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Group Pushes City for Services, Not Parking Lot

While the city is going ahead with plans for the former Datatel building site on Mount Vernon Avenue, there are others who do not share the city's vision.

"We presented the need for a teen center, health services and childcare and they are planning a parking lot,” said Jon Liss, the executive director of the Tenant and Workers Support Committee. “What kind of choice is that?”

TWSC rallied more than 100 neighborhood residents to speak to the mayor and City Council on the site where the Datatel building once stood and where the city plans to build a parking lot as an interim use until full-scale redevelopment of the area is economically viable.

“The community went through a process that took over a year,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. “All of the parties were invited to participate. There is a report and a plan and we need to move forward to implement that plan. Right now, the neighborhood needs more parking and that is what we are going to do with this site for the present.”

LISS AGREED that a representative from TWSC was invited to participate in the Upper Potomac West Task Force that formulated the redevelopment plan. “That was kind of like inviting Native Americans to work with Custer,” he said. “We had Judy Bliss representing the Arlandria Civic Association and one member from our committee even though we applied to have more of the at-large seats. At the first meeting, we talked about affordable housing and childcare and the city manager told us that wasn’t the purpose of this process.”

The Datatel building was demolished in September after the city paid $1.5 million for it. The plan is to redevelop that site in conjunction with the old Safeway site to include commercial, retail, residential and open space uses for the community. The Safeway site has been leased for five years to two restaurants and a dollar store.

At the meeting on Oct. 1, with neighborhood residents, Donley outlined steps the city has taken to improve healthcare for residents of this neighborhood, despite the fact that healthcare is not a local government responsibility. “This is the responsibility of the state and federal government,” Donley said.

The Arlandria Neighborhood Services runs a clinic for mothers and their children in the neighborhood. The city provides financial support to this group. Additionally, US Rep. James P. Moran (D-8) obtained $600,000 in federal funding for the group to purchase a new, larger facility. The group has also applied for state certification as a facility that serves “medically underserved populations” that would allow them to become a full-service clinic and be eligible to receive more state and federal money.

MEMBERS OF THE TWSC youth group also spoke about a teen center. “We’ve been asking for a teen center for over a year now,” said Juana Vega. “In this neighborhood, a lot of parents are at work days, nights and weekends. We need a place for teenagers to go after school while the parents are at work.”

The city has set aside $50,000 to study the possibility of just such a center. Councilwoman Joyce Woodson and Donley have explored property in the city’s west end that might be used for this purpose.

“The planning process was inclusive but to participate, you had to come to the table,” said Councilwoman Claire Eberwein, who attended Tuesday night’s meeting. “We have looming capital needs throughout the city. While some of the identified desires of the TWSC could potentially be included in a new facility, this facility must contribute to the economic viability of the area. Our strongest prospect, at this point, is to relocate the school system’s administrative headquarters to this area. They are currently in leased space that is very expensive to the taxpayers of this city..”

Generally, Liss was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. “The mayor and the city manager have agreed to hold a dialogue with six or seven of us about our concerns,” he said. “This should happen in the next week or so.”