Dear PoP – Mt. Pleasant Library Addition in Danger

“Dear PoP,

It’s not likely to happen as it would be a huge waste of money, but in DC you never know so I’m hoping you’ll spread the word. The MTP Library expansion is nearly complete. If you walk by the site you can see it has really taken shape. In fact the entire renovation is set to be complete THIS winter and yet it seems it is still mired in legal battles. Housing Complex notes that there is even a possibility that they will have to tear everything down.

I want to encourage everyone from Ward 1 to come out in support of the expansion because regardless of what your stance was before it was built, it is ridiculous to reverse course now. Initially some were against it so money could instead be allocated to building another library in ward one, but now that the expansion has been built, reversing course would result in millions being wasted and a second library would then take even longer to come to fruition. I am hoping that things are allowed to proceed and we can all meet and peruse books this winter in an expanded, inviting library. But we need to make it known that reversing course would be an extremely unpopular decision.”

We previously spoke about the Mt. Pleasant Library Renovation and Addition here and here.

23 Comment

  • If this happens, I’ll personally go and lay down in front of the bulldozer.

    • Noble as that is, it is putting a tremendous amount of faith in a DC municipal employee to know that it is still illegal to run you over.

  • Generally speaking, I am almost unconditionally pro-library. I also don’t like the idea of wasting millions of public dollars. I am confused by the little I’ve read though, and if I have time I’ll do some more reading.

    But it kind of sounds like they went ahead and built a big addition without the proper permits and approval. Do I have that wrong?

    • ah

      It’s a zoning issue. I may get the details wrong, but the permits were approved as consistent with the zoning law. So they could start construction. However, someone appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which said that the permits violated the zoning rules (the issue I believe is what was a “rear lot” versus what is a “side lot” and how far the building has to be set back on each side).

      So right now as built it violates the zoning rules, although the city could appeal that ruling. Also, the city has applied for a variance in this case. So two avenues before anything gets torn down.

    • You do have that wrong. The library’s plans were approved by the Zoning Administrator, but as @ah has said below, it is a zoning interpretation issue that has caused most of these problems. The lot on which the library sits is uniquely shaped and has two frontages. The building has two fronts, one on Lamont and one on 16th, making it difficult to determine which of the five sides of the lot was actually the “rear” (under the BZA’s decision on appeal, the rear is an irregular triangle). The Library’s plans included a setback from the south side of the property, and the Zoning Administrator blessed this plan because that particular side of the property is opposite one of the building’s “fronts,” along Lamont Street, which has the longer property frontage. Otten appealed, without the consent of his former ANC or ANC 1D, I might add (although that issue was somewhat corrected later), and the BZA disagreed with the Zoning Administrator’s interpretation. Based on that decision, the library is now requesting relief from the BZA’s interpretation of what the rear yard is required to be. The BZA will take up that request on July 19.

      The planning process for this library renovation has spanned over two years and has involved numerous community meetings and discussions about safety and aesthetics. I strongly believe that the renovation and addition currently under construction represents the best compromise in terms of preserving the character of the historic building, providing accessibility, modernizing the building, and placing the needed addition in an area that does not impede upon the surrounding structures. This idea that fire access was previously available is ridiculous–DC Fire/EMS fights fires from the streets, not the rears of buildings, and there has never been an alley system in the center of that square to provide access. What Otten wants is for the library and other property owners to dedicate their property for a fire lane. This is a tight site and there is just not enough area to do that, even if it were warranted, but it is not. The Deauville building burned before the library constructed its addition, and the addition in the rear of the library property does nothing to diminish the safety or fire protection in this neighborhood. What the library addition will provide, however, is sorely needed computer terminals, updated children’s spaces, and a 100 seat community room that can be made accessible even after the library is closed (so community meetings can run past the library’s early closing time, for example).

      Unfortunately Mr. Otten and his ilk have cost the District taxpayers dearly. They have interjected chaos into a technical discussion about zoning interpretation, and I know that the library is doing the best it can to not let this process result in a diminution in services in Mt. P or elsewhere. These folks are likely to cause a ruckus again on July 19. If you support the library’s plans and want the library open sooner rather than later, I urge you to come out to the BZA meeting or to send comments to the Board of Zoning Adjustment so that your voice is heard. Don’t let a vocal minority control the outcome!

  • I really hope this doesn’t get torn down. It would be a huge loss for the community. Here’s a great example where politics break down and fail the community they are supposed to serve.

    The whole issue started because a bunch of pissy pants NIMBYs didn’t want their library’s precious reading room destroyed. Since this isn’t really a valid argument (and they know this), they spent a bunch of time and city money to throw every technical issue they could at it – ADA requirements, emergency vehicle access, etc – and used those as talking points. Enter more time and city money to address these issues.

    Finally, permits are issued and construction begins, and the precious reading room is torn down. Instead of conceding defeat, the NIMBYs continue to foam at the mouth and demand construction be halted. It’s just a matter of principle at this point, since no sane person actually believes the reading room will be reconstructed.

    Pretty disappointing all the way around. Hoepfully enough Ward 1 residents will show up for support of the addition and drown out the NIMBYs.

