Rhode Island Station will begin filling a major hole in the District’s urban fabric by turning the surface parking lot at Rhode Island Avenue Metro into a mixed-use project. However, the project also misses several key opportunities at the edges.
With the assistance of $7 million in city funds, the project will build 274 apartments and 70,000 square feet of retail on the 8.5-acre parking lot. 215 of the 287 parking spaces will be replaced with a new garage on the southern side. In addition, the new buildings will have commercial parking garages which Metro riders can pay to use.
A kiss-and-ride and the existing bus bays will remain in between the project and the Metro station. Directly across from the main entrance, a new “main street” will run between the two buildings, with ground-floor retail and parallel parking.
This will bring needed retail and hopefully a 24-7 element of life to this station, which is the closest to downtown DC with such underutilized land and no street-level activity.
However, on the sides away from the station, the project falls short. Rhode Island Avenue itself currently has extremely narrow sidewalks, where pedestrians walk inches from speeding traffic without the benefit of a buffer of parallel parked cars.
This project will build on the steep hill adjacent to the avenue, but won’t widen the sidewalk. It also doesn’t bring street engagement to Rhode Island Avenue as it does to the Metro station frontage. Rhode Island Avenue sould be the main street for the neighborhood as Connecticut, Georgia, Pennsylvania and other avenues are elsewhere, but this project fails to advance that potential and possibly even hinders it.
Likewise, it leaves few opportunities for a meaningful connection to future development on the massive Home Depot and Giant parking lot or to the post office site if the post office ever moves. Neighborhoods in DC developed with multiple builders’ projects fitting together side by side because a preexisting street grid ensured connections. Plans in this area, especially built with public assistance, should consider not only how to improve the area in the immediate term but how to fit into a greater whole in the future.