When the master plan for Fort Lincoln was created 20 years ago during the heyday of the Great Society programs, it was designed to be the model new town, complete with high-density housing, parks, schools, shopping malls, monorails and offices.
Development of the new town faltered even before it got off the ground, however, largely because federal agencies that had promised grants and special programs failed to deliver. And while the master plan has gradually been altered over the years to accommodate the changing economics of the housing market, little has been done to bring back to Fort Lincoln the comprehensive planning approach first used for the 360-acre site.
Now, with only a small portion of Fort Lincoln developed, the developer is asking for a rezoning that would allow industrial use on the new town site for the first time, raising concerns among Fort Lincoln residents that the change could set a precedent for unpleasant development of the rest of the property.
A proposal to alter the master plan by eliminating the three community malls, two of the three elementary schools and by adding a light industrial use to the allowable zoning for one parcel on the site already has been approved by the National Capital Planning Commission and forwarded to the City Council.
Site-specific zoning changes on two parcels at Fort Lincoln, which have been proposed in addition to the master plan changes and would lock in the industrial use, were taken up by the D.C. Zoning Commission last week, and while the residents said they supported bringing industrial development of limited scope to the new town, they said they were concerned that the city was laying the groundwork for plans to locate a school bus maintenance facility for 500 vehicles on the site.
The Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., the developer of Fort Lincoln, requested a zoning change from residential to low-bulk commercial light manufacturing (CM1) for a corner of Fort Lincoln that lies south of New York Avenue and east of South Dakota Avenue.
The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, which made the request on behalf of the developer, said the rezoning was needed for development of a bus maintenance facility for the Trailways bus company.
Because the site is split from the main part of Fort Lincoln by New York Avenue, said Ralph Taylor, vice president of Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., it could be developed for light industrial use without hurting the residential areas of the development. An environmental impact study done by the D.C. Department of Public Works showed that the 55 vehicles Trailways planned to bring in and out of the site on a daily basis would have little effect on the surrounding community.
Taylor said during questioning, however, that Trailways was reconsidering the Fort Lincoln site, mainly because of delays by the city in cleaning up sludge from the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Center dumped there last year.
When Zoning Commission Vice Chairman Lindsley Williams asked why Fort Lincoln New Town Corp. was still requesting the zoning change if Trailways had backed out, Lawrence S. Press, chairman of planning and marketing for the D.C. housing department, said he thought that if the zoning commission rezoned the parcel it might indicate the city was serious about helping Trailways locate its facility there.
Lloyd Smith, chairman of the Fort Lincoln Civic Association's planning and zoning committee, told the commission that the city has included in its new capital improvement proposal for the schools a project that involves converting the underused Fort Lincoln elementary school into a vehicle maintenance facility that would house 500 buses, trucks, vans and security vehicles.
"If this project is approved, we should . . . rename Fort Lincoln the 'D.C. Garage and Industrial Park for homeless vehicles and undesirable uses,' " Smith said. "Since Fort Lincoln is the largest city-owned development site in the city, we are now fair game for uses that sites cannot be located for, or simply put, a dumping ground for unwanted projects."
Press and D.C. Office of Planning staff at the hearing said they had not heard of the school bus facility plan before Fort Lincoln residents questioned them about it last week. Press said that the topography of the school site would make it "nearly impossible" to locate a bus maintenance facility there and that the City Council would never approve one because it was so close to houses. During a recent meeting of the NCPC, however, city budget officials confirmed the plan to convert the school into a bus maintenance facility at a cost of $3.5 million. The project is proposed for construction in 1988.
At the beginning of the hearing it was unclear if there was any connection between the school bus facility and the Trailways facility, but later in the hearing some zoning commission members said they wondered if the two proposals could be linked.
The rezoning being requested by the Fort Lincoln New Town Corp. for the site south of New York Avenue normally would allow a group of alternative uses under the CM1 zoning category, in case Trailways decided not to locate there.
But because Fort Lincoln operates under a master plan -- technically an urban renewal plan -- the site could only be developed according to what the master plan allowed. And one of the master plan changes already adopted by the NCPC and now before the City Council would limit use of the site to a bus maintenance facility.
"If Trailways is not going to use this site and we rezone it CM1 so that the only thing that can be built here is a bus maintenance facility and the city has plans for a school bus maintenance facility, doesn't that begin to add up?" questioned Williams. "I'm not prepared to vote for the CM1 change until we get word from Trailways as to their real intentions,"he said.
Of concern to the zoning commission was the possibility that by approving the zoning change the commission would lose control over what uses could be put on the site.
"Some other CM1 use could come in here if the city council and the NCPC agree to alter the urban renewal plan," said Williams. "I don't want to turn over our responsibility on this site to the city council and the NCPC."
Smith, and other Ft. Lincoln residents, say they are angered by the city's "piecemeal" zoning approach for Ft. Lincoln and claim that the school bus facility idea "is just another example of the kind of things that happen when you plan piece by piece."
"If the Department of Housing didn't know about this, and the Office of Planning didn't know about it, who did?" said Smith. "Who's doing the planning for this city, the planning staff or the schools?"
The zoning commission voted 4-to-0 to rezone a residential section of the development from high-density residential to a lower density townhouse category but they agreed to leave the record open on the CM1 rezoning until they get word from Trailways that they are serious about locating their facility there.