A former bread factory is transforming into a mixed-use destination on Georgia Avenue. Former dorms have become luxury apartments. These are Howard University projects on properties it owns. Could it do the same here at its law school? Early this month, a group of neighbors asked a Howard representative to discuss proposed changes to the DC Comprehensive Plan that could someday clear the way for residential construction on the Van Ness campus.
by Barbara Kraft
About 35 residents of Upton and Tilden Streets east of Connecticut Avenue met March 5th at Edmund Burke School to consider the Office of Planning’s (OP’s) proposal to change the land use designation of about 20 acres of Howard University’s School of Law from “institutional” to “institutional/medium density residential.” The proposal is part of OP’s proposed amendments to DC’s Comprehensive Plan.
The property at issue extends from Upton Street on the south to Soapstone Valley Park on the north. It is west of Levine Music and the Embassy of the Netherlands, and comprises the Howard Law School parking lot, the former Dunbarton College buildings and their Upton Street frontage, the new law library, the abandoned Daniel Library, two small undeveloped lots next to 2941 Upton Street, the Upton Street soccer field and adjoining green space, and the hill overlooking Soapstone Park and Rock Creek Park.
At the residents’ invitation, Derrek Niec-Williams, Howard University’s executive director of campus planning, architecture and development, explained that monetizing unused or under-used assets was one of several tools the university used to cover costs, and that Howard had originally sought a high density designation for the northern portion of the property extending east from Van Ness and Veazey Streets. He noted that, in any event, Howard could not develop the property until it had revised its campus plan for its West Campus at Van Ness. He said that Howard is currently working on campus plans for its Central and East Campuses, and that the campus plan revision process requires extensive community engagement and input. Mr. Niec-Williams said Howard had no immediate plans for the law school property.
Residents pointed out that they had seen surveyors on the property; Mr. Niec-Williams said he was unaware that the property was being surveyed and that he would find out and report back to the residents.
Neighbors who organized the March 5th meeting had contacted Mary Cheh’s office and the Office of Planning to question OP’s proposal to allow medium density residential development on Upton Street and the surrounding green space, in light of the Zoning Commission’s 2007 Forest Hills Tree and Slope Overlay that included the law school property.
Barbara Kraft and Milton Shinberg of Upton Street organized and led the meeting. Nicholas Mendelsohn, deputy director of constituent services for Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, attended, as did representatives of Edmund Burke School and ANC 3F Commissioner Monika Nemeth. Following lengthy discussion, the meeting concluded with several residents self-identifying as a group to continue dialogue with Howard and Mr. Niec-Williams, and with Council member Cheh and the Office of Planning.