At issue is the construction of a new Tenley Library to replace its predecessor (closed 4 years ago), updates and additions to the over-enrolled and threadbare Janney Elementary school, and, in return for these improvements, permission for the developer to build a residential complex on the site. A win-win scenario about which no one seems happy. The newest chapter involves LCOR's latest proposal to extend the residential component onto the school's green space (an ingredient mysteriously pushed by the Deputy Mayor and seemingly favorable to no one), a move that spurred Janney's School Improvement Team (SIT) to revoke its conditional support of the three-tiered agreement. Remaining undecided is the pace of renovations to the school, which the District wasn't planning to get to until 2013 despite immediate needs, hence the SIT favoring a quicker fix by the developer.
With the school's support withdrawn in the already contentious battle, Councilmembers Cheh and Brown penned a letter to Mayor Fenty expressing their wish to see the project’s library component move forward, while insisting that LCOR’s residential development be sent back to the drawing board.
“We write to ask that you permit the Tenley Library to build now and separate it from any possible mixed-use, or public/private, development on the site,” read the statement's first paragraph. “As for the current LCOR proposal, we believe that it is fatally flawed,” begins another. Cheh and Brown propose a compromise that would allow the library to be constructed with structural supports in place to accommodate any future development above. Meanwhile, the residential component would be put on hold until a mutually agreeable design is produced. In conclusion, the letter asked for a response to their concerns by Friday, November, 7th.
The Letter hinges on LCOR's plans for the residential component, initially planned to sit on top of the library, then moved (by mysterious edict of a revised RFP) off the library and in place of the neighboring Janney soccer field. Now, two differing LCOR site plans (dated November 4th) put the apartments back on the library once again, but still encroaching on Janney green space. That in turn caused SIT to withdraw their support, as both proposals take up some of the green space now used by Janney, but add it back in behind the school, in place of the surface parking lot. According to Kirk Rankin of the Janney SIT, the SIT is opposed to any plan that would require Janney to cede any of its green space for the development.
Still with us? Good, because further complicating matters is the timing, and everyone agrees the quicker the better. And yet The Letter contemplates a two-year construction of the library, completion of which would be followed by a second construction project on the same small site, a process that may yield an architecturally challenged, ever-dusty construction site.
Cheh was not amused by the Deputy Mayor's response, or lack thereof, to The Letter. “Immediately after [receiving our letter], the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development issued a statement saying they were going ahead with it. No one has ever explained to me, ‘With what are they going ahead?’” said Councilwoman Cheh, referring to the widespread confusion resulting from the repeated relocation of the residential units.
While ODMPED would not respond to DCMud's inquiries regarding the matter, an LCOR representative did comment on the council's qualms and the impact that residential development will have on the school zone. “We’re going ahead with it and [ODMPED] is going ahead, too,” said Timothy D. Smith, Senior Vice President of LCOR. “The two [library and residential] are combined. It’s one building with a very prominent location along the street that reads ‘Library’ when you’re riding along Wisconsin Avenue…it’s probably the best way to use the land, rather than build separate apartment buildings.”
"We've been working on this steadily and people make comments in the meantime," he continued. "We were working down Mary Cheh's list of things that she wants to see accomplished when the letter was written...We have been meeting with citizens groups and modifying our plan. We do hope to gain support back from Mary."
Councilwoman Cheh, however, was not quite as optimistic with respect to the library’s future: “If they surplus property, that requires council approval. If the ward councilmember doesn’t approve of the action, I doubt very much that my colleagues would approve of it over my opposition.”Meanwhile, a standalone library has been funded and approved and could, with Council okay, start construction relatively soon. We'll be waiting to see who blinks. Stay tuned for Episode IV: Revenge of the SIT.