The Fight For Ivy City

Cross-Posted From Street Sense
Written by Eric Falquero

Ivy CityThree children race through the intersection of Providence and Capitol streets NE. Two kids ride scooters and one is on a bike. An oncoming taxi stops short.

Danger seen, crisis averted.

But traffic pollution poses a more insidious threat to neighborhood health, local activists say. And it is proving harder to stop than a hurrying cab.

In  the low-income community where many residents already suffer from respiratory ailments, the Ivy City Civic Association (ICCA) is fighting to keep the city from opening a  new tour bus parking lot. The neighborhood is hemmed in by busy New York Ave.NE as well as  train yards, warehouses and city vehicle lots. And advocates worry the increased fumes from the charter buses will only make health problems worse.

“We can’t just let you come in and kill us,” says ICCA president Alicia Swanson-Canty, 40, who has spent her whole life in Ivy City. She worries that current pollution levels in the neighborhood are taking a particularly heavy toll on elders, including her mother.

On December 10, 2012, Superior Court Judge Judith Macaluso buoyed the advocates in their fight against city hall.  She ruled that city officials violated the law when they moved forward with plans for the bus depot  without getting the required input from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) or doing a mandated environmental review.

But now, the Ivy City activists are bracing for the next round of their battle.

City Mayor Vincent Gray is appealing the ruling and his day in court is is scheduled for Sept. 17. The office of the mayor would offer no comment for this story, except to say the city is pursuing the requirements specified in the injunction.

Advocates hope the December ruling will stand. And they hope for more.  Their ultimate goal is seeing the former Alexander Crummell School, where the bus lot is proposed, transformed into a community or recreation center that could offer resources that are now in short supply such as a safe play area for kids and adult education classes.

Historic Photo of Crummell School - courtesy of Empower DC

“If they’re trying to make this a community, we need a rec,” said Ivy City resident Juice Williams, age 39. “We don’t need buses, we nee

d something productive: job training, GED classes…”

His fellow resident Nate Wales and David Hayes agreed that a community center would be a haven for children like the ones they had just watched cross the street in front of the taxi.dents Nat

“They’re not doing anything but chasing each other in the same circles,” Wales says of the kids.

Hayes could not help but compare the lack of services in Ivy City to the resources in other neighborhoods. “Brentwood has a work program, Rosedale has a rec, Edgewood has a rec…”

Wales added that the presence of a juvenile detention center does not send a hopeful message to young people. “There’s nothing to do, but they’re ready for you when you get destructive.”

Swanson-Canty said she believes that workforce development programs could help both longtime residents and men staying at the New York Avenue Shelter, which is also located in the neighborhood. She pointed out that the city has been promising a community center to Ivy City for years.

“Just give us what you said you would,” said Swanson-Canty. Most recently the city’s 2006 comprehensive economic development plan called for a community center and additional green space in Ivy City.

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For Ivy City, The Plan Isn’t Paranoia

Cross-Posted from the Washington Post
By Courtland Milloy, Published: December 11

Washington Post Image of Busses Parked Across the Street from Crummell School.

Busses Parked Across the Street from Crummell School.

Back in the 1970s, many low-income black D.C. residents began expressing fears that a nefarious scheme was afoot to push them out of the city. They called it “The Plan.” And they were all but laughed out of the city for sounding so paranoid. But, as the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

Take the case of Ivy City residents, whose legal battles with the D.C. government offer evidence that The Plan is not some figment of poor folks’ imagination. And, in many ways, it’s even more dastardly than they thought.

In temporarily halting a District plan to put a bus depot in Ivy City, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith N. Macaluso ruled Monday that Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration had “deliberately disregarded” laws requiring that residents be informed about how they would be affected by the move. Even worse, the judge found that developers had “evaded environmental screening by mischaracterizing the project” on city documents.

The only difference between this plan and The Plan as low-income people envisioned it is that instead of being pushed out by whites returning to take over the city, they were being pushed out by black elected officials operating as if in the employ of developers.

Union Station developers wanted a depot to keep buses that bring tourists to and from the station so merchants could sell fast food and souvenirs. Investors wanted to make a profit, city officials more tax dollars — for more bike lanes and dog parks, no doubt.

And if a bunch of low-income residents would have to breathe air filled with carcinogenic diesel exhaust to make it happen, so be it. Kill two birds with one stone.

You want to get rid of poor people? Raise their hopes by promising to renovate a historic African American landmark in their community, as Gray did to the people of Ivy City — but then turn around and break their hearts by trying to turn the site into a bus depot.

Tell Ivy City residents that the former Alexander Crummell School, named for an abolitionist who devoted his life to the uplift of black people, will be turned into a community center worthy of its namesake.

