Georgetown Current

Proposed Tweak to Flight Path Wins Few Fans

September 22, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed tweaks to flight paths over Northwest D.C. have not impressed affected residents, who say the changes are too minor to significantly improve an unpleasant situation in their riverside communities.

The FAA discussed its “LAZIR B” route plan in an open-house meeting last Wednesday at the Georgetown Library, where officials showed a new flight path that crosses over the edge of Rosslyn rather than passing directly over southern Foxhall Village. Farther northwest, the proposal also shifts the flight path over the Potomac River instead of flying over the Virginia side of the river.

Officials said the new route was chosen by a working group with representatives of the FAA, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and affected communities on both sides of the Potomac. But residents in several Northwest D.C. neighborhoods have been seeking more drastic relief: a return to the relative quiet they’d enjoyed before spring 2015, when today’s flight path went into effect.

“This sounds to me like a big sham, where you say you listened to the community and then you do whatever the heck you want,” one resident angrily told an FAA official Wednesday. Two of his neighbors agreed, referring to the plans as “garbage” and “BS.”

Communities from the Palisades to Foggy Bottom have complained extensively about the recent increased disruptions from planes serving Reagan National Airport. One FAA official said today’s flight path had emerged in response to complaints from McLean, Va. — those residents and their congressional representatives successfully lobbied for planes to be routed closer to the District. She also said improved technological precision keeps more planes flying exactly the same path, meaning that residents who are most affected by one plane will likely hear numerous others passing in the same spot.

Residents have railed against FAA conclusions that there was “no significant impact” on their communities from last year’s change, and say they weren’t given adequate notice it was coming. The issue has been compounded by Reagan National’s growing popularity and, in particular, its increase in late-night and early-morning flights.

The FAA defines a “significant impact” as an increase in average noise throughout the day by 1.5 decibels if the average noise is already 65 decibels, or the change would increase noise by at least 1.5 decibels to reach or exceed 65. An FAA official said at the meeting that such volumes are typically experienced only in areas directly adjacent to busy airports. 

Although the FAA process is required to solicit and consider community feedback, officials said agency regulations focus on the specific decibel levels despite the opinions of affected residents.

Ed Solomon, a Burleith advisory neighborhood commissioner and chair of the DC Fair Skies Coalition, said he’d had low expectations for the meeting.

“We’re concerned the changes the FAA wants to make will not have any significant impact on the noise we’re experiencing,” he said. “We looked at this as more of a show-and-tell exercise.”

The Fair Skies Coalition is still petitioning for review of last year’s flight path change in federal court, and representatives of the group also meet regularly with other stakeholders, Solomon said.

Visit tinyurl.com/DCA-noise to read documents from the FAA and submit online comments.

This article appears in the Sept. 21 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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GU Hospital Project Wins Concept Nod

September 14, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A proposed addition and other changes at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital recently won conceptual approval from the Old Georgetown Board, and broad community support points to a smooth path forward for the plans.

The hospital aims to construct a new five-story, 477,000-square-foot “medical and surgical pavilion” building that will attach to the eastern side of the existing 1940s hospital at 3800 Reservoir Road NW. Amenities will include 156 private patient rooms, a new emergency department with direct access from a rooftop helipad, and larger operating rooms.

The new construction will replace the surface parking lot now between the hospital and St. Mary’s Hall, the Georgetown University building that houses its School of Nursing and Health Studies. An underground garage will replace that capacity, as well as that of another existing parking lot between St. Mary’s and Reservoir Road.

The resulting open space at ground level as well as the site now occupied by the vacant Kober-Cogan Building will become green areas that promise more inviting access, either from the neighborhood or from the rest of the university campus.

Plans for the hospital and associated traffic impacts had been refined through the Georgetown Community Partnership, a collaboration between stakeholders from the university and the nearby neighborhoods focusing in part on planning and development issues. The general idea behind the hospital’s goal — to expand and modernize its facility, while adding more green space — won support early on.

“MedStar has made, in my view, a very strong case that this is needed,” Ron Lewis, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith), said last fall. “It’s really in need of renovation.”

But until recently, a key sticking point remained: Residents were unhappy with the proposed location of the entrance to the new underground garage. In the middle of a new lawn, they argued, it would harm aesthetics while creating too many pedestrian-vehicular conflicts.

The latest version minimizes that issue by locating the garage entrance close to Reservoir Road. Drivers will access the property using a driveway just west of 38th Street, turn around in a new roundabout, and then turn right into the garage. Meanwhile, the hospital located a prominent pedestrian entrance just beyond the garage, and pedestrians will follow a diagonal sidewalk to the building.

