Housing Complex

Feds Resist Mixed-Use Development Near St. Elizabeths

UPDATE, 12:45 p.m. - At this morning's Council legislative meeting, Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry took the NCPC's advice, voluntarily striking language from the Comprehensive Plan that would have encouraged mixed-use development on the west side of Martin Luther King Avenue. The amendment to the amendments states:

It is inconsistent with the plans approved by both the District and National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) for the Saint Elizabeths campus, which require all of the retail in this area to be located on the District’s east campus side of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue. Even though the provision only encourages and does not require retail on the west side, and even though the provision acknowledges that the retail would have to be outside security barriers, NCPC states that the U.S. General Services Administration is still concerned about the inconsistency of the policy with the plans. Also, security barriers will likely be inside the historic wall and there is not enough space for retail development either outside the wall or between the wall and the interior security barriers.

As far as the 173-acre east campus goes, the District expects to issue a request for proposals this year to construct four million square feet of office space and workforce housing, which could include retail. But any prospective developer would likely need public money to make it happen, and at this point, there's a lot of competition.

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For District residents watching the massive development of a new Department of Homeland Security headquarters on the St. Elizabeths campus in Ward 8, the hope has always been clear: Not only construction jobs on the front end, but a revitalized commercial district in Congress Heights, including retail that thousands of new DHS employees would patronize during the day.

To foster that kind of development, the D.C. Council passed an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan that would change the zoning on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue at St. Elizabeths' west campus to allow commercial and residential uses, while providing exceptions for historic resources. A key phrase: "Mixed use development, including retail and service uses, should be promoted along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, should face the street and should be open to the public, other than security barriers and perimeters that may otherwise be required."

But the National Capital Planning Commission, which will review all the comprehensive plan amendments at its meeting this week, thinks that would be "contrary to the federal interest." In its recommendation to the Commission, staff reviewers determined:

"The provision of retail at a depth of 200 feet along the Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue frontage of the west campus would be inconsistent with the Master Plan and would require demolition of all or parts of the historic wall and portions of several historic buildings within the campus as well as conflict with the Department of Homeland Security's Level 5 Security requirements."

Therefore, with the General Services Administration in agreement, they recommended that the language regarding mixed-use development be dropped. (Although the fact that the District's Comprehensive Plan amendment specifically allows for preservation suggests that security requirements are really the biggest issue here).

Disallowing retail and residential development directly across from St. Elizabeths doesn't mean that existing Congress Heights businesses won't still benefit from the infusion of new people. Private sector offices may still decide to locate in a new business district several blocks up MLK Avenue. But how many of the 14,000 new DHS employees will walk more than a few minutes from their offices to grab lunch or run errands?

St. Elizabeths is the biggest federal government project since the construction of the Pentagon, and could end up looking similar, as a largely isolated monolith which people arrive at and leave in cars, rather than something that breeds street life and integrates with the surrounding community (which both NCPC and the GSA have prioritized in downtown D.C.).

That would be some serious wasted potential.

  • Eric

    Lydia, what should we do to voice our positions on this important issue? We cannot let the NCPC boss the city around on something as important as a neighborhood's well-being. Since zoning mixed-use along that portion of MLK is obviously NOT contrary to security I mean we've got stores and residences across from the flipping FBI building downtown (but perhaps security theater is more along the lines of what DHS is into these days), and historic walls should obviously not trump the economic development of depressed areas of the city, we HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!

  • RT

    The NCPC should simply be disregarded. They technically have no actual jurisdiction. They can recommend things, but not necessarily enact them. This is the culmination of a long-running fued between the ornary and backward federal dimwads on the NCPC and the District.

  • ControlBored

    RT- NCPC recommendation matters to the government. Without the GSA lease, this development would not occur. GSA leases have very specific requirements and if they aren't met, this development wouldn't happen. So yeah, it sort of matters what NCPC recommends.

  • casey anderson

    How is it that the atf hq building manages to incorporate retail into one side of the building yet dhs can't have any mixed uses anywhere near it?

  • http://monarchrh.com Monarch Ridge Hill

    The neighborhoods' well being isn't necessarily the entire issue, but it's future is. Obviously, several thousand DHS employees could find time to patronize retail establishments since there are no other offerings nearby. This proposed mixed use development site isn't just a potential shot in the arm for the neighborhood, it's actually a necessity.

