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Posts about Parks

Development


The peculiar fight over density at the Bethesda Metro

Clark Enterprises, a company that formerly owned the biggest road construction contractor in Montgomery County, is fighting against a new building planned atop the Bethesda Metro station.


The plaza above the Bethesda Metro station. The former food court is behind the fountain. Photo by the author.

Brookfield Properties owns a failed food court on a platform above the station's bus waiting area, which it wants to replace with a high-rise containing homes or offices. Brookfield would also bring more light and air into the bus bays by cutting into an underused plaza that occupies the remainder of the platform.

This site, in the center of Bethesda directly above the Red Line entrance and bus terminal, is ideally situated for transit- and pedestrian-oriented development. No new parking will be built. The downtown master plan now under review by the Planning Board recognizes the value of this location by allowing building up to 290 feet high.

Clark has opposed building here before

In 2008, Clark helped defeat a plan to build on the Metro station platform, and it has been fighting Bookfield's proposal since it emerged two years ago. A new structure would interfere with the view from the building where Clark's executive offices are located. As one of the building's tenants wrote, the new building would "obstruct views from our existing space." A second tenant acknowledged the same objection.

The construction firm, a relentless promoter of highway widenings elsewhere, has renewed its efforts over the last month with two mailings each sent to thousands of Bethesda residents. They call on the public to "protect open space" and suggest that the plaza could be expanded by demolishing the food court and turned into an attractive park.


Clark's first mailer.

The mailers' attractive photographs of grassy parks surrounded by trees have little in common with any possible upgrade of the plaza—tree roots can't grow on the platform—and even less with the dingy bus bays below. Indeed, Clark's proposal could make the bus bays even worse than now.

In their second mailing, the builders argue that the plaza should be made "street facing." What currently separates the plaza from the street is the one opening that penetrates the deck above the bus bays. Decking over that opening would further deprive transit riders of light and fresh air.


Top: The image from Clark's mailing opposing the new building. Bottom: The Bethesda Metro entrance. Lower photo by the author.

It's easy to laugh at a situation some have described as "builder turned NIMBY," and one might think Clark has little chance of success. But plans to build on this ideally located site have already been derailed once. Montgomery County's decision on the Bethesda Metro plaza will test its commitment to development near transit.

Correction: The initial version of this post referred to Clark Construction as the company opposing the building. Clark Enterprises, the parent company, sold Clark Construction to its executives in January 2016. However, as of this article's initial publication, the Clark website still listed Clark Construction as a subsidiary (but it was subsequently updated after this article ran).

Public Spaces


Silver Spring could get a big, new, temporary park

Downtown Silver Spring could get a big new park as part of a massive redevelopment of the Blairs, an apartment complex across the street from the Metro. The park will be temporary, but eventually several larger parks will take its place.


Plan of the new park from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

First built in the 1950s, the Blairs are a complex of apartments, offices, and a strip mall across from the Silver Spring Metro station. Owner Tower Companies will redevelop the 27-acre superblock over the coming years, replacing a massive parking lot with 1400 new apartments (there are 1400 there now), new retail, and four acres of new parks.

The first new apartment tower, called the Pearl, is under construction, but much of the new stuff won't arrive for a decade. In the meantime, Tower wants to create a park over one acre in size on the site of a future apartment building.


The Pearl under construction. The temporary park would go in front of it. Photo by the author.

Located near the corner of Eastern Avenue and Blair Mill Road, the new park would have a big lawn and a wood stage for performances. A playground and adult-sized fitness equipment would let people of all sizes work out, while a "fitness trail" would loop around the entire site. The park would also include a community garden and a temporary building that might house a leasing center.

While the park is set to go on private property, it would be open to both Blairs residents and the surrounding neighborhood. The park would be a welcome addition for neighbors who have clamored for more open space in the past. Silver Spring doesn't lack for parks, but many of them are either too small or designed to be unusable.


One of several new parks that will eventually come to the Blairs. Image from Tower Companies.

This wouldn't be the first temporary park in downtown Silver Spring. Over a decade ago, residents and visitors alike fell in love with "the Turf," an artificial grass lawn on Ellsworth Drive, and protested when it was removed to build Veterans Plaza. Possibly hoping to avoid the same result, Tower Companies will place signs at "visible locations" around their temporary park "informing both residents and visitors that the temporary green is the future location of a residential building, and that it is not permanent."

Public Spaces


The latest design for the new Third Street park in NoMa emphasizes kids and dogs

There's a park going in at 3rd and L Streets NE, in NoMa, and after nearby residents chimed in about what they did and didn't like about the first three designs, the architects put forward new plans. Out is dead space and a moat with a bridge, and in is more space for dogs and kids, and some variable topography.


