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Giving Up On Smart Growth--Adventures in Tenleytown

There's good news for Northwest Washington library users who have been without a full-service branch since the Tenleytown library was shut down in 2004. The long-debated replacement library will now finally be built, scheduled to open in 2010.

But alas, there's bad news in that same decision, because by moving ahead on building a small branch library on the busy corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle St. NW, the District government is deciding against taking advantage of a choice location across the street from a Metro station. Despite years of talk about the wisdom of smart growth and the need to make better use of the areas immediately surrounding the city's transit stations, the District is now putting itself on the side of neighborhood activists who fight to maintain a small-town, low-density look and feel at what should be the focal point of a far denser urban neighborhood. The Tenley station is probably the most underdeveloped spot along the more affluent western spur of the Red Line--mainly because of resistance from a relative handful of neighbors who like to pretend they're living 20 miles outside a big city rather than in the heart of one.

As Ed Cowan first reported in his email newsletter to D.C. voters, the District has withdrawn the library site from the package of properties that had drawn the interest of three developers. The developers wanted to build an expanded Janney Elementary School, a replacement for the Tenley library and a residential building in one complex, creating a busy, exciting community of residents, students and library users.

The District was in a tough spot. It would be unconscionable to deprive a good swath of the city of a decent library for the many years it might take to work out a development plan that could get past highly organized activists--even if much of the community craves a far more urban environment along the major retail corridor of Wisconsin Avenue.

Yet by giving away the prime corner where the library sat, the District basically eliminates the possibility of gaining private capital to pay for a much-needed revitalization of Janney School and for a state-of-the-art library. The city's late move raises questions about whether it has any intention of upgrading the Tenley Metro area or of following up on the Tony Williams administration's drive to lure more residents to the city.

Nor does this move bode well for the ability and determination of Mayor Adrian Fenty's government to stand up to small but loud groups of neighborhood activists who know they can block almost any effort to expand the city's tax base and provide better retail and other services.

The plans for the new Tenley library are to be unveiled at a community meeting at 6 p.m. on April 9 at the interim Tenley branch at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

10:00 AM UPDATE:

How to do it right: The Washington Smart Growth Alliance, an independent coalition of developers, business moguls, environmentalists and smart growth activists, is out this morning with its latest awards for projects that enhance neighborhoods while promoting growth that will add to quality of life, and one of the two new awards goes to a project just like what should go in Tenleytown. The winner is a joint development between Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Woodmont Triangle section of downtown Bethesda and Bozzuto Homes. At Old Georgetown Road and Glenbrook Road, the plan is to take out a handful of single-family houses that sit on church-owned land and replace them with an eight-story residential building, a large, four-story community center with a full-sized gymnasium, and an underground garage, all of which will allow the church to stay in downtown Bethesda rather than seek a new home on the edge of sprawl.

The community center would include meeting and classrooms, art and theater space, and daycare facilities in addition to the gym--all available to the wider community. And 17 of the 100-plus units in the apartment building would be reserved for affordable housing. "The addition of housing accessible to transit will contribute to a better jobs-housing balance in this job-rich community and help reduce auto-dependence," the alliance said in granting the award.

The project still faces some neighborhood opposition and approval won't be decided on until at least this spring. But this is an example of a development that adds density, keeps important neighborhood institutions, and allows more people to live near Metro, jobs, shopping and entertainment.

By Marc Fisher |  February 20, 2008; 7:30 AM ET
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The Tenley Metro area is a dump. How the residents opposing well-thought out development can want to keep things that way is beyond me. The addition of Best Buy wasn't an improvement at all -- why would anyone want to keep the Tenley metro area the way it is? It's pedestrian unfriendly and unattractive -- it looks like the worse parts of Georgia Ave.

Posted by: cc | February 20, 2008 9:18 AM

Well, the activists in the Tenley area like the dumpy area the way it is. They enjoy the huge economic benefit increased housing values due to the explosive growth of population in the Washington area but do not want to put up with having it their nieghborhood (a "free rider" situation).

