Here is a letter from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton about the Soldiers Home development process.
Download AFRH.pdf (468.6K)
I have just had the opportunity to read and digest Congresswoman Norton's letter and it is outrageous. She clearly undercuts the efforts on the part of the community to object to and stop the proposed development on the AFRH campus. Tim Cox obviously had this letter in hand when we went before the NCPC. Unfortunately, Congresswoman Norton's influence carries more weight than the DC Council, the ANC's and the neighborhood groups particularly, as it pertains to federal issues.
It is my understanding that all efforts to get a meeting with Congresswoman Norton have been unsuccessful. I cannot believe she would imply that she has met with all parties including AFRH officials. Needless to say, we must counteract the misinformation put out by the Congresswoman's office. Where do we go from here?
Commissioner, ANC 4C03
Ronald Bland |
February 17, 2006 at 09:44 PM
Thanks for the great summary!
February 14, 2006 at 09:53 AM
Quick summary. The Soldier's Home is the large green campus on the eastern boundary of Petworth and Park View/Columbia Heights. The AFRH (new name for Soldier's Home) is proposing up to 10 million square feet of development on the southern half of the property -- roughly from Rock Creek Church south. The curret AFRH proposal is for 425,000 to 1,000,000 square feet of 4-8 story residential development on area from Illinois Ave. and Rock Creek Church Road south to about Lamont and Park Place. This would extend to the golf course. AFRH plans on retaining the golf course. For a point of perspective, the condomium planned for the Metro site at Georgia and New Hampshire is 17,000 sq. ft. The AFRH written plan talks about embassies, but in meetings with District planning officials, AFRH has said that there has been no interest among the embassies in locating over on this side of town.
From LaMont south to Irving along Park Place and then east to about where the Hospital center starts, there's be another 880,000 sq. ft. of 6-8 story residential development.
From basically 1st St. east to North Capital and then north about half way up the campus -- 77 acres (about 1/4 to 1/3 of the existing campus)-- there would be another roughly 5-7 million sq ft of 6-10 story commercial/institutional office park buildings.
So AFRH is proposing up to about 10 million square feet of development. Both the National Capital Planning Commission and the District Historic Preservation Review Board have said this is too much density for the site.
You can get a copy of the plan at the AFRH website -- go to Washington, Master Plan. http://www.afrh.gov/DWP/afrh/washington/afrhwashington.htm
It's also worth knowing that this property has a very rich history. The Home was established in about 1850 as the first veteran's home in the U.S. The National Cemetary right north of the Home on Harewood Drive was once part of the Home. It is the first federal military cemetary in the U.S., it predates Arlington Cemetary. The grounds were the summer home for several presidents in the early 1800s. President Lincoln lived there so much, that's almost more accurate to say that the White House was his winter home. He used to travel past the meadow at the corner of Rock Creek Church Rd. and Park Place on his way back and forth from the White House. He did a lot of his war planning and thinking about the Emancipation proclamation at the Home. Even today it's a very tranquil place and records show that that helped President Lincoln by providing him with a retreat.
