Streamlining Plans in Southeast

Office of Planning Wants to Bring Projects Together

Posted June 19, 2007 at 4:04pm

The neighborhood around the Potomac Avenue Metro station is like many up-and-coming areas in Washington, D.C. It has a revitalization plan, a comprehensive plan, a master plan, a transportation plan and a cluster of private developers ready to build condos on whatever property they can get their hands on.

The disorganization worries residents, who want their Capitol Hill neighborhood to maintain a unique identity like Eastern Market or Barracks Row — two successfully revitalized areas that are just one mile up Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. But as city officials create more plans and make more promises, some residents feel as if many ideas are handled haphazardly. [IMGCAP(1)]

“They’re doing things piecemeal,” said Kenan Jarboe, an advisory neighborhood commissioner. “It’s an ongoing problem.”

Now, the Office of Planning wants to fix that by bringing all of the projects, promises and improvements together under yet another plan. By creating a scoping study for a specific neighborhood, the office can prioritize and organize all of the development, said Jeff Davis, the office’s Ward 6 neighborhood planner. The office will become a coordinator for a small, cohesive area — rather than for citywide plans or separate projects — and can hold city agencies to a timetable, Davis said. It also will give residents a louder voice by working their concerns into a broader, overreaching plan.

It’s all to ensure things aren’t forgotten, which is what happened to a report done by residents and volunteer planners in 2004 that outlines exactly how the neighborhood should evolve. Davis pulled out the report at a community meeting Monday and used it as a vehicle for discussion.

“We want to make sure things like that don’t happen, that once it’s completed, it’s implemented,” he said.

The Potomac Avenue neighborhood isn’t the only area Office of Planning officials are looking at. The office will next apply the technique to the neighborhoods around the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium, where city officials are trying to plan for 40,000 baseball fans, dozens of commercial developments and a new U.S. Department of Transportation facility.

The traffic and parking plan is now split among three entities: the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission, DDOT and the Nationals. As the Nationals try to identify temporary surface parking lots for game days, DDOT and the commission are working on a traffic plan. Mixed in are the commercial developments, which will include underground parking but also will create more traffic and pedestrians.

DDOT hopes to get at least half of the stadium visitors to use the Metro and will make sure that traffic doesn’t clog local streets, said Ken Laden, DDOT’s associate director for transportation policy and planning.

“One of our goals is to protect surrounding residential neighborhoods from parking and traffic,” he said, adding that a residential parking plan similar to the one near RFK Stadium will give residents “a fighting chance to find a parking spot.”

Residents not only worry about gridlock on their neighborhood streets, but also about how everything will fit together, said Andy Litsky, chairman of the local ANC.

“Please give us somebody who’s going to be coordinating this development,” he said. “Somebody take a bird’s-eye view and recognize that all this development is tied together.”

But the Office of Planning won’t start to look at the situation until July, and the implementation of a scoping study won’t get going until next summer — after the stadium’s opening day in April, Davis said.

“The first year will be a mad house,” he said, “even with the best planning.”

Meanwhile, Davis took the first step of the Potomac Avenue scoping study with a meeting on Monday to gather residents’ input. Most of the 20 residents complained of stalled road improvements and uneven planning. With the new Harris Teeter opening on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, residents wondered how the influx of traffic would be handled — especially when DDOT hadn’t begun work on the dangerous intersection of Pennsylvania and Potomac avenues.

Davis said he will take all of the comments and use them to create the scoping study, which will then be looked at by community groups such as the local ANC, the Barney Circle Neighborhood Association and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. With the real estate market in a bit of a slump, Davis said the Office of Planning has the chance to get city agencies to catch up on all of its development projects.

“I think the real estate boom was unprecedented and took a lot of people off guard,” he said. Now, “we find ourselves with a little room.”