Anti-Gentrification Activists Scramble On Proposed Rewrite of Land Use Provision

As predicted in the June Washington Socialist, a new proposal to modify the critically important preamble to the D.C. Comprehensive Plan, the land-use planning document that is supposed to guide future development in the District on a long-term basis, has been introduced by DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

Made available to the public on Tuesday, July 2, Mendelson’s proposed rewrite of the preamble is scheduled to be marked up at the Council’s July 9 hearing of the Committee of the Whole.  Following a first vote on July 9, the marked-up document then will be subject to potential criticism and alteration for several weeks until the District Council takes a second vote on it, which is not expected until the Council reconvenes after its summer recess in mid-September.

Members of the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition, an anti-gentrification alliance in which several local DSA members have been active, are scrambling at press time to read through Mendelson’s proposed rewrite of the Comp Plan preamble, which includes several new passages that could be interpreted as favoring the interests of powerful DC real estate developers.

For example, the proposal states that for Washington DC to become a more inclusive city, “public and private collaborations” among District and federal agencies and “private and non-profit sectors” must occur, along with cooperation with the District’s “regional partners,” presumably including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The proposal likewise describes the Comprehensive Plan as guiding “development decisions, and the role of capital investments in addressing current and future challenges regarding infrastructure and facilities” – potentially, a signal for zoning and development decisions by the District and its agencies aimed at facilitating the interests of wealthy companies and individual investors.

At the same time, the lengthy proposal also includes a number of new provisions that, at first glance, seem to address some of the major factors that have driven the displacement of black Washingtonians from the city over the past two generations while creating a crisis of affordability for lower-income residents of all races and backgrounds.

The sheer length of the proposal, and the very limited time in which citizen activists and real estate lobbyists will be able to study it before the July 9 markup vote, make it impossible to say at this time what its overall effects will be on District residents and their families facing gentrification and displacement.

In their initial response to the proposal, activists with the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition hope to meet at the DC Government’s Wilson Building on Monday, July 8, at 11 a.m., to lobby individual Council members on three major changes needed in the Comp Plan.

These are (1) the adoption of “equity,” and particularly racial equity, as a major principle that should guide the Comp Plan and its major provisions; (2) the addition of new and/or stronger language requiring that the District (and particularly the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission) address all the projected social, economic, traffic and other impacts of major new developments that occur under the Comp Plan’s auspices, and (3) new language requiring that the District recapture the full economic value of properties it makes available to developers for supposedly public purposes.

The adoption of these proposed changes to the Comp Plan would go a long way toward correcting past decisions by District agencies and the Council that essentially gave away public lands and public properties to developers without the city – the public -- receiving adequate compensation and that failed to anticipate or correct for destructive side effects of development projects that get the Zoning Commission’s go-ahead.

Following the June 8 visits to individual council members, Grassroots Planning Coalition members plan to meet at the Wilson Building at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 9, in order to find adequate seating in the hearing that occurs later in the day.  The Council’s July 9 hearing should be long and contentious, as the future of scandal-plagued Council member Jack Evens is on the agenda, as well as Chairman Mendelson’s proposal to rewrite the Comp Plan preamble.

Following the hearing, however long it takes, Coalition organizer Parisa Nouruzi and other leading Coalition activists expect to speak to the press about the merits and demerits of whatever the Council has decided.

MDC DSA is a member of the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition , which is part of Empower DC.

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