Chevy Chase Commons: Privatized Food for Thought

by DC for Reasonable Development’s Chris Otten

Some representatives of ANC 3/4G are considering pivoting away from the nearly 3,000 voices of the same neighbors they solicited regarding the future of the existing Chevy Chase library, community center, and recreation green space at McKinley and Connecticut Avenue, NW.

Chevy Chase Civic Site – Aerial Image.JPG

Ward 3 and 4 residents nearby the Chevy Chase Commons have resoundingly (60:40) informed their representatives not to mix incompatible uses (housing and community services) and not to privatize the public land and air rights at the center of their neighborhood.

However, a combo platter of pro-developer & religious-affiliated growth cheerleaders have seemingly exerted enough pressure on some of the local ANC Commissioners as evidenced by the Gosselin draft resolution and conclusion: “[T]hat some housing should be built at the Community Center-Library site [and] that at least half of the housing built should be affordable … .”

This means that unless some serious amendments happen or another resolution is offered and adopted as a substitute, the Chevy Chase ANC could resolve that the city pick a real estate speculator-du-jour to build housing on a partially privatized Commons and half of that new housing could be some of the most expensive residential units in the city.

More rotten than that is the NIMBY name calling by the well paid “smart growth” advocates who seek to neutralize obvious public opposition to any privatization schemes. But what the “I want more neighbors who are wealthy and dogmatic like me” activists fail to tell their ranks or anyone for that matter is that the handful of “affordable” housing units that may get built at a privatized Commons actually won’t be affordable by anyone making DC’s “living wage” or even two to three times the living wage.

They know full well that DC’s “affordable” studios & one-bedrooms cost between $1500 to $2000 per month and are being delivered largely for singles making $60,000 to $80,000 annually.


This tortellini twisted definition of “affordability” in DC is what palpably makes Ward 3 Councilmember Matt Frumin’s reproach of racism in land use covenants more a grandstanding performance than any game changing policy reform. Hearing coming up this Friday:

Racial covenants on land deeds have been found unconstitutional and unenforceable since the late 1940’s (

Frumin’s concocted contortions from the Council dais (in store this Friday) are all in effort to ensure that “affordable” housing gets built on the Chevy Chase Commons to allegedly repair the harms of the past.

Sardonically, DC residents with lower incomes, due in part to the immense racial wealth gap in DC, won’t likely be able to live in any of the proposed housing on the Commons because of DC’s ridiculous definition of “affordable” housing as highlighted above.

DC for Reasonable Development agrees with Colby King about the massive displacement of longtime DC residents and families over the past two decades of so called smart-growth #buildmore unaffordable “affordable” housing:

The city’s “poor folk [are being forced] out of their neighborhoods” by the city’s “active role in development, selling or leasing publicly owned land, changing zoning laws, closing alleys and providing developers with inducements to construct new — or refurbish old — buildings … with resultant racial and class tensions.” –Colby King, WashPost (May 2019)

Ironically, Ward 3 is one of two wards citywide to gain in residents of color over the past ten years as most other Wards have undergone substantial displacement of our more vulnerable neighbors.


Attend the ANC Meeting Wed. Nite Dec 6, 6pm. In person at the community center and by Zoom.

Tune in (perhaps testify) at Councilmember Frumin’s Hearing on the covenants at the Commons.

Explore Social Housing or Community Land Trusts (CLT) as Both Don’t Require Surplus — If truly affordable housing on the Commons is what the some in the community really want (not that there aren’t at least eight other properties nearby where it can be built), public interest only prevails if a CLT or Social Housing model is deployed, both of which don’t require surplusing. Nothing in the law says (in fact quite the opposite) that privatization (surplus) is required of public land for if it’s privatized and given to a for-profit or for that matter a non-profit developer, then the future of the surplused portions will be forever out of the public’s hands. No surplus is needed for CLT’s or Social Housing.

Some Land Uses Don’t Mix — With the West End Library surplus and giveaway, we can see what happens when you mix incompatible uses such as housing over public facilities. In the summer of 2022, plumbing issues in the privatized portion of housing above the West End library shut the library down for almost 2 months. Public community services must be co-located with other public services so the public has control over accidents/problems/mishaps and with that public control we can get any affected public services back online and quickly.

Hope this has been helpful.

In service,
Chris Otten