  • Brian

    This is the dumbest thing I've ever read. They will deny mixed use development that will cater to the 14000 people working there because they don't want to knock down that hideous wall along MLK? I would laugh, but

  • Andrew in DC

    So.. the NCPC just created a giant prison for DHS. 14k employees who won't ever leave campus for anything, except to travel home. It's like a second Bolling AFB. Good. Job. Way to save those walls.

  • anon

    Here are the definitions for facility levels: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_building_security

    Level 5 is the most secure, and include large govt complexes like the Pentagon and CIA. Very few exist, and they are shut off from outside areas.

  • drez

    The Committee of the 100 should do something useful for once and lobby NCPC. They speak their language.

  • RT

    Committee of 100 doesn't care what happens across the river. The membership has never set foot "over there."

  • The Prophet

    Yes, the west campus will not have commercial or residential uses along MKL. However, the huge east campus, controled by the District and just across the street, will not be restricted. In fact it will be encouraged on that portion of St. Elizabeths. By funneling retail and residential uses to the east campus, the District will benefit from the taxes that wouldn't acrue on federal lands and the feds get their Level 5 security on west campus. Before seizing on this staff report with a "oh noes!" report, I believe it would be beneficial to first do a little background research.

  • Really?

    Do we know what the leveal for the ATF is?

  • RGFleet

    I am pretty amused by the level of apparent ignorance by some commenters.

    Let me start by asking: "What did you expect".

    The headquarters of the umbrella 50 billion a year Cabinent Level US Government Agency called "Homeland Security"?

    What did you think, there would be neighbrohood water parks and Clarendon style mixed use development on the campus?

    Do you see these things at the CIA, NSA, Pentagon? The answer is no.

    Of th total 3.5 billion cost, they are spending 2.6 billion on the secure IT infrasture for this campus for God sakes, and you think that they are going to build a developement where any and all neighborhood folks can wander in /out at any point?

    What kind of fanciful lala land are you guys living in?

    This is a take it or leave it scenario. You want DHS to build there, then you accept their terms. Otherwise, they take it somewhere else.

    And for the fatalists, Anacostia will still get a substantial ancillary benefit. 14,000 new people will be commuting through their community every day, buying things on the way in and out.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    @RGFleet

    You can still build all the security in the world on the west campus of St E's you like, while still making the MLK Ave corridor mixed use. It would just require a little doing and tearing down a wall that the NCPC thinks is historic.

    Nobody is suggesting that all of the campus would or should be open and accessible - but there's no reason that DHS should forever be a tumor on MLK Ave.

    These kinds of statements aim to ensure that DC will get the least amount of benefit out of DHS moving to St E's. I don't think that's a nefarious goal, just a consequence of the Federal self-interest.

  • Bob See

    "This is a take it or leave it scenario. You want DHS to build there, then you accept their terms. Otherwise, they take it somewhere else. "

    Then it's better that they go elsewhere because this plan sucks. Instead of a sprawling campus, they could simply build a highrise or two at the west end of the site, providing (hopefully) some attractive landmark buildings, and then the rest, including the historic buildings, gets reused and in-filled with retail, office, and residential, like the Walter Reed proposal.

    Instead, it's just a walled, exclusive garden courtesy of the tax payers that gives zilch to the surrounding area.

    "And for the fatalists, Anacostia will still get a substantial ancillary benefit. 14,000 new people will be commuting through their community every day, buying things on the way in and out."

    Highly doubtful. They'll haul ass in and out of there.

  • RGFleet

    A tumor on MLK avenue? You mean like the existing facility isn't? Or MLK avenue isn't already a miles long malignancy? Anacostia's problem isn't something that any office building or construction project, regardless of how large it is, can fix.

    Anyone who thought that the headquarters campus of "Homeland Security" wasn't going to be over the top isolated and secure, simply wasn't paying attention.

    The Federal Government is relocating 10,000 of the 14,000 people total to the District from offices in NOVA and Southern MD. 10,000 new people, on a daily basis shopping, buying gas, before/after work is a huge boon to the District, and the 14,000 total an enormous boon to Anacostia.

    There is tons of greenspace around the Pentagon and Langley. Perhaps we should be clammoring for some nice mixed use office/residential/retail there?

  • Bob See

    "There is tons of greenspace around the Pentagon and Langley. Perhaps we should be clammoring for some nice mixed use office/residential/retail there?"

    It would be nice. Instead, it's a complete eyesore.

    Projects like this underscore just how removed the Feds are from the people who they supposedly serve.

  • CUT YOUR LOSSES

    Eleanor, earn your pay and get to work on this important federal issue. What good is having President Obama just living here and using DC for photo's ops only.

