Residents Agree, Telling DMPED No Surplus!
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Peter Gosselin is a reasonable man. So when he opened an informational session by the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) on Tuesday January 10, preliminary to the official surplus hearing to follow on Thursday, by saying “It’s an insane process,” his comment may have struck some as overstated. Yet, the more than 200 people who turned out to testify at the surplus hearing two nights later would speak up overwhelmingly in support of his statement – both in person and online – with comments that called the process “backwards,” “dismaying,” “cart before the horse,” “theatre of the absurd,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “sleight of hand.”
Next up, the new Ward 3 Council member Matt Frumin seemed to hedge his welcome statement with a tentative, “Should this proceed …” He was acknowledging the surplus is not a done deal, as many fear. Indeed, four weeks ago at another preliminary session about the surplussing before the ANC, DMPED’s Gilles Stucker confirmed, “the outcome of the hearing could be no surplus.”
Many in Chevy Chase were skeptical, however, and taking no chances. One after another, in rapid fire 90-second allotments, they testified in opposition, very definitively but generally quite politely. The one exception was their reaction to Coalition for Smart Growth’s Cheryl Cort, who was gently booed by some among the in-person audience.
The property under consideration for surplus, in whole or in part, is a 1.7 acre block fronting on Connecticut Avenue, directly across from the Avalon Theatre, and home to a public library, community center, basketball court, and other small green spaces with benches for social interaction, as well as some asphalt for parking across the rear of the property (about 20 spaces). In the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan (SAP) recently adopted by the DC Council, the 73,000 square foot plot is dubbed the “civic core.” However, no reference to a surplus process for it appears in the plan, leaving many who participated in the SAP’s creation to feel misled. This fostered the sense of disappointment and mistrust volubly expressed throughout the evening of the surplus hearing.
Residents repeatedly testified to being “shocked” and “astounded” that the property in question, with its busy library and well used community center, could reasonably be considered surplus by anyone’s definition of the word, including that of DC’s regulatory code which defines surplus as, “no longer needed for public use.” And while DMPED’s representative Stucker clarified that some land would be retained for a library and community center, he could not say how much or where on the property because no plans yet exist to consider, even conceptually.
One local resident, Beryl Lieff Benderly, the acclaimed sociologist and science writer summed up the overwhelming sentiment about any surplus of the Chevy Chase civic core: “Not one inch is not in public use.”
No one had been told in advance that testimony would be limited to a minute and a half (DC Council usually allows 3 to 5 minutes). Meg Maguire of NW Opportunity Partners CDC had to abbreviate her planned testimony but concluded unequivocally, “Unless and until a site plan is completed, discussions of land surplus and disposition or an RFP for a private developer, are premature.” And an architect in attendance, who led the design of two DC public library transformations, said privately that the surplus process is terrible and more public inclusion is needed.
DMPED’s Stucker said several times that his office was just “following the law” by holding the hearing and will forward comments to the DC Council for consideration. Attendees of January 12th’s hearing should not expect to hear back or otherwise be kept informed, in spite of having been required to sign in. DMPED is required to take testimony about surplussing, but is not required to respond to it, and did not answer questions at the surplus hearing. Residents can submit testimony by email until February 9 to Gilles Stucker DMPED [email protected].
Citizens citywide have the legal right and standing to be included in consideration of the fate of any DC public library they use. Concerned residents should make their thoughts known to:
Executive Mayor Muriel Bowser: [email protected]
Director Anita Cozart, Office of Planning: [email protected] City Administrator Kevin Donahue: kevin.donah[email protected] Gilles Stucker, DMPED: [email protected]
The Chevy Chase “civic core” straddles two wards.
Ward 3 CM Matt Frumin: [email protected]
Ward 4 CM Janeese Lewis George: [email protected]
CM Trayon White, Chair, Committee on Libraries & Recreation: [email protected]
ANC ANC3/4G Chair Lisa Gore, [email protected]