Eckington’s NoMa West: instant gratification

According to a DC MUD post, developers finally broke ground this week on Alexan NoMa West, originally known as Eckington One.

Back in 2006, community members almost unanimously supported the zoning change that was required so that new residences could be built in this spot. For one thing, people opted for houses and condos over the specters of industrial waste dumps that were skilfully conjured up.

A more savvy community would have weighed its options more thoroughly. With NoMa development imminent, industrial concerns were probably priced out, even back then. This large tract of vacant land, practically a stone’s throw from the New York Avenue Metro, was destined to become highly desirable commercial real estate.

But, no, people wanted guaranteed shopping destinations, and soon. When the original PUD specified 15,084 square feet of retail space (about 2.5% of the total), collective tumescence ensued.

According to a study cited by the Capital Region Council of Governments, Urban Areas: Policy, Planning, and Zoning Recommendations, for planning purposes a ratio of 20 to 40 square feet of retail is recommended for every housing unit - more, to accommodate a regional market.

At 20 square feet (the minimum), a 650 unit development would need about 13,000 square feet of retail space, a little less than the original PUD specified. But the study (and common sense) also says these retail outlets should “ideally be distributed throughout the service area (of surrounding neighborhoods)”.

Now, since Eckington and Truxton Circle are themselves virtually devoid of retail, and NoMa is predominantly residential/office space, Eckington One/NoMa West would’ve been the logical place to shoot for the higher figure of 40 square feet (or even 60 or more, if the idea is to attract visitors/tourists, Hill workers, and people from surrounding neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Le Droit Park, Brookland, Trinidad, and so on).

And yet, only thirteen months later, the Zoning Commission approved an amended PUD that offered a skimpy 1000 square feet of retail (about 1.5 square feet for each housing unit, or .15% of the total space). This amount is so token it amounts to an insult, like getting a dollar a week raise, or a penny as a tip.

No one squawked because no one really knew about it. Afterwards, we discovered that our ANC had agreed to these changes. The official word was “their internal analysis indicated that setting aside the space for retail was not going to be economically feasible” - and what mean-spirited skeptic would question a developer’s internal analysis?

Once again, with our goal in sight, the promise of instant gratification was all it took for us to abandon our mission. Fumbling with our girlfriend’s bra clasp in the back seat, we gave up and went off to a titty bar with our buddies.

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