Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Ivy City Environmental Justice case: hearing today

Today at 1pm at the DC Courthouse (500 Indiana Avenue NW) in Room 415, the judge hearing this case will take arguments from DC Government asking for a stay of the preliminary injunction on this case, which was brought by EmpowerDC on behalf of residents, opposing the use of a vacant school site in Ivy City as a long term tour bus parking lot.

Ivy City is an odd "neighborhood" in Washington, given that a majority of the neighborhood is made up of industrial uses, including the old Hecht's Warehouse, a building materials yard, warehouses, and buildings that have been converted to clubs or homeless shelters.

Just north of New York Avenue--a major entryway into the city and always full of motor vehicle traffic spewing noise and exhaust in both directions--lie the Northeast Corridor railroad tracks into Union Station and south of West Virginia lies a large cemetery, fronted by industrial uses such as a city vehicle fleet yard.

The industrial-commercial and car dominated landscape here is not going to change any time soon. Also see the 2009 blog entry, "No Big Dig for New York Ave," from City Fix.

A remnant civic asset, the vacant and mouldering Alexander Crummell Elementary School (left, photo by Lydia DePillis, formerly of the Washington City Paper), continues to serve as an anchor and rallying point for the community.

A planning process was conducted for that general area about 8 years ago, and one of the options suggested, to which the community erupted against, would have been to give into the industrial, and resettle the residents.

And afterwards, the city backed off that idea, and went ahead and assembled 70+ vacant properties/lots and built affordable housing there.  What that did is do what I call "designing conflict in" whereas ideally planning is supposed to design conflict out or at least better manage and mitigate conflict resulting from conflicting uses, in this case, residential vs. industrial-commercial.

The planner in me says it's better to make a really hard decision and let the area go fully commercial, that it will always be a substandard somewhat disconnected place to live, even with a Costco down the street, and the alleged coming of a Walmart to the intersection of New York and Montana Avenues.

Be that as it may, EmpowerDC's campaign there, assisting the residents in fighting the use of the Alexander Crummell school site as a tour bus parking lot for Union Station, raises some interesting issues.

I was at first somewhat dismissive of their success in court last month, when a judge ordered the Union Station  Redevelopment Corporation to conduct a Environmental Impact Study (they deliberately underreported the value of the project to avoid triggering the requirement) and that the city erred in ramming the project through (I mean issuing the permits), in part because they didn't provide required notice to the local ANC in terms of their legal right to comment--interesting too the Judge ruled that just printing the notice in the DC Register is inadequate in terms of notification requirements.

But the injunction didn't order the USRC to stop construction and EISs can be gamed.

But, what's interesting is that there is an element of the case that hasn't been widely reported that is in fact quite important, which is probably why the Executive Branch of the DC Government continues to litigate the case vociferously--the judge's ruling focused on DC's laws concerning environmental review.

DC's environmental review requirements, on paper, are much stronger than they have been in terms of their impact on actual practice.  While maybe not as strong as California's Environmental Quality Act process, the DC law leaves the possibility of strong interpretation.

Depending on how this case plays out--which is why the Executive Branch has thrown 11 lawyers into the mix so far--the final rulings in this case could open up and strengthen DC's environmental review process, making it a fulcrum for community organization and potentially successful citizen opposition to various development projects (including the Walmart debacle on Georgia Avenue).  (Although it does require the means to pay for legal assistance, which is still a stumbling block.)

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At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Train/bus has left the station. Resettle.


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