Since shuttering in 2004, the Benning Neighborhood Library lost its books and gained several battles between city officials and Northeast activists.
In 2006, the city introduced plans to transform the building into a mixed-use facility with the library, artists’ spaces, and apartments. Neighbors hated the idea.
Last June, when the city applied for a demolition permit, a group of activists again united in protest: They sued Mayor Adrian Fenty and several other District officials.
“If you see [the city] as misinformed motherfuckers, then you deal with them that way. But if you see them as dirty bastards who are taking something from you…and you start there, then you can get in a position where you can fight them,” one plaintiff, Rick Tingling-Clemmons, told the City Paper last July.
Interesting choice of phrasing—but ultimately not effective. A judge at first postponed the demo, but the city eventually got its way, tearing down the facility last October.
Still, activists believe they got something out of all the legal paperwork: In the ongoing clash of transparency and openness vs. the District of Columbia, the city has suffered a blow. According to an order issued by a judge in late December, the city failed to provide its plans and zoning changes within 30 days to the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Now, as the city considers moving the proposed library from its current location, it is required to provide a detailed explanation, says plaintiff and attorney Jane Zara.
“The big thing that needed to be enforced was the authority and the standing of the ANCs,” says Robin Diener, director of the Library Renaissance Project. “The library had never, in the history of DCPL, notified the ANCs.…It’s unfortunate we had to go to court to enforce that,” she says. “But we did.”