ANC 3/4G releases report on Chevy Chase Community Center rebuild

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The Chevy Chase Community Center is located at Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/January 2017)

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4G (Chevy Chase) released a report Jan. 22 on the proposed Chevy Chase Community Center slated to replace the existing building sometime after 2020.

The report offered specific recommendations for the new center, drawn from a survey completed by nearly 1,000 residents.

The report recommends the new building “include space for a fitness center with equipment, a lecture/performance hall with about 125 seats, meeting/games/party rooms, a half-court gymnasium, a childcare room with an indoor play area, a kitchen, a quiet lounge, an activity/tech lounge, a dance/yoga/Pilates studio, a fencing/exercise room, a pottery area and an arts and crafts space, offices, and rooftop amenities (e.g., a garden, greenhouse, and/or outdoor lounge).”

ANC Chairman Randy Speck said the commission held 16 meetings with stakeholders over 16 months to gather input, and met with several municipal agencies.

“The survey is especially important,” Speck said. “It provides reliable empirical data we could take to the District government and say, ‘This is what we want.’”

Speck is eager for city officials to see the report so money can be provided in the 2019 budget. To get into that budget, they have to act quickly, Speck said.

Residents were also present at the meeting, and Susan Fox and Jay Thal commented on the rebuild at micro and macro levels.

Fox lives next door to the existing building’s parking lot and does not feel the community center has been a good neighbor. She said the Department of Parks and Recreation has failed to maintain the property properly.

“It’s pathetic,” Fox said at the Jan. 22 meeting. “I have complained bitterly about the parking and the decrepit wall. The fence is collapsing onto my property.”

Fox said the District has been negligent in cutting back wisteria vines growing on District property and spilling over into her yard. She said when she trimmed the vines herself a few years ago, the community center called the police. An officer showed up at her house on McKinley Street to arrest her, although she had previously been given permission for the trimming. Fox said she wants the wall replaced and the wisteria removed altogether.

Thal and Fox attended the ANC meeting, which focused largely on the report about the community center prepared by Speck and other ANC members. The report is intended to let the mayor and city council know what residents want in a new center.

Thal, who has lived in the neighborhood for 48 years, pointed out that the District’s Northwest section, west of Rock Creek Park, has 80,000 people, and thinks the whole area should be taken into account when planning a new facility.

“This is a 3/4G-centric report,” Thal said. “The center should serve Northwest D.C. as a whole. I want a larger, more centralized location. We should work with the other five ANCs in this ward.”

Lee Schoenecker, a professional urban planner, responded to Fox’s comments, saying “you simply must work with the immediate neighbors who live within two blocks. It simply has got to be done.”

In an interview, Schoenecker clarified that his remark should not be taken as a criticism of the work that went into preparing the report.

“The effort done is about as good as any I’ve seen,” said Schoenecker, who served as a member of the commission for 10 years in the 1980s.

Residents at the ANC meeting said the ballet and fencing classes at the center are especially valuable programming. The youngest speaker at the meeting praised the ballet program, which she has taken part in since the age of four.

“Please look out for the ballet school,” said 12-year-old Asha Brooks. “I need it. It’s my safe zone.”

Speck said that initially the commissioners wanted to look at the whole campus – both the Chevy Chase branch of the public library and the community center. The two buildings are adjacent to each other on Connecticut Avenue, and are both about 60 years old.

“That was too ambitious,” Speck said. “There’s nothing in the library budget now. We hope for coordination with the library so there’s synergy between the two buildings.”

An appendix to the report contains accounts of visits by Speck and other Chevy Chase stakeholders to three community centers in other parts of the city: Deanwood, Rosedale and Raymond in Petworth. The library branches located at the centers in Deanwood and Rosedale were both characterized by local officials there as “afterthoughts.”

The report states, “Reportedly [the] co-located libraries face challenges stemming from the fact that the library facilities don’t belong to [the library system]. The libraries depend on the Department of General Services (DGS) to fix things that are broken, and DGS is slow to make repairs.”

The seven page-appendix about the other community centers contains a comprehensive overview and history of how other D.C. neighborhoods have achieved the result Chevy Chase is working toward. The full report can be found on the ANC’s website: anc3g.org/chevy-chase-community-center-renovation.

Speck said the project will not begin until the end of 2019, and construction of the new building is likely to take 24 to 30 months. He also said his group was unsuccessful in getting participation from other local commissions.

“We reached out to all the ANCs in Ward 3 and heard not a word,” he said.

Commissioner Jerry Malitz confirmed in an interview that the report was sent to the mayor and the city council two days after it was unanimously approved at the meeting. He said the mayor referred the report to John McGaw, a D.C. budget official.