“Roll Up Our Sleeves”

The Rhode Island Ave NE Task Force was well attended on Wednesday evening, and included residents from all over RIA, including several groups like Friends of RIA and PCDC. Harry Thomas Jr. opened the Task Force by having Cyril Crocker, from Menkiti Group, speak. Cyril stated that in order for redevelopment to happen, a “vision must come first”. Deborah Crain, from the DC Office of Planning, spoke next about how the “squeaky wheel of residents” have brought real attention to the Avenue.

A couple of residents’ groups presented at the meeting, as well. Stephanie Liotta Atkinson, President of Friends of RIA, presented the survey results as they currently stood that her organization conducted over the last couple of months and still continue to gather. You can find those results by visiting the group’s website (or by clicking here). Overall, residents said they wanted ethnic sit down restaurants, a gym, and business services. Hazel Thomas from PCDC spoke about PCDC’s visioning session and their own survey from 2007. Specifically, Ms. Thomas said that residents did not want another H Street and the type of bars and nightlife it brought. I think there was agreement from all in the room.

HTJ then asked residents to break into groups to discuss their vision for each “sub-area” of the Great Streets plan. After the break out, the room was busy with discussion as residents discussed their own view on what RIA should look like. It was very nice to see the enthusiasm and interest from residents young and old take part in a common vision.

Here are some quick notes from what each group came up with (to get a better idea of what sub areas are and  where, read the Great Streets plan for RIA with corresponding maps by clicking here and downloading it):

Sub-Area 1, which spans from 4th Street to 10th Street, didn’t have a plethora of ideas (it was hard given the time constraints) but they did make the old Safeway shopping center the focus of their discussion. They indicated that in order for the long term development of this area, they needed to start generating foot traffic. One idea was to install a farmers market, perhaps the one that burned down recently? They also thought to have an art space and open space above other retail uses in this area for a variety of uses (dance classes, ie). They would eventually like to use the space behind on 5th Street for a music venue or possible an outdoor movie theater. This group also raised the need for more safety, using the widening of the sidewalks under metro/railroad bridge as an example. For kids, they suggested the area could use a Chuck E Cheese or the like. An off comment was their concern that the developer of RIA Plaza is not maintaining it the shopping center and should be held to account.

Sub Area 2, which spans from 13th Street St to 16th Street, had several ideas including putting in playgrounds for the children since it is a highly residential area already and a small dog park so people can walk their dogs to. The group raised the need for more safety crosswalks across RIA. To help with in the ways of beautification, the group wants park benches and more trash cans along the Avenue, and to increase the lighting for safety concerns. They also indicated a need for a gym and a drugstore for this area. One particular issue was on W Street, across from Giant, they wanted to remove the trash site and put a cultural center in its place and to remove the pawn shop that is there and add a movie theater and bowling alley. One non-development concern that the residents in this group raised is for more representation from Council and ANC for this area. They also wanted to see more police patrol on bikes and foot in the area.

Sub-Area 3 stretches from 17th Street to Kearney Street and also known as the Main Street area of RIA NE. This group broke the area down as the Great Street plan did, in sites A-F. In Site A, they wanted to focus on moving away from the Great Street plan of mixed income housing to changing this area for more desirable retail. In site B, they would like to see the same as Site A. In site C, the group noted making use of the wide sidewalks for cafes and restaurants, and to use this area for street festivals. While we wait for this investment in this area though, the group thought that curb appeal investments would be needed to make the area appealing to small business owners and residents. They noted that we should look to how we can do this now without waiting for government investment. For example, there are lots of empty businesses in this section and how do we get them filled. Parking was also a big concern for this area since there really wasn’t any that was conducive for the businesses there today or that may come in the future. On site D: near the Ronnie’s Transmission Shop,  Corey Griffin, who spoke for the group, decided to add his comments since the group did not get to this area as a whole. He viewed this area as needing to bring in non-industrial type of businesses, that focused more on commercial use. He stated that it was ideal for a parking garage with multiple levels to deal with the parking issue along RIA. He raised the possibility of perhaps the City could acquire the lots for the parking garage. On site E, Corey said that business services were ideal especially since the Dialysis Center and a dental office was already there. In Site F, they called for stricter requirements on the Shell gas station there from the City and the police, as residents have concerns of empty cars and drugs left in this area. The group was clear that they did not want car lots in any of these areas.

Corey also stated that in the Great Streets program, there is a recommendation to start issuing licenses for storefront churches and undesirable businesses (red light district) in an effort to control their spread.

Sub-Area 4 runs from Monroe Ave to Eastern Ave. This group had probably the hardest area to to develop ideas since this is mainly a residential area but has great potential as the official gateway to the City. The group used this theme to endorse the idea of doing something to the sides of the area at Eastern Ave that will signify to people that they are entering DC and to make it stand out. The group noted the area has some used car lots and one thought was to get an investor to buy up these properties and develop it in small level retail, such as a dry cleaners. The group also noted that they will need to work with DC agencies to protect the residential community around it, such as parking enforcement. Another though was to develop an “arts overlay” district, although Deborah Crain (DC Office of Planning) noted that the City is getting away from the term “overlay” but not really the concept.

So what’s next?

Harry Thomas Jr. stated that the Task Force is going to come back on a Saturday in January and “roll our sleeves up”. He said as part of this third Task Force meeting, we will do a riding tour of RIA so everyone can get a sense of what is here and what could go where. He said it could take the whole day or hours but that we needed to develop the concepts raised at this meeting further. HTJ committed to bringing several government agencies together for this meeting as well.

All in all, great job to the residents of Ward 5! It was great to see everyone coming together to get things moving on RIA. I started this blog more than 3 years ago for one reason: resident participation and engagement in redeveloping RIA. Tonight, I feel my time has been well spent!

