Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Ward 8

Development


A new neighborhood rises east of the river. Is it a sign of change, or more of the same?

An entirely new neighborhood is rising just a minute's walk from the Anacostia Metro station. Nearly two dozen townhomes and apartments have sprouted at Sheridan Station, where public housing will become a mixed-income community. But will it be an economic catalyst for the community, or a new face for the area's existing struggles?


A view of Sheridan Station rising from the hillside across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Photos by the author.

When it first broke ground more than 4 years ago, Sheridan Station was supposed to have 344 units, equally split between market-rate homes for sale and rentals for low-income households. But in the fall of 2012, developer William C. Smith asked to reduce the ratio of for-sale homes to 25%, arguing that potential buyers would have trouble securing mortgages.

Today, 327 homes are planned for Sheridan Station, just 80 of which will be for sale with the rest for rent. Of the remaining 247 units, 200 will be affordable, and 100 are set aside for households on the public housing waiting list. Priority will go to residents of Sheridan Terrace, which used to occupy the site, and Barry Farm next door, which will be redeveloped in 2016.

New residents are hopeful, but anxious

James grew up in the neighborhood and lived in Sheridan Terrace, the public housing complex that predates Sheridan Station, in the 1980s. The units were falling apart. "I came home one day from work and the ceiling was on the floor," he said. Hazardous building conditions and street crime precipitated the departure of hundreds of families.


James, a resident of Sheridan Station, has been watching the quick rise of an entirely new neighborhood yards from the Anacostia Metro station. Photos by the author.

I ran into James, who is wheelchair-bound, while recently surveying Sheridan Road. When housing became available in the first phase of Sheridan Station, he was able to secure a unit due to his sister's network.

"I've been coming out here everyday just to watch," James said. "It's about time they started. They never said why it took so long to begin. They blamed the weather. People began putting pressure on them and asking questions. There's more demand for housing than there is supply. This looks like it is decent housing." He pointed out a building and said once completed he would be moving to the first floor.

Market-rate homeowners are excited about the development too. Darin Tuggle, an attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development Chris Miller, a 29-year-old business consultant, saw the signage for Sheridan Station on Suitland Parkway while commuting from Upper Marlboro. "When I decided to purchase a home, I looked at various neighborhoods but the rapid rise in prices in more 'trendy' neighborhoods priced me out," he says. Sheridan Station won him over with the proximity to Metro and the views of downtown DC.

"After moving in, I switched from driving to work to taking the Metro," he says. "The commute has been a big quality of life upgrade for me."


Townhomes line Pomeroy Road SE as part of the Sheridan Station development.

Miller Tuggle says he loves the "great urban neighborhood vibe and look" of the street where his new home is. "We are a microcosm of the city, young, less young, professional, artistic, black, white, Hispanic, foreign-born, single, couples, inter-racial," he says. Miller looks forward to the area becoming more walkable and getting a grocery store.

But there's been some tension between new residents and those who already lived in the area. Miller says kids have smashed his house windows three times, while neighbors have had their cars vandalized. "These incidents of vandalism can be attributed to some of the tension that existing members of the community feel towards the new development," says Tuggle.

Is this a sign of change, or more of the same?

Sheridan Station serves as a preview of future development east of the river, from the reconstruction of Barry Farm to Skyland Town Center, the 11th Street Bridge Park, and Saint Elizabeths East Campus. But in contrast to the splashy opening of Sheridan's first phase, the groundbreaking and construction of Sheridan's second and third phases have gone on quietly. At a press conference earlier this month, Mayor Gray highlighted his outgoing administration's commitment to developing affordable housing, but did not mention Sheridan Station.


An elevated view of the 1st phase of Sheridan Station from Suitland Parkway.

William C. Smith's uneven promotion of for-sale units led homeowners to speculate that the development's initial goals would never happen. "I had to look for Sheridan Station; it didn't look for me," says Tuggle, noting that he'd received ads for other new developments in the area, like Arts District Hyattsville and Dakota Crossing.

He and other homeowners only found out recently there were only 20 homes for sale in the development's last phase, with the rest being rentals. "[My neighbors] had advised friends and associates that there would be a lot more opportunities to buy in the last phase," he says.

Furthermore, many public housing tenants I've spoken with express a fear that when the new buildings are filled with disparate families from various public housing developments, long-standing feuds, similar to the Hatfields and McCoys, may erupt.

