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  • W3HJ

Position Statement on Proposed Text Amendment for Bus Garage in Friendship Heights

Updated June 17, 2022

The Mayor has set a goal of creating 1990 new units of affordable housing in Ward 3 by 2025. However, in the ensuing years, only a few dozen are now starting to trickle into our housing stock. The redevelopment of Friendship Heights offers some of the best possibilities for the creation of new housing, including robust amounts of affordable and deeply affordable housing, family-sized units, and affordable opportunities for home ownership in Ward 3. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed and should not be undermined.

The Office of Planning (OP) has submitted a text amendment to grant Matter of Right (MOR) status to WMATA for redevelopment of the Lord & Taylor site as a bus garage even as WMATA continues to hold onto its current nearby site. This would effectively remove two of the largest sites in the area, possibly for years, from contributing to the goal of community reinvigoration. We value transit, and we support the continued presence of transit-supporting infrastructure, like the bus garage, in the neighborhood, but within a healthy balance with other community priorities. This proposed text amendment is at cross purposes with comprehensive planning for Friendship Heights. Ward 3 Housing Justice (W3HJ) opposes this proposed text amendment, calls on the Office of Planning to rescind it, and if it does not, urges the Zoning Commission to reject it.

The Lord & Taylor site sits within the area for OP’s Wisconsin Avenue Development Framework planning process that is intended to involve the community in a meaningful way in reimagining Friendship Heights. Nothing should be allowed to undermine, limit, or circumvent this planning process. It is premature to suggest or approve text amendments that would define the use of a major site before the completion of the planning process.

New maps for Friendship Heights authorize favorable zoning changes for the Lord & Taylor site that would allow for the development of major public facilities such as a school, library or community center within a mixed-use community that includes significant amounts of housing, including affordable housing. These uses could co-exist beautifully with the proposed historic preservation of the existing building, and they should be prominent considerations in an unimpeded planning process for the site. WMATA already controls a large parcel in Friendship Heights and is free to redevelop that current site and complete any environmental remediation and facility upgrade to meet its future needs, thereby eliminating the complications inherent in tying up two large properties central to the Friendship Heights redevelopment, potentially for years.

Application of a racial equity lens would confirm that a top priority in the redevelopment of Friendship Heights (and any other community in Ward 3) is the creation of a generous stock of affordable housing including family-sized units and home ownership opportunities as a deliberate policy to undo decades of segregation enforced by public policy and private practice.

In addition to its potential to undermine a robust, unfettered community planning process and failing to include consideration through a racial equity lens, the proposed amendment is problematic and premature in several other ways:

It treats the two sites as if they could be equivalent, but they are not. One will require extensive environmental mitigation, and it remains to be seen if it will ever be suitable for housing;

It includes no study to define the infrastructure WMATA would need given the preference for zero-emission electric buses;

It includes no analysis of WMATA's financial ability to manage the redevelopment process of either site;

It includes no requirement for mitigation of contamination on the current site;

It requires no environmental review of the implication of placing a bus garage abutting a residential area;

It does not specify important mitigation actions should a garage be placed adjacent to residential areas; and

It requires no commitment that any redeveloped bus garage will house electric vehicles only despite the current climate emergency.

Therefore, this proposed amendment for MOR redevelopment is not in the best interests of the community and should be withdrawn or rejected. Any redevelopment of these two key sites needs to be planned transparently with an eye to the good of the community.

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