Will DC Library Trustees Ignore Chevy Chase Controversy?

At last month’s Board of Library Trustees meeting, the Director of the DC Public Library (DCPL) Richard Reyes Gavilan mentioned that he was working with DC Department of Parks and Recreation on plans for the Chevy Chase Library that were “proceeding as one building,” with the library and community center to be combined in a shared structure with housing over it.

For DCPL to set off in this direction is at best premature and potentially a substantial waste of time. The Chevy Chase Friends of the library have not weighed in. This would be the first time in the course of the DC Public Library Transformation that the local Friends group was not included. Also, if the plan for Chevy Chase is to do what was done in the West End, the public property would first have to be declared as “surplus” by the DC Council. Surplus is defined by DC law as “no longer needed for public use.” That has not yet happened – and it’s not clear that it will happen since nearly 1,000 residents have signed a recent petition against it.

A 2002 document called the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan (SAP) released in 2022, was developed for the Office of Planning by paid consultants over the course of two years, and accepted by the DC Council. Notably, it does not contain the word surplus. And, at a surplus hearing with the community in January of this year, the approximately 200 attendees voiced near-complete opposition. Giles Stucker of the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), the DC department charged with running this process, said “The surplus hearing could result in no surplus.”

Ultimately, the DC Council must approve any surplus, and seven months after the surplus hearing there has been no report from DMPED nor resolution introduced to Council. A petition against the surplussing, recently launched by local civic group Chevy Chase Voice, is now approaching 1000 signatures, all from immediate area residents. Should the surplus not occur, the parameters for a new, renovated or expanded library would be quite different from a combined structure as referenced by Director Reyes Gavilan. At their meeting, the Library Trustees appeared unaware of any controversy, or of other reason to hold off planning, and casually accepted the Director’s information.

Unlike any other agency of the DC government, the Trustees are independent. Like all DC agencies, the Library’s funding is approved by the DC Council, yet the Trustees have independent contracting authority. They oversee the Public Library, the agency closest to the people, serving all constituencies, but their decision-making does not fall under any other rubric of authority.

It’s unclear why DC should give up any of its already diminished and limited public land, but in this case, surplussing (defined as no longer needed for public use) is particularly absurd. A new or renovated library would be rebuilt on the same public land. DMPED’s Director of Real Estate Sarosh Olpadwala claimed that enough public space will be kept for the library and community center, and what would be surplussed would be “air rights.” How can recreational space be severed from its air rights? Are green space, sunlight, and fresh air not inherent to outdoor recreational area? Where will the popular outdoor reading grove maintained by the Friends of the Library be transplanted? What becomes of historic trees on the park-like site?

The original plans for rebuilding the Southwest Library proposed to smother it on the lower floors of a mixed use and residential building. Working with their Council Member, Charles Allen, residents there kept the library’s free-standing location adjacent to a park that the library’s charming new front porch now looks out upon. Something similar could be achieved on the 1.7 acres of Chevy Chase Commons. Indeed, many say it already exists and needs only to be updated.

There have been five big battles about private housing being built over public libraries in DC: Benning, MLK, SW, Tenley, West End. A public land surplus — really a giveaway — was carried out only in the West End, where now-disgraced Councilman Jack Evans then reigned. All five fights were divisive and unpleasant. One wonders why the DC government’s leadership wants to embroil the public library – its most beloved and highly ranked agency – in controversy again and again? Especially when they have had to back down four times out of five. Can we not learn from the past?

In 2021, at the grand opening of the SW Library, I asked Mayor Bowser to please conduct a broad public conversation about combining housing and libraries, so that we could develop some consensus guidelines, and avoid another problematic public-private-partnership like West End. In particular, I thought a surplus controversy would ignite in Chevy Chase, as that branch was coming up next on the Library Transformation agenda. She told me, “The ANC is taking care of it.”

Right now the elected but un-remunerated ANC is working overtime to hold weekly meetings throughout the summer to develop a survey of local residents on their views about the Commons. For two years, paid consultants engaged the community to develop the SAP, and yet failed to mention the word surplus, leaving many residents feeling misled. In retrospect, this oversight can only be seen as a lie of omission. If the deception was not intentional, then it was incompetence of a high order by the well-compensated consultants. The unpaid ANC now bears the brunt of its constituents’ ire. And the Friends of the Chevy Chase Library have not yet been heard. Now is not the time for DCPL to embark on development of an architectural program for the Chevy Chase Library.


