Wednesday, November 28, 2007

14th and U Street Controversy

A developer has proposed a ten story apartment and retail building for the southwest corner of U and 14th Streets, where the McDonalds now is. The proposal is to get rid of the bad one story development along 14th Street and incorporated the historically contributing structures into the design of the new building. This, of course, has brought out all kinds of opposition from various community group, including, for some reason, the Dupont Circle Conservancy and the Dupont Circle ANC, even though 14th and U is NOT in Dupont Circle.

But that’s OK, because in this great city of ours, anyone and everyone can throw their two cents into any issue at any time. Since I live two blocks from 14th and U and walk past that corner twice a day, I figure I probably have more right than people who live at 22nd and S Streets to comment on it. So here goes.

I support the development. To not support dense in-fill development in the middle of the city is to be both anti-urban and anti-environment.

Anti-urban because dense development, as Jane Jacobs pointed out in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is good for the economy and good for public safety. Anti-environment, because in a neighborhood that is well served by public transportation (the Metro is one block away), and in a world where global warming is a reality, leaving a huge plot of land like that under-utilized is backward looking. Us urbanites should be leaders in the environmental movement, not NIMBYs.

The arguments against it come down to traffic and “massing,” which is the same as saying “I don’t like it ‘cause it’s too big.”

The traffic argument doesn’t work because, again, Metro is one block away. Who on earth would move to that building so they could drive to work every day? Plus, I walk past there at rush hour every day, and there ain’t that much traffic there, something the Dupont Circle folks might know if they every actually ventured into my neighborhood.

The “massing” argument is also absurd. To support the “I don’t like it ‘cause it’s too big” argument (and I quote from The Dupont Current), the Dupont Circle Conservancy said that “unlike the Reeves Center to the north, which was built on a large site, this project is being wedged into an existing historic district with considerable adjacent existing residential areas.” The sheer idiocy of this statement is mind-boggling! First, to hold up the Reeves Center as some sort of model of development is lunacy. The first problem with the Reeves Center is that it doesn’t use all of it’s large site, not to mention that it has such things as huge ventilation systems fronting on U street and empty glass and ugly brutalist architecture, all of which make it relate extremely poorly to the prominent corner on which it is situated and not fit in with the historic structures all around it. Which brings up the second problem with the Conservancy’s statement: the Reeves Center is in the exact same historic district, surrounded by the same residential areas, as the proposed site. In fact, it is right across the street! Their argument is simple nonsense. A 75 to 100 foot building would have the same “massing” as the self-storage building it will abut, as the Reeves Center, and as all the other apartment and condo buildings that have been built along 14th Street.

The devil, of course, is always in the details. The plans have to be good. But since it is in a historic district, and there are zoning specifications it must meet, and a lot of it has to be reviewed by the ANC (the ANC that has actual jurisdiction over the area, not one from across town), the plan will have to be good to pass muster.

In this day and age, with the price of oil climbing to ever higher levels, with the reality of global warming, NIMBY-ism and obstructionism should not be allowed to derail good, dense, urban in-fill development, which I believe this will be.

17 comments:

Arjewtino said...

When I moved into my apartment at 14th and T streets, my realtor called it Dupont East.

I told him it might as well be Anacostia West, considering his geographic leniency.

They better not tear down Utopia down the street.

Kwest said...

Yeah, I thought of the impact on Utopia as well as the other restaurants there. Hopefully, since they have to save those structures because they are in the historic district, it won't effect the restaurants.

james in washington said...

I just started my second tour in the neighborhood - having moved back from Mount Pleasant a few months ago. I agree - no one moves here so they can drive to work - or anywhere. And considering the crime spurt going on just a few blocks north on 14th, more bodies walking around would be a good thing.

Mr T in DC said...

I agree with you 100%. Thank you for taking this position in such an eloquent way. The NIMBYs in places like Cleveland Park, Takoma Park, Tenleytown etc need to realize that if dense development does not occur in proximity to their Metro stations, it will occur elsewhere, on greenfields that will be lost forever to auto-centric growth.

hoogrrl said...