Although private investment has hesitated to cross the Anacostia River, long-term residents point to developments like this, as well as the new schools and recreation centers that have been built recently, as infallible evidence of "the Plan," which seeks to make the area attractive to a new demographic who will displace them. But Sheridan Station and its inability to deliver a mixed-income neighborhood as first promised illustrates the tenuousness of the "new Ward 8," as Councilmember Marion Barry calls it.

The need for tenant and workforce housing in Ward 8 is overwhelming. Despite Sheridan Station's success in attracting affluent professionals, the continued concentration and retrenchment of disadvantaged people in this area has the potential to suppress the economy of communities east of the river for yet another generation.

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Government


Anacostia residents feel "meeting fatigue"

In my half-decade as a reporter covering the Anacostia neighborhood I have attended nearly 400 meetings. On many occasions I've left one to run to another on the same evening. Some residents who've trundled through these meetings say there have been too many, with not enough results. Is there a better way, or is this necessary to get community input?


William Alston-El and Denise Rolark Barnes at a community meeting in 2013. All photos by the author.

"All these meetings are pseudo-participation at their finest," says Rev. Oliver "OJ" Johnson, a former ANC Commissioner who's lived in Anacostia for 55 years. "Generally, the community never gets the feedback or follow-up reports from these meetings that we are promised."

Meetings come from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8A, Anacostia Coordinating Council, Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, ARCH Development Corporation, Anacostia Branch of the DC Public Library, DC Housing Authority, Historic Anacostia Block Association, Councilmember Marion Barry, Office of Planning,

United Planning Organization, Metropolitan Police Department, DC Commission on Arts & Humanities, Cultural Tourism DC, Union Temple Baptist Church, Urban Land Institute, DC Department of Transportation, WMATA, Chief Financial Officer, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, DC Public Schools, and more.

Meeting fatigue is not a condition unique to Anacostia. Residents of Capitol Hill and other neighborhoods have been inundated with meetings for decades. Washington, for all that it lacks in local sovereignty makes up for the near endless opportunity to participate.

Most meetings happen in the immediate neighborhood or surrounding ones. But important meetings, which can determine the future of Anacostia, like with the Zoning Commission or the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, frequently occur outside of the neighborhood. Anacostia's status as a Historic District adds an extra layer of regulation over building and renovations. There are more than 30 other Historic Districts in the city, with residents enduring a similar litany of meetings.

Johnson adds, "The meetings have slowly evolved over the decades. These meetings used to be about holding the city accountable and now they've become events on the social calendar. For people who've lived in the neighborhood for more than 15 years or longer, these meetings serve as reunions. I've seen people at meetings now in their mid-30s I first met attending meetings before they were in grade school because their parents initiated them decades ago. There's a lot we may not have in Anacostia, but it's not for a lack of meetings."


A Mayor's Agent hearing on the Big K development earlier this year.

New leaders restart the meeting process, frustrating longtime residents

While the cliche of Washington being a "transient city" holds true in certain sections of town, Anacostia and areas east of the river have a core of activists that have outlasted changes in local leadership.

"The community has had the same issues for decade," says Angela Copeland, a resident of old Anacostia for more than two decades. "But, we get a fresh crew of bureaucrats every election cycle and start again from scratch. 'What does Anacostia want/need?' You can go crazy after a number of years having this same darn conversation."

At many meetings, community members express their dismay at how the meeting was organized and presented. They offer statements, not questions. Some offer respectful critiques, while other residents lash out. Older residents often citicize the city for duplicating efforts; in reaction, newer people offer a willingness to do whatever is necessary to help the neighborhood revitalize.

Some people ask questions but are told it is not the correct meeting in which to ask that particular question. For example, at a Big K meeting, a resident will ask about the Anacostia streetcar. At an affordable housing meeting, a resident will ask about the CBE process for local businesses applying for government contracts. Confusion and disorientation often reigns.


A young professional speaks out at a community meeting.

On top of administrative turnover, in my 5 years covering Anacostia I've noticed an exodus of upstart activists, regenerated by a new wave of enthusiastic young professionals. In September 2009, I attended a meeting of the River East Emerging Leaders (or REEL). At least eight people I spoke to either no longer live East of the Anacostia River or have left the area entirely.