Prior to Home Rule (in the 1960s -- somebody help), the District was run by the Federal government. In 1902, the Senate was concerned about making sure that the rapid development that was going on was done in a way that maintained the beauty and liveability of the city. The Senate commissioned several legendary planners and landscape architects (Daniel Burnham, Fredrich Law Olmstead Jr. and the sculpture, Agustus St. Gaudins) to design a park system for the District. You can get this report at http://www.themallconservancy.org/resource/mcmillan.html. In that federal plan, the grounds of the Home, which were at that time open to the public, were to serve the dual purpose of park and Veteran's Home. The McMillan Plan refers to the Home as one of the two largest and most beautiful recreational grounds in the District -- the other being Rock Creek Park. The McMillan Plan is still looked to as a guiding vision for park planning in the District. The Federal Comprehensive Plan, which governs development of federal land (like the Home), specifically says that, "The federal government should: Conserve portions of military reservations that add significantly to the inventory of park, open space, and natural areas and should, to the extent practicable, be used by the public for recreation. Examples include Andrews Air Force Base, Fort Belvoir, U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, Fort Meade, and Marine Corps Base Quantico." You can access the Federal Comprehensive Plan for the District at http://www.ncpc.gov/planning_init/comp/comprehensive.html
There are also a number of other policies that federal agencies, like the Home are supposed to adhere to in developing federal property. These include historic preservation standards that apply to grounds as well as buildings. I was surprised to learn that in the District there is also a huge amount of official concern (and laws) about protecting views to and from high points around the District. The Home is the third highest point in the District, and has amazing views of much of the District and great views of the Capital in particular. You might not realize it, but the Home is also visible from a lot of places in the District. For example, sometime stop at the light at N. Capitol and Massachusetts(? -- hear Union Station, where the main post office was until a few years ago). If you look north and see a tree line going east/west -- that's the Home. And of course, a federal agency is supposed to pay attention to federal environmental law.
So there are lots of reasons why development of this site has to be done carefully and in particular, the really massive development that's being proposed -- has to be looked at carefully.
I don't think I've heard of any neighbors who oppose all development on the site, but there are a number of concerns. The ones I hear most about are lack of transportation planning, congestion, loss open space, and impact on the setting for Lincoln's Cottage. Many neighbors are concerned about the lack of parkland in this part of the city. It seems likely that there's a lack of parkland in part because the original federal master plan for parks in the District planned on Soldier's Home functioning as park as well as institution. But for one reason or another, the Home was closed to the public and the neighborhood lost access to what was planned to be parkland for this part of the city.
One proposal residents have put forward as a compromise has been to focus development in the area from 1st St. east to N. Capitol and in particular to preserve the meadow at Rock Creek Church Rd. and Park Place as open space and possibly as park (park would legally assure that we don't have to go through all of this again in 10 years).
February 14, 2006 at 01:01 AM
"Plus, Col. Hts. is getting ready to be inundated with the DC USA project. Their misfortune, with traffic, noise, etc., will be our fortune in terms of nearby shopping."
Isn't that the truth! I have no problem going one stop over to shop but I wouldn't want all that traffic in my neighboorhood. We get plenty already on GA Ave. and Kansas Ave not to mention some other streets.
February 13, 2006 at 12:38 PM
Go to www.afrhdevelopment.com, for the AFRH's own plans.
There's no significant retail planned that I'm aware of -- the last plans call for a gated community of condos and townhouses.
There's of course already significant commercial space for retail -- it's just abandoned. Plus, Col. Hts. is getting ready to be inundated with the DC USA project. Their misfortune, with traffic, noise, etc., will be our fortune in terms of nearby shopping.
In my opinion, what's needed here is neighborhood parkspace and preserving an historical treasure. Sadly, Cong. Norton apparently does not see it that way. It would be interesting to know why.
February 13, 2006 at 11:46 AM
Hi. I'm new to the site, the neighborhood, and the issue. Can someone please give me a quick broad statement about the plans for the Old Soldier's Home and it's re-development?
Basically, my understanding is that the land is federal property and there is debate about whether to put in park space that is accessible to the public. I think I have that much straight.
But what else is involved in the redevelopment? Is there any way that the property will be redeveloped at all to include residential and/or commercial space? What's the timetable for all this happening? Etc Etc.
Thanks in advance for filling me in...
February 13, 2006 at 11:28 AM
Additionally, I think we need to remind people that as of right now, the plans are for a "gated community" which means no access to those people living outside the gate. Also, 9,000,000 square feet of development makes this one of the largest developments in the entire city. Here is a copy of what I sent to Congresswoman Nortons office:
Dear Congresswoman Norton;
Let me start by saying thank you for the service you have given our country and the District of Columbia. I have attended several anti-war rallies you were involved in and have admired your work on civil rights and DC statehood for a long time. I am a bit concerned about this issue with the Armed Forces Retirement Home, though. I am afraid that my neighbors, and myself, feel your office has not been actively engaging our concerns.
