- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Metro is considering a development proposal than would cram 118 town houses onto part of the Brookland station, causing alarm from neighborhood leaders over the project and the "secretive" way it is being planned.

Arlington, Va., developer Eakin/ Youngentob Associates Inc. has submitted a "final" $2.8 million bid to build the row houses on a 4.5-acre parcel within the current Metro property, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

The D.C. Office of Planning is working as an intermediary between the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and the community to receive comments.

Neighborhood leaders and residents plan to question WMATA and city officials at a meeting tonight from 6 to 7 at St. Anthony's Church at 12th and Monroe streets NE.

Neighborhood leaders learned of the plan only after a draft was leaked to them. They have raised objections about a lack of notification for community hearings, officials withholding details of the project, and problematic impact of the development itself.

When residents asked about the plan, WMATA and city officials told them they could not reveal any details about the development, said Darcy Flynn, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Brookland.

"It's troubling you've got a quasigovernmental agency [WMATA] who is able to enlist the Office of Planning in a way no private citizen would be able to," Mr. Flynn said.

The D.C. Office of Planning's task is not "to go out and provide advice at taxpayers' expense on community feedback, for a secret project without triggering any kind of notice requirement," Mr. Flynn said.

WMATA and city officials said yesterday they each will hold public hearings if WMATA's board of directors votes to go ahead with the project.

They also said the way the proposal is being handled is routine.

But neighborhood leaders said a vote by WMATA's board essentially seals the deal, and any community impact comes after the fact.

They cite a similar development near the Takoma Park station involving the same developer.

Jessica Landman, a lawyer assisting a neighborhood group in Takoma Park, said WMATA's uses "a backwards process" for planning and community input.

"Community input should come before any concrete plan on a development," Ms. Landman said.

Derrick Woody, the D.C. Office of Planning official who is working on the project, said he held a public meeting in December to receive the community's input on development.

But that meeting on Dec. 10 was with the Brookland/Catholic University of America Neighborhood Improvement Partnership, an organization that has no formal role like the advisory neighborhood commissions.

"In no way could that be identified as a community meeting," said Mary Baird-Currie, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Brookland. "My concern was that there truly has not been any community involvement and/or participation in information."

Members of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission acknowledged that WMATA may be within the law about how it's handling information about the project, but they are still suspicious.

"We would like WMATA to give us the proposal and talk about it before they go forth with it as a done deal," said Ms. Baird-Currie.

"If WMATA's approach is to be more community friendly, even if they're not legally bound to do it, you're not doing it in a very effective way," said Mr. Flynn. "The process is too secretive, and the notification is not adequate."

"At this stage of the game, there ought to be a time where you can be more open about it," he added. "If you're taking the trouble to enlist the service of the Office of Planning to go out into the community and get their feelings, that seems to be the time to find out the feelings of the community. They should do that, instead of these nebulous questions like, 'What do you think of development?' when they have a specific proposal on the table."

Toby Millman of Eakin/Youngentob said if WMATA agrees on the proposal, "then we would engage the community in an intensive planning effort on the side."

"We have a very strong track record of working with community groups in D.C. and elsewhere," he said.

Mr. Millman also characterized the proposed development area as "a property we have some interest in, which is not very active."

"In my mind it's relatively far off for us to get into the process and develop the property," he said.

But the plan from Eakin/Youngentob, which Mr. Millman signed, contains a higher offer for the WMATA property and is a "final proposal," the plan states.


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