The following message from Friendship Heights residents David Frankel was posted on the Chevy Chase Listserv:
In July and December 2009, I filed two separate but related Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (ODMPED) to learn more about the Fenty Administration's plans for adding a residential tower on top of the proposed Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library and on the adjacent Janney Elementary School soccer field.
The first FOIA request encompassed documents created between February 1 and July 17, 2009. The second request covered documents created between July 17 and December 4, 2009. ODMPED did not take my FOIA requests seriously.
They provided very little information in response to my first FOIA request -- all late -- and they completely ignored my second FOIA request. I therefore retained an attorney to represent me in two separate lawsuits against ODMPED. The first case was filed in October 2009 and the second case was filed in January 2010.
This litigation has been very time consuming and expensive. I am financing it on my own and have not sought or received any contributions from anyone. The judges in both cases have issued rulings requiring ODMPED to do more extensive searches and turn over documents, portions of documents and an index of documents ODMPED refuses to release. Those indices, known as "Vaughn" indices, show that ODMPED continues to stonewall and resist production of the most important documents.
Through this time consuming process, I've learned and shared with the community that the Fenty Administration spent $991,000 in taxpayer funds to add structural supports to the western one-third of the Library to allow for the future construction of a possible residential tower as described in the first paragraph above. We know that the design of the Library was modified to eliminate windows on the western side, overlooking the Janney soccer field. That explains the bunker-like appearance of the western one-third of the Library, which contrasts so starkly with the glass shell that characterizes the remaining two-thirds of the Library.
We also know from a presentation at a recent Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E meeting that the Janney Elementary School modernization plans have been modified to move the soccer field from its original location between the Library and the historic Janney building to a location adjacent to single family homes at Janney's rear (south side) -- much to the dismay and alarm of those residential property owners who are rightly concerned about the level of soccer game noise that an official from the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization conceded at the ANC meeting.
While I do not know the whole situation yet, it appears that the key document or documents relating to the city's plans for our Library and Janney's soccer field are one or more reports prepared by Jair Lynch Development Partners. Taxpayers paid $28,000 for these reports (in addition to the $991,000 for the Library's structural supports).
Last week, ODMPED produced to me a hard-to-make-out diagram from a Jair Lynch report depicting the proposed residential tower. My attorney asked his opposing counsel to produce a better quality version which he received Tuesday, January 11 -- in color. To my knowledge, this is the first time anyone outside of the executive branch of the DC government has seen a diagram of the proposed residential tower. It depicts a nine story building that would contain 122 residential units. The 90 foot residential tower is measured from the Janney soccer field and not from Wisconsin Avenue. Since the site slopes downward from the school to Wisconsin Avenue, the building would be much higher than 90 feet measured from the Wisconsin Avenue elevation. In addition, the 90 foot height does not include the 18 or so feet the zoning regulation allow for a mechanical penthouse on top of the building.
The drawings provided to me also depict two or three levels of underground parking beneath the residential tower and the Janney soccer field, but not beneath the Library. It appears that access would be from the driveway on the north side of Saint Ann's Church property but that is something I am not completely sure of at this time.
The drawings depict the residential tower taking up a substantial portion of the Janney soccer field. If they were drawn to scale, someone should be able to figure out the soccer field displacement.
Last week, ODMPED produced to me another very heavily-redacted document that will interest the Janney community. A July 24, 2009 Jair Lynch letter to ODMPED contained this statement with respect to the proposed residential tower: "This site is also in close proximity to American University which will make it a popular housing choice for students." While this statement may be true with respect to college students, it may not be so true with respect to Janney parents, teachers and staff.
Here (PDF) is the color drawing I received Tuesday, January 11
At the outset of this litigation I said I would share my findings with the community. There is still a long way to go here. It continues to amaze me that our government -- the government we elect and fund -- is so reticent to share information with its citizens on a subject that is so central to its purpose.
In this case, our government refuses to release documents relating to its plans to develop our Library and Janne's soccer field. Whether anyone thinks the concept of a 90 foot 122 residential unit tower is a good one or a terrible one, I would hope we can agree that all DC residents have a right to see these plans and engage in a spirited, civil debate about their costs and benefits.
With kind regards,
David P. Frankel
Friendship Heights, DC
A couple of thoughts on this.
First, unless there is private sector confidentiality involved, thee is little to no reason why these documents should have remained outside of the initial FOIA requests.
Second, there were schematics and proposals throughout this process that suggested moving the soccer field from the small area near Albemarle Street to the rear of the Janney property. Indeed, had the original proposals passed muster from those who were opposing this process, the parking for the residential component, the library and the faculty could have been combined and/or shared. Thus the side note that the parking would not be under or associated with the library is disingenuous.
Third, the suggestion of complaint of noise associated with the soccer field is another red-herring. There is/was already a soccer field on the property which has been used by youth teams for years. Thus, there is already the related traffic, parking and noise. And really, how much noise is there for a soccer game, particularly as compared to the former playground, which had unregulated usage? Those darned kids making that noise.
Fourth, given the potential nature of the building, the additional red-herring of proximity to American University is puzzling. As it is, residents near the University complain that they don't want new dorms on the potential south-side development. The idea that undergrads are throwing beer-bash keg parties during elementary school hours is somewhat of a reach. Even still, this structure would likely house graduate and law students, if it houses students at all. Whether this potential structure becomes private residences (and new DC Taxpayers) or are university students (who can also support the retail on Wisconsin Avenue), either way, it would be a welcome addition to most people who are attuned to this subject.
Fifth, the author indicates that the 90 foot "tower" would be measured from Albemarle Street rather than Wisconsin Avenue. Because the elevation slopes down to Wisconsin Avenue, the residential structure would appear much taller. However, there are many examples of such a phenomenon throughout the city. Any measurement beyond the legal requirement of Albemarle Street would be subjective.
Had the community worked together with the city, rather than tossing obstacles at every turn, the suggested $5 Million costs associated with faculty parking garage currently borne by DC Taxpayers would have been absorbed by the developers. The final result probably would have been a more cohesive renovation and construction process for the redevelopment of that area. Instead, there has been needless waste of taxpayer money, additional costs absorbed by DC Taxpayers, and potentially additional construction fatigue thrust upon the Janney community.