TESTIMONY: DMPED 2022-2023 Performance Oversight Hearing

February 15, 2023

Hon. Kenyan McDuffie
Chair, Committee on Business and Economic Development 

RE: DMPED 2022-2023 Performance Oversight Hearing

Good morning. Thank you Chair McDuffie for the opportunity to testify. Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG), the leading non-profit organization in the D.C. region advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all. 

We want to appreciate the difficulty of the job DMPED does for the city. We find that professional working relationships with DMPED staff are constructive, but we would encourage consulting help, training, or increased partnering with the DC Office of Planning to support communication and public engagement. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the public at large does not fully understand the processes that lead to change and that leads to fear of the unknown, as you have heard when people misunderstand the Chevy Chase civic site “surplusing” action. 

We thank DMPED for moving forward to implementation of the updated citywide Comprehensive Plan, housing and racial equity goals, and the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan. This brings us to the decisions about how to reuse and modernize the Chevy Chase civic site.

The ANC 3/4G Task Force on Racism’s number one housing recommendation is to build dedicated affordable and workforce housing above the Chevy Chase community center and library. We agree that all these community plans and recommendations are correct — to achieve the city’s goals to address racial equity and create housing equity, we must make the most of the Chevy Chase civic site for affordable housing as we deliver a new library, community center, and public outdoor spaces.

We have partnered with Ward3Vision & Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) calling on the city to include at least 100 affordable, mixed income homes on the site. Why the focus on a civic site? Public land means no land cost, which is driving the expense of building in high opportunity neighborhoods. Thus zero land cost means we must only fund the cost of housing  construction. With 2 acres to work with, a creative development team can make the most of the site to achieve neighborhood and citywide goals. 

How do we make the most of the site?

  1. Public input to inform a robust RFP. DMPED should utilize its “Our RFP” process to ask what public uses the community wants from its civic site. A Saturday workshop or similar engagement can generate specific input to help guide an RFP for the site. Resisting this is not only bad public process, but also harms the outcome as RFP applicants seek to know what’s most important to the community but will have limited information. Uncertainty for development teams for an RFP undermines the competitiveness of the process. We recommend DMPED facilitate an intentional public engagement process to help shape the RFP.
  1. Commit to housing equity goals – as emphasized in all the community plans.
    1. Seek to build 100 affordable, mixed income housing as part of the redevelopment process.
    2. Affordability range should be from 30% to 80% MFI, with emphasis on extremely low income households.
    3. As is required by law – keep the permanent affordability requirement for public land dispositions. Thanks to the DC Council for passing this requirement.
    4. A lease rather than selling any portion for sale makes most sense.

In closing, we ask that the Council ensure that we do not let this Chevy Chase civic site go the way of the Tenleytown Library – where opponents killed plans for affordable, mixed income housing as a part of that public site redevelopment. We urge the Council to work with DMPED to foster a public engagement process to ensure that the RPF provides clear guidance so that  we can advance our goals for housing and racial equity in Ward 3. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Cheryl Cort
Policy Director
Coalition for Smarter Growth