Database of Historic Building Permits, Squares 1000–1125
© Copyright 2001-2008, Capitol Hill Restoration Society. All rights reserved. Last updated July 7, 2008.
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CHRS testified on June 10, 2008, before the City Council’s Committee of the Whole concerning the Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Corridor Development Plan.
Testimony of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society President Richard Wolf
I am Richard N. Wolf, President of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. I am here to testify on behalf of our approximately 1000 members in partial support of some of the findings and conclusions in this plan; in opposition to certain portions; and to call into question the validity of the system used to create this plan.
I participated personally in almost every public session held in connection with this study. I had a number of discussions with Ward 6 Planner Jeff Davis concerning the content of this plan and, to some extent, our concerns have been responded to. It should be noted that this testimony and our concerns are only with that portion of the study focused on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, from Second Street, SE, to Barney Circle. Our view of this study is that it should end up not harming any of the planning and development initiatives extending over 40 years that have made Capitol Hill, in the words of the American Planning Association, “One of the ten best neighborhoods in America.” Much of what the plan suggests for the area of Pennsylvania Avenue from Thirteenth Street to Barney Circle states the obvious. There is a need for higher value retail and residential development within a context of excellent streetscape and strong design guidelines that are required to take advantage of the grandeur of the Avenue.
In this connection, the Avenue in that area begs for a more intensive design and development study than is found in this study. We have such an in-depth study already in the works for the Eastern Market Metro Plaza — now called our Town Square Study. Using congressionally ear-marked funds, a team led by Amy Weinstein Architect, and Oehme van Sweden, landscape architects, is conducting a broad and deep study of that area, building on a previous study funded by CHRS and CHAMPS. The work will dove-tail with a development study for the Hine School site. In both instances there has been a broad based community advisory group established to advise on these studies which arise from resident initiatives. I suggest that the Office of Planning contract with the Weinstein study group to do what this study did not do for the Avenue out to Barney Circle.
We do not support the DDOT implementation initiatives as set forth in the plan. We repeatedly have asked for DDOT to make available to the community detailed information regarding the initiatives for a new Eleventh Street Bridge — a matter we have testified about a number of times before this Council. We have yet to see an integrated traffic study for Capitol Hill although such studies are mentioned a number of times in the Plan. We have no details about the planning being done at the Potomac Avenue Metro Station, although the Weinstein group has obtained some information as a part of their study. We have no detailed information about plans for trolleys/light rail although these are also mentioned. If Office of Planning (OP) is to be a central coordination body for planning in the District of Columbia it needs to have complete knowledge of what other DC agencies are planning, including DDOT, and that knowledge has to be factored into OP’s planning studies if it purports to be an adequate substitute for a planning commission.
Finally, we want to take issue with the process by which this study and resulting plan came into being. This was initiated by OP, before Ms. Tregoning took over the office, on the basis of a “vision” that the two sides of the Anacostia River needed to be “connected” by some sort of a unified plan. I told the planners early on that this was simply not planning but wishful thinking. From a planning standpoint the two sides are completely different, and those differences are reflected in the plan before you. It would have made more sense to have had two planning efforts and each would have had more focus and depth.
In other words, these plans are initiated by OP with very little input from the community. There is no yearly work plan for the office which could be subjected to review by the Council and citizens. During the course of public meetings — they are not hearings — there is “facilitation” of discussion by staff and a contractor. The public has no idea as to what happens to the comments and there is no legal requirement that the comments be taken into account in the final plan. What you have before you is pretty much what OP thinks about the plan and not very much what we think. That is not transparent and responsive planning, but it is the way planning is done in the District of Columbia. Yet, what is produced is supposed to be the basis for actions by various agencies and the spending of sometimes very large amounts of government funds — our taxes. No matter how many public meetings are held on a topic, these small area plans are pretty much top down, and it is the prerogative of the government to decide whether or not to even bring these forward for adoption.
I don’t think adoption of this plan by the Council will either facilitate or hurt proper development along Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill, except for adoption of plans and policies from DDOT which have not been thoroughly vetted by the public. A great deal of public money has been spent on this effort with not a lot to show in the end. There has to be a better way. Thank you for the opportunity to be heard.