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STATEMENT OF GEOFFREY GRIFFIS
Good morning, my name is Geoffrey Griffis and I am a resident of the Columbia Heights Neighborhood. Over the past year I have had the honor of Chairing the organizing committee of the Columbia Heights Community-Based Plan for the Metro Station Area, and have been a member of the design team whose hundreds of hours of volunteer work has produced the graphic representation of the community's vision and development ideas. In many ways the design teams job was made easy because of the high level of articulation and strong consensus the community has vocalized over the past nine months.
I am here this morning to recommend to the council three basic points for your consideration while reviewing the RLA's Request for Proposals.
The community has eagerly waited the develop of the parcels around the future metro station. I do not believe that any one wants to stand in the way of this process. However, our eagerness does not indicate that we will settle for valueless, suburban type development. The city has an incredible opportunity to facilitate good urban development that will serve the current Columbia Heights Community and those that will be attracted to this area to live, shop and be entertained. There is no reason to give anything away. The City is in the perfect position to encourage good things to happen, and the city need only look to the Community for excellent ideas. The Columbia Heights Community-Based Plan calls for urban, pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development, it states that the Tivoli theatre should be restored or adapted for reuse, community oriented retail stores and services should be given priority and new structures should be compatible with older ones, scale should blend. These are only a few of the ideas and visions included in the Community-Based Plan. One level of insurance that the community will realize these visions is to encourage the developers' compliance by making the Community-Based Plan an integral requirement.
As I have said, the community is anxious to see something positive happen. The community has lived through decades of futile attempts at development and no activity at all. With a good plan in hand, the parcels should be awarded simultaneously and a time limit for development should be enforced. These two items will create an opportunity to realize the community's vision of a new urban center. By not requiring development within a specific time, we will only prove that we have not learned from past mistakes, as inevitably parcels will remain undeveloped for years and years.
This community wants positive action, and it deserves it.
Often when guidelines and codes are developed they are restrictive and perhaps stifling. The Columbia Heights Community-Based Plan is clearly not that. It is in fact the opposite. A clear reading and understanding of the document will show that it is a framework in which endless ideas can be developed. It is a framework that is directive and encouraging of development, development that addresses the communitys economic and social needs.
Too often urban neighborhoods are told they can't support good development and must settle for cheap design and disposable structures, ones that create and maintain unsafe environments and thus become economic losers. The truth is that urban neighborhoods can and do support good development and Columbia Heights is no exception. The opportunity we have right now, if realized will benefit the local community and the surrounding neighborhoods. If implemented this development process will illustrate how good community based urban design can work.
I urge this committee and the Council as a whole to look to the community for its wisdom and insight in dealing with the development issues along Fourteenth Street in Columbia Heights.
I thank you for this opportunity to address you.
I have attached a copy of the Columbia Heights Metro Station Area Community-Based Plan to this statement.
STATEMENT OF KATERI A.L. ELLISON
Good morning, I am Kateri Ellison, a resident of the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Ward One. I am involved with several citywide and neighborhood community organizations, one of which is the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights (DCCH) for which I serve as Chair of the Board of Directors. I appreciate having the opportunity to appear before the Council of the District of Columbia's Committee on Economic Development today to comment on the RLA Request For Proposals and the Columbia Heights Metro Community-Based Plan.
On March 5, 1998, at a special meeting convened expressly for the purpose of reviewing and discussing the recommendations of the community participants in the charrette and of voting to support or not support those recommendations, the DCCH Board of Directors voted to support the concepts and design guidelines of the Community-Based Plan, with two additional comments:
As a sponsor of the charrette, DCCH is proud of the level of community participation and the level of diversity of that participation. Mr. John McGaw attended as a representative of Committee Chair Charlene Drew Jarvis. The project would not have been possible without the dedication of volunteers from the neighborhood and from around the city, and the Washington Architectural Foundation professionals who spent countless hours to organize the 30 charrette and commit the communitys ideas to paper. We are especially proud of the contribution of Mr. Geoffrey Griffis, Vice Chair of the DCCH Board of Directors, who represented the corporation on the design team. We hope that this Columbia Heights community planning effort will become a model for other areas in our city. Coordinated, structured community planning is necessary for the successful revitalization of all neighborhoods and commercial areas.
