Georgetown Current

Streetcar Plans Taking Shape Along K Street

November 24, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

City officials are continuing to refine plans for a DC Streetcar extension from Union Station to Georgetown, though Ward 2’s D.C. Council member has doubts about the project’s viability.

The D.C. Department of Transportation has also identified two storage sites for streetcar vehicles, both in Georgetown: one near Washington Harbour at 3050 K St. NW, and the other near the north side of the West Heating Plant at 29th and K streets NW. Two other discussed sites — the far west end of Water Street NW, and the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and H Street NW — have been removed from consideration.

As proposed, the 3.5-mile streetcar line would continue at Union Station from the H Street NE route that began operating in February. The new line would follow along H Street before turning onto New Jersey Avenue NW and then K Street, past Mount Vernon Square and under the Whitehurst Freeway into Georgetown as far as Wisconsin Avenue.

There are two options for how much of the new route would follow dedicated lanes not open to other traffic: one with 28 to 51 percent dedicated lanes, the other with 73 to 90 percent.

The latest updates came last Thursday at the project’s fourth public meeting, which focused on the potential streetcar’s impacts on Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and the West End.

Details were in short supply at the meeting, according to several attendees, and transportation officials reminded residents that several key studies have yet to be conducted, including those looking at impacts on traffic and historic preservation.

In an interview, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans said that he likes the concept of the streetcar but that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, whose board he chairs as one of D.C.’s two voting representatives, also has major needs.

“I don’t know where you would get the funds to pay for it,” he said. “If it’s a choice between Metro and the streetcar, I think everybody would pick Metro.”

Evans added that if Congress repeals Obamacare, the city will spend millions funding health care initiatives, further tightening the local budget.

The council member is also hesitant about a streetcar extension given the operational headaches that came during and after construction of the current streetcar line in Northeast, from Benning Road to Union Station.

“If you’re going to run a streetcar down K Street, you have to figure out how it’s all going to work,” Evans said.

Despite an ambiguous path to funding, planning continues. In Foggy Bottom, the plans currently show a ramp connecting pedestrians from the 25th Street NW streetcar stop onto the 24th Street bridge over K Street. The streetcar would travel under Washington Circle to avoid the traffic within it.

Patrick Kennedy, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End), told The Current he thinks that ramp would be useful for connecting streetcar passengers to George Washington University and surrounding areas.

The stretch of roadway between 25th and 26th streets would be modified to expand the side median to make pedestrian access easier along K Street. That move would require either maximizing sidewalk trees at the expense of on-street parking, or vice versa.  Kennedy said he’s open to those options.

The biggest change for that neighborhood, already announced in previous plans, would add a right-turn loop ramp for drivers who wish to turn left onto 27th Street from westbound K Street at the Whitehurst Freeway, to prevent cars from intersecting the dedicated streetcar lane. Kennedy said he thinks the ramp is a good idea that would be worth pursuing even without the streetcar.

In Georgetown, the streetcar’s westernmost stop would be located at Wisconsin Avenue and K Street NW. The stretch of K just west of Wisconsin would be used as a turnaround area.

One option with shared lanes would preserve parking on both sides of K Street in Georgetown, while another option with dedicated streetcar lanes would force vehicle lanes to the edges of each street with the streetcar in the middle, removing parking spots along the busy thoroughfare.

Longtime Georgetown resident Joe Gibbons, a member-elect of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E who attended the streetcar meeting as a private citizen, said it’s still too early to support one option over another. He wants to see more extensive research conducted near the end of K Street, given that several other projects are in the works there, including possible boathouse additions and bike path refinements.

For the streetcar storage area, the choice between the two sites will come down to the amount of space needed, historic preservation and traffic concerns, and community input, Transportation Department spokesperson Terry Owens told The Current.

The project timeline has been extended since the last public meeting. The Transportation Department’s federally mandated evaluation process is now scheduled to wrap up after one more public meeting in winter or spring 2017. A completed assessment will be published and available for public comment next fall.

A final decision is scheduled for early 2018, half a year later than previously announced. Analysis is “taking longer than expected,” Owens wrote.

This article appears in the Nov. 23 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Panel Eyes More Minor PUD Change

November 16, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The planned unit development process is a popular way for developers to receive substantial flexibility from land-use restrictions in exchange for providing public benefits and undergoing detailed design review by the city’s Zoning Commission.

The complications, uncertainty and expense of such a process generally impose a de facto limit on these planned unit developments, or PUDs. Generally, only developers of a large property would be interested. But the Zoning Commission sparked concerns from some community leaders earlier this year when it considered a proposal to allow PUDs on any lot size.

Last month, commissioners granted preliminary approval to a compromise. Existing minimum lot sizes would remain, and the Zoning Commission could continue to waive only 50 percent of that minimum in low-density residential and commercial areas, as under the current regulations. Meanwhile, in denser areas the commission could choose to consider a PUD application on a lot as small as 5,000 square feet instead of today’s 7,500 or more depending on the zone.

The latest version responds to the strongest critics, who worried about drastic changes to residential communities if developers could win permission to evade height and density caps there.

