The Plan to Revitalize Van Ness

  • April 22nd 2016

by Nena Perry-Brown

The Plan to Revitalize Van Ness: Figure 1
Rendering of an improved 4340 Connecticut Avenue. Image courtesy of Streetsense.

As neighborhoods around DC have transformed over the past few decades, Van Ness has remained a staid pass-through along Connecticut Avenue in upper Northwest. Now, a plan is in the works to change that.

With neighborhood businesses and institutions moving out, the Office of Planning (OP) has been collaborating with Van Ness Main Streets and ANC 3F in order to furnish a plan to activate Connecticut Avenue between Albemarle and Tilden Streets NW. On Thursday, OP unveiled the newly-completed Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC).

“The Action Strategy lays out a blueprint for the Commercial District that focuses on creating a new retail identity, making better use of the corridor’s wide sidewalks, embracing leadership in environmental sustainability, and maximizing the opportunities for commercial development,” the plan stated.

The overall strategy presented on Thursday revolves around influencing future development in the neighborhood to ensure active and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, and accessible and plentiful retail. Although the focus is not on increasing the number of residences in the area, plans hope to make the stretch along Connecticut Avenue more welcoming to existing residents and passers-by alike.

ANC Commissioner Mary Beth Ray conceded that while the area is now known for “traffic jams and monolithic architecture”, it is ripe for revitalization. The recently-opened UDC Student Center and soon-to-open Park Van Ness mixed-use apartment complex are regarded as catalysts in these efforts.

The Plan to Revitalize Van Ness: Figure 2
Looking south on Connecticut Avenue in Van Ness

In the short-term, the revitalization efforts will range from working with Park Van Ness to activate the northeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and Albemarle Street NW (map) to launching a monthly jazz series at local restaurants. The other two sites which have been identified for restoration are the western Metro entrance plaza and the west side of Connecticut Avenue between Yuma Street and Veazey Terrace. The first is a prime location for public art installations and seating areas, while sidewalks will be widened and landscaped at the latter.

Long-term strategies are more wide-reaching and conceptual, such as the hope of expanding upon the local farmers market and requesting that developers add community retail to their projects as a public benefit. Ultimately, those guiding the revitalization hope to maximize the use and efficiency of public space in the target area. OP’s Ryan Hand shared that their office would be allotting $50,000 of their recently-awarded Kresge Foundation Creative Placemaking Grant to the Van Ness transformation.

While those in attendance on Thursday sat quietly through most of the presentation, they were not shy about voicing their concerns with how or whether the plan would come to fruition. For example, the Action Strategy team identified the impending move-out of Fannie Mae as an opportunity for revitalization, but an audience member pointed out that Fannie Mae is unlikely to do anything with the building for at least three years. Van Ness Main Street’s executive director Theresa Cameron acknowledged this, but suggested that they will explore using the space or the storefront as a pop-up rather than leaving it vacant over the long term.

As comprehensive and carefully-considered as the Action Strategy is, it will take several years and a lot of intensive community involvement to ensure that the plan comes to fruition. For more information on and images of the Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy, visit the Office of Planning’s website here.

See other articles related to: anc 3f, office of planning, udc, van ness

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/van_ness_commercial_corridor/11142.

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