The old Providence Hospital site on Capitol Hill is slated to become a congressional parking lot, Elliott Carroll, executive assistant to the Architect of the Capitol, told members of the Coalition of Community Organizations (COCO) last Thursday.
The proposed lot, to be built on the 95,000-square-foot site bounded by 2nd, 3rd, D and E Streets would cost $483,000.
The lot would provide 400 parking spaces for employees of the House of Representatives. Congress now has about 5,000 parking spaces for the approximately 11,000 people who work on the House side. The lot would be temporary - should Congress eventually decide to build a school and dormitory for congressional pages on the site.
Neighborhood groups oppose the plan, partly on the grounds that the Capitol South metro station, scheduled to open July 1, is within two blocks of the proposed parking lot. COCO is meeting today to map out plans to block the parking lot.
COCO represents Advisory Neighborhood Council 6B, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, the Capitol Hill Group Ministry, the Capitol Hill Citizens Association, St. Peter's Church, Stanton Park Neighborhood Association, St. Mark's Church, Market Row and Barracks Row Merchants Associations, the Capitol Hill Garden Club, Faith Tabernacle Church, the Kiwanis Club and the New Jersey Avenue Association.
Hearings on the proposal were held by the Legislative Affairs Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on May 5. No community groups were notified and none testified, according to Earl Silsby of the subcommittee staff.
"It came up rather suddenly," said Silsby. Minutes of the hearings have not been published yet.
Neighborhood residents said they found out about the proposed parking lot by accident. A resident who works for the American Institute of Architects attended the May 5 hearing because the main subject to be discussed was the remodeling of the west front of the Capitol. She told Phoebe Bannister, an advisory neighborhood commissioner whose single member district includes the hospital site, Bannister said. Bannister informed the members of COCO, which was formed this spring to represent community interests affected by the Master Plan for congressional expansion currently being formulated by the Architect of the Capitol George White. The group meets often with the architect, or his representatives.
At a meeting on March 5, White's office invited suggestions from the community for the use of the Providence Hospital site. The land was purchased by Congress in 1972 for a school for congressional pages. Congress is currently restudying the system of using 14 to 18-year-olds as pages. Residents who attended the meeting said that White implied then that the page school project might be shelved.
A committee of neighborhood residents is considering ideas for the use of this land but so far has not come up with a consensus. The most popular suggestion is to use the land for an active recreation area, with tennis courts, baseball diamonds and other facilities. The land lies between two city parks, but neither of them has such recreational facilities.
COCO has formulated 12 principles pertaining to the Architect's Master Plan, one of which states that there should be no more surface parking in the area for Congress and its staff. The Capitol Hill Restoration Society has taken a similar position.
"The site is located between two elementary schools - Brent and St. Peter's," said ANC Commissioner Phoebe Bannister in a telephone interview. "A parking lot there would be a hazard to the children who attend those schools, not to mention the litter and increased pollution it would bring to the neighborhood. Ideally, I'd like to see the land made available for private development - perhaps for condoniniums. That would bring tax revenues to the District, too."
A more realistic alternative, said Bannister, would be to use this space for underground parking and put tennis courts on top.
Ellen Seidman, who represents ANC 6B in the coalition of community groups, pointed out that the House already has approximately one parking-space for every two employees and there is no mandatory car pooling system. "The $483,000 for 400 cars works out to more than $1,000 a car," said Seidman.
When Congress appropriated $1.4 million in 1972 to buy the property - the site of Providence Hospital from Civil War days to 1956 - the legislation stipulated that any temporary use of the land must be an open-space green park. No green park was ever created, and the site today remains a pile of rubble topped by tall weeds.