On Tuesday June 25th, ULI Washington’s Sustainability Committee offered a program on Sustainable Southwest: The Past, Present and Future of Sustainable Urbanism in Southwest DC. Two expert panels presented on sustainability-related land use challenges and opportunities related to major redevelopment efforts underway at Southwest Federal Center and the Southwest Waterfront. The event, which was attended by over 80 participants, began with the panel presentations in the L’Enfant Hotel and concluded with a reception at The Wharf’s waterfront offices.
The first panel was moderated by Brad Dockser, Chief Executive Officer of Green Generation Solutions, LLC and Chair of the ULI Washington Sustainability Committee. This panel focused on the public-private partnership that is emerging around Southwest Federal Center, which surrounds the L’Enfant Metro station and is mostly occupied today by federal agency offices including the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the US Department of Energy, the Federal Aviation Administration, the US Postal Service and others. The first presentation was delivered by Diane Sullivan, Lead Sustainability Planner, and Elizabeth Miller, Director of the Physical Planning Division, both with the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC). In January 2013, NCPC adopted a vision plan for the Southwest Ecodistrict. The Plan outlines as a 20 to 25-year framework strategy for the area’s redevelopment info a highly sustainable, mixed-use community. The Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions, improve connections from the National Mall to the waterfront, enhance non-motorized transportation options and reduce energy consumption in the area. Ms. Sullivan discussed a series of converging efforts by the District, the Federal government and the private sector that serve as preliminary steps toward implementing the Southwest Ecodistrict plan. For example, the District has plans to build a deck over a portion of Maryland Avenue, vastly improving walkability and creating new opportunity sites for parks, cultural
amenities and development. At the same time, the General Services Administration (GSA) has issued a request for information (RFI) for a 22-acre area within the SW Ecodistrict (“Federal Triangle South”), where they are exploring strategies for repurposing, renovating or redeveloping several aging or underutilized Federal buildings. GSA has expressed their intention to align with the NCPC SW Ecodistirct Plan and the D.C. Office of Planning’s Maryland Avenue Small Area Plan.
The crux of the Southwest Ecodistrict Plan, as explained by Ms. Sullivan, is energy and waste reduction. The plan accomplishes these goals through solar/thermal rooftops, district-scale energy and water systems, and significant green infrastructure systems. The buildings in the area are currently very energy-intensive, due primarily to their large size and also to limited past investment in maintenance and energy upgrades. The Plan prioritizes buildings for rehabilitation versus repurposing and also identifies infill opportunity sites. All told, the Southwest Ecodistrict Plan would reduce the area’s greenhouse gas emissions by 51%, allow for the capture and reuse of all of the district’s rainwater, reduce potable water use by 70%, increase the amount of waste diverted from the land to 80%, and transform the federally-owned central utility plant into a highly efficient and financially successful facility.
The second presentation was given by Eileen Nacev, Director of Sustainability and Vice President of Commercial Asset Management, and Britt Snider, Senior Vice President of Development, both with The JBG Companies. The team from JBG talked about how much can be achieved with regard to sustainability by taking moderate steps to improve the buildings and sites currently located in the area. In recent years, The JBG Companies did a major renovation of the retail area and food court connecting L’Enfant Metro Station to L’Enfant Plaza and Hotel, bringing in new food vendors and creating an enhanced retail space that emphasizes natural lighting. In July, the company will begin a $15 million renovation to the north office complex located on 10th Street. According to Mr. Snider, “one of the beauties of the L’Enfant Plaza area is that there is already another one million square feet of density that is currently approved by right.” JBG currently has plans to construct a new 220,000 square foot Southeast office building, which will be built to LEED Gold standards, as well as an additional central office building in the area. The panel discussed long term opportunities to improve walkability by re-connecting the street network, reducing block sizes and potentially providing integrated connections between MARC, VRE and Metro trains, a future DC Streetcar line and local/regional buses.
After a short break, the second panel spoke about the significant redevelopment effort that is underway at the Southwest Waterfront, a 27-acre area located along the Potomac River between Maine Avenue, 395 and 6th Street SW. The panel was moderated by Uwe Brandes, Senior Vice President of Initiatives at the Urban Land Institute. The first presentation was delivered by Elinor Bacon, Partner and Matthew Steenhoek, Development Manager, both with Hoffman-Madison Waterfront. The Hoffman-Madison team believes the central location of the Southwest Waterfront will create a draw for the residents of the region as well as the 20 million annual visitors to the National Mall. They shared some of the history of the area, noting that the Urban Renewal movement of the 1970s created mega-blocks, large buildings and auto-oriented growth in this part of the District. According to Ms. Bacon, this development pattern has resulted in a stable residential community in Southwest, but limited retail success and an area challenged by poor walkability and connectivity. Hoffman-Madison was selected as the master development team for the area and is working to implement more than 3 million square feet of development. The entitlements for the project were approved in 2011, the entire first phase has full design approval, and the development team is currently in the process of lining up financing for the sizable project. The Hoffman-Madison plan envisions 11 blocks of new development, including 560 new residential units, 600 hotel rooms, 840,000 square feet of office, 335,000 of retail space and a new music hall/concert venue. The project also includes more than 400 marina slips and 60 percent of the site area will be public space. Smaller blocks would create a more walkable, pedestrian-scale district and the project includes a new waterfront promenade along the river. Most of the residential portion of the project will be rental units and Hoffman-Madison plans to include some “micro units,” which could be as small as 350 square feet. Approximately 20 percent of the units will be affordable to a wide range of income groups, and affordable units will be dispersed in the same buildings as market rate units. The retail will aim for 20 percent “local or unique vendors”, to create a more authentic neighborhood atmosphere. With regard to green features, the residential building in phase one will include a nearly one-acre park on its roof, will provide as many bike racks as parking spaces for cars, includes a massive storm water storage and reuse system, and all of the buildings will be LEED certified.
The final speakers were Joel Lawson, Associate Director for Development Review, and Patricia Zingsheim, Associate Director of Revitalization and Design, both with the DC Office of Planning. Ms. Zingsheim spoke about how the Hoffman-Madison plan implements a portion of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative Framework Plan, which was released in 2003. Because of the significant number of agency and community stakeholders involved in revitalizing the Anacostia Waterfront, a memorandum of support was signed by over 30 agencies following the adoption of the Framework Plan. The Plan was fundamentally grounded in sustainability principles, a fact that Zingsheim believes is noteworthy since it was adopted before sustainability was a prevalent theme in public planning efforts. The Plan envisions $10 billion in investment in the waterfront over 30 years, including a series of public and private improvements that would enhance the “physical, visual and psychological access to the waterfront for District residents and visitors.” Recognizing that many of the needed improvements require reconfiguration or redesign of public streets, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has adopted a series of complimentary plans that will help to implement the Anacostia Waterfront Framework Plan. The Plan identified several critical focus areas for policy interventions and investment, one of which was the Southwest Waterfront. Simply put, the goal in this area is to replace large swaths of pavement with parks and buildings, creating a walkable and green district. The District plans to maintain Maine Avenue as a grand boulevard with a strong federal/monumental presence, but also to enfuse the area with smaller-scale streets and neighborhood districts. The District is also committed to improving affordability in the area through the inclusion of below-market-rate housing units. Last, Ms. Zingsheim believes that the SW Waterfront will benefit greatly from the District’s recently-adopted “green area ratio,” which is the most aggressive rule of its kind in the country and dictates a required ratio of landscape elements to land area in new and significantly renovated buildings in D.C.
ULI Washington thanks its event sponsor The JBG Companies.