Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Back with a Vengeance

The 167-page Braddock Road Metro small area plan draft was at last released on Saturday morning. It's much the same as the draft of September 2006, but with even more density and a host of new ideas, some of which the Growler predicts will alarm the community.

As usual, there's a thick layer of pap to chop through to get to the meat of the report, but here's some of the highlights:

1. There's more density than in former Planning & Zoning Director Eileen Fogarty's draft plan from September 2006.

Ms. Fogarty told us there was already 1.1 million s.f. of existing development around Braddock Road Metro (like Braddock Place and the Meridian) and predicted another 2 million s.f. of new development for a total of 3.1 million s.f. of development

Now we're told there will be a total of 2.3 million s.f. of new development around Braddock Road Metro, an increase of 300,000 s.f. This would boost the total development both old and new to 3.4 million s.f.

2. There will be two big 77' buildings plopped in the Metro parking lot, with a "plaza" in-between, which some Colecroft residents criticized at Saturday's Council hearing as nothing more than a large sidewalk. The City now argues that the Metro lot sits in a bowl 10' lower than Colecroft or other properties ringing the station, so we won't really feel the new heights (p. 100).

The City has apparently abandoned the alternative layout from earlier charettes which envisioned two buildings pushed to the north side of the parking lot with substantial green space facing Colecroft on the south.

3. The draft states that among the reasons the plan pushes up the heights of the two buildings on the Metro parking lot from 50' feet to 77' is to create density that will pay for an underground station entrance on the Del Ray side (p. 125). That entrance would not be located on Landbay L of Potomac Yard where there is supposed to be some development density, but at the furthest south point of the Yard next to the George Washington Middle School playing fields, just around the corner from the station.

And the reason for this entrance? "[T]o make Metro more attractive to riders from the Del Ray and Rosemont neighborhoods" (p. 40).

4. There is a lengthy discussion purporting to show there will be negligible impacts from this development on traffic, including Route 1, because "much of the traffic generated by new development in the Braddock Metro neighborhood will largely offset regionally-generated traffic" (p. 68). Because there's other routes for non-residents, they will eventually avoid Route 1 when it becomes too congested, leaving the road clearer for residents here who have no choice.

The study furthermore promotes a transportation demand management (TDM) strategies like car sharing that it claims can push down commute-to-work car trips out of the neighborhood from 50% to 42% and work-related trips into the neighborhood by car from 70% to 40%.

5. After three years there's still no solution proposed for the intersection of Wythe, West and Braddock Road and no discussion of traffic flow around the massive Jaguar project. Also missing is a detailed outline of how traffic will be managed around the Metro station with the Crystal City/Potomac Yard BRT coming in a few years, with two new buildings occupying the lot and with a hotel proposed across the street in front of Adkins.

6. The Plan recommends a parking district 2,000 feet around the Metro station that will reduce the residential parking developers must provide under the zoning ordinance to 1.0 space for units with less than three bedrooms and 1.5 for units with more than three bedrooms. The City calls this "right-sizing" but also notes this saves developers $50,000 for each underground parking space that would need to be constructed under current zoning.

7. Although the draft plan acknowledges that Queen Street businesses have "a dwindling customer base" (p. 28) the City wants to create and "interesting and funky alternative" to King Street by earmarking $4-$6 million in developer contributions to "support existing businesses" with low-cost loans.

8. At one point the plan estimates that "latent" retail demand from current residents and employees as well as new residents and office workers will justify an additional 75,000 of retail space (p. 49). But the plan also states that "even with this increased demand, it may be difficult for locally-owned businesses to locate in the neighborhood," especially in new buildings with high rents. The solution: subsidize them

And despite the City's unsuccessful efforts to recruit a replacement for Harris-Teeter last year, plus everything we heard from retail consultant Heather Arnold about strong competition from Whole Foods, Giant, Safeway and Shoppers Food Warehouse at Potomac Yard, there's a suggestion that a redeveloped Samuel Madden housing project could host a new grocery store.

10. The section on public housing uses the words "deconcentrate" or "deconcentration" only once each in the text. There is brief acknowledgement that some Bland public housing units are slated to go off-site, but nothing specific about the other projects. In fact, the information on Adkins repeats the consultants' statement at the January 24 meeting that 2/3 of its residents will return after redevelopment.

While working out some of this detail has been delegated to the upcoming Braddock East Advisory Group, given the plan's emphasis on mixed-income housing it is easy to see why some residents are reading between the lines and assuming the City plans to deconcentrate by simply packing in more market-rate homeowners, thus "diluting" the public housing population rather than off-siting a substantial portion.

So what do YOU think, readers?