What began as a neighborhood walk a little more than two years ago quickly grew into the Van Ness Vision Committee, a hardworking, dedicated group of 12 of your neighbors. How hardworking? Our reporting in Forest Hills Connection seems to barely scratch the surface once you read the group’s annual report.
You’ll find most of it below, and the committee’s full report can be downloaded by clicking here.
The committee’s chair, ANC 3F Commissioner Mary Beth Ray, asks that you keep this in mind as you read: Reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly. Think about what makes Van Ness special, such as our access to Rock Creek Park through Soapstone Valley Park trails, and our international embassy presence. And let us know your thoughts on how to build on what we’ve got, and what role you might play in that process.
Do you enjoy music? Then perhaps you’d like to get involved in planning or donating to support the Vision Committee’s new Music at Van Ness series. Are you a data junkie? You’ll love reading our demographics and inventory. Do you enjoy dreaming about what a new gathering place could look like? Check out conceptual designs rendered by neighbor and architect Travis Price, and more designs by UDC’s School of Architecture students. The committee’s recommendations are on page 12 of the report. There’s a role for everyone. Email Mary Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, Vision Committee members are all volunteers. Please thank them when you bump into them at Bread Furst or Giant!
Van Ness Vision Committee
of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F
Report for 2013-2014
- Less than two years ago, a community of volunteers established the Van Ness Vision Committee under the auspices of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F.
- The Van Ness Vision Committee (VNVC) works with commercial property owners, merchants, schools and universities, city agencies, neighbors and others to make the Connecticut Avenue corridor between Van Ness and Albemarle Streets more beautiful and more vibrant.
- The VNVC has actively reached out to developers, merchants and others in the business community to convey that Van Ness is open for business, and that we aim to create value together.
- To create meaningful and lasting changes, the VNVC needs a management structure.
- The Main Street model suits the size and mission of the VNVC, and the group is currently pursuing 501(c)(3) status, legislation at the DC Council, and an application for Main Street designation.
- Meanwhile, the VNVC will continue its efforts to make Van Ness more beautiful and more vibrant.
How it all started
It all started with a walk. Marlene Berlin coordinated that walk in October 2012 with the DC Office of Planning and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and to everyone’s surprise, a group of over 100 neighbors gathered on a bitterly cold day to stroll the Van Ness/Connecticut Avenue corridor and identify what works and what doesn’t work. Most comments that day focused on the negative: too much concrete, dated architecture, a need for more trees and low impact design, and a sense that retail was underperforming. But the message from that walk was clear: while the Van Ness commercial corridor is underachieving, it possesses enormous potential, and neighbors will work tirelessly to make it better.
The idea for the Van Ness Vision Committee evolved from that desire. The VNVC was formed by unanimous resolution at the ANC 3F meeting on February 19, 2013. The purpose of the ad hoc committee is to build momentum in the community to work together with commercial property owners, businesses, schools, city agencies and others to make our stretch of Connecticut Avenue more beautiful and more vibrant.
In short, Van Ness is open for business!
Members and Meetings
The Van Ness Vision Committee membership represents a broad slice of our diverse neighborhood. Three members live in apartments or condominiums next to Connecticut Avenue. Others reside in single-family homes in Forest Hills or North Cleveland Park. Some are single, others are married. Ages range from 30s with young children, to 80s with grandchildren. Careers also reflect a broad spectrum, with Washington’s usual generous dose of lawyers, an economist, a conservation biologist, a university professor and dean, an architect, an interior designer, a strategy consultant, a retired World Bank event planner, and the founder and editor in chief of our neighborhood e-magazine, The Forest Hills Connection, among others.
VNVC members include David Bardin, Marlene Berlin, Patricia Davies, Lawrence Rausch, Charles Schilke, Marjorie Share, William Sittig, Jane Solomon, Judith Sullivan, Ken Terzian, Frances Wu, ANC 3F Commissioners Sally Gresham, Karen Perry, Mary Beth Ray, and ANC 3F Chairman Adam Tope. Commissioner Mary Beth Ray chairs the committee. Dipa Mehta and Travis Price serve as advisors to the committee. Rachel Huhn assists the committee as needed.
