Plans to build basketball courts under the Southeast Freeway have cleared the final hurdle.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, which represents Capitol Hill, endorsed a D.C. Department of Transportation porposal to landscape the perimeter of a one-acre site under the freeway at Eighth and I streets and to install lighted courts on half of the site. The ANC also voted to hold a community forum within two months to consider recommendations for the other half of the site.
In the wake of the ANC's endorsement, James Clark, director of planning for the department of transportation, said that work on the project would being within three weeks and be completed by next summer. The project will cost about $200,000 according to Clark. Ninety per cent of the money will come from federal funds.
The commissioners pledged to work with ANC 2D, which represents the community south of the freeway, in developing its recommendations for the uncommitted half of the site.
ANC 2D, which covers an area populated mainly by lower-income families, many of them residents of public housing projects, has urged recreational use of the entire site. The freeway divides this lower-income areas from the more affluent Capitol Hill community. The issue of the development of the space under the freeway has sparked resentment and misunderstanding between the two communities.
"We were here in this room talking about his four months ago," said Commissioner Juanita Mitchell of ANC 2D, "and our children are still waiting, waiting, waiting."
"At that meeting we were told it was none of our business," replied Commissioner Jan Eichorn of ANC 6B. "We withdrew, and we got involved again because the department of transportation asked us to."
Eichorn was referring to the confusion over which ANC has jurisdiction over the site. District officials recently determined that the space is in neither ANC area but constitutes a no man's land between the two.
Although the agenda called for the commissioners to consider only the proposal for half of the site, there was pressure from some members of the audience and from some commissioners to endorse recreational development of the entire site. Commissioner Barbara Ferrell offered a motion that the entire site be devoted to recreational and educational use.
"That's not fair to the community," protested ANC Chairman Ray Gooch. "There are interests in the community that should have a chance to come before us before we decide this."
Ferrell's motion was defeated 6-5. The motion to endorse the present plan for recreation on half the site drew eight affirmative votes, with three of the commissioners who had supported the other motion abstaining.
"They're saving half the site because no matter what they say they have something in the back of their minds for it. I think everybody here know that,? said Maurine Phinise, one of the commissioners who abstained.
Some elements of the community - notably the merchants along the newly refurbished Barracks Row on Eighth Street - are thought to favor short-term, metered parking for the site. Other suggested uses include a farmers market and a police boys club.
Eleanor Abramson of 700 9th St. SE suggested that the site be given to the Marine Barracks for a parking lot. "Starting Oct. 5, we're going to have permit parking in this area. That's got to be a real bind on residents who live near the barracks, because you can be sure the Marines are going to get the boys in the barracks parking permits," she said.
The Marines have tried to lease the site from the city for parking but have been turned down, said the barracks commanding officer, Col. W.H. Rice.
When the Southeast Freeway was built in 1965, an extra $500,000 was spent on structural supports at this location so that this space could be used, according to Federal Highway Administration officials. Vincent de Forest, chairman of the Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation, which adopted development of the site as a bicentennial project, estimates that about $135,000 was spent on three studies of what to do with the site.
The studies called for various facilities - including supermarkets, recreation centers and community meeting rooms - to be built on the site but no funds were found for the projects. Early this year, when basketball courts and tennis courts at the Arthur Capper housing project at 5th and K Streets SE were closed to make way for a neighborhood service center, the possibility of replacing these facilities, using the space under the freeway, came up.
"The recreation department says there's no other suitable site," said Clark at the meeting. He explained that once the area was excavated and paved, it could be striped for basketball, volleyball, or whatever games the recreation department found suitable. Practice courts for tennis are a possibility, according to Clark, but the height limitations - 20 feet from the surface to the freeway overhead - rule out regulation tennis.