The Columbia Heights Metro Station Area Community-Based Plan is an accurate representation of the charrette participants preferences on the redevelopment of the vacant parcels in the heart of our community.
Among the guidelines in the Plan that provide a framework for the development, are the following:
In short, the Community-Based Plan calls for an urban, dense, mixed-use development with a coordinated design for all parcels, taking advantage of the multicultural nature of the community and the historic landmark theatre as citywide attractions.
Coordinated development is possible because the city owns the land. If we are to learn from the failure of the previous Exclusive Rights Agreement, there should be a time limit to the new Exclusive Rights Agreement(s) and the parcels should be developed simultaneously. This would create a climate where the various elements and functions will support and reinforce each other. Further, because this is public land, there is an implied obligation to serve the public interest over and above tax revenues, employment, and minority opportunities. The Community-Based Plan identifies specific public-interest projects; e.g., a post office, a police substation, a community center. These are vital and essential community objectives. They should be more than recommendations for which additional weight is given.
Section III.C of the Prospectus (Development Program) states that Additional weight will be given to proposals which...demonstrate an ability to meet the needs and desires of the community as reflected in the Columbia Heights Metro Station Area Community-Based Plan <<and>>...provide for the scheduling and timing of the development in a manner which will assure the earliest possible development of the sites.
Section III.G of the Prospectus (Parcel 27) states that Considerable weight will be given to proposals that address this <<Bell Multicultural High School>> need.
I am concerned by what I consider a lukewarm commitment to the concepts and designs of the Community-Based Plan. Perhaps my perception is based upon a misunderstanding of RLAs intentions. It would be very helpful to me if we could be provided with a specific explanation of the difference between additional weight and considerable weight? Also, why give additional weight for the demonstration of an ability to meet the needs and desires of the...Community-Based Plan? Ability and willingness are quite different. If none of the submissions positively address any of the elements of the Community-Based Plan, what then? Is it possible that the selected developer(s) could successfully compete without including any of the factors that earn additional or considerable weight?
After waiting for so many years for the redevelopment process to begin, we want to ensure that the process is as fair and as impartial and as inclusive as possible. Encouraging developer submissions from many sources will ensure more choices, more flexibility.
Finally, the Columbia Heights community can look forward to a renewed downtown on Fourteenth Street that will enhance the lives of residents, workers and visitors, and build revenues for private businesses and for the city.
Thank you to the Council for its time and thank you for the opportunity to speak on this issue this morning.
Testimony of Gary Imhoff
Good morning. I am Gary Imhoff. I am an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in ANC 1B and vice president of DCWatch, a nonprofit group involved in good government issues in the District of Columbia, but I speak to you today just for DCWatch and as a citizen of the city and a resident of the Columbia Heights neighborhood.
There are problems with this public offering document. The major problems have already been pointed out to members of the City Council by the Washington Architectural Foundation (WAF), and I do not believe that those problems have been adequately answered by the response of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in its July 6th testimony to this committee. But those problems have been compounded by the process that has been followed by the City Council.
The major problems with this document lie in four areas: first, and most importantly, on behalf of the Columbia Heights community, the WAF asked that the request for proposals (RFP) be strengthened to make compliance with the community-based plan an integral requirement. The DHCD responded at your hearing on July 6th that:
This is a very troublesome response, and a clear signal that DHCD will encourage and support development plans that diverge substantially from the kind of high quality and historically sensitive development that the community desires and that the neighborhood deserves.
There are individuals now on the Redevelopment Land Agency board who understand the kind of quality development that should take place in the 14th Street corridor of Columbia Heights; who support preservation of the historic gems in our neighborhood, particularly the Tivoli Theater; who participated in the community design planning process, the charrette; and who support the results of that process. But there are many people in the Department of Housing and Community Development, in the administration, and on the City Council who have for years thrown their considerable weight against the community, and who have supported the demolition and destruction of the Tivoli Theater in favor of cheap, shoddy, low grade development plans.
