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Cheh Joins the Opposition to Tenley Project

The group of critics of the development project at the site of the former Tenley-Friendship Library has a new member: Councilmember Mary M. Cheh.

She has serious reservations about the current proposal, which might reduce green space at the neighboring Janney Elementary School.

Cheh (D-Ward 3) had strongly supported construction of a building that would have incorporated a library, shops and apartments. But she said she believes that the proposal that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) selected in early July would cause problematic delays in the library's construction -- up to two years -- and would also take space away from the elementary school.

"I'm hopeful that there's still room to have elements in this to have an acceptable proposal," Cheh said. "But I made it very clear to [the deputy mayor and the developers] that I was disappointed."

Cheh sent a letter to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development late last month outlining her concerns.

According to the plan announced in July, the LCOR development firm would build about 130 housing units over a new library. A parking garage would be underground. And city funds gained from the development would be channeled toward a renovation of the Janney Elementary School.

But Janney would lose part of a soccer field, something Cheh had opposed. She also said the amount of money the city would earn from the development "seemed low."

And many in the community had protested the plans, asserting that they had not been involved in the planning processes and that the library system -- which had already drawn up its own plans for a stand-alone building -- should be allowed to build without delay.

"When I'm losing the support of the different groups who were told we would get this advantage and that advantage, it makes it completely untenable" for her to back the development, Cheh said.

She emphasized that the plan was not yet set, and held out hope that her objections would be addressed.

"I am completely for transit-oriented development," she said. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

The deputy mayor's office and LCOR have not yet responded to calls for comment.

Michael Birnbaum

By Marcia Davis  |  August 9, 2008; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  City Life , D.C. Council , Economic Development  
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While the Mayor announced a plan on July 10th that involved 130 units, LCOR's own same-day press release said 174 units (which is what it has been all along). And the site plan for that project shows the school's entire playing field, as well as part of the teacher's parking lot, covered with apartments and their driveway.

Janney's campus has no room to spare for private development. It's already got less land per student than 2/3 of DCPS elementary schools. To relieve its current overcrowding and expand its capacity to 550 students, its indoor facilities need to be doubled in size. Obviously, that will consume land.

The design challenge will be to find a way to enable the outdoor facilities (PE fields/courts and playgrounds) to keep pace with the indoor facilities, even as new school buildings consume existing land. That will be impossible if any campus land gets devoted to non-educational uses.

Glad to see Cheh realizing this -- and the inevitability of a substantial delay to the library.

The finances aren't going to get any better either -- the development rights are only worth a few million and they are instantly consumed by the increased costs associated with the intensification of land use (e.g. the need to underground parking) as well as the costs associated with delay and redesign of the library.

This project is lose-lose-lose. If pursued, it will give the community worse/fewer public facilities later and at greater public expense. Just say NO and be done with it.

Posted by: Sue Hemberger | August 9, 2008 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Hey Cheh, open Klingle Road. Now.

-DC Taxpayer

Posted by: Open the Road | August 9, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

which might reduce green space at the neighboring Janney Elementary School.


Posted by: matchstick | August 9, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Once again, the Examiner beat the Post. I read about this in the Examiner about 4 days ago. Anyway, I'm glad the Post's agenda does not completely prevent it from at least publishing news about Cheh's position. Many many people knew this right from the start. Don't build private property over a library. If an apartment building's residents decide to open their own private library on the first floor of their building and then open it up to the public, that is fine. That would be a nice thing. But this mixing spells doom for the library and from what I can tell, the school too. Just build the library and move on.

Posted by: matchstick | August 9, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Ian Thoms of the NW Current broke the story on Wednesday. Michael Neibauer/The Examiner picked it up on Thursday and added some new details missed here -- e.g. that Kwame Brown's office co-signed Cheh's July 24th letter to Albert.

Still, I'm glad to see it here as well. Better late than never.

Posted by: Sue | August 9, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Ah, Tenleytown, where the motto is "Mattress Stores, yes! Libraries, no!"

Have fun further depressing your property values.

Posted by: Bob | August 9, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Bob's got it backwards.

DCPL was ready to break ground on our new library early this fall. They had a great design, already approved by the National Capitol Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts, which they were ready to send out for bid when Fenty told them to stop working on it so Neil Albert (who has accomplished nothing on the project over the past seven months) could do this public-private deal.

LCOR has acknowledged that, optimistically, it would take at least 18 months to two years from Council approval (not yet granted) before they'd be ready to break ground on a mixed-use building including the library. That means that, at the earliest, they'd be starting construction just when DCPL would be re-opening the facility (March 2010).

