On September 11th, 2013, the DC Office of Planning (OP) publicly launched a community planning process involving local stakeholders and District government agencies to create a Small Area Plan (SAP) for the Southwest DC neighborhood. This plan, called the Southwest Neighborhood Plan, will create a community-led vision and urban design, land use, and neighborhood conservation framework to guide future development in the Southwest neighborhood over the next 5 to 10 years. The Southwest Neighborhood Plan study area extends from South Capitol Street to Maine Avenue SW and from P Street SW to the south, north to the I-395 Freeway. The OP team began the pre-planning effort for this project in the Spring of 2013 which included discussions with other District agencies, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANC) and community stakeholders to develop a comprehensive work scope to best address community concerns.

There are a number of reasons why now is the right time to be embarking on a plan for the Southwest neighborhood. Area residents are already familiar with the tremendous amount of change that has taken place in recent years in Southwest, as well as plans for further development in and around the neighborhood. While this change is exciting and likely to bring many new and much-needed amenities to the Southwest community, it can also cause concerns about the impacts to long-time residents within the adjacent areas. Additionally, the community has voiced the desire to enhance existing parks and open spaces. There is an abundance of District and federally-owned parcels in the neighborhood, many of which are currently underutilized and/or underdeveloped. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has completed a transportation study for M Street, which calls for a future streetcar line in the community. Given all these factors, there is a great opportunity to continue the area’s progress toward a vibrant, walkable, mixed-use neighborhood rich with amenities, while addressing neighborhood concerns and ensuring development reflects a community-led vision for the future.

A SAP is a specific type of plan that is meant to provide more fine grain, neighborhood-level goals and recommendations to complement the District’s Comprehensive Plan, which offers broader-based, long-term policy recommendations (http://www.planning.dc.gov). SAP recommendations provide a shorter outlook of 5 to 10 years versus the 20-year horizon for the citywide Comprehensive Plan. SAPs present the community-led vision of how a neighborhood should grow, and are useful for guiding future development and land use decisions, revitalizing commercial areas, providing design guidelines for both buildings and open space, and improving access for all residents to amenities and transportation choices. SAPs are not driven by any single property concern or community group, and are truly meant to be comprehensive and reflective of the community as a whole.

The planning process will be highly interactive with several public meetings, online forums, and other participation activities held over an approximately 6-8 month period, culminating in a Mayoral Public Hearing. A draft plan will be circulated for community review and comment. The plan will then be submitted to the DC Council for its consideration.

The OP team, as part of the pre-planning process, has presented at ANC 6D, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, the Community Benefits Coordination Council and the Greenleaf Residents Council. The team has received invaluable feedback from these organizations and individuals; this information has helped shape the planning approach and process. In addition, OP has met with other District Government agencies, such as Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Department of General Services (DGS), the Commission on the Arts and Humanities (CAH), the Department of Housing and Community Development (DCHD), and the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) to better understand their initiatives in and around the Southwest neighborhood. Agency and community coordination will be ongoing throughout the planning process. The OP team is also working with an Advisory Committee comprised of ANC Commissioners and representatives from community organizations who will assist with outreach efforts to maximize transparency and participation in the planning process.

“One of the great strengths of the Southwest neighborhood is the community’s knowledge of its history and the shared desire to celebrate the great parts of that history while learning from the past and the Urban Renewal missteps,” said Tregoning. “We see this level of personal investment in long-time residents as well as newer residents. We’re really excited to see how it translates into the planning process over the next year or so.”

The first public kick-off meeting was held on September 11th at Arena Stage. If you were unable to make this meeting, please be sure to check out the project website at www.swneighborhoodplan.org. Please join us in an online dialogue about the community vision at www.engagesouthwest.org. The plan’s website will contain regular plan updates and post meeting notes, maps, photos and other planning information, as well as upcoming meetings and other ways to get involved. You may also contact Melissa Bird, Project Manager and Ward 6 Neighborhood Planner, directly at 202-478-1323 or melissa.bird@dc.gov.

By: Melissa Bird

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