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Two related press conferences were held Nov. 17 at the National Arboretum; one was somewhat vague, while the other was extremely vague.
The first, staged near the New York Avenue NE entrance to the country’s only federally funded arboretum, had its concrete qualities: It announced the beginning of a restoration of the historic brickyard on the site, which between 1909 and 1972 used the area’s large clay deposits to make bricks for local structures, including Lafayette Square’s New Executive Office Building. The site has been idle since 1976, when it was acquired by the feds; now the arboretum plans to restore some of the kilns (termed “beehive” for their shape) and related structures, and to integrate them into a new garden.
The arboretum’s larger goal is to erect a new visitors’ center just east of the brickyard, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Arboretum officials hope that the structure on heavily traveled New York Avenue will increase the visibility of the low-profile 444-acre facility, which can boast having developed “more than 180 new landscape cultivars” but which is visited by few local residents. Specifically, however, the arboretum had nothing to announce about the design or funding of the center.
Then the party adjourned to the arboretum’s auditorium for the official announcement of a report commissioned by the H Street Community Development Corp. (CDC), New York Avenue Corridor: Concepts and Strategies for the Future. On hand were representatives of the city, the CDC, and various major landholders along the avenues. (Those include the Salvation Army, Amtrak, Black Entertainment Television (BET), CSX Real Property, and the Washington Times.) Those who spoke were as speculative as the report itself, which features a series of maps, photos, and lists on the theme of “wouldn’t it be nice if New York Avenue were redeveloped.” The study recycles such previous suggestions as a new Red Line station near the intersection of New York and Florida Avenues and At-Large Councilmember John Ray’s proposal for a New York Avenue “development entity.”
The report calls attention to the businesses already in the corridor, including such recent arrivals as Federal Express and BET, and suggests encouraging (somehow) more light-industrial uses while retaining existing residential uses and—this is the oddest note—landscaping the avenue in the manner of the grand Parisian boulevards (which are not known, generally, for their light-industrial character). It also calls for “quality retail development” in Fort Lincoln, “enhanc[ing] the quality” of the strip’s notorious motels, and a new visitors’ center for the arboretum. The latter, at least, will probably happen.
Well Well Well One way the big boys win zoning cases is by applying and reapplying until their opponents are worn down or out. Thus Wilkes Artis Hedrick & Lane, the powerhouse zoning firm representing George Washington University (GW), has asked the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) to reconsider its Nov. 2 rejection of the university’s scheme to build a 90-foot-high Health and Wellness Center building that would tower over St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 23th and G Streets NW. In a Nov. 16 letter, the law firm requests that the BZA reopen the record to consider if GW’s campus plan specifically designates the site as appropriate and if there is any other possible campus location for the structure.
Community activist Barbara Kahlow calls GW’s gambit “very dirty pool,” while Richard Nettler, who represents St. Mary’s, says the plea “doesn’t have any merit.”