New Battles Ahead for Francis Field:
Fire House, No Pets, Portable Lights
Three issues have arisen within the last two months that are
affecting Francis Field, and will require the attention and help
of our West End friends and neighbors to resolve with the
On August 15, it was announced that
Francis Field was being considered as the site for a
temporary fire station while the West End fire house is
On September 7, the Department of Parks
and Recreation (DPR) posted new "Field Regulations" signs at
the two entrances to Francis Field stating in part, "Please
Do Not Bring Pets onto the Field" (see photo
On September 26, a sports league was
permitted to bring portable night-time lighting onto the
Our parent organization, Friends of Francis Field (FFF) is
concerned about each of these developments. Each have in fact
been dealt with in one way or another before, but under previous
District administrations. Mayor Vincent Gray did not take office
until January 2011. Most of the previous battles over Francis
Field took place in 2008 and 2009, during the administration of
Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had four different DPR directors during
his four-year term.
FFF has taken several actions which are intended to open
dialogues with several different District agencies. DPR is involved in each of
these, and FFF made a request, by letter, on October 2, 2012, to
DPR Director Jesús Aguirre, to hold either a "stakeholder" meeting or a wider
public meeting to discuss these three issues. (See letter in PDF
The Fire Station Relocation
The fire station relocation is under the partial jurisdiction of
the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED),
which is overseeing the redevelopment of the West End fire
house, which is officially
as Engine 1 of what until recently was the District of Columbia
Fire Department. That department was "rebranded" the
District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS)
last December. The West End fire house at 23rd and M Streets is
shown at left.
It is slated to be redeveloped at the same time as the West End
Public Library, and the Metropolitan Police Department's Special
Operations Division at 2301 L Street. All three properties have
been declared "surplus" by the District Council, acting on
DMPED's desire to turn over the properties to a private
The developer, EastBanc, said in August 2012 that it hoped
to get control of the properties on March 1, 2013, and that
construction would take 27 months, indicating completion around
June 2015. (See related articles on
the October 2012 home page of this website).
DMPED informed ANC-2A on August 15, 2012, that it had selected
five potential sites for the temporary fire station:
Stevens School, now vacant, at 1050 21st
Tennis Courts, near 23rd Street, between
N and P Streets
Vacant lot at 2109 M Street NW, currently
a commercial parking lot
Vacant lot at 2201 M Street NW, where the
Hilton Garden Inn was planned (and is now under
FFF has already sent letters to DMPED, and to District
Councilmember Jack Evans, who represents Ward 2, in which the
West End is located.
2008 and 2009, FFF and ANC-2A secured $350,000 in private funds
through the zoning process for the improvement of Francis Field.
Those improvements were delivered between February and June
2010. (See photo at right, taken in March 2010). This process
also involved the creation a master landscape plan for Francis
Field, which was approved by DPR, NPS, and the U.S. Commission
of Fine Arts (CFA), which has jurisdiction not only over
District parks, but over any construction within site of Rock
Creek Park, which Francis Field abuts. (See
approved master landscape plan.)
FFF believes that any construction on the field would have to
again be submitted for review to CFA and would probably not be
In addition, FFF believes that constructing a temporary fire
station on the field would "undo" the improvements that were
just made in 2010, and would be poor fiscal policy. A portion of
the field would have to be paved for trucks, and then this
paving would need to be removed when the fire station returned
to its permanent site. In addition, the siting of the fire house
on the field would take needed recreation space out of use.
FFF also believes the construction of buildings on the field,
whether temporary or permanent, would require a "special use
permit" from NPS, which owns a large part of the field. Since
Francis Field was acquired at public expense for the sole
purpose of creating a non-urbanized barrier between Rock Creek
Park and the urban elements of Washington, DC, we believe that
NPS would be breaking its own rules if it issued such a permit,
and setting an unacceptable precedent for other national parks.
On September 25, 2012, three FFF representatives met with Rock
Creek Park officials to request that NPS not issue a special use
permit. NPS was a valuable ally in 2009 and agreed with FFF that
the stadium lights that existed on Francis Field at that time
were inconsistent with the nature Rock Creek Park, which closes
at dusk, and attempts to preserve a natural landscape
environment as far as possible.
FFF is not the only group attempting to convince DMPED to find a
better solution for the temporary fire station.
The Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B, passed a
resolution at its September 12, 2012, objecting to the location
of a temporary fire station on Francis Field, stating in part,
"We urge the District to work with community groups to find a
more suitable location that would result in better response
times and enhanced public safety." The Dupont ANC-2B has
no legal jurisdiction over Francis Field, which lies entirely
within the boundaries of ANC-2A, but FFF was pleased to learn of
the Dupont resolution.
The Westgate Condominium at 2501 M Street NW, located directly
south of the field, also passed a resolution citing numerous
reasons why it "strongly opposes the siting of a fire station on
Francis Field, and urges District officials to choose another
Pets on Francis Field
Our letter of October 3, 2012, to DPR Director Aguirre reminded
him that ANC-2A passed a
resolution for time-sharing of the field on December 14,
2009. Such a time-sharing agreement is permitted under District
law (19 DCMR §733.4).
that resolution was passed, dog owners have had little trouble
using Francis Field for pet exercise. As shown in the
photo at right, dogs were frequently on the field after the
time-sharing resolution was passed, and DPR expressed no
objection to the plan.
