Library Trustees Issue Mixed Message Regarding Mixed-Use Policy


Contact Robin Diener 202 431-9254

Library Trustees Issue Mixed Message Regarding Mixed-Use Policy The Board of Library Trustees passed a new policy regarding mixed-use at public libraries, including that of DC’s central library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, at their bimonthly meeting on Wednesday May 28. The new policy and a set of principles for renovation of MLK were developed by the Trustees’ Facilities Committee and presented to the full board of Library Trustees. The new policy was not available for the public to read until about noon, six hours before the Trustees meeting, where it passed after brief discussion. It replaces a 2007 policy. ·

New Policy ·

Old Policy

Citywide Advisory Neighborhood Commissions were not notified per ANC Law about this major policy change before the final decision at the Trustees meeting.

Conflicting Policy Positions

The new Mixed-Use Real Estate Projects Policy presumably would apply system wide and takes a seemingly passive approach: “The Board of Library Trustees is open to exploring mixed-use opportunities, where appropriate, for libraries as a way to increase visibility and access, and generate revenue.”

However, a second document — MLK Renovation Principles — indicated that library staff would be pro-active in looking for mixed-use for the central library: “DCPL will seek mixed-use options.” The policy further stated, “All options will be judged from a financial, programmatic and ownership framework,” but offered no guidelines for types of mixed-use desired or the controversial issue of public versus private partnerships.

Trustee Myrna Perralta, a veteran of the mixed-use wars at Benning and Tenley, but who is not on the Facilities Committee that developed the new policy, gave an immediate strong caution saying, “It is ironic that we are discussing this at Benning, where residents didn’t want mixed use… And where it got ugly, to say the least.”

Residents’ opposition Perralta recalled, “was because they didn’t want the library diluted. That sentiment gets repeated whenever we talk about mixed use.”

Trustee Bonnie Coen weighed in about the first of the MLK Renovation Principles, “DCPL will optimize the utilization of the historic landmarked MLK Library.” She asked that the phrase “as a library” be added.

Trustee Valerie Mallet concurred and wider discussion ensued. The phrase “as a central library” was ultimately adopted.

Is there a better investment we can make in our city?


The Library that is. In particular, a renovation of MLK central library.

This is the rhetorical question with which the Library’s new Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan concludes a heartening op-ed “How a Public Library Set Me Free” about the importance of libraries to him as a son of Cuban immigrants growing up in Queens,

” The main public library on Merrick Boulevard was the first place I was allowed to visit on my own. I started going when I was 8. Everything I needed was located on what seemed to me an endless single floor. Wandering around that building aimlessly on a Saturday afternoon offered a sense of freedom I’d never experienced before.”

We agree! There is no better investment we can make in our city than the renovation of our central library.

Read Reyes-Gavilan’s full op ed



Meet & Greet

In spite of a messy day of sleet last Tuesday, about 60 people showed up to DCPL’s Meet and Greet for architects from Mecanoo and Martinez + Johnson, who have been chosen to renovate MLK memorial library.

Lead architect Mecanoo’s Francine Houben at first appeared a bit bewildered by the apparent lack of a formal program. However, after a brief introduction by new Library Executive Director Richard Gavilon, she gamely and quickly went through the same slide presentation again from some weeks ago. When she was finished, one perplexed gentleman called out in dismay, “Where are the new plans?”

Considering that it had been a month since the architects were selected, it was not unreasonable for him to think that something additional would be presented. Alas, his question went unanswered as there would be no Q & A. We were assured that it was preferable to talk one-on-one with the architects instead.

As we were dispersed to “light refreshments” of cookies and water, there was grumbling at this well known tactic to keep information from being shared. One wonders, too, what these world class architects must have thought about the sheer inefficiency of answering the same questions over and over for each individual.

In the end, a degree of efficiency triumphed, as it will when a group of humans are left to their own devices. A small crowd gradually gathered around Francine over at the model display (across the Great Hall from the cookies), which she dismantled and put back together as needed to answer various questions. By then some had left in frustration, but those who stayed received a small measure of personal interaction with this charming Dutch genius.

This video highlights the public engagement process in Roxbury Boston, on an historic preservation and revitaliztion project there, headed by Ms. Houben.  Video from Boston Project

DC Mayoral Candidates on the Library

If you haven’t yet decided on your choice for mayor, perhaps a look at our brief four-question survey of candidates will help you choose.

Not all candidates responded: Jack Evans refused, and Tommy Wells’ office repeatedly said they would get right back with us, but after several weeks did not.

