Washington City Paper by Andrew Giambrone
Over the past several weeks, a development mystery has been unfolding in Mount Vernon Triangle.
Residents in the Northwest neighborhood have received flyers promoting an unverified proposal to transform a two-story parking deck above the I-395 freeway and near 2nd and K streets NW into a sizable park. The flyers show no official affiliation with a development team or the government, and the timing is curious: The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development is to hold a community meeting about the site's future tomorrow night at Mount Caramel Baptist Church.
The flyers tout a plan that involves building atop nearby Cobb Park on Massachusetts Avenue NW, a site property owners in the area have been trying to enliven for some time. They also display a one-acre athletic field, a one-acre playground, a dog park, and a public plaza where the parking deck now stands. The Cobb Park development would purportedly pay for the redevelopment.
Along with the flyers, petitions plugging "a first class active recreation neighborhood park" have also been circulating among area residents. "The proposed new park located on the Parking Deck will be three times the size of Cobb Park and will provide recreation opportunities to the community not currently available," a copy of the petition obtained by City Paper states. "In order to fully pay for this new park, I support replacing Cobb Park with community-oriented development that will fund the new park construction on the Parking Deck, as long as the development serves the community and the community is involved in the process." The petitions lack any official affiliation, and it's unclear how many Mount Vernon Triangle residents or business owners have signed them.
Trying to gain community support for a development proposal is nothing new in the District, but to do so before finalist plans have been released to the public can rub surrounding property owners and community members the wrong way. It is not apparent from the solicitation for the parking deck's redevelopment that DMPED put out last May that Cobb Park was up for grabs (the park isn't mentioned at all in the request for proposals). As recently as December, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose headquarters is near the deck on H Street NW, proposed giving the city $250,000 to renovate Cobb Park through a planned unit development to expand its current offices.
All the same, the parking deck property comes with its own set of challenges. Just weeks after the solicitation for the site was published, the D.C. Council proposed using it for a new Ward 6 homeless shelter as part of the plan to replace D.C. General. But those plans were scrapped after it became apparent that the site involves layers of federal oversight because it sits atop I-395. Mount Caramel Baptist Church, AIPAC, and other adjacent property owners were caught off guard. (Instead, the Ward 6 shelter is expected to be built in Southwest, at the United Health Care Center.)
This time, they've been caught off guard by the park proposal. Though it hasn't yet taken a position on any development plans for the site, the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District said in a statement in early February that it had nothing to do with the flyers or petitions. "We would encourage our residents, office workers, visitors, and other stakeholders to carefully vet any surveys or signature forms offered to them," the organization explained. "Our concern is that your support could be given—and then represented—without your knowing important perspectives, details and alternatives."
The mystery could come to a close Wednesday evening. DMPED confirms that three development teams will present proposals for the parking deck site to the community, including three surrounding advisory neighborhood commissions, at that time. But citing protocol, the office declined to say which teams those were or what they would be proposing. A DMPED spokesman says there are a "host of opportunities" for the site that "fit into the landscape of the neighborhood and meet the needs of residents."
"No matter the approach or strategy of people who are supportive of certain projects, our approach will be the same," the spokesman says. "Our presentation will be Wednesday. We will move forward [with the best proposal for District residents]." Additionally, the ANCs will get their own presentations on the final three development proposals for the parking deck in early March.
D.C.'s community meeting on the site is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 901 3rd Street NW.