REEL continues to hold meetings. "Every time I go to one of their meetings they have a new Vice President or someone with a leadership title who I've never met before," said one local business leader who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They interrogate me, asking who I am. I kindly tell them I helped support the formation of the organization."

Can technology provide more ways to participate?

"Before I had a family, I used to go to meetings," said Copeland. "It's just harder for me to make the time, now. And, people get an attitude if you ask for an agenda in advance or minutes after or live social media interaction during or anything that attempts to break old molds. The old guard appears to enjoy keeping newer voices (I'm not a newer voice) out of the process by hanging on to old ways and dysfunction—namely lack of transparency."

I've intermittently live tweeted public meetings on Big K, Barry Farm, and pending development. As a result I receive messages from residents who are unable to attend but share their thanks for documenting what is being discussed.

Although agencies maintain strict control over Anacostia meetings, leaving many to feel their participation is not valued, accessibility has improved over the years, Copeland said. "The joke for me is that the city used to hold meetings during business hours like the community didn't work. The only people getting paid for their effort at the meetings were those who worked for the city."


Kaya Henderson speaks to a community gathering including Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Marion Barry as well as clergy and commander of the 7th District Police Station.

Meetings play an important role

"Meetings are important," Copeland, who is also the administrator of the Great Ward 8 Facebook page, wrote. "The most dedicated make the time and commitment and shoulder most of the burden. There are tools available (all kinds of meeting facilitation tools online, via phone) that could help spread the responsibilities. But, people have to want to let go of the control."

One of the co-founders of REEL, Historic Anacostia Block Association, and current 8A ANC Commissioner Charles Wilson said that regular gatherings are invaluable to build a physical sense of community that trumps a digital community. "Monthly community meetings are important because it is an easy way to keep residents thoroughly informed of the issues and it allows them to communicate in person with each other. Email communication is great, but nothing beats the effectiveness of face-to-face conversations."

When revitalization and development begin to arrive in Anacostia and the surrounding neighborhoods is uncertain, but one thing is for sure; the meetings will continue.

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History


How Ward 8's thoroughfares have changed since 1870

In 1870, the areas between the old city and the District line were still fairly rural. But many of the thoroughfares that shape the city today were already around then. Let's look at the roads that connected communities in what is now Ward 8.


1870 map of DC roads. From the DC Public Library.

Until 1871, the District was made up of the cities of Washington and Georgetown while the rest was in unincorporated Washington County. Present-day District neighborhoods like Brightwood, Columbia Heights, Tenleytown, and all land east of the Anacostia river laid outside the city in Washington County, DC. An 1870 map held in the Washingtoniana Room at the DC Public Library shows the roads that ran through the city's early suburbs, including those that crisscrossed Ward 8.

Nichols Avenue
What's now Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, the thoroughfare that runs from the junction with Good Hope Road all the way to just short of the Maryland line is an old Native American path. Long ago it was colloquially known as Piscataway Road, after the dominant regional tribe in the 1700s.

When the US Insane Asylum (today Saint Elizabeths Hospital) opened in the 1850s, Piscataway Road changed to Asylum Road or Asylum Avenue.

By the late 1860s, people were calling the road Nichols Avenue, after Dr. Charles H. Nichols, the long-time superintendent of Saint Elizabeths.

The road carried this name for over a century before taking its present designation.

Good Hope Road
Another major thoroughfare still traveled today is Good Hope Road. The origins of the name Good Hope Road have been debated for years. Some have speculated the road's name is derivative of the Good Hope Tavern that once stood at the modern-day intersection with Naylor Road, while others have told of Native American origins.

In 1924, John Harry Shannon wrote of Good Hope Road in the Evening Star:

"It was one of those gray, level, shadeless roads, bordered by signs, gas stations and ice cream, and sausage refectories which nearly all of us have come to call a good road. It was without the virtues and the charm of a bad road."
Hamilton Road
Further east, the 1870s map shows "Hamilton Road" running north-south. Churches, schools, and cemeteries that once lined Hamilton Road now line Alabama Avenue.

An early generation of Allen AME Church is depicted in the 1870 map near the junction of Good Hope Road and Naylor Road as an "African Church." Today the church stands at 2498 Alabama Avenue, and is notable for a 2010 visit by President Obama.