Take away their Metro stop (heavily subsidized by the rest of us) move it to an area that needs it.

Posted by: Josey23 | February 20, 2008 9:44 AM

The NIMBYS who are preventing development in Tenleytown are no different from the residents of all the various Chevy Chases who want to live near a major through road but run speed traps on it so nobody else can use it at thoroughfare speeds, or the lucky few putting up gated communities so they can enjoy their cheap Chinese electronics unmolested by the unemployed riffraff outside. They're selfish, wasteful, and shortsighted. The District is a worse place for their living in it.

Posted by: csdiego | February 20, 2008 10:14 AM

In addition to the fact that the Tenley area is simply under-developed (imo, of course), the area does not take advantage of the vibrancy that the area students could bring. Now, I'll freely admit that some university students are just downright annoying, but there's absolutely a bias against students. Even as a graduate student, I felt the "oh god, another student!" attitude far too many times from residents and businesses.

Posted by: Birdie | February 20, 2008 10:24 AM

Nice one Marc

typical liberal telling you whats best for your neighborhood...

until of course the tables are turned and someone wants to change where you live for the "common good"

keep chucking out your holier than though garbage though

The arrogance and smugness in that head of yours


Posted by: hypocrite | February 20, 2008 10:43 AM

As a resident of the neighborhood, this makes me sick. If people want to live a low density suburban area they should move to the suburbs. The side streets are very residential and nice and the great benefit is that you are walking distance to city amenities. These people need to wake up and realize that they live off one of the main streets in a major city. Imagine what would happen to your property values if you lived near retail areas that people actually wanted to go to!!! Tenleytown is an embarasment.

Posted by: JJ | February 20, 2008 11:41 AM

Right on, Marc (I guess even you can be right from time to time). I live in upper northwest, and I find the Tenleytown "Mattress District" to be ugly and depressing. To you NIMBYs and BANANAs in Tenleytown: If you are so afraid of traffic and parking problems, move to the burbs.

Posted by: WaPo's Next Metro Columnist/Blogger | February 20, 2008 11:46 AM

To "Hypocrite" - actually, I think Tenleytown IS Marc's neighborhood.

Posted by: Josey23 | February 20, 2008 11:53 AM

The real question here is why the Mayor's Economic Development Office and DCPL forced this change, and at whose request?

Certainly everything seemed on track based on the RFP released last year. Yet on February 1, the RFP was amended with respondants given the opportunity to alter their submissions to be in compliance with new requirements. Why the change?

Posted by: Upper NW | February 20, 2008 12:07 PM

What gets me most is that we are directly harming the public shcool system and those harming it the most by stopping this project don't even have kids that are in the DC public school system or have kids that are grown. What they do have is endless amounts of time to come up with all sorts of arguements...really kind of sad on that note too. Get a life.

Posted by: kk | February 20, 2008 12:51 PM

I do not understand why everyone who writes about this RFP writes that Tenleytown has suffered long enough with no library. We have a library! It took quite a while, but Kathy Patterson did manage to get an interim library opened just a couple blocks away from the Metro. I've been using it regularly. The librarians are friendly and helpful. It is always busy. It is well-lit, clean, cheery and if you need something not in the collection, it can be borrowed from another branch.

If the Mayor would exert some political will and promise DCPL that he is committed to keep the interim library open until the mixed-use development is completed as well as make up for any lost purchasing power of DCPL's construction budget, the entire community could benefit from the City making the most efficient use of this precious real estate and public dollars. The now-demolished Tenley-Friendship Branch Library was not even built when Janney School was last remodeled (1932). Neighborhoods need both good schools and good libraries to thrive.

What is it going to take to wrench capital budgets away from these agencies with independent construction authority? It should be pretty clear by now that DCPL is not good at building libraries and the DCPS is not good at building schools. Not to mention that the separate agencies have no incentive to work together to provide efficiency for the tax payer.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 20, 2008 1:35 PM

For the folks who are posting here and are fed up with the conduct of the small number of anti growth folks and ANC 3E I would like to urge you to please get involved.

