Reader D. attended a community meeting in late April about redeveloping the site of Hine Junior High at 8th and C Southeast, one of the school buildings slated to be closed. Barracks Row Main Street and Capitol Hill Restoration Society both passed identical resolutions calling for smart growth, mixed use facing Pennsylvania Avenue, green space, live-work studios, reconnecting the street grid by restoring C Street, small-scale development, and lots and lots of parking.

Almost all of these goals are quite laudable. Mixed-use development in just what we need on this site. But as D. tried to point out in the meeting, the idea of smart growth conflicts with the desire for limitless free or cheap parking. D. isn’t sure about restoring C Street to allow traffic, but it’s good urbanism to maintain a connected street grid with lots of street frontage and it’s okay to let cars share the road. I also hope we can get something a little less bland and monolithic than the classic donut-shaped block developers churn out (and we can see here).

D.‘s complete summary of the meeting:

Tommy Wells hosted the meeting. A brief presentation was handed out, which included a pro-bono rendering based on the resolution passed by both the Barracks Row Main Street and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. They stated the goals that the new building should:

  1. Comply with the recently enacted comprehensive plan
  2. Be the best example of smart growth and sustainable development
  3. Reflect the importance of the location
  4. Be compatible with the surrounding zoning and existing building scale
  5. Restore the original L’Enfant Plan by reopening C Street between 7th and 8th
  6. Provide for commercial uses on 7th street compatible with the existing commercial uses
  7. Set aside Pennsylvania Avenue for mixed use with retail on the first floor and office above
  8. Design the 8th Street frontage as residential and include a substantial percentage of workforce housing
  9. Consider live/work studios on C Street
  10. Accommodate one to two underground levels of parking over 100% of the site, so there is parking for the residential, commercial, and weekend parking for the Eastern Market
  11. Provide for green space as well as an outdoors areas for craft vendors, food vendors and the flea market

We broke into groups and I tried to discuss how some of these principles were incongruent. Namely I found that 2 levels of parking over 100% of the site immediately across the street from a metro station could not be a “best example of smart growth” or “be compatible with the surrounding zoning” as there is little underground parking in the area. Additionally, if underground space were to be provided, it would be best used providing English basement living and below ground stores and venues and thus best provide for commercial uses and provide workforce housing.

Obviously I was opposed to building parking on that site. With a metro station serving two lines, the busiest bus line in the city (the 30s) as well as the 90’s and the N22, and in the most walkable and bikeable neighborhoods in town, it seems ridiculous to build much (if any) parking.

I was also opposed to reopening C Street to car traffic. Holding up the L’Enfant plan like it was some holy text is a trick. There will be limited public space, is a road really how we want to use it? Next to the Market, we’d be better served with a public walk, allowing for bike/ped traffic, sidewalk vendors, a small sidewalk performance space, open air cafes etc…

When groups presented their conclusions, most wanted parking. Most wanted to tear down the building already there (which I was fine with), though some wanted to keep the school. Some actually opposed green space arguing that no one used the green space at the metro plaza that already existed. Many agreed that a second metro entrance on the south side of Penn should be built.

So, some good, some bad. Hopefully the parking and C Street connection can be removed and green space retained.

D. is absolutely right about parking. While it’s true that many people do drive to Eastern Market, many don’t, and this is absolutely an area whose future development should center around non-auto uses. If we need some more parking, we should minimize the amount (two whole levels is gross overkill) and charge a market rate for it so we aren’t subsidizing driving over other ways of reaching the area.

I’m not as opposed to reopening C Street. A narrow street with ample room for pedestrians and bikes but also some room for cars isn’t necessarily a pro-car measure. Reconnecting the street grid improves “eyes on the street” and a neighborhood feel of an area as well as cutting congestion at major bottlenecks.  Slow traffic driving by brings customers to stores. Cars can be part of a vibrant streetscape as long as they aren’t given priority and the street is built to a human scale. And smaller blocks create more individual buildings, more sidewalks, more opportunities for interaction between pedestrians and the built environment.

Finally, the just-for-discussion architectural rendering has too few buildings. Look at the diversity of buildings in the surrounding blocks compared to the nearly block-long monoliths in this drawing. So common from modern developers, single huge buildings engage the street at fewer points and provide less visual texture than building more individual structures on smaller lots. But it’s cheaper, so we get one boring donut after another.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.