In June 1908 the District Commissioners formally changed Hamilton Road to Alabama Avenue.

Naylor Road
One road name in use in 1870 that remains on the map today is Naylor Road, named after Colonel Henry Naylor. His early forefather came to America as an indentured servant before the Revolutionary War. As reported by the Evening Star in his January 1871 obituary, Naylor, was an "old and highly respected citizen of Washington county, died at his residence, Mount Henry, near Good Hope, yesterday afternoon in the 73d year of his age."

Naylor was "born, raised and lived continuously on his farm, but was well and favorably known throughout the District." For years Naylor was responsible for the care of the land records of Washington County, duties later performed by the Recorder of Deeds. Naylor was an officer of the militia, holding a commission as colonel, and several times he was a member of the Levy Court. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery.

The communities that were outside the city in 1870 have changed dramatically in the nearly 150 years since. But the basic framework of thoroughfares has remained fairly constant, especially in Ward 8.

While many things have changed, it's sometimes amazing to find things that have stayed the same.

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Education


Do Henderson's remarks at Stanton Elementary signal a more harmonious phase in DCPS-charter relations?

This morning's announcement of a slight rise in standardized test scores wasn't exactly earthshaking. More intriguing was the backdrop: Stanton Elementary in Ward 8, a DCPS-charter collaboration that DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson said today she'd like to replicate. It's about time.


Photo of Stanton Elementary from DCPS.

Henderson's statement comes in the wake of signs that the cordial relationship between DCPS and DC's charter sector is beginning to break down. Henderson recently called for joint planning that would control the growth of charters, raising the ire of the charter community.

And just yesterday, a charter advocacy organization sued the District for failing to comply with a legal requirement to fund charters at the same level as DCPS.

Both sides have justifiable grievances. But collaboration between the two sectors is the best hope of advancing their shared goal of improving education for all kids in DC as quickly as possible. For a while it looked like DC was on that path, and then things stalled. Do Henderson's remarks at Stanton today signal that she's ready to return to the idea?

For the past 3 years, a charter management organization, Scholar Academies, has been managing Stanton as a regular DCPS neighborhood school, serving an in-boundary student population. During that time enrollment and test scores have risen dramatically.

The big news today was that the school had moved out of "Priority" status, meaning that it's shown significant growth over 3 consecutive years. (Disclosure: I serve on the board of a charter school that is also managed by Scholar Academies, DC Scholars.)

Even before today, Stanton had become something of a showpiece for DCPS. During a visit from Education Secretary Arne Duncan in February, Mayor Vincent Gray said of the school's success, "We simply need to bottle this and figure out how to proliferate it all around the city."

Today, according to a tweet from the Post's Michael Alison Chandler, Henderson called Stanton "an amazing example of what happens when we work together," referring to charters and traditional schools. And according to WAMU's Martin Austermuhle, she said the Stanton-Scholar Academies model "could be taken to other struggling DCPS schools."

Why hasn't Stanton been replicated already?

The question is why that hasn't happened already. Last year, instead of trying to replicate the Stanton-Scholar Academies arrangement, Henderson made an unsuccessful bid for the power to authorize charter schools herself. In May 2013, she announced that a high-performing DC charter school in Ward 8, Achievement Prep, would absorb a nearby DCPS elementary school, Malcolm X.

The details were vague at the time, but according to Scheherazade Salimi, chief of staff to the Deputy Mayor for Education, the plan was for Achievement Prep to become the first DCPS charter school. A bill that would have given Henderson chartering authority was introduced in the DC Council a year ago, but it went nowhere.

A spokesperson for David Catania, chair of the Council's education committee, said he saw no need for a second charter authorizer in addition to the Public Charter School Board (PCSB). Besides, the spokesperson said, a charter authorizer is supposed to provide oversight of charter operators, as the PCSB does. If one entity is both the authorizer and the operator, how would that work?

It's clear why Henderson would have liked chartering authority. It would have allowed her to give Achievement Prep more freedom from DCPS regulations than Scholar Academies has had at Stanton. And there's no doubt that charter operators undertaking the difficult task of turning around a low-performing neighborhood school would find greater autonomy more attractive.

But it's also possible for Henderson to relax some of the rules that have been in place at Stanton. While some are required by DCPS's contract with the teachers' union, others are within her control.