I have written Elliot Doomes on this issue twice in the last six months. I have not gotten a response at all regarding the questions I asked. Our community also requested a meeting with you so we can talk about this development from our prospective. Unfortunately, your office canceled the meetings and has not rescheduled. Additionally, we wrote letters to you office requesting your help in getting some questions answered by Mr. Cox of the AFRH regarding this project that he has refused to answer. Again, we are still awaiting a response.
I am very glad to hear you wrote a letter to the National Capitol Planning Commission, but I am afraid that we are missing a chance to give you some critical information that might help you, us, and the AFRH do something greatly needed for Washington DC. Please, we still would very much like to meet with you.
February 13, 2006 at 12:51 AM
As people who have worked with me on a lot of community issues will attest, I have an annoying capacity to give someone the benefit of the doubt long after it is any longer deserved. But here I cannot help but feel completely sold down the river by Congresswoman Norton.
I am particularly angry because just weeks earlier she received resolutions from our 2 ANC commissions, 4C and 1C voicing strong opposition to the proposed development for many legitimate reasons. In light of having received these two resolutions it is incomprehensible to me how she can sit and write that AFRH should work through the ANCs and in the same breadth say that the residents of the District are "pleased" with the development that is being proposed. It makes a mockery of representative government.
February 12, 2006 at 08:11 PM
Just to clarify the statement "repeatedly refused to meet with us," we tried first to meet with Norton in November on a very important legislative matter. We were ignored until the question was essentially moot. We were then told a meeting would be set up including DC officials. That meeting was cancelled, by her office, at least two or three times and then never re-scheduled. More recent attempts to set up a meeting have been answered by a copy of a November press release and then this letter, with the explanation that "things are being done" to take care of this matter.
The problem is, Norton still doesn't know our position on this issue. For instance, park space. We haven't had a chance to describe what we view as appropriate parkland and why. Indications from her office are that they're thinking 3-4 acres somewhere on the AFRH campus. That's not at all what we're talking about.
I am sure that Norton is a busy person. But there is absolutely no reason why she could not have met with us at some point in the past three months to hear our position. There may, in fact, be a lot going on in between the lines of this letter that I don't know about. But that's the point. I don't know because she hasn't met with us.
February 12, 2006 at 02:54 PM
Thankyou, Andrew, for writing a comment which shows a little thought and understanding of the protocols of politics. I wholly agree with the suggestion that Congresswoman Norton is using a "more flies with honey" approach to Mr Cox. As far as her suggestion that we are pleased with the plans to change AFRH, well, I sure as heck am pleased! Before they started talking about this development I thought that the property would always be an inaccessible mass at the end of my block. Now there is a possibility that the area known as zones 5 and 6 will become park area open for public use!!! I've written my letters to the NCPC, the Historic Review Board, and the board of AFRH, urging them to consider making open park space a part of this property as it had originally been intended.
I'm a little bothered by Reyn's statement that the Congresswoman "has repeatedly refused to meet with us to discuss this issue." I'm wondering how many meetings she has actually been asked to attend. Has anyone from her office staff attended any meetings as her surrogate?( this seems to be St. Fenty's preferred method of meeting attendance in my experience)
Until I hear a statement from the Congresswoman that she is all for development and tax-paying residents desires be damned, I see no reason to alienate our strongest possible ally in this issue.
February 12, 2006 at 01:06 PM
I would strongly encourage people to consider that Norton’s letter may stem from a “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” approach (or, put another way, an iron fist in a velvet glove). In other words, make nice to Tim Cox’s face, but what you’re really telling him is that he’d better follow the proper procedures, etc. (My other half and I both read the Norton letter and we both feel it is not nearly as friendly as it would superficially seem.) And is it possible that this is part of a good cop-bad cop routine, with Norton as good cop and Graham, etc. as bad cop(s)?
