09 July 2010

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot?

While parking lots are on the wane in some parts of town, that's not the case everywhere. Houses in Truxton Circle have been torn down at a notable rate recently, and some of those have simply been turned into expanses of asphalt to house cars instead of people.

Parking lots draw the ire of many who live in DC. They're not the best use for limited city land and they're often ugly in appearance. Close to downtown in recent years, though, they have been replaced by buildings that increase the city's tax base by providing more space for residents and businesses. Often, these new buildings increase the amount of parking in the city, as there are more spaces in two or three levels of underground parking than there are at one level on the surface.

A couple weeks ago, at the Other 35 Percent, Cary Silverman mentioned a proposed change in Baltimore's zoning code that would require that vacant lots be used for parkland or green space instead of parking lots after buildings are torn down.

This isn't the rule in DC. Temporary parking lots proliferate in places where buildings have been recently torn down. All over Near Southeast and Southwest near the Nationals ballpark, parking lots were built on land that is intended to be developed, once the economy turns a corner and demand for new construction increases. Another recent example of a new parking lot can be found just east of North Capitol Street on the unit block of P Street.

(This isn't the beautiful Hawaiian landscape that inspired the line from Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" in the title, but please indulge me.)

At my old blog, bloomingdale (for now), I noted a garish pop-up that was being constructed on the unit block of P Street NE. Next door to that abomination were the burned-out shells of rowhouses that had existed on the site for a century. Those shells used to house people, but they had become vacant and neglected. There are and have been many more houses similar to those that have been successfully been turned back into nice houses lived in by people who pay taxes and contribute to city life.

Eventually, the news came that these houses were to be torn down instead of being renovated for some contributing use. I documented the demolition of those houses, asking the construction crew what use was intended for the property. At the time, I was told it would become an apartment building.

In the meantime, the local real estate market tanked, especially in sub-markets that would be considered "marginal." Truxton Circle, (especially along North Capitol Street) could certainly be considered one of those marginal markets. Whether an apartment building was ever really intended for those lots we'll likely never know. (I checked DCRA's PIVS website for construction permits at these properties, and found nothing.)

So, what became of that empty land? A parking lot:


Granted, it wasn't all buildings beforehand. There was a used tire store there as well (see what it looked like in 2004 here), so one could argue an empty lot isn't the ugliest thing possible on this space. Today, though, what good is a parking lot on that land? There is plenty of parking nearby for those who might be driving to the their jobs across the street at DDOT's offices:


Other new office space built nearby has plenty of underground parking, and is within a very short walk of the New York Avenue Metro station.

Would a nice temporary green space have worked here? It's hard to say, but that part of the city and Ward 5 certainly has very little green space, and could use every little bit it can get. Look at this map (it's a PDF) from  the Capital Space plan, and note that there is a area devoid of large parks centered on the Eckington and Truxton Circle neighborhoods.

I don't see how an empty parking lot (since it doesn't appear to be attracting a lot of business) could possibly pay the bills.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

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