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Proposed National Park Service Land Swap Is a Bad Deal for the Public
Kent Slowinski, Foxhall Community Citizens Association, Casey Mansion Committee
January 2003




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Glover Archibold Park, next to Casey Mansion site
Glover Archibold Park, next to Casey Mansion site

Nearly 17 acres on Foxhall Road are not enough for the Casey Mansion Foundation (CMF) to build the mayor’s mansion it has offered the D.C. government, so the foundation is trying to add four more acres of pristine National Park Service (NPS) parkland. The portion of Whitehaven Parkway, open to the public for more than half a century, stretches from Foxhall Road at Whitehaven Parkway to Glover Archbold Park.

Community opposition is growing to an agreement between CMF and NPS, which would yield title to the Federal parkland to the foundation. CMF plans to erect an eight foot high steel fence and build a large guardhouse, up to 1,000 square feet, and a secure entrance on this hilly, wooded land.

But the Mayor’s Official Residence Commission, headed by the former Mayor Walter Washington, studied Casey’s offer for a mansion on the original foundation-owned tract, concluded: "The proposed site and building are large enough to accommodate all reasonable security concerns."

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 3-D (Palisade) and 2-E (Georgetown) voted unanimously to oppose and not support the loss of four acres of wildlife habitat and wetlands. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3-B (Glover Park) asked the Park Service to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before taking further action to implement the agreement, which was signed June 13, 2002.

In compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), NPS has completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the four-acre parkland – a much less demanding study than required in an EIS. The EA public comment period ends January 17, 2002.

Opponents to the proposed swap criticize the EA for its inadequate examination of the likely harm to the public parkland, flawed assumptions and factual errors. They say the EA simply attempts to justify a land grab by the foundation. (The EA was paid for by CMF, whose president is Richard Carr, head of the Oliver T. Carr Company, a major developer in the D.C. area.) For example, the EA shows a "preferred site" for the mansion far closer to the NPS parkland than a site regarded by many as a more logical location.

Donald Velsey, an architect and Foxhall resident, says the EA does not contain any information relating to the proposed site plan for the ‘preferred option.’ Mr. Velsey asks, "What other options, besides the original mansion site, were studied? Who studied them? What were the criteria used to select this as the ‘preferred option’? What compelling design or planning reasons led to this conclusion?" Velsey questioned the EA assertion that if CMF does not obtain the parkland, "development of the preferred configuration for the mayoral mansion would not be possible…"

"That statement," Velsey states, "does not reflect a thoughtful analysis of the site, proposing as it does, only one possible solution. This is a tired old strategy for presenting and distorting facts in a way that can only lead to the conclusion the presenter wants."

The NPS/CMF agreement would swap the four acres for a foundation-optioned parcel 1/37 that size near Key Bridge for use in the Georgetown Waterfront Park planned by NPS. Federal law requires the swap to be a financially fair exchange. A valuation of the two parcels was begun in July 2002, but NPS has not made the report public.

In a letter to the Washington Post, Bob Morris, conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s District Chapter, wrote:

"The environmental concerns regarding this swap are similar to those concerns in many other such transactions by NPS around the country. Current economic analysis by NPS does not take into consideration important services provided by wild areas. Lot 804, the public land NPS wants to trade, is a natural bioretention area, absorbing the runoff from a broad extent of Foxhall Road. Rainwater is held, recycled into the air through transpiration, filtered, and slowly released in a manner that is both beneficial to both the onsite and down stream habitat. Trees have three times their harvested value when left on site: by recycling water into the air, cleansing carbon and other pollutants from the air, providing summer cooling, preventing erosion, fixing nutrients in the soil, and eventually becoming part of the soil and replacing themselves. Provision of habitat to a tremendous diversity of wild species, including such rarities as the piebald deer, is of significant value. All of these services escape typical economic analysis, but all factor into the valuation of this site to the public, who owns this land. All these values will be drastically altered and adversely affected by the planned use of the land if the swap is consummated."

The Casey Mansion Committee (CMC), of the Foxhall Community Citizens Association, has been studying the proposed swap since mid-September. CMC says:

"Our study indicates that once in private hands, the four-acre tract might be used to provide access to some 15 acres of the adjacent Phillips Estate. This could open the door to the development of many home sites in an area that is already experiencing intensive development compounding traffic problems on Foxhall Road and adjacent streets."

The committee continued:

"Although the D.C. City Council and the mayor approved a resolution accepting Casey’s offer of a mayoral mansion – Casey retains ownership of the property – several conditions remain to be met before the arrangement becomes final. One of these requires a statement on "how open and accessible the Casey Mansion building and grounds will be to the public." Obviously, this information should be available in weighing the parkland swap. It is not."

The committee supported the February 2001 National Capital Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan on Parks, Open Space and Natural Features Element, which declares,

"The narrow threads of natural green areas throughout the District, like Whitehaven Parkway, Klingle Valley Parkway, Glover Archbold Park, Soapstone Valley Park, or Piney Branch Parkway, should be protected and maintained to provide green background and open space amenity for the residential areas of the city. These natural areas should be protected from border development that would adversely impact their natural resources and visual quality. The use of generous building setbacks, height controls, the donation of scenic easements, or the transfer development rights from adjacent landowners should be pursued to ensure protection."

To obtain a copy of, or to comment on the Environmental Assessment, contact joe_cook@nps.gov. Send comments on the EA by January 17, 2003.

For more information on the efforts of the Casey Mansion Committee, contact Kent Slowinski at WKSLA@aol.com, or Howard Bray: 202-337-4115.

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