Councilmember Todd Speaks on Federal Shelter, Second Look Act at Brightwood Meeting

The Brightwood Community Association held its September meeting Tuesday evening at the St. John Baptist Church on 13th Street NW.  President Monica Goletiani welcomed an eager audience and provided an update on several activities that occurred in the community over the summer.  She then introduced the evening’s guest speakers. Councilmember Brandon Todd came to give a legislative update and the development team from the Neighborhood Development Company came to share information about their proposed mixed-use development at Georgia and Missouri Avenues NW.

Councilmember Brandon Todd

The Councilmember spoke for about 15 minutes and touched on many issues including funding for the upcoming Georgia Avenue Main Streets program, the Aspen Street NW rehabilitation proposal and the recent upper Ward 4 Livability Study.  However, I thought his answers to two questions posed by audience members were most illuminating.

A Brightwood neighbor asked, “I want to thank you for your outspoken words at that rally two weeks ago about the child detention center in Takoma. I’m wondering, what can we as Brightwood residents do to make sure that that doesn’t come through?”

Councilmember Todd responded:

So the question was around the news that the federal government proposed a facility on Laurel Street NW, which is in the Takoma portion of our Ward, to house approximately 250 unaccompanied minors. I have been vehemently opposed to that, as have many leaders in the city. The mayor put forth emergency rules that would not allow the agency (Child and Family Services) to license such a facility. (The rules restrict) the ability to license a facility for more than 15 people.

There’s been some discussion around whether or not we should house unaccompanied minors in the District of Columbia. We do it all across the country in different places. But I’ll tell you that housing anybody over fifty at a time really doesn’t reflect our DC values. If you recall about a year ago, we shut down one of the most notorious shelters in the District: DC general. And we did that with the intent of opening eight family-sized shelters that would house individuals in our ward and in our city who need our help the most. Humanely and responsibly. We in Ward 4 were resolute in making sure that we get our fair share and did our part to open a family shelter.

We were the first. Other wards said “we don’t want them on this corner, we don’t want it here, we’re actually not sure if we want it at all.” But I knew how important it was for us to do our fair share, so that we can close down DC General so that we don’t have these types of issues. That (shelter) is at 5th and Kennedy NW, in case you aren’t aware.

So, the mayor introduced emergency rule making. I fully expect that the council will codify those emergency rules because they do expire mid- December. I would encourage you to continue to let elected officials in the District know that you are opposed to this. It doesn’t reflect our DC values. I believe that if the federal government wants to work with the District and other local jurisdictions that they should call us. I only found out that this was even a proposal because the Washington Post called me and asked did I know about it and what I thought about it. I thought that it was pretty irresponsible for our federal partners to award a $20 million grant to an organization and they not reach out to us. And so I will continue to be resolute in my opposition. And I would encourage you to continue to let individuals know that you’re in opposition as well.

An ANC 4A Commissioner asked:

I wanted to know where do you stand on the Second Look Act. I know a number of city council members, the Mayor, (Attorney General) Karl Racine and others support it. I know that others like the U.S. Attorney’s Office oppose it. For those of you who are not aware of what the Second Look Act is. It’s an act that would allow individuals who are currently in prison who committed violent crimes (murder, rape, whatever) under the age of 25, to be released after 15 years. There is a whole debate about ‘your mind not being completely developed until you’re 25’. But, as someone who had a close friend who was murdered by a 20 year old who continued to assault people for another twenty years, I don’t understand. Do you support it?

Councilmember Todd paused thoughtfully and then answered:

I have not made a decision on it. I have not spoken publicly on it for a number of reasons. I generally support figuring out how we can rehabilitate individuals. Everybody deserves a second chance. But as it’s been reported in the Post and a number of other media outlets, there are a lot of challenges that come with the Second Look Act, right? You just named one of them. I think it was very heartbreaking when I read in the Post about one of the families of someone who was murdered. The thought of an individual who committed such heinous crimes being released before their time was very scary for them. That’s something that we absolutely have to take into consideration.

So, I have not made a decision, not really spoken publicly about it yet. But I do think that it’s something that we have to tread very lightly on. I think it is something that takes a great amount of thought as we move forward in the process.

The commissioner rebutted:

I was supportive of allowing a Second Look for people who committed the crimes under 18. And I think we’re all supportive of nonviolent drug offenders (becoming eligible for early release). If you rob somebody, you shouldn’t be getting an inordinate amount of time, that type of thing. But murderers? Rapists? I think that’s a problem. For me personally, I am opposed to it and I know some of my neighbors are. People will call you and give you their opinion. Do you think it’s a good idea?

The Councilmember concluded:

This is one those things that for me isn’t cut and dry. I certainly will look to hear from more Ward 4 residents. I’ll start asking the question when I go to community meetings because I have not formulated an opinion, not made the decision. But it’s something that I believe should take great thought. So I plan to give it considerable thought before I decide.

Brightwood Community Assoc Meeting

Georgia Crossing

Finally, there was a presentation from a development team at Neighborhood Development Company and Marcus Asset Group about their proposed mixed-use development near the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Missouri.  Colin Thomas and Marcus Goodwin shared a bit about their vision for the properties, including the potential of adding a new grocery store to the community’s retail mix.

The proposed project is still in its very early stages. The company currently owns several of the properties surrounding the old firehouse on Georgia.  The city is likely to release a Request for Proposals for development and/or rehabilitation of the firehouse early next year.  This company would like to surround it with a mixed-use building with ground floor retail and market rate apartments on the upper floors.  There would be approximately 80 spaces of underground parking.

In their assessment, the Brightwood community wants neighborhood serving retail options.  They believe their proposal could provide healthy sit-down restaurants, a coffee shop or maybe a gym.  Simple Bar and Grill is their current tenant and they would be open to retaining them in the new building.  New trees would improve the streetscape.  They are well aware that the community does not want any additional liquor stores or a marijuana shop.

The lofts at BrightwoodNeighborhood Development Company is well-versed at working in the DC area.  Among other projects, they rehabbed Stansbury lodge building where Milk and Honey now sits. The also built the mixed-used building in Columbia Heights with the water feature in front of it.  They are the company that is involved with developing the lot next to the Takoma Park Co-op.  By city regulation, at least 8% of the apartment units in this building would fall affordable housing limits.

We look forward to learning more about this proposal in the future.

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