If NoMa develops according to one vision from business and residents, a chain of small public spaces could link up to create a path where people can stroll for as much as six blocks among residential and office buildings. But that will only happen if property owners, including the DC government on one key parcel, work together.
This path, called a “meander,” is one of numerous proposals for green space in the NoMa Business Improvement District’s (BID) vision plan for the neighborhood, which also includes new underpass parks and a potential large green space.
The meander could create a new mid-block pedestrian corridor from New York Avenue to as far south as K St NE, winding its way through planned developments owned by the likes of AvalonBay, JBG and Skanska.
The BID is working with all of the property owners to preserve a corridor for the meander. This is only possible if all of them agree to use some of their land for the corridor. The BID is focusing its efforts on the blocks north of Pierce St NE, where most development is still in the planning stages.
JBG and Skanska, which own all of the land on the three blocks north of M St NE, support the meander. JBG has already included the corridor in its design plans, according to Curtis Clay, the BID’s director of park and public realm development,
Housing Authority property is the next biggest obstacle
Between M St and Pierce St NE, the proposed corridor would pass between property which belongs to the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) and AvalonBay. Speaking at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6C Parks and Events Committee meeting on June 9, Clay said the BID envisions the pedestrian corridor being up to 65 feet wide.*
Talks with AvalonBay have been positive, but DCHA has not included the pathway in its request for proposals for the site from developers, Clay said.
"Their priority is a new headquarters,” he said of DCHA. “We’re asking them to give up value on their site to make this happen.” Clay hopes the parks committee and the ANC will formally ask DCHA to include a setback for the meander in its RFP, which has already gone out to qualified bidders.
Tony Goodman, commissioner for ANC 6C06, interim chair of the parks committee, and a Greater Greater Washington contributor, plans to draft a resolution requesting DCHA include the setback in the procurement documents. “This is an interesting project because it touches half of the projects in NoMa,” he said of the meander.
South of M, more obstacles
Preserving the space for the meander south of Pierce St NE is “trickier” due to pre-existing development, Goodman said. He adds that extending the corridor all the way to K St is more of a long-term vision than a near-term reality.
Clay said that the timeline for the meander is in the hands of developers, with the first phase not likely to occur until JBG opens a planned Landmark Theatre on its site in late 2016.
Progress has been slow
While they support the BID’s green space plans, not everyone at the parks committee meeting was satisfied with its progress.
"Step one, they should put some energy into buying some land,” said Goodman. He pointed out that the BID has only used a few hundred thousand dollars of the roughly $8 million in the District’s budget this year for parks in NoMa. Residents at the meeting seconded his opinion.
In total, Mayor Gray and the DC Council have authorized $50 million in District funds for park development. The BID is steward of this money and is in charge of developing green space in the neighborhood.
The BID released a request for qualifications for four underpass parks earlier this year. It has identified 49 finalists for the project, though the number could shrink, and is on track to present options to the public in the fall, says Clay.
Other projects, including a possible large green space on a PEPCO site next to the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) north of New York Avenue and pocket parks around the neighborhood, are also in the works.
"Because of the speed of development in the neighborhood, we’re trying to focus on everything at the same time,” said Robin Eve-Jasper, president of the NoMa BID, in April. “We’re moving on them all with the same kind of intensity.”
With only half of NoMa developed today, the neighborhood feels relatively open. The lack of green space will only become more pronounced as the area — slated to be one of the densest in the District — continues to be built out.
* Correction: The original version of this article said the BID envisioned the corridor ranging from 65 to 100 feet wide. In fact, the BID plans something at most 65 feet wide.