Urge Mayor Gray to Halt Reopening of Southeast Freeway

August 19, 2014

As I mentioned in my recap of the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard planning study meeting, the District Department of Transportation is planning to reopen the Southeast Freeway between Barney Circle and 11th Street SE by the end of the year. Construction crews are already spending millions of dollars to rebuild and clear portions of the old freeway, which was closed in January 2013 as part of the 11th Street Bridge Project. Once it reopens, it will draw more commuter traffic off I-295 and into our neighborhood, particularly on the already high volume 17th and 19th Street corridors.

Unfortunately, DDOT plans to move ahead with the reopening despite objections from the community. That leaves only one person – Mayor Gray – who can direct DDOT to stop this bad idea.

Please call Mayor Gray’s Office today and tell the Mayor to halt the reopening of the Southeast Freeway. You can reach his office by dialing:

  • 202-727-6300

Here are some key reasons why halting the reopening is critical:

  • Reopening the freeway undermines the planning and transportation studies underway for this area. The Office of Planning, in conjunction with DDOT and the community,  is finalizing recommendations on design concepts for the old freeway space that will extend the neighborhood grid, facilitate pedestrian connections to the Anacostia waterfront and provide a more neighborhood sensitive vehicle connection between Barney Circle and 11th Street. DDOT’s decision to reopen the freeway undermines this study and will continue the decades-long separation between the neighborhood and the waterfront.
  • Reopening the freeway is a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars. These dollars could and should be used to fund the final product of the ongoing planning and transportation study, both of which should wrap up by the end of the year. The money should not be used to re-introduce a mistake of the past.
  • Reopening the freeway will not relieve traffic congestion. Instead, it will exacerbate traffic issues in our neighborhood, particularly as the freeway draws more and more commuters off of I-295 and the 11th Street bridge and down 17th, 19th Streets and Pennsylvania Ave.

Again, please call Mayor Gray’s Office today and tell the Mayor to halt the reopening of the Southeast Freeway. You can reach his office by dialing:

  • 202-727-6300

If you can’t call, you can also e-mail Mayor Gray at eom@dc.gov. You can also e-mail or copy the other members of the DC Council as well.

Thanks for your help!


Eastern Branch Building Disposition Hearing Scheduled for Sept. 16

August 14, 2014

On Tuesday, Sept. 16, the DC Department of General Services will hold a public hearing on the proposed surplus of the city-owned Eastern Branch Building (261 17th Street SE). The hearing will take place at 6:30 pm at Payne Elementary School (1445 C Street SE).

During the hearing, DGS will receive public comments on the disposition of the former Boys & Girls Club building and the agency’s plans to issue a Request for Offers in the near future. If you are interested in the future of the building or live near it, I encourage you to attend the hearing and testify. 

In May 2014, ANC 6B sent DGS formal comments (pdf) on the planned RFO. 

 


Residents Consider Improved Design Concepts for Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Project

August 7, 2014

It was standing room only for ANC 6B’s August 4 community meeting on the status of the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Project Planning Study. Dan Emerine of the Office of Planning presented four of seven concept alternatives that show how the project could benefit the neighborhood and city.

Background

In November 2013, the District Department of Transportation shared five design concepts for replacing the end of the Southeast Freeway with a boulevard and constructing a full traffic circle at Barney Circle SE. As I detailed at the time, all five DDOT concepts essentially replaced the freeway with….a freeway completely separated from the neighborhood grid. ANC 6B unanimously opposed DDOT’s concepts and urged the agency to reconsider their plans.

Attendees listen to the Office of Planning's presentation at the Aug. 4 Barney Circle-SE Blvd. meeting.

Attendees listen to the Office of Planning’s presentation at the Aug. 4 Barney Circle-SE Blvd. meeting.

At the request of Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, the Office of Planning has been conducting a “rapid planning study” to take a holistic look at the project area and to suggest ways that the project could enhance the neighborhood. Both ANC 6B and DDOT have been involved in the OP study, which will wrap up sometime this fall.

Concept Alternatives

During the August 4 meeting, Emerine walked attendees through four of the seven preliminary concept alternatives produced for the study by SmithGroupJJR.

Concept A1  includes a medium level of development between L Street and the proposed boulevard, a high degree of connectivity to the neighborhood grid, 4 lanes for the boulevard and bike lanes and sidewalks. There would be a pedestrian connection over the CSX railroad tracks and the potential for mixed-use development along 14th Street SE.

