After nearly a decade of community work reimagining the plaza that surrounds Eastern Market Metro Station, located at Pennsylvania Ave. SE between Seventh and Eighth Streets SE, the Eastern Market Metro Park (EMMP) project is moving forward.
Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) secured a total investment of $7.1 million for the project over the last two budget cycles, paving the way for Department of General Services (DGS) to begin the design-build process. In September, construction company Keystone Plus and architects Moya Design Partners were selected to join the Design Build Team (DBT). The goal is to finalize drawings for permitting by the end of the winter, allowing construction to begin in August or September of 2019.
In early December, DGS and the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) participated in two meetings to discuss designs for the project. The first was held on Dec. 10th with the Community Advisory Team and the second three days later with the broader community.
“This is an exciting vision and project to rethink our Eastern Market Metro Plaza,” said Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) in an interview. “We have the ability to create something new, something that people will walk to, rather than through.”
The engagement of DGS, the District’s construction arm, seems to be a sign of imminent activity. However, the project has been on the minds of Hill residents for years. An extensive nearly two-year community engagement process to determine a shared vision for the project was undertaken by Barracks Row Main Street (BRMS), beginning in 2013. The result, a master plan incorporating designs for a renovated Southeast Library, was completed by architect Amy Weinstein and landscape architects Oehme van Sweden (OvS) and presented in 2015.
That ‘2015 Plan’ includes a playground and fountains on Parcel 1 of the plaza, currently the site of the George Didden Holiday tree. On Parcel 4, site of the entrance to Eastern Market Metro Station, the plan calls for a bosque of trees and a pavilion. It also recommended that the southeast section of D Street SE be closed (in front of Community Connections) and called for the relocation of the northbound and southbound bus stops to Parcel 4, nearer to the metro station.
The community had expected to see design concepts based on an updated version of that plan, or to be contacted in the event of a new design. However, attendees at the early December meetings say that DGS and the design team took another course.
Two different master plan options were presented at a Dec. 10th Eastern Market Metro Park Advisory Team (EMMPAT) meeting, said members of that body. After hearing the displeasure of advisory team members, the design team presented a revised option to the community at a meeting held Thursday, Dec. 13th at Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE). It was unclear what link these plans had to the BRMS design.
“To date, EMMPAT meetings have been closed, allowing the Eastern Market leadership and the government agencies to discuss plans moving forward,” said a spokesperson from DGS. After protests both from the community and EMMPAT members, DGS told the Hill Rag that future meetings would be open to the public.
“The community-created 2015 Master Plan Continues to be used as the basis of design for this project,” said a spokesperson for DGS, adding that the agency’s role was to turn the 2015 Master Plan into a final, delivered project.
The spokesperson said that the community could stay engaged with the project through a survey, offered on the project website, by attending community meetings, or by interacting with members of EMMPAT.
‘Felt Like an Inefficient Beginning’
EMMPAT members said that the design team did not reach out to them before beginning work on concepts.
“To me it felt inefficient that they were putting all this work into a design without talking to anyone impacted by the project,” said Eastern Market Main Street (EMMS) Executive Director and EMMPAT Co-Chair Madeleine Odendahl of the Dec 10th meeting. “They went to the drawing board first, then back to us, then back to the drawing board. It felt like an inefficient beginning.”
Others expressed concern that the 2015 Plan, spearheaded by BRMS, was not more evident in the current concept.
“We were incredibly fortunate in that, here on the Hill, it can be difficult to put together something that has near universal agreement,” said BRMS Executive Director and EMMPAT Co-Chair Martin Smith of the 2015 Plan. “But I think everyone was able to find an element that they liked in it.”
At the community meeting, residents raised issues that had already been examined by focus groups in the previous process, including pedestrian safety, playground location and rodent control. Attendees at the community meeting also questioned the project’s impact on traffic and the resulting effect traffic might have on the neighboring streets.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s frustrating that we’re spending taxpayer dollars to redo a process that was done already –and not with taxpayer dollars,” said Odendahl. “We’re also rehashing issues that have already been hashed out.”
There are a few differences between the 2018 and 2015 master plans. The 2015 design shows a pavilion that was to serve as an entry to the underground expansion of the Southeast Library. The possibility of an underground expansion of the Library has since been discarded. The 2018 EMMP master plan shows fewer trees near the metro entrance than the 2015 version, concerning those who view the current site as a concrete desert. The DBT also suggested that the northwest portion of D Street (in front of Trader Joe’s) be closed to traffic, which EMMPAT members say they discouraged.
In the 2018 plan, DGS resisted moving north- and south-bound Eighth Street bus stops to the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue SE, citing difficulties with infrastructure. The decision to consolidate stops was made in the 2015 plan for reasons of traffic flow, safety and access relative to the metro station, and as a strategy to reduce loitering in front of Barracks Row businesses.
The DBT also expressed concern that the 2015 plan did not comply with the objective for EMMP in the Comprehensive Plan, which calls for EMMP to be the ‘New Town Center for Capitol Hill,’ as there is no open space suitable for gathering.
During their presentation before the community, DGS said that the 2015 Plan had many strengths, particularly the relationship to adjacent uses and improvements to pedestrian safety, but noted that some elements were either difficult or prohibitively expensive to implement. “The Design Build Team has reviewed the existing documentation, current conditions, discussed with permitting agencies and understands the project’s opportunities and constraints,” read notes in the community presentation.
Strategies of Priority
While it finally allows the project to proceed, the budget will not permit simultaneous renovation to the entire plaza, and choices will have to be made to maximize funding.
“Based on the community’s priorities, the Design Build Team is developing a strategy for implementation that will maximize the available funding,” said the DBT, offering two different plans for consideration to the community. “When additional funds become available in the future, the remaining plan elements will be implemented.”
DGS appeared also to recognize concerns about community engagement, noting that the Dec. 13th meeting was only the first of many to come with residents and stakeholders. A survey was distributed to attendees at the Dec. 13th community meeting as well as online, with the goal of determining resident priorities.
Odendahl said that she understood the DBT was following agency directives for design, adding that the plan was revised three days after she and other members of EMMPAT first saw it. She said the revised master plan as presented to the community on Dec. 13th “overall honors and respects the 2015 plan.”
“They’ve heard it loud and clear, where they need to improve,” said Allen of DGS. “As a community we’ve worked on this for years now –this is eight years in the making,” he said.
Smith agreed, saying that he believes that the team will heed community voices moving forward. “We are optimistic that the design team will be able to move forward with some minor modifications to the 2015 master plan and produce construction documents that can take them through the entitlement process quickly so we can begin construction on a new world-class civic space in the heart of Capitol Hill,” he said.
Learn more about the project and see public presentations from the Design Team by visiting https://dgs.dc.gov/page/eastern-market-metro-park-project. Take the online survey until Jan. 18 at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EasternMarket. Contact Eastern Market Metro Park Project Managers via email: Cassidy Mullen ([email protected], and Lisa Dixon [email protected]