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New Plan Envisions More Density In Chevy Chase, But Agency Says It Won't Improve Racial Equity

The D.C. Council unanimously approved a plan for greater density and affordability in the area around Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, but a District agency says opportunities were missed to advance racial equity.

During a council meeting Tuesday, Chairman Phil Mendelson said the plan "is not the last step" taken to incorporate community feedback and pursue policy goals in the area, noting the Zoning Commission is the ultimate arbiter on many decisions related to the area.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks outside the Chevy Chase Community Center on Dec. 16.

"This is just further flesh, if you will, on the bones of the Comprehensive Plan," Mendelson said.

Small area plans themselves rarely lead to immediate changes in the built environment, and they don't directly change zoning designations, but they give new guidance to planners and zoning officials about how elected officials and their constituents want to see neighborhoods evolve. In recent years this has often led toward greater density in places such as the H Street corridor. 

The Chevy Chase plan, as written by the Office of Planning, advocates for a mixed-use zoning area centered around the Chevy Chase Library, where the District plans to put Housing Production Trust Fund dollars to use building dedicated affordable housing units above an updated library and community center.

The plan was undertaken with a specific eye toward racial equity, acknowledging that historical land use practices in the area created the "racially segregated landscape of Rock Creek West today." Its adoption follows the first draft of another small area plan in Congress Heights, which also reckons with racial equity.

"The CCSAP is an opportunity to reform current land use regulations that have been a barrier to achieving socio-economic diversity and access to opportunities that lead to better health and economic outcomes," the plan says.

It's also part of a broader effort by Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration to finally make progress on building affordable housing units in the Rock Creek West area, where the District has made just 1% of its goal, interim Planning Director Anita Cozart acknowledged in a statement following the small area plan's passage.

Interim Planning Director Anita Cozart speaks during Fair Shot Friday on March 25, 2022.

"Council adoption of the small area plan enables the District to initiate zoning changes to catalyze affordable housing and advance plans for the civic core redevelopment featuring new housing above," Cozart said. "The Chevy Chase Small Area Plan is a key initiative in realizing Mayor Bowser’s 2,000 affordable housing unit goal for the Rock Creek West Area."

Not everyone in the District government is convinced the plan goes far enough in addressing racial equity. A report from the D.C. Council Office on Racial Equity, which was established in 2021 to examine equity in official District policy, found that the plan "misses the opportunity to provide firm, specific guidance required to make progress toward racial equity... [and] will maintain the status quo of racial inequity."

On that point, CORE echoes criticism that has previously been leveled at Bowser's progress on new affordable housing from advocates and from the Office of the Inspector General — that by targeting income bands near the range of 80% area median income, the District is failing to reach Black households.

The plan’s housing affordability recommendations include supporting a range of income bands, and it does provide a specific recommendation to prioritize households at or below 40% of the AMI.

But the CORE report said declining to provide a target number for units affordable at that income bracket, and the lack of specificity around unit sizes for each income band, could make it harder to implement.

“It is unclear how this recommendation would translate in practice,” the report says. 


The same issues could occur for homeownership in Chevy Chase, CORE's report said. Black residents make up 6% of the study area's population, and 81% of them are renters. Meanwhile, White residents make up 77% of the population and 69% are homeowners.

The small area plan’s recommendations for correcting the homeownership gap in Chevy Chase includes general support for a community land trust, a model that advocates have supported in areas like Southwest D.C. or Historic Anacostia that preserves the affordability of for-sale homes for low-income residents.

The plan also includes a recommendation to “Encourage new multifamily buildings to prioritize ownership opportunities suitable for 80% Median Family Income.” 

But CORE notes that 80% AMI for White residents of the District is $128,731, while 80% AMI for Black residents of the District is $42,903. That discrepancy could lead to Black residents being boxed out of the buyer pool for homes affordable at 80% AMI in Chevy Chase.

The small area plan acknowledges the segregated history of the area, which remains 81% White today. It mentions the George Pointer Settlement, an estate owned by a Black family and seized by the federal government to build a Whites-only elementary school in 1928, known as Lafayette Elementary today. 

While it levied several criticisms, the CORE report said the Office of Planning did its homework when it came to community engagement, finding ways to meet current residents where they naturally congregate and gathering important data along the way.

"The Chevy Chase Small Area Plan recognizes and supports racial equity," the CORE report says in its conclusion. "The Plan had a robust community engagement process, analyzed data disaggregated by race, recognized the racism in the area’s past, and included some promising ideas in response to issues faced by Black residents and other residents of color."