- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

More than 250 people signed up to testify Tuesday before a D.C. Council hearing on the mayor’s amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan, which regulates most development in the District — from the height of buildings to the number of residents who can live in certain areas.

With issues such as affordable housing and gentrification at stake, at least 273 people signed up to testify as witnesses — so many that Tuesday’s public hearing was expected to last until 4 a.m. Wednesday despite snow warnings, officials said.

The witnesses were largely divided along pro- and anti-development lines, with many on the anti side wearing white buttons that read “Stop the Comprehensive Scam” and arguing that the mayor’s amendments benefit developers over residents.

Sporting the white buttons were representatives of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a historic preservation group that has opposed various development projects in the District, most recently the D.C. Streetcar.

The group on Tuesday accused Mayor Muriel Bowser of changing some of the 20-year development plan’s definitions to be more vague in order to make it more difficult for residents to win appeals cases against the Zoning Commission, which the mayor appoints.

“The mayor has decided to side with developers who are frustrated with the fact that D.C. Court of Appeals has sent back Zoning Commission orders proving major development projects that have been challenged by citizens on the ground that they don’t comply with the Comprehensive Plan,” said Stephen Hansen, chairman of the Committee of 100. “In response, the mayor has submitted this bill.”

The mayor’s office is required to update the comprehensive plan every five years.

On the other side of the council chambers sat witnesses wearing yellow stickers that read “Support Affordable Market & New Housing.” Prominent among them was Greater Greater Washington, a pro-development advocacy nonprofit whose members argued that having a higher bar for winning appeals against the Zoning Commission better serves neighborhoods.

“Communities should have robust opportunity to weigh in on changes that affect them. However, we also need a process where, after due consultation, a decision can be made and a process can move forward,” said David Alpert, founder of Greater Greater Washington.

“We need to address the legal questions that have left thousands of homes and affordable homes stuck in a courtroom,” said David Whitehead, the group’s housing program organizer.

Witnesses on both sides of the room agreed that the comprehensive plan amendments need a greater emphasis on displacement, which is mentioned in only two sentences of the 60-page document.

The D.C. Office of Planning in January released the proposed amendments, which cover only the plan’s introduction section.

“We have to make sure the first element the framework elements guide this the right way because everything that comes after will, supposedly, be predicated on what it is we have in front of us now,” said council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat.

He told The Washington Times that the mayor’s changes left “gaps” in the comprehensive plan on affordable housing and displacement, as well as public transportation and sustainability.

“We want to say that existing families benefit from development,” Mr. Allen said.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, said the plan “has potential to impact the cost of housing, income and other things that lead to displacement.”

“For many years citizens criticized the plan for being vague and contradictory, said council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “Finally a decade ago the plan became specific. However, with the bill before us today, I have heard the criticism that these amendments are a step back to restoring generality.”

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