The Committee held 18 regular monthly meetings, which were announced at ANC meetings and were mostly held at UDC: 4/12/13, 5/10/13. 6/14/13, 7/10/13, 9/13/13, 10/11/13, 11/8/13, 12/13/13, 1/10/14, 2/3/14, 3/27/14, 5/31/14, 6/24/14, 7/25/14, 9/5/14, 9/20/14, 10/17/14, and 12/5/14. Meeting dates and times alternated weekdays and weekends, mornings and evenings, to appeal to a wider audience. Subcommittees met more often. Highlights of each VNVC meeting were reported at ANC meetings; events, news and activities were publicized in the Forest Hills Connection.
Soon after its formation, the VNVC adopted a Vision Statement:
- Connecticut Avenue at Van Ness will blossom into a beautiful, sustainable tree-shaded avenue that highlights and invites connections with Rock Creek Park and retail life.
- It will be accessible by Metro, foot, bicycle & motor vehicle, with outdoor cafes, markets, restaurants, activities, events & the arts.
- It will draw on its residents with its extraordinary community of embassies, schools, universities & businesses.
- Its next big goal is to grow a vibrant commercial & cultural street life.
Soapstone Valley trails reward hikers with a pristine forest and a rushing stream, leading to Rock Creek Park. Managing storm water runoff and erosion are important components of Van Ness development to preserve this natural beauty. Photo by Alex Ray
Vibrant Retail Streets Workshop
Berlin and Ray applied to participate in the Vibrant Retail Streets Workshop on behalf of Van Ness, and their application was accepted. The workshops on June 12 and July 24, 2013 were run by Street Sense, and attended by Ray, Berlin, Zach Friedlis (Asst. VP, Saul Centers, Inc.), Andrea Limauro (then our Ward 3 Planner) and representatives of several other DC neighborhoods. The workshop yielded important information:
1. the need to create an organization to manage the street
2. renderings of the avenue at Yuma Street (see appendix)
3. and data—demographic, lists of businesses and property owners, maps of businesses and classification of retail space (see appendix)
Carolers on Connecticut, Dec. 2014, St. John’s College High School and University of Maryland singers performed at the Van Ness Metro, Giant, Bread Furst, Calvert Woodley and Acacia Bistro to the delight of evening commuters
- Metro & Walkability; surface and garage parking; BikeShare
- Rock Creek Park access through Soapstone Valley Park trails
- Farmers’ Markets (in season)
- Large plaza spaces for markets, concerts & events
- Universities and schools (UDC with Theater of the Arts & Amphitheater, Levine School of Music, Franklin Montessori, two major law schools)
- Highly desirable DC Public School district (Murch/Hearst, Deal, Wilson)
- Hotel and small local businesses
- WAMU broadcast studios
- Abundance of offices, apartments and homes
- International community, embassies, mix of ages and cultures
- New retail
- Engaged, friendly community
- Great potential for vibrant, mixed use street life, daytime and evening
Activities and Work
Our first community design charette March 8, 2014 hosted in the beautiful new WAMU studios and led by Travis Price drew a big crowd of eager participants
Our second design charette held on July 19, 2014 at UDC’s School of Architecture
- The group formed early connections with stakeholders, including commercial property owners, merchants, UDC, Fannie Mae, WAMU, the DC Office of Planning, DDOT, DDOE and others.
- The VNVC and other neighbors planted daffodils on Nov. 16, 2013, which was a great example of community involvement, and a partnership with Sandy Farber Bandier of UDC, who generously donated the bulbs in honor of her father, and Alex McCarthy of John Shorb Landscaping, Inc., who donated supplies and time to help organize the volunteer crew of about 30 people. The bulbs cooperated with a splendid showing in spring of 2014, announcing to the community to ‘watch this space’ for more good things to come.
