Plans advance to spruce up Belmont Road Park

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After a section of Belmont Road NW was never constructed between Kalorama Circle and Connecticut Avenue, the city transferred the stretch of public property to the Department of Parks and Recreation. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)

For years, a band of Sheridan-Kalorama activists has lobbied to transform an unbuilt “paper road” into a park for residents to enjoy — a project that backers hope to see come to fruition soon.

After the never-constructed stretch of Belmont Road NW between Kalorama Circle and Connecticut Avenue became part of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation in 2014, residents formed a nonprofit to care for and enliven the narrow space along the edge of Rock Creek Park.

That group, the Friends of Belmont Road Park, is now on its way toward becoming the city’s official partner for the park — winning approval this month from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2D (Sheridan-Kalorama), a key step toward securing a public-private partnership with the parks department. Now, the group’s members are seeking community feedback on how to use the space, offering suggestions that include an herb garden and a dog run, or something as simple as park benches.

“We want the park to represent the community,” Kindy French of the friends group said at ANC 2D’s May 15 meeting. “We’re open to anything.”

The popularity of Mitchell Park at 23rd and S streets NW after a renovation in 2014 indicated that the community would use additional parks, Holly Sukenik of the Belmont friends group told The Current. Mitchell Park “gets used heavily, extensively,” she said. “The playground is full of kids, older people playing volleyball. There’s a field. On the weekends people are lying all over the grass sunning and at the tables there are parties going on.”

Meanwhile, residents had noticed a vacant area between two legs of Belmont Road NW, Sukenik said. It was discovered that space had been set aside for the street, though the city had never actually constructed it.

The scope for Belmont Road Park is limited by its relatively small size — it’s only as wide as a normal street. Also, the Connecticut Avenue entry to the park is currently obstructed by construction of Chinese diplomatic apartments. Sukenik said she expects the temporary blockade will be removed next year.

Belmont Road’s evolution from unused land to park has taken so long due to “government bureaucracy,” Sukenik said. “It’s a process that takes time. That’s just the reality. We’re all volunteers. We weren’t on any strict timeline,” she added.

Belmont Road Park became possible when David Catania, then an at-large D.C. Council member, successfully pushed for the city to transfer the property from the D.C. Department of Transportation to the Department of Parks and Recreation. This transaction implied that the agency would cover costs of the park, provided they weren’t too extravagant, Sukenik said.

While the Friends of Mitchell Park group relies heavily on tax-deductible donations to cover improvements and maintenance — the group’s website states that it spends about $45,000 per year — Sukenik said that’s largely due to its particularly ambitious landscaping and that Belmont’s costs haven’t yet been determined.

Next on the Friends of Belmont Park’s agenda is collecting residents’ ideas for the Department of Parks and Recreation. “[DPR] is there to provide services to the residents of the city,” Sukenik said. “The best way to do the right thing is to find out what [the residents] want.”

The parks department has allotted funds so far only for the fence that runs the length of the park, according to agency spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump. While the department is “amenable to these site improvements” suggested by the friends group, Crump said that formally allowing dogs in the space would require the Department of Energy & Environment’s involvement because stormwater from the park runs into Rock Creek Park and Rock Creek.

While Belmont Road Park is already useable — French visits almost every day — “it’d be nice for it to be developed into something a little bit more,” she said at the meeting. To do so, support from the community is essential. “We have a small committee, but we’re really interested in more people joining up so that we can actually develop it to something,” French said.