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Parents Protest Plan to Sell Youth Club

Columbia Heights Site Would Be Used for Condos With Recreation Facility

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2004; Page C04

About 50 supporters of a youth club that is a cornerstone of the Columbia Heights community gathered yesterday to protest the proposed sale of the property to a developer who plans to erect luxury condominiums on the site.

The rally, which took place in the gym of Clubhouse 10 of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, was organized by club supporters and parents of children who use the 22-year-old facility.

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They oppose plans by the Boys & Girls Clubs to sell the one-acre site at 14th and Clifton streets NW to developer Trammell Crow Co., which has promised to include space for a $3 million recreational facility in any new complex.

Club backers say they fear their children would not be welcome at a club connected to an upscale residential building.

"We don't have any guarantees that we'll have access to that space," said Della Cobb, a volunteer coach of girls' basketball at the club.

"I feel that the children need their own space," said Linda Edmundson, president of the club's parent association. "They can redevelop condos elsewhere."

If the sale does go through, added parent Iris Edmundson, the club has not been offered an alternative site to use during construction.

Speakers at the rally -- moved inside because of the chilly, windy weather -- included representatives of D.C. Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), as well as an official of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, who criticized the working-class neighborhood's gentrification.

Lawyer Malik Z. Shabazz told club supporters, who sat in the gym's bleachers, that he was "with you to stop the lies, with you to stop the gentrification" of the area. Shabazz said he was representing Black Lawyers for Justice, a Washington-based group.

Some of the mothers wore white T-shirts that said "Bison 10," the mascot for the club's sports teams.

The rally was the community's latest effort to seek publicity for its position in a dispute with the club's nonprofit owner. The conflict began a year ago after a parent accidentally found documents in the club's office indicating that the Silver Spring-based organization was quietly seeking to sell the property without telling parents.

Pat Shannon, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, did not respond to a message seeking comment left Friday on her office phone. Club officials have said that they have no current plans to eliminate the club and that selling the land seemed the best way to erase a deficit and maintain programs.

Graham, who could not make the rally because of a scheduling conflict, called a reporter to say that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington had made some "classic missteps" and needed to show more openness and engage the community.

"You have all these extremely upset people, passionately angry, who were to be kept in the dark," Graham said. "And that is about the worst possible approach you can take. . . . You've got to have full disclosure."

The lack of trust on the part of the parents and community, Graham added, is "very understandable." He urged Trammell Crow to be more forthcoming about its development plans and engage the community in the planning.

D.C. police officer Larry Cauley, one of three officers assigned to work at the club, said, "The closing of this facility will basically put the kids out on the street. . . . It's just a safe place for the kids to be."

Clubhouse 10 is open in the afternoons and early evenings, and on average 150 to 180 children use it for at least a short time every day, Cauley said.

The club is one of six in the District taken over by the Silver Spring nonprofit group last year from the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company