Eckington, a neighborhood in DC by Ted Eytan licensed under Creative Commons.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has set an ambitious goal of creating 36,000 new housing units in the District of Columbia by 2025. The Office of Planning, the agency responsible for outlining DC’s long-term growth, released a report in October 2019 detailing specific targets for housing creation in eleven planning areas.

Mid City (which includes Eckington) needs 4,210 new housing units, 1,010 of which should be affordable units, in the next five years to meet the Mayor’s goals.The good news is that Eckington offered map amendments to meet that housing challenge. No “shaming” necessary. So why were changes that would allow for more dense housing in Eckington rejected?

In a recent letter to DC’s Office of Planning, the Eckington Civic Association (ECA) reiterated its request for amendments to the Comprehensive Plan that would permit the construction of approximately 1,500 new housing units in our neighborhood. (I currently serve as President of the ECA). Assuming the Zoning Commission acts on the OP’s request to bolster DC’s inclusionary zoning and affordable housing requirements, it’s reasonable to assume that over 200 of those units would be reserved for individuals who live well below the median area income.

The Housing Equity Report, showing where affordable growth should happen in the District. 

However, some amendments the ECA submitted were rejected by the OP for being inconsistent completed plans or “inappropriate” as was highlighted in the ECA letter.

These amendments include things like:

  • In the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) change the corridor along the Metropolitan Branch Trail to mixed use “Production, Distribution and Repair,” “Moderate Density Commercial,” and “Medium Density Residential.” Again, this makes this corridor’s map element consistent with amendments recommended in the plan’s text component.
  • In the General Policy Map (GPM) add a Main Street Corridor on 5th Street Northeast from the intersection with the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Rhode Island Avenue Northeast.
  • In the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) Change the southeast corner of Florida Avenue Northeast and North Capitol to mixed-use “Moderate Density Commercial” and “Moderate Density Residential.” This will make the map consistent with existing plans to build two residential structures on that land in the coming years, while continuing to encourage commercial development as well.

As Mayor Bowser is right to point out, increasing the production of new housing and accelerating its delivery is one of the most important strategies to prevent displacement and ensure access to affordable housing.

This significant increase in Eckington’s housing stock could occur without impacting Eckington’s existing residential infrastructure. The OP has already proposed adopting an ECA amendment to DC’s Comprehensive Plan that would help protect existing low-density housing. Most of the potential new housing stock would be adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail and within half a mile of the Rhode Island Avenue and NoMa-Gallaudet Metro stops. This means that new residents could be encouraged to use public transportation or bike rather than relying on a private vehicle.

Future Land Use Map by The DC Office of Planning.

Adding commercial and residential density would help increase the economic and cultural vitality of Eckington. Many residents are celebrating the return of Yang Market and enjoy other community-facing businesses like Qualia Coffee or Fish King. The ECA’s proposed changes would help bring more retail to Eckington and ensure that there is a larger customer base to support both new and existing businesses.

Adopting these amendments would also accelerate livability improvements in Eckington as well. This part of our neighborhood is least hospitable to residents and the many students who attend McKinley Technology High School and Middle School. Sidewalks are missing, there are few trees, and there are few “eyes on the street” after business hours. Those who walk to the Rhode Island Metro stop have few safe ways to get there. Our amendments would encourage the physical transformation of this part of the neighborhood in a way that better serves local residents.

The ECA’s letter asserts that the Office of Planning erred in concluding that the ECA’s proposed amendments were inconsistent with completed plans or policy documents or “inappropriate,” and are requesting that the Office of Planning reconsider. The ECA’s letter further argues that that the ECA’s proposed amendments are entirely consistent with Mayor Bowser and Office of Planning’s stated policy of increasing more housing in DC, including the Mid City. The ECA’s letter also asks the Office of Planning could clarify what aspects of the ECA’s submissions were “inappropriate,” so that we have an opportunity to address whatever procedural or substantive concerns the Office of Planning intended to convey with that language.

ECA’s proposed amendments are currently being considered by ANC 5E, which previously gave unanimous support to these and other amendments the ECA proposed. It will then be up to the Office of Planning to prepare a final package of proposed amendments for the DC Council to consider this Spring.

Conor Shaw is an attorney at a nonpartisan ethics watchdog. Conor grew up on Capitol Hill and now lives in Eckington, where he is president of the Eckington Civic Association. Conor wants our streets to be safer for all—and especially cyclists and pedestrians; our local businesses to thrive; and our housing policies to promote affordability, diversity and yes—density.