The District of Columbia has put together another redevelopment plan for the riot-torn H Street NE corridor, emphasizing its potential as a neighborhood shopping area rather than one that could attract shoppers from around the region.
The plan for the area, which has defied revitalization attempts of the past 14 years, includes a unique set of new mandatory standards for facades of the buildings along the corridor. Owners could be fined or their property taken over by the District government should they fail to comply, the new plan states.
Such takeovers "could provide an opportunity for a change in ownership with the tenant becoming the new owner," states the proposal, developed by the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
The department's plan, which officials said may see some minor modifications but is essentially in final form, calls for quick development of seven vacant sites now owned by the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency as the first step in getting renewal moving. No formal ratification of the plan by City Council, the RLA or the Mayor's Office is required, officials said.
While the plan anticipates reducing the price on some of the city-owned sites, it also would require developers awarded the sites to move on an accelerated timetable or lose the award.
The largest of the parcels and the one expected to be developed first, between Eighth and Tenth streets, is supposed to get a one-story commercial building with a Dart Drug store, a Trak Auto store and a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. The city may reconsider the fast-food operation, the new plan says.
Plans for a second large parcel between Sixth and Seventh streets would be considerably scaled back from the current design for a large multilevel building with commercial space, offices, 96 apartments and underground parking. The new plan would have it redesigned within 60 days as a one- or two-story commercial building.
The plan, which does not yet have an estimated price tag, also proposes new programs of below-market-rate loans to developers and business people to rehabilitate commercial structures, including technical assistance in operating the businesses themselves and in helping tenants buy the buildings they are leasing.
It would rely on conventional restaurants and movie theaters to draw people into the area, and fast-food operations would be limited. It also anticipates a $1 million program of public improvements, such as new curbs and sidewalks, tree plantings, benches and lighting.
The project would be done in three phases, first between 6th and 10th streets, then between 10th and 15th, and finally from 2nd Street to 6th Street.
The H Street corridor was a major shopping area until the 1968 riots, in which many of the businesses were damaged or ruined.
The city put together a major renewal plan in 1973 but has failed to get the area redeveloped in the intervening decade. Some developers awarded city-owned sites have not moved on their plans, citing poor economic conditions.
"Fifteen years after the civil disturbances of 1968 and 14 years after the approval of the H Street Renewal Plan, little has happened to change the image of H Street as a deteriorating neighborhood shopping area," the DHDC report said.
A 1981 study by the accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand found 64 vacant buildings on the corridor, including more than one-fifth of all the ground-floor space along H Street. Absentee ownership is high, many existing buildings are marginal, and inadequate parking "both causes and continues the decline of the shopping area," that study found.
The one major recent change in the area has been the opening of the 30-store Hechinger Plaza, including a Safeway and a People's Drug Store, at the eastern end of the corridor. City officials, feeling that the area probably can sustain one regional shopping mall, do not want to promote other large stores along the rest of the corridor.