Dear Mrs. Bird
The Southwest Neighborhood Assembly appreciates your efforts on behalf of the Office of Planning to develop a Small Area Plan for the heart of Southwest’s residential community. We were grateful to be part of September 11’s public kick-off meeting. After reviewing the residents’ feedback, we have a number of comments. We suggest establishing a hierarchy of goals:
- Complete previously approved improvements and plans
- Determine how to conserve and promote Southwest’s intrinsic assets
- Identify how to sensitively accommodate new opportunities and developments
1) Complete previously approved plans and improvements
Before launching into another plan with a new set of goals and deliverables, we recommend first executing existing plans and projects. There are a number of plans such as the Maryland Avenue Small Area Plan that are complete or substantially so. The vast majority of the plans’ recommendations haven’t been initiated, much less completed.
→ Identify how we’re going to implement these previously established goals and tasks such as improving north-south connections to/from Southwest.
Currently there are several transformational capital projects that have been 1) vetted with the community, 2) approved by associated government agencies, and 3) have funding earmarked or otherwise identified. These priorities include:
- The SW Playground at Town Center East Park, adjacent to the library
- The SW Dog Park at Lansburgh Park
- The $1 million “Play DC” project at Randall Recreation Center, which will bring much needed recreational amenities for all ages to Southwest
- The sand filtration system for the Southwest Duck Pond to enable it to function as designed
- SW Public Information Display System, which will provide a dynamic and accessible navigation and communications platform
→ We call on city agencies to implement these important community projects.
2. Determine how to conserve and promote Southwest’s intrinsic assets
Southwest has a rich artistic legacy, featuring greats such as Dizzy Gilespie and Al Jolson. This heritage continues with a multitude of live performances at local churches such as Westminster’s Blues and Jazz nights or the more private art receptions held at individual residential complexes. The heritage is also manifested in larger events like SW Artsfest, Cherry Blossom Festival, and (e)merge. Indeed, Southwest has a become a hub of performing and visual art institutions like Blind Whino, the planned Randall Middle School art center, and the reinvigorated Arena Stage, not to mention the Smithsonian museums.
→ Determine how to preserve and embrace this valued heritage, whether through an arts overlay zoning district, culture navigator program, or alternative tool.
Southwest is one of, if not the city’s most diverse quadrant. We value this diversity; race, age, income, religion. Unfortunately, some populations are particularly vulnerable to prevailing pressures, whether due to inadequate investment in the city’s housing stock, limited career opportunities, communication gaps, or deteriorating physical or mental abilities.
→Identify how to institutionalize career training opportunities, ensure an adequate amount of livable-wage jobs, preserve the number of affordable bedrooms, optimize public facilities to serve all Southwesters, and inaugurate a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC).
Southwest’s built environment is recognized as among the country’s finest. It’s collection of mid-rise towers, town houses, and open spaces.
We have an array of parks and open spaces, but many aren’t adequately accessible to Southwest residents, or disadvantaged subgroups thereof. We recommend determining how to improve maintenance standards and providing amenities like drinking fountains.
We recommend identifying how to conserve and promote these assets, whether it’s by establishing an arts overlay district like Penn Quarter in Southwest, a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, a commitment to preserving the number of affordable bedrooms, or recognizing Southwest as National Historic Landmark District.
Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, Inc.
DC Office of Planning Response:
Thank you for your feedback regarding the presentation of existing conditions for the Southwest Small Area Plan on December 11th. The project team responded to many questions and comments from the audience during and after the presentation – a majority of which were positive in nature. We are sorry to hear that you were disappointed by the presentation, and we would like to take this opportunity to address your concerns and reiterate what we hoped to communicate within the presentation.
We have heard repeatedly from the community that residents in Southwest wish to understand why the neighborhood has little nearby restaurant and retail amenities, and answering that question was a major focal point of the presentation. As with all small area plan processes, OP undertakes a market analysis to better understand current and future opportunities for a neighborhood. Arriving at market-based recommendations helps to ensure the greatest potential for implementation through actionable solutions.
During the presentation we listed nine conditions that retailers look for when locating to a new site: population density; high area spending power; large daytime traffic; a destination location that attracts non-residents; strong transportation access; a positive retail image, or “buzz;” a good competitive landscape; strong enough sales to support development costs; and retail-ready building infrastructure. When we spoke about limited “buzz,” we were referring to the perception that exists outside of this neighborhood – most retailers and shoppers in DC do not think of the Southwest planning area as an existing retail destination. This perception is an obstacle that may require more marketing and branding by brokers, developers, landlords, and the greater Southwest community to highlight the benefits and attractiveness of this community.
The team’s intent was positive in nature and aimed at addressing the concerns the community has identified and the outcomes that the community seeks. It is important for everyone to have a sense of how retail decision-makers consider opportunities to develop more local restaurants and retail so that corresponding plan recommendations can be better tailored to achieve the desired community outcomes when they are developed later in the planning process.
Recommendations and policies were not presented at the December 11th meeting because we were still in the early stage of the planning process at that juncture. The focus of the December 11th meeting was on listening to the community, collecting information, and analyzing data from a multitude of resources and groups. The plan is being developed through a community-based process that considers community participation paramount. A synthesis and categorization of 800+ comments from the kick-off meeting is available for download from our plan website ( www.swneighborhoodplan.org) and at the Southwest Library. Collecting that input is part of OP’s commitment to participatory engagement. Those comments and others received through many other channels including the interactive Engage Southwest platform, focus groups, and the upcoming Community Workshop will ultimately inform the development of plan goals and recommendations in the coming weeks.
The OP team will continue to reach out to the community in the broadest way possible. We are committed to creating a Neighborhood Plan that reflects the vision of the diverse community in Southwest. In addition to the community workshop on January 25th, which will consist of in-depth break-out sessions covering Design/Development, Historic Preservation, Sustainability, and Parks/Open Space, there will be at least two additional community-wide meetings with a focus on discussing draft recommendations and policies which we believe will be positive and affirming of the unique Southwest Community.
Thank you again for asking these important questions. I would like to take this opportunity to invite you and other leaders from SWNA to meet with our Director, Harriet Tregoning, to further discuss your feedback on the planning process and your aspirations for the future of Southwest. I will be in touch shortly to schedule this meeting.
Please feel free to contact me directly at (202) 487-1323.
Office of Planning