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Ward 5 could transform to a green, manufacturing jobs mecca

Union Market

Railroad tracks

Industrial buildings in Ward 5

A Litteri at the Florida Ave Market

Mayor Vincent Gray and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie recently announced the creation of the Ward 5 Industrial Land Transformation Task Force, to develop a strategic plan for the "modernization and adaptive use of industrial land in Ward 5."

D.C. Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning will chair the task force, which will study Ward 5's industrial land and prepare a report by next year detailing ways D.C. can better use its (small) industrial resources.

Elevation DC spoke with Tregoning to get the scoop on D.C.'s industrial areas.

What kind of industrial land does DC have? What did we manufacture back in the day?
We never were a big manufacturing town. The land is a legacy of where the large transportation infrastructures are...the railroad and metro tracks. Less than five percent of the land in the city is zoned industrial, but more than 70 percent of what we do have is in a single ward, and that's in Ward 5.

In a previous industrial land study in D.C. (conducted in 2006), one of the conclusions was that much of the land zoned industrial was unusable. Why is that?
Unusable might be an overstatement. But a lot of it is very small parcels, kind of awkward parcels not suitable for very large-scale uses, which is typically the benefit of industrial land. Even though we're not a city that thinks we're going to be doing a lot of manufacturing, it's a fact that breweries, distilleries, businesses that haven't been in the district for decades are coming to the city. Even compared to the time we did the last study, The amount of green development that's happening here — we are now the number one city for green roofs. One hundred percent of that green roof material comes from outside the city. It comes from Pennsylvania. This is something we know were going to need increasingly.

It might start to look sensible for, maybe just the assembly of modular green roofs, just the assembly of solar panels or small-scale wind turbines. Those things might start to make sense in the city. 

One of the great examples that we saw was when we went to Red Apron. The meat production needs to happen in an industrial zone, but they have a block away a retail establishment. That's an example of something that produces jobs, clearly an industrial activity but they've managed to create a neighborhood amenity that gives people something back at the same time.

That's well and good, but what about municipal operations? Things that don't have a retail presence and may be considered nuisances?
The city has needs. Think about salt domes and where we put snowplows and other equipment. I think it's going to continue to be the case that some municipal operations remain in the ward, but maybe we can be more strategic about where they are placed and how they are buffered against nearby neighborhoods.

I'm not hoping for large scale manufacturing to come back to the District. It's a question of, what are the balance of uses that provide choices and amenities for the ward and the city, along with maintaining land we need for municipal services and attracting new businesses and some types of enterprises that make sense for the District.

How do projects like the car barn fit in?
There's gonna have to be car barns throughout the city, not just in industrially zoned land. If we're going to have streetcars we need barns. I think our challenge today with modern infrastructure is to create things that are so lovely we'll be fighting to preserve them in 50 years.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Read more articles by Rachel Kaufman.

Rachel is the managing editor of Elevation D.C. She also covers tech, business and science for publications nationwide. She lives in Brookland.
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