STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD
June 3, 2002
REGARDING PROPOSED CONTRACT NO. CAS 14-226 WITH THE H STREET COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION DISAPPROVAL RESOLUTION OF 2002
Legislation number: PR14-0744
We are writing today in support of the above referenced legislation to deny a $1 million grant by the Department of Housing and Community Development to the H Street Community Development Corporation (CDC). As residents of the Near Northeast neighborhood, we have serious reservations about the project as it is currently proposed. We are not taking this position because we are against development in our community. In fact, we think that this site offers tremendous opportunity for mixed use retail, office, and residential development. Passage of this legislation will give the community time to address our many concerns about the project, which we discuss below.
The one-story building proposed is inadequate and inappropriate to the site. Historically, the 8th and H Street NE intersection has been the most significant on the corridor, serving two major transportation routes, H Street, which carries traffic from Bladensburg and Benning Roads to the City's downtown, and Eighth Street NE, which runs down to the Navy Yard, traditionally one of the area's largest employment centers.
These are important public transit routes as well. The Eighth Street bus line has the highest daily passenger counts of all routes in the City; the H Street bus lines have substantial ridership as well; and 8th and H Streets NE is a key transfer point between the two lines. The CDC confirms the importance of this intersection in a statement on their website which says that "the location represents one of the highest volume pedestrian and vehicular intersections in northeast Washington." (http://www.hstreetcdc.org/developments/developments_future.html) This intersection is anchored by two neo-classical bank buildings that were built in the early part of the 20th century. The southwest corner was until very recently occupied by Beuchert's Saloon and three other buildings built by Beuchert between 1874 and 1883, an intact ensemble of red brick rowhouses and shops of two- and three-stories in height, culminating in a corner commercial building, which for decades was a prominent nightclub.
(See Photos A-D in the attached photo supplement.)
Yet the CDC proposes to replace this rich and varied complex of buildings with a one story building and five parking spaces. As rendered in the 1999 conceptual drawing (Photo G), the architectural design typifies suburban strip developments, such as that along Rockville Pike in Montgomery County, Maryland. It is not appropriate in urban neighborhoods, and it is certainly not appropriate to the H Street corridor. Neither is the "park and shop" style "H Street Connection,"(Photo F) built with DHCD financial support in the mid-1980s. Nor is the Autozone (Photo G) on the 1200 block of H Street, which was constructed by the CDC. DC Government and/or federal monies should not be used to promote anti-urban design in the heart of the Old City of Washington.
The CDC proposal seems to be in conflict with stated City Planning
Goals and Objectives for the H Street NE Corridor. In response to
concerns expressed by the City Council, the DC Office of Planning has
initiated a "Revitalization Study" for the H Street Corridor.
This study is currently out for bid (H Street RFQ #POEB-2002-R-0029, www.ocp.dc.gov).
According to the RFQ for the project "The purpose of the Strategic
Development Plan is to assist the District of Columbia and area
stakeholders to achieve four overarching goals:
The RFQ also calls for realization of several key objectives including:
A one-story building offering only retail does not appear to satisfy these goals and objectives. To award a DHCD grant at this time would contravene stated DC Government objectives concerning the revitalization of the H Street NE corridor.
A three- or four-story building offering office and residential uses on upper floors would better utilize the site, provide multiple revenue streams to the CDC, and bring more people to the street throughout the day and evening. Contrast the CDC's proposed building to those anchoring Wisconsin and M Streets NW (Photos I-J). Georgetown typifies a neighborhood commercial district that has thrived by preserving and enhancing its historic architecture through adaptive reuse (e.g., the Benetton occupies a former branch of the National Bank of Washington). This Georgetown intersection maintained its grandeur even as building uses changed over the years. By contrast, poorly thought out new construction such as the SunTrust Bank building on the southwest corner of 18th and Columbia Road NW can diminish and suck the pedestrian life out of the streetscape (Photo K). It's time to stop making these same mistakes on H Street. How many mistakes like this can H Street sustain before its character is destroyed beyond repair?
There are other examples of taller commercial rowhouse buildings that ought to serve as models for new development on H Street, especially where it intersects with 8th Street. Examples include buildings in the 700 block of Seventh Street NW (Photos L-M) or at the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Prospect NW (Photo N).
The proposed tenant mix fails to satisfy promises the CDC made to the community about this project. In 1999, the H Street Community Development Corporation made a presentation to ANC6A about the proposed project at 8th and H Streets NE. At that time they promised to provide a "...well designed retail space that will attract a community desirable retailer and will improve the quality of retail in the community." (See attached document from the H Street CDC)
As it turns out, these "desirable retailers" are two athletic shoe stores, both chains, and a Blimpies Sub Shop franchise. Within one block of this site there are four other chain shoe stores–three sell athletic shoes exclusively.
Similarly, while it is true that the Blimpies will offer seats and a restroom, the food items offered by this sub shop duplicate the menus of many of the sixteen other carryouts on the H Street corridor. It is not the kind of restaurant that gives residents an opportunity to enjoy a quality sit- down meal in a venue suitable for entertaining friends or out-of-town guests. There are now only four sit-down restaurants on the corridor–one being a Popeyes chicken franchise outlet with plexiglass barriers protecting the cashiers, and another having only six seats.
