South by West
In 25 years, the area around L’Enfant Plaza will be entirely different if federal planners have anything to say about it. After more than two years of meetings and market studies, the National Capital Planning Commission released the SW Ecodistrict Draft Plan in early July. The plan proposes to transform a 15-block predominantly federal precinct located just south of the National Mall into a highly sustainable, walkable neighborhood that connects the Mall and the Southwest Waterfront. It will become a showcase of sustainable urban development and the site for new nationally significant memorials, museums, and events. The proposed SW Ecodistrict comprises almost 110 acres bounded by Independence Avenue, SW, Maine Avenue, SW, 12th Street, SW and 4th Street, SW.
The draft plan suggests re-creating and connecting streets throughout the Ecodistrict, including portions of Maryland Avenue, SW, Virginia Avenue, SW, and 9th Street, SW. In addition, new pedestrian connections will be created throughout. Environmental sustainability is planned for the area, which would reduce energy usage, water consumption, and waste production. There are four focus areas in the draft plan, and if implemented, would transform the area.
A Southwest version of Penn Quarter is envisioned for the area immediately south of the National Mall - a mixed-use community anchored by a new U.S. Department of Energy headquarters. Currently, the area between Independence Avenue, SW and Maryland Avenue, SW is dominated by federal office buildings, principal among them being the Forrestal Complex, 1.8 million square feet of office space which is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Energy. It is difficult to traverse the area due to infrastructure barriers, including access ramps to I-395, the CSX Railroad Corridor wide streets, and the lack of road connections. The draft plan calls for redeveloping the Forrestal Complex with uses including residential, hotel, museums, retail, and office. By redeveloping the campus, new roads can be constructed to better connect the area, such as Virginia Avenue, which would open up views from Reservation 113 (the green space at 7th & C Streets) to the Washington Monument. These changes would help integrate the area with the National Mall.
10th Street and Banneker Park
Currently, 10th Street, SW is a wide, barren street that runs from the National Mall and Smithsonian museums to Banneker Park. The citing of the Forrestal Complex, which stretches across 10th Street, SW, blocks views to the Smithsonian Castle. Once 10th Street, SW approaches the CSX Railroad line, it becomes elevated as the street crosses the tracks and I-395 on its way to its terminus at Banneker Park, an eight-acre site with a park, lawn, and access ramps that is disconnected from Maine Avenue, SW below. The goal of redeveloping 10th Street, SW is to create an inviting civic corridor connecting the National Mall to the SW Waterfront, highlighted by Banneker Park—a nationally significant cultural destination. Demolition of the Forrestal Complex would open views along 10th Street, SW to the Smithsonian Castle. Along the new 10th Street, SW, there would be room for up to four new museums and three memorials. In addition, a newly designed street would bring trees and shade to the corridor. Below the elevated street, there would be space for large cisterns to collect rainwater that otherwise would runoff into the Washington Channel. There are opportunities at Banneker Park to create a structure on the same axis as the Smithsonian Castle that could serve as a cultural destination.
Maryland Avenue, SW and 7th Street, SW Corridors
The DC Department of Planning released a Small Area Plan for the Maryland Avenue, SW corridor that was approved by the DC Council earlier this year. In the Maryland Avenue, SW plan, there are recommendations on how the avenue can be reconstructed, diversify land uses, and serve as a grand L’Enfant street connector through the Southwest Rectangle (the area between the National Mall and Interstate 395). Currently, the Maryland Avenue, SW corridor is disjointed – a small section of the avenue was rebuilt above railroad tracks west of 12th Street, SW as a part of The Portals complex with a landscaped median and on its eastern end, it will bisect a future memorial for President Eisenhower. However, Maryland Avenue, SW does not exist between 12th Street, SW and 7th Street, SW. Along this stretch, railroad tracks for freight and VRE are in the avenue’s right-of-way. East of Reservation 113, Maryland Avenue, SW reemerges before intersecting with Independence Avenue, SW across from the National Air & Space Museum.
The draft report encourages a diversification of land uses for the corridor, which is currently dominated by office space. To that end, there are four Federally-owned parcels along Maryland Avenue, SW that the GSA is considering for conveyance out of the Federal inventory. These parcels could then be redeveloped as mixed use sites, potentially with residential included in the mix. Other parcels along the Maryland Avenue, SW corridor could also be redeveloped, including the GSA Regional Office Building at 7th Street, SW & D Street, SW, the Reporters Building, and two sites at The Portals. The L’Enfant commuter rail station will need to expand since future ridership estimates anticipate an increase over the next few years. After looking at three options to expand the commuter rail station, the report recommends the best option would be to build an extended platform in the vicinity of the current platform to accommodate four tracks and bi-level trains. The Reporters Building would eventually become an intermodal hub where VRE, MARC, Metro, Metrobus, and streetcar service would intersect. Three alternatives were considered for decking over Maryland Avenue, SW, but the report prefers a center roadway section from 12th Street to 10th Street with a ramp connection to D Street, SW, while the area between 10th Street and Reservation 113 would become a linear park. Reservation 113 has the potential, if designed properly, to be a centerpiece for the neighborhood as an important public space in the original design of the city by L’Enfant.
There is an opportunity to deck a portion of I-395 to reclaim land for development and help connect the SW Waterfront to the National Mall. A deck over I-395 would stretch from 12th Street, SW to 9th Street, SW while solar panels would be installed from 9th Street, SW to east of 7th Street, SW. Private development could occur on these reclaimed parcels that would have views to the Jefferson Memorial, the Tidal Basin, and the Potomac River.
The public comment period on the draft plan will last until September 10. The draft plan is available and comments can be submitted on the following website: (www.ncpc.gov/plans/swecodistrict). After the end of the public comment period, the taskforce will meet to finalize the plan and submit to the National Capital Planning Commission for approval by early 2013.
While it will take decades to see all of these plans come to fruition, there are some aspects of the plan that will happen sooner rather than later. For instance, funding for a study to assess a demonstration project on 10th Street, SW is available and will get underway over the next few months.
Will rich is a blogger at Southwest…The Little Quadrant that Could (http://www.southwestquadrant.blogspot.com).