Shell wants to build a new gas station at the corner of
14th St and Maryland Avenue, NE, one block from the H Street corridor and the future streetcar. Residents are organizing to promote using that site for a business that better contributes to the walkable retail district they want for the area—a restaurant, daycare, flower shop, or almost anything else.
The “Great Streets” program is specifically trying to transform H Street into a lively, walkable retail and entertainment area. A gas station pushes the neighborhood the opposite way, creating a more suburban strip-mall feel. Besides, there are already three gas stations in the area.
Unfortunately, gas stations are a permitted use in that zone (hence the three already there), but this project requires a public space permit as well. In many if not most blocks in DC, the private property line is not at the sidewalk, but farther back. For example, my property line runs directly through the middle of my front stairs, making half my front yard private and half public. In many blocks, the bay window protrusions of the houses actually extend into the public space. (Here’s more about public space from the Capitol Hill Restoration Society).
Shell plans to build the station on their property, but would use the substantial public space between their property and the street as paved area for cars to park and access the station. The public space is nearly as large as the property itself. By using it, they give DDOT the opportunity to oppose this auto-oriented use, just as they are with the Van Ness Walgreens.
The ANC asked the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to support an alternate use here, but they declined, citing “the interest of encouraging new investments across the District from various business types.” ANC Commissioner Bill Schultheiss replied:
What I don’t understand is how your office sees a gas station at this corner lot fitting into the “Great Streets” initiative. I am troubled by the idea that any development is better than no development implied by Mr. Albert’s response. That is a false choice. There are other interested buyers of this property which would be more than happy to build a project that meets the goals of the Great Streets program.
Opponents of the gas station have a very snazzy site, “Shell No!” The project will come before DDOT for public space review on September 24th and before the BZA on October 14th.