Howard East Neighbors protests proposed rezoning, condemns representatives’ silence

Washington-DC

WASHINGTON (WDVM) — A group of residents in Washington’s Brookland neighborhood are protesting the Office of Planning’s proposals to develop 50 acres of land, which includes the Howard Divinity School, into residential buildings. The new land use designation is pending approval by the DC Council as soon as next week. 

“We’re not trying to stop any progress. We just want to be included in the part of the progress,” said Michelle Holmes, a resident of 63 years. “Who’s going to be responsible for all this construction and who’s going to have to pay the taxes on it?”

The district is known as ANC 5B, led by Commissioner Ursula Higgins, who declined an interview for this story. The Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association’s Caroline Petti says all 12 of the changes were submitted to the DC Office of Planning without consulting residents. 

“The public plays no role in identifying priorities, identifying concerns; any planning role. No role in the design and development of those projects,” Petti said.

“The neighbors love it the way it is. We don’t want traffic going in and out of the neighborhood,” said Shirley Shannon, a resident of over 50 years. “There’s no need to ruin every bit of green space to build condos.” 

Howard East Neighbors, a group of residents that formed in opposition to the rezoning, says D.C.’s rapid development, with limited community involvement, “makes it more expensive and harder for people of color to live in the city.” 

For the last five years, neighbors have been frustrated with Higgins’ and Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie’s silence. Earlier this month, over 360 Ward 5 residents submitted a petition to the councilman, who “acknowledged” it, but did not respond. McDuffie’s office did not agree to be interviewed. Howard University did not respond to requests for comment.

Curry Hackett teaches architecture at Howard, his alma mater. “There’s an unfortunate trend, not just at Howard, of Black people being robbed of their land. I think with an institution as fixed in history — especially in D.C.’s history — as it is, I think it would just be unfortunate to see something of this size, of this significance, go down the road of optimizing profit.” 

Last year, Hackett and colleague Jerome Haferd challenged their students to design potential alternatives to Howard’s plans, called Howard East Futures. Students wrote that the 23-acre site “deserves more vision and sensitivity to the histories and potential futures for coming generations — especially those of Black and indigenous people in the DC metro area.” 

“There’s a lot of indigenous population — the Piscataway peoples. There’s also a history of slaves occupying the site,” said Hackett, “so I think building on that lot in an overly efficient way seems to be a perversion in a way and a disrespect to that history, frankly.”

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