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PoP Profile: Council Member Muriel Bowser (Cont.)

CM Bowser second from left

Last week I wrote about my discussions on crime with CM Bowser (D-Ward 4). Today I will finish our conversation with our discussion on economic development in Ward 4.

I wanted to start this part of the discussion about development in areas outside of Petworth. I often receive emails from folks in Brightwood and other parts of “North Country” who convey their frustration with the perceived lack of economic development in those areas. Bowser explained that development has been a bit quicker in Petworth because of the natural growth surrounding the metro station. She explained that the process had started over 10 years ago with growth around the Columbia Heights metro which naturally spread to the area around the Petworth metro. She was enthusiastic that areas north of Petworth would soon blossom as well. She mentioned that the planning process for upper Georgia Ave has been completed and there is quite a bit of available land for development. Obviously the speed of this development will be contingent upon the economy improving. She believes that Ft. Totten and Brightwood are both ripe for smart development.

Upper Georgia Ave will see a streetscape improvement coming 2011. Additionally the area around Walter Reed Medical Center will see movement. She also cited the one of the biggest developments slated for the is area – the former Curtis Chevrolet land at 5929 Georgia Ave. NW. She believes this development is vitally important, noting that the majority of residents want the amenities and density this development will bring. When pushed to predict when the construction will begin she was unable to give an exact date but guesses iin 2011 or sooner and that a meeting has been scheduled with the Deputy Mayor to stay on top of the project. This project will feature retail on the first floor and housing above. Other variables that should help with the development of these areas include the proposed street cars as well as express buses.

There were a couple of interesting projects going in these areas that I wasn’t aware currently existed. Firstly, the Council Member mentioned that there is a facade improvement project going on for 14th Street, Kennedy Street, and Georgia Ave. Bowser believes that facade improvement can make a huge difference in the appeal of these areas.

The second project is called “green teams”. These are currently funded by grants and the city partners with a non-profit to run them. The mission of the “green teams” is exactly what it sounds like – to clean the streets. They are currently active on Kennedy Street though Bowser hopes that they will soon get them to come further south on Georgia Ave. These may sound similar to what some neighborhoods have – Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Unfortunately the businesses on Georgia Ave can’t afford to support them (thus the grants) but hopefully in the future they will be able set up their own BID.

I asked Bowser what the city can do to further encourage retail in these areas. She mentioned that she would like to see a bill to more tax relief to the tenants of these shops. On a side note, I was at a meeting where a developer mentioned that the number one complaint “mom and pop” stores list when explaining the economic difficulties they face, is high tax bills. So hopefully if this bill gets introduce it will alleviate some of the pressures current tenants have and encourage new tenants to set up shop.

Bowser is also staying on top of the vacant property issue. She believes it is essential to monitor these properties and schedule a proactive inspection regime (for these properties as well as occupied ones). She envisions a proactive regime to inspect these buildings on a five year cycle. Currently many building are only inspected after a complaint is received.

A related issue Bowser mentioned was the need to stay on top of the foreclosure crisis. She explained that we need to figure why these foreclosures are happening and afterwards possibly introduce legislation in order to require banking institutions to negotiate in good faith to make better terms when appropriate.

To conclude, I asked Bowser what her vision of Georgia Ave was in the future and she replied that she envisions a few big destination spots like the Curtis Chevrolet spot and the Walter Reed area linked by a corridor where shops will serve the needs of the residents. These shops include dry cleaners, hardware stores, coffee shops and quality restaurants.

It’ll be interesting to monitor what gets going in 2011…

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