Mayor Vincent Gray also did not return a survey but his office said we did not give them enough time, so we apologize. Fortunately, we know where the Mayor stands regarding MLK since his 5-year capital budget proposed $100M for MLK renovation in 2017 & 18 based on the understanding that a public-private partnership would fill the funding gap, projected by the DCPL staff to be between $125M and $150M, for a total of $225-250M needed.

An October 2013 report to DC Council from DCPL, in response to the Budget Support Act, said:

“The budget approved by City Council for fiscal year 2014 includes capital funding for renovation and redevelopment of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library: $3 million in FY14 and $50 million in FY17 and FY18 for a total of $103 million. This assumes multiple floors with at least an equal amount of financing from a private developer.”

Here’s what other candidates provided:






How Much Will It Cost?

At the Library Oversight Hearing on February 19, DC Council Education Committee Chair David Catania attempted to get a fix on how much it will cost to renovate the MLK Library. It wasn’t easy to get a straight answer.

Just four days earlier, at the first and only citywide public forum where three competing designs for the renovation of MLK were presented, DCPL’s  facilitator stressed that the design forum was “about choosing an architect, not a design.” Yet, at the oversight hearing, DCPL’s Director of Capital Projects Jeff Bonvechio explained that he couldn’t provide an answer to Catania’s question because DCPL is still “in the process of costing out the winning design.”  In spite of these  contradictory statements by DCPL representatives, the Committee Chair pursued his question.

DCPL’s Bonvechio said further that cost estimates from 2012 were $250 million, $103m of which has been allocated by the Mayor (in fiscal years 2017 and 18).

Noting the $150m shortfall, Catania asked how the additional money would be found. Bonvechio responded, “The way to bridge that gap is by bringing on a development partner.”

The Chair asked what the sale of air rights to a developer would raise. The number turns out to be $40m, only, leaving a gap of more than $100m.

Catania appeared impatient, “You seem to be pretty far down the track having selected an architect, having selected a plan. Yet, you don’t have the money in place.”

He asked how the gap would be filled. The options, according to Bonvechio, are “additional city funding or from a deep pocketed donor.” With that, Catania abandoned the line of questioning.


It is the pursuit of a mythical developer or deep pocketed donor that has kept DCPL from doing the planning needed to cultivate multiple donors, possible sponsors of naming rights, or other public/public partnerships such as the DC Archives (with $42m attached to it in the capital budget for a new building).

Moreover, the $40m projected sale of MLK air rights would have to be for all of the air rights over MLK (8 stories or more), not just the three additional stories of the newly selected library design. In the West End, more land and full air rights (minus a one story library and firehouse) were swapped for only $20m (to be paid for in construction). Why would a smaller amount over MLK bring in more?

Financial planning demands that we know exactly what is for sale over MLK. No one has defined it. If we don’t know that, how do we know how much can be raised from the proposed sale of air rights being contemplated?

However, what is most important to us, at Library Renaissance Project, is do the people of the District of Columbia want to sell the air rights over their central library? That is their call, and should be the first question answered before any financial planning or building design development.

DC LRP Files with Appeals Court for Rehearing “En Banc” in West End Decision

September 4, 2013
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

DC Library Renaissance Project Seeks Rehearing “En Banc”of Court of Appeals Decision Affirming Zoning Commission’s Approval of West End Library and Fire Station Development

Case Will Decide Whether Taxpayers Lose Tens of Millions of Dollars in Property Value to Private Developer, and Whether District’s New Affordable Housing Legislation Will Be Gutted

WASHINGTON, DC – The District of Columbia Library Renaissance Project/ West End Library Advisory Group (“DCLRP”) has filed a Petition for Rehearing En Banc of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals’ August 8, 2013 opinion affirming a Zoning Commission order approving a Planned Unit Development (“PUD”) application submitted by EastBanc-W.D.C. Partners, LLC, for the redevelopment of public property currently housing the West End Public Library, West End Fire Station and a police station.

DCLRP filed its petition on August 22, 2013. The petition requests that the full Court of Appeals grant rehearing based on fundamental errors in the August 8, 2013 opinion entered by a three-judge panel. The immediate effect of the petition is to render the panel opinion non-final, until the full Court rules on the petition.

“We’re asking the full Court to decide this case because taxpayers are losing tens of millions of dollars in property value, which the Zoning Commission erroneously disregarded, and because the Zoning Commission violated the mandatory terms of the District’s new Inclusionary Zoning regulations, by waiving EastBanc’s obligation to include a small number of affordable housing units in its PUD,” said DCLRP attorney Oliver Hall.