Today's announcement seems to indicate that she's figured out a way to do that, and that she may have found a willing charter school partner. (For the past 6 weeks I've been asking a DCPS spokesperson what tools are available to Henderson to collaborate with charters in improving DCPS schools, but I haven't been able to get an answer.)

Cross-sector collaboration

It's too bad that Malcolm X, which narrowly avoided closure on the expectation that it would be taken over by Achievement Prep, will continue for at least one more year as a struggling DCPS school rather than as part of a high-performing charter. But it's heartening to hear that DCPS and Henderson are at last beginning to focus again on cross-sector collaboration.

Some may view this kind of collaboration as an admission of defeat on the part of DCPS. I disagree. As Henderson has said, if some charter schools have figured out how to raise the achievement of low-performing students faster than DCPS has, why not take advantage of their expertise?

Certainly one advantage that charters have had is freedom from bureaucratic constraints that can stifle innovation. But as Scholar Academies has proved at Stanton, it's possible to succeed even despite those constraints, if you have the right charter operator. (One previous partnership with a charter operator, at Dunbar High School, ended in spectacular failure.)

It's clear what's in this kind of arrangement for DCPS and Henderson: they get to claim the success of a district-charter partnership, and the rising test scores that result, as their own.

But what's in it for charters? Why shouldn't they just adopt the easier path of opening new start-ups, a less difficult road to success than turning around a neighborhood school that's failing?

There are at least two important things that could attract charters to a partnership. One is buildings. New charters and successful charters that would like to expand are often stymied by a shortage of suitable space, partly because DCPS has been reluctant to give up its vacant buildings to charters.

The other is a chance to serve more of the District's neediest students. Taking over the management of a struggling DCPS school, along with its students, is an immediate way to reach kids who need help the most, without requiring their parents to apply or enter a lottery.

Benefits of communication

Beyond those advantages, there's the more nebulous benefit of communication between the frequently hostile charter and district sectors. That's beginning to happen elsewhere across the country, both at high administrative levels and at the level of the individual school.

In some places, districts have invited charters to "take up residency" in traditional public schools, in a space-sharing arrangement that includes opportunities for collaboration and shared professional development. In others districts, teachers from charter and traditional schools that are nearby have met to exchange ideas.

While the expectation has been that the traditional schools will learn something from charters, sometimes it's the other way around. In one instance, young Teach for America recruits at a charter wanted to know how the district teachers had managed to stay in the profession for so long and keep themselves motivated.

In DC, charters generally outperform DCPS schools on standardized tests, but they don't have a monopoly on innovation. Charter leaders might be interested to learn about a new writing initiative DCPS is piloting that promises to go way beyond teaching to the test.

While DC's charter and traditional education sectors do have conflicting interests and long-standing grievances, they also have a lot of shared beliefs and interpersonal relationships. If cross-sector communication and collaboration is possible anywhere, it should be here. For the sake of DC's kids, let's hope that Henderson's statements today mark the beginning of a new and more harmonious tone in DCPS-charter relations.

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Preservation


A decaying Anacostia home gleams (and sells) once more

While many residential and commercial properties in old Anacostia suffer from decades of abandonment, one historic home, at 1354 Maple View Place SE, has been transformed and rejoined the city's tax rolls. If the restoration can continue throughout the neighborhood it may forecast a new day in old Anacostia.


1354 Maple View Place SE in February 2014.

In mid-January 1907, George W. King, Jr. applied for a building permit to construct an 18x42 foot, 1-story home at a cost of $3,200 atop a hill that offers an unbroken sight line of the United States Capitol. The home was subsequently widened, and a second story was added in 1916. It was rebuilt and enclosed, partly with masonry.

By the late fall of 1918, rooms for rent were advertised in the Evening Star. One ad read, "1354 MAPLE VIEW PLACE S.E. (Anacostia)—large front room, four windows, southern and eastern exposure, hot water heat, bath and nicely furnished: rent, $30 per month."

According to a December 1944 Star profile of local "Bible Class Leaders," King had taught Sunday School since 1899 at the Anacostia Methodist Church (today St. Philip the Evangelist Episcopal Church) at the corner of 14th and U Street SE. A member of the Board of Trade and Masons, King lived with his wife and 3 daughters at 1354 Maple View Place SE. King passed away 10 years later while still living in the home.