The latest design for the Third Street park. Photo by NoMa Parks Foundation.

Landscape architect Lee and Associates' design includes a large space for dogs that is pushed up against the existing walls that abut the planned park and shifts space for children and adults, including a jungle gym-like wall-holla structure, to the area facing the streets.


An elevation from the latest design of the Third Street park looking south from L Street, with the wall-holla at the center of the park. Photo by NoMa Parks Foundation.

Stacie West, the director of parks projects at the NoMa Parks Foundation, says the updated design uses a lot of elements from the previous "The Wall—West" design and takes the mounds from the "The Mound" design.

The plan also adds a double gate for the dog park space and a water fountain for humans.

Specific lighting, plant and tree, and material selections will be made as the Third Street park moves through the design phase, says West.

The updated design was presented at a community meeting on June 11, with attendees saying that there was mostly praise for the plan.

Residents of NoMa have expressed desire for dedicated space for both dogs and children, something the neighborhood currently lacks. There have been questions about whether the Third Street park should be split between these two uses, however, the general consensus is that this is the best solution for the small, shady site.

"I'm going to be completely honest, this is a somewhat dark, small site," said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), in May. "It's a great site for a greatly designed small dog park."

"We need to think of this as a little jewel that's convenient for people in this area," she said.

NoMa hopes to begin construction of the Third Street park in 2017 and open it before the end of that year.

You can weigh in on the proposed design here.

History


One of Silver Spring's earliest schools had a merry-go-round, boat rides, and a carnival

Once houses had gone up in postwar suburbs, communities needed stores, schools, and other services. Sometimes builders provided these, but other times it was up to the public sector or entrepreneurs. That's how Silver Spring's Alexander School came to be.


The Alexander School, c. 1955. The Ferris wheel, bought used from a Pennsylvania carnival, is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Kaye Kendall Giuliani.

Meeting suburbia's need for childcare and schools

In Silver Spring's Four Corners community at the intersection of Colesville Road and University Boulevard, suburbanization began in the 1920s and accelerated through the 1930s and into the war years. By 1942 enough families had bought homes that Montgomery County met the demand for new schools by building Four Corners Elementary School. Plans to build 238 temporary houses for wartime workers exacerbated the need for more educational infrastructure.

For younger children and to provide daycare during the summer, Hilda Hatton bought a six-acre former farm, one of the area's last remaining large agricultural parcels, and founded the Benjamin Acres School. Named for the colonial land patent out of which the property was carved, the Benjamin Acres School opened in the summer of 1943 as a day camp and nursery school for children ages four to 14.

Hatton operated the school until 1947 when she relocated to Annapolis and reopened it as a boarding school. She sold the property, which by that time included a two-story residence that had been converted into a school building and a swimming pool, to Ernest L. Kendall. Kendall (1906-1990) was an Oklahoma native and educational entrepreneur who had just resigned from his position as principal of the Capitol Page School in Washington.


Ernest L. Kendall teaches a history class at the Capitol Page School. Library of Congress photo.

Ernest Kendall goes to Washington

Kendall arrived in Washington in early 1931. He was a graduate of Southwestern Oklahoma State University. After school he began working in public education and by 1930 he was the superintendent of schools in Granite, a small Oklahoma town south of his birthplace, Weatherford. Kendall worked briefly in sales while he acquired his District of Columbia teaching credentials while studying part-time at the George Washington University.

Desperate for full-time employment, Kendall approached Oklahoma Representative James McClintic. The legislator suggested Kendall join the Capitol police force or that he start a school for pages. Kendall chose the latter. The District of Columbia School Board accredited Kendall and the school, a dank space in the Capitol basement, where Kendall developed a rigorous curriculum and extracurricular activities, including sports teams.

In 1946, Congress assumed control over page education and transferred administration of the Page School to the District of Columbia. Kendall received a contract to continue as the school's principal through June 1947. At the end of that term, Kendall and all of the other staff were dismissed. Four months later, he bought Hatton's Benjamin Acres School, renamed it the "Alexander School"—to get a top listing in telephone directories—and set about navigating Montgomery County's tortuous regulatory mazes to transfer the existing school license and to embark on an ambitious construction program to enlarge the school's facilities.

"He had a vision of what he wanted to have as school. So he wanted [it] to be a wonderland type of place," recalled Kendall's son Fred, who began his career as a camp counselor and who later became the Alexander School's principal. "It was exciting because there was a swimming pool there. Beautiful, beautiful grounds with old trees and things." Kendall built age-specific playgrounds and added an auditorium wing to the existing building. "He added a merry-go-round. He added a boat ride, like you see at carnivals and stuff, smaller version. And a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel, small [in] nature," explained Fred Kendall.


