A Chastened DGS Hosts 1st Community Meeting on Eastern Market Metro Park Redesign
by Larry Janezich
The Department of General Services (DGS) hosted the first community meeting on the redesign of Eastern Market Metro Park Thursday night. They came with what appeared to be a new willingness to acknowledge the work done on the ‘master plan” for the redesign, i.e., the 2015 Weinstein/Oehme van Sweeden (OvS) plan which was the product of extensive community involvement over a 2 year period. In addition, the agency admitted that their outreach had “not been the best,” particularly with respect to their communications with residents and ANC6B – as well nodding to a new appreciation of the role that the Commission plays in providing input on public projects.
The tone was decidedly conciliatory, in contrast to that taken with the Eastern Market Metro Park Advisory Team in the meeting last Monday. (See here: https://bit.ly/2BbQiDd) In a dramatic moment when ANC6B Commissioner-elect Steve Holtzman (whose single member district abuts the Metro Park on the north) raised a challenge to DGS regarding denial of public access to that meeting Council Member Charles Allen intervened, pushing DGS to open the meetings of the Advisory Team which here-to-for have been closed.
Allen said, “I can’t think of a single reason why the meetings can’t be open. I encourage DGS to look at public meetings. Let’s do that.” An off-balance DGS promised to respond to Allen.
At the beginning of the meeting, Allen said the project was an incredible opportunity for the community to rethink the specifics of a legacy type project, taking it from a walk-thru to a walk-to destination as opposed to a “sad little space.” Allen endorsed the Weinstein/OvS plan as a starting point, citing it as a “strong foundation” with wide community agreement. He urged DGS to move quickly through the tweaking process, adding, “Let’s get started.”
When DGS took the stage, Project Manager Cassidy Mullen said that the winter would see back and forth on tweaking the master plan. By summer, the process would produce schematics and changes to the master plan based on feasibility. Construction will start in August or September of 2019. To some in the room, the phrase “based on feasibility” introduced an element of uncertainty, perhaps referring to one of the critical elements of the Weinstein/OvS plan benefiting Barracks Row, i.e., moving the bus stop in front of Starbucks to the eastern edge of the part of the plaza with the Metro entrance. The business community sees moving the bus stop as critical to opening up access to the restaurants and retail beyond the intersection of 8th and Pennsylvania Avenue. CVS and the design team see problems involving the expense of moving utilities and infrastructure.
For its part, the Moys Design team, charged with creating the final re-design plan, said its goal was to make the park “a third space in your life” after home and work place, and pledged to come back multiple times to tweak and refine the plan.
One of the first community decisions regarding implementation of the plan will be to decide the strategy for development. DGS will offer the community two options: 1) start on simultaneous development of the playground, the triangle adjacent to Community Connections/Dunkin Donuts, and the triangle adjacent to the day care center in the Hine project, or, 2) develop the playground and an (unspecified) section of the Metro entrance portion of the park. Details and an online survey will be provided on the DGS website at a future date. (see link below)
Questions from the audience expressed concerns regarding playground safety issues, the bus stop move, the proposed reversal of traffic direction on D Street on the north side of the playground, ADA access, rats, parking of construction worker vehicles, table and chair amenities, public restrooms, process transparency, the wisdom of installing high maintenance lawn areas, bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, and how better to use the project to connect the business corridors.
Following the meeting, attendees were invited to engage agency officials and design team representatives in adjacent rooms to discuss concerns and specific portions or the plans.
Attendees seemed optimistic about the process moving forward. Whether the era of good feelings continues depends in part on the participation of residents and business owners in the process, but much depends on how the community perceives whether its voice is being heard and the degree to which residents and business owners are made to feel a part of the process.
Here’s the link to the project website: https://dgs.dc.gov/page/eastern-market-metro-park-project