With Major Developments On The Way, Locals Look To Improve Safety On North Capitol Street
A wide thoroughfare dividing two of the city's quadrants with monumental views of the U.S. Capitol, North Capitol Street has the potential to be one of D.C.'s premier corridors.
But D.C.'s development wave has largely passed over North Capitol, leaving many of its blocks vacant and underdeveloped. Some parts of the corridor have high concentrations of crime, and the fast-moving traffic makes it dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the street.
With several parcels slated for development and neighborhood groups working with the city to improve public spaces, the North Capitol Street corridor could be on the verge of a major renaissance.
"The condition of North Capitol there is an insult to the ideas of equity and social inclusion," NoMa BID President Robin-Eve Jasper said. "It looks terrible and nobody has invested in it."
NoMa BID released a report in conjunction with the District Department of Transportation last week recommending a long list of changes to improve the accessibility of North Capitol Street, focusing on the stretch between Massachusetts Avenue and R Street. The North Capitol Street Needs Assessment included a survey of over 300 people and found that by far the two most important needs were for improved pedestrian safety and bicycle crossings.
"It's about pedestrian safety and bicycle safety," Jasper said. "Every time we have a barrier like North Capitol, it decreases mobility east and west in the city."
Jasper contrasted it with NoMa's First Street corridor one block east, which has seen private development on nearly every block that has helped fund streetscape improvements, such as landscaping, benches and a protected cycle track. North Capitol has experienced less development over the last decade, but several new projects will move forward on the corridor in the coming years that could spark a major transformation.
A 3.5-acre site at North Capitol and K Street has been envisioned for redevelopment for over a decade. The Temple Courts housing community was demolished in 2008 and D.C. in 2017 selected MRP Realty to develop the property, now a surface parking lot.
The developer aims to break ground before year-end on the first phase of the project, a 220-unit building on the northeast corner of the site. The full development, a partnership between MRP, CSG Urban and multiple other entities, is slated to include 806 units with retail.
MRP also led the team that was selected in 2014 to develop the D.C. Housing Authority site at 1133 North Capitol St. NE into a mixed-use project. The 2.5-acre property, now a low-rise building with a parking lot, is surrounded by new development, including the 2M Street Apartments, Ava NoMa and the NPR headquarters.
Despite the development team being selected over four years ago, construction has not begun. MRP Managing Principal Bob Murphy said a combination of issues around the design of the project, the amount of affordable housing included and rising construction costs have delayed the deal's closing, but he still hopes to move forward in the near future. Murphy said he sees a lot of potential on North Capitol Street and expects it to change dramatically over the next 10 to 20 years.
"I think it's great real estate," Murphy said. "As you watch NoMa start by the Metro with [ATF's headquarters] and Constitution Square and move toward North Capitol, it is substantially filled in. DCHA is really the last whole block left on the east site of the street."
While not directly abutting North Capitol, the redevelopment of the Sursum Corda housing community will add over 1,000 new homes less than one block to the west, between M and L streets. Toll Brothers began demolition of the 1960s-era community in November and weeks later filed a new application with fresh renderings of the project, ultimately slated to include 1,131 units.
Both the Northwest One and Sursum Corda projects will include large portions of affordable units and will welcome residents of the old housing communities back to the property. ANC 6E Chairman Alex Marriott, whose district includes both sites and a large stretch of North Capitol Street, said that mixed-income dynamic will be an important part of the corridor's future.
"Once you continue to see these developments come out, it's going to be a wonderful example for the rest of the city of a neighborhood that has affordable housing and market-rate housing with long-term residents and new residents," Marriott said.
The corridor has several other vacant or underused parcels that could add new housing, retail and public space to North Capitol. NoMa BID's Jasper pointed to the Kaiser Permanente-owned office building at North Capitol and L Street that the health provider has left vacant with nobody working in it. It has not been planned for redevelopment, but she hopes something will happen with the property.
"We have an eyesore on the street," Jasper said. "Kaiser Permanente's building has been vacant for a long time. For a while they used it for employee parking, they decided to stop that. It's time they decide what to do with it."
D.C. released a request for proposals in June for 2 Patterson St. NE, a 42K SF parcel on North Capitol Street just south of the New York Avenue intersection. Several developers, including Tishman Speyer, Monument Realty and WC Smith, bid on the site and have presented their visions to the community. The six proposals each include large multifamily components and a variety of other uses, including a hotel, retail, a theater, a childhood development center and park space.
The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development hopes to select a development team for the project this quarter, DMPED Director of Real Estate Sarosh Olpadwala said. He said it is placing a priority on affordable housing and units large enough to fit families.
"There is a lot of change occurring in the neighborhood, and we want to make sure we provide a project that enables people to stay in the neighborhood," Olpadwala said. "There is tremendous value in neighborhood planning that provides amenities for the community and open and green space."
Two blocks north at the intersection of North Capitol and Florida Avenue, an Exxon gas station site could soon be developed. Aria Development Group bought the property in September and said it is planning a mixed-use building, but has not released further details.
Once all of the various developments come to fruition, North Capitol Street will look more like the fast-growing neighborhoods to its west and east that have new high-rise buildings on nearly every corner with retail lining the street-level spaces.
"It has tremendous potential," Marriott said. "You don't need to look far to see the development in NoMa and Mount Vernon Triangle to see what direction North Capitol Street is moving in ... It is important as we make this progress for the city to put a priority on safety for pedestrians, because they are high-traffic areas and you're going to see an influx of people moving in that we haven't had in the last 10 years."
The NoMa BID hopes D.C. will soon pursue an additional streetscape study for North Capitol and begin to move forward on some of the improvements it recommended to make the corridor safer. With thousands of housing units planned, Jasper said those improvements are critical to make North Capitol a safe and attractive corridor on which people want to live.
"What we really want to see for NoMa and through the city is that this is a frictionless experience to go from the core downtown and Capitol Hill up to these great neighborhoods of Eckington, Bloomingdale and NoMa," Jasper said. "To me it makes all the difference in the world to the entire city and the affected neighborhoods that you don't feel like you're hitting a barrier between them."