Write to the Mayor and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh and let them know this ANC does not speak for you and that it is more important to get this project done right than to get it done quickly.

Come out to the meeting next Thursday the 28th at Janney at 630PM and let the Mayors office know you are disappointed and let DCPL know you are frustrated that they have caved in to the voices of fear and that you want to see an appropriate use of this valuable public resource that better serves the community than a 2 story library surrounded by a surface parking lot that is no larger than what it is replacing.

And please consider getting involved with Ward 3 Vision for updates on this and other potential developments in our community - our website is but we need more people to be actively involved or the forces of fear will continue winning.

Posted by: Tom Quinn | February 20, 2008 2:27 PM

Ward 3 Vision routinely disseminates misinformation. They suggested (last spring) that a PPP could produce an addition to Janney in 6 months and that it would speed up the reconstruction library. It's a group with an ideological litmus test -- not a community group that's open to everyone interested in these issues. Its fundraisers are developer-heavy and its few community members are supporters for hire for various development projects (usually far enough away from their own neighborhoods to have little impact and in exchange for contributions to their favorite local institutions).

Posted by: Anonymous | February 20, 2008 8:02 PM

"Neighborhoods need both good schools and good libraries to thrive."

Agreed -- what they don't need, though, is condos/apartments where the school's playing field should be. Especially when there's plenty of underdeveloped private land in Tenleytown.

"It should be pretty clear by now that DCPL is not good at building libraries and the DCPS is not good at building schools."

With all of the misplaced confidence people have in Michelle Rhee, I'm baffled as to why no one seems to recognize that Ginnie Cooper and Allen Lew aren't the old DCPL or the old DCPS and that both have excellent track records with respect to building public facilities. By contrast, Neil Albert totally screwed things up at DPR. God forbid we take money/control out of Cooper's and Lew's hands and put it in Albert's.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 20, 2008 8:10 PM

somehow 9 parking spots for staff and handicapped users in the back of the library underneath the second story hardly qualifies as "surrounded by a surface parking lot."

but you gotta admire the Woody Allenesque logic of the complaint.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 20, 2008 8:35 PM

Wait, there are 800 students and teachers in the same block where the library will be and over 200 apartments in a building maybe 40 feet away (directly across Albemarle Street). Why doesn't that qualify as a "busy, exciting community of residents, students and library users"?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 20, 2008 8:49 PM

" Its fundraisers are developer-heavy and its few community members are supporters for hire for various development projects (usually far enough away from their own neighborhoods to have little impact and in exchange for contributions to their favorite local institutions)."

Wait, can I get in on this? I didn't know we had organizations that would pay me to support something, especially something I might support otherwise. That sounds cool.

Posted by: Perplexed | February 20, 2008 11:48 PM

To the person who posted at 8:02 PM, those are some weighty allegations. Can you please provide proof?

Posted by: Just WOW | February 21, 2008 5:46 AM

Marc, Please give your readers the concrete evidence to support your assertion that "much of the community craves a far more urban environment along the major retail corridor of Wisconsin Avenue" and that those opposing turning Tenleytown into Friendship Heights Maryland or Woodmont are a "handful of neighbors," a "small but loud group of activists." On what do you base those assertions?

In fact, the readily available numbers suggest that the opposite is true. The minority are those who want Tenleytown turned into Woodmont. For example, in the Akridge case (5220 Wisconson) last year, 500 residents living within a 3-block radius of the site signed a petition opposing the massive upzoning Akridge was asking for. They asked instead that the Zoning Commission preserve the existing zoning, which would have allowed a 5-story building with some green space preserved--a building that would have been both profitable for the developer and an asset to the neighborhood. Akridge hired people to go out into the neighborhood to drum up support for the building, but had no luck. They were reluctant to even admit that they had tried, so negligible were their results. Please produce for us the signatures of 500 neighbors crying out for Friendship Heights high-rises in our neighborhoods.

You clearly don't agree with many of us about the kind of development that is appropriate for Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, and that's fine. But I do ask that you support your assertions with facts. So again, what is the basis for your claim that most residents here would welcome the level of development you are proposing?