A1

Concept A1 – Avenue. All concept images from Office of Planning and SmithGroupJJR.

Concept B1 includes an approximately 80 foot wide linear park between L Street  and the proposed boulevard. Both L Street and the boulevard would serve as two lane one way arterials (L Street would be 2 lanes westbound and the boulevard would be 2 lanes eastbound). There would be some low intensity development below L Street and the potential for bike lanes and pedestrian connections across the CSX tracks at 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Streets.

Concept B1

Concept B1 – Split Linear Park.

Concept C2 includes no new development. Instead, a linear park would be constructed south of L Street with pedestrian crossings above the four-lane boulevard. There would also be no connections between the existing street grid and boulevard.

Concept C2

Concept C2 – Linear Park.

Emerine also shared Concept A2 which extends the grid to two-lane boulevard, with low intensity (rowhouse) development between L Street and the boulevard. This concept envisions 15th Street SE as a potential pedestrian connection to the waterfront with the potential for mixed use development.

Concept A2 - Grid Extended.

Concept A2 – Grid Extended.

For more details, check out OP’s PowerPoint presentation (pdf) and larger versions of the concept alternatives (pdf).

Feedback

After Emerine’s presentation, attendees had the opportunity to weigh in on the various components included in all the concepts. Here are my takeaways:

  • Attendees agreed that the concept alternatives were significant improvements over the five concepts DDOT presented in November 2013.
  • The consensus in the room seemed to be in favor of a two-lane versus a four-lane boulevard. The question is whether DDOT will agree to consider concepts with a two-lane boulevard.
  • Any option that involves converting L Street into the boulevard (or a part of the boulevard) is problematic. It would certainly change the nature of a primarily residential street.
  • I remain a strong advocate for extending the grid and connecting 13th, 14th and 15th to the boulevard. Without connections, the new boulevard will essentially be a freeway and will attract additional traffic through the neighborhood.
  • The audience had mixed view on the whether there should be new development between L Street and the boulevard. I think development would reinforce the extension of the neighborhood grid and provide additional housing and retail potential. The level/intensity of development could be determined in a subsequent small area planning process.
  • Everybody loves the idea of more green space, but we really need to think about how the green space can be used. What types of activities or features will draw people to this space? A mix of development and green space could be a good combination.
  • On Barney Circle, attendees encourage OP to consider designs that would make the circle more pedestrian and bike friendly. And I love the idea of a fountain or monument at Barney Circle – something that would encourage people to check out/hang out in the circle (like Dupont). Interestingly, the new Barney Circle would be the second largest traffic circle in the city (behind the Lincoln Memorial Circle).
  • Most of the concept alternatives could accommodate an underground bus parking garage with access only at 11th Street and Barney Circle. However, the overwhelming majority of the community remains opposed to such a facility.

OP plans to incorporate community feedback into their study. The goal is to recommend three well-developed concepts that can presented to the community and delivered to DDOT in September/October. DDOT can then use the concepts to refine their work on the transportation planning side, hopefully leading to a better project outcome.

Now for the bad news. Bowing to political pressure from both DC and Maryland commuters, DDOT is planning to temporarily re-open the freeway between 11th Street and Barney Circle by the end of the year. Construction crews are already putting the old road back in place using funding from the 11th Street Bridge Project. This is a really, really bad idea. In addition to being a huge waste of taxpayer dollars, re-opening the road will encourage more vehicles to cut through Hill East on 17th and 19th Streets, exacerbating traffic issues. And once the freeway is re-opened, the city may decide to keep it open permanently, resulting in a lost opportunity to connect the neighborhood to the waterfront. ANC 6B will consider a motion to oppose the temporary re-opening of the freeway in September.

What do you think about the concept alternatives? Please post your comments and feedback below.

 


Upcoming Meeting on Barney Circle-SE Blvd Planning Study

July 22, 2014

On Monday, August 4, ANC 6B will host a community meeting to discuss the status and outcomes of the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Planning Study being conducted by the Office of Planning. The meeting, which begins at 7 pm, will take place in Sousa Hall on the 2nd Floor of the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE).

At the request of Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and ANC 6B, OP has been conducting a “rapid planning study,” with the goal of improving the District Department of Transportation’s initial design options for the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard project. During the Aug. 4 meeting, OP representatives will provide a brief presentation on the study, share some of the outcomes and answer commission and community questions.

