Empty units at Park Morton.
That Park Morton continues to remain in a comatose state is a source of frustration for many people I’ve spoken with. The chief problem — based on what I’ve been able to piece together from those associated with the project — is land. There is not enough land from the original property to do everything the District expects from the Park Morton new community. Building The Avenue was a great help, but even it wasn’t enough.
While it was announced in March that a land deal had been consummated which united the Georgia Avenue frontage with the project behind it … that announcement was premature and the deal never materialized. Furthermore, though several of the buildings at Park Morton are currently empty, the commitment from the City to not lose a single unit of public housing in the redevelopment of Park Morton — and that that housing must remain in Ward 1 — means that it is unimportant whether Park Morton is full or empty. The number of housing units are dictating the scale of the project.
This has resulted in a bit of a scramble to find available property (in fact, any property) nearby that can be added to the project so that it can get back on track. However, there are two factors that seem to have not been seriously considered.
- Just because the current level of public housing at Park Morton needs to remain in Ward 1, there is nothing that means it has to abut the Park Morton property or even be located on Georgia Avenue; and,
- There is one large parcel of District owned land nearby that could actually solve this problem if it were part of a much larger master plan to enhance the entire community.
Permit me to think outside the box on this one for a bit … and understand that all I’m doing is showing that there is a workable solution even if it might not be a solution that is adopted.
To the south is the large Bruce Monroe school site property. When Bruce Monroe was demolished, it was turned into a park rather than a parking lot based on community activism. It has always been intended to be a temporary park. A promised building to support the playground has never materialized. But, what if the property were divided with the Georgia Avenue frontage being developed for housing, retail, and a public facility supporting the park? The original Monroe School portion of the property could continue to be a permanent park. If this was done as a component of the Park Morton redevelopment, it would definitely be enough land to allow the project to move forward.
This detail from the 1968 Baist’s Real Estate Atlas shows that the Georgia Avenue frontage of the Bruce Monroe Park site was originally private property with commercial buildings.
Why would I propose having the Georgia Avenue frontage developed as such? … because it was originally private commercial property until the late 1960s when it was needed to build the Bruce Monroe School. By allowing it to revert to its original state we would increase housing, density, and vitality to that section of Georgia Avenue. We would also be able to justify making the section of the property that was originally the Monroe School a permanent park. And, because that park would be smaller, we could remove the unused parking lot that was built to support the park.
If this were an idea that was endorsed by the community, we could get the redevelopment of Park Morton moving now. But I also think the City would have to do one more thing to make this all work, and that would be to address the southeast corner of Park Road and Georgia Avenue.
It was hoped that the former used car lot at Park and Georgia — along with the other property between Morton and Park Road, would be incorporated into the Park Morton development. But, if land further away were pressed into service for that purpose, they wouldn’t be needed for housing (or at least not all of them).
If the Bruce Monroe Park became smaller to get Park Morton moving forward, it would make a lot of sense to me if the southeast corner of Park Road and Georgia were purchase by the District to create a civic plaza. Columbia Heights has a successful plaza and Petworth effectively has one at Georgia and Upshur. By creating one at Georgia and Park Road one creates a public gathering space in the heart of the Park View community. It would be a place where people could gather and possible use for a farmers market or flea market. This would also help create a more even distribution of public space in a neighborhood that has so very little of it to speak of.
The long and the short of it is this … the redevelopment of Park Morton needs to move forward and there are solutions if the City has the political will. While I’ve offered one solution, I’m sure there are others. But, allowing Park Morton to become increasingly vacant because the District doesn’t want to use the land it owns, or wants to embrace a solution that isn’t workable with the property it owns, is definitely not the answer.
The southeast corner of Georgia and Park Road is largely made up of an empty used car lot. The City could purchase the property to create a civic plaza in the heart of Park View.