In Spite of Court Setback, Ivy City Residents Fight On
At a May 16 hearing, D.C. Superior Court Judge Herbert B. Dixon lifted an injunction that, since 2012, has prohibited over 60 charter buses from parking at the historic Crummell School in Ivy City.
The verdict was disappointing to neighborhood activists who oppose the bus depot project, saying it will bring air pollution and additional traffic to their community. They are now pinning their hopes on the findings of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
“Allow the Court of Appeals to make its ruling,” requested attorney Johnny Barnes on behalf of Ivy City residents.
“There’s no emergency to get those buses running, there’s too much at stake here for these people’s health,” added Barnes, continuing to build the neighborhood’s environmental justice case.
For their part, attorneys for the developers of the project, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) and DC Mayor Vincent Gray assured the court that they have satisfied the initial requirements of the injunction to properly notify the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission and complete the environmental screening process. They presented a copy of a letter sent March 2013 notifying the former and current ANC commissioners of their intent to satisfy these requirements, as well as DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs environmental screening assessment determining that a full environmental impact study is not necessary for this project.
Barnes continued to press for a full assessment of the project’s environmental impact.
“The whole question of whether an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) needs to be done is statutory interpretation.” Barnes said. “Case law says when the agency has an interest in the outcome, it is up to the courts to interpret.”
Barnes cited the independent findings of environmental science professors from local universities that monitored air quality in the neighborhood. They found dangerous levels of particulate matter pollution which was contributed by exhaust even at current traffic levels.
Benjamin Razi, an attorney for the developer, called such findings “interesting” but added “that’s not why we’re here.”
A one week stay on parking the buses was granted to Ivy City – effectively allowing the lot’s use as of Friday, May 23.
“The plaintiffs have provided a service to the citizens of that community in regards to their health and safety,” Dixon said. “I recognize this may lead to a whole new level of injunction requests, we’re just going to have to take them step by step.”
Activists with community organizing group Empower DC believe USRC skirted the environmental health issues for a favorable ruling – and question Mayor Gray’s judicial pursuit of a development the community so obviously opposes.
“On to the Supreme Court! That’s where we’re headed,” Barnes said to residents after the hearing.. “This is an environmental case and they’re treating it like an alley closing.”
On May 20, Barnes filed a motion to renew the injunction in an attempt to keep the lot closed on historic and environmental grounds. The motion also renewed the advocates’ claims that the neighborhood had not been allowed to fully comment on the project.
Empower DC has been working with Ivy City for over ten years. Lifetime residents of the neighborhood recall attending Alexander Crummell School and the extra-curricular activities it also made possible, such as basketball and tap-dancing. Empower DC has captured oral histories of the community as part of a documentary project and has led a campaign to “save” the building, which the neighborhood’s civic association had listed as an historic site in 2002. The school was founded in 1911 as one of the District’s first schools for African Americans, and closed in the 70s.
“We need to win a victory for Ivy City, but it would be a victory for all DC residents,” said Empower DC member David Schwartzman. “It would empower them to keep pursuing clean air clean, water, and meaningful green space, such as McMillan Park.”
Schwartzman said he was disappointed with the Dixon’s decision, but insisted the struggle is not over.
Neighborhood activists and Crummell alumni said they will continue to fight to get the school building restored to its place as a neighborhood focal point. In a neighborhood with a school bus lot, public works vehicle lot, juvenile detention center, industrial operations, homeless shelter, and one small park with inconsistent hours – a recreation center is one of the top suggestions.
The neighborhood residents have an ally in DC City Council member Mary Cheh. She has opposed the bus lot at Crummell since it was proposed, when she joined Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie in a letter of opposition to Mayor Gray.
“There were appropriate and widespread complaints about air quality from residents,” Cheh said. “There has to be a better location.”
In her official budget recommendations released May 15, Cheh, who chairs the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment called for the allocation of $8.925 million for the 2015 planning and 2016 construction of a recreation center at the Crummell site. Cheh’s recommendation passed markup by the rest of the committee, clearing the way for possible inclusion in the budget recommendation that the city council hands to the mayor.
In an interview with Street Sense, Cheh responded to the concerns of the neighborhood activists.
“Ivy City is located next to an industrial center where residents are exposed to pollutants and denied resources and opportunities,” she noted. She believes the area has carried more than its share of environmental burdens.
“Ward 5 has been hard done by over the years,” Cheh said. “One area should not be a dumping ground.”