Friday, January 16, 2009

Deputy Mayor Forges Ahead on Janney-Tenley

The Tenley turf wars heated up this week, with the Fenty administration's renewed support of LCOR's redevelopment plan for the Tenley Library site. Two months after submitting a letter condemning the Janney Elementary/Tenely Library redevelopment's proposals, Washington DC City Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Kwame Brown have received a reply from Deputy Mayor Neil Albert. The letter obtained by DCmud outlines the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development's (ODMPED) stance on the project, while the same time dismissing the representatives' call to abandon the project's proposed residential component.

"As I am sure you are aware, the original rationale for this project is two-fold. First, it is part of a District-wide effort to capitalize on transit-oriented development. The site offers the District the rare opportunity to leverage a parcel across the street from a Metrorail station, bringing additional residents and workforce housing units to an underserved Wisconsin Avenue corridor,” states Albert in a letter dated January 12th. “Second, the money the District will receive in the form of a prepaid ground lease will be used to move the Janney School modernization up in the queue from Fiscal Year 2014…to Fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011.”

As a recap of the battle, the struggle involves the Deputy Mayor, who is interested in developing the metro-centered site and chose LCOR as project developer, DCPL (the public library), which wants to replace the library closed down three years ago, Janney parent groups, which don't want to cede an inch of existing outdoor space to an apartment building, DC Public Schools (DCPS), which will have to renovate the school system if a developer does not pony up, and a determined group of locals that have filibustered every large development in the area, and successfully thwarted the first developer for the site.

Albert supports the residential tower atop the new library, reasoning that “a stand-alone library would eliminate any potential cost savings for the library, would make any future development on the site cost prohibitive and would require much more of…Janney Elementary[‘s] green space.” The latter is a reference to objections by the Janney School Improvement Team (SIT), which withdrew their support - along with Cheh and Brown – for the cession of existing green space to the development. But Albert counters that LCOR’s revised plans now result in “a net gain of 300 square feet of green space at the school” through conversion of pavement to turf. Though such plans have yet to be released publicly, the Deputy Mayor states that a “fully formed proposal” will be unveiled on February 10th.

As previously noted, DCPS have had little say in the direction of the project, while DC Public Libraries (DCPL) have been privy to the bulk of the negotiations between ODMPED and LCOR . “Preliminary estimates show that [DCPL] will save approximately half of its construction budget under this mixed-use scenario for their new 20,000 square foot library. This amounts to approximately $5 million in cost savings,” says Albert - though when initally estimated by ODMPED, the library sported a projected cost of $16 million. This most certainly is not the last word on the project.


Anonymous said...

Keep the green space, build it a bit taller. End of story. I don't understand why they can't come to this simple compromise.

Chris L on Jan 16, 2009, 1:56:00 PM said...

Because the residents of Tenleytown mistakenly think they live in the burbs, not at a potential TOD node and along the main thoroughfare between Bethesda and Georgetown.

Don't try to understand their logic, they're living in a fantasy.

Ken on Jan 16, 2009, 2:37:00 PM said...

The complication to Anon's comment is that the library site is a very small footprint, the developer needs more space for any kind of sizable residential project, hence wanting to take a bit of the adjacent field and building in more green space behind the school.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see someone in the Mayor's Office was able to knock some sense into DCPL. Now to move forward with a sensible, sustainable project.

anonymous on Jan 17, 2009, 6:14:00 PM said...

It's dumb grow to make millions for a developer and screw over the kids and the library.

Anonymous said...

It's a public facilities issue. The school loses land it needs for its PE field and for its playgrounds if residential development is added to the site (Ken's right about the library site itself being too small to support an economically viable mixed-use building).

This is an overcrowded Blue Ribbon school which, unlike many others, is easily accessible via public transit. With all the recent school closures and an increasing number of DCPS schools falling into the mandatory restructuring status under NCLB, it's crucial that DCPS expand the capacity of schools like Janney that can serve as receivers for students in failing schools. Janney already has a 150+ waitlist.

At this point, the public-private partnership will slow down not only the library's reconstruction but Janney's as well. It would also mean that the capacity of Janney's exterior facilities cannot keep pace with the expanded capacity of its interior facilities. That's a bad plan at the elementary level where it's not viable to take kids off campus for sports and because kids who don't get enough physical release tend to fare less well in the classroom.

There's funding available for both the school and the library without this project. And there's land available near this Metro station for housing. (Not to mention the fact that LCOR doesn't have financing for its portion of the project yet -- this isn't like the Oyster School project where they came in with Northwest Mutual bankrolling them).