A few more specific thoughts:
Norton tells Cox that construction is a good thing because his facilities have been “not only underutilized but off limits to residents.” If she were truly just pushing development, she could have just said “underutilized.” I see an opening for parkland...
Norton laments the “unnecessary issues” that have arisen regarding community participation in the process (i.e., the issues could have been avoided if proper procedure had been followed -- it’s not the community participation that’s unnecessary). Again playing nice, she gives Cox an out by attributing his failure to follow law to bad advice from GSA consultants (thereby offending neither Cox nor GSA staff) and perhaps Cox’s naive eagerness. She then gently reminds him of the procedures -- including consulting the ANCs and City Councilmembers -- he’ll need to follow from now on.
In Washington, people’s words don’t always mean what they might say on the surface. So under the “Oh, Tim.... We’re so thrilled with your project... Just one or two pointers on procedure,” I Norton may actually be giving Cox a warning shot. After all, she did kindly remind Cox in her opening paragraph that she’s “ranking member of the Subcommittee with jurisdiction over GSA, the developer of the site.” As in (perhaps), “if you keep screwing up on procedural and other matters, you’re going to have to answer to the BIG boys (and girls).”
February 12, 2006 at 12:03 AM
This letter is wrong for so many reasons.
Norton rebukes the Home for providing too much (!) public participation. Congresswoman Norton needs to dust off her law degree and read the National Historic Preservation Act and its accompanying regulations. These explicitly require public participation in reviewing development plans on federal property that is National Historic Register Eligible or a National Historic Landmark. The Home is both. That law is intended to provide protection from over-development for properties with the kind of historical significance that the Home holds. This is where Lincoln likely drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. If Congresswoman Norton is not fully briefed on what this property means for the city and nation, I can only hope that she will become better educated on this matter soon.
Norton claims to speak on behalf of the residents when she has repeatedly refused to meet with us to discuss this issue. At least now we know why.
Despite Norton’s clear desire to exclude us from this process, we will continue to make our voices heard. I second the previous posting urging people to contact Norton’s office to let them know what they think of this. Our representative is no longer representing us.
February 11, 2006 at 03:46 PM
I completely agree. She says she's "pleased" with the AFHR's plans. She mentions nothing about parkland, just construction.
Further, she urges the AFRH to use the "straight-forward process always used on federal projects of this scope in the District of Columbia..." Hmm. We all know how great that works.
This is what sometimes happens when elected officials stay in power too long: they feel they know better than the public.
I suggest those concerned call her office and let her know how we feel: (202) 225-8050. Sometimes the only way for officials to know they're wrong is when the people tell them so.
February 10, 2006 at 04:37 PM
Getting past that first galling and disingenuous sentence about how "pleased" we are - from her letter, I perceive that Congresswoman Norton is uninterested in residents being a substantive part of this process (though she's comforted that we surely have been "helpful").
I read the letter very carefully. She seems to be saying that the involvement and consultation with DC gov't and residents to this point was "well-intentioned" but created unnecessary delays.
Nice. She thinks AFRH has involved residents TOO MUCH. Even ANCs and council members are fine for "advice" and "contact" respectively, but ahem, let's be clear that this is a fed decision. And federal development, as she reminds us, is something we are all "accustomed to" and "welcome" for its self-evident benefits. And controversy?? Why, there's never been controversy before! Pesky contrarians...
[Just to reiterate for those just tuning in - despite AFRH's feel-good pretense of community input, aspects of the development process were rightly called a "sham" by Jim Graham and the consensus is that everyone's input and brisk engagement have not seemed to influence the plans one bit. Many residents want parkland that is open to the public, some want at least to restrain the scale or ensure the quality of the proposed development on the eastern edge of Petworth/Park View. But everyone agrees on the need for residents' input to be respected in some tangible way, not just as a kind of phony exercise.]
I think it's very clear whose side Norton is on. Her letter is a blatant slap to residents, a "don't worry, here's how to get this on a fast-track" message to sooth the furrowed brows over at the Soldiers Home.
Bill Crandall |
February 10, 2006 at 03:53 PM
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