this block might be better than having it remain a parking lot, but almost any other building would be more ideal.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
3 of the 6 stores will be unquestionably urban. 1 will be a hybrid with some urban characteristics. 2 will be almost completely suburban.
Gonzaga: The closest store to downtown is suitably the most urban. With apartments above and smaller-format retailers lining the street, Walmart's H Street location is a model of what urban big boxes should be.
Fort Totten: Almost as good as the Gonzaga design, this store is inferior only because it's in a much more isolated location, and because the building materials appear to be somewhat cheaper. But still, the design is unquestionably strong.
Georgia Avenue: Although this design lacks the mixed-use amenities of the previous two, it's still primarily urban, with greater emphasis on pedestrian access than vehicular. It greets the street and parking is provided underground. It's a reasonable choice for a neighborhood that has not seen much investment in recent years.
Skyland Town Center: Resembling something one might expect to see in Gaithersburg, this location is a bit like a shopping mall; it's internally walkable, but poorly connected to any surrounding neighborhoods.
Capitol Gateway: The farthest out proposal from downtown is clearly primarily suburban. It's a strip mall. But it does take a few tentative steps towards walkability, with both street-facing and parking lot-facing entrances.
New York Avenue: The intersection of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road is probably DC's most car-oriented corner. And so it was predictable that Walmart would choose it for a store, and propose a totally suburban design.
The store faces away from the biggest street and fronts onto a big open-air parking lot. The only indication that this location is in a city instead of an exurb is that the Walmart will be stacked on top of another big box store (probably a Home Depot).
Is DC a testing ground?
Each of the 6 stores has such unique characteristics that one wonders if Walmart is using DC as an experiment to see which types of layouts work in the urban environment. By comparing the sales at the more urban stores to the more suburban ones, Walmart will gain many valuable insights.
Inevitably, Walmart will probably want to establish stores in other central cities around the country. The DC example will very likely influence the design of those future stores.
All images in this post are from Walmart.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Can 14th Street north of Columbia Heights become a lively and successful commercial area once again? A new plan suggests finding spots to catalyze development, possibly including the WMATA bus barn or surrounding properties, and making a piece of the corridor into a place for artists to live and work more cheaply.
This part of DC boomed in the mid-20th century, spurred by population growth and easy access to transit via the 14th Street streetcar line. The corridor began to decline after 1970, as the District's population decreased. As a result, the commercial nodes of central 14th Street have struggled for several decades.
Now, as the city's population begins to grow once again, DC's Office of Planning studied ways to make the area more attractive for residents and businesses, both old and new. After a series of community workshops in 2010 and 2011 with residents and stakeholders of the central 14th Street corridor, OP has released its draft plan and is looking for public comment until February 3.
The plan covers the 20-block stretch of 14th Street NW from Spring Road to Longfellow Street. It includes three distinct commercial nodes: Spring Road to Shepherd Street, Webster to Decatur Street, and Jefferson to Longfellow Street. (This portion of 14th Street has been referred to as "upper" 14th Street for as long as I can remember, but the Office of Planning is now referring to it as "central" 14th Street.)
The 2010 population of the study area was 14,370, showing an increase of about 300 people since the 2000 census. The population growth is encouraging, but the plan notes that because the population hasn't reached the level of the mid-20th century (the high population was 16,736 in 1960), the corridor has too much commercial space for the number of people that the spaces are meant to serve. That means greater density is necessary to make new businesses viable.
The plan points to Longfellow Flats, a newly renovated 14 unit condominium at 14th and Longfellow Streets, as one of a few projects that will help to attract more residents to the corridor. The site of the CK Motel, and 14th and Quincy Streets, is also slated for residential redevelopment.
Can the bus barn move?
The site with the largest potential for both commercial and residential redevelopment is the WMATA bus barn, along the eastern side of 14th Street from Buchanan to Decatur Street. Redeveloping the bus barn as a mixed-use project would likely catalyze the rest of that node and perhaps the rest of the corridor, but to redevelop the barn, WMATA has to find another location for the 175 buses that are currently housed there.
One idea, to construct a new bus barn on the site of the old Walter Reed hospital, has been an issue of much contention between residents of Ward 4's 14th Street and Georgia Avenue corridors. Both Mayor Gray and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser have voiced opposition to that idea. As an alternative, the plan recommends excavating a level beneath the existing bus barn to house the buses, allowing for the above-ground structure to be redeveloped.
Another complication is that the bus barn is quite an attractive structure. Constructed in 1907 and designed by the prominent Washington architect Waddy Wood, the building is likely eligible for historic designation. Between this and the dilemma of finding an alternative for WMATA, the bus barn is likely to stay for at least the next decade.
In lieu of redeveloping the bus barn, the plan identifies 3 sites in the Webster-Decatur node that could serve as catalysts.
- The WMATA bus barn parking structure on the northern end of the bus barn property. This is not eligible for historic designation and therefore could be redeveloped for mixed-use within the next 5 years.
- DSK Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which owns the entire 4500 block of 14th Street with the exception of the Exxon gas station, has plans to construct a new sanctuary that will face 14th Street. It will include an Ethiopian cultural center on the Buchanan Street side.
- The Value Furniture store, the former home of the Park Theater, which opened in 1924 but shut its doors just four years later. As the second largest site (75,000 square feet) in the study area with single ownership, it has the best potential for redevelopment within the next 5 years. It could easily become 2 or 3 floors of residential space above ground floor retail, an ideal spot for a neighborhood-serving grocery store.