“The panel failed to cite any legitimate authority for the Zoning Commission’s decision to waive EastBanc’s obligations under the Inclusionary Zoning regulations, but relied instead on vague language from a Zoning Commission order to override the express terms of the regulations,” Hall said. “If this decision is permitted to stand, it will gut the District’s new affordable housing legislation, before it ever has a chance to be enforced.”

Due to the nature of the issues raised, the decision rendered will impact the outcome of so-called “public-private partnerships” throughout the District. At stake is whether District taxpayers will receive adequate compensation for tens of millions of dollars in public property value conveyed to private developers in such deals. That value will be lost forever, unless the full Court of Appeals recognizes that the Zoning Commission erred by disregarding it.

The case is D.C. Library Renaissance Project/West End Library Advisory Group v. D.C. Zoning Commission, No. 12-AA-1183.

DLCRP’s Petition for Rehearing En Banc in the West End case is available here:  Petition for Rehearing En Banc-1

Library President Hill’s Public Assurances Contradicted in New Request for Architects for MLK

August 28, 2013
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Library Board President John Hill’s Public Assurances
Contradicted in New Request for Architects for MLK

In response to recent questions about plans for the renovation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, John W. Hill, the President of the Library Trustees said, “No decisions have been made. Everything is on the table.”

His comments came on July 27, 2013 at the regular bi-monthly meeting of the Board of Library Trustees, where Hill also noted that the Library is due to issue a report on DC’s central public library by October 1, as requested by the DC Council in the Budget Support Act.

On August 21, however, the Library issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for architects , the terms of which seem to indicate that the option for a fully public building has already been eliminated, “in anticipation of a future public private partnership,” according to “Section 4.0 Services Requested” of the RFQ .

“It concerns us that the RFQ was issued prior to the Council-mandated report and any public discussion of it,” said Robin Diener, Director of the DC Library Renaissance Project. “The RFQ language leads us to believe that the report will focus on private partnerships only for financing, and won’t meaningfully consider public-public options and the financial benefits they might confer.”

For instance, the DC Archives was allocated $42 million for a new facility but has no location as yet. New Orleans and San Francisco house their municipal archives at their central libraries and the city archives of Vancouver, BC will shortly move into the top two floors of Vancouver’s central public library.

RFQ for architects

San Francisco City Archives

New Orleans City Archive


In response to articles about the release of an RFQ for architects to renovate MLK, assertions have been made  that we oppose renovations to libraries. Honestly? No one has done more to advocate for libraries in DC than the DC Library Renaissance Project and the District Dynamos. And we have succeeded.

We led the effort to save MLK in 2006;
We led the effort to fund neighborhood library rebuilding (17 new libraries to date);
We led the effort to keep MLK library open on Sundays when Mayor Gray threatened to close it 2011;
We led the effort to get library hours increased at all branches (begins Oct 1).

For the last seven years, we have also testified to the need for a Citizens Task Force on the MLK Library.  There have been 5 chairs of DC Council Library Committee during that time (Patterson, Thomas, Bowser, Wells and Catania). We are the constant representative of the public interest in DC’s public libraries.

What we do oppose:

Undervaluation of the most valuable public land in the city (West End Library and parcels) in order to sell it at bargain rates to developer contributor friends of Jack Evans, Tommy Wells, Tony Williams and the rest of the bunch over at the Federal City Council;
Violation of Inclusionary Zoning (of Affordable Housing) Law to do so;
Privatization of the central public library of DC.

No other capital city in the world is privatizing its central library or proposing to replace it with a smaller one. Nor is there any economic imperative for DC to do so. To the contrary, the Urban Land Institute found DC to be the most financially secure city in the US, in its 2011 study commissioned by the DC Library Trustees.

Everyone wants a great central library for DC. It’s not necessary to give anything away or sell out to private interests in order to make the best municipal library in the world.

We already have a structurally sound historic building purpose designed by an iconic architect. We have plenty of money to renovate it into a leading edge 21st century facility. Make it bigger and better, but keep it public.

Add the two stories that were originally intended by architect Mies van der Rohe. Put in the DC Archives (it comes with $42 million in the capital budget but has no location). Put in a performance hall and rehearsal rooms, put in a community college, put in a roof garden, put in a book spiral, put in daycare for library users. There are myriad public, educational uses that could be centered at 901 G Street, NW.

