With the move-in date for its first residents less than two months away, life at The Parks Walter Reed development is starting to come into focus. The September Walter Reed Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting was held Monday evening at the Shepherd Park Library. Topics included the usual construction updates, but this edition took on the feel of a Homeowners Association meeting as quality of life issues bubbled to the top of the conversation.
Abrams Hall Opens Soon
After a decade of planning and three years of construction, the first permanent residents of Walter Reed will take possession of their homes by the end of October or early November. Walter Reed served our active-duty service members for over 100 years. It is only fitting that 77 formerly homeless veterans will be among the first residents to move into this new community. 80 units of affordable housing for senior citizens will also open their doors at Abrams Hall. Accommodating these new neighbors will prompt some visible changes on the campus.
Walter Reed Transportation Concerns
For one, some transportation pathways will open up. Main Drive, which stretches east – west across the length of the campus from 16th Street to Georgia Avenue, will be opened. New construction fencing and barricades will be erected to protect the new residents and DC International School students from ongoing construction. Cameron Drive, which is a new road that runs north from Aspen Street NW, will begin construction soon.
There was a lengthy discussion on improving mass transits links as well. This will be especially important for those seniors and veterans, as Abrams Hall lies quiet deep within the site. ANC 4A03 Commissioner Steve Whatley noted that the community had previously pushed for and receive approval for an extension of the K2 and K1 bus lines between the Takoma Metro and Walter Reed before the Army moved out. The panel seemed to agree that WMATA would be amenable to opening that discussion again once more homes and businesses opened on the campus.
Local Redevelopment Authority Chair Randall Clarke stated that WMATA had already increased the frequency of buses along 14th Street to accommodate DCI students.
Unbeknownst to most, there is an existing 1,000 vehicle underground garage in the northern part of the site. It used to serve the massive 1970s era hospital. At previous meetings, the developers had expressed concern about whether they could reuse this garage for the upcoming town center as is, or would it be more prudent to demolish it and start over. Development principal Katie Wiecek said that, with some modifications, the existing structure would indeed be reused. New ramps and elevators will be constructed. Approximately 900 spaces will be available to serve future residents and retail customers.
The Brooks and The Vale
December 2020 will be a big moment for the Walter Reed project. At that time, it is expected that the 301 unit apartment building called “The Vale” and its 89 unit condo building sibling named, “The Brooks”, will be completed. With this in mind, the developers have focused their attention on activating the southeastern corner of the site in the vicinity of Georgia Avenue and Aspen Street NW.
There will be a neighborhood-serving retail entity, such as a coffee shop, in the corner space. The team also has a working agreement with an unnamed firm to open a childcare facility in the anchor space of that building to serve up to 200 (!) children. Although everyone recognizes the city’s dire need for more childcare options, nearby neighbors are not happy with the prospect of adding that many pickups and drop-offs at that awkward intersection. And they have let the developers know it.
Aspen Arts Park
The team has also been hard at work outside of the huge excavation at Aspen & Georgia. This area will be known as the “Aspen Arts Park”. Two existing buildings, the old Auto Shop and Firehouse, will be adaptively reused as incubator/arts spaces. The development team is working with CulturalDC to solicit proposals from arts groups to rent up to 5,500 sf at discounted rates.
They are hoping to leave the outside of the Firehouse essentially unchanged and only lightly renovate the interior. They want to add a plaza stage for bands and performers at the Auto Shop.
Dog Park and Playground
Other amenities planned for this area include a dog park and a playground. “Dog Park” is a politically-freighted term here in DC. It was no surprise that this topic took a large share of the discussion time at the meeting. The plan calls for two adjacent, fenced dog areas with dual water fountains (for humans and dogs) and agility equipment. There would be a 7,500 sf area for large dogs and a 2,500 sf area for small dogs.
The playground will be located near the existing entrance at Butternut Street NW. It is the area where the developer held the Christmas Tree lighting last winter. The planners have chosen equipment designed to serve children ages 2 to 12. Fencing reclaimed from the existing site perimeter will enclose the area. All existing trees at the site will remain.
All of these proposed improvements require approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board. The developer will be seeking a letter of support from the CAC and the neighboring ANCs for these concepts. Each of these facilities was designed based on community input and need. They will be open to the public.
The CAC voted to table this discussion until their next meeting October.
Events at the Parks
The future is not the only concern for the project developers. The Parks at Walter Reed team has been faithful about providing interim uses for the campus:
- On September 21 the final edition of the Jazz in the Parks Concert Series takes place on the Great Lawn from 4:00 – 7:00 pm
- A new event – The Down In The Reeds Music and Healing Festival – rolls through the campus on October 19 from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Local artists will highlight the power of music to heal across cultures and communities. Featuring folk and bluegrass music, this day of live music, music healing workshops, local food, beer, vendors and outdoor activities will be enjoyable for the entire family.
- The FRESHFARM Farmers Market will continue every Sunday through the end of October from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. The developers reported that last weekend was the biggest yet for the market. There were 10 vendors serving over 170 customers..
Vertical development at a the Walter Reed site is easy to see. Soon, a new building will sprout from the massive excavation on Aspen Street. The demolished hospital will become an active town center. After a long wait, Walter Reed is preparing to itself to integrate itself into the Ward 4 community.