We'll get a better library sooner if there's no private development on this site. Which is why six different community organizations passed resolutions last spring, after seeing the RFP submissions, urging that the PPP be abandoned and DCPL proceed with the construction of the new branch.

It's the PPP that risks lowering our property values by leaving us with an elementary school that has half the land per student as Lafayette does and a library that's partially underground.

Posted by: Sue | August 9, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

How sad that the District of Columbia would favor offices and condos over a public library and elementary school expansion.

Give us back our library and tell LCOR to find another parcel of land to develop.

Posted by: Lil'C | August 9, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

This is a project that could work, but not as proposed. Too bad the Mayor's office can't see the forest for the trees and try to get this right.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 9, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

How can a major world city give away its public lands to the developer of the moment?

Does it make sense to put a high rise
private condos next to a school? does the
community want that desity next to a school?

Will that development increase the need for more classrooms at Janney? has that cost been factored?

Private developers own the democrats.

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | August 9, 2008 7:42 PM | Report abuse

This is very unfortunate that the ANC and a few vocal residents of this community are so opposed to this development. Tenley has a metro station and good access from the 30s-line bus routes yet in the immediate vicinity on Wisconsin Avenue there are numerous surface parking lots, a high office vacancy, and generally low-quality retail. Contrast this with just about any other area with a metro station in the DC region. More high-quality residential would attract more retail and other mixed-use development. This would actually alleviate traffic/parking issues as Tenley residents could walk to nearby establishments rather than having to drive to Tysons, Georgetown, etc... Opposing these developments near transit will only push development towards the outlying suburban areas, increasing air pollution, traffic, and oil dependency.

Look just two miles further down Wisconsin Ave at Glover Park. Glover Park is a neighborhood that has successfully managed to have higher density, mixed-use, development along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor while preserving some of the best residential neighborhoods in the DC area.

Posted by: Ben | August 10, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Concerns about the loss of the soccer field are also exaggerated. Fort Reno, right on the other side of Wisconsin Ave., provides great public facilities and is one of the better parks in DC.

Posted by: Ben | August 10, 2008 10:37 AM | Report abuse

What is greatly exagerrated? That they may lose an entire field? Or that once they do lose a field, they can use (or share use of?) a public park? Is that park across Wisconsin Ave? Or another street?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 10, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Fort Reno is a spectacular park, and I'm quite pleased that hardly anyone knows about it. However, its presence does not make up for the loss of a school's soccer field.

It seems to me that it shouldn't be too hard to execute a workable PPP. This project has been incompetently handled from the start. All of the specs and requirements should be publicly released, and they should allow any private developer to submit plans. There are undoubtedly more skilled and visionary developers out there.

Also, approve a building height over 50 feet. That'd definitely allow them to keep all their green space, put in enough residential to pay the city a pretty penny, and keep everyone happy. Except, of course, the people who frown on tall buildings for ascetic reasons.

Posted by: Other Ben | August 10, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Hee hee hee. Tenleytown and its tawdry strip. Can't even build another public library. Why don't we transform the area to a new gay entertainment center and let the businesses displaced by the Nationals set up shop there. Jim Graham would approve.

Tenleytown is also home of Wilson High, the school with the worst behaved children in Washington DC. Janney is their training ground, and that field is goshdarn so important to their development.

Posted by: Derriere Chapeaux III | August 10, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

With Janney already grossly overcrowded and as DCPS plans to increase that school's enrollment to 550 students, Janney needs more outdoor space, not less. The city should drop this public-private partnership development proposal, rebuild our long closed public library (as DCPL has plans to open in March 2010) and modernize Janney.

If the free market will support mixed use retail and housing along Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown, developers can build it just across the street where the Payless Shoe store, Radio Shack, and CVS are located -- the block between Albemarle and Brandywine Streets, on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue.

Posted by: Roberta of Tenleytown | August 10, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Opposing the construction of apartments on the school's soccer field doesn't somehow push apartment-dwellers out into the burbs -- there's pleny of underdeveloped privately-owned land zoned for multifamily residential in the immediate vicinity of the school and the metro station -- including the unbuilt for lack of demand Babe's/Maxim project a block north.

And it's not practical to take elementary school kids from Janney to Fort Reno for PE. The school needs a multi-purpose playing field on site.

