Text of My Testimony at Chairman Kwame Brown’s Public Oversight Roundtable on Economic Development in Ward 5

My name is Bradley A. Thomas.  I am the Vice Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C and I chair the ANC5C Economic Development Committee.

Let me first commend you, Chairman Brown and the Council’s Committee of the Whole for organizing this event.  As a record number of our fellow Ward 5 citizens vie for the honor of filling the void left by the resignation of our former City Council representative, it is critical that we not forget the engine which drives or conversely retards the prosperity of our ward, that being, our Economic Development policies.

There is a well known adage that goes “if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”  To me, that statement cuts to the heart of so many of our socio-economic issues.  I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the past two or three weeks dealing with the controversy surrounding the introduction of Medical Marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers.  As we all know, Ward 5 is ground zero in that debate because of the fact that a majority of the centers are slated to be located right here.  My sense is that the majority of Washingtonians, and that includes Ward 5 residents, support, at least in principle, the notion that the use of medicinal marijuana ought to be an option for those among us who are suffering from terminal and life threatening conditions.  But why are so many facilities to be located in Ward 5?  Well, if you ask any of the applicants, they will tell you. It’s because of the city’s zoning regulations.  And zoning, my friends, has everything to do with planning.

In my neighborhood, the Bates and Hanover communities have been a dumping ground for social services programs, some of them experimental in nature.  We don’t begrudge anyone who seeks to meet the needs of the less fortunate among us, but 13 such programs operating in one neighborhood within a half mile radius of each other?  The result is that while some communities have seen great strides in economic development over the last decade, our’s has been stagnant, with depressed private property values and persistently high crime statistics.  I’m sure we in Bates/Hanover are not alone.  Other neighborhoods in Ward 5 have been left out of the early 21st century economic boom.  The answer is for neighborhoods like mine to be given what they have been denied for so long, a small area plan that lays the foundation for economic development at the grass roots level.  I have asked the Mayor to include money for that purpose in his 2013 fiscal year budget.  He, and you, Mr. Chairman, have both indicated support for this request and for that, I am grateful.  I urge the City Council to be proactive in its approach to zoning and small area planning, keeping in mind, once again, that with respect to all of Ward 5, if we fail to plan, we are planning to fail.

Thank you for your time and for allowing me to testify here today.

Bradley A. Thomas, Commissioner ANC5C01 & Vice Chair ANC5C

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