The plan recommends focusing on attracting unique retail, such as second hand shops, specialty food shops, and culinary incubators (the plan includes a photo of Boston's Crop Circle Kitchen culinary incubator as an example of what could be). The goal is to fill niches between the chain stores to the south in Columbia Heights and the proposed Walmart to the north in Brightwood.
Affordable space for artists?
The Jefferson-Longfellow Street node has its wide sidewalks, some as wide as 20 feet, that are perfect for pedestrian-oriented activities, such as a farmers' market. However, there's also a high commercial vacancy rate, which the proposed Walmart store on nearby Georgia Avenue will likely exacerbate.
The plan recommends focusing on arts-related uses in this area, with a focus on artists who have been priced out of other neighborhoods and who might be attracted to the area's relatively large spaces. OP recommends designating this area as an Arts Cluster and listing the node's vacant commercial spaces in the DC Creative Retail Space Bank in order to advertise their availability.
The area can build on its existing positive features, such as the mature tree canopy, attractive housing stock, and walkable neighborhood atmosphere. The plan makes several recommendations for improving the area's aesthetics while strengthening pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, as well as connectivity between the three commercial nodes.
A number of recommendations would improve mobility, including:
- Upgrade bus service. 14th Street is one of WMATA's Priority Corridors. Improvements like making traffic signals adapt to the buses, having people pay before boarding the bus, and more could speed up travel and make buses more reliable and productive.
- Add Capital Bikeshare stations. OP recommends placing a Capital Bikeshare station at or near the intersection of 14th and Kennedy Street during DDOT's next round of station installations.
- Increase car sharing options. To give residents a choice not to have to own or drive personal vehicles, OP recommends collaborating with DDOT to target off-street locations for car sharing companies. Two possible locations are the parking lot of DSK Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the parking lot of the Children's Medical Care Center (14th and Kennedy Street).
OP plans to create a task force of community residents and stakeholders who will help determine which recommendations are the highest priority. Community and business associations can also help find resources, programs, and grants to bring specific recommendations to fruition.
To give your comments on the plan, mail them to OP or (more likely) email Gizachew.Andargeh@dc.gov by February 3, 2012.
For years, Montgomery County officials have been trying to remake Rockville Pike's retail strip into an urban boulevard. Yet thanks to a fluke in zoning, Walmart could drop a standard suburban big box in the middle of an urban neighborhood trying to become more walkable.
The new Walmart would be located at Rockville Pike and Bou Avenue, just north of Montrose Road in the Pike Center shopping center.
According to the Washington Post, the store would be considerably smaller than traditional Walmarts, with about 80,000 square feet of floor space. By comparison, a typical modern supermarket is about 60,000 square feet, while larger Walmart Supercenters can reach 185,000 square feet.
Renderings from the Post show the Walmart displacing an existing row of shops in the strip mall, which include national chains like Office Depot and CiCi's Pizza in addition to local businesses like Bagel City.
This would be the third Walmart in Montgomery County, after an existing store in Germantown and another proposed store on Connecticut Avenue in Aspen Hill. But unlike those stores, which are far from Metro, the proposed Rockville Walmart is a half-mile from the Twinbrook station. Despite County Executive Ike Leggett's assertion that the store is "consistent" with the county's goal of building around public transit, this proposal completely undermines those intentions.
Plans by the City of Rockville and Montgomery County envision Rockville Pike as an urban boulevard with tall buildings against the street, not behind big parking lots. By bringing shops, housing and offices together near Metro stations along the Pike, planners hope to make it easier for people to walk, bike or take transit to their destination, providing alternatives to driving and reducing congestion.
In order to do so, higher-density development has been approved around the Twinbrook and White Flint Metro stations, the latter of which was written up in the New York Times as a model for suburban redevelopment. Residential and office towers have already begun sprouting up along Rockville Pike.
The proposed Walmart, however, sits along a short stretch of the Pike that falls under a completely different plan that was drafted in 1992 and still allows strip shopping centers. This kind of development is exactly what the community is trying to prevent from being built along Rockville Pike in the future.
It'll only encourage more people to drive to Rockville Pike rather than taking advantage of other modes of transportation, creating more traffic. But it's likely that Walmart chose to locate in Pike Center because it was easy to build a conventional store there, without going for a time-consuming zoning change or building in a more expensive, urban format that doesn't just cater to drivers.
Two of the eight stores Walmart plans to build in Greater Washington will take an urban form. Their proposed store on New Jersey Avenue in the District will sit at the base of an apartment building, while a new store in Tysons Corner, which is undergoing a transformation similar to Rockville Pike, will be part of a larger complex with a gym and offices. Ironically, those two branches and the one on Rockville Pike are all being developed by JBG Rosenfeld, whose vice president Jay Klug called Walmart "pretty enlightened" about building stores to fit an urban context.
Walmart has the right to build as they see fit so long as the zoning allows them to do it. Yet their store as proposed is completely inappropriate for Rockville Pike as it tries to become a denser, more urban corridor. Last week, the Montgomery County Council introduced a bill requiring big-box stores to craft community benefits agreements to reduce any negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. They might also want to figure out how to make this big-box store fit into the new Rockville Pike before it brings down one of the most ambitious suburban redevelopment projects in the country.
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