Proper Redevelopment Takes You to Demand It

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.

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21 thoughts on “Proper Redevelopment Takes You to Demand It

  1. Additional information on the purposes of overlay districts in our area: http://dcoz.dc.gov/info/overlay.shtm

    I would love to see the empty and degraded corridor between 18th and 24 come alive. However, I’m sure many other folks in the neighborhood are in the same camp as me, and have no idea where to even start. I would like more information on HOW to accomplish such a thing as an overlay district. What do we do to get our council member to push for this? Do we sign petitions? Do we draw up what we would like to see in an overlay district and present it to him? If anyone has suggestions on what the first steps should be, please share.

  2. I’m with SaraT on this – the idea sounds great, just tell me what I need to do. My only disagreement is stopping at 18th St. Why not go down to Franklin?

  3. I agree with the above, and think we should extend to Eastern Ave. I feel like our ANCs and CM are USELESS on the issue, but what can WE do?

  4. The storefront churches are a plague on this part of the city. They have consumed all the neighborhood commercial space in the 18th and Monroe area as well. When Sunday comes, all the MD cars come and fill up the neighborhood.

    I don’t understand. Is there not space in MD for these people to start their churches? I think we need a moratorium on new storefront churches.

    1. In December, this blog gave us a rundown with photos on the number of churches from 18th to 24th on Rhode Island. Since that time another church has been added at 2212 Rhode Island where the Veteran of Foreigns Wars group appears to be located. It’s right next door to Lace.

      Now there is another church you just mentioned in this blog. And, probably more to come. So yes, something needs to be done and quickly!

      We have to complain to the City government about this, including our elected ANC officials. Otherwise, they will say they don’t know anything about it and welcome in more churches. Darrell Woody has left the Great Streets program. About 2 years ago he conducted an online poll that gave everyone the opportunity to suggest the kind of retail and development they wanted to see along Rhode Island Avenue. He also clearly stated in what is now the Rhode Island Avenue Small Area Plan, that the area does not want any more storefront churches. The area from 18th to 24th is supposed to be a Main Street and an Arts District. Artwise, there is a Theatrical Union Group, Art Enables, and the Tattoo Parlor (it’s body art, isn’t it?). The Tattoo Parlor moved from where Lace is now located to across the street at some building which appears to be partially for sale. The Tattoo Parlor moved of it’s own accord. It would be nice if the City could move these churches to another location, as they have done for so many of the night clubs that have popped up in Ward 5.

      The Langdon Dog Park is completed and should be opening this Saturday. It would be good to have flyers and a survey (print and online) to hand out to get input from residents and visitors on support for the NC Overlay.

      1. Just wanted to correct some information on the Tattoo Parlor. It appears to be gone from the 2379/2377 Rhode Island Avenue building complex. It was there just a few months ago. Don’t know what happened but it looks like most of the units of that complex are for lease/sale. It would be good to inform all the real estate owners/investors along the Rhode Island Avenue corridor and on 18th Street that we don’t want storefront churches. The only real estate group I recognize is the Menkiti Group who has its office on 12th Street and has acquired another of Ms. Booker’s former properties which is for sale/lease. It would be good if they would come to any meetings blog members might hold. The Menkiti Group is currently in a development battle over 901 Monroe Street. They don’t need any bad press. So, it would be good to put the pressure on them right now.

    2. Here is the website for our ANC 5a: http://anc5a.org/

      and contact information for the ANC members: http://app.anc.dc.gov/wards.asp?ward=5&office=A

      AND a form for submitting Ward 5 complaints: http://anc5a.org/feedback.html

      The next meeting is being held on September 28 from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. So far their agenda has two items, ANC Business and Providence Hospital. Perhaps if enough people write to our ANC members and submit claims, we can get it on the agenda. Does anyone know if these meetings are open to the public? If so, would people be willing to attend, perhaps meet beforehand and decide how to present our overarching goals and suggestions? My husband and I are both willing.

