ANC 4A May Meeting | The Battle of Aspen Street
Advisory Neighborhood Commission ANC 4A held its monthly meeting Tuesday evening at the Fourth District Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters Building.
Guest presenters included Mr. Tony Townes, Director of Community Engagement for Attorney General Karl Racine’s Office and Ms. Hazel Broadnax, President of the Emory Beacon of Light CDC, who came to share information about their nearly completed mixed-used project on Georgia Avenue.
Sheryl Newman, Councilmember Brandon Todd’s Chief of Staff, delivered their Office’s Update for the month.
However, most of the meeting time was taken by the Hines | Urban – Atlantic | Triden presentation on the proposal to widen Aspen Street NW to support improved traffic flows surrounding the Walter Reed development project. One might assume that a simple infrastructure improvement would be non-controversial, but in this case, you would be wrong.
We covered the basics of this proposal in last month’s posting, but here is a brief review. As development principal Katie Wiacek explained, the Walter Reed Reuse Plan and Small Area Plan, as originally envisioned before the city received the site from US Army, cited goals of preserving historically important buildings on the campus, extending the street network within the site and creating lively transportation pathways for vehicles, bikes and pedestrians. During the implementation of that plan, the master developer (Hines | Urban Atlantic | Triden) has worked with DDOT and has proposed that Aspen Street NW be widened.
Aspen Street is a busy and narrow collector road that runs along the south border of the Walter Reed campus. The widening of Aspen Street would provide several community benefits, including increasing the amount of neighborhood parking, adding a planter strip to separate vehicles from pedestrians and replacing an incomplete and narrow three-foot-wide temporary sideway with a new ten-foot-wide pedestrian & bike path. This is especially important considering the significant increase in the number of children who are walking down this street each day to reach the new DCI International School and Latin American Montessori Bilingual school locations.
To accomplish this, two support buildings on the campus (Buildings 31 and 84) would need to be demolished.
Separately, the developer is requesting to demolish Building 38, known as the “Guard House” in the northern end of the site to make way for the extension of Dahlia Street and a future retail building.
The buildings in question are not individually historic, but they are protected because they were built before 1955 and are included in the historic district. The two buildings that sit along Aspen Street have unremarkable cinder-block construction and are quite literally sheds used to store salt, sand and other low value debris.
ANC 4A’s Design Review committee recommended that the ANC support the demolition of buildings 31 and 84, but voted against recommending support for the demolition of Building 38. The commission wrote up a nice resolution which generally followed that recommendation.
But then, the discussion began.
Proxy War for Buildings 31 and 84
After Ms. Wiecek’s presentation, the first questions from the community focused on the opening of a 13th Street NW entrance to the campus on Aspen Street. One neighbor asked, “How can you say that this is safer when you are adding more traffic in front of our residential homes?”
A second added, “If you can’t demolish these buildings, doesn’t that tell you that you should’t open that entrance and add more traffic and obstacles to the street?
A third neighbor concluded, “We don’t have any desire for those buildings to be removed and I would encourage (the ANC) not to support that.”
The coalition of Aspen Street residents was very vocal in their opposition to the demolition of the two subject buildings, even though it is not technically related to issue that they really care about (opening a new entrance to the campus). DDOT can and likely will open that additional entrance regardless of the status of these buildings, but the neighbors were having none of it.
Chairman Steve Whatley summarized the situation thusly:
This Commission has always, always been opposed to the opening of that new street (13thStreet) as a motorized entrance. Now, at the end of the day, DMPED (Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development), DDOT and the master developer are going to decide what they are going to do. And it’s going to happen.
When you look at those two buildings, ANC 4A supported demolition of those buildings years ago. The reason was to widen and make Aspen Street safer. Now, if the residents say that they like the road the way it is, that’s a different thing and we will have to consider that. I’ve been in this neighborhood for thirty years and the people of Aspen Street have always complained that we’ve got to do something. Unless you shut it down and we say we’re not going to have any more cars through there, kids are still going to get hit. Two or three cars accidents occur there a month.
We’re at a point where we have to make a decision: either you widen the street, or you don’t. Each decision has consequences.
