DC’s Chevy Chase neighborhood seeks to reverse its history of exclusion


The Avalon Theater on Connecticut Avenue NW in Chevy Chase by Toasted Cheese under a Creative Commons license.

In search of how DC’s exclusive Chevy Chase neighborhood might approach racial equity, some community members are creating a more inclusive vision for the neighborhood with the launch of the Chevy Chase DC Small Area plan by the DC Office of Planning . With the help of the ANC and community groups like Ward3Vision, this effort has the potential to draft a master plan for a more inclusive neighborhood while revitalizing its main street. The resulting plan could accommodate a range of hundreds of new homes and residents, including low-income residents.

Small Area Plans are local plans that complement the Global Plan, DC’s 20-year framework that guides future growth and development. In May 2021, DC council passed major changes to the overall plan, including proposed land use changes that would help meet the district’s ambitious housing production targets with the goal of making housing more affordable. . Chevy Chase’s Small Area Plan is intended to provide more detailed guidance for these land use changes and to align “with the city’s priorities for housing production, economic recovery, fairness and racial justice, ”according to the Planning Bureau.

New homes in Chevy Chase for new residents at a range of incomes would be a welcome departure from a long history of exclusivity and segregation. The plan’s study area, which has not seen new housing in decades and lacks dedicated affordable housing, is in an affluent neighborhood with sought-after public schools. Lack of new and affordable housing is the norm for Ward 3, where Chevy Chase is located, which, according to the Comprehensive Plan update, contains only 1% of the district’s affordable housing stock.

The limited number of homes in the area drives up the price of existing homes and pushes growth elsewhere. It also maintains long-standing patterns of segregation: Today, white residents make up 77% of the population, while 6% are black (in contrast, about half of DC residents are throughout the Black District).

The small area planning process began at Chevy Chase in the spring of 2020 with a series of community outreach sessions and surveys to establish a draft vision and goals for the plan. Now the Planning Office is holding a series of community walks in December, followed by a charrette (community design brainstorming workshop) in January 2022. A draft plan is expected to be ready in March 2022, with an audience mayor’s in April and a review by DC Council in summer.

The plan had its skeptics. The concern was that after all the meetings and engagement, would the plan deviate from the status quo? After decades of little new development and no dedicated affordable housing, in an environment historically hostile to all change, could any planning effort succeed?

In 2019, Randy Speck, president of the 3 / 4G ANC which represents the region, led a task force to review proposed changes to the overall plan, including changes that would allow modest increases in density along from Connecticut Avenue south to Chevy Chase Circle. After months of sometimes controversial discussions, the task force recommended that the ANC support the increase in density provided that a small area plan studies the impact on the built environment of the community as well as on the services such as schools.

Then, the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked widespread outrage against racial justice. The Chevy Chase ANC quickly formed a task force on racism. Speck chaired a task force that examined housing issues with the aim of “reversing the exclusionary housing practices of the past by encouraging a variety of housing options that will be achievable for residents with a wider range. of income and origins ”.

The full ANC watered down some of the key recommendations, but the need to plan for a greater diversity of housing options was widely discussed and supported in virtual meetings and on neighborhood mailing lists that once only featured messages. anti-development. Opposition to any new development, including new housing, is still part of the discussion, but more progressive voices are being heard.

With this new emphasis on fairness, Chevy Chase’s planning effort has the potential to benefit from inputs beyond the usual suspects of well-to-do, mostly white, longtime owners. To broaden the scope of the public engagement process, ANC 3 / 4G conducted “information exchanges” in the fall of 2020. At a session in September, Commissioner Connie Chang brought together three living residents in Chevy Chase apartment buildings to get their perspective and how they’d like to see the neighborhood change. One of the residents who spoke spoke about how the district’s inclusive affordable housing zoning program helped him find an apartment in Chevy Chase, a neighborhood he loved to live in.

The session put a face to residents who might be living in new buildings that many believe would be “incompatible with the character of the neighborhood.” All participants said that the only way they can afford to live in this neighborhood of multi-million dollar single-family homes is with the limited availability of apartments and condominiums.

