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Commissioner Gale Black

Testimony of Gale Black, Before the DC Council Committee of the Whole on the Proposed Framework for the Comprehensive Plan, March 20, 2018

My name is Gale Black. I am the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for SMD 4A08, Crestwood. I offer these comments individually and also on behalf of the President of the Crestwood Citizens Association.

There are five reasons why we oppose the framework:

  1. We need to protect our limited low density single family housing stock if we want to meet the needs of DC. This proposal does not do that. It’s pro-development.

  2. The focus on transit-oriented development and so called “smart growth” does not create affordable housing. It does the opposite and could lead to the loss of our residential green spaces.

  3. The concept of “mixed-use” needs to be revisited. It is contrary to the vision for DC and our interest in preserving stable resilient neighborhoods.

  4. This process has not been transparent. ANC 4A passed a resolution in opposition to the proposed Framework Element, because of this process and because our recommendations received no response, and apparently no consideration, before this proposal was sent to the Council.

  5. As written, the Comprehensive Plan is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. We would all benefit from clearer definitions. We should require compliance and consistency with the plan. The granting of special exceptions and variances renders the Plan and zoning a nullity. Listen to the ANCs if you want to avoid the undue influence of the special interests.

We need to remember that there is only so much land, time or money.

DC is small. It is only 69 square miles; and DC is already dense. In 2016, the District had over 11,000 people per square mile. Population density is even higher if the federal lands are subtracted out. Federal lands comprise almost 40% of the land in the District. Currently, only 23% of the land is permanent, open green space, like Rock Creek Park and the National Mall.

Only 28.1% of our land is residential. 13% is single family, low density, non-commercial.

Let’s recognize that DC is unique; and its city plan should be responsive to DC’s unique needs.

It’s the Nation’s Capital.
DC is an international city.
DC is historic.
DC is unique because of the federal presence that accounts for 40% of our land.
The city also attracts 19 million visitors annually.
We have 169 or more foreign diplomatic missions.
We have 23 international organizations.
We have 23 international organizations.
We have many large employers, which include the federal government, universities, hospitals and 130 unique neighborhoods.
Most of the people who work here commute here from outside of DC.

DC is also unique because of the unique needs of its residents.
11% of our residents are individuals with disabilities
Many grandmothers are raising children.
20% of the population is below the poverty level.
Approximately 8,000 residents are homeless (and many of these are the working poor).

DC has many challenges.

Our population doubles during the day due to visitors.

There are more jobs than residents and nearly three times more jobs than households.

The forecasts are that the number employed would increase by 125,000 by 2025.

The road network is already overcapacity. We have not created any new roads in DC in decades. Our top transportation goal was planting trees and we wonder why we have gridlock. We are struggling now with our infrastructure needs, as reflected by black-outs, road cave-ins, sink holes, water main breaks and delays in restoration of use of our existing public roads and public rights-of-way.

I live in Crestwood, which is in Census Tract 26 and located in Ward 4. It is bordered by Rock Creek Park on three sides and 16th Street, NW to the east. It is predominantly a neighborhood of single-family residential homes on large lots, where there is an abundance of green space and little traffic. We have places of worship, one apartment building and many international units.

I am wary of the plan and framework that encourages more build up and build out. That would eliminate back yards, side yards and allows people to build out to the curb. We need to keep the remaining green space.

The Framework proposed does the opposite of providing affordable housing. It allows developers to convert single family homes to three units and then to sell for prices that few can afford. It does not provide for affordable housing, because that requirement for inclusionary zoning applies only to buildings with four or more units. The unintended consequence is that there is an incentive to convert the single family homes into two or three units and sell them.


We should not expand the authority of the Zoning Commission or the Office of Planning so that it is permitted to circumvent the Comprehensive Plan’s requirements. It displaces the Council and allows legislation through special exceptions and the granting of variances.

The District has benefitted from a legacy of far-sighted master plans that recognize the importance of parks and open spaces to the future of the city. The city is built on the historic L’Enfant and McMillan Plans which are the foundations of modern Washington, according the National Capital Planning Commission Federal Elements. The L’Enfant Plan’s streets and place - - and their extension by the 1983 Permanent System of Highways - - as well as the 1901 McMillan Plan and the 1910 Height of Buildings Act have directed the character and orderly development of the city, according to the NCPC, federal elements at page 157. There was a place for everything and everyone. The horses did not share the path with the pedestrians. That worked. We should revisit this new concept of “mixed-use.”