If you are interested in the study but unable to attend the meeting, I do plan to post a brief summary of the meeting highlights. Councilmember Wells, OP, DDOT and ANC 6B also plan to have another community. meeting in the fall to share the study’s final recommendations.


ANC 6B July Meeting Recap

July 16, 2014

ANC 6B considered a DC Council resolution on DC General, 17th & 19th Street safety improvements and a long list of planning and zoning cases during its July 10 meeting. Here are the highlights:

  • The commission voted 10-0 to support PR20-854Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014 and to authorize my testimony on behalf of the commission at a July 12 hearing on the resolution. 
  • The commission unanimously supported sending a letter (pdf) to DC Water urging the agency to accelerate its water main construction timetable so that planned safety improvements to 17th and 19th Streets SE are not delayed. The letter also asks why there was a lack of coordination/notice between DC Water and the District Department of Transportation. 
  • After a lengthy discussion and a couple of failed motions, the commission voted 6-4 to support a fast food special exception for &Pizza on Barracks Row under strict conditions. The detailed conditions include a 7 year time limit on the special exception and Board of Zoning Adjustment approval of a variance so that the building’s owner can construct an indoor trash storage room. I’m pleased that a majority of the commission voted to support the special exception. 
  • The commission unanimously supported Douglas Development’s variance request for its building at 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Douglas is seeking a variance from floor area ratio requirements that would allow a retail/restaurant establishment to open in the new building. 
  • The commission voted 10-0 to approve a resolution (pdf) on proposed elimination of Metrobus 30s lines stops in ANC 6B. The resolution includes a request for further study of the proposed elimination of the 30s stop at 17th and Pennsylvania Ave SE given pending development around Barney Circle SE. 
  • A number of historic preservation cases, including a proposed apartment building at 900 11th Street SE, were deferred for consideration by the commission in September. 
  • Commissioner Dave Garrison (6B01) announced his intention to resign his seat on July 12. The commission thanked Garrison for his years of service to ANC 6B, including terms as chair and secretary of the commission. His seat will remain vacant until a new commissioner is sworn in next January. 
  • ANC 6B’s September meeting will take place on Tues., Sept. 9, 7 pm at the Hill Center. 

Testimony on Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014

July 10, 2014

This afternoon, I’m delivering ANC 6B’s testimony on PR20-854, Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014 at a Public Oversight Roundtable being held by the DC Council’s Committee on Human Services. Below is the full text of my testimony.

Good afternoon Chairman Graham and members of the Committee on Human Services. My name is Brian Flahaven, and I serve as chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B. My single member district, 6B09, lies in Hill East and is located immediately west of the DC General campus, located on Reservation 13. My district also includes Barney Circle, the Historic Congressional Cemetery, and the Eastern Branch Boys & Girls Club Building.

I’m here today to express ANC 6B’s strong support for Resolution 20-854, Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 10-0 during its July 8, 2014 meeting with a quorum present.

As you know, ANC 6B supports the closure of the temporary family emergency shelter at DC General. We view housing so many incredibly needy families in such deplorable conditions, including a large number of families with children, as an outrage and embarrassment to our city and as completely counterproductive to the ultimate goal of ending homelessness.

When the city started housing homeless families at DC General in 2008, it was announced as a temporary measure. Soon after the shelter opened, the city began housing more and more families at the old hospital, particularly as shelters were closed in other parts of the city. Instead of working to find suitable housing and shelter options within existing neighborhoods, city leaders chose the politically convenient approach of housing more and more families and individuals in a deteriorating, depressing building totally separated from the surrounding neighborhood and city.

In addition to the shelter, the city opened and expanded clinics at the site, including a methadone clinic. So, in addition to an overconcentration of people, the site has an overconcentration of services.

You have held a number of hearings on the topic of DC General, Mr. Chairman, and have heard directly from shelter residents about poor, unsafe conditions at the deteriorating old hospital campus. DC General should not be our city’s answer to addressing homelessness. ANC 6B strongly believes that the city’s goal should be closing DC General and transitioning homeless families and individuals to better housing options. We also believe that these alternative housing options, including a smaller scale shelter and permanent supportive housing, should be a part of the Reservation 13/Hill East Development.

The lack of a humane and holistic plan for housing homeless individuals in this city concerns us greatly, and developing such a plan should be a top priority of the Mayor and the Council. We support PR20-854 because it is a step in the right direction. The resolution outlines clear benchmarks that the city must meet to close DC General, and we urge the Mayor and Council to pursue strategies to achieve these benchmarks immediately.

