Dorothy Campbell loves hearing that a Target may anchor a new shopping center near her home in Southeast Washington. And she can imagine her grandchildren enjoying the parks and trails that are supposed to be built nearby, on the eastern banks of the Anacostia River.
Waiting for a bus on a busy stretch of Alabama Avenue recently, Campbell, 70, said she was excited about these projects, each of which moved closer to reality last week after winning key votes before the D.C. Council. But she is also worried about whether the amenities will make the long-neglected neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River too expensive for the residents now there.
"All I say is that I hope it'll be affordable. And don't try to push the other people out," said Campbell, a retired nursing aide. "Where would they go?"
The question reverberates in this part of Washington, where many of the poorest families arrived decades ago after being displaced from Georgetown and Southwest in the name of urban renewal.
Some, wary of past promises of stores and attractions that never materialized, say this time will be no different. Others, who have witnessed the transformation of formerly blighted neighborhoods downtown and on Capitol Hill, say they are sure that change is coming. Their reaction, said D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, is "a mixture of hope and fear."
"If it is happening, then the feeling is that it's not happening for their benefit," said Chavous (D-Ward 7), whose district lies mostly east of the river and north of Pennsylvania Avenue. "People have been crying out for their fair share. . . . [But] people are terrified. They feel that they'll be priced out."
Mindful of those concerns, the council made numerous amendments to a bill that sets up the mechanism to drive revitalization on both sides of the Anacostia, long a political and socioeconomic fault line in the city.
The bill, which the council approved Tuesday, established a powerful development corporation but requires at least two of the seven citizen representatives on its board to live east of the river. Thirty percent of housing built on public land in the redevelopment zone must be set aside for low- and moderate-income households. There is language requiring an "equitable balance" in projects so that the most attractive amenities are not confined to the west side, as well as a pledge to steer tax revenue generated by waterfront projects to needy inland neighborhoods to the east.
In addition to the standard city goal that at least 51 percent of jobs created by riverfront projects go to D.C. residents, council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) made sure the bill contained a sentence urging that a certain number of those jobs be set aside for residents of Ward 8. Allen's district, which lies mostly east of the river and south of Pennsylvania Avenue, is the city's poorest.
"There have been so many broken promises. And that's why I'm glad to get this stuff in legislation," said Allen, who with Chavous and council members Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) added the amendments after expressing strong opposition to the original bill.
"We've been waiting for community development for a long time," Allen said. "So it's kind of hard to believe things are going to happen."
In addition to establishing the waterfront corporation, the council authorized millions of dollars last week to buy Skyland Shopping Center, a 1940s-era strip of small stores. A McLean-based developer wants to tear it down and build something large enough to attract a Target, a sit-down restaurant and other sought-after retail outlets currently scarce east of the river. Civic groups have been pushing for the project for 15 years.
"It's well overdue," said Nathan Jones, 43, a vendor who sells hats, shirts and other items from a sidewalk stand in front of the shopping center. But then he wondered what will become of the storekeepers -- the beautician, the record shop owner, the proprietor of Discount Mart -- who have been on the premises for decades. Some merchants have joined the property owners in suing to try to stop the project.
If the project goes forward, Jones said, "they should make it so [the merchants] could come back when it's done."
The council also approved the transfer of a parcel of land next to the 11th Street Bridge, just outside historic Anacostia, to a development team planning an office-and-retail "gateway" project to draw workers and visitors from west of the river to the east side.
Allen called the transfer a major step that will allow the project to go forward after years languishing on the drawing board. But some of her most vocal constituents are suspicious, stalwart in their belief that the change will not benefit them.
"It will help the people who are going to live here in the future. Because the people who are living here now are going to be moved out," said Carolyn Johns Gray, a sixth-generation Washingtonian who lives in Anacostia and has long advocated for the restoration of the historic district.
Gray, 62, said she wants the city to recruit retailers to the worn and often vacant storefronts in the historic district and to focus only on current residents rather than new or prospective arrivals.
She and others are wary of the hundreds of well-appointed townhouses and single-family homes that have been built east of the river in recent years, some replacing run-down apartments or public housing.
Although many of the new developments include subsidized units, they are drawing higher-earning families to communities that were mostly abandoned by the middle class.
But then there are longtime fans of the river who see changes in a different light. Glenn Lewis moved to Prince George's County years ago, but he still returns to Southeast to lure catfish out of the Anacostia's polluted waters.
The public housing across from his boyhood home in Congress Heights has been demolished and is being replaced by a mixed-income subdivision. Building permits are being finalized for a long-planned supermarket at the abandoned Camp Simms National Guard encampment a few blocks away.
Lewis said he is certain that the momentum will carry over to the river where he swam as a boy and where, in a solo celebration of his 53rd birthday, he fished for hours in the bright sunshine Thursday.
He sat on a faded canvas folding chair in a small section of Anacostia Park littered with beer cans and liquor bottles. Across the rippling, brown water, he could see the bustling Washington Navy Yard and the bleak industrial landscape of Buzzard Point. A procession of 26 Canada geese swam by. The sound of traffic -- from the South Capitol Street Bridge and Interstate 295 -- provided steady background noise.
"They talked about it for years. Now it seems they're really getting ready to do something about it," Lewis said. "This would be a perfect place and opportunity."
Dorothy Campbell, 70, fears development may push out Southeast residents. "Where would they go?" she asks.
Nathan Jones, a vendor in front of Skyland Shopping Center, wonders what will happen to the merchants if the plan to replace the center goes ahead.