Dear Chevy Chase ANC Commissioners…

Here is the letter we submitted to the ANC via their website prior to the meeting last night at which several resolutions regarding the Library were to be discussed.

Dear ANC 3/4G Commissioners,

Please do not approve any resolution that supports the surplus of public land.

All the resolutions, except that of Cmsr Sherman, seem to favor public land surplus, even though nearly 60% of participants in the ANC survey opposed surplussing. I note again that the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan (SAP) does not contain the word surplus. Moreover, the District can easily build its own affordable housing on the Commons without surplussing the land and without involving a for-profit developer. Also, public ownership would mean permanent affordability, one of the city’s housing goals.

However, one wonders why the public land is even being considered for surplus when 8 “opportunity sites” for affordable housing were identified in the SAP. These include Safeway, where underground parking would be more cost efficient and more sustainably achieved, and Wells Fargo, where arguably the company owes society reparation for misdeeds. Perhaps an arrangement with one or both could be devised, if it were prioritized. Instead, so far, the opportunity sites have been ignored. Based on Office of Planning’s performance at the Wardman, where OP was unable to leverage any additional affordability while nonetheless assuring the public of many developer friendly incentives at OP’s disposal, we can assume the opportunity sites will not be pursued, making a further mockery of the city’s planning process.

Over the last twenty years, as Director of the Library Renaissance Project, I have observed the transformation of DC’s public libraries, the greatest on-going civic project in our city’s history. The West End Library giveaway was the only surplus carried out. Four other libraries were targeted for surplussing but their communities fought it off (Benning, MLK, SW, Tenley). A year and a half ago, the luxury housing built over the West End Library caused a flood that closed the public library for nearly two months. The Library administration has never issued a report of the cause, damage, remedy or prevention.

In Chevy Chase, a renovation of the freestanding library should be considered. When built, the library was structurally engineered to support a third floor later if needed. A fourth level roof garden with solar above, and a renovated basement level for things like a recording studio and maker-space could be had. Doing so would more than double library square footage rather than relegating the busy branch to a new smaller space under housing as proposed in the SAP. Of course, renovation is also better environmentally. DC libraries at Capitol View, Georgetown, MLK, Mt. Pleasant, NE, Palisades, Petworth, and Takoma – some historic, some not — have all been renovated to extraordinary acclaim, awards, and appreciation. All remain publicly owned, except the West End with its leaky luxury housing overhead.

Yours truly,

Robin Diener, Library Renaissance Project