Friday, October 26, 2007
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development will release the final Request For Proposal (RFP) for the Tenley-Friendship Library (old library pictured) and adjacent Janney School site on Monday, October 29. The solicitation for design plans will come more than a week after the library was demolished and several years after its closure for upgrade.
The RFP is the third stage of an arduous process for Tenley Library. Roadside Development, a DC-based development firm, had been approached by the community back in 2005 during its work on the CityLine project next door, and began to work on initial concepts. Toward the end of 2005, the public library agency (DCPL) claimed it already had a plan for the project and requested that Roadside suspend its work on a design plan so as not to impede the timeliness of development. Yet the DCPL project moved at such a dial-up pace that by the time a contractor was chosen and the designs had been completed, costs were much higher than originally expected and the entire project was scrapped.
Roadside came in for a second time, late in 2006, to approach the community and work on the project, but the community decided it was best that a competitive process ensue, for the betterment of the dual locations. Armand Spikell, a principal at Roadside, reflected on his early involvement in this process: “In the end, most of the community were in favor of a public-private partnership that would result in something better for both the library and the school, and there could be benefit from taking value of the air rights of that location.”
The site, located at 4450 Wisconsin Ave NW, is roughly 158,000 s.f., with the Janney School occupying a majority of the land – the school building itself consumes about 43,000 s.f. but the most recent draft of the RFP appeals for the school size to be doubled during development and that it be “[brought] up to current building codes…bringing it into compliance with ADA.” As it stood before, the old Tenley Library was only 18,000 s.f. – the solicitation will call for the addition of 2,000 s.f. of space for the new building, as well as the addition of a residential portion over the library. The Office of Planning has not determined whether the public land itself will be sold, maintaining a provision within the draft RFP which states that the District will enter into negotiations for the disposition “either through sale or a ground lease.”
Although each draft has been full of design guidelines for the library and school site, it has left the residential portion of the project undetermined – definitely the most controversial appendage to the public property given the stiff resistance the community has shown to nearly any type of development, such as the Maxim condo project next door which got downsized past the point of feasibility and now sits boarded and undeveloped several years after approval. The Request did outline an Affordable Housing element, requiring that 30% of the units be designated as affordable, with 15% priced for people at the 30% AMI or below and another 15% designated for residents earning 60% AMI or below.
The Public Schools district has apportioned a separate budget for capital improvements, however those resources will not be available for six years – posing a “time lag” problem for the immediate needs of Janney. While DCPL did not disclose the budgeted amount for capital improvements, this much is clear: the Public Library system will be seeking reimbursement for surrendering the air rights to the site. The surrounding community is divided in its views about the project – many have used the objectives of the Smart Growth Network, an EPA-funded developmental planning initiative of transit and pedestrian-oriented development, as a launching pad for their justification of the Metro-centered site.
Ward 3 Vision, a partnership between the residents of Ward 3 and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in most cases looks favorably upon development projects that are transit-oriented. Tom Hier, chair of Ward 3 Vision, stated that he supports the RFP process "to learn how a public-private partnership may creatively achieve increased density, while potentially benefiting the library, Janney School and the community,” adding that “The city has invested millions of dollars in metro stations and we want to take advantage of that.” Opposing residents, including the Advisory Neighborhood Council, raise the usual red flags of density, over-development, and increased traffic congestion, though the site sits over the Tenley-AU Metro station. In addition, the ANC has recently passed a resolution stating that the land has not been designated as surplus, and that an RFP at this stage in the game is pulling the proverbial cart before the horse. Developers will have six weeks from Monday to submit their design plans for the site, and while some members of the community have raised concerns as to whether six weeks is enough time, the Office of Planning responded that an adequate window of opportunity has been provided for submissions.