Ballpark and Beyond

Zoning Commission Hits Home Run for Parking Lots

Then and now: Photos show how the Washington Nationals baseball stadium in Near Southeast has progressed between April 2006, at left, and May 2007, above. The stadium is considered an engine of redevelopment for the Anacostia riverfront.
Then and now: Photos show how the Washington Nationals baseball stadium in Near Southeast has progressed between April 2006, at left, and May 2007, above. The stadium is considered an engine of redevelopment for the Anacostia riverfront. (Photos By Jacqueline Dupree -- The Washington Post)
By Jacqueline Dupree
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Monday night, the Zoning Commission approved a request to allow temporary surface parking lots lasting no more than five years on a number of parcels within walking distance of the Nationals ballpark. (I considered this hearing so important that I took off my fuzzy slippers and actually ventured to Judiciary Square to attend in person rather than watching Ye Olde Webcast.) The vote was three in favor, with Commissioners Carol J. Mitten, Anthony J. Hood and Michael G. Turnbull voting for the action; Commissioners John G. Parsons and Gregory N. Jeffries did not attend.

The Office of Planning, while making clear in its report that it strongly encourages the use of mass transit and other alternatives to cars and would not normally support surface parking lots, testified that these lots and the 3,775 maximum spaces they would provide will help alleviate the short-term shortage of available parking during the next few years until new developments with additional underground parking are completed.

It was requested that the case be approved immediately, on an emergency basis, with the explanation that the sooner the Nationals know where their lots are going to be, the better they can tailor the assignments of season-ticket holders to different lots based on where they are arriving from. (It was also emphasized numerous times that the parking lots are just one part of the overall traffic planning for the stadium.)

The main opposition to the amendment came from residents of Southwest, and ANC 6D commissioner Andy Litsky testified that the neighborhoods were not so much concerned with the lots themselves, but about how traffic would be directed to the lots. The bulk of the consternation focused on Fourth, P and I streets SW, which the residents consider local roads but which were mentioned by a traffic consultant at a public meeting in March as likely routes to the possible lots southwest of the stadium site, in the area known as Buzzards Point.

There was also a surprising moment when a representative of Pepco testified that there's no way that Square 665 at Buzzards Point can be considered an option for a surface lot, because there's a Pepco substation still in operation on it. The Office of Planning explained that this amendment was merely identifying "potential" lots, and that it's assumed that not all squares will ever actually have surface parking on them, and in fact the presentation slides by traffic consultant Gorove/Slade Associates from the March public meeting indicated that most likely, no parking would be created at Buzzards Point. Ken Laden of the District's Department of Transportation then testified that his agency has never considered Fourth, P and I in SW to be important streets, because the vast majority of the lot locations are on the east side of South Capitol Street and that DDOT is trying to keep the bulk of the traffic in Near Southeast (where there are currently very few residential developments).

This gave the zoning commissioners an opening they were looking for, and they crafted a pretty sweet way to take the residents' concerns into account: Because each surface parking lot will still have to go through the normal D.C. approval process for a Certificate of Occupancy (environmental review, DDOT review, etc.), they ordered that the associated traffic plans submitted with the COO may not include directing traffic to/from the lots down local streets (specifically mentioning Fourth, P and I). With that, the amendment was approved on an emergency basis. Litsky said he was pleased with the decision.

As for the overall traffic management plan, apparently DDOT was not real happy with the first draft received April 30 from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission (Laden said it wasn't "user-friendly") and is expecting a new draft in early June, which will then be put out for public comment (and I'm guessing there will be plenty of that). It will include the same sort of on-street parking restrictions that have been used around RFK, where no one can park during games without a special residential parking permit, although exactly how far the boundaries of that restricted area will reach in Near Southeast is still under discussion.

And DDOT's Laden also said that an agreement is close to being reached that would add a Circulator bus line linking Union Station, the new U.S. Capitol Visitors Center and the Capitol South and Navy Yard Metro stations, which would give riders direct access to the red, orange, and blue lines without having to change trains at L'Enfant Plaza.

Above all, it was repeated numerous times that this will be a work-in-progress, that the plans will be tweaked and massaged as the planners see what works and what doesn't.

In other words, while traffic will undoubtedly be a nightmare on Opening Day 2008, that doesn't mean it will always be that way. And, oh yeah, take Metro.

Their Kingdom for a Calder

From the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, a "Call for Artists" went out this month to "design and create a suspended public art installation along the main concourse of the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium.

The goal of this public art project is to provide an exciting arts enhancement to the interior of the ballpark while celebrating the spirit of our national pastime. The work will be visible along the main concourse, across the field from Baseball Plaza, and from street level on the south side of the ballpark." (In other words, by the grand staircase near First and Potomac.)

And, my favorite part: "The selected artwork must be durable, safe, weather resistant, and require minimal maintenance." Total budget, a mere $200,000. Deadline for submissions is June 18, and it is expected that the selected artists will be announced in September.

Of course, even art for the stadium is not without controversy, as seen in my December post about how money being set aside by the arts commission to fund stadium art is considered by the chief financial officer to come under the requirements of the dreaded $611 million cost cap on stadium spending.

But in January, a deal was apparently brokered where the arts commission would in essence lease the art to the stadium.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company