Councilmember McDuffie’s Open Letter to Ward 5 Residents on Comprehensive Plan

Dear Ward 5 Residents

The Comprehensive Plan serves as a guide for the District’s future growth and development. The Plan and the priorities it sets for our land use, housing, public services, infrastructure, transportation, environment, and capital investments are a reflection of the vision we have for our City. When the Comprehensive Plan was released, my staff and I hosted meetings for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and civic association leaders and met with a wide array of residents and organizations across Ward 5. Beginning with the Comprehensive Plan’s Framework Element, approved in 2019, I drafted language that reflected constituent concerns and ideas to ensure that equity was prioritized.

This Comprehensive Plan Amendment is complex and nuanced. My approach will not satisfy everyone, as the interests and desired outcomes vary significantly across our neighborhoods. I approached my review and consideration of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act guided by my belief in advancing opportunities for community-centered, racially equitable, responsible economic growth—economic growth with guardrails. 

The future land use of Ward 5 is one of the most important and contentious aspects of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act.  I made specific recommendations prior to each vote on the Act to address concerns related to the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) and Generalized Land Use Map. I have sought to balance the need for additional housing and greater affordability, while also understanding that many of the policies that have accelerated growth over the past 15 to 20 years have also resulted in much of Ward 5 as well as other District neighborhoods becoming increasingly unaffordable. It is important that we support policies that prioritize family-sized housing units, residential affordability, encourage public open space and transit oriented development, and uphold a community driven planning process. Opportunities to develop on vacant or underutilized properties is an important component of that strategy.

Additionally, I have supported areas where changes to the FLUM are aligned with meaningful community engagement including approved Planned Unit Developments (PUDs). On a number of occasions the Office of Planning (OP) proposed changes to the underlying land use in areas that lacked community engagement and/or specific feedback from the Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Often, in those instances, I recommended either a rejection of all or a portion of the proposed FLUM changes or a requirement to pursue additional planning efforts prior to any zoning changes.

While not exhaustive, I want to share some of my recommendations on several areas within Ward 5 where the Office of Planning proposed FLUM changes.

In Ivy City, I rejected the Office of Planning’s proposed FLUM changes for three sites, including the historic Alexander Crummell school. I am concerned about the lack of community engagement regarding the changes in the FLUM and believe it critical that we focus on the decades-old neighborhood priority of developing community and recreational facilities within the neighborhood to serve its residents. I also requested that the Ivy City neighborhood be added to that Future Planning Analysis that is along the New York Avenue corridor to make sure that any future zoning changes are linked to a small area plan for the community. Finally, I added specific policy language within the Upper Northeast Element to support investments in green and open space as well as designating the Crummell school as a community center.

Regarding the Brookland Manor community, the proposed FLUM changes from the Office of Planning included additional commercial striping and increased residential striping. I rejected the commercial striping, because I believe it went beyond the bounds of the approved PUD. Furthermore, any future amendments the current PUD to increase density on the site would be specifically tied to increases in affordable housing and a requirement to include family housing (3-5 bedroom units) as a minimum threshold for any future zoning changes above and beyond what is allowed in the current PUD.

The planned redevelopment at the McMillan site included proposed FLUM changes from the Office of Planning to amend the FLUM on the northern half of the site to High Density Commercial. This went beyond the scope of the approved PUD. Instead, I supported a FLUM change to Medium Density Commercial. This aligns with the PUD and zoning that was upheld by the DC Court of Appeals and removes past ambiguity. That said, let me be clear that this language does not support any potential density beyond that which was approved through the public process and supported by the Council.

