Thousands Of New Apartments Opening Add Urgency To NoMa's Infrastructure Projects
NoMa is a multifamily machine. The Northeast D.C. neighborhood has developed apartments at a faster pace than any other part of the city in recent years, bringing thousands of new residents to the area.
But as the population soars and developers look to build on all of the remaining vacant sites in the neighborhood, the area’s infrastructure is rushing to keep pace.
In the last two years, the NoMa-H Street submarket, which also includes the Union Market and Eckington areas, has delivered nearly 4,000 multifamily units — nearly double that of the District’s runner-up submarket: Capitol Hill/Waterfront, according to Delta Associates’ second-quarter report.
The NoMa neighborhood is home to some of the city’s most high-profile stumbling blocks when it comes to connectivity, including the infamous Wendy’s intersection. It is also challenged by wide, hard-to-cross roadways, a network of underpasses and vacant lots that developers say can make the neighborhood feel less connected.
But it’s also an area that is rapidly tackling the issues. More than half a dozen major projects are underway or planned, from streetscape overhauls of Florida Avenue and New York Avenue to plans for a third Metro station entrance to underpass projects.
It also includes perhaps the most high-profile of all connectivity projects in the city: the redevelopment of the intersection at Florida and New York avenues, known as Dave Thomas Circle, Virtual Circle and the Wendy’s intersection.
“Seemingly, literally, all of our major facilities when it comes to connectivity and infrastructure, are slated for some sort of investment,” NoMa Business Improvement District President Maura Brophy told Bisnow.
The neighborhood has seen the large-scale effects that transportation and connectivity infrastructure can bring. The ongoing surge in development is thanks in large part to the opening of a rare infill Metro stop, the NoMa-Gallaudet U station, in 2004.
“I cannot decouple the success and the growth of this neighborhood from the investment in that Metro station,” Brophy said.
“When the NoMa Metro was built, it was a kind of ‘build it and they will come’ scenario, and people have come,” MRP Realty principal Matthew Robinson told Bisnow.
Robinson's firm is “heavily invested” in NoMa. MRP was one of the early movers in the area when it started working on Washington Gateway in 2007. The final phase of the 1M SF, three-tower project next to the Florida and New York Avenue intersection is set to deliver early next year.
MRP is also working on a project to redevelop the District of Columbia Housing Authority’s former headquarters, set to start delivering in the second quarter of 2024. It is also building a 772-unit majority affordable development at North Capitol and K streets NW, called Northwest One.
Washington Gateway sits next to Dave Thomas Circle on one end and Florida Avenue on the other — two of the neighborhood’s most challenged connection points.
“'Is this site on a traffic island?' That was the kind of question that people would ask us. And we really didn't see it that way,” Robinson said.
He said Florida Avenue is easier to cross than New York Avenue and there are some bike paths that make it possible to get to the Metro without crossing the street. The development also opens up onto a 4-mile-long walking and bike path — the Metropolitan Branch Trail – that stretches from Union Station to Fort Totten with plans to connect to Silver Spring. A new access point is set to come in conjunction with the third phase opening.
“I know that I speak for more than just myself when I say that everyone's excited to see that new point of access,” Brophy said. “That will, I think, open up the trail to a lot of new users and really increase the utility of the trail.”
Just this summer, the city started work on the connection points to the north and south of Washington Gateway. The Florida Avenue NE Streetscape project, which has been in the works since 2012, is set to widen the sidewalks, improve traffic signals, lighting and landscaping and decrease congestion between Second and H streets NE.
Meanwhile, the intersection where Florida meets New York Avenue, a historic pain point for vehicles and pedestrians, is getting an overhaul with three new parks and protected bike lanes as well as traffic signal, sidewalk and landscaping enhancements.
“This day has been a long time coming, but we are finally saying goodbye to the chaotic and dangerous intersection known as Dave Thomas Circle,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a press release on the day the project broke ground, July 19. The $41M project is set to deliver in December 2024.
There are also plans to add a third entrance to the NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro Station on Third and N streets NE. Trammell Crow left a gap in its three-building development Armature Works, which delivered at the end of 2022, to create a throughway to the Union Market area. A $45M line item was included in D.C.'s 2024 budget to fund that new entrance.
“We feel really strongly that the Metro Station has been incredibly valuable in terms of enabling development in this area but has not reached its full potential when it comes to how that station can be serving the neighborhood,” Brophy said.
She said there are a large number of new multifamily developments on the northeast side of the neighborhood, now cut off from an easy access point to the Metro, that would stand to benefit from the entrance.
Trammell Crow, as well as Foulger-Pratt, which also owns multiple buildings near the planned entrance, declined to comment for this story.
Meanwhile, a longer-term streetscape effort is underway for New York Avenue between the NoMa Metro station and Bladensburg Road NE.
The District Department of Transportation says it is looking to “develop solutions that will address all users of this important corridor to create a more holistic design that will transform all of New York Avenue” including a new multi-use trail connecting the National Arboretum and Metropolitan Branch Trail. Concept development kicked off this spring and is in the environmental review phase.
Farther to the south, Union Station transit hub is poised for a major overhaul, a project that will bring along a new H Street Bridge and pave the way for a 3M SF air rights project from Akridge.
Though Robinson is happy with the trajectory of the projects, he still sees areas for future improvement.
“I think North Capital needs some love and some attention,” he said.
Robinson also pointed to potential improvements to K Street between Mount Vernon Triangle and NoMa.
“There's some broken pieces of that where it's not continuous infrastructure that links these two areas,” he said. “There is a little bit of a gap … that needs to be bridged.”
He suggested the bridge could look like investments in public space and sidewalks or lighting improvements.
“NoMa is representative of a neighborhood where smart decision-making led to the development of a vibrant neighborhood and is continuing to do so as the neighborhood grows,” Brophy said.