- Links with UDC included the use of meeting space, and CAUSES. The VNVC presented its strategy to the UDC Board of Directors, and meets regularly with UDC’s VP of Real Estate, Barbara Jumper. VNVC invited CAUSES Dean Sabine O’Hara to address the group, we participated in DC Green, and visited the UDC CAUSES farm in Maryland. UDC faculty and staff participated in numerous VNVC activities and forums, and VNVC coordinated with area theatre groups, Politics and Prose, Washington Ballet and others to view the UDC Performing Arts theatre as potential space. Meetings continue to determine how to use rainwater collected in UDC reservoirs to water flowers planted in Van Ness public space.
- Our first Meet & Greet with commercial property owners, UDC representatives and others (about 30 people) was held February 20, 2014 at the home of architect and advisor Travis Price. A Power Point presentation highlighted goals of the VNVC and how to get involved.
- On March 8, 2014, VNVC and WAMU co-hosted a Charette, led by Travis Price, to brainstorm with the community how to make Van Ness more beautiful and more vibrant. The Saturday morning turnout of 60 neighbors huddled in teams over poster paper, markers in hand, ideas flying, yielded themes for a Windom Place Hub—participants clearly hoped to echo themes of nature, rock, water and trees, in a community gathering place that highlights the arts and offers recreational activity.
- On July 15, 2014, the ANC passed a unanimous Resolution to commission architect Travis Price to draw a conceptual rendering of what the Windom Hub might look like. An award of $10,000 was made to compensate Price’s team for the design time.
- A follow up Design Charette was held at UDC July 19, 2014, with landscape architects, architects, UDC architecture department staff, and other design professionals (about 30 in all). Continuing emphasis was placed on nature, connections with Soapstone Valley Park, and UDC, and lively discussions yielded more ideas.
- At the November 18, 2014 ANC meeting, Price revealed his design to the community.
- And on November 19, 2014, a second Meet & Greet was held at UDC’s Window’s Lounge, to introduce Price’s design concept to the business and development community (about 60 attendees).
- Several follow up meetings have been held with DDOT to discuss the viability of the plan, potential funding, and coordination with the Office of Planning’s Van Ness Vision Framework effort, spearheaded by Ryan Hand, our new Ward 3 Planner.
- On January 20, 2015, ANC 3F passed a resolution to renew the Van Ness Vision Committee for another 2 years, continuing its status as an ad hoc committee.
- To engage small businesses the VNVC is promoting Great Streets Grants— with the help of Dipa Mehta, Bread Furst applied and won the maximum $85,000 grant. The funding by DC’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development is designated for use in the completion of certain capital improvements to the business. The capital projects proposed by Bread Furst include the acquisition of key bakery equipment (which will allow for greater and more variety of production), exterior improvements to the sidewalk café area, and interior changes that will increase seating and shelf space. These projects are to be completed by August 2015.
- Committee members regularly walk the avenue to distribute relevant community and grant application information to merchants.
- Tidying up existing newspaper dispensers, while seeking new ones
- Watering Partnership with UDC and Connecticut Avenue Clean Team—use of their water from cistern starting in spring to water tree boxes and planters
- Parking project to identify and mark useable parking spaces, both surface and garage
- Performing Arts at Van Ness through monthly musical events—Jazz Alive, November 13 and Caroling on Connecticut, Dec. 18
- Programming the UDC Performing Arts Theater and the Amphitheater– meetings with UDC VP Real Estate, and management of theatre, plus Washington Ballet, Levine School of Music, Washington Performing Arts, Politics & Prose and others.
- Creation of a brochure and power point presentation to market Van Ness to potential developers and merchants (“Creating Value Together”)
- Brainstorming recreational activities to draw people to Van Ness from our community and beyond. Ideas include reviving the historic ice rink, miniature golf with a course that resembles Rock Creek Park, bocce, beach volleyball, and even a zip line.
