Last month, the DC Office of Planning extended the public amendment period for the District Elements of the Comprehensive Plan. This means that residents have until June 23, 2017 to submit proposed amendments to the existing plan that could make it into an updated document in 2018.
Why is the Comprehensive Plan important?
The Comprehensive Plan is a legal document with a 20-year outlook that lays the groundwork for the District, guiding its future development, investment and infrastructure. The plan covers land use and policy in specific geographic areas, and other chapters cover topic areas like housing, transportation, open space and economic development. It also includes maps like a Future Land Use Map and a Generalized Policy Map that illustrate what kinds of changes are intended to take place in specific neighborhoods. Forthcoming later this year will be a new Resilience Element that will address our city’s ability to recover from shocks and catastrophes.
The Comprehensive Plan guides many things including investments that the District makes, development it permits and programs that it runs. So if you have any sort of vision for what you think your neighborhood—or, perhaps, the Anacostia River waterfront—should look like over the next 20 years, then you’ll want to make sure your vision is reflected in the document!
How Does the Comprehensive Plan Affect the Anacostia River?
The Anacostia River corridor is a complex, multi-layered physical, ecological and social place. While working to improve the whole river corridor, we have to talk about many issues (e.g. transportation, housing, environment) and many places (Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8, local neighborhoods and federal land) all at once.
The Comprehensive Plan similarly slices up its coverage of the Anacostia into several different geographic and thematic chapters. There is no “Anacostia River Chapter” in the Comprehensive Plan; the waterfront shows up in several chapters in small ways.
Despite this, the Comprehensive Plan has significant leverage over the future of the Anacostia waterfront. The previous plan played an important role in establishing a framework that led to the recent booming redevelopment of the area near Nationals Park. In the future, the Comprehensive Plan will guide the shape of DC waterfront sites like Kingman Island, Poplar Point and Kenilworth Park (when the latter two complete the legislated transfer from federal to District ownership).
There are some policies in the current Comprehensive Plan that directly relate to the Anacostia waterfront (and that the Anacostia Waterfront Trust supports). For example:
The Comprehensive Plan also takes a comprehensive approach with its policies, which is important when dealing with a complex arena like the river. The Comp Plan doesn’t dig into a block-by-block level with policies, but it has the potential to coalesce efforts to improve transportation, expand affordable housing and enhance parkland in general geographic areas. It can establish policies with a general goal or intention, and despite lacking details regarding how the policies should be implemented, these policies are real and legally enforceable. For example, the following policy does not identify which improvements or new amenities should be implemented, but states that these types of things ought to happen:
How can we shape the Comprehensive Plan to create a better future for the Anacostia waterfront?
The Anacostia Waterfront Trust has been collaborating with a team of nonprofits through the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative (APACC) to compile a list of proposed amendments to the plan that address the Anacostia River waterfront. The Trust has heard from many people at events like last March’s stakeholder meeting for the National Park Service’s Anacostia Park Management Plan about their vision for the future of the Anacostia River corridor. Of the many ideas raised, some of the most common themes we hear about the river include demand for:
- better access to the waterfront parks
- preservation of affordable housing and prevention of displacement as the river and parks get cleaned up,
- high quality park amenities developed equitably along the Anacostia River.
As the Trust and other members APACC including DC Appleseed, Clean Water Action and the Anacostia Coordinating Council have worked on our proposed amendments to the plan to address these priorities, we met with representatives of the Office of Planning (OP) in May and discussed the best ways to engage with their process. The OP was extremely helpful and informative, providing advice on the best ways to propose amendments for the plan that would satisfy OP’s evaluation criteria.
If you are interested in engaging with the Comprehensive Plan, you still have some time to propose amendments. If you miss the amendment period, you will still be able to comment on the combined and refined amendment package that OP will produce in the fall. This omnibus package of amendments will be revised based on comments and then presented to the District Council next year.
To provide some food for thought, below are some of the proposed amendments that the Anacostia Waterfront Trust and other APACC members including DC Appleseed, Clean Water Action and the Anacostia Coordinating Council have drafted. Blue text is proposed text and black text is existing language in the plan.
Access to the waterfront from neighborhoods east of the river has consistently been raised as a challenge to realizing the full potential of the Anacostia waterfront. I-295 is the primary barrier, although there may be projects that the District could implement to improve the experience of walking over or under the highway.
Although “extending the city grid” was more applicable to the neighborhood around Yards Park than neighborhoods east of the river, improvements to pedestrian networks and sidewalks could help communities on both sides of the river more easily access the shore of the river. Specifically identifying the need to address both sides of the river may lead to higher priority for projects east of the river.
As the Anacostia River is steadily improved and the value of the waterfront becomes recognized by residents and landowners, preserving affordable housing is a crucial strategy to ensure that residents who endured the worst years of pollution in the Anacostia are able to stay in their homes and enjoy it as it is improved. Applying specific metrics to affordable housing goals helps ensure this future.
The District Opportunity to Purchase Act (DOPA) helps ensure that affordable housing isn’t sold and converted to higher rent housing by allowing the District to purchase the property and maintain affordable rents. DOPA was enacted in 2008 but has not yet been operationalized or used to prevent loss of affordable units.
As the Anacostia River becomes more widely recognized as an amenity and a destination, the economic benefits associated with increased tourism and recreation could and should be distributed to businesses and neighborhoods east of the river.
Some spaces along the Anacostia River are slated for eventual transformation (including Kingman Island, the RFK Campus, the area near the future 11th Street Bridge Park and some federally owned land) but these sites may not currently be reaching their potential as vibrant public spaces--or even spaces that offer basic public amenities like shade and seating. Temporary, “pop-up” improvements like those employed in the placemaking and tactical urbanism movements can help transform those spaces into successful parks and public spaces in the interim periods before final designs and construction are complete. This approach, of course, would not have to be limited to the Anacostia waterfront but could be applied all over the District.
Various forms of “river centers” have been proposed in recent years, including an education center in the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park and a nature center on Kingman Island. The Anacostia Waterfront Trust supports these projects and envisions an eventual network of equitably distributed river facilities. This would provide residents from all neighborhoods adjacent to the river access to amenities like boating, equipment rentals, educational events and other programming. Some of these facilities might be located on federal land, one of many reasons why cooperation and alignment between District and federal efforts on the Anacostia waterfront is crucial.
Amendment period extended to June 23
Luckily for all of us, we have a little more time to refine our proposals. The Office of Planning has extended the amendment period to June 23 in part to help support efforts like ours.
“Community members have not only been attending our events and office hours for technical assistance, but have recently sponsored their own activities and done their own organizing,” said OP Director Eric Shaw in a press release. “We wish to support this community-led planning and give a little more time to ensure this energy and thought can be captured during the formal amendment period.”