Testimony on Office of Planning Performance Hearing
DC City Council, Committee of the Whole
February 24, 2022
Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am Meg Maguire, Chair of the newly formed NW Opportunity Partners CDC. Our mission is to reverse the historic racial inequities of removal and exclusion of Black residents in Ward 3 by expanding affordable housing and economic opportunities; and by transferring any benefits of our work to other community-led organizations citywide.
During the next 3-5 years, Ward 3 will experience massive new developments, particularly along Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues. Spurred both by our amenity-rich ward, and by the promise of windfall profits resulting from changes proposed by the Office of Planning in the 2021 Comprehensive Plan amendments to the Future Land Use Map, three questions must be at the heart of OP’s upcoming planning in Ward 3:
- How will current development incentives and rules be reshaped to achieve the mayor’s goal of 1990 new units of affordable housing by 2025 in Rock Creek West?
- At the end of the day, will the people who work here and their families be able to live here?
- What does it mean to achieve racial equity in Ward 3 and what policies and actions are needed to achieve equity?
Based on residential development at three unusually large parcels, the outlook is not promising.
- On the former Fannie Mae site, City Ridge will have over 650 residential units, only 56 of which will be affordable.
- In Friendship Heights, the prospect for the matter-of-right redevelopment of the full-block Mazza Gallery with 350 new apartments is no better and may result in only 28-35 affordable units.
- On the Wardman Hotel site in Woodley Park, Carmel Partners plans a matter-of-right development for 9.5 acres that will produce 900 rental units, only 8% or 72 of which are required to be affordable.
Total yield from these 3 large-scale projects? A paltry 163 units of affordable housing.
Related to Carmel’s matter-of-right plans for the 9.5 acre redevelopment of the Wardman, we respectfully disagree with OP’s position that the development is under the 3-acre threshold to qualify for large track review. While the footprint of the new towers may be only 2.8 acres, the entire site will be rebuilt including 2 acres of new park space which will be designed, engineered, terraced, sculpted and yes, built. Underground space will also be redesigned and built. This large site is exactly what Large Track Review is designed to study.
Related to the Cleveland Park/Woodley Park and Friendship Heights, we urge the Office of Planning to up its game for the planning process that will begin in the coming months. It is important to set goals for affordable housing throughout the ward and recommend ways to hold developers and the city accountable for achieving them.
It is also essential that OP use only the best 21st century technology planning tools to ensure that neighbors, advocates, developers and planners all share a common factual and visual understanding of the current land use and together, examine future options. Cities around the world are increasing citizen participation and creativity in planning transformative change using ArcGIS. Why is DC so far behind?
Outdated massing studies or stand-alone models presented apart from a realistic context are a thing of the past. Most residents of this city have no idea what the visual difference is between medium and moderate density. They don’t know what impact a given development or proposed zoning changes or design alternatives will have on the surroundings. Planning as usual will only keep people in the dark, deepen resentments, and reinforce widespread belief that developers will always get their way.
We request – indeed, insist – that the city use ArcGIS Urban and City Engine in all upcoming Ward 3 planning as other cities around the world are doing to increase citizen participation in transformative change:
- Urban visualizes both citywide and neighborhood-scale projects; designs 3-D scenarios; guides, changes and measures impact; and enables digital engagement with the audience.
- City Engine can integrate past zoning and changes to the Future Land Use Map so that people can understand the impact of change on their neighborhoods.
Of course, planning by whatever means isn’t enough. DMPED, with its myriad financial and regulatory tools – plus the city’s formidable powers of persuasion – must implement these plans by bringing all parties to the table to ensure that they are carried out.
It is a great privilege to do business in this beloved city. Our leaders must send a clear message to developers: housing is a right, not just a commodity. Through their skill and proven accomplishments, developers have a vital role in meeting our shared social obligation to create the diverse and equitable city we must become.
NW Opportunity Partners CDC