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Tonight was the community meeting about the proposed consolidation of many of the Metropolitan Police Department's functions into the old Star/Post Plant at 225 Virginia Ave. The session was run by council member Tommy Wells, with Office of Property Management director Lars Etzkorn and MPD assistant Chief Brian Jordan on the hot seat in front of a crowd that was decidedly not excited about the proposal in its current form.
And for a good portion of the meeting, residents were unable to get an answer as to whether or not this plan is a done deal, but toward the end Wells and Etzkorn and council member Phil Mendelson (who arrived late in the session) seemed to indicate that perhaps there's still some wriggle room on some of the plans.
To summarize for folks who haven't been following along since news of this plan broke late in 2006, the District has signed a lease for the 440,000-sq-ft building and has formulated a plan to move 1,100 MPD employees in the following units into the building: the superintendent of detectives, the violent crimes branch, narcotics and special investigations, special operations, property and evidence, and the First District station that is currently at 4th and School streets, SW.
The building is going to need a fair amount of interior work, plus the construction of a 460-space garage, so up to $100 million of that cost is being built into the yearly lease. (My previous news items on 225 Virginia can give you additional background.) And, the relocation of the 1D station clears the way for the construction of the city's new Combined Forensics Lab on that site, which is clearly a priority for all branches of D.C. government.
The biggest concerns coming from the assembled audience were the move of the First District station out of Southwest, and the issue of parking, given that the new garage to be built is 188 spaces short of MPD's identified needs. Noise was also brought up as a worry.
Despite assistant chief Jordan's description of the First District station move as being "only 5,500 feet" (in other words, a mile) and his explanations of how the officers would only be at 225 Virginia during roll call and shift change and out in their PSAs the rest of the time, Southwest residents remained clearly opposed to losing their station.
As for the parking, the Powerpoint presentation showed a plan to create 108 spaces at the DPW Trash Transfer lot at Second and K streets, SE, and use 80 street spaces on the four streets that surround 225 Virginia. Etzkorn did make a point of mentioning that the use of the DPW site will be done in such a way that ensures that the site can still be developed, as it is supposed to eventually be home to a mixed-income apartment building as part of the Capper/Carrollsburg redevelopment.
There were discussions of creating "24-7" residential parking restrictions to prevent overflow MPD parking on certain blocks in similar fashion to how parking is handled at RFK for baseball games, but the idea of police cars ever actually getting ticketed for parking illegally was met with extreme skepticism. Assistant chief Jordan did pledge that the MPD would be a "good community partner."
There were even comments about whether it's a good idea to consolidate the city's emergency response infrastructure in a single building, one that's just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol, given the possibilities of a terrorist strike. (One woman went so far as to mention how easy it would be for evildoers to take out 225 Virginia by launching a missile from the Southeast Freeway.)
Etzkorn, taking pains to emphasize that this lease deal was created before he joined OPM, admitted that this project has been poorly handled from a community involvement perspective. The lease was approved by the council during the final days of the Williams administration, without any public meetings to discuss the viability of putting such a large traffic-creating target-rich development in such a residential area.
Mendelson said that if there's a lot of opposition to the move of the 1D station, then it needs to be looked at, and Etzkorn echoed that by saying that the Fenty administration needs to make sure that the plans are appropriate and that "this is not a fait accompli." Wells concluded by saying that everyone needs to respect that there were a lot of reasons for picking 225 Virginia and making these plans, but that he has now inserted himself into the discussion and will help to negotiate what's best for the community while weighing what's best for the city.
The participants pledged that there will be another community meeting soon. So, while you're waiting for that, keep checking back here for when I post the meeting slides, and also read Lars Etzkorn's June 7 testimony on the move (and my two summaries of that hearing). If you have strong feelings on the subject one way or the other, contacting Tommy Wells, Phil Mendelson, and Carol Schwartz wouldn't be a bad idea. And of course, as soon as I hear anything more, I will post about it.
UPDATED 7/19 with a link to the meeting's slide presentation.

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