To that end, we would ask that the committee consider amending the resolution to strengthen the time component. While we appreciate the resolution’s reference to closing DC General before the height of the 2014-2015 hypothermia season, our preference would be for the resolution to set a date, or request that the Mayor set a date, for DC General to be closed. Setting such a date would have the combined effect of pushing the Mayor and Council to develop a plan to achieve the benchmarks and to provide the funding necessary to identify and invest in better housing alternatives for families at the shelter.

Another option would be to amend the resolution to direct the Mayor and Council to produce a plan to achieve the benchmarks by the fall of 2014 or spring of 2015. Without some sort of time component, we fear that both the Mayor and Council will ignore this resolution to the detriment of shelter residents and the city.

Once a plan to close DC General is in place, the Mayor and Council will have to make the investments necessary to make it happen. We support the idea that the savings from the closure of DC General (around $14 billion a year) should be used to fund alternative emergency shelter capacity. And we agree that the Mayor and Council need to fully fund homelessness prevention and affordable housing programs such as permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and the local rent supplement program. Of course, it is easy to state this in a resolution versus actually funding these investments in the budget. We are going to need the Mayor and Council to follow through on these commitments.

Finally, we want to thank you, Chairman Graham, for introducing this resolution and for your strong support and commitment to closing DC General and identifying better housing options for homeless families. We also want to thank the seven other co-sponsors, especially Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, for recognizing that DC General should not be our city’s answer to addressing homelessness.

Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.


Neighborhood Town Hall Project Updates

June 30, 2014

A big thanks to all who attended my June 19th Neighborhood Town Hall meeting. I’m particularly grateful to Kristi, Sam and the Curbside Cupcake Team for hosting the town hall at Curbside Cafe.

If you missed the meeting, here are some brief updates on major projects happening in Hill East.

Hill East Development/Reservation 13
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the Donatelli/Blue Skye Development team continue to negotiate at Land Disposition Agreement for Phase I (parcels F1 & G1) of the Hill East Development (Reservation 13). DMPED hopes to have a LDA ready for DC Council consideration this fall.

I also shared my concerns about the impact of DC’s Olympic bid on mixed-use development plans for Reservation 13.

DC General
We discussed the Zoning Commission’s recent ruling to allow the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter to move from DC General’s Building 9 to a Building 27 for a period of 5 years. The city has also announced its intent to demolish Building 9 once the relocation is complete.

While Building 9’s planned demolition is progress, there has been significantly less progress made by the city in closing the main DC General Family Shelter. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who chairs the Council’s Committee on a Human Services, has introduced a Sense of the Council Resolution that calls for the closure of DC General once certain benchmarks are met. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a plan or significant funding in the FY15 budget to make closure a reality anytime soon. I will continue pushing the city to craft a plan and announce a date for closure of DC General.

17th and 19th Streets a Safety Improvement Project
DDOT informed me last week of a significant delay in construction of the safety improvements to 17th Street SE (narrowing to one lane, adding a bike lane, adding curb extensions, etc.). The improvements, originally scheduled to be implemented in spring 2014, will now not happen until Fall 2015. The reason appears to be some previously unannounced DC Water water main replacement work between C Street SE and Potomac Ave SE that is scheduled to happen in Dec. 2014/Jan. 2015.

Needless to say, an additional 18 month delay on these much needed safety improvements is unacceptable. I plan to ask ANC 6B to support sending a letter to DC Water asking why the neighborhood were not previously notified of this work and why their construction timeline cannot be expedited.

DDOT does plan to begin construction on the 19th Street improvements this fall.

Eastern Branch Building
The Department of a General Services is working to schedule the required public hearing on the disposition of the Eastern a Branch Building. The hearing will likely take place at the end of July or in September. DGS must hold a public hearing before issuing it’s planned Request for Offers (RFO) for the building. The department does plan to include ANC 6B’s comments(pdf) as part of the RFO.

Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Study
I’ve been part of a group of ANC 6B Commissioners who have been meeting with Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, the District Department of Transportation and the Office of Planning to discuss how to improve DDOT’s design options for the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard project. The Office of Planning is conducting a “rapid planning study” of the project with recommendations due out sometime this fall. ANC 6B’s Transportation Committee will be discussing the status of the study at the committee’s Wed., July 2 meeting, 7 pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave SE). Once the study’s recommendations are finalized, ANC 6B and Councilmember Wells will hold larger community meetings to discuss the results.


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