Hill Residents Speak Out on River Plans

Posted October 26, 2005 at 4:13pm

Capitol Hill residents expressed concerns regarding traffic and affordable housing during a two-hour community meeting Tuesday night held to highlight how plans to revitalize the Anacostia River waterfront could reshape the way Hill residents think about the river.

About 100 people braved the rain to attend the meeting, held at St. Peter’s Church in Southeast and sponsored by the Capitol Hill Restoration Society.

There is a need to build connecting roads, riverfront parks, cultural destinations and strong waterfront neighborhoods along the river because much of Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill specifically, remains largely disconnected from it, said Uwe Brandes, vice president of capitol projects for the Anacostia Waterfront Corp.

The quasi-government group is in charge of overseeing the riverfront’s revitalization.

“We really think of a mixture of uses at the water’s edge,” Brandes said.

Planned projects being overseen by the corporation include the Ballpark District, a residential and commercial neighborhood located north of the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium. Another is to connect the Near Southeast neighborhood to Capitol Hill through the construction of a new U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters, residential complexes and increased open space areas.

Meanwhile, in Hill East, there are plans to extend Massachusetts Avenue to the river to help in the effort to revitalize Reservation 13, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and the eastern edge of Capitol Hill.

“This is going to be a new resource, a place to go have a cup of coffee or have dinner,” Brandes said.

Some in attendance expressed concern over how such revitalization might affect Capitol Hill neighborhoods. Plans to extend city streets down to the river drew ire from some in the audience, who argued the roads would be used for daily commuters rather than people heading to the new riverfront parks.

“My concern is, if you build it, they will come,” said Elizabeth Nelson, who has lived in the North Lincoln Park area of Capitol Hill for 21 years. “People would just drive through, just another way to get from point A to point B.”

While revitalization at the waterfront is needed, it is important to create more bike trails and pedestrian paths along the river instead, Nelson said.

“I think you need to get people out of their cars,” Nelson said. “If you build a continuous road, there’s going to be traffic.”

Leo Pinson, a Ward 6 resident, said he is concerned that many of the city’s residents will not be able to afford to live in the planned neighborhoods, which Brandes said are designed to be “high-end living.”

But 15 percent of the new housing is to be set aside for low-income housing, and another 15 percent for moderate income, Brandes said.

“What is low-income? What is moderate income?” Pinson said.

It is also important to clean up the river by creating new wetlands and reworking some of the city’s sewer system, Brandes said.

“There’s a real effort to think of the river in environmental terms,” Brandes said.

Pinson said such efforts are key to the revitalization’s success.

“The people need to be able to access it,” Pinson said. “It needs to be child-friendly, family friendly. … If the river is polluted, what do we gain?”