Former Alexander School/North Four Corners Park Location. Base map from Google Maos, inset from Sanborn Fire Insurance.

Suburban amusement park, or school?

The Kendalls believed that their students needed a well-rounded education that included rigorous coursework, lots of healthy play, and exposure to the performing arts. The auditorium Ernest Kendall built was outfitted with professional lighting and sound systems. During the school year children performed in elaborate productions and in summers it was filled with cots for naptime.

Alexander School students and campers and many Four Corners residents recall an unparalleled recreational facility. Students got a quality education and exposure to the arts. Parents found a safe place for their children during the workday. And, Four Corners children used the school grounds after hours as an unofficial park.

"The school was not so much elitist as it was working parents," explained Fred Kendall. "His idea was that he had customers or clients who had to go to work. And if they had to go to work, they had to have childcare." A 10-bus fleet outfitted with radios provided transportation to the school. Kendall remembers that the school opened very day, even in bad winter weather: "If you had to go to work, we were going to send the bus."


Newly renovated North Four Corners Park and former Alexander School site. Photo by the author.

Ernest Kendall sold the school in 1983 to the Yeshiva High School of Greater Washington. Twelve years later it was again sold, this time to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission as expansion space for the neighboring Four Corners Local Park. The expansion plans, which included constructing a large soccer field, stalled for more than a decade as neighborhood activists opposed the agency's plans. During that time the vacant lot became a fallow field that neighborhood residents used as a playground and popular dog walking location.

Construction on the new park began in 2013 and was completed in 2015. The new space represents not only an improved Montgomery County amenity—increased parklands—but it also marks a new era of suburban recreation in the space first begun nearly a century ago.

Public Spaces


Check out these ideas for the new Third Street park in NoMa

A new park is set to go up in NoMa, at 3rd and L Streets NE, and the NoMa Parks Foundation recently unveiled three potential designs. Each has a dog park and an area for small children, including a unique jungle gym-like structure to increase play space in the small park.


The jungle gym-like "wall-holla" proposed for the Third Street park. Image by Carve.

The park will be the first in a planned system of parks in the near northeast neighborhood. Hoping to maximize space in the nearly 8,000-square foot plot, each plan by landscape architecture firm Lee and Associates splits the land about evenly between dogs and humans, with the jungle gym structure—called a "wall-holla"adding play space for children on a vertical plane.

"You have microunits, this is a micropark," says Jeff Lee, founding principal of Lee and Associates, at a meeting on the designs earlier in May.


The three plans by Lee and Associates for the Third Street park. All images by NoMa Parks Foundation and Lee and Associates unless otherwise noted.

The first two designs dubbed "The Wall-North" and "The Wall-West" place the space for dogs up against the wall of the Loree Grande on the southern edge of park with the outer areas of the park reserved for children and neighborhood residents. This layout dedicates the sunniest areas of the park to children and residents.


The Wall-North design.

"Incorporating the wall-holla is so important in options one and two," said Tony Goodman, the ANC commissioner for 6C06 that includes NoMa, at the meeting. The structures, which he has looked at elsewhere, have capacity for a lot of children and will maximize use of the space.

"They're very cool," said Goodman, adding that the first one in the DC area is being installed in Gaithersburg.


The Wall-West design.

One aspect of the The Wall-West that jumps out are the many curving benches that allows users to face each other. This would cater to NoMa's deaf residents and students at nearby Gallaudet University, which includes seating arrangements that enable visual communication in its DeafSpace design standards.


The Mounds design.

The third design, "The Mounds," does not include a dedicated children area but adds a knoll and bridge for dogs.

Responding to resident input

The designs for the Third Street park are a result of strong resident desires for a dog park and space for children in the neighborhood. NoMa currently lacks both.

There were a lot of questions about the designs at the meeting, as residents like some aspects and not others. For example, a number of people did not like the lack of separation between space for children and others in The Mounds.

The lack of separation in the design is about seeing how the elements of The Mounds would fit into the overall scheme for the park rather than a final proposal, says Lee.

The final design for the Third Street park is likely to include various elements from the three proposals, he says. Lee and Associates can combine aspects residents like and remove ones they do not as it moves through the design process.

Despite support for a dog park in the neighborhood, some residents asked whether NoMa should hold off on designs for the space until the uses for the planned NoMa Green off the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) are determined.

"I'm going to be completely honest, this is a somewhat dark, small site," said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of NoMa BID. "It's a great site for a greatly designed small dog park."

