The D.C. City Council rejected a request this week from Mayor Marion Barry to delay the city's ward planning deadline for six months, opting instead for a three-month extension that was supported by several citizen organizations.
The deadline for the preliminary ward plan reports, now set for June 16, had been scheduled to expire tomorrow.
Citizen groups involved in the ward planning process, who only a few months ago were seeking additional time to complete their reports, lobbied hard for the shorter extension so the ward plans could be completed before the Sept. 9 primary elections and candidates could be pressured into taking stands on planning issues in each ward.
Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who introduced the emergency legislation, charged that Barry's administration had not worked fast enough to complete the planning process, which was under a one-year deadline when approved by the City Council last March.
"The mayor has had a year . . . and not much work has been done," Clarke said.
But Barry, in a letter to Clarke earlier this month, said, "We have worked diligently to complete the ward draft plans within the one-year deadline." The mayor acknowledged, however, that the eight months it took to appoint members to the board planning committees was "more time than I anticipated."
The ward planning process will shape the city's development over the next five to 10 years in a variety of ways, including the location of housing and public facilities, land use, transportation, economic development and historic preservation. Various areas are being studied by citizen advisory committees of 40 to 50 residents and business leaders from each of the city's eight wards.
The rejection of the six-month deadline in favor of the shorter timetable drew sharp criticism from D.C. planning director Fred Greene, who said the planning process "has been ambushed" by the city council.
"It will not be a better end product" due to the shorter time period, Greene said. Greene, whose office is coordinating the ward plans, said the council's 90-day extension creates "a very tight schedule" that will limit citizen participation.
Greene said the shorter extension will force him to cancel plans that would have allowed the ward groups to submit preliminary draft reports before their final proposals are sent to Barry.
But others directly involved in the development of the ward plans praised the shorter time period approved by the council.
Lisa Koteen, chairman of Ward 3's planning committee, said the three-month extension "is sufficient time" for the ward planners to complete their recommendations. She added that the six-month delay "would have allowed everybody to sit back and take it easy."
Koteen, along with representatives from several other civic organizations, testified three weeks ago before a council committee in support of the shorter, 90-day extension. Those groups, which include four of the eight ward planning committees, argued that the longer extension sought by Barry would have delayed submission of the plan until after the September primaries, when Barry, Clarke and six council members face reelection.
Most chairmen of the ward groups, which are made up of a powerful cross-section of community and business leaders, have said they wanted their ward plans presented publicly before the primaries, when they feel their recommendations can have the most political clout.
With the draft plans now due in June, "Candidates can take their positions on the recommendations and everybody will know exactly where they stand," Koteen said.
But Greene denied that the upcoming elections would affect the ward planning process. "It's not going to pressure us," he said. "It's a technical process, not a political one."
Herbert Boyd, chairman of Ward 7's planning committee and a supporter of Barry's six-month extension at the committee hearing last month, said that the longer timetable would have permitted additional public hearings. He added, however, that the extra three months "is quite enough. Our work will be done in three months."
Barry is required to hold public hearings in all eight city wards within 30 days after the ward reports are submitted on June 16. Final planning recommendations will then be forwarded to the council, which then must grapple with what will be the legal role of the ward plans.