Randall Clarke, Director of the Walter Reed Local Redevelopment Authority, stated, “The removal of the sheds does not affect the development inside the fence. They (the developer) can still build inside the fence because it is a by-right project. The removal of the sheds is a benefit to the community in improving the conditions on Aspen Street. If the community wants the sheds to stay and then there is a compromised Aspen (either not widened or with a compromised design), it doesn’t change their work inside the fence.”
This decision is being made in the shadow of a serious accident where a child walking to school was struck by a vehicle on Aspen Street less than six weeks ago.
Building 38 and Economic Development Data
Building 38 is a different story. After seeing this presentation twice, I think that I am finally beginning to understand the technical reasons why the developer wants to remove this building. To put it short, the old building is in the way of the planned extension of Dahlia Street NW into the campus. Any compromise would result in an ugly and half-buried building and the developer really wants to build a new structure on that site anyway.
Despite this, few of the commissioners seemed inclined to support this demolition until the developer provides more timely information regarding the amount of contracting work that local businesses have received across the project. The developer is required to use local businesses for at least 35% of the work being done across the project. To date, the Hines | Urban Atlantic | Triden has not provided reports on this data to the ANC as expected. In return, the Commission has signaled that it will use whatever leverage it can to encourage the developer to provide that data.
Commissioner Karrye Braxton seems laser-focused on this economic issue. Development principal Caroline Kenney stepped to the lectern and gave an ad-hoc listing of the local businesses that have been engaged to date while reading from her phone, but the Commission is still eagerly awaiting the complete report.
After more than an hour of discussion, the commission voted against offering its support for the demolition of all three buildings. ANC 4A will submit a letter saying that they are opposed to the demolition.
This is not the final word though. While the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board will also decline to support the demolition, the Mayor’s Agent, who does have the final say, is likely to make their own decision on this based on the overall merit of the entire project.
Separately, the Commission voted to support the developer’s plan for the town center complex on the north side of the campus.
Update from Councilmember Todd’s Office
Ms. Newman shared several of the Councilmember Todd’s legislative priorities, including the introducing of a trio of bills to enhance cyber-security in our city. She also reminded the audience that we are still in Budget Season and that the Councilmember was working hard to protect some Ward related line items, such as the moved-up modernization funding for West Education campus and the $12m that is currently slotted for the Shepherd Elementary gymnasium and cafeteria.
Also of note, the office will celebrate Councilmember Todd’s birthday this month and residents will have the chance to donate to the Constituent Service Fund which provides emergency aid to residents in need. In addition, the 2018 Ward 4 Family Fun day will take place at the Kingsbury School grounds on June 23rd.
The Beacon Center
Many people have noticed the large construction project on Georgia Avenue NW, across from the Fourth District Headquarters. That building is the Beacon Center, an upcoming mixed-used development project that is rising in the heart of the Brightwood neighborhood. Several neighbors asked questions about the facility this week on the local community message boards, so ANC Commissioner Karrye Braxton (4A06) invited Ms. Broadnax to share any updates.
DCNorthStar covered this development in a previous post. A few new tidbits include the facts that of the 99 upcoming apartment units, 8 will be used as Permanent Supportive Housing to serve families who are transitioning out of homelessness.
The project is income-restricted and is targeted at residents earning less than 60% of the Area Median Income ($63,000).
In addition to housing, the project includes underground parking, a culinary arts training center, a sit-down restaurant, half court gym, meeting rooms, conference rooms, and a jazz cafe. These amenities will be open to the public.
Applications for housing are currently being accepted (see previous article for the link) and they will begin processing at the end of May.
Visit from the Office of the Attorney General
Mr. Tony Townes, Director of Community Engagement for Attorney General Karl Racine’s Office spoke at length about some of the programs and successes that their office has implemented during his first term in office. He said that three areas that they prioritize are: Juvenile Justice, Consumer Protection and Affordable Housing.
Space and time prevent me from detailing more of his presentation, but you can find the Attorney General’s Annual Report online here.
The ANC passes resolutions to not oppose the liquor license renewals for three local establishments: Morris Miller, Brightwood Liquors and Victor Liquors.
Mrs. Naima Jefferson spoke during the Community Concerns segment to share many upcoming activities of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association. Activities include the annual Spring Garden Tour, the Georgia Avenue Spring planting and more. I will post these events on our Community Calendar.