Transit-oriented mixed-use doesn't require mixed-use buildings. It can mean mixed-use areas created as the result of zoning that doesn't segregate by use (true of the existing zoning on this stretch of upper Wisconsin Ave.) There's already a mix of retail, residential, and institutional uses at that Metrorail station and room for more of each on separate parcels.

Sue Hemberger said...

Last week, four community members sent this rebuttal of DM Albert's letter to CM Cheh and Brown:

Dear Councilmembers Cheh and Brown:

We are writing to point out a number of misrepresentations made by Deputy Mayor Neil Albert in his January 12th letter regarding the proposed public-private artnership involving the Tenley-Friendship Library and Bernard T. Janney Elementary School. As you both know, we have been actively engaged in work related to this project for the past 20 months and, in the course of our efforts, have met repeatedly with community members, developers, and government officials.

First and foremost, we want you to realize that there have been no serious re-design efforts on LCOR’s part over the past six months. In fact, whenever community stakeholders point out a problem with LCOR’s plans, the response has been to manipulate the data and/or images rather than to try to solve the problem. So, for example, we’re still seeing a soccer field where one goal would be somewhere between 9 and 12 feet higher than the other, as well as a driveway on Wisconsin Avenue that will never make it through the PUD process, given the volume of traffic associated with the 200+ car garage it serves. In short, LCOR, with DMPED’s aid and encouragement, is deliberately presenting unrealistic scenarios in an attempt to sell the project to the Council and the community. Neither DMPED nor LCOR seems to have any interest in making this a better project – they just want to seal this deal, secure in the knowledge that, once they have a deal, all of these problems will be someone else’s responsibility.

It’s ironic to hear DM Albert “hope that the members of the community will engage constructively” when his office has ignored every constructive suggestion the community has made throughout this process. The wisdom of some of those suggestions – e.g. to include community/school representatives on the selection panel; to do ed specs for the Janney campus and a concept plan showing how all of the required educational facilities for an elementary school of 550 can be provided onsite before making any decision about whether/how much/what land should be devoted to private use – has already been vindicated. Other suggestions – such as ANC’s request that the RFP require the private partner to come to the table with financing in hand – anticipate (and would have helped avert) problems likely to emerge in the near future if this project moves forward.

Secondly, we want to point out that DM Albert’s claims about the advantages of this project are largely specious. The statement that “preliminary estimates show that DC Public Library will save approximately half of its construction budget under this mixed-use scenario” (or 5 million dollars) flatly contradicts LCOR’s estimate in September of 2008 that the library could save about $800,000 in construction costs as a result of mixed-use. Even that figure was an overestimation because LCOR acknowledged that it hadn’t offset the savings by taking into account increased costs associated with redesign and construction delays. Given that the private/profit-making component of the project may have gotten slightly smaller since September, it seems unlikely that the construction cost savings for the library could have more than sextupled since then.

Even less persuasive, is DMPED’s claim that LCOR’s proposal will provide a means for moving Janney up in DCPS’s modernization queue. In fact, as FOIA’d documents demonstrate, a last-minute political intervention was made to move Janney from its rightful place near the front of DCPS’s facilities modernization line to the tail end. This intervention was apparently designed to accommodate a public-private partnership. As DCPS’s own facilities expert immediately pointed out, relegating Janney to the end of the modernization queue “contradicts the guiding principles” of the Master Facilities Plan.

Janney’s place in DCPS’s facilities queue is not yet fixed. The MFP released last September was a draft and Janney’s position has been controverted both within DCPS and in public testimony before the Council. There is absolutely no reason why Janney cannot be renovated and expanded more quickly without a public-private partnership. The money is available. Post-closures, DCPS desperately needs to expand capacity at high-performing schools that can serves as receivers under NCLB standards. And Janney remains one of DCPS’s most over-crowded campuses with a waiting list of over 150 students.

By contrast, if the PPP moves forward, LCOR’s need for Council approval of the deal, as well as a PUD for the project, necessarily puts Janney’s addition on hold. And without a new addition, the only way to renovate the existing building, would be to send the students off campus. So either the renovations wait for the addition or they wait for swing space to become available. The bottom line is that, at this point, the PPP can only delay Janney’s modernization.

Finally, DMPED still doesn’t seem to understand the facilities issues involved. “No net loss of green space” has never been an appropriate criterion for evaluating this project’s impact on Janney. Given the anticipated expansion in its capacity, as well as the doubling of the amount of its built space, the challenge involved in modernizing Janney will be to enable its outdoor educational facilities to expand in order to keep pace with its indoor facilities. “Green space” per se isn’t what’s at issue. Janney needs programmable outdoor space that can be used to provide the field needed for PE instruction as well as the various age-differentiated hard- and soft-scape play areas mandated by DCPS’s current educational specifications for an elementary school campus of 550 students.