If you think you know what's best for us, let that be your argument. But don't pretend that you're speaking for or championing the majority of the residents unless you have evidence. Maybe you should run for the ANC on your development platform and see how many votes you get.

Posted by: Carolyn Sherman | February 21, 2008 8:35 AM

to Ms. Sherman above, I signed that petition that you and your cronies keep referring to when talking about your 500 person network of support. You realize of course that when I was asked to sign that petition, the concept of the Akridge project was not mentioned, and the paper I signed had a bunch of amorphous statements about zoning. Now that I have researched what I signed, I cannot agree with it at all.

Perhaps next time, when gathering signatures, you and your friends can be more specific about what you are asking people to support. I keep seeing you referring to this list that I am on, yet I do not support your point of view.

Posted by: A Friendship Heights Resident | February 21, 2008 1:42 PM

I live in Tenleytown and love it! I like the way it is growing at a natural pace (2 new restaurants opening on and near Tenley Circle) and not having development shoved down our throats. There are plenty of run down office spaces above and next to Neisha Thai that are ripe for renovation, but for some reason everyone was fixated with the only patch of "public" green space in that area (the soccer field in a "public" school) and a "public" library to build "private" condos or apartments. Some would say that greed was involved and people wanted to get "public" property for free.

Posted by: n | February 21, 2008 2:59 PM

Here's a note to the author about his following comment: "the ability and determination of Mayor Adrian Fenty's government to stand up to small but loud groups of neighborhood activists"
For Your Information, when Mayor Fenty was running for office he pledged to take the side of (and stand up "for") the local ANC's which you might refer to as "activists", but when it came down to it he did not do that as in the case of the Ackridge condos down Wisconsin ave. At an ANC meeting an ANC member asked reminded him of his pledge and asked flat out if he was going to support the ANC and the mayor did not say a word. Also, how do you know the groups are small? Did you go and count all of the people who share their view? or you just believe they are a small amount of people. Please don't make assumptions.

Posted by: n | February 21, 2008 3:08 PM

I would think the voters spoke in 2006 when the ANC and the various "activists" made development in the Friendship Heights and Tenleytown strips the cornerstone issue, and were resoundingly trounced.

Not that you asked me.

Posted by: A Friendship Heights Resident | February 21, 2008 4:04 PM

The truth is that this PPP was defeated by it's own impropriety. It was being championed by a shill for the developer. As soon as the light of day was shown on the process, the city withdrew from the PPP.

The neighbors do not oppose Smart Growth. They oppose a continued pattern of deception by this administration which rivals only Mayor Barry in it's corruption. We look forward to reviewing the RFP's and will have many questions to ask about the process.

I personally would like to see a 9 or 10 story building on that property but I have no interest in lining the wallets of fat-cat developers who want to take city land for a song.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 21, 2008 6:16 PM

I've lived in Tenleytown for the last 12 years and sadly, I agree with the previous poster who declared our portion of Wisconsin Avenue to be an embarrassment. I love living here but do wish that there were more restaurants and shops within walking distance in the area. We've made progress as it is great having Whole Foods, Ace Hardware, Best Buy and The Container Store, but I do wish there were more shopping opportunities here. I'm keeping my eye on the space recently vacated by Hollywood Video and hoping for a COSI!

Posted by: CJ | February 21, 2008 6:27 PM

Another Fisher hatchet job. Anyone who wants to read the truth behind this can read it here.

http://groups. group/tenleytown /files/causes_ for_concern_ complete. pdf

Posted by: Anonymous | February 21, 2008 6:31 PM

Posted by: Anonymous | February 21, 2008 6:32 PM

I'm one of the authors of the Causes for Concern document, which ANC 3E's special committee on the PPP submitted to the DC Auditor a couple of weeks ago.

The link provided above won't work for everybody -- but you can find the same text at or at (click the documents link and download the pdfs). The ANC site also includes FOIA'd documents provided in support of the submission to the Auditor.

