Mayor’s Proposed Changes to DC Comprehensive Plan “Unlawful” and “A Gift to Developers”; More than 130 DC Residents Wrote Letters at Hearing Deadline Demanding An End to Displacement
Washington, DC — In late November 2020, spanning two Council hearings consisting of 10+ hours of public testimony, repeatedly, Council Chair, Phil Mendelson held up a voluminous 1500-page document saying, “[The Council] never asked for this.”
The redlined document Mendelson showed the audience is Mayor Muriel Bowser’s unscheduled whole-cloth re-write of the DC Comprehensive Plan, the city’s key legislative document that covers a range of topics from development planning, the environment, parks & community services, transportation & utilities, neighborhood plans, and more.
The proposed changes to the DC Comprehensive Plan is peppered with language regarding the city’s desire for “racial equity and to repair the harm of the past.” However, during the two-days of Council hearings, the vast majority of the public testimony from the very residents that have personally experienced racial inequity and been threatened by displacement were in opposition to the Mayor’s proposed changes to the DC Comprehensive Plan now before the Council.
“The Mayor’s people are defending this Plan, saying that increasing density is going to solve the housing crisis,” said Ms. Minnie Elliott, President of the Brookland Manor Brentwood Village Residents Association. “Well, I’m here to tell you they’re tripling density at Brookland Manor and getting rid of more than 100 affordable, family-sized units in the process. These private projects that increase density displace us, and the Mayor’s changes make it even easier for developers to do that.”
“The proposed amendments have many residents scratching their heads as to whether the racial inequality and affordable housing are simply another dog whistle to justify more developer giveaways and to pay back former campaign contributors. After all, if the city is serious of racial inequity, many advocates think that the city should listen to the very minority groups that are adversely impacted,” said Naima Jefferson, Ward 4 resident.
“OP’s proposed Comp Plan amendments fail to meet the standards of a city which values its Blacks residents and the neighborhoods on which we depend for support, growth and development,” said William Jordan, Ward 1 resident. “These amendments should be scrapped as they only perpetuate displacement and other historic inequities, while empowering the very forces most responsible for our city housing crisis.”
In the two days just before the Council record closed following the Comprehensive Plan hearings, an alert put out by the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition moved more than 130 DC residents to submit opposition letters among other things highlighting that the Mayor’s proposed changes were not submitted pursuant to the law and represent an unsubstantiated giveaway of DC’s neighborhoods to what many believe to be unaccountable real estate speculators who view the city as simply an investment vehicle and treat DC people & culture as widgets that can be tossed aside at will.
“These letters demonstrate that a diverse-array of DC residents are saying #NoMoreBuildingAsUsual. People are demanding the Council reject changes to the Comp Plan that won’t effectively end the unbridled luxury overdevelopment boom that DC’s planning officials have let loose resulting in the massive displacement of Black families from our city” said Earl Williams, of the citywide DC Federation of Citizens Association.
Admittedly, the Mayor’s Office of Planning director, Andrew Trueblood says their proposed changes to DC’s planning maps would make 200+ million square feet of air rights around the city ready to be developed without any community-input and without the required neighborhood impact assessments and provision of neighborhood benefits.
“The way this has gone, it’s the opposite of community-driven development, lacking transparent decision making and real time data,” said Renee Bowser, lawyer and ANC Commissioner. “The proposed Plan changes are a gift to developers and not what one should expect through modern-day planning that equitably serves the interests of underserved community members, especially during a pandemic with substantial consequence and duration.”
Both during the March 2018 and November 2020 DC Council public hearings, advocates testified that DC Council itself didn’t adhere to the law during the amendment process as to impact assessment requirements. This issue has begun to make many in communities across the city question why elected officials would approve a document that violates the law.
“The District is the main driver of economic redevelopment in many areas of the city such as Southwest and Navy Yard that have experienced acute Black displacement,” said Christopher Williams, Ward 6. “Over the last 20 years, the District has openly violated federal and District laws on fair housing and civil rights. The amended Comprehensive Plan is more of the same. That is unacceptable.”
The Council will again take up the DC Comprehensive Plan in 2021.