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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Report on Soldiers' Home in Today's "WASHINGTON POST"

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Greetings and Salutations to All my Kith and Kin and All the Ships in Outer Space:

Here is a news report about the Ol' Soldiers' Home published in the WASHINGTON POST newspaper, dated Tuesday 21 February 2006.

The URL for the WASHINGTON POST newspaper is:



Retirement Home's Proposal Infuriates D.C. Neighbors

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, 21 February 2006


The rolling hills of one of Washington's largest spans of undeveloped land are dotted with pines and oaks, two fishing ponds, a fighter plane and a tank.

At the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Northwest Washington, those acres have been the place of quiet contemplation for legions of veterans who fought with swords in the Mexican War, lost limbs in the War Between the States, threw grenades in the First World War and manned battleships in the Second World War.

It is where President Abraham Lincoln escaped to a summer cottage and where he penned the last draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

But the battle that is the talk of the Home's hallways is raging around the historic site itself.

Its administrators have drafted a master plan, opposed by a small group of neighborhood activists and planning officials, to save the landmark from financial hardship by turning more than half its vast space -- nine million square feet -- into a development project that could include condominiums, shops, a hotel, embassies, and medical and office buildings.

The land is the retirement home's biggest asset, and leasing much of it to developers is crucial for "our financial survival," said Timothy Cox, chief operating officer for the home, better known as Old Soldiers' Home.

"We truly have no other choice."

But some residents and planning officials have balked at the scale and scope of the master plan, which calls for one hundred and thirty foot tall buildings in a neighborhood of small townhouses with canopied front porches.

The plan also has been criticized for lacking a traffic plan for the area, which could be flooded by thousands of new people.

"My neighbors and I are sympathetic to the Home's needs," said Reyn Anderson, who lives near the campus.

But she said, "A worthy goal does not give the home carte blanche."

Since the Home was established in Eighteen Fifty-One, its campus, surrounded by the Park View, Columbia Heights and Petworth neighborhoods, has been shrinking.

The five hundred acres slowly have been whittled away as land has been taken for Children's Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington Hospital Center and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In Two Thousand Four, the Home sold forty-six acres to Catholic University for twenty-two million dollars, the first time the Home made money off its land, Cox said.

But it continues to grapple with tough financial times.

Faced with rising health care costs and an aging World War II population among its approximately one thousand residents, Cox said the Home is scraping a trust fund that is supported by fifty cent per week paycheck deductions from enlisted military personnel.

The Home is under the auspices of the Department of Defense, but it does not receive taxpayer money.

War, however, has been good for the Home; it has made more money recently, with many troops mobilized to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the future of its health care, decades down the road when these veterans could come to the Home, is a looming and potentially expensive problem, Cox said.

"The wounded military coming back now, we haven't had to deal with those types of severe disabilities.

In World War II, soldiers with those injuries -- they didn't survive.

They died," Cox said.

"We have to find a way to pay for heroes coming back with things like three prostheses, a colostomy bag or a head wound they will have for the next sixty years of their lives."

Running the Home is a costly proposition because it subsidizes much of the veterans' costs.

These are the veterans, most of them career military, who cannot afford to retire in such places as Florida or Arizona.

The average contribution from veterans living at the Home is eight hundred dollars a month, or about nine thousand six hundred dollars a year -- a fraction of each resident's thirty-one thousand to forty-one thousand dollar annual living cost.

"The people we serve are truly low and moderate income," Cox said.

"And this will be their only home until they die."

The developed part of the land is checkered with amenities, including a golf course, chapels, banks, a convenience store, a barbershop and beauty salon, residential towers and greenhouses leased to the Smithsonian Institution.

The Home's master plan did not state the amount of money officials need or hope to make.

That was a concern for planning commissioners, who made a financial strategy part of the requirement for further consideration of a revamped master plan.

The proposal was challenged at a National Capital Planning Commission meeting this month, when more than a dozen speakers, including a neighborhood woman with her two babies in tow and a bespectacled historian worried about the future of Lincoln Cottage, spoke out against the proposed development.

After hours of debate and speeches at the Groundhog Day hearing, the commission voted against approving the master plan.

In particular, the panel took exception to the proposed nine million square feet of development that would surround a National Historic Landmark and block one of the best views of the nation's capital.

The Historic Preservation Review Board similarly swatted down part of the plan in January, citing the proposed development as "too great to avoid very serious adverse effects."

Both commissions asked Home officials to reconfigure the proposal and return with a plan that calls for less aggressive development on the site.

One neighborhood resident called the plan "a developer's dream" and a preservationist's "worst nightmare."

"Hundreds of years after people forget we all were here, they'll come from all over the world to see Lincoln's Cottage," said the resident, James Carstensen.

"What a shame if they couldn't see the land as Lincoln saw it.

What a shame if they saw row after row of town homes and tall buildings."

Lincoln Cottage was named a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and last year was placed on the group's list of eleven most endangered places in the United States.

Residents of Parkview and Petworth argue that heavy development in an area that is already densely populated will snarl traffic and choke the neighborhoods.

It would also devour the green space that was intended more than one hundred years ago to be one of Washington's great parks, said Sandra Hoffman of Petworth, an adversary of the project.

"This could be a huge loss, for the neighborhood and for the city," Hoffman said.

"My constituents feel very much excluded from this process," said District of Columbia Council member Jim Graham (Democrat - Ward One), who has filed a formal request under a federal code asking to be an official consulting member of the Home.

Before it became a retirement home and presidential cottage, the land and mansion were the estate of George W. Riggs, who went on to establish Riggs National Bank.

In Eighteen Fifty-One, after the Mexican War, Congress purchased it as a retirement home for soldiers.

When the nearby neighborhoods were built, planners did not incorporate extra parks or pathways, because the Home's land was open to the public and was enjoyed by families who picnicked, relaxed and played on its hills.

But in Nineteen Twenty-Five, when areas along North Capitol Street were sprouting with new homes, the retirement home closed itself off from the neighborhood with a wrought-iron fence.

After the Washington riots of 1968, the fence was topped with barbed wire.

Part of the Home's redevelopment plan carves out small public parks, space that residents haven't had access to for eighty years, Cox said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company


Here is the web site URL where you can see the original story, with accompanying maps and photographs:

Thank you.

John Robert Mallernee, KB3KWS
Official Bard of Clan Henderson
Armed Forces Retirement Home
Washington, D.C. 20011-8400

"My personal opinions are independent of my Scottish clan."

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