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City to present plans for east campus of St. Elizabeths hospital

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Residents of Anacostia and Congress Heights will get their first look Thursday evening at initial concepts for the development of the east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, a 170-acre property across the street from where the federal government is building a new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security.

Development of the east campus, part of a former mental hospital owned by the city, is considered a prime opportunity to bring jobs and amenities to neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, a top priority for Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

After gathering input from neighbors, city officials have drawn up two draft plans for the campus, between Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Alabama Avenue and south of the Suitland Parkway in Southeast Washington.

Both plans propose bringing new housing, shopping, educational and business uses to the site, through multiple phases of construction, and creating a better connection between the existing neighborhood and the Congress Heights Metro station.

An open area would be built facing Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and link the campus to the Homeland Security headquarters to the west, while new retail and offices farther south would connect with existing shops. New housing along Alabama Avenue would tie into existing neighborhoods across the street, while the Community College of D.C. and other colleges and universities would occupy inner portions of the site.

Harriet Tregoning, D.C. planning director, said the plans aim to deliver new jobs and amenities that residents of the area, one of the city’s poorest, have been requesting.

“We see this as a place in Ward 8 as either ultimately an employment destination or a step along the way toward employment,” Tregoning said. “. . . Some people will be able to live on the campus, which hasn’t been the case unless you were an actual patient.”

The two plans differ in how people would travel through the site. One emphasizes historical paths connecting existing buildings, Tregoning said, while the other would create corridors from the Metro station to the north end of the campus, where a headquarters for the Federal Emergency Management Agency is planned.

The FEMA project, like much of the Homeland Security consolidation, has been delayed because of federal budget constraints, but a new headquarters for the Coast Guard is on track to open by 2013. Eventually, the Homeland Security site is expected to draw 14,000 employees and 2,000 visitors daily. The District has committed $17 million in capital funds over the next two years to build roads, sewers and electrical infrastructure on the east campus.

Under Gray and Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins, the District has also been more active in the public planning of the site, in contrast to the administration of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who often chose a lead developer to drive planning of big developments.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said Gray has the right approach; two years ago, he watched a partnership for another major development, Poplar Point, fall apart. “We’re not doing that at St. Elizabeths, because it’s too large a project for one developer to take a chance on,” Barry said.

The public meeting is set for 7 to 9 p.m. at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School, 3100 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.

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