To the DC Office of Planning:
Historic Chevy Chase DC (HCCDC) remains a steadfast supporter of the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan process and looks forward to continued collaboration. We believe it is not only possible but necessary to become a more welcoming, diverse neighborhood and still retain the neighborhood characteristics that have made Chevy Chase such a desirable place to live for a century. The following statement summarizes our position as a community organization and itemizes our Top Five comments/concerns on the draft CCSAP:
HCCDC’s Role in the Small Area Plan
Historic Chevy Chase DC is a non-profit community organization dedicated to researching and preserving the history that shaped the neighborhood and informs its future. Our efforts in the past year have focused on understanding the opportunities posed by the city’s Small Area Plan, which looks at how future growth could add affordable housing opportunities to a part of Northwest DC that has long used restrictive zoning to keep property values high, thus making it increasingly off-limits to low-income buyers and renters.
HCCDC’s efforts over the past year have included hosting a series of informational webinars (see our events archives) that brought together urban planners, historians, developers, and community stakeholders to better understand how zoning changes might affect this community and the century-old streetscape that makes it such a desirable place to live.
This recent work builds on HCCDC’s three decades of research and preservation work celebrating the variety of architectural styles of our residential streets (see our work on historic preservation, house plaques, books on the commercial core and on Lafayette Elementary); the social history of the people who have chosen to live and raise families here (see dozens of oral histories and our HOUStories blog); and how this community has been witness and contributor to the growth of the Nation’s Capital (see our news archives and our special projects page on the story of George Pointer’s descendants on Broad Branch).
We have conducted important in-depth research to uncover and acknowledge the forgotten history of the 20th-century racial exclusionary practices once rampant here, as they were across the country. These include racial covenants and state-sponsored redlining that long prohibited Blacks and others from settling here, and the deep racial stain left behind from the 1928 eviction of Black landowners along Broad Branch Road so an all-white school could be built on their land. The result 100 years later is that Chevy Chase DC enjoys a beloved community park and school, oblivious to the damage done to the descendants, who scattered and lost the strength inherent in close family support.
While these now-illegal practices are no longer a threat here, they left behind a footprint of exclusivity that remains today. The long-protected single-family zoning covering most of Chevy Chase DC has resulted in an imbalance of affordability here versus other parts of the District. Only one percent of dedicated affordable units available in the city are located in this part of Northwest DC. The evergreen real estate market here means those who can afford to live here have the opportunity to build generational wealth in a neighborhood relatively low in crime, with good schools, thriving parks, and full or residents experiencing economic prosperity.
HCCDC’s Guiding Principles for the CCSAP
Knowing this history, HCCDC has welcomed the SAP process as a pathway to shape our future as a community with assets to protect and share, thus becoming a place that welcomes people of all backgrounds, income levels, and races. With the philosophy that greater diversity benefits all people, we have three guiding principles in our advocacy work regarding the SAP:
- Chevy Chase DC can and should be more welcoming to all people, not just the affluent.
- Our neighborhood should be part of the solution to the lack of affordable housing stock in the city and to environmental sustainability, not part of the problem.
- Meaningful ongoing community input is key to the development of land-use policies that the SAP will dictate.
- The SAP should reflect the needs of current residents along with those of future residents.
HCCDC’s Top Five Recommendations/Concerns for the CCSAP
We have collaborated with the DC Office of Panning in several of our webinars and we look forward to continuing that collaboration, even as we may disagree on aspects of the ongoing planning or on the consideration given to various issues.
- Increase economic and racial diversity of Chevy Chase DC.
Affordable housing goals should be a part of any density increases along Connecticut Avenue. The primary sites to explore are the “civic core” (the Chevy Chase Library and Chevy Chase Community Center) because it may be redeveloped first. It enjoys public status and could serve to anchor private development on one side of Connecticut Avenue if the Wells Fargo property and the Safeway store and Exxon station properties are developed into housing. On both sides of The Avenue, we imagine creative mixed-use structures combining housing and retail on the street level.
