Tenley-Janney drawing by Squalish.

Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Kwame Brown have formally asked Mayor Fenty to stop pursuing a public-private partnership for the Tenley library and the adjacent Janney school. The original idea was a good one: the library is a low-rise building on a major corner that could support housing above, and help fund a better library and expansion for Janney.

Unfortunately, according to activists who supported the general idea of a PPP, the project went fatally off the rails when the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) narrowed the RFP in ways that limited neighborhood options to a bad project or nothing at all. After effective organizing by anti-PPP groups and low enthusiasm by proponents for what had turned into a lousy project, Cheh responded to neighborhood sentiment and chose the latter.

In their letter, Cheh and Brown write that “we believe that [the current LCOR proposal] is fatally flawed.” Still, they haven’t given up on something better. “We still believe, as we have throughout, that the public interest lies in the comprehensive development of this site. There is an urgent need to have vibrant, mixed-use development along our main corridors and the Tenley Library site, which is located across the street from the subway, ought to be a key part of such development.”

How can we have it both ways? Cheh and Brown suggest adding “the structural supports necessary to permit development on top of the Library at a future date,” whether “residential, mixed-use, or even an increase in the size of the Library.” That maintains some options, though fewer.

Moving the library upstairs to place retail on the ground floor and the library upstairs (as in Rockville) would probably not be practical once a new library is up and running. A future project won’t be able to combine improvements to the school and to the library site like this concept by Squalish. Still, it’s better than nothing, and the Councilmembers are salvaging a little hope from a bad situation.

Tenleytown ANC candidate Jonathan Bender wrote on the neighborhood email list that “One would hope DPMED learned from this experience that hoarding information and excluding public input is, to understate, unwise.” Some DC agencies, sadly, seem to lurch from not speaking to the public at all (and risking uninformed decisions) to listening too much and making hasty changes to projects based on momentary resident feedback.

Good decisionmakers communicate plans clearly, listen thoroughly to all input, then make a reasoned decision with the totality of evidence. DMPED’s failure in this case has squandered a great opportunity to improve one of our underutilized Metro-accessible corridors. Hopefully the city won’t squander the next opportunity so lightly.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.