Monday, August 4, 2014

Potential Library Move to 4th Street Proves to be Controversial


Last month, a meeting was held at the Southwest library, hosted by DCPL, the Office of Planning, and DMPED to discuss the branch’s future. At the meeting, Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director of DCPL gave some statistics about the current library and its usage: 
  • Built in 1965 
  • The building is 21,600 SF on three levels (including a basement) 
  • 47,000 volumes 
  • There is 1 meeting room, 10 adult computers, 4 teen computers, and 8 computers for children 
  • There were 24,000 visitors from April to June of this year; SW library ranked 20 out of 26 libraries in the city (the counters were only recently installed, so there is no historic data available to see if usage has changed over the years) 
Aerial view of proposed site of new SW branch library, looking north.

DMPED owns the northeast parcel of land at Waterfront Station next to CVS, about a block from the current library and has floated the idea of moving the SW branch library to this location. The library would be incorporated into a mixed-use building with residential units above, built by a private developer in a similar way to what is proposed for the West End branch library. Some of the reasons stated for moving the library to 4th Street’s retail corridor include (although most of these reasons are not exclusive to moving the library): 
  • Increased foot traffic to library and retailers 
  • Better accessibility for Amidon-Bowen students 
  • More transit accessible (closer to Metro, new Circulator stop) 
  • Can balance community’s desire for prominent library but still have space for retail 
  • Current library site is controlled by DC government, so any redevelopment there will include input from ANC6D and the community. 
  • A new library will be built sooner and without interruption in service to the neighborhood 
  • More environmentally responsible if located in a mixed-use building 
Preliminary sketch of new SW library on 4th Street.

A conceptual plan by CORE Architects for a semi-detached library on 4th Street would be a 21,400 SF space on two levels with 8,500 SF on the ground level and 12,900 SF on the second level. The main entrance would be on 4th Street, but most of the library frontage would be facing the tree-lined pathway on the north side of the property. The conceptual plan flips the massing of the NE parcel building as it was approved in the stage one PUD so the building opens up to the north instead of opening to the south like the planned residential building across 4th Street at the Waterfront Associates-owned NW parcel. 

Preliminary sketch of redeveloped library site at 900 Wesley Pl.

The number of meeting rooms in a new library would increase to 5 or 6 of varying size and the number of hardwired computers would double. In addition to the library, there would be 17,000 SF of retail – 10,000 SF of which would be located on 4th Street. The remaining commercial space would be located on Wesley Place. Above the retail and library would be an 11-story, 346-unit apartment building with a portion of the units set aside as affordable dwelling units. There would be 29 garage spaces reserved for the library, 87 spaces for the residential units, 14 spaces for retail, and four spaces for professional office space. On the parcel currently occupied by the library, there is a conceptual plan for a six-story residential building with 80 units and about 7,700 SF of ground floor space that could have a daycare center. 

Most of the attendees at the meeting were against moving the library from its current location, although disapproval of the conceptual plan was not shared by everyone. Most of the people who had concerns with the proposal did not want the library to lose its symbol as a public place that is welcoming to all by it being incorporated into a private development. Others bemoaned the densification of the neighborhood and wanted a new, architecturally significant standalone library like most of the other new ones recently built in the city. Supporters pointed out the success of integrating libraries into mixed-use developments, such as the library in Shirlington village in Arlington and other places around the country. A decision on whether to move forward with moving the library to 4th Street will likely happen over the next couple of months, but based on the feedback from the two meetings that have been held so far (notwithstanding the results from a SWTLQTC unscientific poll earlier this year), my bet is that the library will remain on Wesley Place for the time being. We’ll see… 

Renderings courtesy of DCPL


Unknown said...


Unknown said...

Hooray for keeping things the same and hating new developments! Hopefully we can keep the dump that is SEU intact for all it's "historical", asbestos-filled beauty as well!

Unknown said...

People who care about this issue, on either side, should email (he works for the deputy mayor for planning and economic development). It would be great to copy your ANC commissioner too--let them know that you are a constituent, where you live, and what you think!

SWag said...

You're probably right. That's unfortunate.

I'll be honest - I bought in SW for the quiet neighborhood vibe. And I can see why some neighbors never want that to change. It really is a small community here.

But I was also realistic and hopeful that change was coming. If you look at all the new development in SW (i.e. Waterfront Station, The Wharf, Randall School etc.) you'll see the n'hood is heading towards a more urban, dense community.

I would hope that instead of muddling development, our community would want to see smart, sustainable growth. It's obvious that our community has a strong voice. Why are stifling progressive development?

I was at that meeting and I can assure you that there was only ONE valid argument for why the library should stay on 4th St. and that is - the SW Library Park (which is going to be awesome) was built with the assumption it would abut the library. And were that the case, it really would make a nice, cohesive play area. But I don't think that reason alone should stop the library from becoming a better, newer mixed use library.

I have heard countless SW working families with smaller children wish there was a day care in the n'hood. Why not as part of another mixed use building on Wesley place - have a small, nice, clean, reputable day care on the ground level (in addition to other retail) and residences above? Problem solved. The daycare kids can play in the park.

The reasons as to why the library should stay on Wesley Place were based mostly off of emotions and a sense of entitlement. I understand that living here since the 50's may make you an excellent source of SW history, but its hardly proof that you know what is best for the future of SW.

