Recap of Public Meeting for 2nd & Mass Park

A reader from The Sonata shared highlights on the meeting minutes from the recent public meeting on August 19th regarding the issues surrounding the park at 2nd/Mass & H. This is the park that recently has been referred to as Cobbs Park…

Members of the Mt Vernon Triangle met earlier this week to discuss the safety/sanitation/crime/homelessness issues at the park located at 2nd & Mass NW (sometimes referred to as Cobb Park).  Elected Officials included representatives from CM Wells’s office, the Deputy Mayor’s office, and ANCs 6E04, 6E05 and 2C02.  ANC 6E07 Alfreda Judd (who represents the neighborhood in question) did not attend.

All invited city agencies sent representatives (DPR, DHS, DGS, DMH, MPD).   The television station WJLA, which has been following the story, sent a reporter to cover the meeting.

Residents complained about the increasing (and well publicized) incidents of public urination, defecation, sexual intercourse, prostitution, and general harassment in the area.  Some residents also expressed concern about the negative tone of email listservs / blogs regarding the homeless and reminded everyone in attendance that the neighborhood should not be trying to criminalize homelessness.

Commander Hickson of MPD-1D talked at length about the homelessness issue and the fact that 50+ arrests have been made in 30 days (most for minor offenses open containers of alcohol).

Key points from MPD:

  • He assured the neighborhood that no hard drugs are present – MPD is using undercover officers, surveillance.  The packets that are being exchanged are synthetic marijuana, which is a major problem in the city at the moment.

  • If an individual or a group is blocking the entrance of the building the Code states that officers have to give them the opportunity to come into compliance by issuing a verbal warning.  If subjects then move along, there are no arrests made.
  • Prostitution is a misdemeanor, but it has to be witnessed by the officer or an undercover officer.  DC does not designate “prostitution-free” zones with signs anymore because the Supreme Court ruled against NYC on a similar issue, costing the city millions.
  • Police can work with communities to combat prostitution through traffic enforcement.  For example, 2nd and K St. NE has no right turns after a certain time of day, which makes it harder for johns to circle the block.
  • Police are patrolling the park every 2 hours during the day and squad cars are clearing people out at night because the signs state “Park Closes at Dusk.”  Police cannot necessarily arrest people for being in the park at night; they must ask them to leave and can ban them from the park in the future.

Representatives from the Mayor’s office discussed long-term solutions to the homelessness crisis in DC (such as affordable housing initiatives), but none seemed to address the critical issue at hand (both for individuals in the park and residents in the area).

DPR wants MVT residents “to be present in our parks,” and “use them” to discourage undesirables.  That message, while laudable, seemed to fall on deaf ears for residents who fear for their personal safety and have experienced loud & aggressive harassment while walking in the vicinity.

The idea of creating a playground in the park was discouraged by DPR and had previously been considered and rejected by a parent’s group in the area due to the busy and complicated intersection of H and Mass.

Next Steps:

  1. Residents should continue to call 911 rather than 311; that is the only way the police can document actionable upticks and send the appropriate respons
  2. Mayor office to circle back to set up a progress report meeting, possibly by the September 17th MVSNA Meeting
  3. Commander Hickson wants residents to learn your Police Service Area (“PSA”), attend PSA meetings, get on listserve, get to know the Lt. responsible for our area
  4. Cdr Hickson offered the idea of a park clean-up; he will have officers on hand as escorts
  5. Create a “Friends of the Park” organization. Use the park- have movies, yoga,  community nights, and anything that establishes a community base in the park.
  6. ANC member requested a walk-through with DPR to clean up the park, fix crumbling concrete, paint, cleaning, etc and find budget to support a clean-up effort.
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Public meeting regarding issues at park at 2nd & Mass

Consternation over the safety/security/sanitation issues at the park at 2nd & Mass are ramping up exponentially since we first posted a note from a frustrated reader on July 25th. The downward spiral for the park was even recently highlighted in a WJLA TV news segment.

Residents of the Sonata condominium are rising to action with their concerns. They’ve scheduled a public meeting on Monday August 19th. The gathering will begin with a walk through of the park at 7pm followed by a meeting on the rooftop of 301 Massachusetts Ave NW.

Date: Monday, August 19th
Time: 7:00pm (walkthrough); 7:15pm meeting on roof at 301 Mass. We’ll meet outside the building at 7pm
Location: 301 Massachusetts Ave NW
Access: When you arrive, front desk personnel will assist with roof access.
Inclement Weather Location: TBD

Draft agenda for meeting is below:

I.   Root cause of the recent change
·         Homeless issue, crime issue, or both?
·         If caused by changes at CCNV or closure of Central Union Mission – what is the city’s plan?

II.  What has been done so far, and what more can the city do to help?
·         MPD / DPR / CM Wells/ MVTCID / Mayor’s office/ DMH
·         Results?

III.  What can residents and the community do to help?
·         “Friends of the Park” Organization
·         Landscaping/fencing/creation of a dog park or playground to give the public space a “purpose”
·         CCTV to observe illegal activity

IV.  Miscellaneous – open issues

V.  Recap/ Next Step

The meeting invitation was sent directly to the Mayor’s Office, DC Council, MPD, ANCs, local residents, MVTCID, and city agencies such as DPR, DMH, DHS, and APRA.

