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Adams Morgan “Vision” Report Published by Office of Planning for Public to Weigh in; Comment Period Extended to February 8th

Accompanying images can be viewed in the December 2015 issue pdf

By Anthony L. Harvey

In a tightly organized 32-page document of text and graphics, the District’s Office of Planning (OP) has crafted a remarkable document summarizing in straight-forward, concise prose the many facets of the Adams Morgan community, the desire of that community to strengthen and extend the many factors contributing to its unique and diverse nature, and steps that can be taken to carry forward into the future just such a unique, diverse nature. The document is posted on the OP website, and community comments are eagerly awaited with the ANC having successfully sought an extension of the public comment period through February 8, 2016.

P noted in the vision framework introduction that “the catalyst for studying the Adams Morgan neighborhood was the activism of some residents and civic organizations who requested that the District complete a planning analysis and neighborhood roadmap in response to changes in the area, including new development, a shifting retail environment, and the desire to preserve and improve quality of life.”

Continuing, OP further observed that “the community began these efforts in 2012 in the form of a community based effort of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1C called Envision Adams Morgan.” This, together with the ANC’s Herculean efforts at assembling and formally adopting a comprehensive, community-based study regarding the redevelopment of the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center, have served as building blocks for the OP sponsored Vision Framework.

OP concluded its introduction with the observation that this community-wide “planning initiative provided residents, local businesses, institutions and property owners an opportunity to work together on articulating a vision for the future of Adams Morgan.” The process adopted for achieving this involved intensive participation by Adams Morgan residents and stakeholders in the creation of a neighborhood profile. This involved, OP noted, “opportunities for public input and dialogue over the past year [which] included: 1) a neighborhood walking tour; 2) a half-day community workshop; 3) a project website; 4) three community office hours events; 5) an on-line engagement forum; and 6) Latino business outreach through direct canvassing.”

[Editor’s Note: For our most recent previous report on this initiative, see “Office of Planning Soon to Publish
Adams Morgan ‘Vision’ Final Report,” October 2015 issue pdf, page 1.]

OP’s Vision Framework lives up to its name with several extremely useful “frameworks,” first with nine Defining Characteristics of Adams Morgan; second, a set of 11 Values; and third, 17 Goals organized around five core categories — also identified as Ideas).

“Defining Characteristics” are identified as diversity, arts, culture, vibrancy, architecture, amenities, institutions, brand, and location.

“Values” are articulated as admonitions for action, listed as promoting community diversity; protecting neighborhood character and historic resources; improving public space and gathering places; enhancing pedestrian access to transit options; strengthening retail vitality and range of options; celebrating the unique identify of Adams Morgan and its eclectic, artistic, and ethnically diverse heritage; improving communications between business owners and residents; leveraging community activism and local networks to advance sustainability of the neighborhood; promoting multicultural and multilingual participation in building community; supporting and protecting affordable housing; positioning Adams Morgan to be a family-friendly and age-friendly neighborhood with robust amenities.

The 17 “Goals” are organized around five core categories, namely, “creating great places; redefining retail; embracing sustainability; strengthening identify through arts, history, and culture; and bolstering community.”

The remainder of this fascinating document deconstructs the 17 goals as they relate to one or more of the five core categories. And here the details of these goals as outlined in this Vision Framework should result, for example, in lively and informative responses from many of the most thoughtful and longtime, as well as newly arrived, Adams Morgan residents eager to see further modernization of neighborhood facilities and the creation of new community amenities, plus thoughts and comments from long-standing property owners and business proprietors — and newcomers — and instructive insights from politically active stakeholders on the ANC and in leadership positions of civic associations and the Business Improvement District.

Creating “Great Places” provides an immediate pair of examples, beginning with the admonition that Adams Morgan “initiate a culturally sensitive and age-friendly redesign and enhancement of Unity Park.” Controversy abounds regarding the fate of this strategically located small, triangular park, generously donated to the District by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, when Euclid Street was originally cut through to Columbia Road, separating that area from the handsome steps and façade of the imposing church building.

