Cross-posted from The District Chronicles
A hearing was scheduled last week, likely to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy, in the case of Vaughn Bennett et al vs. Mayor Vincent Gray and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, DC’s most significant environmental justice case in recent years.
In a David and Goliath story, the tiny Ivy City community, a low-income African-American neighborhood settled originally just after emancipation, has filed suit against the Mayor and USRC to halt plans to divert hundreds of polluting charter buses into their community for the next 10 years while Union Station undergoes a billion dollar redevelopment.
When residents learned that the Mayor, in the midst of attending ribbon-cuttings and congratulating new homeowners, had authorized the Alexander Crummell School be turned into yet another parking lot for diesel-spewing buses, their outrage turned to action and attorney Johnny Barnes was retained and lawsuit filed to halt the construction. Built in 1911, the school, now in neglected shape, is a national landmark added to the historic registry 10 years ago.
“We will do whatever it takes to stop this parking lot,” said third generation resident Andria Swanson, a plaintiff in the case and President of the Ivy City Civic Association. “We demand that the city stop treating Ivy City as its dumping ground, because we deserve better.”
The Ivy City case has city-wide implications as it will set precedent in areas of law relating to the requirement that Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) receive special notice and their views be considered with “great weight.”
The suit also hinges on the city’s failure to conduct an environmental impact study for the development of the bus lot, which the Mayor claims is not a “major action.”
Despite not receiving notice, the ANC voted 8 to 0 against the planned bus depot, once they discovered the plan. Other ANCs across the District have joined the opposition by passing resolutions against the bus depot.
Long treated as the city’s “dumping ground,” residents of Ivy City are already heavily impacted by respiratory illnesses exacerbated by heavy truck traffic along New York Avenue and the resulting air pollution. Generations of Ivy City residents have advocated improvements to their neglected neighborhood, and thought better days were coming when the city began investing in new affordable homes and revitalization planning. Yet early this year, the Mayor did an abrupt turn-around, authorizing the purchase of over six acres in the community to consolidate the parking of Department of Public Works’ fleet, on top of several acres of school bus parking already sited in the community.
For decades, the community has sought, and the DC government has promised, the restoration of Crummell School to provide services such as recreation, education and job training programs. Non-profit developers Manna Inc, Mi Casa and DC Habitat bought into the city’s stated goal of revitalizing Ivy City and broke ground on 58 new homes, now nearing completion. New homeowners and existing residents now face potential immediate risk to their health should the Mayor’s proposed charter bus lot move forward. The community is also burdened by overflow parking from Love nightclub, a youth detention center, homeless shelter, a new medical marijuana cultivation site and liquor distillery.
Just last year through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the DC Department of Housing and Community Development participated in a study that showed 36% of Ivy City and Trinidad residents lacked a high school diploma or equivalent, and 11% are unemployed. The Crummell School is situated in the heart of the community similar to a town hall, and is the last remaining place available to provide the services and gathering space the community seeks.
“Sitting a polluting charter bus lot across the street from residences is an injustice that the Mayor would never consider visiting upon a higher-income or more politically powerful community,” said Parisa Norouzi, Executive Director of Empower DC, a group working to enhance the organizing efforts of residents.
“By definition this is a case of Environmental Injustice,” Norouzi said. “The Mayor should be ashamed of himself.”