Organizers of an ambitious community festival were forced yesterday to seek a new site for the event after they were denied necessary permits and encountered strong opposition from the neighborhood where it was to have been held.
The festival, sponsored by the D.C. Concerned Citizens Caucus Inc., was originally scheduled for July 16 at Fort Slocum Park. Billed as an event whose purpose was to "encourage neighborhood identity" and to "create more tourism in upper Northwest Washington," festival organizers said at a news conference last week that they hoped to attract as many as 10,000 visitors.
But the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the park, has not issued a permit for the festival and has no plans to do so, according to Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley. "Fort Slocum Park is one area where we do not allow such activities," Alley said. "We feel that any activities in that area will have a great impact on the park and the residents living adjacent to the park."
The response from many of those who live around the park has been equally unequivocal.
"We don't want debris in this area," said Evelyn Johnson, a longtime resident of the neighborhood. "We want to keep our yards clean. This isn't a commercial area, but a totally residential area. There will be undesirable persons coming to the neighborhood and there will be theft and so forth."
Members of the Concerned Citizens Caucus met late yesterday afternoon to discuss possible alternatives to the Fort Slocum Park location. "The festival will be held on Saturday as scheduled," said Betsy Tibbs, the organization's president. "We are planning to have the community festival at an alternative area." She said several alternative sites are under consideration, but a final decision had not been made.
Tibbs said neighbors opposed to the festival were "misinformed about the purpose of the event." She said that her group had never received official notice from the Park Service that its application for a permit had been rejected.
According to Lawrence J. Lewis Jr., president of Progressive Neighbors, a local community organization, residents in the Fort Slocum Park area only became aware of the plans for the festival when a woman came to the neighborhood last month asking people to sign a petition to close the streets surrounding the park on the day of the festival.
Concerned that there had been no community involvement in the planning of the festival and worried when calls to the mayor's office elicited a denial of any involvement in the event, neighborhood leaders countered with a petition drive of their own, Lewis said, gathering a total of 495 signatures on a petition opposing the festival.
Meanwhile, Lewis said, signs and posters began to appear throughout the city advertising the festival as being cosponsored by the D.C. Concerned Citizens Caucus Inc. and the Mayor's Committee to Promote Washington.
"Both the information that the coming festival is the mayor's festival and the mayor's committtee is cosponsoring it are absolutely and completely wrong," said Emily Durso, staff director for the Mayor's Committee to Promote Washington D.C. "We have asked them repeatedly to stop using the signs."
She said the mayor's committee gave the community organization a $2,500 grant to help promote the event. More than 30 groups have received such grants, she said.
Yesterday the city denied a permit to close the streets after police from the 4th District's community relations section determined that only 30 percent of the residents in the neighborhood surrounding the park approved of the idea, according to Clifton Posey, an administrative aide to the mayor.