While a mixed-use project at this site may have appeared promising in theory, a year’s worth of attempts to translate that theory into practice have not borne fruit. Three different development teams, each of whom has had the opportunity to present revised or alternative designs, have tackled this project. We’ve seen lots of site plans over the past year, but no one has been able come up with a concrete proposal that has garnered the support of even one local stakeholder group. In fact, at this point, a strong consensus has emerged that our community will be better-served by devoting all of the publicly-owned land at the Wisconsin and Albemarle site to school and library use and entrusting these two construction projects to DCPL and OPEFM rather than involving a private developer. ANC 3E, the Janney SIT, the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library, as well as a number of other civic associations and neighboring property-owners have all espoused this position.

And it’s not just the community that has reached this conclusion. The Library’s Board of Trustees announced at its November 19th meeting (and apparently affirmed earlier this week, after seeing DM Albert’s letter) that it has instructed Ginnie Cooper to move forward with the already-funded and designed standalone reconstruction of the Tenley-Friendship branch. And the Janney design and construction project itself has already been handed back to DCPS. LCOR isn’t building anything for the school at this point – it’s just delaying the school’s modernization (by first stalling and then extending construction at the library site) and depriving Janney of a part of its campus.

Frankly, LCOR and DMPED seem to be the only parties that want this deal – yet six months into negotiations, even they do not seem to have managed to reach agreement on something as basic as a term sheet. As DMPED’s website indicates, no such agreement had been reached as of December 31, 2008.

The bottom line is that, after two years of work on this project, DMPED has no agency buy-in and no community support. That’s because Neil Albert’s office seems inclined to get this deal “by any means necessary” – including sacrificing public facilities needs to subsidize private development. In a tight credit market, even if Albert ultimately offers LCOR a deal so enticing that it signs on the dotted line, there’s no guarantee that LCOR will have the financing to move forward once it clears the political and regulatory hurdles that the project still faces (in part because DMPED failed to seek a timely decision regarding whether the public land in question was actually surplus). By contrast, DCPL has both construction financing and necessary design approvals in hand.

It has become increasingly clear that continued negotiations over a public-private partnership at this site are setting us back rather than moving us forward toward the broadly-shared goals of providing improved public school facilities and reinvigorating the dead space created by the premature closing of our branch library. Already, our library’s reconstruction has been delayed an additional 6 months by these discussions. And that’s after a delay which has already extended four years. Each of the other four neighborhood libraries shuttered at the end of 2004 broke ground last December. There’s a big hole where our library used to be – and while other CM’s are cutting ribbons in 2010, we’ll be lucky if ground has been broken on this project before the next election cycle is over.

It is time for the Council to step in and pull the plug on this project. Apparently the opposition of individual Councilmembers to LCOR’s proposal has not deterred DM Albert from moving forward with it. The Council as a whole needs to step in and reassert its role as a co-equal branch and a custodian of public land. Your colleagues will follow your lead on this matter – as Ward CM, as Committee Chairs, and as early proponents of exploring a mixed-use project at this site, it is up to you to let them know that DMPED’s efforts have failed and that, conversely, DCPL and OPEFM seem ready, willing, and able to rebuild our library and modernize our school.


Sue Hemberger, Anne Sullivan, Daniel Carozza, and Amy McVey

Anonymous said...

The NIMBYs cannot halt progress forever. They may cloak their true motives behind concern for the local public school, but they all send their kids to private schools.

Bottom line, this project will not get done unless the Mayor's office forces it through despite the objections of the obstructionist ANCs. I pray that Fenty has the votes to surplus this land, because Tenleytown is in desperate need of new development.

Anonymous said...

The NIMBYs don't even control the Tenleytown ANC anymore.

The public has spoken.

Sue Hemberger said...

A few facts:

1. Anne, Amy, and Danny (the other three authors of the letter) all sent their kids to Janney. If I remember correctly, Amy's son was the third or fourth generation of Janney students in her family. Many opponents of this project have long-standing ties to the school.

That said, my daughter does go to private school. Coincidentally, it's the same private school that Mary Cheh's and Marc Fisher's kids attend(ed). So why is it that when I argue that public school kids are entitled to playgrounds and sports fields, my views should be discounted because I'm a private school parent, yet when Cheh and Fisher support a project that would deprive public school kids of such facilities -- facilities they've made sure their own children have access to -- advocates of this project have no problem with private school parents weighing in?