The Auditor replied that we had raised important issues of citywide concerns but that limited resources and competing priorites prevented her from inquiring into this PPP, although public land disposition more generally might be the subject of future audit work. She also characterized our conflict of interest claims as serious and told us that we should file them with OCF. We'll be doing so next week.

As someone who has worked very hard to understand and attempt to improve this project, I'm annoyed to see the ANC's work misrepresented by posters here. Its position has been that DC government should follow the law, that public land should not be devoted to private use unless/until public facilities needs have been met, that Janney shouldn't have to sacrifice playgrounds or its playing field to have its overcrowding relieved and its facilities modernized, and that the selection process under the RFP should include vetting by experts within DC govt as well as voting rights for the school and the community. These aren't NIMBY positions. They're about good government.

Posted by: Sue Hemberger | February 21, 2008 7:03 PM

Can someone explain to me why everyone is getting so worked up over not being able to build a condo building on the school property?

There is no demand for it and the clearest evidence of that is that one-block away, the Maxim building has been put on a two-year-hold. If the market could support another condo building, then why isn't the Maxim being built?

This is not about smart growth. This is about city paid welfare for developer-donors to Cheh and Fenty. It is as bad as the property tax thefts.

Posted by: P Patterson | February 21, 2008 7:20 PM

Good show, Fisher. Tenleytown NIMBYs should be called out at every opportunity for their ridiculous, harmful behavior. It's a great shame nobody in City Hall has the balls to do what's right.

Personally, I'll remember that the next time I vote.

Posted by: Dan | February 22, 2008 12:15 AM

How on Earth is giving a public building to a private developer "what's right"?

I'm on the fence on this one. I'm all for density, but honestly - what do you want to have happen to Tenley? Or to public buildings in it?

Posted by: J.D. | February 22, 2008 1:30 AM

Great news - congratulations to all involved.

Posted by: Great News for Tenley | February 22, 2008 7:19 AM

I agree with the poster that this public land to private developer scheme was a way to pay back the developers who helped Mary Cheh get elected. Sorry it didn't work out Mary :( Maybe you can look around and find some other public places to offer up to developers. How about the firehouse next? ;)

Posted by: n | February 22, 2008 8:51 AM

"relative handful of neighbors who like to pretend they're living 20 miles outside a big city rather than in the heart of one." Tenleytown is the heart of Washington? News to me.

Posted by: oh dear | February 22, 2008 10:59 AM

Tenleytown has a Metro station, and lies on Wisconsin Ave, the major thoroughfare between Georgetown and Bethesda. Logic dictates that its only a matter of time before the area becomes quite dense. NIMBY's can try to hold out, but the pressure to develop will eventually become too great and the scales will tip to favor smart growth (especially given the huge changes in preferences for urban living our country is currently undergoing). ANC commissioners are elected officials. When there's enough support for smart growth by residents, they will elect ANC commissioners with smart growth agendas. Judging by the comments here, current commissioners should probably be worried about the outcome of the next election

Posted by: Chris L | February 22, 2008 11:23 AM

There is no proposal to "give away" land.

While we don't know yet what the land will be sold or exchanged for at no point has the land been offered to anyone for free.

Presumably if the project includes more or mostly affordable housing units the renumeration from the developer will be minimal. But if the project includes more market rate units the developer should be expected to compensate the city in some manner whether it be by a direct payment for the air rights or a long term lease or a like contribution towards the cost of Janney's modernazation.

And on the subject of land this is not "surplus" land that is in the mix for any possible PPP.

It is land that is already in use in the form of the Janney surface parking lot and the mobil classrooms and was to have included the library parking lot as well though that may no longer be in the mix.

When you consolidate the parking underground and the temporary classrooms into the new multistory Janney addition you can possibly maintain or even increase the greenspace while adding some sort of residential component to the property.

The only way this is selling "surplus" land is if you actually believe that DCPS is going to spend $10 to $15 million to underground the Janney parking lot in the manner that Sidwell Friends recently did.

Of course the shortsighted removal of the library from the equation greatly complicates this effort.

