Residents in Langdon Park have long worried about the balance between residential and industrial land in their Northeast Washington neighborhood.
Their concerns intensified several months ago when they learned that the city plans to lease three neighborhood properties within a half mile of one another to store fleets of city trucks, emergency vehicles and ambulances.
The local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) wasn’t given the 30-day notice required by D.C. law — which officials admit was “an oversight” — and now residents, worried about noise, safety and the environmental impact, are pushing D.C. officials for an alternative plan.
“It seems like the city doesn’t care about us,” said Shaina Ward, who has lived in Langdon Park since 2014.
The neighborhood in Ward 5 is made up largely of detached single-family homes with pockets of industrial space. As vacant warehouses have been replaced by loft apartments in other parts of the city that have gentrified, Langdon Park has remained largely the same.
“The places that were warehouses are still warehouses, and now the city is bringing in more industrial facilities,” said Ward, whose house backs up to 2424 Evarts St. NE, where the city is planning to build administrative offices and store 90 Department of Parks and Recreation vehicles.
Conversation about the future of industrial space in Ward 5 — which contains about half of the city’s industrially zoned land — should “begin and end with the community,” said D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), whose ward includes Langdon Park.
“That didn’t happen this time,” he added.
A half mile away from the Evarts Street site, the city also has leased 33,113 square feet at 2130 Queens Chapel Rd. NE, across from nightclubs Echostage and Stadium Club, for the D.C. Department of Corrections administrative offices and parking for 58 fleet vehicles.
Neither McDuffie nor the local ANCs were notified by the city about the lease agreements for 2424 Evarts St. and 2130 Queens Chapel Rd., which were sent by the mayor’s office to the D.C. Council secretary last year. Because no member of the council introduced a resolution to approve or disapprove the proposed contracts, they were automatically approved 10 days after they were received.
This spring, McDuffie learned about a third proposed city contract in Langdon Park — at 2215 and 2219 Adams Pl. NE, one building over from 2130 Queens Chapel Rd., where the city planned to build a facility where the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department could prepare trucks and ambulances for service and dismantle vehicles no longer in use. McDuffie introduced a resolution to disapprove the contract, and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s office withdrew the lease agreement.
Bowser’s office is responsible for engaging the council and local ANCs around lease agreements and other issues that directly affect neighbors, McDuffie said.
“There is a recognition that sort of engagement didn’t happen,” McDuffie said. “Now you have two contracts that have already been passively approved, so what does that mean for the community? That’s a question I’ve posed and that I would like to be answered.”
The neighborhood became aware of the city’s plans this spring when Ward’s neighbor, Jeremy Wilcox, noticed workers on the roof of the long-vacant building at 2424 Evarts St., which backs up to an alley running behind his home. Wilcox, the father of a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, asked local ANC Commissioner Kevin Mullone what was moving in.
Neither Mullone nor his fellow ANC commissioners had been notified that the space, a former youth development center, had been leased. Mullone turned to Google and learned that the city planned to lease the lot for 10 years, beginning in January, to store Department of Parks and Recreation vehicles.
The 90 vehicles are currently parked on District-owned property at 1325 S St. NW, off the bustling 14th Street strip, which the city has decided to develop given its “commercially desirable location and market value,” according to a letter sent by Bowser’s office to the D.C. Council.
“That line about commercial desirability really rubs a lot of neighbors the wrong way,” said Wilcox, who has lived in Langdon Park for five years. “It’s like the city is telling us we’re undesirable. We are a dumping ground — Ward 5 is a dumping ground.”
City Administrator Rashad Young said the fact that the Department of General Services approved the lease without input from residents was an “oversight.”
“We certainly would never intend not to engage residents,” said Young, who was appointed by Bowser. “It was an oversight by the agency that oversees the city leases.”
Still, the District intends to go ahead with its plans to store the vehicles on Evarts Street and wants to meet with residents to “explain our need for the space and what our processes were in selecting space to lease,” Young said, although no meeting is scheduled.
Greer Gillis, director for the Department of General Services, said in a statement Friday that the department plans to “launch an ANC Notification webpage to ensure residents receive timely notification of changes to properties in their neighborhood.”
Fifteen percent of the land in Ward 5 — 1,030 acres — is zoned for industrial use. Some of that land is controlled by the District, and some is privately owned and used for auto shops, paint shops, and recycling and trash facilities.
“Our neighborhood is already burdened with heavy vehicles moving through it,” Wilcox said. “The [S Street] area where the fleet is now is already so busy that it’s not a burden there. I don’t understand why the city would move it just to make money.”
Local ANC commissioners passed a resolution in opposition to the city’s leases for the Evarts Street, Queens Chapel Road and Adams Place sites at an emergency meeting Thursday, and Ward said residents are considering filing a lawsuit against the city for failure to notify residents about their plans.
Construction has already started on the properties at 2424 Evarts St. and 2130 Queens Chapel Rd., and residents say they’re worried it’s too late to stop the projects.
“They are trying to run the clock out on us,” Ward said.
Betty Colson, who has lived in Langdon Park since 1999, said she’s scared of the large trucks that already drive through her neighborhood, and she doesn’t want more.
“It’s not right, and it’s not fair,” said Colson, who spoke at the ANC meeting Thursday night.
“Treat me like I live in Northwest,” she added, looking at a representative from Bowser’s office who attended the meeting but declined to comment. “My tax dollars are just as good as theirs — I just don’t make as much.”
The neighborhood feels left behind as other parts of the city, from the Southwest Waterfront to Navy Yard SE, see their former warehouse spaces and empty lots converted to housing and retail, Mullone said.
“There is so much potential here that’s not being realized,” he added.
“Off the Beaten Track,” a renovated historic warehouse in Langdon Park that includes artists’ work spaces and a pottery studio, is an example of updating industrial space in a way that benefits the community, Mullone said.
Creativity is vital when considering the future of Ward 5’s industrial land, McDuffie said.
He doesn’t want to rezone that land — “every city needs some industrial land, and D.C. is no different” — but he does want to get “more creative and innovative” in terms of how it is used.
The city should recruit breweries, distilleries, tech companies and other environmentally friendly businesses to Ward 5, he said.
He released a five-year strategic plan, titled “Ward 5 Works,” in 2013 with then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray, which focused on how to invest the city’s resources to make Ward 5’s industrial spaces safer, cleaner and more accessible. But under Bowser, no action has been taken to move the plan forward, he said.
“The question is how do you strike the appropriate balance between residential land and industrial land,” McDuffie said. “That question wasn’t asked by the executive in trying to contract out these facilities. That question should always be asked first.”