2. None of the ANC 3E commissioners who has opposed the LCOR deal was voted out of office. Three decided not to run again and the fourth was re-elected. So, no, the public did not speak to this issue in the last ANC election.

That said, every time "the public" has spoken about this project directly (during the public comment period last spring, in ANC-sponsored meetings, in the resolutions of civic associations and of the Janney SIT), it has overwhelmingly rejected every concrete proposal made by a developer for this site. Early support for the concept of a PPP almost completely evaporated once people started seeing site plans. No civic group or faction has endorsed any specific proposal.

3. At this point, there will be investment in Tenleytown regardless of whether the LCOR deal happens. DCPL has funds in hand to build the library and, just last week, indicated that if it moves forward with a standalone project, our branch will be re-opened in the fall of 2010. (Which means that we'll see investment and revitalization sooner without a PPP). DCPS will certainly renovate and expand Janney -- it's a necessary component of their right-sizing campaign. And if/when there is demand for multifamily housing in Tenleytown, other privately-owned sites are available in close proximity to Metro.

Glenn Williamson said...

In the current economic and fiscal climate, it is irresponsible for the District not to consider the benefits of a PPP in terms of the lease payment, potential Library cost savings and long-term public tax revenues that such a proposal could generate. These goals can be achieved by trading existing surface parking areas for underground parking.

And LCOR's plans have evolved. Look at the initial LCOR proposal and compare it with the current revised version. There are major differences which do address concerns raised by members of the community:

The original proposal had auto access and a service alley from Albemarle Street. This was pointed out as a problem and the new proposal shows all auto access from Wisconsin. This is a plus, not a minus.

There is also a benefit from shifting the Janney parking away from the existing alley which is used to service St. Ann's school and also serves as a walkway for students from AU. Less cars in that alley is also a potential plus.

There is no reason to dismiss the new proposals out of hand and many reasons to try and find a workable compromise.

Anonymous said...

In the current fiscal climate, it's irresponsible for the District to delay already-funded and long-overdue construction to pursue a deal with a partner who can't bring financing to the table. And the economics of the project are such that the provision of underground parking for the school pretty much eats up the land value. There's no revenue stream from the lease. DMPED is negotiating a (non-competitively bid) prepaid lease bundled into a package with a couple of other non-competitively bid construction deals (for the library, DCPS's part of the garage, for a few units of workforce housing). DCPL does not anticipate any cost savings on construction.

No one is dismissing new proposals out of hand. The latest plan is virtually identical to the site plans that LCOR has been presenting to various community groups for the past four months. Its major difference from LCOR's original plan is that the building's footprint has been shifted east and south and the driveway relocated.

That said, the driveway on Wisconsin will never make it through the PUD process. And the latest (December) site plan, which has the mouth of the garage opening on to the Wisconsin Ave. curb cut, is truly insane. First, set up a series of traffic conflicts -- then eliminate visibility!

Anonymous said...

Blah Blah Blah

Cities and regions need density.

Do the right thing. Get this project done and done the right way.

Don't let the NIMBYs be more than a minor speed bump on the road to a better school, a better library and a better urban environment.

Anonymous said...

If you want people to live more densely and to be less reliant on their cars, it's really short-sighted to downgrade public facilities in Metro-accessible urban neighborhoods like this one. Especially when there are plenty of opportunities in the immediate vicinity for increased residential development that would not delay/compromise public facilities.

Anonymous said...

Delay or compromise public facilities?

LCOR provides a better school and better library.

LCOR provides the Janney renovation years ahead of where it would have been (despite the false claims of the NIMBYs to the contrary).

Sue Hemberger said...

The library will be delayed at least an additional two years if LCOR develops the site. The airy design Freelon developed would be riddled with columns to support residences above and we'd lose windows above and on both sides.

It's ridiculous to claim that "LCOR provides a better school." LCOR isn't building or designing the school -- it's just shrinking the campus and taking the most usable parcel of land the school currently owns.

As for the question of timing, the previous poster is relying on old information from Clifford Janey's tenure as Superintendent of DCPS. Since Lew and Rhee took charge, the intention has always been to rightsize and to speed up the pace of facilities work generally. They had slated Janney for modernization in 2010-2012 before the PPP was announced. Once the Mayor opted for the LCOR deal, Janney got pushed back to 2012-14, the very end of the (now shorter and faster) queue.

Anonymous said...

who goes to the library these days anyway?


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