A plan for the future development of the Congress Heights neighborhood in Southeast’s Ward 8 has been created by the District’s Office of Planning with input from residents to stimulate economic growth and support residential, educational and cultural activities.
“The residents said in the plan they want certain things in the community to remain stable,” said Anita Cozart, the director of the District’s Office of Planning. “There are some things they want to see changed. Residents said they would like more gathering space. They want places where culture and history can be highlighted and manifest themselves. The residents also want to see more entrepreneurship in the community.”
The 59-page blueprint, formally known as the Draft Congress Heights Small Area Plan (CHSAP), will set the course for development in the neighborhood for years to come, if approved by the D.C. Council. The CHSAP serves as an adjunct to the city’s Comprehensive Plan approved by the Council in recent years. A hearing on the CHSAP has been scheduled for Nov. 15. On Oct. 27, a discussion on the CHSAP occurred at the council’s Committee of the Whole, with D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) asking Cozart questions about the plan.
Specifics of CHSAP
The study area of the CHSAP consists of St. Elizabeths and Suitland Parkway to the north, Stanton Road SE to the east, Oxon Run Parkway SE and Atlantic Avenue SE to the south and 1-295 to the west. The plan includes on residents based on census data. For example, the CHSAP reports the median household income of Congress Heights residents is $36,477 while in the District overall, it is nearly $86,000.
The CHSAP reports the average cost of a home in Congress Heights stands at $468,819 while in the city, $897,930. Demographically, Congress Heights residents are 93.3% Black with 40% living below the poverty line compared with 44% African American and 18% impoverished in the city.
Cozart said the report used the census data to get a sense of what challenges Congress Heights residents face and what they want to see in their neighborhood.
“We started talking to members of the community,” she said. “We wanted to know what residents wanted in the residential and commercial areas. After getting the feedback, we started writing the small area plan. With the draft, we have gotten feedback from the community and made refinements.”
Cozart said major changes to the plan can’t take place presently by the residents because it is in the legislative process.
Cozart said Congress Heights residents specifically want to utilize the St. Elizabeths East campus—noting it will serve as the place for the new Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center, GW Health– as a source of jobs and pathways to careers in the medical field. She said residents would like to see a new library branch and recreation center. Cozart noted plans to build a new library branch on the St. Elizabeths campus have been announced and a new recreation center is scheduled to be completed by 2024.
Cozart said the CHSAP will serve as the guide for development in the neighborhood but noted the council wants to revisit the Comprehensive Plan in June 2027.
Local Leaders Comment on the CHSAP
Olivia Henderson serves as the advisory neighborhood commissioner for single-member district 8D02. Henderson spoke of her earlier interest in the development of the CHSAP but eventually walked away.
“I would attend the meetings and participate in the discussions,” Henderson said. “But it became clear to me that the interest was in developing Congress Heights. Congress Heights and Washington Highlands, the area I represent, are closely aligned. The city showed no interest in Washington Highlands so I decided to stop participating.”
However, Henderson said the process looks productive to her. Salim Adofo, the chairman of advisory neighborhood commission 8C in Congress Heights, said the CHSAP looks good to him so far.
“The redevelopment of the Main Streets is important to me,” Adofo said, alluding to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Alabama Avenue SE. “We need new business facades that will make Congress Heights look good aesthetically.”
However, Adofo had one complaint.
“I think we should have had more participation from the residents,” he said. “People should talk about how they feel about what is going on in their neighborhood.”