However, various concerns still remain. According to Larry Hargrove of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the latest changes are “a very considerable improvement from where things stood before, but they don’t go far enough in certain respects.”

In an interview, Hargrove said his main issue is that smaller lots along major thoroughfares — but abutting low-density residential areas — could be considered for PUDs, as a lower minimum lot size would make it easier for developers to create potentially intrusive projects there. While a PUD application on a 5,000-square-foot lot would first require a waiver from the commission and would then need to win approval on its merits — in both cases with community input — Hargrove expressed concerns about leaving too much power in the hands of zoning commissioners.

“When you bought your property, you didn’t think the future of your neighborhood would be determined by a bunch of public officials using their unfettered personal discretion,” said Hargrove.

The PUD lot-size discussion emerged due to Georgetown developer EastBanc’s effort to construct a small mixed-use building on the site of a gas station at Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street NW, a prominent site across from the Four Seasons Hotel at Georgetown’s eastern gateway. EastBanc’s property, at 7,420 square feet, fell shy of the 7,500 square feet needed for a PUD under current regulations even if the Zoning Commission were to grant its maximum waiver of 50 percent from the standard 15,000.

EastBanc is seeking PUD flexibility to create its building with eight residential units atop a ground-floor restaurant. The project team argues that the project’s architecture and related open-space improvements will be valuable community amenities that offset requests for greater height and density and the elimination of an on-site parking requirement of three spaces.

“In this circumstance, the deviation is quite minimal,” zoning commissioner Peter May said at an Oct. 31 discussion of the project. “The concern that was raised about wiping out minimums entirely was based more broadly on the issue of PUD minimums in residential neighborhoods. … I did not get the impression [that an issue like this] was a major concern.”

However, the commission was deadlocked on whether to grant preliminary approval to the EastBanc project at that meeting, electing to wait instead until they have finalized the broader PUD change. Commissioners expect to vote on both issues on Dec. 12.

This article appears in the Nov. 16 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Site of Hyde Swing Space Still at Issue

November 9, 2016

By Cuneyt Dil
Current Correspondent

Georgetown’s advisory neighborhood commission has joined in on the opposition to temporarily locating Hyde-Addison Elementary School students to a campus in Shaw while the 3219 O St. NW school undergoes a two-year renovation.

ANC 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) said last Tuesday that the city ought to locate the school’s swing space closer to Georgetown. A unanimous resolution, addressed to the mayor and deputy mayor of education, also calls on the District not to implement proposed cuts to the original scale of the renovation project.

D.C. Public Schools announced in early October that Hyde-Addison would be relocated during the renovation to the campus of Meyer Elementary School, at 11th and Euclid streets NW. In another controversial decision, Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Niles, had announced the city might scale back portions of the $25 million renovation, drawing backlash among residents and parents who for years have closely worked with the city on the project.

ANC 2E’s resolution notes that the Meyer Elementary School swing space would create a 40-minute commute for students in Georgetown. “Hyde-Addison is the only DCPS neighborhood elementary school that is being required to relocate over three miles away,” the resolution reads.

Regarding cuts to the project, commissioners warned that “significant changes to the ANC and Old Georgetown Board-approved original design” may mean extra delays to the work, which is now slated to begin fall 2017. The project’s goal is to construct an addition at the center of the campus, connecting the school’s two existing buildings. The revised design presented in October combines the proposed cafeteria and gym spaces, which were originally planned to be separate, and relocates an administrative office to the center of the campus.

“What Deputy Mayor Niles has done here is outrageous,” said ANC 2E member Bill Starrels, whose son attended Hyde-Addison.

 Fellow commissioner Jeff Jones said he has not heard a clear reason why Niles is pushing for the swing space to be at Meyer.

“I’ve spoken to her directly many times herself … [and] there’s not been to me a clear and good reason why this decision seems to be forced upon the community,” Jones said.

The deputy mayor for education’s office did not return a request for comment.

Another swing space possibility discussed in the past was Hardy Middle School in upper Georgetown — which also holds the Fillmore Arts Center, a program that’s slated to be shut down by D.C. Public Schools at the end of the school year. But that setup would have been problematic for both Hardy and Hyde-Addison, Carla Watson, chief operating officer of the schools system, told The Current late last month.

“We have a student body and a community there,” Watson said in an interview. “For us to bring an entire school onto another school, we have to significantly limit their programmatic options, including their entire outdoor space.”

One variable affects whether Hyde can use the Meyer space: whether the modernization project at Duke Ellington School of the Arts can be wrapped up on time this coming summer. Students from Ellington are currently using Meyer as swing space, but Watson said “we don’t have any concerns” that the high school’s modernization will be delayed.

Of the Hyde-Addison project, Watson said her office was working to finalize the designs. The recently proposed changes are still subject to feedback from Hyde-Addison’s School Improvement Team.

“We’re going to get swing space ready for the kids,” Watson said. “We’re going to start working for the buildings.”

A neighborhood meeting on Hyde swing space and Ellington renovations is scheduled for Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 3240 O St. NW. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans will attend the meeting along with D.C. Public Schools officials.

Staff writer Mark Lieberman contributed to this report.

This article appears in the Nov. 9 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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