The Office of Planning also proposed changes to the FLUM for adjacent properties at the Howard Divinity School and the Franciscan Monastery. The Office of Planning proposed striping both of these properties Institutional and Moderate Residential. I rejected the FLUM changes for the Monastery in large part because they have not conducted any public outreach regarding the future plans for the property. I did however support the FLUM changes at the Howard Divinity site. While no specific plan has been proposed, they have conducted numerous meetings with the ANC, various Civic Associations, and the broader community, including charettes to understand community concerns. Additionally, this site will have to undergo a number of additional public processes, including amending the Campus Master Plan, Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) approval as well as approval for any future zoning changes. The Moderate Residential Land Use reflected community concerns about the desire to ensure the overall density at the site was in line with the broader community and did not include commercial activities. Opportunities to create family-sized housing, like townhomes and modest apartments on a property that is underutilized and will not cause displacement of existing residents, are crucial to meeting our housing goals and ensuring the city is welcoming to all.

The Office of Planning proposed changes to FLUM in the area proximate the Brookland Metro Station, commonly known as the Brookland Green, to support residential and commercial development. I not only rejected the FLUM change but also requested that the underlying land use be changed to Parks and Open space, this has been a long – standing neighborhood concern and its goal was to support public open space in this community.

There were additional FLUM changes, including two amendments the Office of Planning proposed in the Eckington neighborhood and supported by many neighbors. These amendments would have changed the underlying land use designation from industrial, to a mix of uses. Both amendments were initially rejected by the Chairman given his deep concerns related to the ongoing loss of industrial sites within the District. I have my own concerns, outlined below, regarding industrial uses. However, in this specific case, I was able to restore one of the two proposed amendments to allow for Moderate Density Residential and support continued opportunities for family-sized affordable housing within Ward 5.

In addition to the Future Land Use Map, I also made a number of substantive changes to other policies within the Comprehensive Plan Amendment that will have an impact on the growth of the District. I would like to highlight two specific policies.

First, Ward 5 is  home to over 50% of the District’s overall industrial land (known as PDR). The services and economic development that occur on PDR/industrial land are a benefit to the entire District, yet its impacts are largely borne by those residents living within close proximity to industrial uses, disproportionately residents of color. Environmental justice must be a driving factor in the City’s approach to PDR, and I provided specific language to both ensure analysis of industrial land is completed through a racial equity lens, take environmental impacts – like air and other pollutants into account and that any focus on increasing industrial must include communities that do not have their fair share of industrial uses.

Second, I added a new policy within the Housing Element to encourage and prioritize the development of family-sized units and/or family-sized housing options, which generally has three or more bedrooms,  in areas proximate to transit, employment centers, schools, public facilities, and recreation, to ensure that the District’s most well-resourced locations remain accessible to families—particularly in areas that received increased residential density as a result of underlying changes to the Future Land Use Map. 

It is also my aim that one of the outcomes of this Plan will be to illustrate the District’s commitment to normalizing conversations about race and operationalizing strategies to advance and achieve racial equity in the District of Columbia. The Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) regarding the Comprehensive Plan released by the Council Office on Racial Equity (CORE) was striking. It found that the Comprehensive Plan as submitted by the Mayor “will exacerbate racial inequity.” This is exactly that type of analysis that the Council needed to grapple with as we modified the legislation. I am proud that the establishment of the CORE through the REACH legislation I authored has come at a time when the Council is grappling with some of the most fundamental questions about what type of city we want to be.

Despite a number of initial changes by the Committee of the Whole, prior to May 18th’s final vote, the REIA still concluded that Plan, as modified, did little more than uphold the status quo. That status quo is one where racial gaps–in education, employment, home ownership, health, and wealth—have all grown worse since the 2006 Plan was adopted and our City experienced unprecedented economic and population growth.

Both residents and businesses need a plan that allows for predictable growth. However, as I have maintained, I favor economic growth with guardrails. Our communities need and deserve an equitable approach to development, and the District must remain a city where long term residents are secure in their place and where new residents from all backgrounds are welcome.

This Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act must address as many of the issues as possible as it relates to the underlying 2006 Plan and 2012 update. We must also set the stage for the 2026 Comprehensive Plan to be one that is grounded in racial equity and establishes a cogent, thorough, and responsive vision for the next twenty years in the District. That work, to be truly comprehensive, must start now. It must include meaningful engagement, additional small area and community plans, and explicit accounting for how current and past planning and land use decisions have exacerbated racial inequities.