The District’s only public university is also an important institution in the Van Ness community. And now, the University of the District of Columbia is planning for the next decade of campus changes, development and growth.
The 2021-2030 Campus Plan public engagement process kicks off on Tuesday, February 18th. The first meeting, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., will be held in the Windows Lounge on the second floor of Building 38. Subsequent public meetings will be held on the first Tuesday of the month through June, at the same time and location.
UDC is required, under zoning regulations, to update and renew the Campus Plan every decade. These regulations are intended to promote well-planned and designed campuses, encourage long-term planning, minimize negative impacts to surrounding neighborhood, and provide transparency to the planning process.
UDC’s impacts on the surrounding neighborhood are many, and will increase in the coming years. The university now owns or leases as much as 90 percent of the vacant retail at Van Ness, including the former Walgreens at 4225 Connecticut Avenue and the former Fannie Mae building at 4250 Connecticut Avenue. Activating those retail spaces is crucial to the development of a vibrant Van Ness retail corridor.
UDC is also an important provider of community space, and partially compensates for the neighborhood’s lack of a library or community center. It has given Van Ness Main Street rent-free space on the ground floor of the law school at 4340 Connecticut Avenue. ANC 3F meetings are held in UDC’s Building 38 – also rent-free. UDC also manages the Van Ness farmers market in partnership with Van Ness Main Street. This brings much life to the corridor on Saturday mornings from May through November.
And UDC is home to jazz archives and a lively music program which attract world-class talent for performances and lectures. Performance venues such as the UDC Performing Arts Center and the outdoor amphitheater off Windom Place could host a much more dynamic cultural arts scene.
The connection between UDC, residents, the Van Ness commercial area and cultural events are all grist for the 2021-2030 Campus Plan. A good way to prepare for the community engagement kickoff meeting is to look over the 2011-2020 Campus Plan to see where it has succeeded and where it has fallen short of its goals.
In section 8.2.2, “Connection with Connecticut Avenue,” the plan noted that “…the campus feels physically disconnected from the corridor and opportunities to synergize the relationship between the campus and immediately adjacent commercial district have not been capitalized upon.” It set out a goal to engage the commercial district, in part, by “introducing as much ground floor retail as possible oriented towards offering a range of goods and services to meet the needs of students and local residents.” The UDC Student Center, which arrived on the scene in 2016, was to play a role, with dining and “active storefronts and entrances to augment the existing commercial dining and retail establishments….”
The plan also recommended streetscape improvements “to soften the continuous expanse of paving” with street trees and planting beds, street furniture, signage, sheltered bus stops and public art.
Other sections include:
1.3 Service to the Community
The University seeks to develop a pleasant, safe and vibrant campus where education, research, recreation, social and cultural interests will find a supportive home. This setting is one that welcomes the surrounding communities and offers the opportunity to engage the University in a positive and cooperative partnership. UDC has a long history of service to the District of Columbia residents and to its neighbors. Popular with residents both in the surrounding community as well as across the District, the campus is host to a Farmers Market on Saturdays in the spring through the fall. The University is also home to the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, which form the foundation for a full range music-related programs and activities.
2.1 Campus Development Goals
Specific strategies and objectives articulated in this Plan include:
- Utilizing its physical presence to engage and enliven the surrounding community, in a manner that contributes to the vitality of the surrounding Connecticut Avenue commercial district, but also manages the impact of the University on surrounding residential communities;
- Furthering opportunities for community engagement through its academic, fitness, and cultural facilities.
UDC plans to submit its application to the Zoning Commission for review and approval by August 2020. The approval is based on how well the plan coincides with the “general purpose and intent of” zoning regulations and zoning maps, as well as the 2016 Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy.
The February 18th meeting should give the community some sense of what UDC is planning for the commercial corridor for the next ten years. Bring your questions, suggestions and concerns.