Then let them find out that instead of bringing new life to the neighborhood, you’ll be hastening the death of its residents — some of whom are children and elderly who suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

According to the city’s own comprehensive “master plan,” Ivy City will be made “green” and have lots of amenities in the near future. The question has always been who will be there to enjoy it? If gentrification in other parts of the city is any guide, the answer will more likely be newcomers with money rather than the poor folks who live there now.

Except that Ivy City, along New York Avenue about a dozen blocks east of North Capitol Street, is not like most other low-income neighborhoods. With their health and safety, actually their very lives, being threatened by the proposed bus depot, the residents fought back. They organized with help from a grass-roots group called Empower DC, held protest rallies and confronted city officials at public events.

The fight was led by Andria Swanson, president of the Ivy City Neighborhood Association, along with Ivy City residents Sheba Alexander, Jeanette Carter and Vaughn Bennett, and Empower DC co-founder Parisa Norouzi, among others. D.C. lawyer Johnny Barnes represented them in court.

After Macaluso’s ruling, Ivy City residents gathered for a celebration at the community’s Bethesda Baptist Church, where strategy meetings were often held.

Among the happiest residents were the youngsters who live in Ivy City, still clinging to hope that the Crummell School grounds will one day have a recreation center and other community programs.

“We like football, but there is no place to play except in the streets,” said De’Mar Williams, 15.

Demarco Jones, 12, said: “Most of the money is being spent on bike lanes when we could use it over here for job training.”

The ruling by Macaluso had been a significant win for Ivy City, but it was also confirmation of just how low the powers-that-be would go to keep them down. And out.

“The public interest lies in compliance with the District’s environmental laws and regulations so that District residents are protected from avoidable harm,” the judge wrote. “Similarly, the public’s interest lies in making sure the applicants who evade environmental screening procedures by filing incorrect information — and failing to correct it — are not rewarded for this misconduct.”

City officials and developers were, in fact, deceiving, misleading and colluding in schemes where money mattered more than people. As it turns out, the poor folks’ talk of The Plan wasn’t so far-fetched after all.


Ivy City Bus Lot Plans Halted By Judge

Cross-posted from the Washington Post
Written by Mike DeBonis

Attorney Johny Barnes with Ivy City residents outside of Crummell School.

Attorney Johny Barnes with Ivy City residents outside of Crummell School.


The activists fighting to keep a tour bus parking lot out of Ivy City won a significant victory Monday when a judge ordered the city to hold off on its plans.

Superior Court Judge Judith Macaluso found that city officials broke the law by not seeking input from the area’s advisory neighborhood commission and by circumventing a mandated environmental assessment.

While the city can finish construction on the lot, next to the Crummell School at Kendall and Gallaudet streets NE, it cannot use the area to stage buses until it seeks approval from the local ANC and seeks a more comprehensive environmental review. That process could take several months.

During court hearings, a former city official said plans were presented to the Ivy City Civic Association rather than the ANC because the ICCA had been ”more vocal” about the project, which involves repaving the lot and erecting a new fence and landscaping.

“To reason that the ANC need not be consulted because it was less vocal and therefore less interested than the ICCA is simply not permitted under District law,” Macaluso wrote.

Jose Sousa, a spokesman for the District’s economic development office, said officials are “examining the decision and evaluating for immediate appeal.”

The city pressed the Crummell School parking plan after the creation of an intercity bus terminal at Union Station in September meant evicting tour buses from parking spaces there. In court, the former city official said a proposal to park the tour buses at the old Greyhound terminal just north of Union Station was eliminated because ANC members there “didn’t want buses there period.”

Johnny Barnes, a civil rights attorney who represented neighborhood residents, called the ruling “a resounding victory, not just for Ivy City but the entire city.”

“The court recognized the role of ANCs in the city,” he said. “The District has not been respectful of that role. This could mean a turning point in the role that ANCs play and were intended to play.”

Barnes acknowledged “some concern” that the city will cross the T’s identified in Macaluso’s ruling, then move ahead with the bus lot plans. “But I have more hope than concern,” he said. “My hope is that the mayor and those in positions of power will recognize that you can’t run roughshod over the right of participation at the grass-roots level.”