I agree with "Other Ben" that this project has been handled incompetently from the beginning, but it's doomed for other reasons as well. The building LCOR proposes is already well over 50 feet high (nine stories, in fact) and still covers the whole playing field.

I think that the reason it appears that there's room for private development on this site is that people forget that the school's modernization will involve doubling the building on campus. Once you imagine another wing as large as the historic building, there's not much space left, especially given the topography (lots of trees and changes in grade).

Posted by: Sue | August 10, 2008 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Sue and Roberta that the stretch on the east side of Wisconsin is also in great need of redevelopment. Surface parking and a single-floor retail directly next to a metro stop is a complete waste. The site of the defunct Maxim condos is simply blight. The same. Much of the Wisconsin Avenue corridor between Friendship Heights and Tenley is underutilized, considering the entire area is within a 10 minute walk of the two metro stations. This area can be developed responsibly while still protecting the single-family neighborhoods off of Wisconsin Avenue.

Posted by: Ben | August 10, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Why is the Maxim condo building defunct? How does that bode for other housing developments?

Posted by: matchstick | August 10, 2008 5:11 PM | Report abuse

RE Maxim --

Novice developer paid way too much for the land at the height of the condo boom. (The previous owner pocketed a couple of million for flipping it after getting a PUD for the project). Then the novice developer couldn't get financing for the condo project because he couldn't pre-sell any of the units. The Zoning Commission did grant his request for an extension of the PUD, but I think the bank owns the property now.

Posted by: Sue | August 10, 2008 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Derriere Chapeaux III. We need to develop more adult oriented business locations in our area. It brings in huge taxes for the city and $$$ for our local businesses. I remember a great old club called "Godfather's." Let's build the library and bring those good times back.

Posted by: Joe Galligher | August 10, 2008 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Right on Joe! I'm sure Sue and Ben would approve of your proposed plan. Let's meet with Mary Cheh next week and go over some of the details.

Posted by: Allen A. | August 10, 2008 9:22 PM | Report abuse

OMG, you guys are so wonderful. We have been wandering the city in search of a new home. We are the unwanted, the tired, the poor, but the best female dressed men in the country! Wisconsin Avenue here we come!!!

Posted by: Miss Divine | August 10, 2008 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Everything's coming up roses!

Posted by: Gipsy Lee Rose | August 10, 2008 10:02 PM | Report abuse

I have to laugh at Sue and Roberta's pseudo argument that they would support development on the east side of Wisconsin where the Payless Shoe store currently exists. Everyone knows that if any sort of commercial/residential development were proposed for that site, Sue and the rest of the NIMBY 4Ever! brigades would be front and center opposing it because there's just no way that block of Tenleytown could possibly survive with anything other than a one- and two-story building. Think of the millions of cars! Think of the pollution! Think of the children! Won't anyone think of the children?!

Posted by: Tenley Resident | August 11, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

The only time Mayor Fenty goes GREEN is when he is on Missouri Ave buying marijuana.

Posted by: Jonathan Rees | August 11, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

It is much easier to be negative and reject good change than it is to plan for the future. It takes months/years to make a plan. It takes one second to say "no".

How can you tell a NIMBY? Easy... when they say "no" to everything with constantly shifting arguments. It is very simple. Either you plan for the future or you get zapped by reality in the future. Or in the case of the NIMBY, your descendents do.

Build something, embrace dense mixed use urban development. Enjoy being able to walk to everything when most Americans would jump at such an opportunity in a future of ever increasing oil prices (long-term).

If you just say "no, no, no" then you get hurt in the future because you refused to adapt. This is not only about one street corner on Wisconsin Ave. This is about taking the opportunity for walkable development when it stares you in the face. If you don't plan, you get Tyson's Corner: an outcome that is equally lousy for all and will be redone at the cost of billions (and end product will hopefully be a walkable community so be more cost effective in the long run!).

This is about taking the future by the horns and making something that will benefit the next generation in Tenleytown, the District, the region, and on a small level, the nation.

Posted by: Cavan | August 11, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Yes, this is about the future. Are you going to drive families out of Metro-accessible neighborhoods by sacrificing the public schools and libraries in these areas in order to subsidize the construction of housing that could otherwise occur on underdeveloped privately owned land. That's stupid long term.

Consigning kids to the burbs is means raising the next generation to automatically hop in the car rather than make a conscious choice among a variety of transit options.