If you don't believe me please take a walk around the Janney grounds this weekend and see for yourself how inefficiently that lot is being used and how many 1 story mobil classrooms are already on it.

But the most important thing is we don't yet know what the proposals are and if they even merit community support or opposition.

Perhaps a proposal will take some of the greenspace and provide nothing to the city or school or community - in that case I don't think anyone will support it.

Or perhaps we will get a proposal that maintains and even improves Janney's greenspace while providing some affordable housing and provides money for the city/school/DCPS.

We just don't know yet but being closed minded and making assumptions is not helpful and opposing something you have not yet seen is simply moronic so please just come to the meeting on Thursday and see what the proposals are before making up your mind about them.

Posted by: Please pay attention | February 22, 2008 11:26 AM

Maintaining green space at Janney isn't the issue. Just as the school interior space has to be expanded (doubled, in fact) to relieve overcrowding, expand capacity, and comply with DCPS's current educational specifications, so, too, does exterior programmatic space (playscapes and a multipurpose sports field). In other words, we don't need to maintain -- we need to expand AND "green space" isn't the issue -- PE space and recess space is. These are educational facilities that are as important as classroom space and shouldn't be sacrificed to housing that can be built elsewhere. The PE field, in particular, will compete with condos for large rectangular expanses of relatively flat land.

As for the notion that all criticism should be suspended until the developers present their proposals, that strikes me as a recipe for disaster. In order to make an intelligent evaluation of what developers are proposing, we have to start out being aware of a variety of economic, temporal, and physical constraints that will structure the development of the site.

One function of critique is to anticipate (and thus prevent or solve) potential problems. Crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and ears, and hoping for the best isn't enough to make complex projects work out well. It's a shame that DMPED didn't create a competitive bidding process that would enable developers to present proposals that could withstand close scrutiny. We'd be in a much better position to make an informed choice had the RFP incorporated things like independent vetting of financial by the OCFO and of construction timelines by Allen Lew's office. Or the requirement that developers come to the table with financing in hand for the residential component of the project.

What we're going to get on Thursday is some pretty pictures, a few "concepts," and a lot of self-promo. I don't blame developers for that -- DMPED didn't put them in a position where they had the time and the information necessary to do better than that.

And the really interesting question at this point is whether community support (or lack thereof) will have any impact on the outcome. This project has taken on a life and logic of its own -- witness the Deputy Mayor's failure not only to consult but even to inform the community or even the school about the withdrawal of the library from the RFP.

Posted by: Sue Hemberger | February 23, 2008 5:57 PM

Great posting above. I completely agree. "These are educational facilities that are as important as classroom space and shouldn't be sacrificed to housing that can be built elsewhere." So true. I hope this person keeps us informed.

Posted by: Intelligent Design | February 24, 2008 9:43 PM

Chris L made the comment: "Judging by the comments here, current commissioners should probably be worried about the outcome of the next election."

I used to be like Chris L., and hearing the constant grumbling in the neighborhood, I thought that the problem was the ANC Commissioners. Then I started attending the ANC Monthly meetings where I was able to see first hand that the ANC is not the problem. It is in fact the best check and balance we have on a corrupt District government ready to line the pockets of political contributors.

There is currently an open seat on the ANC3E, so anyone eligible who wants to volunteer rather than whine is welcome to run and take on some of the work. You can be the one giving up your free time to attend meetings with the agencies, writing FOIA requests, and putting up with anonymous online attacks. is always the first to complain, but I don't see them fielding any candidates for the open ANC seat...

So Chris, you need not wait for a next scheduled election. The ANC is ready to hold a special election as soon as anyone eligible expresses an interest in running for the open seat.

Posted by: Donald | February 25, 2008 10:52 AM

Who would want to sit with those other 4 commissioners and be lambasted the way the person who vacated that seat was?

It was an embarrassment.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2008 6:56 AM

I've never witnessed any commissioner "lambasting" a fellow commissioner. Can you please describe the meeting in which that happened?

Posted by: anonymous | February 27, 2008 3:47 PM

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