The new signs which went up on the field on September 7, 2012,
stating "Please do not bring pets on the field," are thus
In addition, Aguirre himself personally approved an official dog
park on the northernmost part of Francis Field on October 25,
2010. (See copy of his
letter of that date.) No official dog park has yet been built, however, as that
portion of the field is now occupied by the District of Columbia
Water and Sewer Authority for a repair project that has
closed that part of the field to public use for over six months.
FFF believes that a meeting with DPR to clarify the situation
would be helpful to all parties. According to the ANC-2A
resolution, dog owners can use the field when it is not
permitted for other activities.
Portable Lights on the Field
Neighbors report being "shocked" on the evening of September 26,
2012, when a commercial sports league, United Social Sports,
showed up on Francis Field with portable lights that the group
had brought with them. This group of
more than 80 people stated they
had a permit to use the field from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, and that DPR
had also allowed them to use lights.
The group set up two soccer layouts on the field, each with six
lights. Twelve teams of seven members (plus alternates and
spectators) played during the three-hour period.
After hearing complaints from several neighbors,
FFF spoke the following morning with Derek Schultz, the DPR
official responsible for issuing the permit. FFF also wrote to
him the same day, sending him a brief version of the long history of
neighborhood opposition to a lighted field, including the
resolution on Francis Field lighting passed by ANC-2A on
January 28, 2009.
Four neighborhood organizations, including FFF and the Foggy
Bottom Association, have also expressed their objection to
lights on Francis Field, which is documented in that resolution.
The struggle to get stadium-style lights removed from the field
was greatly aided by the National Park Service, which owns a
large portion of the field.
On July 20, 2009, NPS stated that it would not issue DPR a
special use permit for its part of Francis Field if the
stadium-lights on the field remained. Adrienne Coleman, then the
superintendent of Rock Creek Park, stated in a letter: "The park
setting of the parkway is an important feature of the design
that the NPS strives to protect from non-compatible developments
at its boundaries. This includes inappropriate lighting flooding
onto the landscape."
In April 27, 2010, Jack Evans, the Ward 2 member of the
District Council announced to the Foggy Bottom Association that
the existing lights on Francis Field would come down before the
end of June 2010, and that the District "would not put any new
lights up." (See report in the
West End Flyer of May 2010.)
on June 19, 2010, as Councilmember Evans promised, the stadium
lights that had been on Francis Field for more than two decades
were removed by contractors hired by DPR.
FFF believes that the current DPR administration should understand not only the history of
the neighborhood's opposition to a lighted Francis Field, but
also the reasons for its opposition.
FFF emphasizes that our objection to a
lighted field is not based solely on the intensity of the
lights. Any type of lighting that fosters after-dark activities
tends to bring noise, parking pressure, and
additional wear-and-tear to the field surface, which DPR has
seldom maintained adequately. Most photos of Francis Field taken
during the last 20 years show large expanses of bare dirt caused
by overuse of the field and poor maintenance.
The photo at right, taken at dusk, shows the use of thes
portable lights by United Social Sports, and the proximity of
the players to the residences at 2501 M Street., the building at
left. The daylight photo higher above shows the proximity
of the other soccer layout this group is using to the
residential building at 1255 25th Street. With more than 50
people on thee field at once, using two soccer layouts and 12
lights, there is considerable disruption to the residential
nature of the area that 25th Street has now become.
When lights were first added to Francis Field in the early
1970s, there were only 18 residential units abutting the field,
many of them vacant, and the area had long been zoned as a light
industrial area. Today, due in part to an urban renewal
program begun in 1972, there are now 360 residential units
abutting the field.
The nature of the groups that want to use the field
after dark are also part of the reason for FFF's opposition to a
lighted field. There groups are usually
out-of-neighborhood adults leagues that in the past have often
been boisterous, rowdy, and a nuisance in themselves. While some
groups were well-behaved and orderly, others stayed on the field
past after their permits expired, and left the field
No littering or alcohol use was observed during the initial use
by United Social Sports. However, it is not an athletic
association, but a commercial venture, incorporated for profit
in Delaware. Its members pay the corporation's fees, which run
to $55 a sport, and the corporation partners with beer brands.
FFF has always supported a multi-use field, that
balances the needs of public- and charter-school teams,
legitimate sports leagues, pet owners, and residential neighbors who
prefer passive recreation and relaxation. We believe a
meeting with DPR will help all of Francis Field's stakeholders
to achieve this balance.
on Francis Field Lighting, January 28, 2009. (PDF format.)
Master Landscape Plan for
Francis Field, approved by DPR and U.S. Commission of Fine
Arts, September 17 2009. (PDF format.)
ANC-2A Resolution for
Time-Sharing of Francis Field with Pets. December 17, 2009.
"Francis Field Lights to Come
Down: June 30 is Deadline Says Council Member Evans,"
West End Flyer, May 2010, page 1. (PDF format.)
Letter from DPR Director Jesús Aguirre Approving
an Official Dog Park on Francis Field, October 25, 2010.
letter to DPR Director Jesús Aguirre:
"Request for Stakeholder or Public Meeting regarding Francis
Field." October 2, 2012. (PDF format.)