Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has given Ivy City residents hope that their small, 1.7-square-mile neighborhood near the Maryland border will not be “a dumping ground” for projects that others have rebuffed.
Bowser (D) announced at a community meeting last week that the city won’t allow the area’s historic and long-shuttered Alexander Crummell School to be used as an overflow parking lot for private buses serving Union Station. The decision is a victory for residents who long have fought the District for using their largely poor, black and industrial neighborhood as a home for less-desirable city needs.
Union Station Redevelopment Corp., a nonprofit group devoted to the station’s restoration, had sought additional bus parking space while the station undergoes renovations. Bowser said the buses, for now, will be parked at Buzzard Point in Southwest, RFK Stadium and dedicated curbside bus spaces around the city.
The mayor’s low-key announcement on Wednesday comes at a critical time for the neighborhood in Northeast Washington. Like much of the District, Ivy City, which is a short distance from the popular H Street NE corridor, is undergoing a development boom.
But that development has been a long time coming, and officials initially had focused on Union Station, which is served by multiple intercity bus lines, including Greyhound, Megabus and Bolt. In 2012, then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced plans to build a bus depot for dozens of D.C.-to-New York motorcoaches at the historic Crummell School in the heart of Ivy City, prompting residents to file suit. In December 2012, a judge sided with residents, barring the city from parking buses on the property because it didn’t inform the area’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission of an agreement with the Union Station Redevelopment or conduct a thorough environmental impact assessment.
In March 2014, the judge lifted the injunction after the city met those conditions, although the Union Station Redevelopment has yet to regularly park buses on the 2.5-acre lot. Bowser’s comments were the first time she has said she would not allow the school to be used as a parking lot.
“There are currently no buses parked there, there weren’t any buses there and there will not be buses there,” said Joaquin McPeek, spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
Douglas Development purchased the massive, six-story Hecht Warehouse on New York Avenue NE in 2011 at an auction. Mom’s Organic Market, Planet Fitness and a Nike store have opened in the warehouse, and the owners of the upscale Ghibellina on 14th Street NW are planning to open three restaurants there.
Joe Englert, the D.C. bar owner and restaurateur who is behind much of the development along H Street NE, announced that he and a partner would build a 13,000-square-foot bouldering gym, beer garden and in-house coffee roaster in the area.
Parisa Norouzi, the executive director of Empower DC — the activist group that led efforts to stop buses from parking at the school — celebrated the mayor’s decision, but she said she believes the impetus behind it does not just involve Ivy City. Instead, she said, it’s influenced by development in the area: A lot of money hinges on the success of Ivy City’s development plans, and a bus depot in the center of the neighborhood isn’t attractive to anyone.
“Nothing happened until there was interest [in the neighborhood] from predominantly white developers and business owners,” Norouzi said. “We’re taking about people who did not even know that Ivy City existed two or three years ago.”
Now, the next step is to redevelop the Crummell School. The school was built in 1911 and closed in the 1970s. Despite attempts from residents and community leaders, no one has been able to reopen the building as a school.
McPeek said the city plans to put out a request for proposals to develop the property but first wants to gather community responses to see what residents want. At Wednesday’s community meeting attended by Bowser, McPeek said residents suggested an arts center, a recreation center and a community center for seniors. McPeek said the process is in its early stages and that the property could also be used for housing.
“We want to make sure we bring the voices and opinions of residents into these redevelopment projects,” he said.
Norouzi says the next grass-roots fight is to ensure that the Crummell School property is used to serve the community, not spur further development to attract outside business owners.
“This is a nationally designated, historical site. It’s the heart of Ivy City; it’s not vacant government land to spur economic development,” she said. “Private developers have gobbled up every other available parcel along New York Avenue and the surrounding area.”