D.C. government planning officials this week asked the City Council to extend the deadline for the long-awaited ward plans, raising the question of whether the council wants to begin struggling with the controversial plans before or after primary elections are held in September.
City Planning Director Fred L. Greene requested a six-month extension on the March 16 deadline for handing drafts of the ward plans to the council, saying that the complex citizens' planning effort is taking longer than expected. Citizen groups from across the city, however, asked instead that the council allow only a three-month extension, saying that they want the ward plans drawn up in time for candidates to take positions on them before the primaries on Sept. 9. Mayor Marion Barry and seven of the 13 council members, including Chairman David A. Clarke, are up for re-election this fall.
"Land use is a political decision in all jurisdictions, from the way cities are shaped to the way politicians received their campaign money," said Richard Wolf, a member of the Ward 6 Citizens Advisory Committee, one of the groups set up by the planning department to develop the proposals. "To take it out of the political process as Greene's schedule suggests does a disservice to home rule."
Representatives from the advisory committees for Wards 1, 3, 5 and 6 requested only three-month extensions, as did the Citizens Planning Coalition, the Committee of 100 for the Federal City and the D.C. League of Women Voters. The chairman of the Ward 7 committee said his group supports the six-month extension. The Ward 2 and Ward 8 committees were not represented at the hearing.
"We would prefer candidates go on the record with their views on the ward plans before the primary this fall," said Lisa Koteen, chairman of the Ward 3 group. "The planning process has an impact on other ongoing issues, and we would like to know their positions."
When the City Council passed the land-use element of the comprehensive plan in December 1984, the council included four generalized maps and ordered Barry and the city planning staff to complete "detailed" plans for each ward within one year. The law went into effect after the 30-day congressional waiting period, and the deadline was set for March 16.
Now, 14 months after the bill was passed by the council, Greene said his office has just started the process and needs more time to produce the ward plans. Residents, business officials and other community leaders were appointed to community advisory committees to work on the ward plans in November, nine months after the council's order to get the ward plans done in a year went into effect. Greene said that the advisory committees have met only twice and that it would be "almost impossible" for his office to produce ward plans by the original deadline.
Clarke sharply attacked Greene for his "foot-dragging" on the ward plans, saying that delay in appointing the committees and in hiring a consultant to work with the groups and a proposal by Greene to convert one of the ward planning positions in his office to a public affairs officer amounted to a record "that does not show to me diligent effort to provide the draft ward plans within one year."
Other council members also vented their wrath at Greene, including Hilda Mason, Frank Smith Jr., Carol Schwartz and Betty Ann Kane.
"I get the feeling the ward plans came as a surprise to you," said Kane, who questioned Greene about the amount of staff time spent on the ward plans during the past year. Smith said he was "distressed" that the planning office had spent $250,000 on ward planning and so far had produced little. Other members criticized Greene for asking the committees to develop ward plans from scratch, rather than from preliminary drafts as other jurisdictions have done.
Greene defended his management of the ward plans, saying that he believes it is important to involve the citizens at the beginning of the planning process. He said his plan was to give the committees information on their wards, then have them draft an outline of priorities and goals. The draft narratives then would be submitted to the planning office to be used as advisory documents in drafting a more detailed narrative plan.
The planning office's draft would go back to the citizen groups for comment before a final version would be written. Then the committees would be asked to draw maps to implement the plans, which would be sent to the planning office, Greene said. Again, the planning office would use those maps only as advice, and prepare yet another set of maps, which also would be submitted to the committees for comment. Then the entire package of plans and maps would be submitted to the City Council and made public.
After the ward plans are submitted to the council, the planning office must hold hearings on them. The council would hold additional hearings on the proposed plans before adopting them.
Greene argued for the six-month extension by saying his office would be forced to cut short the citizen groups' participation if a three-month extension were passed.
Clarke would not say if he favors the three- or six-month extension or if he even would move the bill from his Committee of the Whole, which heard the request, to the council for a vote. If he does, a vote could come within the next few weeks.