Eclectic Group Meets at Mayoral Debate
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 12:02
With Mayor Vincent Gray out of town, an unconventional cast of mayoral candidates took to the stage Tuesday evening to explore the future of planning in Washington, D.C., in a debate held at the District Architecture Center in downtown D.C.
Sponsored by the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Potomac Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Planning Association, affordable housing and architectural design were on the table at the event, moderated by Douglas Fruehling, editor-in-chief of the Washington Business Journal.
The featured candidates included Councilman Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Councilman Vincent Orange (D-At Large), former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis, write-in candidate Michael Green and the late addition of D.C. party promoter Carlos Allen.
Candidates addressed recent proposals to rewrite the District’s decade-old zoning laws including provisions allowing for accessory apartments and the construction of corner stores in areas zoned for residential use. Orange emphasized the importance of striking a proper balance if revisions were to be made.
“We need a reasonable, balanced approach without leaving anyone behind,” Orange said.
Lewis encouraged continued partnerships between District residents and the design community, saying that changes in zoning laws should parallel structures right outside of the District.
“Why aren’t we looking at communities right next door?” Lewis said.
Fruehling shifted the debate’s focus to family life and affordable housing in the District, and Wells spoke adamantly about his plans for adaptability in the city, proposing the creation of multi-use housing units that would be both affordable and adaptable for a diverse group of people.
“We need to move to infrastructure,” Wells said. “It can change depending on its use. So people don’t have to move because of their family size or income.”
Fellow candidates noted the importance of attracting and retaining families in D.C.
Orange brought up the Georgetown 2028 plan, a comprehensive strategy to make the Georgetown area more family friendly and accessible through new and improved modes of transportation. Green emphasized the importance of encouraging families to stay in the area, but he offered no concrete plans for doing so, while Lewis stressed the importance of having well-established education systems in each neighborhood.
Allen, who arrived late, agreed with Lewis on the value of education.
“We need to teach people to focus on how to depend on themselves instead of giving them handouts,” Allen said. “We need to make sure children are learning, graduating. If you aren’t making a living wage, you are in survival mode.”
Although the debate focused on the future of D.C. planning, candidates used the event as an opportunity to further criticize Gray’s current administration in his absence. Orange, a candidate with experience in economic development, spoke extensively about Gray’s failure to increase the minimum wage steadily every year.
“The minimum wage was raised to $11.50. ... Gray didn’t increase the minimum wage annually as planned,” Orange said. “Are we really talking about giving people an opportunity to be here?”
On the subject of the proposed changes to the D.C. Height Act, however, all candidates united in opposition. The changes would lessen building restrictions instituted in the 1910 act, which limits building heights in the District to 130 feet. Wells criticized D.C. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning and her proposal that the building height restrictions should be loosened.
“[Tregoning] viewed it in a very linear, two-dimensional way,” Wells said. “We are redefining in a very complex way.”
Green offered no specific solutions for maximizing space in D.C. but repeatedly emphasized the importance of investing in residents. Allen opposed the height change proposal, referencing the changes in the housing economy in the city.
“I don’t want the height to change. The supply and demand of housing is always changing. We need to focus on that,” Allen said.
Mayoral candidates will square off again this Wednesday, Feb. 26th at a debate hosted by American University.