This reporter first remembers it (in the 1960s and ‘70s) as a “City Beautiful”-style park, complete with a small bandstand, water fountains, traditional park benches, and trees and grass. Since moving back to the neighborhood in 1990 this reporter has it become a monotonous hardscape with an out-of-scale sculpture and lacking the finishing touches that were promised (e.g., a water feature, lighting, and comfortable seating) when, reportedly, funds available to the non-profit organization conducting the Unity Park renovation ran out. The one successful activation of the park in recent years — the Latino themed weekend collection of outdoor food stands featuring central and south American dishes — was torpedoed by self-appointed activists from the business community, while neighborhood residents loved it.

[Editor’s Note: This outdoor Office of Latino Affairs-sponsored food market was the subject of an extensive -– and largely positive (despite the negatively couched headline) — report five years ago. See, “Unlicensed and Non-DC Resident Vending in City Funded Adams Morgan Program Exposed,” September 2010 issue pdf, page 1.]

A second issue is even more fascinating to this reporter. Goal number three directs the conducting of “an audit of alleys in the commercial district to identify opportunities for making them cleaner, safer, more attractive and animated in line with the movement towards living alleys.” Adjacent to this directive is a photograph of a captioned “existing typical commercial alley,” this being the narrow alley that stretches from an unbroken east side of the 18th Street commercial strip and which continues without a break all the way from Columbia Road south to Kalorama Road. The other side of this alley is not commercial, rather it is entirely residential and supports the occupants of apartment buildings and residential row houses; it is perhaps the least typical alley in Adams Morgan and will soon be overwhelmed by the completion of the construction and subsequent operation of the enormous (for Adams Morgan) new hotel and underground parking and commercial levels now being built behind the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

By contrast, another alley, one which had been included on an earlier OP Vision Framework community tour, led participants to an actual commercial alley — one that bisects the top of the Washington Heights triangle between Columbia Road and the west side of18th Street, albeit with several residential apartment buildings on Columbia Road — was not mentioned. This much wider alley (it’s funnel-shaped and stretches south to the middle of the north side of Belmont Road) is named Dance Alley in recognition of its having been the rear entrance to the former 18th Street location of celebrated Dance Place’s instructional and practice studio. This same alley supported such establishments as a frame and gilding shop, artists’ studio spaces, and a terrific antique and cast-off furniture store. The “re-animation” of this commercial alley was somehow discarded from consideration.

The remaining 15 goals outlined in the Vision Framework include enhancing existing and creating new gathering places; creating four retail sub districts, aligning retailer goals, and reinforcing the collective identity of each sub district; improving connections between retailers and residents; providing technical assistance for, and support to, existing Hispanic, Asian, and African-owned and operated businesses; achieving neighborhood goals for cleanliness, safety, and a healthy environment; enhancing neighborhood sustainability; recognizing and reinforcing the importance of maintaining neighborhood character; reinforcing Adams Morgan’s identity as a place for arts and culture; establishing neighborhood gateways at key locations to delineate Adams Morgan from adjacent neighborhoods; celebrating and connecting neighborhood assets; Increase the percentage of units that are subsidized affordable housing; Expand neighborhood amenities; improving the quality and accessibility of existing playgrounds, parks, and green spaces; improving bicycle and pedestrian access and safety and establishing a more connected bicycle lane network; and improving public safety and communications with the Metropolitan Police Department. Other goals not articulated in the document may come to mind. Residents, property owners, and business and institutional constituencies are urged to pass them on.

Serious reviewers of this remarkably crafted, important document will find other issues with which to enlarge upon, add to, dissect or disagree with, or to affirm with enthusiasm — as did this reporter. It’s that sort of open-ended document to which OP would strive for maximum community support.

Comments and questions should be directed to OP’s Ward One Planner Josh Silver at joshua.silver@dc.gov. He may also be contacted at (202) 442-8816.