Photo by Cristina Bejarano on Flickr.
Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed a measure to let the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) spend $50 million in parks and public realm funds for the neighborhood.
The first of the parks is planned for the underpasses under the tracks approaching Union Station, on Florida Avenue and K, L, and M Streets NE. The NoMa Parks Foundation is evaluating at least four more sites for future green space in the area.
Green space is sorely needed in NoMa. Aside from the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT), the only available park lands are privately-owned lots that are sometimes available for popular neighborhood events.
For example, the NoMa Summer Screen outdoor movie screenings attracted up to 1,200 people per viewing in 2013. However, the screenings happen on an undeveloped lot on 2nd Street between K and L NE. Toll Brothers City Living owns the lot, and plans a mixed-use development there in the future.
Since there’s no public land available for parks in the neighborhood, Mayor Gray’s budget includes $25 million to buy land, and another $25 million for physical park construction.
Many blame zoning for the lack of parks, as the city failed to buy property for future green space in NoMa before it upzoned the territory. This significantly raised property values, making a park far more expensive.
But the lack of parks hasn’t detracted new residents or businesses. More than 3,000 people live in NoMa, with 714 additional residential units scheduled to open in the 2M and Elevation developments this summer, according to Doug Firstenberg, chair of the NoMa BID Board of Directors.
"NoMa as a residential neighborhood continues to grow,” Firstenberg said at the neighborhood meeting. “It’s really delivering on our goals to become a mixed-use neighborhood.”
On the commercial front, NPR moved into a new headquarters building on North Capitol Street last year, and Google is scheduled to move into new offices at 25 Massachusetts Ave NW later this month.
NoMa BID data shows that 49% of planned square footage is undeveloped property. This includes about 6,247 residential units, roughly 548,349 square feet of retail space, and 9.32 million square feet of commercial space.
"It’s absolutely phenomenal what is happening right now in the District of Columbia,” said Gray, who said that NoMa is the largest part of the city’s overall growth. “We’re adding 1,100 to 1,200 people a month here in the city.”
Other progress in NoMa
First Street NE is on schedule to reopen with a new separated bike lane in May, says NoMa BID President Robin Eve-Jasper. The opening will conclude a year of construction work that turned arguably the neighborhood’s main street into a maze of potholes and construction barriers. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has repaved the street, begun striping, and is adding the bike lane. A block party is planned for the street’s reopening next month.
However, major road construction in NoMa is far from over. DDOT is evaluating options for a significant redesign of Florida Ave through NoMa’s northern section, to make it a more pedestrian and bike-friendly thoroughfare. No timeline for the project has been set.
NoMa BID also unveiled a free outdoor wi-fi system on select blocks earlier this month. The system can handle up to 1,000 users at a time and will continue to be expanded and improved, according to Eve-Jasper.