She continued: "We don't need to wait on designing this. We need to think of this as a little jewel that's convenient for people in this area."

NoMa plans to hire a designer for the NoMa Green and a small plot at the corner of the MBT and R Street NE donated by developer Foulger-Pratt within the next few months, says Jasper.

In addition, there is a small dog park owned by The Gale Eckington but open to all residents across Harry Thomas Way from the planned green site.

Lee and his team will refine their designs next, likely focusing on the two wall designs based on the resident comments at the meeting. The neighborhood will hold another community meeting once this process is complete.

Construction of the Third Street park is expected to take about three months with a target opening date in 2017.

Bicycling


Out: The Metropolitan Branch Trail's sharp curve at R Street. In: A straighter, smoother ride.

Today, people using the Metropolitan Branch Trail have to make two sharp turns at R Street NE to stay on the trail. The NoMa Business Improvement District has plans to "soften" the route by making it straighter and to add a small park alongside it.


A conceptual drawing of the softened curve on the MBT and the new small park at R Street NE. Image from NoMa BID.

After the NoMa BID studied how to make the MBT safer, it called this corner of the trail "the single most cited area of concern on the trail for personal safety, rider comfort, and placemaking."

In addition to softening the curve at R Street, the BID also plans to build a long-planned Q Street connection to the trail as part of its new large park, temporarily dubbed the NoMa Green. The connection will shorten the walk to the MBT, the Metro and shops in NoMa for nearby residents.

"It's going to be a single whole in the end," says Robin-Eve Jasper, president of NoMa BID, on the new plot and the NoMa Green.

"We really need to get the designer for the NoMa Green on board and then we can ask, 'optimally what does this all look like?'" she says of the two spaces, which will be designed together.

Other improvements may be made to MBT as part of the green. NoMa has received proposals from designers that include raising the trail where it passes the green to increase separation and widening it to reduce bike-pedestrian conflicts, says Jasper.


The NoMa Green site, and the Q Street connection. Image from NoMa BID.

MBT users should not expect immediate changes. While NoMa is working to hire a designer now, both the new plot and green will need to go through a design and public comment phase before construction can begin. At best, that will be at the end of 2017.

A developer donated the land

Developer Foulger-Pratt made softening the curve on the MBT possible. The company is giving the 23,000 square foot plot to NoMa while reserving the right to build a parking garage underneath it as part of a coming development.

While the garage could delay construction to at least 2018 and require a temporary rerouting of the MBT, it is better than the alternative, which would be no change at all.

NoMa has used all of the funds it budgeted for land acquisitions, says Jasper. It has spent $17.2 million of the $50 million it has for parks from the District government to acquire land for the green and a new Third Street park at L Street NE.

The remaining money will go toward designing and building NoMa's system of parks. These includebrightening four underpasses under the throat tracks to Union Station and a mid-block "meander" between North Capital Street and First Street NE, in addition to the other spaces mentioned.

"The likely scenario is we end up with a temporary condition that is somewhat suboptimal on the northern piece for six months to a year," says Jasper on the impact to the MBT if Foulger-Pratt goes forward with an underground garage.

The developer would pay for a temporary rerouting of the trail, she adds.

Pedestrians


This Annandale park is getting a new foot bridge, after all

In late March, a foot bridge in Annandale disappeared altogether because Fairfax County officials said they couldn't afford to fix or replace it. On Wednesday, however, the county said it will build a new one.


This bridge is gone, but a new one will replace it soon. Photo by Rick Carlstrom.

On March 23, the county removed the bridge, which crosses a tiny stream in Annandale's Broyhill Crest Park, after determining it was in danger of collapsing. At that time, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross told residents that, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority, a replacement bridge would cost $80,000 and there was no money in the budget for a new one.

But in an April 20 email to the Broyhill Crest community, Gross said she and Frank Vajda, the Mason representative on the Park Authority Board, continued to work with Park Authority staff on finding a way to replace the bridge. "Leaving the community bereft of a pedestrian crossing for a long period of time was unacceptable," she said.

"I am happy to report that the Park Authority came through, funding has been identified, and the order for a new fiberglass bridge has been placed," she continued.

A prefabricated bridge should arrive in about four weeks, and the project should be finished in about six.


The trail between Murray Lane and Lockwood Lane where a new pedestrian bridge will be installed. Photo by the author.

"In the meantime," Gross said, "Park Authority maintenance staff will be working at the site to stabilize the stream banks and prepare for installation of bridge foundations prior to the placement of the new bridge."

Gross estimated using park maintenance staff instead of contractors for some of the work will save about $20,000. She can't say what the final cost will be because "we don't know what problems they might run into." The county will still have to hire contractors to install the piers and do some of the stream restoration work, she said.

