A Comprehensive Debate – Ward 4 at the DC Council

Yesterday, the DC Council held an epic, marathon, interminable public hearing on the Office of Planning’s proposed amendments to the District’s Comprehensive Plan.  Witnesses for and against the proposal lined up by the bushel to record their testimony, and their presence, into the official record.

By my calculation, the hearing lasted over fifteen hours and ended well after 2:00 am this morning. This was a Must-See-TV event for policy wonks, activists, developers, and even regular citizens who are curious about how the gears of our democracy function.  Though there was a lot of repetition from the over 270 witnesses, I think that we saw some substantive debate and Councilmembers who were genuinely trying to learn how to weigh the competing interests that are inherently embedded in the city’s master plan.

Questions included:

  • How do we balance protecting the character of a neighborhood vs. providing more affordable housing?
  • Should the Zoning Commission be the final arbiter for complex development cases or should we rely on Federally-appointed judges?
  • Where do we put the additional three hundred-thousand residents who are projected to come to our city over the next twenty years?

If you want to watch the entire hearing, you are more than welcome to visit the D.C. Council’s web site.  I used a few hours of my snow day to curate a few of the testimonies that I think are especially relevant to us here in Ward 4 or highlighted some aspect of the debate in an interesting way.  I am not unbiased, as I generally support the Comp Plan update.  But I did try to select witnesses who clearly spoke to both sides of the issue.  Take a look below and see if you agree!

Mark Eckenwiler Commissioner, ANC 6C04

Mt. Eckenwiler is a member of a downtown ANC commission which generally supports the proposed changes in the Comp Plan.

Sara Green Public Witness, Takoma – DC
David Whitehead Housing Program Organizer, Greater Greater Washington
David Alpert Greater Greater Washington

This was a lively discussion on the relative merits of maintaining a neighborhood’s “character” vs. increasing the amount of affordable housing.  CM Robert White and CM Brianne Nadeau were especially engaged here.

Naima Jefferson Public Witness, Ward 4 Resident

Tischa Cockrell Commissioner, ANC 4B09

Bo Menkiti Founder & CEO, Menkiti Group

Mr. Menkiti and CM Trayon White dug deep here on the authority of the Zoning Commission. Mr. Menkiti is a developer and one of the principals of the pivotal “901 Monroe” project which is in limbo while its zoning case bounces back and forth between the Zoning Commission and the Court of Appeals.

Kymber Lovett-Menkiti President of Sales, Menkiti Group
Parisa Norouzi Executive Director, Empower DC
Jack Lester Public Witness

Paula Edwards Treasurer, Shepherd Park Citizens Association

The Shepherd Park Citizens Association is one of many local groups which has come out strongly against the proposed changes to the Comp Plan.

Shirley Thompson-Wright Vice President, Meadow Green Courts Resident Association

Ward 7 resident Ms. Thompson-Wright represents moderate to low-income residents who are depending on a PUD and want the amendments to procede. Fortunately, CM Gray step backed into the chamber in time to have a nice discussion with her.

Chris Otten Public Witness, DC for Reasonable Development

Mr. Otten is a community organizer and activist who is a central figure in many of the stalled development cases.

Ari Thersea Stoop Law, Land Use Attorney

Mr. Thersea is the attorney who has filed several of the lawsuits against development projects around the city.

The Councilmembers who presided over this hearing, their staffs and all of the witness who endured deserve a hearty round of applause.

Regardless of how you feel about the update, I encourage you to let your voice be heard. You can submit written testimony to the D.C. Council on the Comprehensive Plan Update by sending an email to shawthorne@dccouncil.us by Tuesday, April 3.

Technical Note: The D.C. Council embeds its hearing videos into single files.  I could not download a 15 hour video file onto my laptop, so I had to create the videos above using screen capture software, so the overall video quality may not be the best at times.  I edited each segment for length and did not make any editorial edits. I ran out of space a few times; in those cases, there are multiple videos for the testimony.




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