Cheh: "broad-based support" for Wisconsin Giant project
Many residents of Cleveland Park and the surrounding neighborhoods turned out last night for the first in what could be a long series of hearings on the proposed Giant and mixed-use development at Wisconsin and Newark. Councilmember Mary Cheh, whose ward includes the area, gave a powerful speech in favor of the plan and framing opposition groups as representatives of only a small subset of residents. Those opposition groups managed to boost Cheh's case on their own by cross-examining the project's witnesses at such length that the members of the Zoning Commission repeatedly asked them to stop.
Mary Cheh questions a witness at the DC Council.
The District, and Ward Three in particular, need Smart Growth along the corridors. It's in the public interest to have bustling and energetic retail, to have vibrant and robust public life, and attractive amenities, all of which are illustrated in this project. The anchor will be a first-class food store, an amenity that this community has yearned for for years.Cheh also talked about the significance of her campaign when she spoke at Greater Greater Washington's first birthday earlier this month. As I introduced her, I mentioned how many people think Ward Three is vehemently opposed to development, but her election proves the silent majority doesn't share the views of some of the more vocal residents. Now, thanks in part to Davis, they're not so silent.
It is in the nature of things, of course, that you will have opposition to development. I do not believe that this opposition represents the broad-based view of the community, Cleveland Park, or Ward Three. The people in this room who are from Ward Three know full well that I am out in the community all the time. I listen to residents, they communicate with me all the time, and I seek to communicate with them. There is broad-based support for this development project.
When I campaigned for office over two years ago, I specifically campaigned on a Smart Growth, environmentally progressive platform. Indeed, Giant, the Giant that we have now, was a central issue for me. I used the Giant as Exhibit A in the need to have invigorated development along the corridors. My views found their mark and the voters supported me. My opponent made it a signature issue that that was my position, Smart Growth and environmentally progressive development. ... The voters overwhelmingly put me in office. I would ask the Commission, as they hear the proceedings, to keep in mind this point.
Inevitably, you will hear opposition. But you have to put it in context. Sometimes opponents are vehement; sometimes opponents can raise their voices; sometimes they can be more organized. As the representative, I can say they are not representative of the broad-based view of the people of Ward Three. When you approve this project, you will be serving the public and serving the public interest.
Davis has been organizing supporters of this project for months. His organization, Advocates for Wisconsin Avenue Renewal (AWARE), filed for "party status", which allows cross-examining all witnesses and fuller participation in the process beyond just testifying. Several groups also filed to be parties in opposition, including the Cleveland Park Citizens' Association (CPCA) and several groups of neighbors from various streets.
Zoning Commission Chair Anthony Hood asked the groups to try to consolidate similar interests into a smaller number of groups, but they resisted. Hood then criticized the application of one of the groups, the Washington Newark Neighborhood Coalition (WNNC), saying it didn't show the standard needed for party status. According to the rules, a party must be more impacted than the general public. The WNNC leader pleaded for approval as a party, and the Commission reluctantly decided to grant it despite their misgivings.
After the Giant's representatives, architects, and traffic engineers made their presentations, the opposition groups had an opportunity for cross-examination. At similar hearings, such as the Whitman-Walker project BZA hearing in December, opponents frustrated with a project often attack a wide range of angles, and board members to patiently but firmly urge focus on the key issues. Last night, according to Davis, "The Zoning Commission repeatedly begged CPCA and WNNC to stop cross-examining Giant's witness because the questions were so unproductive, ineffective, and convoluted." That seemed to only reinforce Cheh's earlier point that vehemence need not reflect the broader opinions of the community.
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