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Rapid development worries some,

spurs resident demands for input

(Published September 24, 2001)


Staff Writer

A spate of recent developments and development proposals in Ward 5 may change the face of the area, but neighborhood groups are demanding more input into the decision-making process.

The McMillan Reservoir proposal, the 49-acre site between Catholic University and the U.S. Soldiers and Airmens Home, and the proposal to build townhouses next to the Brookland-CUA Metro have all been met with skepticism from some local residents.

Thomas Rooney, a retired Catholic University art professor and a Brookland neighborhood resident for over 40 years, said he started the Coalition for Community Control to give residents greater input in the decision-making process. Currently, his main concern is the lack of coordination among Ward 5 development sites.

Mary Baird Currie, a Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner, called development "one of the top issues in Ward 5."

"We are hopeful we’ll be able to work out those parts dissatisfying to the community," she said.

One of those developments, a proposal to build 118 townhouses on a 4.5-acre site adjacent to the Brookland-CUA Metro, was met with strong neighborhood opposition. Metro currently has the plan on hold.

Local residents claimed the townhouses, with little or no yard, would be out of character with the rest of the nearby single-family dwellings.

"We need something that is more in sync with existing surroundings," said Currie, whose ANC single-member district is adjacent to the proposed Metro development.

Residents also questioned how the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) went about gathering input from the community. WMATA held four meetings beginning late last year to gather input from residents for the proposed site. However, community leaders obtained a copy of the development proposal from anonymous sources before the District’s planning officials even admitted publicly that a proposal to develop the land existed.

Rosalyn Doggett, a WMATA official, said the multi-jurisdictional agency is now "reconsidering its community involvement policy" to better incorporate community input. After that policy is in place, the agency can then move ahead with plans for development, she said.

Doggett did not provide a time frame, except to say that the proposal for the Brookland-CUA Metro development is "pending," as are proposals for other Metro stations on the Red Line.

Further down Michigan Avenue, on the opposite side of Catholic University from the proposed Metro station development, sits a 49-acre plot located between the university and the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen’s Home. The 150-year-old military retirement home is seeking to commercially develop the land to generate income for the financially troubled institution. The university would like the same piece of land to expand its campus.

The two institutions went to court regarding the land. A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims decided the Soldiers Home could proceed with a plan to lease the land to a private developer for a 50-year, mixed-use development, with an option to buy at the end of the lease. One proposal includes plans for 1,160 residential units (split between apartments, condominiums and townhouses), a hotel, a restaurant, a lake and retail space.

Rooney said the Coalition for Community Control is worried that the large development will negatively affect already clogged traffic on North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue and will destroy one of the last, large green spaces in the area.

A final decision has not been made as to which proposal will be selected. Jean Schaefer, a spokeswoman for the Soldiers Home, said officials there "are now proceeding and evaluating proposals received from developers."

However, in the same federal ruling, Catholic University’s claims to right of first refusal were upheld. This means the university could match the highest offer for leasing the land and proceed to develop the area.

Victor Nakas, a spokesman for Catholic University, said the university is "ready and willing to pay a fair price for the property and will pay what the land is worth. ...but determining what the land is worth is the crux of the matter."

According to Nakas, the university does not have specific plans for the site yet, but if acquired, the institution could build graduate student housing, a conference center or research facilities. "We are looking forward to the opportunity to purchase the land without being a commercial developer," Nakas said.

Both sides seem pleased with the recent decision, though it is not yet clear how that decision will be played out. Lawyers for both sides were reviewing the decision.

Commissioner Currie said she is watching the development closely. Though she said there has sometimes been a lack of communication between the ANC and the university, she said ANC 5A "look(s) forward to working with the university’s planning community."

Meanwhile, the D.C. Office of Planning faced tough opposition from neighborhood activists during a series of meetings last year on the future of the 25-acre site at the former McMillan Reservoir. The Coalition for Community Control along with a group called the McMillan Park Committee wanted the site to become a public park, but no word has been announced as to what will happen with the land.

The D.C. Office of Planning’s Derrick Woody said city planning officials are now in the process of drafting proposals for the site. His office has "completed the section of the community engagement process" and has placed copies of the proposals put forth by consultants at local libraries.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator