Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) opened the Pennsylvania Avenue Vision Summit on Tuesday evening at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) by telling the assembled that in attending meetings with his neighbors, “one thing became clear: we were having a lot of meetings about a lot of projects from Seward Square to Barney Circle, and we were treating them as isolated events.”
“These projects are why I wanted to have a conversation tonight. We need to start thinking through how we unify the vision here.
The Tuesday meeting, attended by more than 125 Hill residents, overflowed into the hallway. In addition to the public, the summit was attended by numerous stakeholders, including District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Chief Project Delivery Officer Sam Zimbabwe and staff working on each of the three major DDOT projects on the corridor; representatives of the National Park Service (NPS) and National Park Police; Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B; representatives of the Office of Planning and the Department of Health, including the Department of Health and Human Services; and three private developers working on projects on the corridor.
The summit began with an overview of the projects on the corridor. Councilmember Allen gave a summary of the plans for Eastern Market Metro Plaza and the renovation of Southeast Public Library as well as planning to reinvigorate Seward Square. In addition, Allen noted the eight private developments that will result in dozens of businesses and an additional 945 housing units.
Zimbabwe outlined the stages in planning for work on Southeast Boulevard and Barney Circle, restructuring of the Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenue SE intersection, the Pennsylvania Avenue lighting project and the rerouting of Circulator bus routes.
After the overview, the assembled divided into five breakout sessions focused on projects by DDOT; the Department for Health and Human Services; work related to NPS; the Office of Planning and the DC Public Library; private developers and the work of ANC 6B. Attendees circulated throughout the rooms to ask questions of representatives before reconvening in the main room for a question and answer session.
Q & A
Attendees asked Allen what he saw as the next steps in the process. Allen said that one way to move forward would be to sit down with ANC Commissioners and discuss guidelines for projects in the area that would help ensure that all were working towards similar goals. An attendee suggested a system of metrics or quality control to quantify progress.
Others expressed concern about the safety of Pennsylvania Avenue for pedestrians and cyclists, given the status of the roadway as thoroughfare between the center of the District and Maryland. Zimbabwe responded that the recent signal optimization was designed to assist with this, but added that a Capitol Hill Transportation Study conducted nearly ten years ago had helped inform DDOT as to neighborhood goals, and that a similar study should be undertaken in 2019.
Allen also responded to a question about the potential impact of an NFL stadium at the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Stadium campus and a successful bid for a second Amazon headquarters by first reiterating his position that an NFL stadium at the site “would be a pretty bad idea.”
He said that the District was one of “about 8,000 cities” that had responded to Amazon RFP, and that it was very early in the process, and that “there is no meat on the bones in terms of what specifics would be, and how that would work.”
Allen said three of the four proposed sites incorporate Ward 6. Of the three, the one including Reservation 13 as part of a proposed Hill East Amazon headquarters site ‘gave him pause,’ as he said he could not see how Amazon’s desire for 8 million square feet of space would match up with what the community has worked towards for that area.
He added that he felt the odds of a successful District bid involving that particular site were “down in the decimal point percentage chances.” But he added that if Amazon selected the site it would kickstart a series of community discussions about the impact and about the zoning changes that would be necessary, and expressed confidence in the ability of residents to express the needs of the community.
Allen’s office filmed elements of the summit, and will make the video available to those who were unable to make the meeting.