In a dramatic press conference this morning in a very mushy and vacant lot on Georgia Avenue, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty announced that the District is going to start working on a plan and that at some time in the future the District may or may not announce that plan, which involves land the District may or may not actually own at some point. So went the press conference on the District efforts to develop a reuse plan for the surplus 62.5 acres, not allotted to the GSA or Department of State, on southern half of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC). The WRAMC is expected to close in 2011. Though Fenty opened up the floor to press questions, a rare event at most such announcements, he might as well have had a magic ball on hand to give responses.
In accordance with the Base Closure Community Redevelopment and Homeless Assistance Act, the District of Columbia - which acts as the Local Redevelopment Authority at Walter Reed - is seeking notices of interest (NOI) for the surplus property. There will be a public meeting tonight at Fort Stevens Recreation Center at 7 PM and a workshop about the base closure planning process, a site tour, and land-use constraints on November 13, 2009 at the WRAMC.
Located between two major artery roads, Georgia Avenue and 16th Street, the property includes substantial frontage on Georgie Avenue and is a prime location for development. To give officials a little wiggle room, Fenty said the District's goal of securing the land is "not guaranteed, but it's looking good." Councilmember Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, said it would be"premature" to make any guesses about the future use of the land, but added that officials were looking to "integrate" the property back into the community, which has a need for green space, recreation, quality retail, parking and office space. "With 62 acres...that's a lot of possibility." Though officials were hesitant to give specific details, the press release from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development suggested the final plans would call for mixed-use development.
The initiative to obtain the property from the federal government began in 2005 when the Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission announced the closing of the Medical Center, itself a source of much controversy for it mismanagement of patient care. Since the 2005 announcement DC officials have been finessing members of Congress and the Defense Department to win their support for the District's plan to buy the property. Fenty was an early proponent when he was still a Ward 4 Council member. Fenty described the redevelopment as an "incredible opportunity" for the Brightwood neighborhood and the city, adding that the DC government would "work very closely with the community and our federal partners in the months ahead."
Yes, this deal involves a lot of property and yes, federal policies on land use and disposition are certainly tricky, but the Mayor could have just left such a vague announcement for a press release. We can only hope that over the next 12 months the "plan" for the reuse gets more specific than the magic-ball-like update we got today.