Image by WMATA.

The parking lot at the Deanwood Metro station could become a new joint development with housing and retail. WMATA held a public hearing on June 20 to get feedback on its proposal to develop the 1.6-acre site. Attendees' message to Metro was clear: they want to see mixed-use development that serves the people living in the neighborhood now, and they want it to include market-rate apartments and a full grocery store.

The transit agency attempted to market this site twice before in the late 1990s but received no interest from developers. Now, nearly 20 years later, Deanwood is getting a lot of developer interest — so much so that residents complained about unsolicited knocks at the door from speculators looking to buy their property.

About 75 community members from the District and neighboring Prince George’s County packed the meeting room at the Deanwood Recreation Center to participate in Wednesday’s hearing. WMATA’s public hearing docket describes a possible joint development that would contain 160 multi-family dwelling units and 10,000 square feet of retail space. The selected developer would ultimately be responsible for proposing the actual type and scale.

The current bus loop and Kiss & Ride would stay and the Park & Ride surface lot would be eliminated to make way for the development. Image created with Google maps.

The community wants grocery-anchored retail and market-rate housing

Based on residents’ comments at the hearing, WMATA’s initial vision for the redeveloped Deanwood Metro parking lot may be a tad too small. In particular, residents wanted to see more retail than the 10,000 square feet that Metro envisioned. Nearly all of the speakers stated that they wanted to see a full-service grocery store as part of this development, along with other neighborhood-serving commercial uses such as a coffee shop, bank, and perhaps a medical office.

Likewise, Ward 7 councilmember and former DC mayor Vincent Gray has been a fierce advocate for more and better quality grocery stores in the area. According to industry estimates, the median size for a grocery store in 2015 was 42,800 square feet.

A longtime Deanwood resident said it would be nice for the development to have a neighborhood bar/restaurant where younger professionals could gather for a nice meal or a happy hour. At the same time, many residents said they do not want a retail mix that would encourage excessive noise in the neighborhood.

Most commenters supported the complete elimination of the park-and-ride lot as Metro is proposing. However, many felt that DDOT would need to step up its enforcement of neighborhood parking restrictions to keep street parking available primarily for the use of the area’s existing residents and guests.

Most commenters stressed that the residential component of the Deanwood mixed-use development should focus on market-rate housing units, rather than income-restricted affordable housing. They believe that Deanwood already has some of the most inexpensive market-rate housing in the Washington region.

They also said that Ward 7 has seen a number of new mixed-used, mixed-income developments constructed near the Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road Metro stations that primarily consisted of affordable housing units. Including more market-rate housing in this development would support the new retail development that the community wishes to see.

My proposed development scenario largely parallels the community’s vision

As a resident of the demographically similar inner-Beltway portion of Prince George’s County that borders Ward 7, I concur with many of the Deanwood residents’ views. My written comments to WMATA propose a joint development for the Deanwood Metro parking lot that largely incorporates those ideas.

Like WMATA and the Ward 7 Economic Development Advisory Council, I believe the Deanwood Metro site can support “medium-density residential/low-density commercial” development. The District of Columbia’s Comprehensive Plan defines “medium-density residential” as “mid-rise (typically four- to seven-story) apartment development,” and “low-density commercial” as one- to two-story commercial uses.” WMATA’s proposed development scenario falls on the low-end of that scale; mine falls toward the upper end.

My proposal would use MU-6 zoning, which is a medium/high-density mixed-use zone that focuses on residential development but that also allows for up to 139,392 square feet of non-residential development on the Deanwood Metro site. That is more than enough room for the 50,000-square-foot grocery store (with a pharmacy, bakery, deli, ready-to-eat foods, beer/wine, and a coffee shop), 17,500 square feet of additional retail uses, and 54,000 square feet of underground parking garage with 150 spaces that I propose.

With respect to the residential component, I echo the community’s belief that the development should focus on market-rate housing units. Nevertheless, I believe that it is appropriate and consistent with smart growth principles to include some affordable housing near every transit station. Therefore, my proposal calls for 325 total multifamily units, with 20% of them as affordable units — i.e., 260 market-rate units and 65 affordable units.

WMATA's Board of Directors is reviewing the feedback and will give its final approval in September 2018.

A version of this post appeared in Prince George's Urbanist.

Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George’s County. A native of Virginia Beach and former longtime Atlanta resident, Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George’s County.