It would be absurd to ask the community now to trust that these same officials will guard our interests and fight for high quality development, will protect our architectural treasures, and will represent the interests of citizens of the District above those of developers. We want these assurances reduced to writing. We dont want, in this document, for developers to be told that the charrettes findings will be included in the developers' package for their potential consideration, but that DHCD won't hold them to it. We want them to be told that the city government wants them to respect the desires of the citizens of the city. We dont want developers simply to be reminded that theyll have to get a permit before they tear the Tivoli down. We want them to be told that theyre not going to tear the Tivoli down.
Second and third, the WAF asked that the RFP include a firm time requirement for development, and that the Redevelopment Land Agency award parcels simultaneously. The DHCD responded that:
This may be a reasonable response, but it should be judged in the light of history. The excuse that city officials used for years for not enforcing exclusive rights agreements on many of these very parcels was that the RFPs didn't include any enforceable performance clauses or any termination dates. We dont want that to happen again, and we want a written guarantee that it wont happen again.
Fourth, the WAF asked that the DHCD assign a staff member to the community-based design team. The DHCD responded that
Since the WAF team included members of the community-based design team, and since it made this suggestion, it should be obvious that Mr. Thackaberrys assignment either has not been made explicit or has been insufficient. This may not be a matter that can be dealt with in the public offering document, but it is a clear early sign that the DHCD is already not working with the community in this process.
Now, I would like to speak very briefly about the process that brought us here today, even though I feel that saying this to the Committee on Economic Development is preaching to deaf ears. You simply dont treat citizens this way in a democracy. You dont rush things through without adequate public notice, without honestly seeking and inviting public comment and response, and without actually considering that response. I don't have any hope that saying this will change the way this Committee does its business, but I feel I must repeat it again. Until you learn to respect the rights of the citizens of this city, you cannot effectively demand that Congress or the Control Board respect them; and you cannot expect the citizens of this city to regard you as the guardian of our democratic rights.
Letter from Eric Graye, President, Save the Tivoli,
July 22, 1998
The Honorable Charlene Drew Jarvis
Re: Public Offering Document to Receive Proposals to Develop Parcels 15, 24, 26, 27, 29, and 38 in the 14th Street Urban Renewal Area Emergency Declaration Resolution of 1998, PR 12-887.
Dear Chairperson Jarvis:
This letter presents written testimony on behalf of Save the Tivoli Inc. (STT) concerning the draft Request for Proposals (RFP) which is the subject of the resolution referenced above. This testimony is directed primarily at Urban Renewal Parcel 29, the location of the landmarked Tivoli Theater Building.
STT recommends that language be added to the Special Considerations section of the draft RFP (see Section III.G, page 6) that gives considerable weight to development proposals which call for the rehabilitation and reuse of the Tivoli Theater Building as a multi-use facility including entertainment and arts related functions as key elements of the building redesign.
As a result of an extensive District of Columbia government sponsored public participation process during the past year, residents of the Columbia Heights area have articulated their desires and formulated design guidelines regarding future development in the Columbia Heights Metro station area. This public participation process included a two-day neighborhood design workshop as well as several public meetings at which the results of the workshop were reviewed and commented on by members of the community. Approximately 300 Columbia Heights residents were involved in this process. The results of the workshop are documented in a report entitled Columbia Heights Metro Station Area Community Based Plan A copy of this report is attached.
The report documents two concepts expressed during the workshop which clearly state the communitys views concerning the Tivoli Theatre:
In a discussion of development parameters for the Tivoli site (Urban Renewal Parcel 29), the report documents preferred uses for the Tivoli as articulated by the community:
The statements above recognize the Tivoli as a key element of the redevelopment of the Columbia Heights neighborhood. Yet, there is no language in the developer selection criteria of the RFP that explicitly recognizes the desires of the community in this regard. In order to address this oversight, STT recommends that language be added to the Special Considerations section of the draft RFP (see Section III.G, page 6) that gives considerable weight to development proposals which call for the rehabilitation and reuse of the Tivoli Theater Building as multi-use facility including entertainment and arts functions as key elements of the building redesign.