In a unanimous resolution Aug. 29, ANC 2E endorsed the garage change.

“This location maximizes the opportunity for a green, attractive and student-friendly northern entrance to the campus; offers an inviting, long, green view into the space between the St. Mary’s building and the new medical/surgical pavilion of the hospital; and clearly offers the best traffic-flow and signalization efficiency along Reservoir Road,” the resolution states.

The Old Georgetown Board — a panel under the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts that evaluates projects’ compatibility with the neighborhood’s federal historic district — accepted the plan as well, while also granting conceptual approval to the new pavilion building.

Board members had previously requested design tweaks that would break up the length of the building, but concluded at their Sept. 1 meeting that they preferred a simpler past iteration, according to Tom Luebke, secretary to the Fine Arts Commission.

The hospital will also require design approval by the full arts commission, as well as Zoning Commission approval within the Georgetown University campus plan. ANC 2E and other community stakeholders have unanimously endorsed that plan, which was also developed through the Georgetown Community Partnership. It’s on track to be approved in late 2016 or early 2017, and the hospital’s estimated three to four years of construction would begin after that point.

Hospital spokesperson Marianne Worley told The Current that officials are “thrilled” with the Old Georgetown Board’s approval, and thanked community stakeholders involved in the design process.

“On behalf of the patients who will benefit from this pavilion, which also includes emergency care, we appreciate the collaboration and support among our neighbors and the OGB to help us bring this much needed, state-of-the-art facility to fruition,” Worley wrote in an email.

This article appears in the Sept. 14 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Park Service Spells Out Ideas for Trail Network

September 7, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

A new National Park Service plan includes a host of recommended improvements to nearly 100 miles of paved trails within the D.C. area.

The 172-page document features more than 100 recommendations large and small. Some of the main recommendations affect areas in Northwest, among them improving visitor safety and reducing pedestrian and motorist conflicts at Lincoln Memorial Circle; conducting a feasibility study for a cycle track or trail along Military Road NW from Glover Road NW to 16th Street NW; and conducting a feasibility study for a trail facility along the Oregon Avenue NW corridor.

The document also has recommendations for improvements to the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown, including closing the gap from 30th to 31st streets NW through an analysis of the Water Street corridor and evaluating potential access improvements from the Capital Crescent Trail to the Key Bridge.

The overall goal of the study is to make the city’s network of trails more interconnected while simultaneously promoting natural and historic resources, according to the study document. The study came together through a review of the trail network’s “baseline conditions” and a daylong visioning exercise conducted by National Park Service staffers.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District has also been working to improve the trail network in its neighborhood, with a provision in its “Georgetown 2028” plan that calls for similar efforts to connect disparate pieces of the several trails that converge near Georgetown Waterfront Park. The business improvement district’s transportation director, Will Handsfield, told The Current that he’s particularly pleased to see the Park Service embracing the possibilities for trails as transportation options.

“It’s really important that the Park Service is, in writing and with the backing of a very thorough plan, stating the importance of what used to be just considered recreational resources,” Handsfield said.

Handsfield said he and his colleagues provided guidance to the National Park Service as it approached ideas for trail improvements. He advised the Park Service to pay special attention to the grade changes that make travel tricky in areas like the path from the Key Bridge to the C&O Canal towpath, which lies 85 feet above the Capital Crescent trail despite appearing closer than that.  

The business group has already drafted plans for a cycle track on the south side of Water Street NW that will bridge the gap between the end of the Capital Crescent Trail and the start of the Rock Creek Trail a few blocks away. If a planned streetcar line arrives in Georgetown in the next few years, that cycle track would be shifted into the waterfront park itself.

Handsfield hopes that the end result will be a trail system able to manage a large number of people in a very small space.

“The feeling of it will be a really positive experience to be in there and using the system,” Handsfield said. “It’ll feel like it was designed for you.”

In addition to the location-specific recommendations, the study also offers eight programmatic recommendations, including to develop a National Park Service regional trails coordinator; a comprehensive manual of trail standards; protocols for incident reporting and data collection; and a National Capital Trail marketing and promotion program.

Katie Harris from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association told The Current that she’s excited that trails will be held to the same uniform standards as roads.

“We want to commend them on a job well done, but also acknowledging that there’s a lot of work ahead to turn this plan into an on-the-ground network,” Harris said.

Handsfield thinks D.C.’s trail system has a “competitive advantage” over other urban centers, and he hopes the outcomes of this study increase that advantage.

“It’s a really great trail network that you can ride around as your primary or secondary mode of transportation,” Handsfield said. “Very few places in America are like that.”

This article appears in the Sept. 7 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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