Massing? It's a city! And cities have buildings that are clustered together. That is why they are cities. And the buildings usually have to be built up and not out. (Explaining this is really embarrassing!) If you want shorter buildings, please consider real estate in Loudon County. And while we're at it, I think we should tear down the colossal and ugly homage to Marion Barry.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the new building is actually a good thing. The problem is that these groups have managed to blocked many, many projects in DC. The silent majority has let this happen far to often. If you support it, raise your voice during council, zoning, and ANC meetings!

nutmeg96 said...

Great points. One of the things that kills me about DC is how one or two completely uninformed special interest groups can bring a project to a grinding halt because of some perceived slight -- when often that slight massively outweighed by the benefits of a project.

Mike said...

I completely agree. I live about 4 blocks away and always get depressed when I go through that corner to favorite places like Coppis and Busboys. Since we don't seem to be able to do anything about the waste of space that is the Reeves center, we should at least deal with terrible development across the street from it.

The problem I see is that the people who can be members of Conservancy or regularly attend ANC meetings tend to be hopeless busybodies who reflexively oppose change. Can anyone seriously argue there is any historic value to the square boxes on that corner that house McDonalds, Dominos and Foot Locker? Are they really in keeping with the character of U street? Sometimes I think these people really don't want to live in a city.

IMGoph said...

one problem in your logic here (and, for the record, i'm with you, i am COMPLETELY in favor of a large building on this corner, and many other corners and streets in the city. the major thoroughfares should be built up and not wasted on one story buildings). that building is in the jurisdiction of the dupont circle ANC. look at this map. in the upper-rightmost corner is 14th and U. the southwest corner of the intersection is the farthest reach of the dupont ANC. it's going to have to go through them for support, so start lobbying ANC 2B.

Kwest said...

IMgoph:

Damn. You're right. Let's hope the development ends up being almost completely matter of right. Then there's nothing to weigh in on. And then all my snarky comments about the Dupont Circle folks won't matter.

Or I could just pull down this post and pretend like nothing ever happened...

IMGoph said...

no, don't take down this post. edit if you must, but the main points are still salient. the fact is that this development will affect the people who live on and around U street, not dupont circle. forget how the ANC lines are divvied up, the fact is that people who live at 22nd and S shouldn't be telling people at 13th and U, or 15th and V, or whatever, how their neighborhood should grow.

Anonymous said...

Cleveland Park cannot become more dense because it is a historic district, and all of the structures along the avenue are protected.

However, Tenleytown and Friendship Hieghts are areas where rational folks have been dealing with the NIMBYs for years.

What we need are more YIMBYs, which, because of oil economics, increased traffic congestion, etc seem to be happening.

hiya said...

Although I live a little further away, this Dupont resident agrees with you. We should have higher density around Metro stations, for all the reasons you list.

While we're on the subject, I'd really like to see something denser on the southwest corner of 13th and U Streets (where the Rite Aid is), as well. That row of one story shops is fairly new, but it really underuses that site (even closer to the Metro) and should be much more densely developed (shops at street level, residential/office above) and to its potential. Of course, it'll be a while (if ever) before the present mistake is corrected.

gp resident said...

As someone who lives in the Gallery Place development, I can tell you that even people who live on top of a metro will drive to work. Some people are lazy and drive a few blocks to work and others have to drive out to the suburbs for work.

But, I estimate that only 25% of the residents in the building have cars.

gaiagirl6 said...

Great post; I hadn't heard about this. I'm a Dupont resident, and I would love to see changes come to that corner. Have you seen ward3vision.org? It's a group of NW residents pushing for redevelopment along upper Wisconsin Ave for similar reasons you describe.

Anonymous said...

I fully support this development if it preserves the Coppi's, Simply home, Utopia. While they're at it, move that bus stop too. I feel like I need a vaccination just to walk by there.

DistrictAutocrat said...

Need we even think about the glorious structure that is EZ Storage. Where was that damn conservancy then?