The Land Use Element – Chapter 3 is very important. More than any other part of the Comprehensive Plan, the Land Use Element lays out the policies through which the city will accommodate growth and change, while conserving and enhancing its neighborhoods 3-1. We don’t need to create new neighborhoods. We need to maintain the successful neighborhoods. Guiding Principles 2-24.

We hope to ensure continuing strong protections for existing communities. For stable neighborhoods, the plan emphasized neighborhood conservation and appropriate infill. Land use policies in those areas have focused on retaining neighborhood character and improve connections between zoning and present and desired land use. That should continue.

Washington has no fewer than 130 distinct and identifiable neighborhoods. “They range from high-density urban mixed use communities,” like the West End and Mount Vernon Square to quiet low density neighborhoods like Crestwood, Colonial Village, Hillcrest and Spring Valley, providing a wide range of choices for the District’s many different types of households. Page 3-23. The 1999 Comprehensive Plan identified the then staple neighborhoods in Ward 4. The list included Rock Creek East, Carter Barron East and Lamond-Riggs. Those names don’t appear on any maps today. Long ago, the city recognized Colonial Village, North Portal Estates and Crestwood and they were identified together for planning purposes. Section 1503.3(b) stated that “Crestwood, Colonial Village and North Portal Estates are affluent neighborhoods bordering Rock Creek Park, They are developed with single-family detached homes on relatively large lots. These quiet neighborhoods are characterized by curving non-through streets and cul-de-sacs. Because the park is a natural barrier, access to these neighborhoods is limited, traffic is restricted, and open space is abundant.” It recognized that there were many well-known neighborhoods, such as Crestwood, Shepherd Park, Colonial Village, North Portal Estates and 16th Street Heights. “Each neighborhood is unique in demographic, social, economic and housing characteristics. They contain a diverse mix of housing types that will accommodate a variety of income ranges.” We need to preserve that mix of options.

Challenge: Each neighborhood should have “Certain basic assets and amenities,” such as safe, clean, public gathering places, including parks, places to exercise, plazas, places for children to play, and safe, quality modernized schools that provide access to free quality public education that meets the need of all of us. This remains a challenge.

We residents need libraries, recreation centers and a healthy environment. 3-34. We need places for children like the Boys and Girls Club that I attended years ago. We also need to foster the arts and culture within ANC 4A’s area.

The City was built on a plan that balanced the needs of everyone. Now, it’s more of a crap shoot. Please, no more mixed-use – we need to revisit that concept. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not dock less bikes

DC benefits from family oriented neighborhoods for families of all sizes and ages and socio-economic levels. We are stronger with our diversity.

We want to maintain the neighborhoods’ character and enhance desirability by preserving the assets and attributes that distinguish the neighborhoods.

We are just adding to the problem with fostering more development that is aimed at homes that cannot accommodate families and that we (families and seniors) can’t afford. And, families want yards.

We will be losing the green space, because there is an incentive to use the entire lot – to build out and up. Once the first unit on a block gets built out to the curb, the next developer will find it easier to do the same. This has the potential to change the character of the neighborhood.

We should not aim for development just for the sake of development. Although the Population is expected to grow by 2020, the big unknown is how the type of household could change. The household size is likely to increase if the District is somehow able to retain its families and retain the young professionals starting families and elder parent-led households, and others who may want, or need, to sublet to be able to buy or stay. Higher housing costs led some to double-up. Adult children may return home or stay home longer because the rent is too high here.

In looking at the number of need housing units, we need to consider that, if it is for a single family, we need yards and more sizeable lots. We can get six detached units per acre. That is more a reason to preserve what we have. Remember, we housed more than 800,000 before with the existing housing stock. We also have added more housing by allowing the use of accessory dwellings in the existing housing stock. That is smart sustainable growth.

Rock Creek East had 29,064 households in 2015, projected to go up to 37,638 with a net increase of 8,574 or a little under 7% of the District’s projected growth. Accessory dwellings might accommodate that, along with Walter Reed development.

Bolster Sections 216 and 217, which are sections that support families – to sustain safe neighborhoods, offering access to quality education, transportation, child care, parks and housing for families. 217.2

What makes DC special is the layout, defined land use priorities and the green spaces that exist in accordance with the land use maps.