Cross-posted from DC’s Independent Media Center
Written by LukeIvy City Victory
On the 10th of December, Judge Judith Macaluso ruled for the plaintiffs in Vaughn Bennett, et al v. Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, et al. The motion for a preliminary injunction to stop construction was GRANTED, Empower DC held a victory party later that evening.
From Empower DC’s email announcement:
Today, Judge Judith Macaluso ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs in the case case of Vaughn Bennett, et al v. Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, et al. The court docket entry states:

“It is ORDERED, that the “Motion for a Preliminary Injunction,” filed by Plaintiffs Vaughn Bennett, Andria Swanson, and Jeanette Carter on July 26, 2012, is GRANTED. It is further ORDERED, that Defendants Union Station Redevelopment Corporation and Mayor Vincent C. Gray are ENJOINED from operating a diesel bus parking facility on the grounds of the Crummell School until (a) procedures established by D.C. Code § 1-309.10 are complied with and (b) USRC submits an accurate Environmental Intake Form and Environmental Impact Screening Form to the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and complies with any requirements that result from evaluation of those submittals. It is further ORDERED, that this injunction shall not restrain Defendants from completing construction or, or maintaining, the lot and appurtenant facilities. It is further ORDERED, that this injunction shall not be lifted except by further order of the court.”

The order likely means that construction of the charter bus parking lot on Gallaudet Street NE in Ivy City will have to stop until the court lifts the injunction or the District of Columbia and the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation comply with the judges order.

Local TV Coverage of the Ivy City Bus Depot Lawsuit

The following is the latest television news coverage from the District’s local networks regarding the Bennett Vaughn vs Union Station Redevelopment Corporation lawsuit.

One of the District’s poorest neighborhoods is fighting City Hall’s proposal to the ground around historic Crummell School into a tour bus parking lot.

Judge Judith Macaluso came to see Ivy City with her own eyes. It’s one of the District’s poorest neighborhoods fighting City Hall’s turning the ground around historic Crummell School into a tour bus parking lot.

“They always did what they wanted to do to Ivy City and I hope they put a stop to it,” says Brenda Ingram-Best.  The city already parks hundreds of school buses here, plus other city vehicles. Residents complain they’ll now have fumes from tour buses.  “I have siblings who have respiratory problems,” says Stephen Scarborough. “I’m totally against the idea.”  “My daughter is asthmatic. Literally yesterday she had dark circles under her eyes,” says Peta Gay Lewis.

Judge Macaluso would not answer questions.  “It’s not a press conference,” she says. “This is just a viewing so I can understand the content in the courtroom.”

Activists have taken up the cause.  “They went ahead and started construction,” says Parisa Norouzi.  What if the city loses in court?  “Let’s see what happens,” says Mayor Gray. “It’s pending at this stage. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on it until this has been settled.”

Judge Macaluso will hear the case again in her courtroom Thursday.


A DC Superior Court judge left the bench to take a tour of Ivy City as residents near the historic Crummell School are fighting the bus depot lot being built.

A D.C. Superior Court judge visited the northeast D.C. neighborhood where residents are fighting the building of a bus depot near the an historic school.

The Alexander Crummell School near Okie and Kendall streets, built in 1911 and abandoned in 1980, is on the register of historic places, but its expansive yard off New York Avenue is being paved over for the District to use as a tour bus parking lot beginning in March.

Neighbors — some who went to the school — want a job center and community place for the mostly poor and struggling Ivy City neighborhood. They’ve gone to court to block the parking project.

“We were to get the building ready for the neighborhood,” said 82-year-old Remetter Freeman, who graduated from the school in 1941 and helped get it on the historic register. “We wanted to put in job training, lots of things. For the kids, a library.”

 “There’s a lot of people around here that are sick and have respiratory problems,” former student Jeannette Carter said. “Then there’re the little kids. They don’t have nowhere to play but in the street. And when I was going to school, we used to have fun right there in the evenings and stuff, all kinds of programs and things we had to do.”

D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Macaluso took a walking tour of the area to see what neighbors are complaining about. The suit in part alleges the city failed to follow city laws and the heavy bus exhaust is unsafe.

“The city government hasn’t done anything by way of surveys, assessing the problem in the community,” lawyer Johnny Barnes said. “People have lived here forever, and they’ve just been dumping on them because they’re low income and they haven’t voted in the past.”

Neighbors and activists say there’s already too much industrial use in a neighborhood where about 1,200 people struggle to live every day.


DC Judge Oversees Temporary Bus Depot Lawsuit Visits Ivy City

WASHINGTON -A D.C. Superior Court judge left her courtroom on Monday to get a good look at an issue that has many D.C. residents upset.

Judge Judith Macaluso toured the Ivy City section of Northeast D.C. It involves a case concerning a temporary bus depot that is being built in Ivy City. Members of the community have filed a lawsuit asking Judge Macaluso put a stop to it.

Residents believe the pollution created by the buses parked in the bus lot will cause health problems for those living nearby.

The temporary lot will store as many as 65 buses, which are typically used to travel the New York-D.C. route. The lot will be used until bus storage is created once Union Station undergoes a multi-billion dollar renovation.

When the temporary lot is complete, passengers will be picked up and dropped off at Union Station. The buses will then head to the temporary lot to be parked and give drivers time to rest.