Based on newspaper accounts, city records, and discussions with Anacostia residents, the property was last occupied in the late 1980s or early 1990s after which the home fell into a period of disrepair and neglect.

1354 Maple View Place SE in July 2010.

"The subject property has been vacant and a neighborhood eye sore for several years," wrote Tim Dennée of the Historic Preservation Office in a February 2011 staff report for proposed additions and alterations to 1354 Maple View Place SE:

Between fire damage and subsequent deterioration due to exposure, most of the house lacks a roof and most of the second-floor framing, and there are large gaps in the exterior walls, including the loss of the upper half of a two-story addition on the east side. ... This represents perhaps the final chance to save this historic house. And despite its present condition, there is a practical value to retaining the building in addition to the preservation interest.
Little work was done from the 2011 hearing until November 2012 when, according to city tax records, the property was purchased for $110,000. Last fall a fence was finally erected around the property and basic rehabilitation work began.


1354 Maple View Place SE in July 2013.

The 3-sided brick alcove has been removed. The house now has a flat front. In the process of removing the siding, the original gingerbread shingles were revealed on the attic level and have been incorporated into the finished rehabilitation. A room in the rear of the home that had collapsed has been repaired. A front porch has been added. A pile of mud in the front yard has been replaced by a green lawn.

According to city records the property's assessed value for 2015 is $160,840. That is less than half of what the home sold for in late April. Its sale point of nearly $350,000 reflects a healthy barometer for the neighborhood.


1354 Maple View Place SE in Historic Anacostia today.

Across the street at 1347 Maple View Place SE, a full renovation effort by The L'Enfant Trust and its many partners is nearing completion on a late 19th century home developed by local street car owner Henry A. Griswold. The trust expects to list 1347 Maple View Place SE, along with another home which the 35-year old organization has rehabbed at 2010 14th Street SE, likely around the low to mid $300,000s.

Canvassing old Anacostia over the past year, William Alston-El and I have met many earnest individuals and progressive investors painstakingly renovating properties throughout the city's first subdivision. Despite a spate of gun violence that has gripped the neighborhood in recent months, the new life of 1354 Maple View Place SE is undeniable evidence old Anacostia is slowly on the rise.

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Development


East of the River neighborhoods rebrand themselves as "CHASE"

Penn Quarter, NoMA, Atlas District, and Capital Riverfront are just a few of the newly-branded DC neighborhoods that have come into currency over the past decade. What about neighborhoods east of the river? Over the past 3 years, District officials have started referring to Congress Heights, Anacostia, and St. Elizabeths as "CHASE."


Today it's called Congress Heights, but one day we could be calling it CHASE. All photos by the author.

The name is the result of a Community Planning Challenge Grant grant the federal government gave to DC's Department of Housing and Community Development in 2010, which funds revitalization efforts in struggling neighborhoods.

According to Evelyn Kasongo, Ward 8 coordinator for the DC Office of Planning, the city selected Congress Heights, Anacostia and St. Elizabeths because of the ability to leverage other federal and local investments, and the potential to piggyback on the redevelopment of St. Elizabeths. Federal and local officials envision making the three areas combined a "Regional Innovation Cluster," which the National Capital Planning Commission defines as a concentration of "interconnected businesses, suppliers, intermediaries and associated institutions in a particular field or set of related industries."

DHCD created an "action agenda" for the 3 areas with 7 focus areas: housing, retail, redevelopment and historic preservation, arts and culture, small business development, transportation, and jobs and workforce development. The city convened two Ward 8 Community Summits in 2011 and 2012 to survey residents' concerns and ideas related to the each focus area.

In addition to drawing new investment to the area, the agency also seeks to connect residents to existing organizations and resources. Last September, the agency held a CHASE Open House and Resource Fair at Savoy Elementary School where residents could learn about local organizations such as the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation and Congress Heights Main Street, which promotes local businesses, and city agencies such as the Department of Small and Local Business Development.

After more than a dozen planning documents over the past decade, this isn't the first attempt to revitalize the CHASE area, though it's the first to use a new name. But 2014 may finally be the year of action for CHASE. "People don't want to see plans at this point, they want to see implementation," says Kasongo.

