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Federal commissioners again delay vote on National Zoo security plans

The Smithsonian Institution says it will submit a “revised project later this fall”

The Connecticut Avenue NW entrance to the National Zoo
David Tran Photo/Shutterstock

For the second time this summer, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) has postponed consideration of the National Zoo’s controversial proposal to install additional security fences and reduce the number of entrances to the zoo.

Although the proposal was included on the commission’s agenda for its Sept. 6 meeting, NCPC staff recommended that the federal commissioners hold off on reviewing it “until a later date,” as the commissioners also did in July. But this time, the Smithsonian Institution, which operates the National Zoo, requested the delay so that zoo planners could revise the security plans.

In a letter dated Aug. 27, Ann Trowbridge, the Smithsonian’s associate director of planning, wrote to NCPC Executive Director Marcel Acosta that the Smithsonian intends to submit a “revised project later this fall for combined Preliminary and Final review.” Trowbridge said the deferral would allow the institution to incorporate feedback from the commission and the public. Zoo officials held a community meeting about the proposal on Aug. 1.

The original plans call for decreasing from 13 to three the number of zoo entrances, starting in 2019. (The main entrances on Connecticut Avenue NW, on Harvard Street NW, and at the bus parking area near the giant panda habitat would be kept the same) In a July statement, the zoo said the change would “enhance security and safety year-round.”

“During high-visitation periods or when there has been an increased threat level, the Zoo will continue to implement temporary security screening—as it has at these same entrances for the past four years,” the statement said. The zoo is particularly busy during spring break.

Critics challenged the Smithsonian’s rationale, saying that more fencing would make the zoo feel less welcoming and further removed from Rock Creek Park, of which it is a part. At the August community meeting, Steve Monfort, the zoo’s acting director, said zoo officials would not bulk up screening visitors or install permanent security checkpoints. According to FOX5 and WJLA, the zoo may also switch to having six rather than three entrances.

In a related development, zoo officials decided in late July not to build a multimillion-dollar parking garage that would have added about 400 more parking spaces to the site. Without the would-be garage, planners can now tweak the fencing designs in the security proposal.

“The postponement will also allow us to modify the design of the fence in proximity to the existing parking lots in view of the Smithsonian’s decision not to move forward at this time with the construction of the Central Parking facility,” Trowbridge wrote in her Aug. 27 letter.

This post has been updated.