Lots of Parking on the Horizon

Temporary Surface Spaces Eventually Would Give Way to Development

Posted April 13, 2007 at 4:08pm

In an effort to smooth traffic and parking congestion for the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium that’s opening one year from now, city officials are hoping to use the site of future malls and condominiums as temporary parking lots.

It’s a solution to a problem that has plagued officials since the stadium first began construction in Southeast Washington, D.C. Estimates put the number of cars on a weekend game day at 4,900 — a total that calls for three times more parking spaces than will be provided in the stadium’s on-site parking garage.

If the Zoning Commission approves the Office of Planning’s proposal on May 21, those extra spaces will be provided in surface lots spread throughout the area. And with a five-year limit on those lots, officials say the temporary solution won’t stall the permanent one, where fans instead will park in the underground garages of the slew of commercial buildings planned for the area.

“It’s on the path toward being under control,” said Jacqueline Dupree, who writes a blog at www.jdland.com that follows development in Near Southeast. “There’s no question that this is an area of town that is tight already with traffic problems, and right now the [Metro’s] Green Line has overcrowding problems. It’s a matter of how they’re going to work on that. I think they’re on the right track.”

Much of the development planned for around the stadium won’t break ground until after opening day, meaning properties that otherwise would go empty can be put to good use in the meantime, said Judi Greenberg, special assistant in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. And although the proposal asks for zoning changes to a number of properties, she said all probably won’t be used. The Nationals simply want the option to make deals with surrounding property owners.

“Economics will drive the development schedule, and these surface lots shouldn’t impact that timeline,” she said.

In the proposal, officials stress that surface parking lots should not be a permanent solution, calling them “a poor use of the District’s valuable land” and damaging to the environment. Dupree said she’s confident the lots won’t last more than the five years promised.

“I think that there’s enough money tied up in development that no one’s going to make more money in a parking lot,” she said. “There’s a lot of money tied up in this neighborhood.”

Indeed, the neighborhood has several planned developments, one of the biggest being on Half Street Southeast, where Monument Realty intends to build a large street mall with shops and condos leading up to the ballpark. And the surface parking lots are planned for sites that eventually will include other mixed-use buildings and the Capper Seniors Building.

When everything is built, the hope is that fans will come early to the game and leave late, spending extra time in the neighborhood and freeing up the Metro. But in the meantime, it’s all trial and error, Dupree said.

“The first couple games, it’s just going to be nightmare,” she said. “It’s just going to happen.”