Group Unveils Vision for E. Market Metro

Posted May 4, 2004 at 2:16pm

On Monday as storm clouds hovered menacingly and the last trickle of morning commuters spilled out of the Eastern Market Metro stop on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, Kim Williams surveyed the largely empty brown brick plaza and shook her head.

“It needs a lot of work,” Williams said, minutes before boarding a Metrobus to her job as a social worker.

The area in question is a 4.5-acre rectangular parcel of National Park Service land between Seventh and Ninth streets Southeast, bisected into two triangles by Pennsylvania Avenue. Aside from a few bus shelters, trees and a lone hot dog stand, the area is relatively undeveloped.

“It’s pretty much a place people walk through,” said Jennifer Stybel en route to her job at the Shakespeare Theatre administration building on Eighth Street Southeast. “It would be nice to have more of a communal area.”

If a group of Capitol Hill community leaders gets its way, Stybel’s wish could become reality in the not-so-distant future.

Last month, the fledgling Eastern Market Metro Plaza planning group, comprising representatives from a variety of local groups, including Barracks Row Main Street, Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, unveiled “a broadbrush vision” of what it hopes will one day serve as a central meeting place for the Hill community — linking the neighborhood from the Anacostia Waterfront in the south to Eastern Market in the north.

Under the preliminary plans, designed by local landscape architecture firm Oehme, Van Sweden and Associates Inc., the western triangle, which surrounds the Metro stop, is envisioned as a “town square,” with a covered pavilion, arbor, fountain and bosque of canopy trees. The eastern triangle — now largely deserted and overrun with weeds — would be transformed into a “Garden in the City,” with a playground, landscaping and possibly some sort of monument. (The National Capital Planning Commission has designated the site as a potential location for a future monument.)

The $6,000 study, paid for by the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and CHAMPs, was spearheaded by the two groups’ respective planning committee chairmen, Dick Wolf and Frank Reed.

Wolf said the ongoing development along nearby Barracks Row served in part to heighten the urgency of the need for the Metro plaza overhaul, an idea which had percolated for decades among some Hill activists.

In March, Barracks Row Main Street — a group which aims to revitalize Eighth Street Southeast — received a nearly $1 million federal economic development grant to design gateways to the corridor at both the Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street entrances, and recently sent out a request for proposals.

“Now was the time to put forward some ideas about how to deal with this,” said Wolf, emphasizing the need for an integrated approach to development in the area. (Just north of the plaza, a streetscape is planned for the Eastern Market area, along Seventh Street Southeast between Pennsylvania and North Carolina avenues, though District Department of Transportation officials did not return phone calls requesting additional details.)

Barracks Row Main Street Executive Director Bill McLeod said the plaza will offer the community a prime opportunity to create the sort of neighborhood hub, which currently exists around the Dupont Circle fountain in Northwest Washington.

“Why can’t it be Dupont Circle with people playing chess, people drinking coffee, because it’s [also] right next to a Starbucks, people hanging out and meeting friends,” McLeod said.

Still, despite the group’s enthusiasm, planning group member and Barracks Row Main Street Co-Chairman George Didden said the implementation of any potential redesign of the plaza would likely be at least five years in the offing. The group hopes to have a finalized design in place by the end of 2004, with at least one major public design charette expected later this year, Didden said. In the meantime, Oehme Van Sweden is soliciting public input at emmp@ovsla.com.

The cost of the project is estimated at $3 million to $5 million, Didden noted.

“We believe this will take federal funding. We have made some initial inquiries up on the Hill,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Since forming 15 months ago, the group has worked to ensure that all major stakeholders — from the National Park Service to DDOT — were fully briefed on the plans, and no agency involved has indicated any opposition to the proposal, according to Wolf.

Wolf said the group also plans to brief the Architect of the Capitol — who is now in the midst of creating a new master plan for the development of the Capitol complex — in the hopes that the architect would “create some policy within the master plan” recognizing Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast as “one of the major ceremonial entranceways [to the Capitol], and for that reason special attention should be paid to these things like the town square.”

Any redesign to the plaza would likely have to be approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board, NCPC, NPS and the Commission of Fine Arts, Wolf said.