    • “The whole issue started because a bunch of pissy pants NIMBYs didn’t want their library’s precious reading room destroyed.”

      The reading room isn’t going to be substantially changed in the renovation (aside from the addition, most of the changes are to HVAC, sprinkers, and other invisible elements, and to bringing the stairway to the second floor up to code.)

      The fight, instigated by Chris Otten – one guy hiding behind the group name “Library Dynamos”, and assisted by our ANC – is over the space in the back of the building: they claim that the addition will block access by emergency services to the buildings on Mt. Pleasant St. that back onto the land on which the addition is being constructed. They also claim that the handicapped ramp being built is inadequate.

      This despite the fact that – even during the Deauville fire in ’08 – DCFD made no attempt to access the property via the back yard of the library or, to the best of my knowledge, has EVER used it. Despite the fact that neither Chris or our ANC commissioners have ever demonstrated *any* interest in the library, or advocated for it, before it emerged as a platform for their colossal egos and fake, self-serving displays of “community activism” and aggrievement.

      I have some concerns about the renovation + the addition, but on the whole (esp. having seen the renovation at Takoma, which the same team handled), I think this is a very positive step for the library. It will be incredibly depressing if a handful of lonely, mentally ill “activists” succeed in derailing it.

  • andy

    Could the DC Council and the Mayor just bless the thing legislatively and make the lawsuits and zoning clusterf go away?

  • Stop Mount Pleasant from becoming the next Athens Greece.

    Athens Greece built a big library and NOW LOOK WHATS HAPPENING?

    For the love of god, oppose this library or else our country will fall apart.

  • Here’s another example of our meddling ANC. The Chairperson of ANC1D got together with a neighboring ANC commissioner to protest the construction on the pretense that the construction of the addition was a fire hazard because it blocked access to the rear walls of a few apartment buildings on Mt. Pleasant. This, despite the fact that fire chief had signed off on it. The protesters focused on how there was a split vote at the BZA and want some kind of restructuring/election change for the BZA commissioners. I’m sure that someone will have the facts straight and feel compelled to write ad nauseum about them but my impression has been that this is just another example of political grandstanding in Mt. Pleasant that has stalled neighborhood development. As a resident of Mt. Pleasant, I hope that the protesters get shut down and wish they would just be quiet – generally speaking.

  • How about this – the Council is actually considering turning the libraries into casinos. No I am not making this up:

    That’s right – Michael Brown, the guy who made $200,000 last year at a law firm that represents gambling companies, wants to build a city-owned online gambling system using Homeland Security infrastructure, then set up terminals IN LIBRARIES for people to sit and gamble.

    I am having trouble imagining a more offensive, corrupt idea. This makes the whole kerfluffle about expensive SUVs seem like a sideshow.

    I’m hoping PoP will start a separate post about this where we can discuss how to stop this from happening.

  • Might be time for Mt. P to switch Production to a Temple. There’s still a chance for a Culture victory!

  • What is this, NIMBY month on PoP? Is it the hot weather that has them all hot and bothered, or Gray’s (whose administration is more NIMBY-friendly) recent victory?

  • At least we can keep the nice storefront library on Mt P St while this whole thing is being sorted out. Small as the space is, it certainly has livened up the block.

    So who are we supposed to petition about this? Where is influence best levied? The ANC? The council? Random construction workers on the project? The fire department?

  • Oh and just wait, cost increases resulting from NIMBY-led delays will probably be added into the propaganda of Chris Otten, Robin Diener and their pals. “The Mount Pleasant Library renovation ended up going XX millions over budget and XX days over schedule! Meanwhile, DCPL is laying off librarians and curtailing hours!”

    Yeah, congrats on the overruns. These folks are only happy when they’re unhappy. Logic has no impact.

  • There’s an ANC 1D meeting on July 5th (see for details) to discuss this issue. Commenting here is nice and all, but it’s no substitute for showing up at the ANC meeting and commenting in person to your ANC reps!

  • I know I am late, but I just wanted to chime in here because I was at the community meetings and was also drafted by Jim Graham for a study group to discuss this issue further. I got to observe Chris Otten and close quarters and was kind of disturbed by his “at all costs” approach to issues.

    What I believe originally motivated Chris was that he belived that the MtP library should be renovated in its existing walls and savings should be diverted to building underserved areas in Ward 1 such as Adams Morgan. Although Jim Graham advised him repeatedly and kindly that there would be no operating budget for such a new facility and that delaying the MtP project placed it in danger of losing its budget (the recession was about to begin and people could feel it coming), he kept on and at each meeting brought up new and ever more desperate objections.

    One of the meetings featured officials from the Fire Department discussing how unlikely they would ever be to try to pull a truck into the area behind the library because the space is unpaved, is too narrow and has never been an alley. That didn’t stop Chris and unfortunately the Fire Chief (who may be an excellent firefighter) was completely unprepared for the meeting.

    I can’t really see what Chris hopes to gain from this aside from assuaging his own bitterness as a result of being on the losing side. Of course we are getting a modernized library out of this so I’m having a hard time seeing it as a loss. I encourage all of you who can to attend the hearing on July 19.

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