The Chevy Chase SAP should identify the full array of land use and finance tools that support the development of affordable housing. The recently completed “Rock Creek West Roadmap” describes many of these. They are also inferred in “Equitable Housing Strategy Recommendations” 4.1-4.6 on page 33 of the draft SAP. The main land use tool to obtain affordable housing is Inclusionary Zoning (IZ). As described in the draft Chevy Chase SAP, this would devote between 8.5 percent and 20 percent of the residential developments of 10 or more units to affordable housing. If more affordable housing is sought, there are a full array of finance tools, many controlled by DC agencies like DHCD, DCHFA and DCHA as well as others like the Washington Housing Initiative’s Impact Pool. One or more of these financing sources can increase the percentage of affordable housing from a minimum percentage of 8.5 percent of the units up to 20, 33, 40, and 100 percent. Several of these financing sources, such as the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) provide subsidies sufficient to achieve deeper affordability for lower-wage households (below 30, 40, and 50 percent of the median family income). These incentives can be blended together to get a desired number or percentage of affordable units, level of affordability, and bedroom mix.
We support pathways to ownership in addition to rental opportunities in new affordable housing development. Both condos and coops are appropriate. Local non-profit organizations with a long-standing commitment to affordable housing are the preferred sponsors for new development.
Beyond housing, the SAP should encourage opportunities for more diverse business ownership.
- The civic core should be the starting point for development on Connecticut Avenue.
The impending renovation of the library and community center should be seen as an opportunity to create an anchor for development. It should serve as a model for scale, setbacks, and other design attributes elsewhere on The Avenue. Once developed, the civic core should continue to function as a community space, preserving the vital role it has long played in bringing people together. In particular, the garden, tot lot playground, basketball courts, and walkways where public events are held should be preserved in terms of land use and space allocation. It should continue to function as a civic space for the whole community. The civic core should also serve as a model for citizen participation in the process of developing this new opportunity.
- Historic preservation should be aligned with other community priorities, including densification and increases in scale.
Protect the look and feel of the historic streetscape, including additional landmarked buildings and protection of the streetscape with an historic district on the west side of Connecticut Avenue, from Livingston to Northampton streets. Add design guidelines to encourage the visual continuity on both sides of The Avenue that emulates the distinctive walkable and “village” character of the commercial zone. Guidelines on scale should emphasize gradual transition to the residential neighborhood. Support the type of independent small businesses that have defined Chevy Chase, and provide existing small businesses with programs to help them transition during any redevelopment.
- The SAP needs to clearly identify its relationship to the wider community of Chevy Chase DC.
The few blocks included in the SAP are part of a wider neighborhood, but the SAP does not address how the SAP will affect the wider community. In anticipation of increased school population, more attention and increased participation involving the community and DCPS is required to address current and potential future school overcrowding. Parking will continue to be very important to residents and retail merchants. Adequate amounts of easily accessed, affordable parking should be included in the SAP. The gateway notion is not relevant to the community and especially for anticipated traffic patterns. We recommend that OP either add specificity to the plan or drop the gateway concept. Discussion of land use outside of the commercial strip does not belong in the small area plan. We strongly recommend removing recommendation 4.7.
- Community participation is Imperative; a review committee needs to be established
The SAP is very general on a host of issues. As it is translated into zoning language, it will find more support only if there is an ongoing collaboration with the community. We support wider access to the evolving rules as the SAP moves to the implementation stage. The SAP suggests some form-based code that simplifies the planning process for much development while specifying a range of issues that reflect locally appropriate controls that should include design issues relevant to our concerns above. If that form-based code is developed in partnership with the community – perhaps through a mixed body of ANC, community groups, urban planning experts, and community surveys – it could address the many outstanding issues of varying levels of community concern left unclear in the SAP itself. This would also accelerate the establishment of predictability needed for non-government sponsors to join the development of Chevy Chase DC. Given the opportunity, HCCDC will be an active partner in such an effort.
Historic Chevy Chase DC Board of Directors
Carl Lankowski, president; Catherine Toups Atkinson, vice president; Richard W. Teare, treasurer; Joan Solomon Janshego, secretary; Jordan Benderly, community liaison; Charles Cadwell; Keene Taylor, Jr.; Tim Hannapel; Tanya Gaskins Hardy; James Fisher; Edward Hayes, Jr.; Connie Rosemont; and Nadia Afrin