Housing Complex

Starting Over At Walter Reed

In front of a building not long for this world. (Lydia DePillis)

So, all that visioning and planning and approving that went on over the last months of 2010 to figure out what to do with the District's portion of Walter Reed? Take a deep breath, kids, because we're starting the clock over again. With the new footprint that's finally been hashed out with the State Department, D.C. will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out what to do with it, kicking off another year long process of planning and review.

Which doesn't mean that the general priorities that neighboring residents set out last summer will be thrown out the window. It just means that they're not necessarily sticking with the original numbers that had been arrived at originally, like 850 units of housing, 200,000 square feet of retail, 90,000 square feet of office space, etc. When asked at this morning's press conference, Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning wouldn't even throw out a figure of how much housing she'd like to see on the site. "I don't want to prejudge what the community wants," she said.

In addition, while staff from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development indicated that all the organizations that had been granted space in the original plan would still be accommodated in the next one, local redevelopment authority director Eric Jenkins wouldn't say whether other groups and institutions would have another crack at landing space on the site. Things are also still up in the air on the State Department's side. While it looks like the land will be made available for new chancery buildings, they're going through a planning process at the same time.

Of course, neither uncertainty nor the long road ahead prevented the players from being absolutely giddy at what they got: Not only the entire strip of Georgia Avenue frontage, but also access to 16th Street on the State Department's side, a 1,200-space structured parking garage, and the space under the 2.5 million square foot hospital building, which will be demolished at federal expense.

In fact, Jenkins expects the whole redevelopment will be accomplished without any District subsidies at all, in the form of traditional tools like tax increment financing. Most likely, the District will work out some purchase price with the Army, but earn that back by disposing the land to developers who'll build the office, retail, and housing components.

All of which, naturally, has some community members worried again. The Office of Planning is figuring out new zoning for the site, and building up several stories on the Georgia Avenue frontage would comport with walkable smart growth principles–but also change the environment for people living right across the street. LRA member and ANC 4B commissioner Faith Wheeler is dead set against that happening. "It's leafy, and we like it, and that's what people think about when they think about this part of D.C.," she said.

Look for this to all come out again at a new round of public meetings, coming soon to a rec center auditorium near you.

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