- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2012

Score one for Costco, but there’s push back from Ward 5 on the District’s streetcar project.

They, their neighbors and other stakeholders appear to be ready to rumble with city hall on several fronts now that their former D.C. Council member, Harry Thomas Jr., has reported to a federal prison for stealing government money and their new one, Kenyan McDuffie, is seated in his place.

Their message: Ask and do tell.

Theirs is not a classic NIMBY argument because there are projects, such as the incoming Costco and other retail and housing prospects, that they want moving into their backyard.

But Ward 5 has long been considered the dumping ground for unattractive commercial and city development - sex-oriented clubs; homegrown marijuana projects; school bus, tour bus and Metrobus depots; and homeless shelters. Now they are simply as angry as the dickens and not going to be pushed around anymore.

For example, Costco needed residents’ approval for a liquor license, which had been in safekeeping by D.C. government since 2005, and on Saturday, facing a den of residents at a communitywide meeting, the retail giant received a thumbs up from Fort Lincoln residents.

Residents also will soon have their say on whether Costco will build a 16-pump gas station, employ its neighbors and grant other concessions.

But before that, the Ward 5 community and other stakeholders will lend their voices to an illogical proposal from city hall to build a trolley barn and training site near an educational compound at 26th Street and Benning Road in Northeast.

In an email to me on the issue, Terry Bellamy, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, stated his claim this way: “Ultimately, this project is about providing better transit service for the residents living in the area and those who wish to patronize the businesses along the [H Street/Benning Road] route. At the same time, we’re creating training opportunities for students that will prepare them for long-term careers in transit, working with electric-vehicle technology in the District’s modern streetcar system. We’re excited to get started on this completion phase.”

In a very wise move, Mr. McDuffie, a Democrat, has called for an emergency community meeting on the proposed car-barn location at the Spingarn campus.

The decision to build the facility was made while Thomas was pondering his legal matters and was not presented to the public until after he had resigned, which means Ward 5 had no legislative voice in the decision-making or vetting process.

Also, while DDOT did attempt to vet the pros and cons regarding the Spingarn site in April, Mr. Bellamy and his decision-makers failed to seek on-the-record approval from the ANCs that would be the most impacted. So here again, the voices of homeowners and other residents who live in the area were stifled.

The website www.dcstreetcar.com lays out several arguments for and against several possible sites, including the old Pepco site and RFK site, both of which straddle Benning Road. It also includes a location on the western end of the streetcar line near Union Station.

But DDOT’s arguments against those sites are lame and appear to be posited in shortsighted reasoning.

For example, you needn’t be a transportation planner or engineer to know that in the long run, proximity to Union Station is the best fit.

The city’s chief intermodal transportation center, Union Station already is home to Amtrak and high-speed commuter trains, Metrobus and rail, privately operated tour buses, rental car pickup and drop-offs, easy taxi services and retail and food establishments. In addition, placing a terminus there would situate riders within walking distance of Capitol Hill.

And what’s truly interesting is that D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is already on record saying he wants the H Street/Benning Road line to cross the so-called “Hopscotch Bridge” on H Street and roll the streetcars into downtown Washington.

As things now stand, DDOT’s chief arguments against sites other than Spingarn are trumped up, as they are either tied to rising costs or land-ownership issues, highlighting the fact that the agency - and, ultimately, the mayor and the council - have yet to envision the long-term potential of streetcar lines, perhaps focusing a bit too closely on ribbon-cuttings and other hip-hip hoorays they want to take place in 2013.

Stakeholders interested in DDOT’s points of view can view them on the DC Streetcar website. Phoney baloney survey results are accessible there as well.

The website provides residents plenty of ammunition for Monday’s meeting, which, as Mr. McDuffie pointed out, is worthy of being labeled an “emergency.”

The streetcars are not yet in the station, giving residents and other stakeholders several opportunities to voice their displeasure or question certain aspects of the project, just as they are doing with Costco.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmonsatwashingtontimes.com.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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