The Neighborhood Commercial (NC) Overlay District is established to preserve and enhance neighborhood shopping areas, by providing the scale of development and range of uses that are appropriate for neighborhood shopping and services.
Since May of this year, the Council as a Whole enacted the small area plan for Rhode Island Ave NE, setting forth a process of encouraging redevelopment. I am sure we all understand that this process will take time but in the meantime, what is the type of development that should go to the RIA corridor, especially the “Main Street” area between 18th and 24th Streets? This is largely unknown at this point.
One major issue, right now, is that there are more than two dozen store-front churches occupying commercial spaces in a very small segment of RIA. This doesn’t benefit a cash-strapped City since it is losing an opportunity to get taxes from these commercial spaces (in fact, many of the churches are not even registered with the City). The community doesn’t get a benefit because the store front churches are rented, generally, by Maryland residents and its participants are from Maryland. To add on to this problem, another property along RIA has recently been purchased for yet another church. It is about time that residents start taking action to move RIA in the direction of redevelopment that we want.
So why not a Neighborhood Commerical Overlay District for RIA?
According to Municipal regulations, the purposes of the NC Overlay District are to:
(a) Encourage a scale of development, a mixture of building uses, and other attributes, such as safe and efficient conditions for pedestrian and vehicular movement, all of which will be as generally required by the Comprehensive Plan;
(b) Encourage retention and establishment of a variety of retail, entertainment, and personal service establishments, predominantly in a continuous pattern at ground level, so as to meet the needs of the surrounding area’s residents, workers, and visitors; and
(c) Limit the maximum permitted height of new buildings so as to encourage a general compatibility in scale between new and older buildings.
Many areas around the City that has seen positive redevelopment have a Neighborhood Commercial Overlay District. These areas include Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, H Street, Takoma, and Eight Street.
Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr was not opposed to an overlay district that will allow residents and planners to have input on the zoning and uses. In fact, he responded during an interview with this blog earlier this year that he is “happy to work with residents and Office of Planning staff to investigate whether a commercial overlay district would be beneficial for Rhode Island Avenue between 18th and 24th Streets. If such a district would help advance redevelopment of the corridor, I will of course support it.”
Perhaps it is time we hold him to his word? Perhaps our local ANC could step up and lead this charge?
WHAT CAN WE DO? One suggestion would be for residents to create and organize behind a single community group focused on the redevelopment of RIA. In fact, the City was looking for such an organization to serve on its committee when reviewing the small area plan. Perhaps Vaughn Bennett or another member of the ANC could work on an overlay plan? Perhaps he could plan a meeting with a planning official?
To read more on Neighborhood Commercial Overlay districts, click HERE.
To read more on the Rhode Island Ave Small Area Plan, click HERE.