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Buzzard Point – What Can We Expect?

Buzzard Point, the area on the west side of the Anacostia River below the new Frederick Douglas South Capitol Street Bridge, is undergoing massive change.

While the aim is to make it seem like a continuation of the very popular Yards Park to the north of the bridge, its history and look today give it some special challenges and opportunities. Forbes Magazine predicts that the restored Buzzard Point will be “the final jewel” in Our River’s crown.

While that may be an overstatement, there is a lot going on.

The area is only about three city blocks wide running from Half Street near the River to Second Streets SE along the boundary wall of Fort McNair. It starts below the established neighborhood on Q St. SW and ends a couple hundred yards past V St. SW, where it looks out over River and the Washington Channel joins it from the right. The view continues straight past Haines Point where the Anacostia joins the Potomac, with the airport, Alexandria and sunsets in view on the distant shoreline.

There is a marina, a water-front restaurant and both bike and walking trails there at the end of Buzzard Point.  All four are a surprise to come across after walking blocks of open land, parking lots, a massive powerplant remnant, and occasional high rises – some conversions of vacant office buildings, some under construction.

Looking Upstream at the New S. Capitol St. Douglas Bridge from near the end of Buzzard Point

The early history of Buzzard Point differs somewhat from the other parts of the Anacostia shoreline.  The area from earliest times had been for the most part ignored by the City.

There were small farms raising fruits and vegetables for local consumption, small industries needing materials delivered by water, but a lot of vacant land to absorb the refuse of the city.  One explanation for the name is that folks would drag their dead horses down and leave them for the buzzards to consume.

Then industries began to appear that would benefit from raw materials delivered by boat and production for use in the nearby urban areas – sand, cement, building materials, electric power, etc.

Now things are really beginning to change as more and more new projects get underway on Buzzard Point. The area has become part of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, which covers most of the area north of the bridge, including all the development near the water to the Navy Yard. The soccer stadium is open to uses by the nearby neighborhoods to the north as well as home games.  Apartment buildings and condominiums will include commercial spaces with food stores, entertainment and restaurants on ground level.

Moving Forward
At this point, there are a number of broad issues that need to be kept in mind as Buzzard Point fills up and visitors begin arriving to enjoy the new places and the waters of the Anacostia.

First, the established low-mid-income residential neighborhood to the north in Southwest needs to be respected and protected. This has many challenging aspects including avoiding major increases in traffic passing through the neighborhood by encouraging access via South Capitol Street; and most important, protecting the range and spread of incomes in neighborhoods to the north.

At the same time, access to the water and associated new facilities by those same neighborhood residents should be encouraged. I am not saying any of this will be easy, but it must be in mind as the area develops.

Sign for High-Rise Development Next to the Old Buzzard Point Powerplant

Second, the developers of the new properties in Buzzard Point are to sign voluntary agreements to manage the volume and quality of rainwater and other water sources from their properties into streets, open areas and stormwater and sanitary sewer lines.

These are low land areas and converting open land to areas with extensive impermeable surfaces means that flooding could result on a regular basis if steps to handle runoff are not taken. There should be a way for the public to be engaged with the Department of Energy and Environment to assure these V-CAPS (Voluntary Clean-up Action Plans) are completed by developers and are found to be effective.

Finally, there needs to be in place adequate measures and controls for the increases in air pollution during and after the construction of buildings and facilities on Buzzard Point to assure that the nearby neighborhoods are protected from violations.  These increases can emerge from construction equipment, increased vehicles and related building heating, cooling and other discharges.  There should be means for citizen access to this data.

So we can see there are special aspects and challenges to the emergence of Buzzard Point as part of the restored Anacostia River and its shoreline.  We need to think how we can use these historic and emerging conditions to come up with unique ways of dealing with complex problems that emerge.  For example:

(1) How can we use the past to show how Buzzard Point is a special place?  Can we assure adequate open spaces are kept by enjoying stories about the farms and orchards from the past?  How did all those old industries serve our City and what replaced them?

(2) How do we build on the isolation of Buzzard Point to teach about its potential impacts today on nearby neighborhoods we want to protect?  What does it mean for directing traffic and controlling air pollution and flooding?

(3) How do we keep the focus on the water?  Part of what will be needed is pressure on landowners to give up land for public access to the water for boats, for views, and for everything in between.  That requires constant efforts to identify vistas, boat access and storage, and hiking and biking trails that connect with upriver.

With its rather wild history of land uses and abuses, combined with today’s spectacular views, opportunities for public engagement  including parks and wading areas,  and emerging entertainment, but still with a sense of isolation, Buzzard Point could become a special place to come to enjoy life in many modes.

Maybe Forbes Magazine is right: Buzzard Point just might become the final jewel in the crown of the Anacostia River.

Bill Matuszeski is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River, and the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  He also serves on the board of Friends of the National Arboretum and on Citizen Advisory Committees for the Chesapeake and the Anacostia.

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