STT believes that this provision is consistent with the desires of the community and is practical given the economic development incentives offered to developers of the Tivoli site. These incentives include historic property redevelopment tax credits and the tax increment financing mechanism recently enacted by the D.C. City Council. Further, STT notes the following:
The Councils kind and thoughtful consideration of these comments and recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
cc: Thomas C. Papson, Esq.
Testimony of David McIntire
In 1980, the RLA sold out the Community of Columbia Heights in the form of an Exclusive Right Agreement to Herbert Haft for the development parcels around what will be our Metro stop. For 16 years, the citizens of Columbia Heights fought that Agreement. Cancel it, we said. Cant do it, was the reply from our political leaders. The Agreement is chiseled in stone. It is open-ended.
Yet, when Mr. Haft made himself a public laughing stock and lost his political influence, the Agreement was terminated. Thus, the process begins anew.
This time around residents demanded to have design planning sessions a Charrette. The Charrette, hosted by the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights and led by the American Institute of Architectures Washington Architectural Foundation, was held in November 1997. What came out of those sessions is both a developer and urban neighborhood friendly plan. It is a highest and best use plan. It would accommodate almost 2.5 million square feet of development. By contrast, the new Convention Center will be 2.1 million square feet. The plan is not a gentrification plan. It does not seek to specify what store or office goes where. It is a series of guidelines. The Plan allows intensive development and yet is neighborhood and pedestrian friendly. It is the type of development that one sees west of the park.
The antithesis of the Community Plan was the Haft Plan. That called for demolishing the Tivoli Theater complex and dumping a big Safeway and surface parking lot in a residential area. It called for strip shopping on Parcel 27. It was the Haft quick buck, neighborhood be damned, strip shopping plan. It was the ghetto plan.
That sort of development does not revitalize neighborhoods. Look at the 0 Street Market or the Hechinger Mall in NE. Those developments exploit the location of the neighborhoods while doing nothing to encourage revitalization. However, quick buck schemes that benefit the few at the expense of the many, especially in innercity neighborhoods, die hard. When I examined the Draft RFP for the Columbia Heights Parcels, I saw the corpse of the Haft Plan rising from a coffin like Dracula to again suck the blood of Columbia Heights.
After 20 years of being active on this issue, I guess I should feel gratified that the Mayor and City Council finally feel some urgency on the matter. However, the DC Control Board defines an emergency as a situation (such as a flood, epidemic, riot, equipment failure, or other reason set forth in a proclamation issued by the Mayor) which creates an immediate threat to the public health, welfare, or safety. Maybe the departing Mayor might like to add or political expediency to the emergency definition.
The Community-Based Plan has been reduced to irrelevance in the RFP. It even goes so far as to remind developers to apply for the proper permits before reducing the Tivoli Complex to rubble. The fix seems in. Before the RFP is even finalized, political insiders are already saying there will be a grocery on the Tivoli lot and a Big Box on Parcel 27. Both businesses are desirable. But Parcel 29 is the wrong site for a grocery. The Big Box should not be a stand alone store behind a big surface parking lot. They should be part of a integrated complex as envisioned by the Community Plan.
As a 25 year resident of Columbia Heights, I am here to support the Columbia Heights Design Teams Suggested Action Items for the Council made informally to you. It would go a long way to insure developers that the City is serious in wanting a truly Major Community Service Center. It would demonstrate that the process is open. The recommendations are: Strengthen the Request for the Proposal to make compliance with the Community-Based Plan an integral requirement; Include a firm time requirement for development currently open-ended; Award parcels simultaneously the revival of this commercial corridor must be coordinated, not piece meal; and, Assign a staff member to the Community-based design team to help create implementation strategies and bring the many resources of the City government to bear on this unique economic development opportunity.
Also the section that mandates 25% minority equity in such a potentially large development seems unduly restrictive to me. It says, in effect, that the development can be no larger than what minority entities are willing to invest in. It would seem to me better that the requirement be that the developing entity or entities offer at least 25% equity to minority entities, not be required to have. At one time Columbia Heights was known as the City Within A City. There were hundreds of businesses that lined 14th Street north and south from the center at what will be the Metro stop. The retail area catered to blue collar and middle class folks. It could be that again if the Major Community Service Center is built as envisioned in the Community Plan. It will never be if it becomes ghetto strip shopping.
