Wednesday, November 07, 2012

West End Development Raising Tensions. Again.

As developers prepare for a massive redevelopment effort in DC's West End, following years of battle over the nature of development, yet another fight is brewing, this time over where to put the temporary fire station. An open field in the West End is on a short list of potential sites, but some neighbors say that park, Francis Field, is not the ideal spot.  Ultimately, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) must decide on a temporary site for the station, but the issue is already raising tensions.

Current West End Fire Station. Image: Gary Griffith
The West End fire station, as well as the West End Library and the Special Operations Division for the Metro Police Department, must relocate in 2013 when Eastbanc begins work on redevelopment of two West End parcels, one of which houses the fire station.  The city awarded the lots to a team of private developers in 2010 under the agreement that they would rebuild the West End Library and the fire station, in addition to building condominiums and retail space.  The process has been blocked by a Ralph Nader-led advocacy group claiming to protect the public library.

In the meantime, the city must find a temporary location for the fire station.
Work on Francis Field. Image: Gary Griffith

DMPED confirms that it has three sites on its short-list for the fire station: Francis Field on 25th St. NW between M and N Streets, the tennis courts on 23rd St. between N and P Streets, and the vacant Stevens School at 1050 21st St.  Each of the sites presents some awkwardness for a temporary fire station location. The city awarded Stevens School, vacant since 2008, to another private developer in September.  The tennis courts are located in a residential area, making them a less likely alternative.  Francis Field, the final possibility, is therefore drawing scrutiny.  But a group called Friends of Francis Field argues that relocating the fire station there would destroy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of recent investments in the park. 

Gary Griffith of Friends of Francis Field said his group worked to raise $350,000 through a zoning process for renovations to the field in 2010.  Those improvements, made by the developer Vornado when it built West End 25, involved planting trees and putting up a fence, among other things.  "We don't think that those renovations should be undone," Griffith told DCMud.  "We think it would be a bad precedent on the part of the District...what other private company would ever want to put funds into a public park if the District were just going to tear it out?"

Work on Francis Field in 2010. Image: Gary Griffith
Griffith said the Steven's School might be the best suitable temporary location, but the District has already awarded it to a private developer.   "In giving away all these buildings to private developers, they have got nowhere to put the fire station."  Griffith questions the city's planning and timing surrounding the sell-off and temporary relocation of public infrastructure.  "We think that the deputy mayor has created this problem and he should solve it without taking away needed district property."

Jose Sousa, deputy chief of staff with DMPED, told DCMud that DMPED had been working with the National Park Service to discuss the feasibility of the tennis courts and Francis Field as possible sites for the fire station. Sousa said representatives from DMPED and Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) would be meeting with with ANC2A and ANC2B next week to "share additional information about the benefits and challenges associated with each of the proposed sites."

"Our goal is to try to come to an accord on this in the near future. We've been working closely with the office of Councilmember Evans on this as well," Sousa wrote in an email to DCMud.

For now, the Friends are looking to the West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2A take a stand on the issue.  Although the ANC is not a decision-making body, its recommendation could have sway with the city.   The fire station temporary location issue is on the ANC2A agenda for November 14th.  No matter what the city's decision, it seems no one is likely to be happy.
Rendering for the redevelopment of Francis Field (completed) - Image: Public Record


Anonymous said...

The obvious answer (to me, at least) is for the city to put the temporary fire station at Francis Field, and then cover the cost of restoring the field to its improved condition afterwards. It's a temporary inconvenience, but everything can be restored to good condition in the end.

Anonymous said...

Using Francis Field would be near-crazy. The stretch of 25th in front of Francis Field is an incredibly narrow two-way street, and this would locate the fire station buried within the worst part of the gridlock that occurs nearly every day during evening rush hour. Fire trucks would no doubt be regularly delayed leaving the block in either direction.

Anonymous said...

Obviously it's all Ralph Nader's fault.

IMGoph on Nov 11, 2012, 2:44:00 PM said...

no possessive in "Stevens," y'all :)

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