Oh well. Like Unknown said, fingers crossed they don't f*ck up SEU.


Unknown said...

Really? "People from the fifties?" Gee -- are we reduced to ageist arguments now, SWag?

Many Southwest residents have been actively engaged in community organizing for years to ensure that SW remains an inclusive community. Everyone plays. We have never sought to divide by income, race ... or age. Join us, but don't seek to divide us.

Additionally, had this piece reported that the community's counter proposal to the DMPED plan is to build a new and expanded library on the existing site not simply to leave the library as it is, it would have been a much more complete and accurate assessment of the issues on the table instead of a pitch piece.

And as for giving credence to results of any SWTLQTC poll as demonstrable of any level of support for anything in our neighborhood, let's get real here. "Unscientific" is the kindest thing that can be said about them. These polls allow anyone to vote as many times as they wish -- they can hardly be called polls.

Anonymous said...

The sample of SWTLQTC's polls is no more "unscientific" than the sample of people who love to spend their weeknights sitting inside basement meeting rooms, listening to cranky people complain. I was there, I had people pointing at me denouncing my moral character, and I'll never get those hours of my life back.

"[T]he community's counter proposal" might as well involve free ponies to every child in Timbuktu. Money doesn't grow on trees. Meanwhile, thousands of people are willing to fork over plenty of money for housing in our neighborhood, and our city -- and it's kind of silly to tell them, "keep your money and go live in Virginia, instead we'll pray to the Money Tree to give us a new library!"

Unknown said...

Couldn't agree more, paytonc

AMK said...

SWag and paytonc, well said.

Andrea M. Pawley said...

I love that the people who support smart development and don't want SW to become even more densely populated than it's already set to become use their real names in comments on this blog, and the people who call us cranky and throwbacks don't use their real names. I believe in being an actual neighbor in our wonderful little quadrant, and that means owning up to your opinions.

Unknown said...

Mermermermermermermermer Mermermermermermermermer

SWill said...

I don't mind criticism, but at least be accurate in your critique. The blog post mentioned the "counter-proposal" for a standalone library. See the last paragraph:

"...a new, architecturally significant standalone library like most of the other new ones recently built in the city."

As far as the poll results are concerned, it was stated that it was an "unscientific poll". Readers can take the results for what they're worth, but had the poll not been mentioned, community members who are supporters of DMPED's proposal would have complained that it wasn't mentioned.

Personally, I'd prefer a new, standalone library built to replace the existing building. There are several public parcels in Southwest that can be sold with the proceeds used to build a new library on Wesley Place. Most of the reasons for moving the library that were mentioned by DCPL officials at the meeting last month and listed in the post above were not exclusive to moving the library, since the proposed branch location is only one block from the existing site:

Reason #1 - This is a legitimate reason.
Reason #2 - I think Amidon-Bowen students know where the current library is located.
Reason #3 - People in SW who will use the library will most likely walk or drive there, not take Metro from another part of SW or take the soon-to-reopen Circulator. Perhaps those who live in Near SE/Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront may use those options to get to the library.
Reason #4 - A new, architecturally-significant standalone library, which will be adjacent to a playground, and if framed properly from the tree-lined path that runs from the library's entrance to 4th Street, can be a prominent civic structure on Wesley Place.
Reason #5 - This is a moot point if a new library is built on the site of the existing library.
Reason #6 - This isn't necessarily true if another public parcel in the neighborhood is sold sooner. Other new libraries in the city that were built on the site of existing libraries had interim libraries built.
Reason #7 - Build a LEED-Gold library on the current site.

You may have noticed over the years that I normally try to keep my personal views out of posts. I decided to add them to the comments section this time around to add another voice to the conversation.

SWag said...

Why should SW sell a separate vacant parcel to pay for our OWN library. Are other neighborhoods doing that? SW should either keep the crappy library there now, or wait until DCPL actually has the money to build a new standalone library (if the mixed use option on 4th St. is off the table). It's not like a library is a soccer stadium. It is FREE to use. It generates NO revenue...

It may seem like "play money," but it is not. Selling parcels for something you could otherwise get fairly easily is not smart, sustainable n'hood growth. The library, in either capacity will do very little for SW in terms of economic development, so in that regard - it's not worth selling a SEPARATE parcel when we already have one (albeit crappy).

On the other hand, were DCPL to sell the lot the library is already on to a developer they would INSTANTLY have money to build a BRAND NEW library at a net zero cost. Not to mention this can all happen way sooner, with no breaks in service.

Is it really THIS important to keep a standalone library on 4th St.? So important we'd be willing to give up million of dollars (from selling another lot). I can't see it...

Also, understand that there are other libraries in the city in WAY worse shape. They will receive the scarce capital dollars first. There is a reason why funding for the SW Library was removed from the FY 17 budget even though it coincides with the Wharf completion.

At this rate SW will never see a new library.

SWag - a.k.a Chase Coard ( - I live in Potomac Place Tower

@Andrea M. Pawley - your comment just confirms what I've been saying. Instead of adding valuable insight to the conversation, you comment about not using our real names. Why not echo some of the reasons you and other neighbors don't want a mixed use library? Why not fill those people in that may have missed the meeting? The reason is - you have nothing to valid to say. Here was your chance to give credence to the idea that a standalone library is more appropriate for SW and all you could muster was me not using my real name. Yikes.