It's not uncommon for residents who live in the Riggs Park community of Northeast to jump into their cars, and drive five minutes into a neighboring jurisdiction to shop, however, over the years, it's become a sticking point for some.
As other parts of the District experience a renaissance, Albrette Ransom wondered why she's forced to seek out basic amenities such as grocery and other retail establishments in Prince George's County – amenities that she believes should be located in her neighborhood.
"There is a feeling that comes over you especially when you know what's going on," said Ransom, 50, in reference to the lack of retail options in her immediate area. "Why do I have to go to Maryland to spend my money? We don't get respect out there and we definitely do not get respect here."
But change is on the way and Ransom couldn't be happier.
Ransom counted among a small group of Riggs Park residents who gathered under a white tent last month to witness the groundbreaking of Fort Totten Square, the new-mixed use development that will be located at the intersection of Third Street and Riggs Road in Northeast. When it opens in late 2014, it will boast 345 apartments that sit above 130,000-square-feet of street level shops, including a new Walmart.
District officials and developers showed up for the groundbreaking ceremony and included Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and her colleague D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Victor Hoskins, deputy mayor for Planning and Economic Development, along with representatives from the JBG Companies and Lowe Enterprises.
"One of our visions is to end retail leakage. We would rather spend our money here in the District of Columbia than in the state of Maryland," said Hoskins.
The development of Fort Totten Square comes after a series of conversations between council members, developers, and the Lamond-Riggs Development Task Force about what was to become of the busy but undeveloped area, located four blocks from the Fort Totten Metro Station.
The large parcel of land, seen as a bridge between Wards 4 and 5, caught the attention of both Bowser and McDuffie, who worked together to ensure that use of the land provided residents with nearby amenities. This particular project resonated with Bowser, chair of the Committee on Economic Development and a former advisory neighborhood commissioner, who heralded the retail and residential space as a symbol of community involvement.
"This is a reflection of how to do community development with the community behind you," said Bowser, 40. "We've transformed a very suburban part of the ward into an urban square with great residences and retail, just walking distance of the Fort Totten Metro."
But not everyone supports the economic development soon to come to the area. Less than 30 minutes before the start of the groundbreaking ceremony, several passers-by expressed their skepticism about Fort Totten Square's affordability as it related to housing.
Ronnie Edwards, 54, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5A, said that more can be done to include residents in the planning process.
"When residents make recommendations, they ought to be listened to," said Edwards. "Developers don't live up to the promises that they make on these projects. In order for us to get anything out of these projects, we have to fight for them."
McDuffie, 37, who joined the D.C. Council in May, acknowledged that economic development is a "loaded term" that often scares residents. He said that his brother and sister still live in Riggs Park, and he wants to ensure that housing remains affordable.
"We have to strike that delicate balance of building quality apartments with guaranteeing affordable housing," said McDuffie. "Mixed-use development is a good equation but we have to diligently ensure that the market is conducive to bringing people to this location."
While Ransom realizes that some are uncomfortable about the economic development in Riggs Park, she said that Fort Totten Square's presence will benefit everyone.
"We're in a new century," said Ransom. "Things can't be as they once were. Once residents see this, they will embrace it."