Plans for SE Parking, Park Overlap

Posted July 11, 2007 at 4:58pm

Efforts to create enough parking for the first game in the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium clashed this week with residents’ hopes for an oasis in the middle of a developing Southeast neighborhood.

A Southeast lot is slated to soon become Canal Park, where an aquatic garden, boardwalk and plaza will offer respite from a surrounding concrete jungle. But residents became worried recently when they found out that the Nationals and the Washington, D.C., Office of Planning had requested to put temporary surface parking lots on the site.

The lot was one of several requested to provide a temporary parking solution for the new stadium. The lots would be gone in five years, slowly replaced by underground garages in planned retail and condominium buildings. So far, the request has gone relatively smoothly, ensuring that the estimated 4,900 cars that will flood the area on Opening Day in April 2008 will have somewhere to park. But when Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells (D) found out that Canal Park was part of the plans, he immediately sent a letter asking for it to be protected.

“This park will be a great amenity for the city and the thousands of baseball fans visiting the area — and neighborhood residents have been eagerly awaiting its construction,” he wrote. “It is crucial that creation of temporary surface parking lots does not impede or slow down the progress of Canal Park.”

In the past, city officials have said the temporary lots won’t delay the dozens of development projects in the area, but with Canal Park scheduled to open around Opening Day, not much time was available for using it as a parking lot. Joel Lawson, OP associate director of development planning, said the office never meant to include the park and will recommend that the Zoning Commission remove it from the request. The park was simply part of a larger land parcel that includes other areas more conducive to parking, he said.

“Our understanding was that construction would start relatively soon,” he said, “so it never really was an issue.”

At 12:30 p.m. today, the request for the parking lot will go before the National Capital Planning Commission, which is looking over the issue because the park would be near the U.S. Department of Transportation and is thus a “federal interest.” NCPC staff also will recommend that the park is exempted, said David Zaidain, an NCPC community planner. They also will push for the lots to be more environmentally friendly, but the Zoning Commission isn’t required to follow the NCPC’s recommendations.

“We see it as an amenity both to the success of the Southeast Federal Center and the U.S. Department of Transportation,” Zaidain said.