  • Lisa

    The Master Plan was approved 2 years ago. Why are you all getting up at arms about this now? Not to mention there isn't any room to build mixed-use and a security fence between the letter buildings and the sidewalk where the historic wall is. They'd have to pay more to harden the buildings they would abut to secure them from blasts.

  • JB

    I see the argument, but if you build a nice shopping complex anywhere in the vicinity (i.e Pentagon Row) the community will reap the benefits. The goal should be to get people to want to live in the neighborhood not to just get them to spend money when they are there. Redevelopment of the community starts with DHS but doesn't end there.

  • RGFleet

    @JB,

    I see this "build it and they will come" fantasy of every recent hipster to DC.

    Comparing Anacostia to Arlington is ridiculous. You have a population where 25% live below the poverty line, 30% don't have a GED or Highschool diploma and a 30% unemployment rate with Arlington which has a 3% unemployment rate, where the median income is ~85K a year and where ~30% of the population has graduate degrees.

    Anacostia is such a crime filled hole of dejection that the liquor stores with bullet proof glass can't even stay open. Redevelopment of Anacostia doesn't start with DHS, it starts with the community. No one wants to move into a place like Anacostia. How do I know? Because Mayor after Mayor has spent nearly 30 years shoveling money into Anacostia and its only gotten worse.

    If you could somehow trick someone into spending money building all the tricked out mixed use you could handle in Anacostia, it would still immediately fail because you can't convince people to go there.

  • Nolan

    Worse than this, IMO, is the direct on-ramp from 295 ensuring that none of the DHS workers will ever have to set foot anywhere East of the River that's not behind a security fence.

    Every public official who supported this project should be ashamed at selling DC (and East of the River) a bill of goods. They surely knew that no one from DHS would ever set foot outside St. E's and that direct on-ramp to 295 ensures it.

  • Bob See

    Quote RGFleet:  "And for the fatalists, Anacostia will still get a substantial ancillary benefit. 14,000 new people will be commuting through their community every day, buying things on the way in  

    Quote RGFleet:  "Anacostia is such a crime filled hole of dejection that the liquor stores with bullet proof glass can't even stay.

    Seeing what sticks?  A sound argument doesn't flip-flop like that.  Please add signal instead of noise.

    The DHS should be called the Department Of DHS Security...

  • http://www.congressheightsontherise.com The Advoc8te

    "Comparing Anacostia to Arlington is ridiculous. You have a population where 25% live below the poverty line, 30% don't have a GED or Highschool diploma and a 30% unemployment rate with Arlington which has a 3% unemployment rate, where the median income is ~85K a year and where ~30% of the population has graduate degrees.

    Anacostia is such a crime filled hole of dejection that the liquor stores with bullet proof glass can't even stay open. Redevelopment of Anacostia doesn't start with DHS, it starts with the community. No one wants to move into a place like Anacostia. How do I know? Because Mayor after Mayor has spent nearly 30 years shoveling money into Anacostia and its only gotten worse."

    @RGFleet
    What is ridiculous is that you keep throwing all of these jabs at Anacostia (which are unfounded btw) and the Saint Elizabeths Campus is located in the CONGRESS HEIGHTS neighborhood -- Anacostia is two neighborhoods away.

    Is it possible that perhaps your perception as well as geography of this community a little off?

    Not trying to embarrass you but present the possibility that perhaps you don't know as much about "Anacostia" as you think you do.

    The Advoc8te
    Congress Heights resident and Ward 8 business owner

    P.S. You can learn more about Anacostia (the neighborhood) and all the great things there by visiting http://www.eatshopliveanacostia.com better still how about pay some Ward 8 neighborhoods a visit, you may be pleasantly surprised.

  • Cap City Records Panhandler
  • JRinDC

    This article is absolutely incorrect. The goal is to have retail outside of the campus on MLK and the East Campus so that people will not be locked in an insular campus and development activity can be spread through the community.

    These "bloggers" (not reporters) should get thier facts straight and also get quotes from whom they are writing about before they preach their opinion. Unfortunately, people take it as fact.

    BTW- the St. Elizabeths Master Plan was approved by NCPC and EVERY District rep on the Commission voted in favor.

    Please know your facts before you report....ERRR....blog...

  • JRinDC

    ..and as a follow up NCPC did not object to the mixed use land use ADJACENT to Campus. It was ON the campus. Councilmember Barry knew exactly what the issue was and that is why it was corrected immediately and thanking NCPC for catching it. Again, get the facts bloggers.

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