Amid the dilapidated beauty of the Walter Reed campus, the U.S. Department of State Office Foreign Missions held an Open House and Public Hearing yesterday to share plans for its portion of the campus. A legion of State Department staffers greeted residents from Takoma, Shepherd Park and other nearby neighborhoods to explain the vision for the 32 acres of land on the western edge of the campus.
What is a Foreign Mission Center?
The Department of State intends to redevelop this property into a chancery center called the Foreign Mission Center (FMC). The FMC will be similar to the Department’s International Chancery Center (ICI), located near the University of the District of Columbia’s Connecticut Avenue campus. In one version of the plan, up to sixteen flexibly-size parcels will be ground-leased (not sold) to the diplomatic organs of various countries. These chancelleries will serve primarily as office space for the diplomats. Each country will need to design and finance its own buildings, though the Department will be able to set building standards.
Cliff Seagroves, Senior Program Analyst at the Office of Foreign Missions stated an interesting fact: While the District of Columbia is one of the smallest national capitals in the world, it hosts more embassies and chancelleries than any other city. Since the ICI is now fully leased and the mansions along Kalorama Road and Massachusetts Ave are growing outdated, the need to develop new space to serve the needs of our partner countries is pressing.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. This public forum is one of the steps that needed to happen before plans can move forward.
Several neighbors and elected officials signed up to provide feedback on the project so far, including ANC commissioner Karrye Braxton and Shepherd Park resident Ed Adkins.
Ms. Braxton presented a list of practical questions, compiled from a previous community meeting, including:
- How will vermin be controlled during construction?
- Which gates will construction vehicles use?
- What time of day will trucks be active going in and out of the site?
- Who will be the point of contact for issues?
- Will the old-growth trees on the site be retained?
- For any buildings being demolished, is there a plan for asbestos management?
Mr. Atkins spoke on behalf of the Shepherd Park Citizens Association. He stated that while the SPCA is generally supportive of the direction of draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), he did highlight concerns around traffic and transit, security, design of the chancelleries and public access to the Memorial Chapel.
Several other community members spoke, and most were generally, if not enthusiastically in support of the draft master plan for the site. In fact, the audience exhausted its questions and statements more than an hour before the end of the comment period. Those of you familiar with civic meetings in DC know that never happens!
The forum was a good step in the right direction for the development of the Walter Reed campus and gives hope that the Department of State and its future tenants will be good neighbors to the residents in surrounding communities.