Redesigning Virginia Avenue Park

ANC 6B Hands Process to DDOT, DPR, CSX for Funding

Neighbors around Virginia Avenue Park in Southeast may soon get a newly designed space with a community garden, dog park, and open green area. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B voted on March 14 to support a redesign of the park at Ninth Street and Potomac Avenue SE, which commissioners hope will begin following the completion of the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel project.

It took two years to come up with a basic concept for the park’s redesign, said Commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg (6B04). But when she asked landscape architecture firm Oehme van Sweden to create a redesign on a pro-bono basis, the vision for the space formed. Funding has not yet been established, though. Oldenburg said the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT), tunnel project developer CSX, and the DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will need to negotiate the numbers.

“Before, we had been working around the edges of what it had been,” Oldenburg said. “It’s a real change for the park, putting it in a place where it will be useful and viable for the changing neighborhood.”

Changing the Park’s Personality

Before the CSX tunnel project, Oldenburg remarked, the park was a “backwater” that attracted seedy people and drug deals. The city tried to curb the activity by removing shrubs, benches, and other comfort amenities, but that turned the space into an open and uninviting lot. “When Tommy Wells was councilmember, we got a fenced-in area for dogs on the plot,” Oldenburg said. “But the rest of the park was abused by drug dealings.”

The new design keeps the community garden, adds a green space for people to picnic, play, and visit in, and includes a dog park. The park would need community-based friends or other partnership groups, like the Kingman Dog Park organization in DC’s Northeast.

The inspiration for the design came from a need to rationalize the entire space, said Oehme van Sweden designer Beth L’Estrange. The team knew they needed to incorporate the existing community garden into the rest of the park while still providing an open, free-form green space.

Oehme van Sweden took on the case pro bono after Oldenburg approached the company’s CEO, Lisa Delplace, said L’Estrange. The design group often takes on such projects. “It’s investing back into the community,” she said. “We are participating in the community and the space in and around Eastern Market, down Barracks Row and further into the rest of the community.”

And with the growing population in the Southeast, Southwest, and Capitol Hill communities, strong, useful community space is important, she said. The area doesn’t boast many open spaces at the moment, and those areas contribute to health, social wellness, and overall community engagement. “If you look in the surrounding area, this is probably one of the largest spaces open in the community,” L’Estrange said.

Timeline for the Project

CSX wants to start the park redesign early in 2018 to cap its tunnel project and promise of a streetscape for the surrounding area. But the design still needs to go through a funding process and review with DDOT and DPR. “This [ANC support letter] turns it back over to them – DDOT, DPR, CSX – to figure out who pays for what,” Oldenburg said.

DDOT is waiting on a formal request from the ANC and neighbors to review. Once it receives a plan and funding request, it will begin an evaluation. DPR has started conversations with the departments involved and CSX, DPR spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump said.

DPR and DDOT also need to finish negotiations with the National Park Service to add a small parcel of land on the eastern end of the park bounded by L and 11th streets SE. ANC 6B requested the extension and transfer of land in September 2015.

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