Of the city’s 248,000 occupied housing units in 2000, 41% were owner occupied. Retaining our existing homeowners is important. Single family detached housing constituted only 13% of the District’s housing stock in 2000. It is important that the stock be preserved. It is important for residents to understand the new coding and exactly what is considered R-1 versus R-2 or R-4.

Spread the development. Currently, 88% of development was within a half mile of a metro station. That development is not cheap. Plus, only 12% of the new housing units were located east of the Anacostia River or in the Far Southeast / Southwest or in the portions of northeast.

Challenge LU3.3 – Foreign Missions There are more than 169 countries across the globe with Foreign Missions in the District of Columbia. The number of Foreign Missions increased 27 percent between 1983 and 2003. The Federal Element of the Comprehensive Plan indicated that sites for as many as 100 new and relocated chanceries may be needed during the next 25 years. 3-44. There will be 11-15 chanceries / embassies planned at the Foreign Mission Center at Walter Reed. Where else?


Sixteenth Street, NW is one of the few evacuation routes in our quadrant. At no point does the city explain how it is to operate to move people or goods effectively and safely along this corridor. Truck routes are not delineated. There is no listing of roads, no inventory of bridges, and nothing to ensure that there will be any alleys left by the time the next comprehensive plan is undertaken. Seventeen jurisdictions feed into DC. We need to consider a viable rail option.

By contrast, in just 6 years, the bike share program has grown to almost 450 stations and 3700 bikes across DC. We now have dock less bikes. We need to also consider the needs of older adults and people with disabilities in locating these. Some may welcome the choices. Our residents with limited sight may find it difficult to avoid tripping over these bikes that are left around. This proliferation of private sector firms using public rights of way should be carefully considered. Sidewalks are for pedestrians.


Our collective needs, along with the Federal laws and the Federal Highway plan, require the city to preserve and maintain its inventory of roads. Yet, that has not happened. There should be an inventory of all of the public rights of way, including the public roads. Before any analysis of potential road closure is made (or DC funds expended), there should be a decision by the DC Council that it is in the interest of DC to close a road. Why waste money studying something that is not in the best interest of the residents and is inconsistent with the current dedicated use? The city should take steps to ensure that residents are not required to foot the bill for feasibility studies that are not warranted. Is Broad Branch Road turning into another Klingle Road boondoggle?

Some residents in SMD 4A08 drive west to the schools. We need to restore the east-west connections. Often residents must travel to the west section of town to get to the private schools to which some of us take our children. We need to recognize that we have seniors and individuals with disabilities. Our system must meet these needs, as well as those of the international community, the tourism industry upon which we rely, and those who provide services to us, including emergency personnel.

We need to make sure that the bridges can accommodate emergency vehicles and that there is no fragmentation of the road network. For public health and safety, no neighborhood should be left landlocked. Sometimes, seconds count when you are trying to get to a hospital on the west or east side of town.


The city has delayed the implementation that had been called for under the old Combined Sewer System Long Term Control Plan. 1306.6. The Management Report for Rock Creek Park at page 119 that “a serious source of pollution exists in the southeastern portion of the park where there is an antiquated system of combined sanitary and storm sewers (as reflected in the Sewerlines and Outfalls map). During storms where the rainfall exceeds 0.3 inches per hour, these sewers overflow and discharge raw, untreated sewage directly into Piney Branch and Rock Creek. There are 29 combined sanitary / storm sewer overflow structures on Rock Creek. Together, they can contribute as much as 42.5 million gallons of combined storm water and sewage to the creek during a 1 hour storm, citing URS Greiner Woodward Clyde 1999).” The report also stated that the Washington, D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) estimates that 60 to 70 overflow events occur each year. The city had a plan to fix this problem. It was a public health issue that was addressed in the Infrastructure section of the Comprehensive Plan passed in December of 2006. Even though all agree that the restoration of the infrastructure is of critical importance, not enough is being done to meet the needs of Crestwood – near Rock Creek and Piney Branch Creek which is near 4A08 / Crestwood. This is of paramount importance to Ward 4 residents, who have endured overflows, sewage, clogged drains and water and soil contamination.

Finally, the Comprehensive Plan needs to be clearer – not more fuzzy. The Comp plan is riddled with inconsistencies. I know because I served on the Task Force for the last update. I also can attest to the undue influence of the special interests in this process. The green area ratio requires compliance by multi-unit residential developments, but not those under four units. That created an incentive for developers to convert single family units – without the need to adhere to the green area ratio or the need to create affordable units. Minimum downtown parking was eliminated.

