Fifteen hundred pages.
The District’s five-year comprehensive plan — or, rather, the “proposed amendments to the District Elements of the 2006 Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital” — takes up about 1,500 pages of legalese-style paragraphs.
On Feb. 12, while many Georgetowners were attending midweek Valentine’s parties, a quorum of hearty Georgetown-Burleith advisory neighborhood commissioners literally lugged two thick copies, with dozens of colored tabs protruding from the side, to Visitation School for a two-hour-plus session of intense public review and markup.
The commissioners voiced many concerns. As it turned out, the amendments that commissioners were asked to review by the District’s Office of Planning were much more extensive than expected.
“The ANC 2E believes the Office of Planning has understated the scope of the proposed amendments,” wrote ANC Chair Rick Murphy to Office of Planning Director Andrew Trueblood on Feb. 14. “What ANC 2E has been asked to review is much more than a ‘major revision’; it can fairly be described as a completely new plan that has been prepared without the robust process of community engagement that led to the adoption of the 2006 plan.”
There are multiple chapters in the plan, covering every aspect of city development: business, housing, transportation, parks, schools and the like. Commissioners reviewed it all. But what concerned them most was a subtle change in language throughout that would give the Office of Planning more discretion in making decisions or in giving advice to other District agencies on issues affecting neighborhoods throughout the city.
“Specifically the proposed plan deletes the words ‘protect’ and ‘preserve’ when referring to neighborhoods, neighborhood character, and historic resources … and replaces them with the word ‘respect,’” Murphy writes. “The change may be subtle but it is very important. If the proposed amendments are adopted, the Office of Planning and other District agencies would no longer be directed to protect neighborhoods throughout the city. Instead, the agencies would be given the discretion to approve actions that could negatively affect a neighborhood as long as the neighborhood is ‘respected.’”
Many details of balancing decisions by city officials with neighborhood needs were noted during the evening. The commissioners suggested additions as well. In particular, Commissioner Anna Landre added, to almost every chapter, suggested amendments that would benefit handicapped residents and visitors. “Almost 13 percent of the D.C. population is considered to be handicapped,” she noted. “It’s incredible that the comprehensive plan doesn’t recognize their needs.”
The ANC strongly urged the Office of Planning to state its priorities clearly so that consequent budget discussions could be aligned with the top planning goals. Two of those priorities, according to commissioners, were affordable housing and small business incentives. Georgetown needs a thoughtful small area plan, commissioners agreed.
“ANC 2E urges the Mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia to defer action on the proposed amendments and to instead initiate a robust campaign of public engagement, including the formation of a Plan Revision Task Force, or a similar body made up of members who represent a broad cross-section of the residents of our city with the goal of preparing an entirely new Comprehensive Plan,” Murphy concludes in his letter.
Five of the eight commissioners attended: Murphy, Landre, Joe Gibbons, Gwendolyn Lohse and Elizabeth Miller. About 10 Georgetown residents also participated (and one reporter). “Everyone there should be given combat pay,” a Georgetowner editor remarked.