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Consensus Elusive on Plans for D.C. Land

The District of Columbia, subject to wide-reaching Congressional control, seldom gets to determine what happens to a swath of land as ripe for possibilities as that of Reservation 13, a 67-acre area along the bank of the Anacostia River.

But now that Washington, D.C., officials have that power, they’re finding that they don’t all share the same vision for the area.

Mayor Vincent Gray is exploring the logistics of building a new training facility for the Washington Redskins, currently based in Ashburn, Va., on a portion of Reservation 13. That has riled up some officials and citizens.

Some argue it would run counter to the master plan for Reservation 13. Adopted by D.C. Council in 2003, the 37-page planning document lays out specifications for how the land should be developed, maximizing its “potential to contribute to [residents’] quality of life” while spurring economic growth. A football practice space, foes say, doesn’t fit that framework.

Beyond that, a Redskins training facility would squander a rare opportunity to “do good” for residents who are often limited by Congressional strictures, argue others, including Councilmember Tommy Wells (D), whose Ward 6 previously encompassed Reservation 13 before redistricting shifted it to Ward 7 last year.

Wells called it “a wasted opportunity” at an informational meeting with residents Monday.

Local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven agrees.

“We really need to take advantage of the opportunity that we have this land that the federal government has given to the city to continue to expand [and] build something that’s going to be [to] the benefit of the neighborhood and the city and not to the benefit of somebody’s private interest,” he said.

Need for a Plan

The debate’s origins go back to 2002, when Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), then-chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, said residents and local government needed to explore how to best use the area.

“[Landrieu] said [that] before the city can spend or waste any money on Reservation 13, they needed to … determine what was best suited for that site, and it had to involve the neighborhood and the community,” community activist Frank Zampatori said.

The result was the 2003 master plan.

In 2006, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and then-Rep. Tom Davis
(R-Va.) spearheaded legislation that would swap federal land for District-owned land.

President George W. Bush signed the bill into law that year. In April 2009, the city’s zoning commission finalized zoning for the area. In September 2010, the land transfer was completed.

“Whatever we think about George [W.] Bush … he was great for the District of Columbia,” Wells said. “He took a bunch of federal land and gave it to us. And that’s given us an opportunity to develop it and make it income tax-
producing land.”

‘Room for Other Things’

Gray is set to meet with community members at Stadium Armory this evening to share ideas and hear concerns. He hopes, spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said, to use the forum to tamp down speculation that a deal between the city and the franchise is a signature away.

“He’s going to go to the community and say, ‘I think a lot of folks are worried about something that in fact does not exist,’”
Ribeiro said.

On the other hand, Ribeiro suggested,  Gray hasn’t shut the door on the idea either. “A training facility is not a mutually exclusive thing. If we were to someday get something like that … a training facility can be a part of an economic development package for that area, depending on how we put it into the mix,” he said.

All Redskins Senior Vice President Tony Wyllie would say to Roll Call was that the team is “exploring all of [its] options.”

If Gray does push forward, he will have a partner in Councilmember Jack Evans (D), who represents Ward 2. Evans said he is confident that a Redskins facility could work in tandem with other developments and the master plan’s vision for the area.

“There [would be] plenty of room for other things,” said Evans, who also stressed that nothing has yet been decided.

He told Roll Call he imagines a situation where RFK Stadium would be converted into a new Redskins stadium to sit near a new Reservation 13 development of “four practice fields, headquarters, training, hotel, a Hall of Fame and a concussion center.”

And while critics say a Redskins training ground would not contribute to the area’s quality of life or economic development, Evans said his vision, although a distant one, would absolutely be a boon.

“The Redskins are the city’s most marketable franchise,” he said.

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