If you want to figure out how to avoid the undue influence of the special interests, listen to the ANCs – don’t allow positions (or development) that are opposed by the ANCs. Smart growth is growth that is welcomed by the impacted ANC, particularly the impacted single member district.


That is why DC should allow the neighborhoods the chance to submit small area plans (SAP) for their neighborhoods. Whether viewed as overlays or SAPS, these localized plans could be added by amendment, as was done by the city of Seattle. Crestwood would like to offer a neighborhood plan for SMD 4A08. This could apply for the cluster of neighborhoods along 16th Street, NW, particularly the low-density, non-commercial residential homes on the west side of 16th Street, NW in 4A08. Similarly, Colonial Village, North Portal Estates, Shepherd Park, Brightwood, 16th Street Heights should be permitted to amend the comprehensive plan to provide small area conservation plans for their census tracts and block groups.

Crestwood has been asking for some time for a safe pedestrian path to connect to the existing RED LINE at Van Ness and one that would allow us to walk to Mount Pleasant, via 17th Street. We also should explore replacing the bridge at Tilden and Beach Drive or find an alternative means for emergency vehicles to get across Rock Creek.

Widen the bridge at Tilden and Peirce Mill so that it is wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles or build another bridge or access route from Blagden Avenue, NW, to bypass the Peirce Mill Bridge, to connect to the areas south and west of the city.

Provide a multi-use trail to connect 17th Street to connect to Rock Creek Park for the benefit of residents in Crestwood. We have asked for a tot lot (playground) – as well as continued access to quality public pre-K through grade 3 education, as an in-boundary right.

All actions should be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and the area plans. Have a homeowner’s bill of rights. Allow notice of at least 60 days before any variance and special exception may be permitted. Residents are not made aware of the ramifications for these special exceptions and variances and the precedent that it can set for future growth. Commerce is not permitted along 16th Street, NW. It is historic. We need to preserve the look of the corridors.

ANCs should not have to sue or petition to get the protections of the laws. That process includes the deliberative process – not the final product when it is too late.

Finally, I recommend that the city allow for neighborhood specific plans for neighborhoods in 4A, especially Crestwood, Colonial Village, 16th Street Heights, Shepherd Park and Brightwood, that are consistent with the tenets of the Comprehensive Plan.



  • Protect Zoning for low density, non-commercial, residential housing.
  • Work with a single list of neighborhoods for all municipal purposes.
  • Respond to all of the recommendations made by the ANCs or civic or citizens group and make the process transparent.
  • Create maps that are adequate to show what goes where and why.
  • Retain publicly owned land (no surplus land give-aways). This plan allows the shifting of public lands to developers for later sale of the land.
  • Meet the housing needs of the Special Needs population. This includes families, students, seniors and individuals with disabilities.
  • Use existing housing to entice the current DC workforce to live here. We need to entice more people who work here to live here. Provide housing for teachers, police officers, firefighters and other emergency service providers
  • Provide an incentive for employers to house their workers in DC.


  • The transportation goal should address efficiency and effectiveness, not just sustainability or the bicycle infrastructure.
  • Address Gridlock and DC’s Municipal Parking Needs. This plan makes it worse by relying on not-so affordable transit-oriented development.
  • Invest in DC’s infrastructure. DC’s system is already overburdened from years of deferred maintenance and is straining to meet demands.
  • Make sure all new development has an infrastructure plan and action timeline
  • Preserve, and keep open, all built public roads and alleys for their dedicated purposes. DC cannot afford to waste any existing dedicated roads.


  • Improve Water Quality – Complete the Combined Storm Overflow (CSO) project. Make sure that Rock Creek and Piney Branch Creek are a part of the fix, not just the Anacostia.
  • Have standards that make sense, are consistent, and are cost effective.
  • Keep the green spaces that we have, including back yards and front yards.


  • Address LULUS (locally undesirable land uses). Identify where the industrial uses will be and where the half way houses and special needs housing will be.
  • Stop the conversion of single-unit homes into 3 units or require affordable inclusionary units for all – not just those over 4 units.
  • Have neighborhood indicators that include health care, access to quality education, schools, transportation, green space, and infant mortality rates.
  • Allow conservation plans for the neighborhoods that request them.

Thank you and I ask that this testimony be incorporated into the record.

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