The D.C. government officially unveiled its long-awaited land use plan for the city for the next 20 years yesterday, but quickly found developers and citizen activists attacking it as too specific, too vague or just plain wrong.
The land use plan, the first ever for the District, attempts with a 19-page written description and four multicolored maps to lay out what the nation's capital and its diverse neighborhoods should look like at the turn of the 21st century.
An earlier version of the plan proved so controversial that the City Council delayed consideration of it last January, while at the time adopting other portions of an overall comprehensive plan for the District. The new land use plan is more detailed in some respects and less so in other ways, but yesterday it did not appear to be more popular.
One of the plan's architects, D.C. planning director Fred L. Greene, admitted as much in his opening statement yesterday at the first of two days of City Council hearings on the proposal.
"What we have prepared," he said, "is not going to satisfy everyone and I recognize this situation. If it did, I am afraid that one might conclude that we have prepared this element by simply acceding to the competing demands of the city's community of interests."
Lawyers for several developers and officials of the Greater Washington Board of Trade complained at the hearing that the plan does not do enough to promote commercial and industrial development in the District. At the same time, some of the business interests said the plan was too specific in setting limits on residential construction, and thus might limit construction of the combination commercial-residential complexes that developers often favor.
Michael A. Cain, an attorney for the law firm of Linowes and Blocher, which often represents developers, said the plan has "an undue emphasis on the protection of residential neighborhoods and an overly restrictive treatment of commercial areas and uses."
By contrast, several citizen activists told the handful of council members who wandered in and out of the hearing that the plan provides scant assistance in helping them protect their neighborhoods against unwanted commercial development.
"What the mayor is submitting is a nightmare," declared John Woodson, representing the Northeast Boundary Civic Association. "No plan is better than a bad plan. Let him listen to the citizens instead of the developers."
But both the business and citizen activists agreed that the maps in some cases did not portray reality, erroneously listing residential development where stores and offices already exist.
The plan calls for the designation of so-called "enhancement areas" requiring "public intervention focused on specific problems," as well as "redirection areas" to solve housing and economic development problems in the city's "most physically distressed areas." It also calls for the creation of "development opportunity areas," such as at Metro subway stops, where more commercial ventures should be encouraged.
"The text is so soft," said council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), "that you can make it anything you want. It's open to all kinds of interpretation."
But Greene said the citywide plan has been purposefully left somewhat vague in anticipation that more specific plans will be drafted in the next year for each of the District's eight wards. In the meantime, Council Chairman David A. Clarke said he hopes the council will vote on the citywide plan by the end of the year.