Increased focus on retail in Congress Heights

Congress Heights may see some movement soon. Last month, Bethesda-based retail consulting firm Streetsense held two events there as part of the DC Vibrant Retail Streets initiative, the city's effort to promote neighborhood shopping destinations. The first was Reimagine MLK, a mini-block party on the 3100 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue where planners solicited community feedback.

Later, Streetsense organized a visioning session at the Petey Greene Community Center where residents looked over a map of more than 60 small businesses in the area and talked about their vision for the commercial district.


Concrete-filled tires line the street on MLK Avenue.

Participants offered a variety of comments, and it was hard to find common themes, wrote Heather Arnold, Streetsense research director, in an email. "They are concerned about crime (both inside and outside their businesses), about loitering, about parking regulations, about the changing character of the neighborhood (group homes) etc."

Suggestions included streetscape improvements such as tree boxes to replace the used tires filled with concrete that often line the street. Residents also sought stricter enforcement of public drinking laws at Shepherd Park, a popular hangout spot for idle men and women at the southeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X avenues.

But not everyone feels the same way. "At the same time," Arnold added, "you can easily find other retailers on the street who do not see any of these issues as a problem."


There are still vacant buildings along MLK Avenue.

But for all of the positive efforts taking place in the CHASE area, revitalization may still be a long way off. One indicator will be when the chain-link fence comes down at 3010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, an abandoned two-story apartment building. Outside, a sun-faded sign promises it will become "The Future Site of the AMS McDowell Business Center...Coming Spring 2010."

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Development


St. Elizabeths East could become a community hub, but it'll take time

In January 2003, then-Mayor Anthony Williams announced plans to reimagine St. Elizabeths East Campus as a new community hub. Over 10 years later, it's beginning to materialize, but the private investment and new opportunities neighbors were promised have yet to arrive.


The Pavilion at Saint Elizabeth's East awaits activation. All photos by the author.

Neighborhood residents, community leaders, and local business owners participated in the first planning process for the District-owned campus in Congress Heights. Now, Mayor Vincent Gray is doing it again. After decades of disinvestment in the area, his administration is building new schools, new recreation centers, and the St. Elizabeths Pavilion, a new community center that opened last year.

While a planned vendor market hasn't started yet, a series of temporary events have positioned the pavilion to become an established rental venue, says Catherine Buell, Executive Director of St. Elizabeths East. To attract activity to the site, the city opened a free ice slide, hosted a free performance by a Grammy-award winning R&B artist, held fitness classes and has drawn a line-up of popular food trucks.

"The Pavilion has been a success," says Buell, a resident of Historic Anacostia, noting that over 10,000 people from across the region have come to St. Elizabeths East, a former mental health institution that was previously closed to the public. "And they are comfortable here," she adds.

Confirming city officials' desire to make the Pavilion a family-friendly destination, on a recent weekend, its meeting space hosted a community organization, while in the next room a group of small children played games under adult supervision.


Rendering of what an active Pavilion might look like one day.

Officials admit there's still work to do. "There were areas we needed to do a better job of tending to," says Buell. "We knew starting up an enterprise was going to be hard, but we have developed and built up a dynamic brand."

Last month, Victor Hoskins, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, disclosed the city had prematurely terminated its relationship with a management company that the city had paid over $250,000 to assist with marketing, booking and event planning at the Pavilion. The next step will be soliciting "successful third-party rentals" that can begin making the Pavilion a place of commerce. "Vendors are interested," Buell affirms.

Elsewhere on the campus, redevelopment plans are slowly moving forward. St. Elizabeths East Chapel, where Mayor Williams first announced plans to redevelop the campus in 2003, could soon become the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center, a business incubator that "will bridge the gap between the innovation field and local community" until a more permanent space is built. The permanent space, the 500,000-square-foot St. Elizabeth's Innovation Hub, can't proceed until 2016, when important infrastructure improvements are built.

In a press release, District officials said they "expect to create" a Demonstration Center with a "Digital Inclusion Center" with a state-of-the-art computer lab where residents can receive computer training, classrooms for job training and placement services, community meeting space, and "entrepreneurship and career conference areas." It should open this summer.

But the key phrase is "we expect to create." In conversations with community members in and around Congress Heights, many expressed a fatigue over the past decade in attending meetings and reading stories that foretold a new day of private investment and opportunity was round the corner. That day has yet to come.

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