Great job to Harry Thomas Jr for organizing this event and I look forward to the next one.

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11 thoughts on ““Roll Up Our Sleeves”

  1. How does one find out about these meetings? As a homeowner in ward 5, I feel very left out. Thank goodness I signed up for this newsletter; otherwise I wouldn’t know anything at all about this community.

  2. It would help if the RIA Task Force notified everyone about meetings and plans just like the Great Streets project did. Not only did they use digital media (email), they mailed out postcards. That should help get to people not connected. For those not able to make the meeting, who do they contact so they can give input?

    If the Arts Corridor concept is to take off, can similar meetings be held with the Route 1 Arts District including Mount Rainier? Group 4 under the Comprehensive Plan was actually supposed to be the Arts District area and tie in with the Route 1 Arts District. Then, for some reason, under the Great Streets program, it got switched to Group 3.

    It’s important that Storefront churches and strip clubs be relegated along the entire RIA Great Street region, not just a particular area. We just don’t need to return to that era (error) of RIA history. It’s also been mentioned previously on this blog that people don’t want spillage onto 18th Street of these storefront churches. What can be done to prevent that?

    Isn’t the DMV supposed to be moving into RIA Row? If so, when? We need to be informed about these types of things. I understand the new tenants of the Catholic Charities building (1428 RIA) will be the National Children’s Center. They started to move in this past Saturday. They are located on 1st Street NE. So, if the RIA Task Force meetings can give a list of incoming businesses and departing businesses, that would help everyone, including the prospective businesses we want to recruit.

    Can we also see a “needs” assessment conducted for the corridor? There are at least 4 surveys on RIA that have been conducted. One by Bo Menkiti, another by Debbi Steiner, another by FORIA, and then the Great Streets survey. How do these surveys agree and differ? That might help Group 4 and the other groups determine what retail and other businesses to place there, especially retail that can succeed! We want retail for the long term.

  3. It was great to see the meeting so well-attended last night. It was also great to see that we really do all want the same thing: a safe and enjoyable neighborhood with a variety of quality businesses that appeal to the full spectrum of Ward 5 residents.

    I hope that as the planning moves along (we really are JUST getting started), we can incorporate sustainability issues. For instance, part of the Group 3 discussion included parking garages. I do not disagree that parking is an issue, particularly so far from the metro station, and if we hope to attract many of the Route 1 commuters. However, it will be critically important to talk about bike lane infrastructure, pedestrian safety, and other opportunities to encourage area residents to leave their cars at home while they enjoy Rhode Island Avenue.

    1. I was thinking the same thing as I was typing my notes last night! Where are the bike lanes and bike share opportunities! Definitely something to add to the discussion in January!

      1. A bikeshare will definitely be added to RIA Row, as it nears completion. DDOT/Urban Atlantic promised this in March at the annual Ward 5 Business expo held in March at Gallaudet University.

        Placing bikeshares in all 4 Groups makes sense and would help the corridor. Even though some sidewalks are wide along RIA, it is not consistently so. On just one block it may start out narrow then get wide then get narrow again. Case in point, the sidewalk in from of Rita’s is wide but she has blocked it by putting that post on the sidewalk. It makes it difficult for pedestrians and bikeriders who share the sidewalk to get through. So I hope that annoying post can be removed.

  4. Last night’s Task Force session was a great step forward for Rhode Island Avenue NE. Councilmember Thomas constructed a well-run, organized, inclusive event and is to be applauded for being responsive to the concerns of residents. I also found it particularly effective that we were put into groups which required us to interact with people we didn’t necessarily know. This sort of interaction allows important bridges to be built and relationships to form, and enhances our sense of neighborly cohesion. We need more of that.

    Here is my suggestion for January’s Task Force Meeting (I shared these thoughts with the Councilmember last night, but I want to put them on a public forum).

    January’s Task Force meeting should include participation from private developers, entrepreneurs, and restauranteurs. We need people and organizations with money to give effect to the Think Rhode Island Avenue plan that has already been established. Resident input is critical regarding the details – to make sure the integrity of our neighborhoods is maintained, to look out for seniors and vulnerable populations, and to ensure balance (as PCDC’s Hazel Thomas reminded us). However, I do think that we must face the fact that none of us have the money to convert our RIA wish lists into development projects. Therefore, we absolutely must bring developers, entrepreneurs, and restauranteurs into this conversation as soon as possible if we hope to translate any of these plans into reality.

    Secondly, we should include someone with appropriations authority from the Deputy Mayor’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. Victor Hoskins, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, should be invited to join us at the next Task Force meeting. I believe his office may have the ability to provide funding and manage the Rhode Island Avenue NE Great Street program (please correct me if this is not so). If city investment is going to be the catalyst for future private investment in the Avenue, then we need to bring those agency and committee folks with the power of the purse into the fold ASAP.

    I know this sounds ambitious, and I think that’s a good thing.

    In the mean time, I’d like to encourage successful area entrepreneurs to consider the Woodridge “main street” area as a place to expand operations (I’m talking to you Brookland Cafe, Divinely Decadent Desserts, MGM Roast Beef, Brookland True Value, Optimism, Rustik, Windows, Big Bear, San Antonio Grill, YES!, Chocolate City Brewing, Wohlfarth Gallery, DC Brau, Providence Opticians, Pizza Kingdom, Excel Movement Studios, Yoga District, Metro Mutts, etc.).

  5. Whah, whah, whah…bad boys bad boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Hopefully, now with HTJr out of the picture (I pray to God), we can move on with someone who can actually get shit done! Can someone with integrity and brains PLEASE RUN FOR WARD 5 COUNCIL???? Rhode Island Insider has my vote!!!

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