- Meetings with Mayor Gray’s International Embassy Liaison, ideas to partner with embassies for entertainment/food and perhaps yoga or Tai Chi classes
- Meetings with Fannie Mae, WMATA and Polinger Co. to discuss use of plaza space near Metro for performing arts, exercise classes, plantings or visual arts.
- Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business Real Estate graduate students, and UDC’s School of Architecture students both took on the challenge of redesigning Van Ness. Both emphasized the Windom Hub as a potential gathering place for the community and the performing arts, and our connection to Rock Creek Park through Soapstone Valley Park.
The UDC amphitheater is a hidden gem (photo courtesy Travis Price)
Search for a Management Structure—to take us to the next level
While the Van Ness Vision Committee has taken great strides to start momentum to bring beauty and vitality to our commercial corridor, we need a management structure to implement big and lasting change.
- Business Improvement District or BID— In the course of several meetings with Ann Marie Bairstow (former DC BID Council Executive Director), Joe Sternlieb (President, Georgetown BID), and Heather Arnold (Managing Director of Public Sector, Street Sense), it is apparent that not only are we too small for a BID, but at this point, momentum is mainly from the community. For a successful BID, the momentum needs to come from the business community.
- Forest Hills Neighborhood Alliance and Citizens Association—We met with Denise Warner (President, FHCA and FHNA) to discuss a possible merger with the FHNA, but their mission is narrowly defined and would not accommodate our broader effort.
- Small Area Plan (SAP) and Meeting with Office of Planning- zoning changes are not required at this point, so an SAP doesn’t appear to be correct vessel.
- Main Street—Numerous conversations with Bill McLeod (head of DuPont Circle Main St.) and Cristina Amoruso, DSLBD, point us in the direction of the Main Street paradigm. This model fits us because of our size, who we are at this point, the work we want to do with developing the Windom Hub, events and beautification projects, and the Office of Planning grant. We have received a commitment from Councilmember Mary Cheh, who supports our Main Street efforts, and who intends to introduce legislation at the DC Council for the creation of a Van Ness Main Street. In anticipation of that next stage, we are working to organize the VNVC along the lines of the Main Street four-prong model: organization, design, economic and promotions. We are working with Adam Tope and Akin Gump LLP to form a corporate entity, and to apply for 501(c)(3) status, which will enable us to apply for Main Street status.
- Office of Planning “Van Ness Vision Framework Advisory Committee”—Seeing the momentum building in Van Ness, the DC Office of Planning has launched a parallel, but coordinated effort in the “Van Ness Vision Framework Advisory Committee”. OP has secured a grant to survey infrastructure below ground to determine the possibilities for above ground improvements, whether that be planting trees, building low-impact development infrastructure and landscaping, or other projects. Several VNVC members serve on the advisory committee of the OP project, and the Ward 3 Planner, Ryan Hand, is included in VNVC meetings and events. Through this committee, OP hopes to assess our Van Ness community’s needs and invest city money to enhance sustainable streetscape improvements and encourage a more vibrant retail environment. A strong and positive working relationship with open communication between the two groups will ensure that there is not duplication or confusion.
UDC’s Jazz Alive at Acacia Bistro, our first Music at Van Ness Series
All hands on deck for the daffodil planting!
Our daffodil planting project is an apt metaphor for the Van Ness Vision Committee. Months in advance, much hard work is going on behind the scenes, digging, tilling the soil, fertilizing and watering. Months go by, and nothing seems to be happening. And suddenly one day the glorious flowers burst forth.
The Van Ness Vision Committee continues to toil behind the scenes, and while we hope to bring regular musical programming and more plants to Van Ness, the big changes will not be apparent for some time. However, with a management structure, an executive director and board of directors, investment by the city and commercial property owners, and the ongoing tireless efforts of community volunteers, Van Ness will blossom!