ANC 6B September Meeting Recap

September 15, 2014

The reopening of the Southeast Freeway, the location of a Francis Marion Memorial and more comments on the city’s comprehensive zoning update were among many items on ANC 6B’s September 9 agenda. Here is a brief recap of major actions:

  • The commission voted unanimously to oppose the reopening of the Southeast Freeway between Barney Circle and 11th Street SE. In a letter to DDOT (pdf), ANC 6B urges the agency to use available funding on the final recommendations of the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard transportation planning study.
  • ANC 6B voted unanimously to provide testimony at the Department of General Services’ Sept. 16 Surplus Hearing for the Eastern Branch Building. The testimony (pdf) highlights issues raised by ANC 6B in formal comments submitted earlier this year. The Eastern Branch Building RFP has been issued.
  • While voting 4-3-2 to support Marion Park as the appropriate location of a planned memorial to Francis Marion, ANC 6B also urged the National Park Service (pdf) to improve outreach to surrounding neighbors and to provide additional details on how the memorial would be maintained (I voted with the majority). A number of residents who live Marion Park noted a lack of communication by NPS on this project and other construction projects at the park.
  • The commission voted unanimously to support the design concept of a proposed 48-unit residential building located at 900 11th Street SE (the corner of 11th and I Street SE).
  • The commission voted unanimously to send a letter (pdf) to the Zoning Commission with comments on the Office of Planning’s proposed alternative amendments to its Zoning Regulations Review proposal. In the comments, ANC 6B urges the Zoning Commission to approve the zoning update and to oppose a number of OP’s suggested changes related to corner stores, accessory units and parking. The comments also include suggestions on how to better define fast food restaurant for purposes of zoning.
  • The commission voted unanimously to send comments (pdf) to DDOT on its proposed rules for the Visitor Parking Pass program. The new rule requires residents to request visitor parking passes using an online system. ANC 6B suggested that the passes be limited to parking in a resident’s ANC single member district versus the entire commission area as proposed.
  • In an effort to help the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop stay in its present location at 545 7th Street SE, ANC 6B voted unanimously to send a letter (pdf) to the DC Department of General Services encouraging the agency to sign a new lease with CHAW at its existing terms.
  • The commission voted unanimously to send a letter (pdf) to the city’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer encouraging the agency to expand internet and wi-fi access at Potomac Gardens (1225 G Street SE).
  • In October, the commission will be moving its office from the Hill Center to Eastern Market. All commission meetings, including committee and task force meetings, will continue to take place at the Hill Center. The move is necessary due to continued funding cuts to the commission’s budget and the reality that ANC 6B can get free office space at the city-owned Eastern Market.
  •  ANC 6B’s October meeting will be on Tuesday, October 14, 7 pm at the Hill Center.

DDOT Response Misses the Mark on Southeast Freeway Reopening

September 12, 2014

The District Department of Transportation is now sending an e-mail response (pdf) to anyone who has urged Mayor Gray to halt the reopening of the Southeast Freeway segment between Barney Circle. While I appreciate DDOT acknowledging concerns of Hill East residents, it does not alleviate my concerns about the agency’s plans.

Here is my response to the response, section by section:

We at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) have received your concerns about reopening the connection between the Southeast/Southwest Freeway (I-695) between 11th Street SE and Barney Circle.

This is an important connection for District residents east of the Anacostia River, primarily in Ward 7.  Reopening this roadway segment will reestablish traffic movements (for example, eastbound I-695 to eastbound Pennsylvania Avenue SE toward Ward 7; westbound Pennsylvania Avenue SE to westbound I-695). However, the restricted lanes under Barney Circle to access Capitol Hill neighborhoods will remain closed.

Thanks to a productive conversation last weekend, I certainly have a better understanding of the traffic issues and concerns raised by Ward 7 residents. A major issue is the poor design and layout of freeway ramps at I-295 and Pennsylvania Ave, where merging traffic leads to numerous accidents. But reopening the freeway connection will encourage more vehicles to exit I-295 off of these ramps and will likely lead to more congestion on the Sousa Bridge, making it more difficult for Ward 7 drivers to even access the new connection.

