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.