ANC Cmsr Declares Chevy Chase Surplus Process “Insane”

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]
DC Council
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]


MLK Library Virtual Art Tour Thursday Jan 28, at 11 am

MLK Library Virtual Art Tour
Thursday, January 28th, at 11:00 a.m.
In September 2020, the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library reopened in a limited capacity, after a 3-year, $211 million modernization. The transformed flagship library now features a variety of welcoming, modern spaces that will bring new programs and services to District residents – and exciting new artworks that reflect important themes in District culture and history. In this virtual tour, Linnea Hegarty will explore with us the library’s new and restored permanent artworks and share with us the Library’s plans to activate the building with engaging, relevant temporary exhibitions.
Linnea Hegarty is the Director of Events, Exhibits & Development at the DC Public Library.
Registration Required: Please click here to register. You will receive the Zoom link prior to the program.

Panel Discussion on Homelessness

Homelessness: A Panel Discussion
Tuesday January 28, 2020, at 7 PM
location: Tenley Library, 4450 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Metro Tenleytown-AU
The Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library and the DC Public Library present a panel discussion on homelessness.

Panelists will discuss causes and solutions to homelessness, the critical role outreach workers play in supporting people experiencing homelessness and ending homelessness for individuals, and how community members can be involved in advocacy efforts to end homelessness in the District.

Panelists include:

  • Jean Badalamenti, MSW, Health and Human Services Manager, DC Public Library
  • Alan Banks, Community Engagement Associate, Friendship Place
  • Antwan Gillis, Project Coordinator, Street Outreach Services, Friendship Place
  • Lara Pukatch, MA, Director of Advocacy, Miriam’s Kitchen

Sponsored by the Friends of Tenley-Friendship Library and the DC Public Library.


If You Build It…

February 27, 2019

Transformation, as the planning process for DC Public Libraries was dubbed more than a decade ago, has brought us 20 expanded or rebuilt libraries and the balance of the system’s 26 buildings is funded in the District’s five-year capital budget. Library transformation is unquestionably the city’s most important civic project of recent decades, but it was limited to the rebuilding or expanding of libraries at existing locations.

At the time, that was not an oversight. DC already had one of the highest rates of libraries per capita. However, all facilities had been permitted to fall into substantial disrepair, dire disrepair in some cases, from bullet holed windows to dripping roofs, and the entire system needed to be brought into the 21st Century. Several branches simply consisted of tiny plexiglass kiosks intended to be temporary when built. And MLK central library was routinely likened to a prison, considered as dangerous by some, with its dank staircases and long dark hallways.

Half a billion dollars later, most of the system is glittering. MLK is closed undergoing surgery to have its internal systems replaced and its architectural persona overhauled. As the end of the transformation process comes into view, DCPL leadership recognized the time is now to plan. And so, the first public meeting about the Master Facilities Plan (MFP) for DC Public Libraries kicked off last night at the Tenley branch.

Attendance at the kickoff meeting was light, consisting of far more consultants and staff than everyday library users. In contrast though, an on-line survey that closed on Friday made a good showing with 1100 responses reportedly, although none of that data was yet available for the meeting.

Library Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan spoke welcomingly and focused on two main points: 1) the Library’s responsibility to protect its assets by keeping them in good working order, and 2) the intention to tailor services to neighborhoods. The Library will also consider new locations but did not explicitly ask for feedback about that last night, nor on the earlier survey.

Judging from Monday’s DC Council Performance Oversight Hearing on the Library, new locations or co-locations with other facilities might well be needed. As the DCPL website notes, “Library circulation has increased 250 percent in the past decade.” While testimony at the hearing was very favorable to DCPL as usual, comments recurred about how crowded the transformed libraries have become. This includes Cleveland Park, the largest and most recent to open, with the highest use, historically, of any DC branch. Among speakers at the oversight hearing, the phrase of choice to describe libraries was “well used,” but the tales of long waits for computers and of children’s program sign-up being filled five minutes after being posted on-line may indicate that some library branches are already at capacity. Another example is Tenley, where the MFP meeting was held, also an historically high use library where teens from nearby Wilson High pack the house after school and meeting rooms for all are booked solid.

When the “transformed” MLK central library opens in 2020, it is expected to take some pressure off the branches. The re-newed MLK will have double the available public square footage of the original library. There will be newer seating options, as well, like reading bars along windows which, given the sheer expanse of MLK windows, will accommodate a lot of people. However, it’s entirely possible that the central library, too, will become full up, as it appears many branches already have citywide.

When we have built them, they have come.