Local residents who had spoken up about the unsafe bridge for years and urged the county to fix it had been disappointed that the county would simply remove it without any plans for replacing it.

Crossposted from Annandale VA. Also, this post was updated to reflect Penny Gross' comments on costs and savings.

Public Spaces


Ten small parks that prove tiny is terrific

Georgetown Day School recently downsized its plans for a mixed-use project in Tenleytown. Aside from cutting 50 units of housing, the developers also canceled plans for a pocket park. We called that a loss, but some skeptics said it wasn't a big deal because the park would have been very small. But when it comes to parks, quality is way more important than size. These 10 "teacup parks" show that.


Paley Park in Manhattan. Photo by Mike Boucher on Flickr.

In its original proposal, GDS offered to close a slip lane between Wisconsin Avenue and 42nd Street and create a pocket park of roughly 7400 square feet. The school offered a few designs, including a splash pad, a skatepark, and a demonstration garden. With the reduction in size, GDS will still close the slip lane for safety reasons, but it will just be another grass triangle.

Opponents of the GDS deal claimed that this small park was just too small, unlike what's typical in Ward 3. Fort Reno, for example, is 33 acres, or 1.5 million square feet.

But little parks can be everything for building engaging streets, something Tenleytown does not have. Here are 10 great park and plazas less than 15,000 square feet that make their neighborhoods a lot better.

Here are 10 great park and plazas that take up less than 15,000 square feet yet still make their neighborhoods a lot better.

1. Paley Park, New York City


Paley Park. Photo by Matthew Blackburn on Flickr.

If you ask a planner for an example of a pocket park, they'll probably bring up Paley Park. At 4200 square feet, it's smaller than the Ellicott Park would have been. But a water feature, movable seating, and a few delicate trees create a beloved retreat in one of the busiest, loudest parts of Manhattan.

2. Bethesda Row Fountain


Just a slightly thicker street corner. Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

Because of the lively nearby streets, this tiny triangle of land in Bethesda has been swamped since it opened in 2000, despite being a mere 1500 square feet.

3. Columbia Heights Civic Plaza


The plaza hosts frequent events. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Designed by ZGF architects, buildings frame this 12,000 square foot plaza, which is just as lively hosting public events or a farmers market as it is demonstrations or a children's splash park.

The design screens the play area from traffic with adult benches. Photo by Bill McNeal on Flickr.

4. Parkman Triangle, Los Angeles


Parkman Triangle. Image from Google Maps

Residents turned a leftover sliver of concrete in Silver Lake into this 2000 square foot parklet, where desert plants shield seating from traffic.

5. Boyd-Jackson Park, Takoma Park


Boy-Jackson Park. Image from Google Streetview

A small neighborhood park, this fits play structures and a field into less than 8,000 square feet. It's hardly the National Mall, but it's still incredibly useful and convenient for its neighborhood.

6. Fowler Square, Brooklyn, New York


Fowler Square's temporary configuration. Image Courtesy NYC DOT.

New York's Department of Transportation connected a little island by transferring a single block from cars to pedestrians to create an 8,400 square foot plaza. Although drivers originally opposed it, it has become the highest-rated of New York's plazas and enough of a neighborhood amenity to make the change permanent.

POPS Skatepark, Philadelphia


Photo by Bill Benzon on Flickr.

One corner of a neighborhood park, this skate park's small, 6,000 square foot size works well for inexperienced, younger skateboarders.

8. Fox and Laurel Park and Community Garden, Los Angeles


Fox-Laurel Park. Image from Google Streetview.

In a space just twice the Ellicot Park lot (15,000), surrounded by a storage facility, the city fit two playgrounds, native plantings, and a community garden.

9. This private park at Brown University


Pocket Park at Brown. Image from Google Streetview.

This quiet space between academic buildings and houses takes up 5,500 square feet, but manages to pack in a secluded urban room.

10. Unnamed Triangle (Reservation 265)


Is this what they call Tactical Urbanism? Image from Google Streetview.

Some residents took a play set out to one of DC's many leftover grass triangles. It's not pretty, and probably not legal, but it's a lot more use than most of them get.

Small can still be great

Whether or not Ellicott Street gets a park, there many neighborhoods in DC that would benefit from a few pocket parks. Meanwhile, Tenleytown is trying to revamp its public spaces through the Main Street program. These examples show that it's foolish to get hung up on the size of a discrete strip of land. With busy nearby streets and good design, you can squeeze a lot of life into a modest space.

Of course, this is just what I could come up with from memory and asking a few people. There are tons of great public spaces of this size. Can you think of any that caught your eye?

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