Housing Complex

With $50 Million in Hand, NoMa Looks to Close “Parks Deficit”

What happens when a neighborhood forms in a place where no one planned for it? You end up with a shortage of neighborhood amenities—in NoMa's case, parks. The formerly desolate area was targeted for development last decade as little more than an office park, with a desirable location near Union Station but no real plans for a residential community. Fast forward 10 years, and the commercial hub has materialized just as planned, with companies like NPR relocating there recently. But something else has happened, too: Luxury apartments, commanding rents up to $4,000 a month, have started springing up, turning this office park into a real community.

So can you retrofit a neighborhood for unanticipated residential density? We're about to find out.

As part of the budget that's making its way through the D.C. Council approval process, NoMa is slated to get $50 million for the creation of new parks. According to NoMa Business Improvement District President Robin-Eve Jasper, the funds will be used to create a network of parks running "both north and south along the Metropolitan Branch Trail as well as linking the residential neighborhoods to the east and west with the commercial core."

The new funding boost follows on the heels of a $490,000 grant from the city in the fall for parks in NoMa. That grant, says Jasper, is being used for planning and design, primarily for the proposed L Street NE pedestrian plaza with with working name Swampoodle Plaza (but affectionately known as the Poodle). Jasper says that two requests for proposal will soon be released, for designs for Swampoodle Plaza and a small park at 3rd and N streets NE.

Jasper expects that the $50 million grant would be enough to build Swampoodle Plaza and several other parks in the neighborhood. Part of the money will be used to acquire rights to the land from developers and other property owners; the rest will be used for hardscape and softscape. "There’s a lot of parks that are definitely on the plans, but acquiring all the rights and cooperation is the challenge we’re gonna work on," Jasper says. "That’s a challenge we really couldn’t work on until we could demonstrate to people that we would have money to implement."

Even though the plan is for a network of small parks rather than a single large one, Jasper hopes that at least some of them will be sizable. "I’m reticent to name names before we’ve made overtures to owners, but we are specifically looking for parcels that are big enough that you can throw a ball, maybe have a soccer game," she says.

Jasper says that Mayor Vince Gray has been a "big proponent" of parks in NoMa, and that the D.C. Council Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs under Chairman Marion Barry has been supportive. City officials were receptive to the idea of funding parks in NoMa because of its dire need for public space.

"There’s no other neighborhood that’s like this in terms of a parks deficit," Jasper says. "And that’s why NoMa got the money."

The $50 million injection into parks in a relatively wealthy area of town may appear to come at the expense of other budget priorities—say, the estimated $53 million needed annually to end homelessness in the District. But according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute's Ed Lazere, that's not really a fair comparison, since the parks funding is in the capital budget and is paid for with long-term bonds, while services for the homeless would come out of the operating budget.

"Because the payments for park space are spread out over time, it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison," says Lazere. "Ending homelessness is obviously an important priority, but making sure all parts of the city have access to park space is also important, and I’d hope that they wouldn’t compete."

Jasper expects the first shovels to hit the dirt for park construction within two to three years.

Rendering of Swampoodle Plaza from the fall courtesy of NoMa BID

  • hoos30

    $50 in taxpayer funds to correct the city planners' mistake.

  • http://www.nomabid.org/parks Rachel Davis, NoMa BID

    In addition to the Mayor and the Chairman of the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs, we have SO MANY people to thank! Our Ward Councilmembers, Cm. Wells and Cm. McDuffie; our ANC Commissioner Tony Goodman; and the hundreds of neighbors and residents and schoolchildren and office workers who wrote letters and supported this effort and have already given their input into the Public Realm Design Plan. There is much work to be done, and we are thankful to be part of such a collaborative community.

  • Therese

    To really make a community out of those luxury high-rises, I hope that the planning, installation, and maintenance will present opportunities for residents to get activated. Planting parties, clean-up days, and urban garden plot opportunities can all be part of the outreach and build a sense of community in a neighborhood struggling to build some.

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  • Kris Kristofferson

    It's been discussed already - but what a shame! Paying $50 million to make up for poor planning...Noma unfortunately is a concrete jungle. So we end up settling for "parks" like the one in the picture above.

    Noma is a nice place to work though and Union Market is super cool. And the residential buildings are drawing people, so someone must want to live there.

    Kristofferson

  • JP

    What a horrible waste of money. DC could possible have the worst year round weather in the country, and they want to invest $50M for parks in terrible neighborhood that can't possibly be saved?

    That money should be used to retro fit the drab office and apartment buildings with street level retail. What group of morons decided to throw up a dozens of high rise buildings without street level retail concepts?

  • http://westnorth.com PCC

    FWIW, it's worth noting (and has been neglected in coverage so far as I can tell) that the $50M comes from NoMa taxes, not from citywide dollars. In some sense, that's $50M from NoMa taxes that aren't eligible to be spent elsewhere, but it's not as if those of us outside are spending out of pocket for their parks.

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