When the D.C. City Council passed the land-use element of the comprehensive plan last December, the council included four generalized maps and ordered Mayor Marion Barry and the city planning staff to complete "detailed" plans for each ward within one year.
City planning officials told a meeting of citizens groups this week, however, that the city has interpreted the council's charge as requiring ward plans that are only slightly more detailed than the four general maps and that would serve as "guidance" rather than specific statements of the kinds of zoning and land use that could be developed on each block. City officials also said that the ward plans will be pulled together by community advisory committees for each ward. The mayor would appoint these committees, drawing from nominations by civic, merchant and developer groups.
"The ward plans will not be a detailed lot-by-lot depiction of land uses that is cast in concrete forever and ever . . . and they will not be a substitute for zoning," said Raymond A. Skinner, chief of area planning for the city planning office. He said the city had not even decided yet if there would be maps of the ward plans, though it was "likely" there would be.
The ward plans "will build on the general policies in the comprehensive plan, provide ward- and neighborhood-level interpretations of the plan and . . . provide guidance in [land] uses and intensity [of development] to the zoning commission," said Skinner. "What can they be used for? They can be helpful to the private sector as an [outline] of public policy . . . and used to guide location of future city capital improvements."
City residents at the meeting, which was organized by the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, the D.C. League of Women Voters, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, and the Citizens Planning Coalition, protested the city's approach to the ward plans, complaining that another generalized policy document would not meet the city's need for a specific comprehensive plan.
"The ward plans have got to be more specific and not just policy guidance to the zoning commission because the zoning commission is not responsible to anybody but the mayor," said Richard Wolf, a member of both the Citizens Planning Coalition and the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. "The ward plans must also be enacted into law, which is something the city council must face. The decision is up to them."
"We were told during the comprehensive plan process that zoning would be affected by the ward plans, and now we're told it won't," said Richard SoWell, a Ward 5 resident and member of the Citizens Planning Coalition.
Curtis McClinton Jr., deputy mayor for economic development, said it was "important that we [the city] are sensitive, conscious, and knowledgeable that this process is important," but citizens at the meeting said they felt that, instead of being sensitive, the city was proposing a ward planning process that was being directed "from the top down, rather than from the bottom up."
Skinner said that the community advisory committees would be appointed by the mayor from a selection of names nominated by local institutions, civic and business groups in each ward, and would include representatives from the local advisory neighborhood commissions and the development community. The advisory committees would review and comment on draft plans, help the city planning staff with the logistics of setting up meetings and getting notices to ward residents, and help "build a consensus" for each ward plan.
McClinton said he thought it was important that the city "not forget about the private sector as we move to implement the comprehensive plan." He said he envisaged the community advisory committees as "neighborhood partnerships," similar to the group that is working with the city on proposals for the old commercial downtown. That group is made up primarily of developers, landowners and merchants working with the city planning staff, and does not include civic or historic preservation groups active in the area.
Citizens at the meeting last night said they were concerned that the mayor's framework for the advisory committees could allow developers and landowners to dominate the process, and that they wanted to name their own representatives to the committees.
"There is going to have to be a meeting of the minds on how this is going to be organized," said Wolf. "Several wards have already set up committees to work on the ward plans, and we need to know if they are going to be involved."
Other residents complained that the time frame for getting the ward plans done would leave little time for adequate citizen input.
"The one-year deadline is a ridiculous time frame," said George Colyer, chief of comprehensive planning for Alexandria. "It is important that the process is not rushed. You need more than two-month turnarounds for citizens to be able to review documents."
Council member Betty Ann Kane told the group she believes it is important that the ward plans become part of the law and "do not end up as some appendix to the law." She also said ward residents should be allowed to name their own representatives to the community advisory committees and that she would introduce legislation at the next session to change the process so that they would be allowed to do so.
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke was noncommittal about supporting an effort to have the ward plans enacted as law, although he did say he thought the Citizens Planning Coalition had "won pretty big" on demands it made last year to have money set aside for a city planner for each ward and for the fact that the plan was passed at all.
"If you don't like an idea that's in the plan now, you'll have to fight to change it," said Clarke. "But the good news is that that is also true for everyone else."