OP, WMATA Present ‘Done Deal’ on Friendship Heights' Future
Updated: May 16
Ward 3 Housing Justice
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 16, 2022
Contact: Gail Sonnemann, 202-286-0845, firstname.lastname@example.org
The DC Office of Planning (OP), along with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), are pursuing a two-pronged, contradictory path on the future of Friendship Heights & upper Wisconsin Avenue in Ward 3, DC. On the one hand, OP is soliciting resident views in a widely distributed survey, while on the other hand it is concurrently taking concrete actions that lock in the future of two key sites: the empty Lord & Taylor property on Western Avenue and the in-use WMATA bus garage on Wisconsin Ave and is acting as though this move is a ‘done deal’.
The conflict came into focus at the ANC3E meeting on Thursday, September 8. Speaking for OP, Jennifer Steingasser, acknowledged that OP has asked the DC Zoning Commission to allow the Lord & Taylor property to be turned into a new bus garage to replace the one on Wisconsin Avenue, locking in the future for these two parcels with virtually no outside input. OP’s action is apparently based on an April, 2021, report by the Urban Land Institute commissioned by OP and WMATA that, among other things, recommended the move.
The immediate Friendship Heights neighbors protested that they had not been consulted and were just now hearing of these plans. They were joined by the ANC 3E commissioners in objecting to the lack of key facts about the new garage. These are the unknowns:
What structures would be built on the Lord & Taylor site?
How will OP and WMATA deal with the DC Preservation League’s landmark application for the Lord & Taylor building?
What kind of traffic problems are anticipated for bus ingress and egress in the new facility?
What would the plan be for the current Wisconsin Avenue garage?
What environmental controls will be in place at both sites?
Does WMATA have the funds to carry two major sites and then develop one of them in a way that will respect the aspirations of the community?
WMATA said the new garage will be totally enclosed, but an all-electric fleet is not expected until 2045. WMATA has assessed the Lord & Taylor property, obtained federal approval to purchase, and anticipates making an offer this fall, using eminent domain if necessary. After purchase, a 2-3 year federal environmental study of new site risks will be completed before construction can begin on the Lord & Taylor site.
“OP and WMATA are working together to reach a foreordained conclusion that is clearly a ‘done deal,’ said Margaret Dwyer, ANC 3E resident and convenor of Ward 3 Housing Justice (W3HJ). “OP is asking that WMATA be allowed to monopolize - possibly for more than a decade – the two best sites in Friendship Heights for mixed use, mixed income housing, and then develop the Lord & Taylor site in whatever way suits their needs. They could do it on the cheap and throw up an ugly, squat bus garage or max out density and build whatever they want regardless of community goals. The community, however, is thinking of a beautiful, mixed-used development that includes generous amounts of affordable housing and community amenities, creating jobs and drawing people from across the DMV.”
This sentiment was echoed by all five ANC 3E commissioners. “There’s no compelling reason for this to happen before the Wisconsin Avenue study is completed. There has been no transparency. This is an example of government not working as it should,” said ANC 3E Chair Jonathan Bender. “The ANC has no process to press for concrete commitments, but it does have a role in the Wisconsin Avenue planning process — asking us to consider this text amendment before planning is ‘manifestly putting the cart before the horse’. I am asking WMATA and OP to go back and think about whether you can just put this thing off and we can all talk about how the would-be WMATA site ought to fit within the redevelopment of Friendship Heights.”
Added Margaret Lenzner, member of W3HJ and Wardman Hotel Strategy Team, “We are asking our elected officials, CM Mary Cheh and CM-Candidate Frumin to tell OP and WMATA to stop now and plan the future of Friendship Heights with the community — for real. The District has already missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a community of mixed income housing in Ward 3 by allowing the Wardman Hotel in Woodley Park to be replaced with 900 new market rate luxury units, with only 72 affordable. This failure must not continue in Friendship Heights."
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