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Annys Shin’s article “Sub Par” (6/21) unfortunately misses the point of why so many of us in the neighborhood are concerned about the building that the H Street Community Development Corporation (CDC) wants to construct at 8th and H Streets NE.
The run-of-the-mill shoe stores and sub shop that the CDC has leased space to aren’t really the issue, although we are concerned because there are already four chain shoe stores and six carryouts within one block of the site. Certainly, these tenants don’t appear to meet the CDC’s promise made in 1999 to provide “well designed retail space that will attract a community desirable retailer and will improve the quality of retail in the community.”
Today, the H Street commercial district has no card shop, no bakery, no bookstore, no photo or copy shop, no coffeeshop, no ice-cream shop, no office-supply store, few if any home-furnishings stores, and few nonbank financial services. So even once this building is constructed and the chain shoe stores and Blimpie open, I will still have to leave the neighborhood to do most of my shopping.
The fundamental problem with the project is that the H Street CDC is content to build a one-story building in the place of the two- and three-story historic buildings that they demolished in 1999. The new building, like every single one of the other construction projects the CDC has brought to the neighborhood, is of an undistinguished design that basically ignores the Victorian brick row-house architecture that dominates the neighborhood—the use of red brick notwithstanding. The proposed design for this building is better than the parking-lot-fronted cinder-block AutoZone that the CDC brought to the 1200 block, but “better than cinder block” ought not to be the standard of comparison that satisfies us.
The fact is, the H Street CDC demolished historic buildings on this site, in violation of federal and city law. They claim that the buildings weren’t historic and that the buildings couldn’t be rehabbed. Yet, at least 16 months before the buildings were demolished, the CDC received an opinion from a reputable architectural firm that the buildings were repairable; that opinion was ignored.
To provide federal funds to cover in part the cost of land acquisition and site clearing seems, then, to be a violation of federal law, because according to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, such monies aren’t to be used to destroy historic buildings. Furthermore, at the time of the demolition, the H Street CDC’s general operating monies also came from federal funds. All the more reason for the CDC to preserve historic assets rather than destroy them.
The issue, then, is why the CDC is content to build a lousy building at the most significant intersection on the corridor. And then the real issue becomes why the city government is so eager to fund the construction of a lousy building with lousy stores at the most significant intersection on the corridor.
This becomes more ironic because while one part of the city government is giving $1 million to the H Street CDC to construct a building that contributes very little to the commercial district, the Office of Planning and Economic Development has funded a “Main Streets” program for H Street ($250,000 over five years) and is commissioning an “H Street Revitalization Study ($150,000). The development project in question represents the antithesis of the “Main Streets” approach.
Those of us in the neighborhood concerned about this project are not saying, “Don’t build.” In fact, we are clamoring for a distinctively designed multistory building, including office and/or residential space on the upper stories, because we believe that it would be better for the neighborhood in the long run.
Quality in intent, design, and
construction should be a minimum requirement for all building projects receiving federal and/or city monies. Those of us concerned about this project are asking for publicly funded projects to be held to a standard higher than merely “better than
cinder block.” Where, then, is the community in the H Street “Community” Development Corporation? These are the real issues, not
whether the neighborhood needs
or wants another place to buy a tuna-fish sandwich.
(For more on this issue, check out www.hstreetdc.com/testimony.pdf.)
Greater H Street