When there are so many possibilities, why are we entertaining the same tired idea that private interests can do it better? And by the way, is there a District leader that can put this partnership into a coherent proposal for DC residents to consider? The library belongs to everyone, and the central library is the most important and most used public building we have. The privatization issue is one citizens must decide.

It would be nice if District leaders would ask the residents and library users of the District what they want. Doubtful that it would be a smaller central library, without parking, buried under eight floors of grade A office space.

DCPL Issues Request for Qualifications for Architect to Renovate MLK Memorial Library

The DC Public Library today issued an RFQ (request for qualifications) for an architect to renovate DC’s central library, MLK Memorial at 901 G Street NW.  The sudden issuance is a surprise. It was not mentioned at last night’s monthly meeting of the MLK Friends.  In addition, DCPL was charged with presenting a report to the DC Council Library Committee by this October, outlining “the project’s community and stakeholder engagement plan to identify the needs and perspectives of District residents” per the 2013 Budget Support Act.  It is not clear how architects could reasonably  respond to the RFQ when the public has not yet been consulted about its preferences for the building’s future use, including potential private partnerships, public partnerships or other co-locations, as well as the types of activities it would like to see.

As part of the Budget Support Act deliberations this spring and summer, our Project had asked that public consultation about the future of the central library be prioritized as the first matter of business by DCPL before any other planning including, partnerships, financing and design.  We predicted that DCPL would move ahead without public consent if not reigned in, and so they are.

Background  The central library was designed by iconic modernist architect Mies van der Rohe and opened to the public in 1972. The facility fell into disrepair along with the District’s branch libraries during the long years of governmental “deferred maintenance.” So much so, that over the years various officials were accused of practicing  “demolition by neglect.”  In 1999, then-members of the Board of Library Trustees worked with the Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects, led by local architect Kent Cooper, to examine issues identified by the staff and library-going public and devise solutions. The AIA recommendations went unacted upon until 2005, when Mayor Anthony Williams put into a Budget Support Act mayoral authority to sell the building. Public opposition, led by a coalition of preservationists, library advocates, and our Project — armed with the AIA recommendations — derailed the vague plan in favor of a focus on rebuilding neighborhood branches. Since that time 17 new and renovated libraries have been added or transformed.

Since 2006, our Project has been calling for a Citizens Task Force on the Future of MLK. In 2008 and again in 2013, the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (2B) passed resolutions in favor of a citizen task force. In 2008, DCPL informed ANC2B its resolution was premature. The March 2013 resolution has not yet received a response.

ANC Resolution

Press Release re West End Parcels Appeal

August 9, 2013
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Court of Appeals Defers to Zoning Commission in Denying West End Appeal

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a decision on August 8, affirming the standing of the DC Library Renaissance Project/West End Library Advisory Group (WELAG) to challenge a Zoning Commission order approving the Planned Unit Development (“PUD”) application of EastBanc/W.D.C. Partners to acquire and build on public property in the West End.

Despite this, the Court deferred to the Zoning Commission’s approval of the PUD, thereby completing the transfer of three public parcels—currently home to the West End Public Library, the recently-renovated West End fire station and a police station—into private hands.

In its appeal, WELAG argued that the Zoning Commission ignored the value of the public property in the no-cash land swap underlying the deal, pointing out that it does not deliver even the minimal value testified to ($30 million) by the District’s Chief Financial Officer. Under the deferential standard of review applicable to Zoning Commission decisions, the Court concluded that “The Commission acted reasonably in interpreting its own regulation to permit it to decline to look behind the land transfer.”

WELAG also argued that the Zoning Commission’s waiver of the District’s Inclusionary Zoning (“IZ”) regulations based on construction of new library and firehouse was improper since the District, not EastBanc, will pay for the new facilities through the value of the property conveyed. Housing advocates long fought to see IZ regulations—which require developers to integrate a specified percentage of affordable housing into new developments—enacted. Also, Mayor Vincent Gray announced in 2011 that the city will provide an additional $7 million subsidy to build affordable housing over the fire station, which will then be owned by EastBanc.

WELAG attorney Oliver Hall said, “This is the unfortunate trend in so-called public-private partnerships throughout the District, which ought to be called what they are: giveaways of public assets, negotiated by the Mayor’s office, approved by the Council, and paid for by District taxpayers.”

Robin Diener of the DCLRP said, “We appreciate the Court’s clear confirmation of our rights to appeal questionable decisions on the part of elected and appointed DC officials. However, without any required analysis of land value, an intrinsic element of this deal, citizens will continue to wonder why tens of millions of dollars that could have gone to renovate MLK or neighborhood libraries will not be realized by this sale of a library property.”