In a high density area with little public space greenery, the Wylie Street Community Garden is a small, urban oasis. Located just north of H Street at 13th, NE, and diagonal to the R.L. Christian Library site, the garden sits on an undeveloped end lot owned by the H Street Community Development Corporation (HSCDC) but used, with their permission, by local residents to grow vegetables and flowers. During the planning process for the streetcar, this one-block street survived an attempt to make them house a mid-line power station (it was moved a couple of blocks northwest). However, as reported by District Source, their garden is now at risk of being paved over to provide five parking spaces for a private condo project slated for the library site.
The R. L. Christian redevelopment has been a work in progress for many years. It is undoubtedly a prime location, on the corner of one of the hottest blocks at 13th and H Street, NE. The bureaucratic process of bidding out a city-owned property is one reason the redevelopment has taken so long, but it is not the only factor. Also complicating the sale is the fact that the site includes a brownfield. The fenced area behind the library kiosk was contaminated by a dry cleaner that used to be on the site as well as a gas station and coal plant that were historically adjacent to the area. Of course, this was not news to the developers who eventually won the parcel.
Rise, a development company owned by Benjamin and Daniel Miller (also behind the Auto Zone redevelopment under their WestMill Capital banner), won the parcel a year ago with a plan to build a 30-unit condo building with 17 underground parking spaces. Turns out that digging for the garage would be more expensive and environmentally hazardous than anticipated. So now it appears to be off the table. Instead, they’ve started looking at surface parking options, including paving the adjacent garden in order to create five parking spaces.
Neighbors have said they want the condo project to include some parking in order to take pressure off of the already crowded streets. Housing Complex also makes the point that the availability of parking impacts the overall financial benefit of the project — whether it is the ability to get a premium price for the condos or if the reduced cost of building parking means the developers can pay more for the parcel. But is it really worth paving a green space used by the community to only gain five private parking spaces?
This question comes at a particularly interesting time, with the streetcar’s H Street line set to begin running this year, plus the rewrite of DC zoning laws in a way that may change the city’s philosophy about requiring parking by reducing or eliminating parking space per unit minimums. Is this even the right thing to be focusing on, when DC now ranks second in the nation for households without cars? Is converting a community amenity (albeit one that is given at the generosity and discretion of the HSCDC) into parking actually a better use of space when, in fact, “free parking” is very expensive?
ANC 6A’s Economic Development Committee will be working with the developers for now to try and sort out these questions. In the meantime, what would you want to see for this corner of H Street and its residential neighbors?