Could the site of the closed Watha T. Daniel library in Shaw become home to not only to a new library, but also housing and perhaps even a small store?
That’s what Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, is suggesting in a provocative proposal being circulated in the community, that I have published below.
The idea is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Although composed of barely a quarter of an acre of land, the library site is located immediately adjacent two large Section 8 subsidized apartment buildings and across the street from an exit to the Shaw Metro station. (The canopy can be seen to the far left in the photo above.) A dense development would fit nicely in the existing context, and take advantage of the proximity both to Metro and 7th Street buses, which will soon include the new Metro Extra. As Cheryl suggests, a creative re-use of the building could provide not only library and retail services but also additional housing and safety to the neighborhood. Furthermore, the parcel is already zoned R-5-D, a category designed to include both residential buildings and “institutional and semi-public buildings that would be compatible with the adjoining residential uses.”
A quick web search turned up an article about the project in Portland, Oregon Cheryl mentions, where mixed-use development combines a library, restaurant, and 47 apartments — 19 of which are reserved for households below the area’s median income. Although the situation here in Shaw may have been created by poor planning by library officials, the closed library presents a tremendous opportunity for a creative redevelopment.
Watha T. Daniel Library redevelopment proposal for a mixed use facility
By Cheryl Cort
Our closest (closed) library is the Watha T Daniel library at the 8th & R St. entrance of the Shaw Metro station. It feels or is unsafe at night; it’s a depressing place by day due to poor land uses and urban design.
The Mayor has promised to rebuild or reopen the 4 closed libraries as soon as possible.
Given the problems with crime and poor land uses around the Watha T. Daniel Library and the adjacent Shaw Metro station, a mixed use library at this site with a pedestrian-friendly design is particularly important for creating a safer environment for the community, library patrons and Metro riders. To create a safer and more inviting street environment and library, I propose reconstructing a new library with affordable housing units above, and possibly a small retail space at the ground level. This proposal is similar to the new branch library in Portland Oregon which doubled library space, added a café and 40 units of housing – 19 of which are affordable.
Transportation: The Watha T. Daniel site is tight but located next to a Metro station, close to grocery stores, shops, services & downtown. In order to provide added public benefits, such as affordable housing on top of a new library, I propose that the mixed building be developed with no automobile parking. Instead, residents can be offered a valuable package of carsharing memberships & discounted usage, transit passes, bicycles and bicycle parking (ShawEco Village could provide the bicycles). The transportation benefits package could equal the cost of renting a parking space in such a location – about $150 per month. Two to four on-street carsharing vehicles could be parked adjacent to the new library building. Access to residential parking permits could be limited to a small number in order to address adjacent neighbor concerns about more competition for $15/year residential public street parking.
Until now, the opportunity to leverage the value of the library sites through redevelopment to provide greater public benefits has been largely overlooked. These public benefits include: expanded library space, public meeting and study spaces, enhanced technology, synergistic development potential with adjacent schools/public facilities, and complementary private uses such as a café and affordable housing that could offer greater safety and vibrancy to the library as a center of civic life.
I understand that some people have been skeptical of the opportunity to leverage added public benefits from a public-private venture for the library. The idea of mixed use libraries to maximize complementary public benefits is not new. The Montgomery County Library in Rockville, Maryland, is finishing a ground floor café that marks the prominent corner of the street and public plaza that leads to the main entrance of the new main library for the County. Library agencies all over the country are building mixed use, complementary facilities to leverage the opportunity to expand library space and offer other public benefits such as affordable housing and activities to reinforce the vitality and safety of public realm through cafes and other small-scale retail. This is the kind of mix of uses that would great benefit a new Watha T. Daniel Library.
I propose that we adopt a resolution asking for the city to look into a public-private partnership to increase the library space, upgrade facilities and add complementary uses such as a café and affordable housing.