Finalized Plan for H Street Moves Ahead

Posted March 7, 2003 at 3:30pm

The 1.5-mile H Street Northeast corridor stretching from North Capitol Street to 17th Street — once the District’s second highest grossing commercial district — was transformed into a revitalized residential, commercial and cultural center in a presentation by city planners last week.

Closing out six months of community meetings and strategy sessions, the District’s Office of Planning unveiled its final draft of the H Street Strategic Development Plan at a standing-room-only presentation in the Capital Children’s Museum attended by Mayor Anthony Williams (D), D.C. City Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), and Advisory Neighborhood Commission representatives.

The final plan recommends the corridor be divided into five nodes: a hub adjacent to Union Station and the H Street overpass linking the corridor to various transit networks; an urban living space along the 200 to 600 blocks of H Street; a five-block shopping district concentrated around the intersection of Eighth and H streets Northeast, which will feature a new police substation on the 900 block; an arts and entertainment district comprising the H Street Playhouse, the planned Atlas Performing Arts Center, and a new, upgraded public library facility; and an eastern portion which would develop housing and retail opportunities at the Hechinger Mall/Sears department store site.

Derrick Woody, the Office of Planning’s project manager, said the area is capable of supporting roughly 300,000 square feet of retail space, 650 rental apartments, 100 condominiums and 200,000 square feet of small professional office space.

In a previous draft plan, the hub and urban living nodes had been combined into a western gateway. But according to the Office of Planning’s neighborhood planning coordinator, Karina Ricks, it eventually became apparent that the two areas required distinctive designations.

Officials also said the introduction of a trolley system into the corridor is under consideration as part of a transit enhancement study, though Ricks cautioned that any such plans were well “beyond the 10-year horizon.”

Williams praised the revitalization plan as “an important precedent for the rest of the city.”

Most residents who attended generally echoed the mayor’s enthusiasm, though some had reservations.

“I’d love to see the revitalization of H Street, but at the same time while you are revitalizing you have to make sure you have all players at the table,” said ANC Commissioner Wanda Harris, adding that not enough was done to inform H Street residents about earlier public hearings.

Others such as Drury Tallant, who serves on the project’s advisory committee and on the board of H Street Main Street, worried that some of the new structures in the corridor were “not an asset” and pointed to the cinder-block construction of the AutoZone car parts store on H Street’s 1200 block as an example of development that “doesn’t respect H Street at all.”

During a brief question-and-answer period, officials also fielded questions ranging from how the city plans to balance the need for low-income housing and employment for current residents as property values rise to plans for the development of the BP Amoco site at the intersection of Third and H Streets.

Next up officials will submit the H Street proposal to the City Council for approval, which, Ricks asserted, they hope to do sometime in April in order to obtain approval before the council’s summer recess, which begins in July.

In related plans for the area, the city will sign a contract with transportation and streetscape consultants, begin zoning discussions, and approve the H Street work plan. A meeting on the new R.L. Christian Library is slated for mid- to late April, as is a community meeting on phase one dealing with the transportation and streetscape plan.