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Updating of DC’s Comp Plan Sure to be One of 2020’s Biggest Political Footballs

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the January 2019 issue pdf

By William G. Schulz

The promise of a new year for DC government in 2020 includes hopes of completing the 2016 update of the District’s Comprehensive Plan. The every 10-year update has two key deadlines fast approaching. First, the public comment period has been extended from Dec. 20, 2019, to Jan. 10th, whereas the comment period for the city’s ANCs has been extended to February 14th.

For anyone wanting to know more about the Comp Plan update, the DC Office of Planning (OP) has an informative and easy to navigate website where one can learn all the details about the approximately 1,200-page Comp Plan document, including how to submit comments.

As we reported<https://intowner.com/2019/10/15/office-of-planning-set-to-rollout-controversial-comp-plan-update-affordable-housing-advocates-wary> in our October 2019 issue, the Comp Plan describes the forces driving change in DC, “including a description of DC’s growth forecasts, identifies 36 principles for DC’s future that guide the Plan’s policies and actions, and describes the Plan’s Generalized Policy Map and Future Land Use Map.”

After February 14th, it’s anyone’s guess how progress on the update will proceed. The OP will first review and consider all individual and ANC comments and then pass the document on to the City Council — probably in April — for public hearings and perhaps voting the Plan update into law.

The Council last year voted to adopt the so-called “Framework Element” of the Comp Plan — essentially an introduction to the rest of the plan and its neighborhood-by-neighborhood recommendations for land use, zoning, housing, and more. And while Council Chair Phil Mendelson has worked hard to shepherd the update along, opposition to the Plan update could lead to still more delays.

Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chair Daniel Warwick told The InTowner that the Plan will be on the ANC 2B’s February agenda. He wrote in response to our emailed request for comment the following:

“To be granted Great Weight [as provided by law], comments from an Advisory Neighborhood Commission must be consistent with the ANC Act. The Act requires written comments to be adopted by a majority of commissioners present at a noticed public meeting. As a commission of nine members, it is not the responsibility of any one commissioner to draft comments. Any commissioner may propose a motion at a publicly noticed meeting with a quorum. The motion requires a second and a vote of a majority of commissioners who are present.”

And in his December 2019 newsletter to constituents, Warwick reported the following:

“The ANC has weighed in three times on the Comprehensive Plan with our most recent comments in March 2018. We had several requests of the Office of Planning including recognition of Dupont Underground, the Dupont Deck-over project, creation of LGBTQ history experiences in the neighborhood, and transit connections to neighborhoods such as U Street and Shaw. The Office of Planning accepted our proposed amendment with modifications. Since the ANC proposed these amendments, there have been changes to the neighborhood including the new Dupont Circle Business Improvement District which will act as a steward for the Deck-over and further refinement of plans for Stead Park. Based on these changes, it makes sense for the language that the ANC suggested in the Comprehensive Plan to be updated.”

Warwick emphasized that he is “always open to public input and encourage members of the public to reach out.” When a December 2019 meeting of ANC 2B’s Transportation and Public Infrastructure committee was cancelled, he and other commissioners were criticized for not maximizing the extended time available to hear from constituents. But Warwick says, “If there are people who feel I and other commissioners are not open to hearing greater input I encourage them to reach out directly. All of our contact information is publicly available.”

Community groups like Dupont Circle Citizens Association may also weigh in on the Comp Plan as members of the public. DCCA Treasurer Susan Volman told The InTowner that “Section 2107 [of the Comp Plan], detailing residents’ comments and priorities derived from community meetings in 2005-06, has been completely eliminated. This section summarized several key messages from community engagement. It is important to note that these concerns remain.”

Volman enumerated DCCA’s specific concerns: Ensuring economic diversity and adding programs to prevent displacement of existing residents; preventing commercial encroachment into near Northwest neighborhoods and preventing the conversion of apartments to hotels, office, and institutional uses; the need for down-zoning in parts of Dupont and Logan Circles, particularly where blocks of historic row houses are zoned for high-density apartments; refining and consistently applying the process of creating, administering, and enforcing zoning regulations, including the granting of variances and zoning changes; improved pedestrian safety, bicycle safety, and public transit; preserving and creating open space, parks, and recreational facilities in underserved areas; preserving and enhancing the tree canopy; encouraging urban farming; and preservation of neighborhood-serving retail — for example, dry cleaners, bike shops, grocery stores, hardware stores, and pharmacies.

Finally, Volman says, “residents at community meetings in 2019 expressed concerns about giveaways of city-owned land without adequate public benefit. This matter is of particular importance given the pending disposition by the city of the Reeves Center at 14th and U Streets and other city-owned parcels.”

Many more citizen groups and individuals are bound to be weighing in with finely-honed commentary. OP staff will have a lot to sort through come February 15th before moving the rest of the Comp Plan on to the Council. Whether it’s a bumpy ride or smooth sailing from there will depend on the perception that city officials are, indeed, listening to the citizenry.

Copyright © 2020 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §§ 107 & 108 (“fair use”).