    1. ANC 5B , specifically 5B04 encompasses a good deal of Rhode Island Avenue to. I think having 5A and 5A10 engaged is needed, but so is getting 5B and 5B04 involved. This is likely to make the process more difficult since Rhode Island Ave is split between multiple ANCs. Didn’t there used to be a Rhode Island Ave Civic Association? Also the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association southern border is Rhode Island Avenue, I would also recommend getting them involved.

  5. I think we need to convert blogging and commenting into some more formal organization and action. SaraT has done a nice job of researching the basics (thanks for that!). Why don’t we have a meeting of concerned and interested citizens who follow this blog? Meet at a local restaurant. Formulate a plan. Delegate tasks. Move forward.

    Any support for this idea?

  6. Hi, I’m at 18th and Upshur and would be interested in following this as well. There are such beautiful homes along 18th and then all the commercial churches, especially around 18th and Monroe and Burroughs school. I think it would be good for the school, too, to get something nicer at that intersection. I believe a new storefront church opened up there, as well, along 18th street.

  7. I’d also LOVE to see something fun and useful go into that for-sale building at S Dakota and 18th that is the perpetual reelection office of Vincent Orange. It’s a quirky building that would be great for lots of things. My husband and I sometimes think about buying it and opening a coffee shop, but I don’t know if that’s the best investment for us!

  8. I’d also be interested in getting involved in bringing more retail/dining to RIA. We live near Langdon Park and would love to have more businesses nearby that we can support!

  9. I agree that Rhode Island Avenue could and should be a lot more populated with stores and restaurants.

    But I have to say it’s not simply up to the ANC Commissioners in the area to make it happen. I live in 5A10 and I think very highly of my Commissioner, Corey Griffin. Corey is new as of this term and every interaction I’ve had with him has been excellent.

    I’d also caution about people getting really up in arms about the storefront churches. It seems the most productive first step would be to work on improving the already vacant properties and not make broad assumptions. I agree with those that would prefer other kinds of business over the storefront churches, but the fact of the matter is they are there and the city isn’t just going to ‘move them out.’ Maybe they might be interested in helping turn the area around?

    I think we’ve got to work with whoever identifies themselves as part of the community and wants to help turn things around, even if they’re not perfect.

    1. Actually Nolan, nearly every storefront church are renting their space. Also, the use of a commercial overlay district allows the government to place “special” zoning in areas, including limiting uses, such as churches and liquor stores. That’s why it is an overlay. So the government can zone them out. Store front churches add absolutely no economic benefit to this area and in fact take away the opportunity for the local government to make sales tax on commercial spaces. In addition, the attendees of these store front churches are from Maryland…they come, over crowd out streets with cars. So sorry, Nolan. They need to go. I hope Corey realizes this before he starts promoting any plans for redevelopment.

      1. Fair enough… I guess the point that I was trying to get at was that I don’t see a ton of businesses beating down the door to rent these spaces, so why not let them do their thing until such time as they are actually preventing future development. You obviously disagree, which is your right.

        And, just to clarify, I wasn’t trying to say how Corey Griffin feels on any of this. I have no idea how he feels about anything raised here. I was just stating the fact that my interactions with him have been good and there is more to the lack of development on RIA than lack of ANC leadership.

        (and thanks for hosting this blog, I’ve been following it for some time and enjoy it!)

      2. Nolan, understood regarding your statements on Griffin. Sorry if I misspoke. Glad that we can discuss this topic and hopefully we can all get together soon to make things happen!

  10. Mt. Rainier resident here. I’d like to first say, thanks for posting this. It’s also an important topic for those of us on the OTHER side of Eastern Ave. Folks over here have begun to organize towards making RIA/Rt. 1 a more walkable/bike-able/livable place. I think there is opportunity for committed citizens on both sides to work together towards a better future. I know you’ll find support from the residents of MR so I hope you’ll enlist us for whatever help we can provide!

  11. @Thump, I recently had a conversation with County Executive Rushern Baker about this very subject. I met him at an event few months ago and introduced myself as one of the ANC Commissioners along RIA. In that conversation he expressed an interest for us to work together to do more to revitalize RIA. I think it would be a great idea.

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