City Administrator Young, Aspen Street Widening Highlight Tense ANC 4B Meeting

The April Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 4B) meeting for the Takoma, Manor Park and Lamond-Riggs neighborhoods took place on Monday evening at the MPD Fourth District HQ Community Room.

After several orderly meetings for the year, a strange fog of anxiety and frustration settled over this audience right from the start.  Neighbors seemed to be agitated over a number of items, including a perceived lack of affordable housing units planned for the Walter Reed campus, general gentrification pressures (the dog walking incident at Howard University was mentioned) and one resident’s thirty year (!) battle with adjacent business on Georgia Avenue over trash issues and damage to her property.

To their credit, the commissioners handled the sharp questioning, which sometimes crossed over to rudeness, with composure.  Well, except for Commissioner Perry Redd’s five-minute stem-winder speech, which did little but throw gasoline onto already smoldering embers.

There were twenty items on last night’s agenda.  Below, I highlight three which may be of greatest interest to most readers.

Rashad Young, City Administrator

City Administrator Rashad Young
City Administrator Rashad Young

City Administrator Rashad Young visited ANC 4B to share information about the process for Mayor Bowser’s FY2020 budget.  In DC, the city administrator’s role is to deliver efficient, accountable and well-managed services to residents, businesses and visitors on behalf of the Mayor.  It is an appointed position. He has been in office since January 2015.

Mr. Young touched on more than a dozen initiatives being championed by the Mayor in next year’s budget.  As the old saying goes, a budget is a statement of our values.  With a total of $15.5 billion on the table, every interest group and sector of the city is clambering for their share of the pie.  Here is an assortment of the budget priorities that he mentioned:

  • $2.35 billion to support that over 90,000 students in DCPS, charter schools, the University of the District of Columbia, DC Public libraries and the Office of State Superintendent of Education
  • 25% of the budget, or $2.1 billion will be spent on human support services
  • 14% of the budget, or $1.19 billion is planned for public safety and justice.
  • Investments to increase the standing police force to 4,000 officers by 2021
  • An additional $3 million in non-law enforcement strategies in the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement
  • $130 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund
  • $20 million in a workforce housing fund

Local Ward 4 planned expenditures include:

  • $60 million for Dorothy Height Elementary School
  • $4.2 million for Lafayette Elementary School to reduce overcrowding
  • $62 million to renovate Raymond Education Campus
  • $35 million to design the renovation of Truesdale Education Campus
  • $70 million for West Education Campus
  • $5 million for Takoma Aquatic Center
  • $12 million for Upshur Recreation Center
  • $28 million to repave local streets.

The list of budget items is quite extensive.  There is still an opportunity to submit your testimony about the city budget on this Friday at 10:00 am before the City Council Committee of the Whole.

Pointed Questions

Everyone loves receiving money.  As the face of our city government last night, Mr. Young got the opportunity to answer some hard questions from the audience and commissioners.

Commissioner Brenda Parks asked about the initiative from two years ago to reduce the number of school nurses. At the time, teachers and teacher’s aides were being trained to administer medicine to students during the day, in lieu of having a full-time nurse at each school.  Mr. Young responded by saying that since that time, they have hired an additional number of licensed nurses, nurse practitioners or health aides that provide coverage for 95% of DC Public schools.

Commissioner Redd asked about plans for the upcoming hospital in Ward 8 on the grounds of St. Elizabeths.  Mr. Redd stated that the hospital “will not be a critical care facility and that’s problematic.”

Mr. Young responded by saying that the District’s two existing Level One trauma centers (Washington Hospital Center and George Washington Hospital) will continue to service the entire city.  The new Ward 8 facility will join the city’s other hospitals as a place that has “the ability to take any and all patients that come in the door.”  From there, patients can be stabilized and transported to other hospitals as needed.  The new hospital is being designed as a place for residents to receive routine services and be a medical home with primary care options available.

Lastly, Commissioners Brooks and Huff raised concerns about the programming at their local recreation center.  Ms. Brooks said that the sports and activities being offered at the Lamond Recreation Center are not the sports that the kids in the neighborhood like to play. As a result, they don’t participate. They’re concerned that the students are certainly not being engaged in a positive way. Additionally, the center rents out space to organized groups which further reduces the opportunity for neighborhood children to engage in free play.  The commissioners asked how those kinds of programming decisions are made.

Mr. Young replied, “I’m happy to follow up on that because different centers, in different communities will have different interests about what they do. I expect our recreation department to be sophisticated enough to tailor their program to what the community wants. If we aren’t seeing that happen at your center or other centers, then we’ve got to do a better job of listening to the customer and making some changes.”

The Parks at Walter Reed Update

The development team at The Parks DC came to share two items.  The first was a rather perfunctory request for the commission’s approval of a zoning exception to allow a single retail tenant to occupy greater than fifty linear feet along Elder Street NW. The commission approved the resolution.

The Parks DC Building "O"
Building “O” design

Secondly, the team presented the initial design for Building “O”, which is a 75-foot tall, mixed use building with ground floor retail.  Located in the northern section of the cite, this “C” shaped building will serve as one of the components of the “town center” area.

The purpose of this presentation was to introduce the concept to the commission and the public.  The development team will return to the next set of meetings to request formal approval of the initial design, which will then be adjudicated by the Historic Preservation Review Board to ensure the new buildings conform to the design requirements of the Historic district.

Aspen Street NW Widening Revisited

Finally, Commissioner Erin Palmer introduced a resolution to support the razing of buildings 31 and 84 at Walter Reed to enable the widening of Aspen Street, NW.  We have covered this issue extensively (The Battle of Aspen Street) in the past. 

In short, the DC Department of Transportation wants to widen Aspen Street NW between Georgia Avenue and 16th Street to add turning lanes, a parking lane, a planting strip and a 10-foot wide hiker-biker trail.  The conflict arises because the existing utility sheds are directly in the path of the planned improvements.

Walter Reed Local Redevelopment Authority director Randall Clarke has had plenty of opportunity to perfect his pitch speech for this request and last night delivered a succinct summary. At the end of the day, the question here is how the community balances the issues of historic preservation and safety for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.

In light of the recent pedestrian and cyclist deaths over the weekend, the commission was in no mood to give these items equal weight.  The resolution to support the demolition of the buildings was approved.  The issue will now return to ANC 4A, where the sheds are located, and the calls to keep the sheds in place are much louder.

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