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So this morning, Mayor Vince Gray and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an initiative to enhance the landscaping and pedestrian experience around the Anacostia metro station. That’s great. It’s one of the most confusing and hard-to-get-to stations in the whole system, garlanded by intersections, and could sure use some upgrades.
But the bigger problem with that area isn’t sidewalks or street trees. Rather, it’s the absence of any significant commercial, office, or residential development within a quarter-mile radius, which is the magic number for destinations to fall within walking distance. The primary uses in direct proximity to the Metro station are schools and churches, which are only in use for limited periods. Most of the land is just empty, including a grassy field across Howard Road that’s owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and four acres kitty corner from the station bought by Bethlehem Baptist Church in 2002 and never developed. The latter was even identified in a 2004 Office of Planning study, approved by the Council, as “the most promising site for early development,” able to handle 230-250 residential units and 11,000-15,000 square feet of retail.
According to local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner William Ellis, WMATA contemplated buying the church site in 2009 for a new headquarters building, but never followed through. He hasn’t heard any rumblings from the church about developing its vacant land (which is, at least, current on its property taxes).
Now, I realize the difficulty of luring developers East of the River. But if the feds and the District are serious about improving the environmental qualities of that area, they should buy it and build housing there themselves. Even if the funds don’t exist to do that, it’s bizarre to not even mention the nonexistent density around that site in a whole media event around greening the station.