The site of Foulger-Pratt's new development along the MBT seen from R Street NE. Image by Google Maps.

Where the Metropolitan Branch Trail meets R Street in DC's Eckington neighborhood, there's a fenced off piece of land that will soon become a park. The developer that owns half of the site has plans for a housing and retail building that goes hand in hand with the park, trail, and surrounding neighborhood.

The NoMa Parks Foundation bought half of the plot (the southern two acres) from Pepco a year ago, and will use it to build the large park the booming neighborhood very much needs. Developer Foulger-Pratt owns the northern end, at the corner of R Street and Harry Thomas Way NE adjacent to the MBT.

The developer then stepped up and donated about 23,000 square feet to the Parks Foundation in May, in order to soften the S-curve on the MBT and provide additional park space adjacent to its building. Foulger-Pratt unveiled its plans for that building building for the first time publicly at an Eckington Civic Association (ECA) meeting earlier this month.

The ground floor plan for Foulger-Pratt's new mixed-use development shows green space between the building and the MBT ("Bike Path") and retail along the future park. Image by Foulger-Pratt.

The plan is to build a "green buffer" between the MBT and ground-level garden apartments, similar to what is planned at the Washington Gateway along the trail between Florida Avenue and New York Avenue NE. This design should ease the transition from path to building face, but the new apartments' residents will also provide more eyes-on-the-trail, which is something that the Parks Foundation and trail users agree is important for safety. 

The green buffer that will separate Washington Gateway from the MBT. Image by MRP Realty.

In addition, Foulger-Pratt's plans call for new street-level retail with outdoor space that opens onto the park in the southwest corner the proposed building.

"The park is going to be a great urban element and we need to be able to relate to the park and the surrounding environment," said Adam Davis, vice-president of development at Foulger-Pratt, at the meeting.

The initial design for NoMa's large park with Foulger-Pratt's project the "Future Development" box. Image by Nelson Byrd Woltz.

Residents are concerned construction will mean congestion on R Street

At the ECA meeting, neighbors immediately brought up concerns over how the development will impact R Street NE. The street will be the primary access point to the building for cars and trucks travelling to and from downtown, and it's also the primary east-west bike route between the MBT and the western side of the District.

Traffic on R Street, where bikes, buses, cars and trucks will be forced to share the road due to the lack of bike lanes between 2nd Street NE and Florida Avenue NW, is a concern for area residents.

Compounding things is Foulger-Pratt's decision to locate the entrance to the new building's loading dock and underground parking garage, something done following discussions with the DC Department of Transportation Davis says, at the end of R Street, just shy of where it meets the trail.

That junction at the end of R Street has the makings of a significant new conflict point between cyclists and pedestrians, and cars and trucks if steps are not taken to create separate spaces for each.

"R St will likely be a focal point of discussion going forward," said Hannah Powell, the representative for ANC 5E03 that includes Foulger-Pratt's new development, at the meeting.

Residents' comments, both about potential impacts on bikes and from construction, are "things we want to hear", said Davis. He added that the developer is still early in the design phase for the project and will take the community feedback into account as they finalise their plans.

More affordable units

Foulger-Pratt plans roughly 335 residential units and more than 7,000 square feet of commercial space in the development, said Davis. Some residential units will be included in DC's inclusionary zoning program, however, he did not say how many units and at what level of area median income will be provided.

The building will rise 85 feet with a step down to 75 feet at the northwest corner, which is the closest to Eckington's primarily rowhouse-lined residential blocks. 

The height of Foulger-Pratt's planned building (on the right, above the park) compared to its neighbors. Image by Foulger-Pratt.

The development is across the street from JBG and Boundary's 635-unit Eckington Yards development, which is scheduled to begin construction this year.

Foulger-Pratt plans to file for a planned unit development (PUD) with the DC Planning Commission before the end of the first quarter with an aim to begin construction on the new development by the end of 2018.

This would see the building rising around the time work is complete on the new park, which the NoMa Parks Foundation hopes to open by the end of 2018 at the earliest.