As an aside – is this park really named Cobbs park? Or is this just another case of a Google Maps label convincing everyone that’s the name? Which seems innocuous enough… but in the past I’ve seen Google Maps label parking lots as parks and even label the MarcParc parking lot at 6th & K as a hospital…

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Google Earth 1999 – part two

The Google Earth tool has a feature that displays historical satellite images from selected points in time. I thought it would be interesting to review images from last decade that pre-date all the new construction development we see today.

Not surprisingly much of what existed in 1999 was surface parking lots. But there are structures visible on many of these sites. Where these vacant buildings or did they host residences or businesses. Feel free to share the 411 in the comments.

The DuMont and 455 Mass:

The Sonata, Madrigal Lofts and Mitchell Mayer Building:

Click on any of the images to enlarge.

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Closeup look at alley behind 300 block of H Street NW

I attended last night’s ANC6C ABL committee meeting in which the applicant (Pouya Yousefi) for the new proposed tavern at 315 H Street NW explained his concept and fielded questions. I will recap that discussion in a later posting – but I first wanted to lay a little more ground work to convey the alley setup to all readers.

This flickr photo set visually represents the alley behind the 300 block of H Street NW that is shared by the commercial uses, the Second Baptist Church, and the Madrigal Lofts and Sonata condominiums. I thought conveying this representation was important because while many area residents are familiar with the location of Tunnel and Papa Johns – only residents of Madrigal and Sonata are intimately familiar with the alley. (Note: once viewing in Flickr roll over the pictures with to see notes that explain exactly which building is which.)

Click thumbnail image to visit flickr photo set

This alley is already an extremely high use alley with residents of two high-rises condos traveling through to access the garage egresses to roughly 350 underground parking spaces. Papa Johns delivery drivers also make heavy use of the alley. A new use of this large scope that will attract more employees, deliveries, trash pickups and up to 299 patrons to the block would need to be carefully and respectfully integrated. Residents deserve to know the applicant has a plan to manage their share of the alley use and a voluntary agreement to codify that plan into enforceable expectations.

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How would you feel about short term rentals in your building?

While surfing the site Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) I came across a unit that is clearly at The Sonata.

Below is a screen cap in case the ad gets pulled:

Location: Washington, District of Columbia, USA (3rd & Mass Ave NW DC Gallery Place Metro Judiciary Square)
Accommodations: Condominium – 1 Bedroom – 1 Bath – (Sleeps 2-4)

A newly built, loft-style one-bedroom flat on the ninth-floor in a luxurious 12-story, 75- residence-unit building in a prime downtown Washington location within sight of the US Capitol.

B&B RATES: One Bedroom Furnished Luxury Hi-Rise Apartment $325.00 per night+ tax. No stays of less than 3 days. Weekly RATES: $1750/week + Tax Extended Stay RATES: $125/night with a minimum 30 day stay. No tax on stays of 30 days or more. Tax is 14.55% additional for stays of less than 30 days.

How would you feel if owners in your building were renting units in this manner?

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Park Improvements at 2nd and Mass (proposed)

Last night a meeting to discuss the park at the confluence of 2nd, Mass and H Street was held. Attendees included, but not limited to, residents from the Sonata, a representative from the office building at 251 H Street, our MVT CID executive director Bill McLeod, president of the MVSNA Cary Silverman, Thor Nelson from the Office of Planning and Sarah Moulton from the Department of Park and Recreations.

The park is presently an under utilized eyesore. The heavy traffic surrounding the park isolates it. Homeless sleep in the park with one often camped inside the center ring of bushes. There was also talk of a recent illegal BBQ (by homeless?) at the park. The park is not well maintained, safe or inviting.

Funding is not presently available to perform a major overhaul of the park. Long term this could be negotiated with the developer seeking air rights over I-395 but improvements are needed in the short term. The Office of Planning (OP) has identified a transportation funds grant program that could provide the modest funding needed for small scale improvements including critical irrigation. With this intersection being one of the busiest in the city it qualifies and has the visibility to increase likelihood to receive the grant. However the grant will require that ongoing park maintenance is secured. If this comes together the improvements could begin as soon as October.

Rendering for proposed improvements to park at 2nd, Mass and H

Rendering from Dept or Park & Recs (DPR)

The Department of Parks and Recs (DPR) has developed a set of design guidelines for the site. These cite the short term objectives for the park to be primarily beautification of the space and creation of a marker for the surrounding neighborhoods and the immediate area on Massachusetts Ave. DPR has also identified materials and plants that could be relocated from the Art Walk at the Old Convention Center site to keep costs down.

From the Draft document distributed by DPR:

Short Term Scenario Implementations Guidance:
  • Provide a minimal, but bold planting pallet to be both low maintenance and highly visible to passing motorists.
  • Focus tree planting on streets edges and in areas with significant soil depth.
  • Install focal artwork or monument to create a sense of place and draw for the area.
  • Provide benches and other seating to allow lunchtime gathering and passive use of the park
  • Preserve existing pavement areas and repair where needed
  • Implement “quick fix” pedestrian safety measures like: new cross walk painting, adding parking lanes to Mass Avenue next to park

Discussion turned more towards the homeless impact on the park. The Central Union Mission is opening a 150 bed shelter at the Gales School within a year just a block from the park. DPR’s position is that parks are an amenity for everyone including the homeless. It should be designed to be safe and engage all people.

