In one corner of the room, citizens made suggestions about how the District's new baseball stadium should look. On the opposite side, residents of Southwest and Southeast Washington expressed fears about parking and traffic.
For more than three hours yesterday, neighborhood residents talked to the consultants and city officials who are reshaping their communities -- and perhaps even their lives -- through redevelopment of the South Capitol Street corridor and the design and construction of a baseball stadium on the Anacostia waterfront for the Washington Nationals.
The session was part of a series of workshops to solicit input from people who feel directly affected by the neighborhood redevelopment. The discussions were passionate but mostly polite, even though queries and concerns far outnumbered answers and solutions from officials.
More than 100 people turned out to speak with representatives from Anacostia Waterfront Corp., the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the District's Planning Office and Department of Transportation. Two more workshops will take place in May and June.
"We know we need to build a ballpark that is friendly to our community -- that is our goal," Claude Bailey, general counsel for the sports commission, told those gathered at Van Ness Elementary School in Southeast Washington. "We want to get you involved so this will work for everyone."
The new stadium, to be built near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street, is scheduled to open in March 2008. Officials have said it will fit in well with broader plans, in the works for years, to develop the Anacostia riverfront. The overall vision was outlined yesterday, with much talk about creating more park space and river access and bringing in new housing and retail shops.
Officials predicted that the neighborhoods will be "state of the art," "transformed" and "vibrant" and that South Capitol Street will change from a workhorse freeway without character to an "urban boulevard."
But not everyone shared in the enthusiasm. Outside the school, demonstrators wearing hard hats and orange reflector vests held signs that were critical of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). They also called for abolishment of Anacostia Waterfront Corp., a publicly chartered entity governed by a 15-member board that was created to lead the Anacostia redevelopment project.
"Change is good but when it is change for all," said Mark Hall, vice president and general counsel for the Capitol Area Minority Contractors and Business Association, one of the demonstration's organizers. The corporation is an extra layer of bureaucracy, he said.
"We want to be able to speak directly to our elected officials about what we want," he said.
Meanwhile, inside the school, consultants and city officials received feedback on such issues as transportation, open space and zoning. A Capitol Hill resident suggested a promenade-style entrance to the stadium to encourage foot traffic.
A small group discussion on neighborhood development brought out such residents as Ruth Brown, 78, who has lived in her M Street SW apartment for 15 years.
"I want to know, what plans do they have for us?" said Brown, who remained concerned that development could force her from her building, a senior dwelling.
Bernadette Harvey, who said she wants to buy a second home near the stadium, said the workshop gave her a clearer sense of the stadium's boundaries and the community's sensitivity to such issues as traffic and parking.
"I think they hear our concerns and want to address them," Harvey said. "Whether it happens from a development standpoint, that's a different story."