Housing Complex

Give the Department of Homeland Security to AU Park!


Smaller, shorter, quieter! (American University)

Following the progress of two large development projects–the Department of Homeland Security at St. Elizabeths in Ward 8, and American University's proposed campus plan in Ward 3–it's hard not to feel a little cognitive dissonance.

At the first, officials are struggling to figure out how on earth they're going to make a highly secure federal complex integrate with a community that could really benefit from new residents and daytime foot traffic to local businesses. The problem is, they can't even tear down an historic wall separating the office buildings from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, forcing employees to walk a long way if they want to get a bite to eat in the neighborhood.

At the second, neighbors are doing their darndest to keep all evidence of human presence to an absolute minimum. ANC 3D's 37-page draft report on American University's proposed campus plan, which uses the word "objectionable" 44 times, includes the following comments:

  • "All student housing must have a minimum 120-foot landscaped buffer–that includes mature trees–with any neighboring residential property."
  • "Student residences should be built with windows that do not open to limit noise impacts on neighboring residents and with tinted windows that shield from residents' views the type of window hangings that are characteristically found in the windows of AU's student dorms."
  • "AU should install a fence at the rear of the site to provide an additional buffer with the community–the height and style of which should be determined in consultation with the Westover Place neighbors."
  • "Student serving retail as part of the East Campus project along Nebraska Avenue is out of character with Nebraska Avenue; adds to an already congested and hazardous corridor. Student-serving retail should be located at the core of the campus convenient for student use and in a way that does not interfere with neighbors' enjoyment of a primarily low-density residential neighborhood environment."
  • "Although 4-story dorms may be located on Nebraska Avenue, no building should be built on the East Campus site visible to neighbors' property that is higher than the town homes at Westover Place."

And of course, they are completely opposed to AU increasing its enrollment from the current level of 10,298 to 13,600. They'd rather see a hard cap of 10,600 for the next ten years.

This sounds like exactly the type of neighborhood that would be perfect for the 14,000 employees DHS was planning to bring to Ward 8. They can come in from Maryland and Virginia and leave at night, bringing their lunches so they don't have to muddy the residential character of the neighborhood with shops and cafes. Maybe there would even be better coordination with the other DHS complex across the street–they could build a tunnel under Nebraska Avenue to connect them. By contrast, American University would be perfectly suited to Anacostia and Congress Heights: MLK would fill up with coffeeshops and bars, students would have all the low-cost housing they could ask for, and local residents could benefit from jobs that don't require a high-level security clearance–not to mention the opportunities of a credible institution of higher learning in their backyard.

Seriously, guys. It's the best idea ever.

  • John

    So does the ANC that drafted those ridiculous objections only encompass the Westover Place neighbors? I would think that the neighborhood as a whole would welcome new retail with open arms as it will increase their walkable options and almost surely raise property values. Those neighbors should far out number the few Westover Place residents most upset about the loss of their parking lot view.
    Also as someone who drives that stretch of Nebraska regularly I take issue with calling it congested. Because it isn't. Only in Wesley Heights would that road be refereed to as congested. The traffic circle itself is odd and unnecessary given its a 2 street intersection. It could be removed entirely and replaced with a normal traffic light. But Nebraska ave before and after the circle is congestion free in my experience.

  • Pingback: Expand American University to Ward 8? | DCentric

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    Even if you tore down the wall at St. E's it wouldn't make much difference, not just because of the difference, which is considerable, but also because office workers, unlike in the 1970s, have a lot less time for lunch, and maybe only go out for a lunch of significance once/week.

    Robert Gibbs, one of the leading retail consultants in the US, says that office workers support 2 s.f. of retail and 5 s.f. of quick service food. Add it up and it doesn't total a lot of workers.

    In the ground breaking for CityCenter, Mayor Gray talked about changing how office workers shop when they are at work--with the idea that they could support a wider variety of retail in places like CityCenter.

    Won't happen. People are time pressed.

    PLUS, they have the internet and now mobile phones. Granted these applications do support some local shopping.

    But, haven't people noticed by now that in most places with lots of workers the area retail is pretty paltry?

  • http://tsarchitect.nsflanagan.net/ цarьchitect

    Ha! At least with unopenable windows, the students won't be able to smell the reeking entitlement of Westover Place residents.

    But seriously, that provision borders on cruelty.

  • LR

    What citizen-architects live in Westover! Citizen-architects who moved next to a university, of all neighborhood amenities, and now complain that they might be able to *see* the students.

  • http://www.badassbrookland.com lala

    This is a seriously awesome idea. The very university that gives them their name certainly does challenge their ability to live in undisturbed tranquility!

  • crin

    Remember when Mayor Williams floated the notion of moving UDC to St Elizabeths and got crucified for it? No? Not surprised.

  • Joe

    As an AU grad, that would be really cool. Anywhere's better than Tenleytown...

  • Herb

    Remember when Tony Williams suggested moving UDC from its Brutalist buildings at Connecticut and Van Ness to the St. E's campus? He reasoned that St. E's already had a strong campus "atmosphere", and would be closer to more of its student population by moving east of the Anacostia River. A barren Brutalist collection of buildings (which just have numbers, not names!) would be replaced by a campus that feels positively old Ivy League. Plus, the city could redevelop the UDC Van Ness campus which sits on top of a Metro stop and is in a multi-family and commercial area already.

    Oh, the howls of protest from the DC political community! This was part of "The Plan" (an oft-referenced but never seen scheme) to move UDC students out of Ward 3. Williams' proposal, of course, made perfect sense, for a number of reasons. Too bad it went no where.

  • Anon

    As someone who works just off of 295, I can tell you that the people working with me at already cringing at the thought of 14,000 new commuters along an already clogged corridor. Nevermind the local environment or lack of businesses, but the local roads and 295 already can't handle the AM and PM rush hours. This is going to be a nightmare.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Herb: Agreed, agreed. A damn shame that idea went nowhere.