As someone who was present for the ten library listening sessions held across the District in 2005 before DCPL embarked on its building “transformation” program, I looked forward to the MFP meeting. I know that some requests remain unmet from 15 years ago. For instance, every neighborhood in the city asked for a coffee shop to be associated with their library but only one, West End, had their wish granted. I know of three planned Rec Centers where communities have longstanding requests for library services: McMillan Park, Crummell School in Ivy City, and Stead Park in Dupont/Logan Circle. These rec centers could easily coordinate with DCPL for some range of library programs and services.

After the Director Reyes-Gavilan spoke, some happy talk by consultants ensued. Then, the obligatory power point, followed by a “walk through the boards” to append post-its. These sessions are never enlightening, whether they’re conducted for Office of Planning or Dept of Transportation or DCPL. It would be far more interesting and possibly inspiring to hear about other library systems and see examples, and to hear from people in relation to a given set of questions.

This process of sticky notes and surveys, inadequate and awkward as it feels, nonetheless will be important. One hopes it will be sufficient to carry on the unquestioned success of the DCPL’s so far brilliant transformation.


The Friends of Crummell School Want a Library

The Friends of Alexander Crummell School in Ivy City met with Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie on Monday to review a proposed redevelopment project, which includes the historic 1911 school structure and grounds. Crummell was closed in the 1970’s, but over the decades since, residents have continuously fought to resurrect the site for community uses.

Friends of Crummell School

“Disposition” of the land from public ownership to private is in legislation pending before the DC Council. Hearings, such as Monday night’s, are required to be held in the affected community whenever any public property is to be disposed. Although the actual Crummell School building and a portion of the adjacent land will remain publicly owned, with the chosen developer paying to restore the historic building at a cost of $14M, most of the surrounding land is being “surplussed” to the developer.

In plans, the school building is referred to as a community center but the exact nature of activities will be defined by residents and relevant city agencies. Residents have long asked for a library to be part of any redevelopment.

This can happen.

Almost all library services and programming, with the one major exception of extensive open stacks, could be coordinated to take place in a recreation or community center the size of the Crummell School. It only needs to be budgeted into DCPL’s operating expenses.

Library offerings at Crummell could consist of new book display, special order reserve and pick up, book return, baby and parent lap-time activities, children’s story hour, after-school tutoring, adult literacy classes, computer access, annual health insurance enrollment, tax preparation, and of course book groups. Instructional classes available at DCPL range from yoga, dance, knitting, maker workshops, to job training, technology, health, and continuing education offerings.

Another important feature of our DC libraries is free space for civic meetings of all kinds: ANC’s, citizens associations, Boy and Girl Scouts, the League of Women Voters, and voting. Many libraries serve as polling locations on election day.

DCPL is in the planning stages now of partnering with the Department of Parks and Rec for programming at the expanded Stead Recreation Center in Dupont-Logan Circles neighborhood when it opens in a couple years.

This can happen at Crummell. Residents have opportunities to ask for it now.

Right now, the DC Library Board of Trustees is asking residents to participate in a survey to be used to develop a 10-year Master Facilities Plan. Friends of Crummell and others who want a library as part of a community center should weigh in.

Take the online survey
Go to Question 16 to type in your request for a library at Crummell School in Ivy City. You have to do this specially, in the space provided for “What other comments would you like to share…”  (Yes, I agree it’s a little odd not to have a more direct question about potential additional facilities locations.)

DCPL is also hosting four community meetings in February and March to gather input about future library needs. Woodridge  in Ward 5 is the closest to Ivy City. If you haven’t seen the wonderful new Woodridge branch library, go there! All meetings are open to everyone.

Tues, Feb. 26, 7 pm., Tenley Library
Sat, March 2, 11 am, Woodridge Library
Weds, March 6, 7 pm, Anacostia Library
Thurs, March 7, 7 pm, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 Eye Street SW

Residents can speak in person to the Board of Library Trustees at their bi-monthly meetings. The next one is March 27, 2019, 6 pm, at DCPL Administrative Offices, 1990 K St. NW, Suite 500. Public comment is always near the top of the agenda. Attendees are free to leave after speaking if they have no further interest. Read the procedures for public comment.  Also contact the Trustees here

Finally, it’s oversight season. Residents can sign up to testify about the DC Public Library at the Committee on Education hearing, to be held on Monday February 25 at noon. Register online at   or call Chairman Grosso’s office 202 724-8081.

The Friends of Crummell School have asked for  library services and programming at their new community center, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t have them.   The Library Renaissance Project supports their request.

Flyers by the Friends of Crummell School encourage staying in touch directly. Contact:




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