- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

D.C. Public Library system, in the process of delivering on age-old promises to renovate or reconstruct four of its branches, is confronting developers intent on changing its plans in favor of mixed-use designs at some of the sites.

D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, introduced a resolution June 17 to force the library system to allow developers to review and create plans to build the libraries in conjunction with “housing, retail and community space.”

“Mixed-use redevelopment will revitalize the libraries while using private money to spur the improvements,” he said.

But, at a hearing yesterday, Mr. Brazil, chairman of the council’s Committee on Economic Development, found little support for his bill. Officials with the District’s library system said the bill, if passed, would delay redevelopment of the four libraries.

“I’m opposed to any delay in the development of the four libraries” said Molly Raphael, director of the D.C. Public Library system.

In December, the public library system sent developers a request for proposals to reconstruct and renovate the Anacostia, Tenley-Friendship, Benning and Watha T. Daniels/Shaw branches.

Mrs. Raphael said the 15-year capital improvement plan to reconstruct all 27 branches in the District’s library system began in 2000. The project involving the four branches mentioned in Mr. Brazil’s resolution is about to begin, and the council is prepared to approve a contract for the redevelopment before its July 15 recess.

She is not opposed to mixed-use projects in the reconstruction of future library sites, but believes it is too late to go back to the drawing board when the library system is “so close to beginning the project.”

“The idea for mixed use came up at a community meeting in Ward 3 in October 2002, but no developers expressed interest in mixed use at the time,” Mrs. Raphael said.

Mrs. Raphael said she is in talks with the District’s Office of Planning and Economic Development to reconstruct the Parklands-Turner Community Library in Ward 8 and the R.L. Christian Community Library in Ward 7 as mixed-use sites.

Library trustee Alexander M. Padro said if the national economic downturn continues, a delay could erode the funding available to reconstruct the four libraries.

Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, agreed. “I support the project going forward. The community in Tenleytown has been working to get a new library for years now and my concern is if this bill passes we may never get a library,” she said.

Residents also are concerned that delaying reconstruction would have negative consequences.

“Our Advisory Neighborhood Commission considered this issue and voted that the contracting process [for the reconstruction] go forward,” said Catherine Wiss, commissioner of ANC-3F where the Tenley-Friendship library is located.

She said an idea proposed by the Ward 3 Citizens for Smart Growth to build a small coffee shop on the ground floor of the library and housing units in the above two floors didn’t get community support. But Miss Wiss said plans from a developer never materialized.

Officials from the city’s planning office said they favor mixed-use construction, but were not interested in halting the project unless there was community support.

Developer Rick Gersten, president of Blueprint Holdings, said he contacted the library system about mixed-use residential housing plans for the Anacostia branch last year but received a “lukewarm reception.”

Mixed-use options were not available on the [request for proposals, he said.

“No matter what the city decides, DCPL should be made to realize that the private sector can help,” Mr. Gersten said.

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