A lot of change is on the way in NoMa. Work on two underpasses is expected to finally begin this year while designs for a new Third Street park, and the search for a designer for the NoMa Green are underway.

The NoMa parks plan, including planned public and private spaces and existing space. Image by NoMa Parks.

Over the past two years, the NoMa Parks Foundation has firmed plans to build two new parks, partner with private developers to create a mid-block meander, and brighten four underpasses so they’re more inviting to use. In addition, private developers have committed to building at least three more public spaces in the neighborhood.

Now, NoMa is ready to put shovels in the ground for the lighting installations in the L Street and M Street underpasses, and it has hired design firm Lee and Associates for the Third Street park at L Street NE.

Underpasses have been delayed, but they’re on the way

More attractive underpasses on L Street and M Street where they pass under the railroad tracks into Union Station were supposed to be the first public realm projects completed in the neighborhood. NoMa anticipated installing “Rain” — LED light rods hung from ceiling that reacted to movement through the space — in the M Street underpass by the fall of 2015, officials said at a neighborhood meeting that April.

Rain by Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO architects. Image by NoMa BID.

However, NoMa attempted to “value engineer” the M Street project by cutting the number of rods from the 4,000 that design team Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO architects planned, said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), at a community meeting on parks on March 29. This resulted in a less than satisfactory result.

“We’re late because we said we didn’t do it right,” she said. Installation of the full 4,000 rods is expected later in 2016.

Work on “Lightweave,” a series of undulating, cloud-like lights hung from the ceiling in the L Street underpass, is also expected to begin later this year.

Lightweave by Future Cities Lab. Image by NoMa BID.

Plans for the K Street and Florida Avenue NE underpasses are on hold for the time being, with NoMa waiting for the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) to move forward with its plans to redesign the Florida Avenue streetscape before beginning the latter project.

What will go in at Third Street?

Lee and Associates is early in its planning of the new 8,000 square foot park. Early site analysis has found that the lot, which is adjacent to the Loree Grand apartments, is shady most of the day and includes a roughly six-foot change in elevation.

“We love topography… these are all elements of design opportunity,” said Jeff Lee, founding principal of Lee and Associates, at the meeting.

Site of the Third Street park in NoMa. Image by Google Maps.

The firm will continue its site analysis and collect resident feedback before the next public meeting on the space, when Lee said they hope to present two or three potential designs for the park.

Meeting attendees had a variety of opinions on how the space should be used. Many want a dog park while some ask for a space where children could play, to which Lee responded that the two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Others ask for passive space to be outdoors.

“We will do our very best to think outside the box,” said Lee in response to the myriad of resident requests.

Lee and Associates is well placed to design an interesting park. The firm has worked on a number of parks around DC, including Stead Park near the corner of P Street and 17th Street NW and Gage-Eckington dog park in LeDroit Park.

NoMa Green could get more funds

NoMa is on track to hire a designer for the NoMa Green, the temporary name for the two acres adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) it purchased from Pepco in December, this spring, said Stacie West, the director of parks projects at the NoMa Parks Foundation.

The design process is expected to continue through 2017 with construction beginning towards the end of the year, she added.

Site of the future NoMa Green. Image by the author.

Also, NoMa may have secured more funds for the park. The developers of the Eckington Yards project JBG and The Boundary Companies have offered $25,000 to the foundation to go towards the green, as well as install a new bikeshare dock and new public art installation in its promenade across Harry Thomas Way from the park, said Jasper.

Eckington Yards in relation to the new NoMa Green. Image by Boundary Companies + JBG.

“We knew from the beginning that $50 million was not a lot of money to buy land and build parks in a neighborhood where land is as valuable as” it is in NoMa, she said.

NoMa Parks has already spent $17.2 million of its budget on just land acquisition for the green and the Third Street park.

A meander is in the works

Construction of the first section of the NoMa Meander, a mid-block pedestrian corridor between North Capital Street and First Street NE, has begun from N Street to Patterson Street, said Jasper. The section is being built by JBG as part of its mixed-use Capitol Point development.

Skanska will build the next section of the meander on the block between M Street and Patterson Street.

Site plan for Skanska’s development on the NoMa Meander. Image by Skanska.

The meander will anchor the developer’s new mixed-use development for the site, including locating the entrances to its planned residential and commercial buildings as well as new retail space, on the corridor, said Kelly Nagle, a development executive for Skanska USA, at the meeting.

When fully built out, the meander will stretch from New York Avenue to Pierce Street in NoMa.

Edward Russell is an air transport reporter by day with a passion for all things transportation. He is a resident of Eckington and tweets frequently about planes, trains and bikes.