Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Some question feasibility of ideas for remaking New Hampshire

Plan to revitalize corridor includes residents’ input in ‘charette’ format

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Takoma Park residents voiced skepticism Monday night about the likelihood of a proposed plan to redevelop a stretch of New Hampshire Avenue, although planners urged them to be open-minded about ways to revitalize the highway.

‘‘This plan is a long-term framework for how this corridor can be turned into a walkable, livable place,” said Stuart Sirota of the TND Planning Group at the final presentation of the city’s weeklong charette, a series of pubic design meetings that discussed the future of New Hampshire Avenue between Eastern Avenue and Sligo Creek Parkway.

Among other proposals, the plan calls for reducing the number of lanes of the state-controlled highway from six to four.

‘‘I don’t see it realistically happening like that,” said Constance Street, a Takoma Park resident who lives on New Hampshire Avenue. ‘‘It’s a thoroughfare that goes for miles. Where will that traffic go?”

The City of Takoma Park paid Sirota and a team of 10 urban design consultants $112,000 to oversee the charette and help draft a master plan that Sirota called an ‘‘implementable vision” for the redevelopment of New Hampshire Avenue.

On Monday night, Sirota gave an hour-and-a-half-long PowerPoint presentation showing what his team drafted in the past week with the help of feedback from residents and officials. Among other components, it includes increasing the width of sidewalks, planting more trees, reducing traffic volumes and implementing mixed land use.

‘‘We really tried to introduce as many ideas as possible, knowing very well that they might be flawed or impractical,” he said.

Sirota listed commercial revitalization, neighborhood preservation and walkability as the three goals of the proposed master plan. Among its recommendations are the narrowing of traffic lanes and crosswalks along the often unsightly and hazardous highway.

The backbone of the plan is a proposal to widen New Hampshire Avenue from its current widths of between 100 feet and 130 feet to 150 feet in order to create side streets that would accommodate on-street parking and be separated from the main thoroughfare by tree-lined medians.

‘‘Transforming New Hampshire Avenue into a multiway boulevard is the centerpiece,” Sirota said. ‘‘Very little other parts of the plan can happen unless we transform this roadway.”

Most residents who spoke at Monday night’s meeting were critical of the plan. Some called it impractical because the city of Takoma Park does not have the authority to make such drastic changes to New Hampshire Avenue.

‘‘I’m very disappointed,” said Harold Kerr, a business management consultant who lives at New Hampshire Avenue and Erskine Street. ‘‘It just seems unrealistic, and the main issue is the city of Takoma Park does not run New Hampshire Avenue. It’s run by the State Highway Administration.”

Sirota said that Montgomery County has a zoning restriction on the New Hampshire corridor and confirmed the road is controlled by the state, but added that part of the implementation plan for the project might involve trying to get that changed.

‘‘It’s going to take a lot of lobbying on the part of many entities and most certainly a change in state policy,” he said.

Sirota said his design team has spoken with state authorities about possible attempts to change policy.

‘‘They were very open-minded in talking to us and working with us,” he said, ‘‘but everyone knows the change we’re talking about has to come at state levels, and it takes community will and political will for it to happen.”

Dennis German, a representative from SHA in attendance, said he wouldn’t comment on the likelihood of the drafted proposal.

‘‘It’s kind of early,” he said. ‘‘It’d be unfair to say this is unacceptable. We have to look at this piece by piece.”

Takoma Park City Councilman Bruce Williams (Ward 3) pointed out that New Hampshire Avenue already turns into four lanes when it enters Washington, D.C., and it could be made that way in Takoma Park.

Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter said she was pleased by the participation of so many residents, and emphasized that the plan is still in formation.

‘‘This is sort of the end of the conceptual design stage,” she said. ‘‘I think there’s still a lot of work to be done, but just having this design will help with the conversation.”

The charette was meant to generate interest in redevelopment, Porter said. Once the design team finalizes its design proposal and drafts an implementation proposal, both will be presented in a few months to the Takoma Park City Council for approval. At that time, the city can decide how to proceed.

Residents will be able to share their opinions throughout the process.

‘‘My biggest concern is how do you make it all happen,” said resident Peter Wathen-Dunn. ‘‘I’m still very interested in what they’re going to do. This is a very important part of the community, and it looks like trash, and it’d be nice to see it revitalized.”

Boosting New Hampshire

TND Planning Group’s recommendations include:

Reducing the number of lanes on New Hampshire from six to four

Narrowing the remaining lanes to encourage slower traffic speeds

Expanding the width of New Hampshire from between 100 feet and 130 feet to 150 feet

Creating side streets for on-street parking

Lessening the distance of crosswalks to increase pedestrian safety

Widening sidewalks

Planting more trees

Implementing mixed land use