The choice is yours. I implore you to make the additions recommended by a distinguished group of architects. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose. Thank you.
TO: The City Council of the District of Columbia
Many of us in the Green Party of the District of Columbia are concerned about the Redevelopment Land Agency's emergency Request For Proposals, at Mayor Barry's prompting, to speed along the development of the 14th Street NW Tivoli parcels near the future Columbia Height Metro stop.
We agree with many Columbia Heights residents, with the Columbia Heights Charrette Design Team, and with the Washington Architectural Foundation that rushing plans for these parcels through as an emergency (without sufficient public comment) risks the kind of development contrary to the needs and desires of local residents: parking lots on 14th Street, strip malls, stores owned by outside corporations (fast food and other chain stores), glass boxes, incongruent architecture, lack of community space.
We disagree with Development Corporation of Columbia Heights (DCCH) president and CEO Robert Moore in his dismissal of Charrette recommendations as unrepresentative of the community. Mr Moores June 22, 1998 letter to the Washington Architectural Foundation suggests that the interests of developers would prove more beneficial to the neighborhood than would the recommendations of many residents themselves. Moores letter stated, The plan should encourage the genius of the competitive market place for an overall land use that insures the maximum benefit to neighborhood residents.
In other words, we fear an exercise in deal-making among political cronies working to push pet projects, to the detriment of taxpayers and Columbia Heights residents a repeat of the deal with Robert Haft 20 years ago that left these same parcels abandoned since then, and for which DC recently canceled the agreement. We thus support the Washington Architectural Foundation's demand to make a community-based plan a requirement in any disposition of public lands in Columbia Heights, to include a firm and fair time requirement in decision-making, and to award parcels simultaneously.
We also question the role of the National Capital Revitalization Corporation Board, created by an act (Bill 12-514) passed in City Council earlier this year to expedite private and public projects in DC that cost more than $2 million. The act provides no help to small DC businesses, and allows only minimal public input. It gives the board sweeping powers of eminent domain, and targets specific priority development areas.
One specified priority development area is the 1500 feet radius surrounding any Metro stop. If any development project accepted for the Tivoli parcels exceeds $2 million, then the National Capital Revitalization Corporation Board gains the authority to evict residents and to demolish their homes and other impediments to construction. If this poses a danger for people living near the parcels, they need to know about it, and to have some say in the matter.
The National Capital Revitalization Corporation Act will likely be the mechanism by which homes are cleared away within a two or three block radius of the proposed Shaw Convention Center, as the city sees the need for parking lots and bus and truck loading zones, and as conventioneers start hollering for hotels across the street. We have noted the large campaign donations given by developers and hotels to the campaigns of Convention Center supporters like Jack Evans. We will monitor closely the kind of contributions received in exchange for the support of development in Columbia Heights, if we recognize that the development is not in the interests of local residents.
We don't believe in community input. We believe in community OVERSIGHT, in the veto power of residents who will be affected by proposed development. We call for the involvement of neighborhood groups like Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and also recommend consulting the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Leaving development to the genius of the competitive market place will drain the economy of DC, and serve (probably out-of-town) businesses and investors, not the people of DC.
I have a personal connection with the area in question. From July 1993 until December 1996, I resided on Meridian Place near 14th Street, around the corner from the Tivoli parcels. I shopped at the Giant and banked at Riggs on Park Road. If Council allows reckless, corporate-driven development in Columbia Heights, we'll see eminent domain and soaring property values (and the possible end of rent control and tenants' protections) drive tens of thousands of people from the area, and Columbia Heights valued ethnic and income diversity will vanish quickly. Our priority should be the residents who live in Columbia Heights already most of whom are people of color, many of whom are families living on limited income.
Please hold future hearings on such matters at times convenient for those of us who hold jobs during the day. Im sure the 10 a.m. time prevented many interested and affected people from participating in the July 22 hearing on this matter.
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