A bold vision for Chevy Chase

The small area planning effort is also getting a boost from the local Ward3Vision volunteer group, who presented their own urban design plan (Ward3Vision is a partner of my organization, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and I reviewed and gave my opinion on the plan). At an event hosted by Historic Chevy Chase DC on October 6, Ward 3 resident Matt Bell, professor of architecture at the University of Maryland and director of urban design firm Perkins Eastman, presented a design concept urban 30-year-old on behalf of Ward3Vision.

A vision for Chevy Chase, DC by Ward3Vision used with permission.

According to Bell, although the vitality of the retail business has been challenged by recent events, many residents have expressed a desire for more local businesses and engaging civic spaces. Bell suggested planning more residents who can walk to and patronize local businesses.

The Ward3Vision plan notes four goals that emerged from the Planning Office’s community outreach to create a vision to guide the plan: quality of life, neighborhood architectural character, environmental sustainability, and social equity. Their plan suggests tactics to achieve these goals include new buildings along the east side of the avenue and the north end near the Chevy Chase Circle on the Maryland border. The existing community center and library can be redeveloped with affordable housing, and inclusion zoning can add affordable housing to other sites.

In his presentation, Bell explained how, in the main streets, buildings define the public domain and must include elements on a human scale. Historic structures like the Avalon Theater and the Chevy Chase Arcade building should be preserved, and the charming traditional streetscapes of Main Street that contribute to the character of the community should be preserved. The group’s plans show how a mix of apartment buildings and townhouses can fit into the neighborhood to shape a more walkable public realm and create a variety of new housing choices for many families who would love to. live at Chevy Chase.

The public presentation was well received by many attendees, but the usual questions were asked – what about the height of the building, the parking lot and the capacity of the school? Bell suggested that the parking lot would be largely underground and that the heights of the buildings would be lower than those already existing on Connecticut Avenue. Regarding schools, he noted that single-family homes generate significantly more school-aged children than multi-family buildings, but the district should address capacity issues. Former Planning Director Ellen McCarthy, another Ward3Vision member also present at the event, said school overcrowding is an issue to be addressed, but should not be a reason to ignore housing needs in the city. region.

Ron Eichner, also of Ward3Vision, estimated that a full build would include around 230 affordable housing units and around 500 other units. About 100 new affordable houses could be built as part of a joint development project with the community center / library, and the rest of the affordable houses could come from IZ units as part of a private development.

Eichner said the small area plan should include design guidelines for ground floors to avoid hostile blank walls like those at CVS and Safeway, as well as a public space plan that examines how to shoot. making full use of the wide sidewalks, how to create civic space along the avenue, and how to accommodate buses, bicycles and pedestrians. A programming and management plan for Connecticut Avenue, supporting activities like a farmers market or sidewalk art shows, would be welcome.

The Chevy Chase DC Small Area Plan area is small – a few blocks from Connecticut Avenue below the Chevy Chase Circle. This is a reduced scale compared to the simultaneous planning efforts of small areas east of the Anacostia River. But despite the low geographic focus of the Chevy Chase plan and its no-growth baseline, its potential is significant. Ward 3 has a history of unsuccessful attempts to plan for more housing and more affordable housing – from the 2008 mixed-income housing plan taped above the Tenley Library (where the library was rebuilt without the 174 units of housing provided above, including 53 affordable units) to the abandoned 2003 Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Study which suggested 10-story buildings between Tenleytown and Friendship Heights. The Chevy Chase DC plan could signal a reversal of those past failures, resulting in a generational shift from exclusion to inclusion, from a self-centered suburban past to an urban, greener and more equitable future.

To have your say in the future of Chevy Chase and the people who live there, participate in the upcoming Chevy Chase Small Area Plan Community Walks.

Cheryl Cort is Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. She works with community activists, nonprofit groups and policy makers to promote more walking, cycling, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the DC region to thrive. develop and provide opportunities for all.


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