The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) is currently collecting public comments on its plan to create an Ecodistrict in Southwest Washington over the course of the next several years. The proposed 15-block site of the Ecodistrict would stretch east-west from about 7th Street SW to 12th Street SW and north-south from Independence Avenue to Maine Avenue SW/Banneker Park. The aim of the plan, according to the NCPC, is to substantially improve energy efficiency in the region; the agency has set a goal of zero net energy output by the time the plan is implemented.

NCPC’s ambitious goal would be implemented through the installation of green roofs, edible rooftops, solar panels and micro grids, as well as through the collection and treatment of rainwater for non-potable uses. The plan also proposes to increase the presence of porous surfaces to 35% of the region from about 20% currently, and to grow tree canopy coverage to 40% of the region from the roughly 8.6% of current coverage. The NCPC also intends to work with city government to improve recycling efforts, start a composting program and divert waste from regional landfills.

NCPC has split the Ecodistrict plan into four phases. The first phase would involve the reconstruction of 10th Street SW from Independence Avenue to Banneker Park. 10th Street SW would become a narrower, more walkable road with a more active business sector. NCPC intends to extend the Smithsonian Institution programs into Banneker Park, which would be lined with cultural buildings, such as museums or a federal memorial, on its northern end near the I-395 Freeway.

The second phase, focusing on the Independence Quarter, would open up Virginia Avenue through the reconstruction of the Department of Energy headquarters building that currently arches over Virginia Avenue, just south of Independence Avenue. The DOE’s Forrestal Complex would be redesigned to enhance sustainability and to open up Virginia Avenue to reach all the way to Independence Avenue. During this development, NCPC also proposes to expand the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station at L’Enfant Plaza into a larger railway hub to reduce the load from Union Station.

The third phase would deck the CSX railroad line currently running across 7th Street SW to 12th Street SW, to establish Maryland Avenue and connect it into the street grid. This portion of the project would work in conjunction with expanding the L’Enfant rail station to increase commuter rail capacity.

The final phase would deck over the portion of I-395 that is north of Banneker Park, creating a tunnel over the Freeway. This portion of the plan intends to reconnect the Southwest neighborhood to the region south of the National Mall, aimed in part to reverse the geographical separation created as a result of the Freeway’s construction during the Urban Renewal efforts of the 1950s. NCPC proposes to use some of the space over the Freeway for development of commercial and museum buildings, complementing the proposed Banneker Park structures described in the first phase. NCPC proposes to cover the rest of the space above I-395 with a solar canopy.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D has been actively involved in the Ecodistrict design process. Community leaders generally support the plan, although disagreements remain over development on Banneker Park. Bob Craycraft, Commissioner for ANC 6D01 which would house the Ecodistrict region, outlined the following five priorities for the project in his testimony before the NCPC in August 2011:

  • Against the NCPC’s current plans, Commissioner Craycraft requests the preservation of the Banneker-10th Street Overlook in its entirety, including the Daniel Urban Kiley-designed lawns to Maine Avenue SW and 9th Street SW.
  • The restoration of the L’Enfant grid, particularly including the removal of the Forrestal Complex for the restoration of Virginia Avenue SW, and unblocking the view of the Smithsonian castle structure from 10th Street SW.
  • The evaluation of the I-395 decking project to examine the possibility of decking over as great a distance east of 7th Street SW as the gradient will allow.  Commissioner Craycraft believes that extending the decking by a short distance would support both the L’Enfant grid restoration and the District’s plan to deck the I-395 and tunnel the I-295 freeways.
  • The incorporation of a southern-facing entrance the L’Enfant Plaza metro station.
  • The incorporation of southern access points into the L’Enfant Plaza retail center.

Commissioner Craycraft can be contacted at Bobc4dcsw@gmail.com or at 488-3866 with comments or feedback about the project.

The NCPC will collect public comments until September 10, and anticipates agency approval of its finalized report in January 2013. The Ecodistrict would be funded from a combination of federal, District of Columbia, and private sector sources.

By Kamilla Kovacs, vice president of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA).

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