Cary Silverman expanded upon his previous point of the Gales School shelter opening and pointed out that the isolation of the park is appealing to the homeless. He suggested the space needs a draw to bring surrounding residents across the busy streets to the park. There is no design for a prominent draw in the short term plans. An expenditure of a fountain or statue could be taken on longer term. A Sonata owner chimed in with the benefits of the park embracing dog owners. Dogs owners want green space to walk their pets and most presently walk to the Building Museum. She suggested the added benefit to the community that dogs tend to discourage vagrancy“scare people who know they are where they shouldn’t be.” I don’t think she’s suggesting anyone shouldn’t be at the park. But people shouldn’t be camping in the bushes . McLeod made note of this as he said “durable grass”.

Lastly, an important message was put forth that this park would NOT be THE PARK for the Triangle. Both DPR and the MVT CID want a larger more central green space less isolated by heavy traffic. There are some alternative that are being studied regarding this but they were not shared in the meeting. One possibility I have previously seen in the Mount Vernon Triangle Transportation and Public Realm Design Project suggests a park along a new extension of 3rd Street built out over I-395.

Note: Cary Silverman has also covered the meeting on his blog. Cary is spearheading a “Friend of the (name TBD) Park” effort.

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April MVSNA meeting – attended by Mayor Fenty

I attended my first Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association (MVSNA) meeting tonight. The agenda was had a wide range of items ranging from after hours club Sanctuary 84, Shotspotter implementation, DDOT and police issues regarding wrong way traffic and speeding on streets surrounding New York Ave, as well as a Q&A with Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Jeff Parke took meeting notes that you can browse [here]. ANC2C02 leader Kevin Chappel has video of the crime discussion [here].

Really, so much to talk about. I have a feeling many of the large issues will be addressed by the prominent posters on the MVSNA blog over the next couple days. So I’m going to focus on a few police & DDOT items from the Triangle and Mayor Fenty’s discussion of the homeless shelters.

Concerns about increased prostitute and gang presence around the the 24 Hour CVS at 400 Mass. Apparently a nearby 24-hour CVS at 1st & K closed down. That closing has displaced some of the late night loitering to this 400 Mass Ave location. The police are aware of the issue and will monitor it closely. From the back of the room I didn’t hear what the full plan of action might be. But I did want to bring this up on our blog so our readers would be aware of the issue. Those 2 AM trips to the pharmacy may require greater caution in the short term.

DDOT comments on Mount Vernon Triangle
There was a big DDOT Q&A with Karina Ricks. Much of it focused on the intersections of New York Ave and the residual traffic issues. She did field one question that specifically asked about future improvements to the streets in the Triangle. She stated DDOT would be doing work on L Street along City Vista later this year and that improvements for 4th and 5th streets were slated for 2009.

Mayor Fenty on the Homeless Shelters
During the Q&A with Major Fenty inquiries about both the widely discussed move of the Central Union Mission to the Gales School at 65 Mass Ave as well as the rumor mill about additional shelter sites within the same immediate vicinity. Fenty confirmed that the Gales School had been used as a shelter in the past and was always earmarked to resume that use after renovations to the building were completed.

Members of The Sonata condo association also brought forth scuttlebutt about the park above the I-395 tunnel at 2nd and H Streets NW becoming a site for a construction of a new homeless shelter. It was suggested this information arose from Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and a Washingtonpost article. Concerns raised included losing scarce green space and impact to the community that increased concentration of homeless services in a radius of a few blocks would yield (such as noise, litter, safety issues). Mayor Fenty went on to explain that the city wanted to reduce the number of homeless shelters rather than build more. The goal is to take a Housing First initiative that will put more of the chronically homeless in transitional housing units spread across the entire city. He admitted his administration may not have done a good job communicating this given how many concerns have been escalated by those who interpret the plan as filling apartment buildings with concentrations of homeless. To ensure that all concerns were addressed fully Fenty offered that the deputy mayor could provide answers regarding the specific park and lots that attendees inquired about for next month’s MVSNA meeting.

image from Si Kailian

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The bubble bursts in the Triangle

This scary post on DC Housing Prices today was enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. I’m not quite sure what to make of it… do you?

“If I owned a unit at the Sonata, I think I’d be a tad unhappy that the developer is lowering prices 6.4 – 14.4%, less than a year after I closed on my unit.”

DC Housing Prices Blog

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Mount Vernon Triangle Maps From The Past!

Yesterday Penn Quarter Living had an interesting post comparing Satellite Images from years in the past to the most current images. I thought it would be interesting to do the same for Mount Vernon Triangle.

Using the Bird’s eye view feature of Microsoft’s Local Live I pulled up some images of Mount Vernon Triangle. These focus on the area around Madrigal Lofts, the Sonata and the Dumont.



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