Should Poplar Point become two separate districts, one extending the Anacostia neighborhood and one connecting across the river? Or should it be one neighborhood, centered around the Metro station leaving parkland along the waterfront, or activating the waterfront with a large park to one side?
Should DC redevelop the Anacostia Metro garage, or leave it? These are some of the questions DC economic development officials asked members of the community at last weekend’s Poplar Point presentation.
DC is receiving Poplar Point from the federal government, but with some conditions. 70 acres must remain parkland, which Cavan has argued is too much. Planners also need to designate two sites for memorials. The Secretary of the Interior must sign off on any plan. And the city or developers must remediate any contaminants on the site.
Within those constraints, planners devised three preliminary alternatives.
Alternative 1 places the parkland in the center of the site and splits development into two areas. One, along I-295, would connect to the Anacostia neighborhood along existing streets and a new pedestrian bridge at Chicago Street along with a vehicular bridge (presumably also open to pedestrians) at W Street. The development at the other side, near the existing South Capitol Street bridge, would connect to the ballpark and Capitol Riverfront area with another pedestrian bridge over the Anacostia. On that side, the planners suggest an “iconic observation tower” to give people a great view of DC, and a major waterfront cultural attraction similar to Boston’s ICA. Since the existing wetlands concentrate mainly in the center of the site, this option leaves them untouched to the greatest extent.
Alternative 2 centers the development in the middle, maximizing the amount near the Anacostia Metro station. Under this plan, DC would redevelop the Anacostia Metro garage, which has an entrance to the station on the Poplar Point side of 295. Riders emerging from the Metro could walk into the neighborhood and over one block to a commercial street stretching from Howard Road to the water’s edge. Otherwise, the development would not border the waterfront, leaving that parkland with a marshy edge. This alternative would create new wetlands to replace those lost, including a cafe overlooking the new wildlife habitat. Planners suggest a community garden and a “signature cultural destination.” W Street would get a pedestrian bridge, and Chicago Street a full road one.
Alternative 3 activates the waterfront to a greater extent by moving the development to the eastern half of the park. It would span the entire space from the adjoining neighborhood to the water while not touching the western end except for a memorial at the point, preserving most of the existing wetlands. This plan envisions an amphitheater and a waterfront promenade with dining and recreation, piers and a marina, and a water taxi. This plan also leaves the Anacostia garage intact. New road connections at both Chicago and W Streets would link the new neighborhood to the old.
Perhaps the best plan would combine parts of both 2 and 3 to build a continuous neighborhood centered around the Metro station and a redeveloped garage, then extending continuously to the river with a waterfront promenade at the end. Most of the western and a bit of the eastern end would then remain parkland. 3 includes many of 2’s top land-use features, but for some reason leaves the garage intact.
The top priority should be to maximize opportunities for people to live near the Metro station. Turning the garage into housing would do that, and the plan should maximize the percentage of development within a half mile of the station. The commercial street in both 2 and 3 would help connect Anacostia and Poplar Point, the Metro and the water. It’s not as good as the “deck” Clark Realty had previously suggested to span I-295, but that proved an unrealistic expense.
Option 1, on the other hand, would create too many islands of buildings far from Metro. The bridge across the river is a nice idea, but the Capitol Riverfront area doesn’t need a small satellite on the other side of the river. There are too many large expressway-type roads with flyover ramps to the west, and little on the other side for people to walk to. And the long pedestrian bridge could well become dangerous at night, or at least desolate, cutting off the residences on that side to any means of access but the car. Meanwhile, the other clump near Anacostia might not be large enough to function well on its own, given that a large freeway will separate it from the rest of the neighborhood. Better to build a critical mass in one place in Poplar Point, then work as hard as possible to connect it to Anacostia.