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D.C. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning departs for HUD

Harriet Tregoning, who helped reshape Washington as a more pedestrian-friendly and environmentally sustainable city during more than seven years as its planning director, informed D.C. officials this morning that she had accepted a job at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In an interview, Tregoning said that although details are being finalized she expects to become director of HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. With less than three years remaining in President Obama’s second term, she wanted a chance to work with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

“I’m going to be working with Shaun Donovan, who is someone who is a great guy and we’ve talked a number of times about working together. If I’m going to work for the Obama administration this is probably my last opportunity to do that,” she said.

The HUD job will provide her a platform for connecting housing to jobs, fostering innovation and boosting green energy, priorities of hers working for D.C. and before that for the State of Maryland.

“It is about working with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, across different agencies in government to bring about the kinds of changes and improvements in cities that I’ve been working on here,” she said.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who retained Tregoning after she was first hired by Mayor Adrian Fenty, issued a statement thanking her for her service. The news was reported earlier Tuesday by the DCist Web site.

“I’d like to thank Harriet for her dedicated service to the District and its residents,” Gray said. “She has worked tirelessly to help the District grow responsibly and become a thriving, more sustainable city.  In recruiting her, President Obama and Secretary Donovan have demonstrated a keen eye for talent.  Although she will be missed, I look forward to working with her in her new role.”

An avid smart growth activist who frequently arrived at meetings on her folding bicycle or by city bus, Tregoning reshaped the city’s streetscape to be more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. She pushed construction of the city’s planned streetcar system, the creation of bike lanes, construction of housing in downtown office canyons and inclusion of retail on the ground floors of buildings.

Tregoning drew the ire of many city residents, however, in trying to reduce car usage and scale back parking in areas near public transit. She also worked aggressively to change the Height Act, a federal limit on the height of buildings in the city. The effort divided city residents but ultimately failed after a narrow vote at the National Capital Planning Commission in November.

Did the vote factor into her choice to leave the D.C. government? “Absolutely not,” she said.

“In some cases a proposed change can really re-open dialogue and really re-open discussion and I think that’s what happened there,” she said.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D) said despite the reports that Tregoning was in the running for the job to be planning director for New York York Mayor Bill de Blasio, he was surprised that she was departing. “I didn’t realize she was actually looking to leave,” he said.

Mendelson clashed with Tregoning over proposed Height Act changes but worked closely with her on other matters, including neighborhood plans and an ongoing overhaul of the city zoning code.  He said she earned good marks overall.

“While she has been frustrating to many residents, I think overall she’s been an excellent planning director,” he said, adding that the planning office’s “professionalism has continued to improve.”

Staff writer Mike DeBonis contributed to this article.

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