Additionally, DDOT does not need to rebuild a freeway to “reestablish traffic movements between I-695 and Pennsylvania Ave SE.” Traffic movements can also be reestablished by building a boulevard or more neighborhood-friendly connection. That is the purpose of the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard project and why DDOT should be putting taxpayer dollars toward the final project recommendations.

This reopening is expected to have positive effects for residents of Capitol Hill and surrounding neighborhoods. It will reduce traffic on streets such as Potomac Avenue and I Street SE, which have been used by residents to access Pennsylvania Avenue SE from east of the Anacostia River.  As part of the 11th Street Bridges Environmental Impact Statement, it is also necessary to open these to meet projected traffic levels within the project area.

The reopened freeway is not going to significantly reduce traffic on Potomac Ave and I Street. As long as 17th Street remains a two lane one way thoroughfare through the neighborhood, commuters are going to continue to use 17th, Potomac and I as a shortcut route when I-295 is backed up at East Capitol Street. Implementing the long-delayed 17th Street safety improvements (narrowing the street to one lane, adding curb extensions and a bike lane, etc.) will do more to help traffic on Potomac Ave and I Street than reopening the freeway.

Also, when the new freeway connection inevitably backs up as drivers continue to try to get around backups on I-295, vehicles are going to continue down Pennsylvania and take Potomac Ave and I Street once again, merging with all the traffic originating on 17th Street.

And while DDOT does plan to prevent vehicles from accessing the freeway from 17th Street, it does not change the fact that the agency is re-establishing a barrier between the neighborhood and waterfront. If you build a freeway connection, it is going to attract more high-speed traffic into the neighborhood and along the waterfront. This cost significantly outweighs any (if any) “positive effects” of reopening the freeway.

Finally, DDOT fails to address two major risks associated with reopening the freeway connection:

  1. The use (waste?) of around $6 million of 11th Street Bridges funding to rebuild the “temporary” freeway, money that could be used to fund the construction of the permanent boulevard and circle, and
  2. As David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington points out, the significant risk that the temporary reopening becomes a permanent reopening (for a Hill East example of this phenomenon, see DC General Temporary Emergency Family Shelter).

The city has a great opportunity to connect the neighborhood to the Anacostia waterfront and correct a mistake of the past. Let’s not waste it. If you haven’t already done so, please contact Mayor Gray and urge him to halt the reopening of the Southeast Freeway.

 


City Issues Eastern Branch Building Request for Proposals

September 8, 2014

The DC Department of General Services (DGS) has issued a Request for Proposals (pdf) for the disposition and redevelopment of the Eastern Branch Building, the former Boys and Girls Club building located at 261 17th Street SE. Responses are due by Thurs., November 20 at 3:00 pm.

While the RFP does not include everything ANC 6B requested (pdf), it does reference the commission’s comments and encourages respondents to proactively reach out to the community if interested in the building. The RFP also references a community presentation for all development teams that submit complete proposals that DGS determines are responsive. 

If you are interested in learning more about the RFP, please plan to attend one or both of these upcoming meetings:

  • Tues, Sept. 16 – DGS Eastern Branch Surplus Hearing, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm, Payne Elementary School (1445 C Street SE) – Though titled a “hearing,” this meeting will be a much more informal discussion of the state of the building and the RFP process. 
  • Wed., Sept. 17 – Pre-proposal Conference, 10:30 am, Reeves Center, 2000 14th Street NW, Second Floor – This will be another opportunity to learn about the building and RFP process. While the agenda will be geared towards parties interested in responding to the RFP, the meeting is open to the public.

DGS is also conducting tours of the building on Wed., Sept. 17 from 12-3 pm. These tours are designed for development teams interested in submitting a proposal, and all individuals touring the building will have to sign a waiver. I plan to ask DGS whether residents will be allowed to tour the building as well. 

I will post additional information as the RFP process unfolds. 


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.


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