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Cellerino Bernardino pointing out highlights. (Lydia DePillis)

After two decades of delay, it appears that developer Michele Hagans‘ Shops at Dakota Crossing project is finally getting started. Hagans’ number two, Cellerino Bernardino, told a room full of senior citizens at Thurgood Marshall Elementary last night that the retail component of the massive complex at New York and North Dakota Avenues NE—slated to include a Costco, and probably a Target, Shoppers, and Marshall’s as well—would break ground in early summer 2011. They’ve got a $15 million commitment from the city, and Bernardino says that several lenders are “very interested” in underwriting the construction.

Fort Lincoln residents have waited a long time for large-scale retail offerings in their neighborhood. But the part Bernardino sold most heavily was the eco-friendliness: All the big box roofs will be painted a reflective white to avoid the urban “heat island” effect. All runoff from the roofs will be collected in cisterns and used for irrigation. A wall along New York Avenue will be entirely covered in greenery, and stormwater drainage pools will collect, filter, and release water from the 2,000-space surface parking lot so well that it will be “as if this development never happened.”

Wait, hang on a second. 2,000-space surface parking lot. I know that large retailers require large amounts of parking (just like they demanded market rate housing near the development, which Hagans is mitigating by reserving 10 percent for schoolteachers). And yes, this is perhaps the city’s most suburban-feeling area, difficult to reach even by bike, with only buses in the way of public transit.

It’s still disheartening, however, to see acres of asphalt replacing forests and wetlands in the year 2011 in the District of Columbia—is there any point in the future at which we’ll be able to skip the ugly suburban stage altogether and go straight to dense, urban development? DCUSA’s parking garage might be largely empty, but at least it’s also largely invisible, and services an otherwise eminently walkable area. I wish Hagans had thought about burying some of that parking and leaving some of the land permeable, or at least putting more housing on it. You can mitigate the runoff, but massive expanses of concrete will never be good for human habitation, and D.C. shouldn’t be making more of them.