The Oct. 18 agreement between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Foggy Bottom community has put to rest long-simmering controversies over the relocation of Western Presbyterian Church, but has raised new questions. The IMF gets an alley near 19th and H Streets NW closed so it can continue with its office-building program, and community activists get $346,000 to establish a feeding program for homeless people. But did the neighborhood need to settle? And will future alley-closing cases also lead develop
“There was heavy pressure on us to settle,” says Foggy Bottom leader Barbara Kahlow, because D.C. City Council Chairman Dave Clarke supported the closing and the IMF’s suit to force the city to close the alley would have gone to Judge Stanley Sporkin. The judge had already ruled against the neighborhood in the related case of Western Presbyterian’s feeding program, which the church had moved with it from the 19th and H location it sold to the IMF to its new home near the Watergate. Residents objected to the program being relocated from an office area to a residential neighborhood, but Sporkin allowed the move.
Kahlow admits, however, that she didn’t canvass the council to see if Foggy Bottom had the votes to stop the alley closing. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who was prepared to oppose the closing as long as his constituents did, says the council would have voted against the IMF.
Evans worries that a bad precedent has been set. Since the IMF got its way, albeit at higher financial cost than it originally expected, other developers may also take the city to court to demand alley closings. “Once you cave in to these guys, they’ll use it again and again,” Evans says he told Clarke, who could not be reached for comment.
The agreement was “the best we could get,” says Kahlow. It will allow the community to buy a food-service van and provide a mobile feeding program in the area around the IMF, thus perhaps decreasing the number of homeless people congregating in residential areas. The unstated goal is to render unnecessary Western Presbyterian’s program.
No wonder Western Presbyterian pastor the Rev. John Wimberly Jr., who led the fight to permit his church’s feeding program, calls the van plan “a waste of money.” The settlement could have been used, he argues, to create lower- income housing rather than set up another feeding program so close to Western’s.
Big Law on Campus Ward 3 Councilmember Jim Nathanson has supported residents in their battles against expanding universities, most notably American University. On Oct. 18, however, he introduced an amendment to weaken a passage added to the city’s Comprehensive Plan just a few months ago. The addition to the plan would have banned the city from issuing building and occupancy permits to a university that violates its campus plan. The new language merely requires the institution to submit plans for nonconforming projects to the Board of Zoning Adjustment for approval as a campus-plan amendment.
“This destroys the entire effect of the change,” says Chuck Ruttenberg, president of American University Park Citizens Association. “I’m puzzled as to his motivation, but I wish we had at least had advance notice of what he was doing.”
The lame-duck councilmember shrugged off his failure to consult his constituents, saying that he decided that the ban on all permits went too far. “Upon reflection, I thought it was [legally] challengeable,” he says, “and as a responsible guy I decided to change it.”