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D.C. planning office considers citywide summit on long-term development goals

Using residents’ feedback, officials are hoping to distill “values” for the city’s Comprehensive Plan for growth

The Wharf development in Southwest, D.C. (2017)
Stephen B. Goodwin/Shutterstock

As District lawmakers evaluate proposed changes to the city’s Comprehensive Plan for long-term development, the D.C. Office of Planning (OP) is putting together a public engagement campaign around the overall endeavor. As part of that campaign, set to take place this spring, OP says it is mulling a citywide summit or forum where it would share its findings and collect additional input for a “values document” laying out priorities for the District’s future growth.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is just bring it down to the values that everybody can relate to and everybody can understand,” says Mekdy Alemayehu, a spokeswoman for OP. “We want to have the conversation on the average person’s level, where it’s not only this big document where you’re flipping through hundreds of pages.” The Comp Plan, as the District’s guiding document for growth is commonly known among observers, is at once dense, dry, and long.

But it is important, especially as D.C.’s population continues to grow and the cost of housing balloons. The Comp Plan was last updated in 2011 and was initially adopted in 2006—before the city saw a population boom. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration submitted suggested plan amendments to the D.C. Council last year, and hundreds of people spoke out at a public hearing on them that March. The Council is aiming to advance the plan’s “framework” in the coming months, and then the rest of the document before the end of 2019, per the chairman.

OP’s push for community engagement is a stated goal of the office’s acting director, Andrew Trueblood. (District lawmakers are scheduled to hold a roundtable on Bowser’s nomination of Trueblood as permanent director on Thursday.) The mayoral administration seeks to see 36,000 new housing units developed in D.C. and 240,000 total new units developed in the region by 2025. Expanding the city’s development tools is key to getting there, officials say.

While an exact format has not been determined yet for OP’s Comp Plan summit, Alemayehu says it will comprise a mix of in-person and online outreach, including through DC2ME.com, a website that Bowser’s office launched late last year. As for the values document, Alemayehu says it will likely end up being several pages long and include feedback OP has gotten to date. “It’s like a gut check, to make sure that we have it right” before finalizing anything, she notes.

Comp Plan elements and amendment timeline
D.C. government

The planning office is currently working on overhauling other, more-specific elements of the Comp Plan besides the framework, and these updates are to be sent to the Council for review later in the year. In part, this effort addresses two arcane-sounding but significant maps: the Future Land Use Map and Generalized Policy Map. (Trueblood took the helm at OP last fall.)