Today, the H Street commercial district has no card shop, no bakery, no bookstore, no photo or copy shop, no coffee shop, no ice cream shop, no office supply store, few if any home furnishings stores, and few nonbank financial services. In short, this project does not improve the quality of retail in our community! A "community" development corporation ought to work harder and "walk the walk"–not just "talk the talk"–and truly bring to the commercial district the kinds of neighborhood-serving retail options the community currently lacks. We see no point in providing Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and other City and federal monies to a community development corporation if its actions do little to benefit the immediate community on a day-to-day basis.
The CDC demolished historic structures on this site, in violation of federal and local laws, and was financially imprudent. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act calls for the protection of historic resources affected by federally funded or licensed undertakings, including those involving CDBG monies. In 1999, the H Street CDC received CDBG funds for general operations. Thus, the CDC, as a federally funded entity was barred from demolishing historic buildings under federal law. Further, local law bars the demolition of resources for which a landmark application has been filed. Yet, demolition proceeded three days after an application was submitted to the Historic Preservation Review Board (See cover photo).
The CDC claimed that the buildings were beyond repair, but it was the CDC that bought them and was ultimately responsible for their demolition-by-neglect. They purchased what was arguably the oldest, most significant complex of historic structures on the corridor and then failed to take measures to stabilize or maintain the buildings. In 1998, one year before the buildings were demolished, a local preservation architect consulted by the CDC encouraged them to capitalize upon–rather than destroy–these historic resources, stating that:
This architect, with a long history of successful projects in the greater Capitol Hill neighborhood, was not retained.
Preservation projects around the country consistently demonstrate that historic buildings that are seemingly beyond repair can be reclaimed as cultural and commercial assets. Restoration projects may be difficult, but they are not impossible, and often they are less expensive than new construction. This is dramatically demonstrated in two before and after photos from a recent issue of Southern Living magazine. (See back page, photo supplement)
The CDC seeks $2.1 million to build a one story building while it is likely that the cost of rehabilitating the previously extant buildings would have been no more than $1 million. Renovation would have saved $1.1 million, and renovation would have preserved the historic streetscape. Had the CDC acted as responsible stewards of the cultural resources of H Street, they might not need to be seeking a $1 million subsidy from the Department of Housing and Community Development today.
Beuchert's Saloon, the corner property at 727 H Street NE, was probably the most historically significant building on the H Street corridor. If anything, the CDC should be required to construct something comparable to the historic buildings they destroyed. (See "CDCs: The New Face of Urban Renewal," Urban Land, November/December 1999; "H Street, NE: The Corridor That Couldn't–Until Now, Voice of the Hill, August 13, 1999; "History battles progress, progress wins," The Common Denominator, August 9, 1999.)
No notice was given to the community about the current status of the proposed project. We are members of various community groups such as Near Northeast Citizens Against Crime and Drugs, the H Street Main Street Committee, the H Street Merchants and Professionals Association, and the Stanton Park Neighborhood Association. We attend ANC and PSA meetings in the neighborhood and subscribe to the two email lists about our community: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. In addition, one of us serves as the webmaster for the neighborhood website, www.hstreetdc.com.
In none of these settings has the 8th and H Street construction project been discussed within the last year. Additionally, no new information about this project has been posted on the www.hstreetcdc.org website (information posted about this site is at least one year old).
Also, the 700 block of H Street NE is located within the Single Member District of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Philip Edwards (ANC6A08). Although Commissioner Edwards is on record as a supporter of this project, the extent to which his own constituents agree with him is unclear. That is because Commissioner Edwards has not held any SMD community meetings to solicit citizen input on any topic before the ANC in over two years. We know this because Commissioner Edwards is our ANC representative.
The current project is at odds with the "Main Street" approach to commercial district revitalization. In April, H Street NE was designated a "DC Main Street" as part of the ReStore DC initiative of the Deputy Mayor's Office of Planning and Economic Development. The Main Street approach to revitalization is a comprehensive and integrated approach that links:
· Design: Enhancing the physical appearance of the commercial district by rehabilitating historic buildings, encouraging supportive new construction, developing sensitive design management systems, and long-term planning;
· Organization: Building consensus and cooperation among the many groups and individuals who have a role in the revitalization process.;
· Promotion: Marketing the traditional commercial district's assets to customers, potential investors, new businesses, local citizens and visitors; and
· Economic Restructuring: Strengthening the district's existing economic base while finding ways to expand it to meet new opportunities -- and challenges from outlying development. (See "What happened to America's Main Streets?" attached.)
By choosing H Street in the inaugural round of the DC Main Streets program, it is hoped that the $250,000, five year commitment that the District Government is making to the community heralds a new approach to development and revitalization in the H Street corridor.
The project at 8th and H Streets NE as currently proposed by the H Street CDC, a one-story, single use building, undertaken with little community input, with tenants that duplicate rather than augment the current retail mix, is inconsistent with the Main Street approach. The proposed project is, in all aspects, at odds with the neighborhood commercial district revitalization approach that is currently being funded by the District Government. Therefore, it is our belief that this project in its current form should be denied a $1 million grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development.
1. Photo supplement
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