WAGG sent the following letter in email form to Councilmember Mary Cheh and DDOT Senior Transportation Advisor Ryan Restroom :
December 13, 2015
TO: Councilmember Mary Cheh and DDOT Senior Transportation Planner, Ryan Westrom:
DDOT has oversight over two major pieces of Georgetown Day School Planned Unit Development (PUD) plans that yet have not had much attention: lack of site porosity and sizeable capture of public land.
Currently GDS grounds are largely closed off from the surrounding community by a perimeter of brick walls and wooden and chain link fences. The school entrance is accessible to foot, bike and vehicle traffic only from Davenport Street or by traversing the Safeway parking lot from Ellicott Street. There is no access along River Road, or Chesapeake and 43rd Streets, except potentially through one locked gate for emergency vehicles on 43rd and two locked pedestrian gates on River Road.
Development plans would reinforce this isolation. They show the Davenport entrance as the sole pedestrian and bicycle access point to school property. Closed grounds like this discourage students from walking or biking to class if they come from any direction but east. Moreover, they diminish the GDS offer, written into the PUD application, of reasonable, after-hours access to GDS playgrounds, athletic facilities, the theater, and the gymnasium to community residents. As ANC3E vice chair Jonathan McHugh pointed out at the November 12 meeting, what good is it to have after-hours access to the playground if fences block parents and kids from three sides of the property and there’s no parking nearby? (The enclosed school property already encourages parents to drop their kids off, a situation only exacerbated by the plan’s added restrictions on non-vehicular access.) Yet, a walk around GDS property shows several practical access points for “peds and bikes” (see attachments for possible sites).
Per their PUD submission, Exhibit G, GDS requests that the city vacate three parcels of public land: two sections of public right of way and one section of public alley for a total of more than 20,000 square feet. The requests are under DDOT review and must be approved by members of the DC City Council. The proposals to vacate the 6,275 square feet of two public spaces off Ellicott Street and off 42nd Street are not necessary to provide for public interest, health, and/or safety, but only serve to accommodate the developer’s architectural plans. If granted, DC Councilmembers must insist on mitigation equal to the value of the loss to the public. Considering the nearly $40 million paid by GDS for the Safeway and Marten’s sites in June 2014, an area nearly four acres, the value of these two parcels totaling 6,275 sq. ft. or about 14% of an acre is substantial – around $1.4 million -- that should not be given away.
The third parcel of over 14,000 square feet that GDS’s proposes to annex concerns the block of Davenport Street between 42nd Street and the school entrance plaza. In trade GDS promises to maintain the roadway and plow it in the winter, a lop-sided exchange for what can be considered both public domain and pricey real estate. This roadway right of way is one of the few points of porosity into what otherwise would become a closed block. Neighbors can stroll along this block, walk their dogs, push their babies in prams. If public use were to be vacated in favor of GDS proprietorship, the community loses its open access. Is not the best civic policy one that maintains public rights unless there is overwhelming public interest in voiding them?
The GDS Statement accompanying its PUD application lists public benefits and amenities to offset various zoning changes but offers no mitigation for the approximate half-acre the school would claim.
In brief, the PUD application submitted by GDS would reinforce its already closed “campus,” further restrict site porosity that isolates school grounds and shuts out community residents, and claim public property for their private use without proper compensation or mitigation.
Members of the Wisconsin Avenue Gateway Group (WAGG) trust DDOT professionals will continue to push Georgetown Day School toward an enforceable, effective Comprehensive Transportation Review that will be a significant improvement on the traffic plan presented in its PUD submission.
We appreciate your attention to these issues.
Wisconsin Avenue Gateway Group
You are all encouraged to write letters with your own personal concerns about GDS Planned Unit Development (PUD). The next step in the process is for the Office of Zoning to hold a "sit-down hearing" where members of the board decide whether or not the project deserves a public hearing. We can assume they will hold a public hearing around June. To read the GDS PUD Statement go to https://gds.myschoolapp.com/ftpimages/416/download/download_1713230.PDF
To search the entire GDS PUD application go to https://app.dcoz.dc.gov/Content/Search/Search.aspx
Click on Applicant/Case Name and write in Georgetown Day School
SAY NO TO THE GDS EFFORT TO CIRCUMVENT THE DC COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
SAY YES TO QUALITY LOW- TO MID-RISE DEVELOPMENT
GDS has already filed its PUD application with the Zoning Commission. However, ANC3E commissioners have challenged GDS to improve their traffic management plans and provide true project mitigation and public benefits.
GDS is asking to build two retail/residential buildings with heights of 80 feet along Wisconsin Avenue NW. Yet, under current zoning, a PUD would allow building heights only up to 65 feet as long as the applicant provides tangible, quantifiable superior features that benefit the surrounding neighborhood or the public in general. PUD Standards & Regulations state: “The overall goal is to permit flexibility of development and other incentives, such as increased building height and density; provided, that the project offers a commendable number or quality of public benefits and that it protects and advances the public health, safety, welfare, and convenience.” (2400.2)
With clear understanding that developers and circumstances may conspire to effect a loose interpretation of this language, Regulation 2400.4 follows and keeps tight hold of the reins by stating: “While providing for greater flexibility in planning and design than may be possible under conventional zoning procedures, the PUD process shall not be used to circumvent the intent and purposes of the Zoning Regulations, nor to result in action that is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan.”
The DC Comprehensive Plan, with specific reference to the section of Wisconsin Ave in which the GDS project falls, states: “The scale and height of new development on the corridor should reflect the proximity to single family homes .... This means an emphasis on low-to mid-rise mixed use buildings rather than high-rise towers." Yet GDS plans currently call for building heights of 80 feet along Wisconsin Avenue and, despite the proximity to family homes, up to 95 feet 9 inches at the south end of the 42nd Street building.
Tell your elected officials and city planners to hold firm to the spirit and the letter of the DC Comprehensive Plan. Your communications count – and will be counted. It is time for as many people as possible to weigh in, lest the Commissioners think we accept the proposed development as is.
Write to Muriel Bowser, office of the mayor at firstname.lastname@example.org and send copies to:
Mary M. Cheh, Councilmember; Dee Smith, constituent service director email@example.com
ANC3E Commissioners: Jonathan Bender, Chair firstname.lastname@example.org; Tom Quinn email@example.com; Anne Wallace firstname.lastname@example.org; Amy Hall email@example.com; Jon McHugh firstname.lastname@example.org
Ryan Hand, Ward 3 Planner, Office of Planning email@example.com
ANC3E MEETINGS: Attend the meeting, voice your concerns, and interact with the relevant parties. This is a rare opportunity to influence the early planning of this project. Meetings are held monthly. Location, time, and date can be found at the ANC3E website.
NEIGHBORS: Inform your neighbors about GDS expansion plans, pass along resources (like this website), encourage their involvement. Spread the word.