Stacks of witness testimony at March 20th's hearing on the DC Comprehensive Plan. Over 275 witnesses signed up to testify. Image by the author.

Early this morning (at 3:41 am to be exact) the gavel banged on what proved to be a DC Council hearing of historic proportions. More than 275 witnesses were signed up to testify about amending the DC Comprehensive Plan — the second-most witnesses ever in the history of DC Council hearings. Testimony lasted over 13 hours, revealing a nuanced and difficult decision for the Council as they consider how to move forward.

The Comp Plan is massive land use and planning document that is supposed to guide the growth of the city in the coming decades. The DC Council is considering a bill to amend just the first chapter of the Comp Plan, the Framework Element, which essentially acts as the introduction for the entire document.

A slew of urbanists and affordable housing advocates showed up to testify for a growing and inclusive city, and such an impassioned response to a land use and planning document was something to behold. There will be more analysis later, but in the interim, here are some reactions from those who were there, those who watched online, and from the GGWash community at large.

Urbanists showed up in droves

It was inspiring to see so many urbanists from the GGWash community not only show up but also wait it out into the wee hours. Matt’ Johnson talked about how as a new homeowner, he is ready to welcome new homes and neighbors to his part of DC. The city just surpassed 700,000 residents, and it’s up to all neighborhoods to find ways to help accommodate that growth.

Urbanist voices at hearings like these offer a counter-narrative to what to often is the main discourse: don’t change my neighborhood. Justin Lini (ANC 7D06) appreciated that some councilmembers clearly made this distinction:

“There were a couple points where the Councilmembers asked some very good clarifying questions. At one point early in the hearing Councilmember Robert White asked a resident about where affordable housing should go, if not in her neighborhood, where? At some points you could almost see people realizing the implications of their arguments “If you put it that way, I sound like a NIMBY.”

Equitably planning for the housing and affordable housing needs of the city was central to much of the conversation. YIMBY Ward 3 residents showed up strong to say they welcomed new homes and new affordable homes, a message too often not heard in public testimony.

The hearing included voices from all spectrums of this debate.

Aakash Thakkar, Senior Vice President at EYA, was one of many for- and non-profit developers who stayed late to testify:

“A clear consensus came out of the hearing yesterday. Residents understand the District is growing and that we need more housing, market and affordable, to protect existing residents and welcome new ones. Residents also want a clear development process and do not want a small minority to hold up carefully crafted, community based projects”

Housing professionals and advocates were joined by dozens of public witnesses — many of them testifying for the first time, Daniel Warwick (Chair ANC 2B) noted:

“Around 12:30 last night there was a panel with two first-time witnesses at a Council Hearing — an artist and a newly naturalized citizen. Chairman Mendelson asked the witnesses why they were motivated to show up for this hearing. It was because they care about the city, want to make sure the Council heard from underrepresented groups (artists and immigrants), and want to get more involved in their government.

Both of them heard about the hearing from a friend who sent a post that was on Greater Greater Washington. That is how GGWash has typically drawn turnout to events, but the Comp Plan was different. Before this effort I never would have imagined ANCs and Commissioners from nearly every ward, many of the biggest developers in the city, and all the other members of the coalition advocating for the same thing. I am really inspired by this effort and look forward to all that we can achieve working together.”

GGWash hosted a party throughout the night to keep people waiting to testify entertained, and we got to host some guests as well!

Who says we can’t solve all of the city’s land use problems over beer and Cards Against Urbanity?

The hashtag #CompPlanHearing was trending last night, as spectators and witnesses chimed in across the region. People stayed late. Real late.

Finally, GGWash edit board member Dan Reed commented from Silver Spring:

As someone who doesn't live in the District I'm impressed that a public hearing is allowed to go that long, and that your elected officials are responsible for hearing every single person out. I hope all of you get a good night's sleep after that!

Hear hear. (Yawn)

David Whitehead was the Housing Program Organizer at Greater Greater Washington from 2016 to 2019.  A former high school math teacher and a community organizer, David worked to broaden and deepen Greater Greater Washington’s efforts to make the region more livable and inclusive through education, advocacy, and organizing. He lives in Eckington.