The difference is really striking to me every time we have a playdate with a kid who lives in the burbs or in a non-Metro oriented part of DC like Spring Valley. These kids are clearly unfamiliar with buses and subways or even walking to any place other than a playground. That doesn't bode well for decreasing the next generation's dependency on automobiles.

And whether someone is saying no or yes is a matter of how you phrase the question. Tenleytown is clearing saying yes to DCPL's plan to rebuild our library. It's clearly saying yes to DCPS's plan to expand and modernize Janney. What it's saying no to is building an apartment building on the school's soccer field. Not all change is for the better -- champion the ones that are positive; critique the ones that are negative.

I walk the walk on these issues -- I share walls, I live in urban infill that tripled the existing density of the lot, I don't own a car, I deliberately chose a mixed-use transit-accessible neighborhood to raise my kid in, etc. And I'm struck by how often the other side in these debates resorts to name-calling rather than arguments on the merits.

Smart growth is really doomed as a movement that might actually change the way people live if its proponents don't find a way to move beyond sloganeering and name-calling and start to think critically and intelligently about what it takes to make (and keep) urban environments attractive to a wide variety of people at different ages and stages in their lives.

Posted by: Sue | August 11, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and for the record, it's not easy to say "no" when the government and developers with deep pockets are saying yes. And when the media's default frame on the story is NIMBYs vs. proponents of change.

It's taken 15 months to get to a point where our Councilmember can acknowledge what many of us recognized from the beginning -- that a public-private project at this site would delay the library, take too much land from the school, and not provide any financial benefit to the city.

These are issues that were inherent in the site and in the timetable for this project. It's not that the developer wasn't visionary enough. It's that the parcel's too small given Janney's currently unmet facilities needs and the project didn't surface until the library was finally getting ready to build.

Anyone interested in seeing what kind of work has gone into saying no in this case, should take a look at (under meeting minutes -- start with the summer of 2007) and/or

Posted by: Sue | August 11, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I've got a new slogan for Tenleytown:

If your are a man who likes womens' clothes; then come to our town and get in vogue!

How's that for sloganeering!

Posted by: Mrs. Doubtfart | August 11, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse


Men don't worry if you like to wear stockings; Tenleytown has everyone in stockings rocking!

I can't wait for the new club openings!

Posted by: Mrs. Doubtfart | August 11, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

The Tenleytown ANC is comprised completely on NIMBY busybodies. To take anything they issue as being objective and not knee-jerk NIMBY is totally ridiculous.

Posted by: Tenley Resident | August 11, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

That is why it is so deliciously fun to point our their flaws.

Posted by: Derriere Chapeaux III | August 11, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

The site is workable for a reasonable development where the city, the school and the library all win. It just takes a little vision, something clearly that neither the Mayor the developer or certain members of the community wish to embrace. It is clearly a shame for the arguments outlined above.

50 years from now, someone is going to research the re-redevelopment of the Tenley Library and be amazed that back in 2008, at the beginning of the dramatic rise in fuel prices and at the beginning of the smart growth era, the city plunked down a 2 level library on top of the Tenleytown Metro and couldn't figure out how to leverage the property into something future generations could be proud of.

When the city bungles these kinds of options, it makes everyone look bad.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 11, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Fifty years from now no one is going to be saying "wow, we really should have built apartments on the soccer field." And if, fifty years from now, there's a better use for that parcel than a two-story library, the city will have the option of tearing that library down.

Conversely, if this project does go forward, it's easy to imagine people fifty years from now asking "WTF were they thinking when they covered the school's soccer field and the library with apartments?" Now we're stuck with an obsolete library and an overcrowded school that lacks athletic facilities and room for expansion." And it's not as if this is an area where the city can easily acquire another multi-acre parcel for a new school.

It's not just homes that need to be metro-accessible. A school is a great use of land near the metro. Janney has more out of bounds students than, say, Lafayette, precisely because it's accessible by public transit to people who live in other parts of the city.

Posted by: Sue | August 11, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Fifty years from now our brains will be huge and our bodies small. We will no longer need the exercise yards, but we will require reading rooms! The Tenleytown decision will be remembered as the worst of the 21st century. The townspeople will devolve into servant types (serving the big brained DC citizens) and will have short lifespans.

Please reconsider!

Posted by: All the way to the year 2058! | August 11, 2008 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Here is a picture of your peoples' future!

There is still time to build the library.

Posted by: All the way to the year 2058! | August 11, 2008 8:23 PM | Report abuse

CM Cheh has now made the text of both letters available to the public. They are posted at

Posted by: Sue | August 12, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

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