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Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy

Friday, November 13, 2015


The Van Ness Commercial District is a unique combination of a neighborhood retail center and a regional institutional cluster, home to the University of the District of Columbia, Howard University School of Law, American University Radio WAMU, The International Chancery Center, and the Levine School of Music. The Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy aims to reinvigorate Van Ness with attractive amenities, thriving retail, and leading institutions.

Completed by the DC Office of Planning (OP) in April 2016, the Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy provides a framework to boost retail, enhance public space, increase sustainability, and guide development During this initiative, residents, local businesses, institutions, and property owners worked together to articulate a vision for the future of the Van Ness Commercial District. The Action Strategy focuses on public space, retail, sustainability, and commercial opportunities and builds on insight from previous planning studies of the retail market and streetscape.

The Action Strategy helps guide priorities and investments of both public and private sector stakeholders, laying the groundwork for partnership to support implementation. Van Ness is an established neighborhood where change will be incremental. The Action Strategy links a series of investments from a range of stakeholders, enabling the Commercial District to become more cohesive and vibrant. To ensure the vision is an actionable roadmap, the recommendations were informed by existing market conditions and development regulations.

Study Area

The Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy focuses on Connecticut Avenue from Van Ness Street NW to Albemarle Street NW. The study area is home to several institutions including the University of the District of Columbia, Fannie Mae, and WAMU. Retail tenants include a range of businesses including Giant, Starbucks, Bread Furst, Acacia Bistro, and Zips Dry Cleaners. The area is surrounded by a diverse housing stock ranging from  high rise apartments to single family homes. .

Background and Process

The Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy was developed through extensive public participation including office hours, workshops, and open house meetings, as well as an online engagement forum. In 2014, the DC Office of Planning formed a Van Ness Advisory Committee to oversee the development of the Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy and selected HOK and StreetSense as a technical consultant team to assist with analysis and production. The Van Ness Advisory Committee was comprised of residents, business owners, and ANC Commissioners, as well as representatives from the Van Ness Vision Committee, the Forest Hills Connection, the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), WAMU, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), real estate developers, and property owners. Notably, UDC faculty and staff were involved throughout this project to connect the strategies with the University’s programs and facilities.

OP released the Draft Van Ness Commercial District Action Strategy on November 12, 2015, for public comment. An Executive Summary of Revisions memo is posted below which summarizes public comments and details revisions included in the final Action Strategy based on those comments received on the draft document. 

The project team completed extensive technical and data analysis of the study area and produced a companion document to this Action Strategy called the Van Ness Commercial District Profile (Appendix A), which analyzes existing conditions, data, issues and opportunities. The Profile helped inform and support stakeholders in discussions at the Van Ness Community Workshop and helped shape the recommendations of the Commercial District Action Strategy. Additionally, Appendix B: Comprehensive Plan Analysis and Background details the 2006 Comprehensive Plan policies and actions that guide planning and development in Van Ness. The Action Strategy’s recommendations are consistent with and build upon the Comprehensive Plan policies, providing more detailed direction which may inform future updates to the Comprehensive Plan.