Can Wards 6 and 7 Play Nice on Reservation 13?
Last summer, the redistricting debate ripped through D.C.'s neighborhoods, creating an especially ugly dynamic between Capitol Hillites and the east-of-the-river wards that had shrunk in population and needed to annex some of Ward 6. The biggest sticking point: What would happen to Reservation 13, the big piece of waterfront property long slated for mixed-use development, when it "belonged" to a councilmember whose main constituency lived on the other side of the bridge?
I argued that it shouldn't matter: Leaving aside the quality of any particular councilmember, elected officials themselves don't control the fates of development projects, and a little cross-river cooperation couldn't hurt anyway.
That theory is receiving its first test with Mayor Vince Gray's determination to bring a Redskins training facility to the area—a conversation in which he hasn't even included the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, nevermind the surrounding neighborhoods. Since they've been working on plans for Reservation 13 for the better part of a decade now (hear that, Jack Evans?), Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in Hill East were the first to demand a meeting with Gray, and visited ANC 7A in December to get support for a united front. A meeting was scheduled for the end of March at Eastern High School, a few blocks away from the site.
That touched a nerve. During redistricting, Eastern had been carved out to stay in Ward 6, even though many Ward 7 residents felt it should belong to them—and that Hill East people shouldn't be driving the conversation on Reservation 13. "The specter of what Eastern High School was during redistricting resurfaced," says ANC 6B Commissioner Brian Flahaven. "There's some extreme voices who say this is in Ward 7, this is our land, Ward 6 should have no say in it." The meeting had to switch days because of Gray's schedule, and it relocated to the D.C. Armory—which is now in Ward 7.
Last night, ANC 7A chair Villareal Johnson swung by 6B and tried to assure the commission that while he might "shake the dust off" the plan and update it for market conditions, he didn't want to "throw the baby out with the bath water."
Afterwards, I asked Johnson whether folks on his side of the river wanted anything different from what Ward 6 people had already endorsed. "I don't think Ward 7 has a priority for that site," he said, before mentioning that he's heard people talk about a hospital as a desirable component of the new plan, since D.C. General had been shut down.
Whatever it is, the neighborhoods will be more powerful if they can come to an agreement across ward boundaries. According to Councilmember Tommy Wells, ANC 6B will have party status in any proceedings before the Zoning Commission. "It's going to have to be a partnership," Flahaven says. "And I hope that the whole Ward 7 thing doesn't become a distraction, because there are people who would like for it to be a distraction."
One thing they'll likely agree on: A Redskins training facility is sub-optimal. "I don't know anyone who wants a training facility, other than the mayor," says Johnson (who, incidentally, says he plans to run for the Ward 7 State Board of Education). "I talked with a lot of people who don't think it's an efficient use of space, unless it's part of a bigger plan."