New Mayor, New Chance: Will Fenty Build on DC's Investment in Metro?
Anthony Williams transformed the face of much of the District. For creating new pockets of upscale development downtown, he won credit for bolstering the tax base, but sparked criticism that all he cared about was the rich. In a far less widely known story, Williams also reshaped several of the District's poorest sections, supporting new mixed-income communities--the single best recipe for improving everything from security to education.
Now comes Mayor Adrian Fenty, who won election by managing to persuade both sides in the development wars that he understands and sympathizes with their passionate concerns. Fenty's track record is one of supporting growth in a city that desperately needs a stronger tax base, but working closely with neighbors to make certain that the new development is appropriate and properly located.
The best thing you can say about Fenty's attitude toward development is that he gets the importance of building up the areas around the District's Metro stations, which have been neglected for far too long.
Now, the mayor is about to get a chance to show his true colors at one of the greatest development opportunities in the city, the woefully underbuilt area around the Tenleytown Metro station. A developer, Roadside Development, has proposed a last-ditch effort to put a substantial residential building at Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Street NW, immediately across from the Metro station. The developer, Armond Spikell, proposes to put the residential building behind a new public library; the existing D.C. library on that corner has been shuttered and imprisoned behind a chain-link fence for years.
The library was supposed to have been replaced by now with a new facility, but that idea died as a relative handful of neighbors repeatedly stymied efforts to inject some density into a curiously barren part of the city's most affluent ward. Spikell, whose company built the Cityline residential and retail complex just north of the library site, is optimistic that the reflexive neighborhood opposition that sabotaged a small-scale residential development one block from the same Metro station can be overcome.
Here's what Spikell recommends: Build the city a new public library, put a residential building with fewer than 200 units adjacent to that library, build an underground parking garage to handle cars from both the new residents and visitors to the library, and build an addition for woefully-overcrowded Janney Elementary School, which sits behind the library building. Benefits: Added density, a new library, removal of the unsightly trailers now used for classroom space at Janney, expansion of the green space and athletic facilities at Janney.
"It's up to the community to weigh whether the benefits of a public-private partnership are worth suffering another building," Spikell says. Obviously, there's no question where the developer stands on that. As he says: "I mean, it is Wisconsin Avenue."
Spikell believes Fenty will turn out to support transit-oriented development. "We were early and ardent supporters of his, and our experience with him has been excellent," the developer says. Working with then-Council member Fenty on a project on upper Georgia Avenue NW, "When we wanted something done, he just pushed, pushed, pushed. He understands that downtown's fine, but the neighborhoods really need the help."
Even if Spikell's proposal is not accepted, the developer and many who live in the neighborhood or have kids at Janney School see this as the last chance to use the proximity of school, library and Metro to create some kind of public facility that eases crowding at Janney, creates a neighborhood magnet of a library, and lets more people take advantage of public transit.
If, in addition, some of the non-taxable property on the site could now start generating tax revenues, that would be a big boost to all concerned. But for this to happen, the developer would need approval from a blizzard of agencies, including the public schools, the public library, the city, historic preservation authorities, and a very cranky coterie of neighborhood opponents.
The two versions of reality constantly under debate in upper Northwest Washington could hardly be more different. The anti-development crowd believes, as they say in the web site for the Coalition to Stop Overdevelopment in Tenleytown, that there is "already unacceptable congestion" in an area that many other residents consider oddly and sadly barren. (I live one neighborhood away, in an area riven by similarly polarized perceptions of reality.)
Spikell is understandably diplomatic in talking about the neighborhood's anti-development contingent: "The people in the community are not terribly unreasonable," he says. He believes he can avoid the holy war now being waged over a proposal for an office building a few blocks up Wisconsin because Spikell would seek to build within the existing zoning regulations, rather than seeking a variance for something larger.
Next move: Spikell will present a more detailed version of his plan at these community meetings:
Thursday, May 10, 7:30 PM
St Mary's Church, 42nd St and Fessenden St, NW
Monday, June 18, 7:30 PM
Capital Memorial Church, 3150 Chesapeake St, NW
By Marc Fisher |
May 9, 2007; 7:36 AM ET
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