Frequently Asked Questions
What is this River School plan that I have been hearing about on the neighborhood list servs?
The River School, currently located in a building they own on MacArthur Boulevard in the Palisades, is under contract to purchase the residential property at 4220 Nebraska Avenue NW.
The property they wish to purchase is owned by the Buchanan Family. The residential property is approximately 2 acres and is historic. The River School wants to change the zoning of the property by going to the BZA for a hearing on July 21, 2021, to allow them to completely renovate the historic main house, knock down several smaller structures and dismantle historic gardens including moving several heritage trees in order to build a new school, which will have more students than NPS on a much smaller parcel of land. They plan to have 350 students, 90 faculty, X? number of support staff affiliated directly with the school; X? number of staff working in a massive 20,025 square foot child care center, with X? number of infants – three year olds; and X? number of medical personnel and staff as well as X? number of patients who will go to a 9,300 square foot commercial health clinic.
And they would also have X? number of campers at their summer camp. They have not provided data regarding what could be a major component of their population including many young people and staff. All of this on a relatively small residential historic site. Their projections will bring 500+ cars to the area each day no matter how much you try to get people not to drive. Parents, particularly, of infants, are not necessarily going to ride the metro nor do they necessarily live in neighborhoods that are accessible to the metro.
River School says that they will be doing a traffic study once they move in and have a traffic plan to make sure that they do not hurt the neighborhood. Won’t that help?
In the River School Preliminary Transportation Management Plan (TMP), dated February 16, 2021, the school acknowledges that the school will have a significant impact on local traffic and says it will do a study after they move in.
It also discounts its likely negative impact on local parking.
Completing a traffic study AFTER the school is built is too late. They need to develop a plan BEFORE they finish planning to make sure that the anticipated 500+ cars coming to the school each day (see the schools BZA Submission for data on the projected number of student and faculty cars) do not endanger the elderly and physically challenged community-members as well as the children and their families walking through the neighborhood to the 12+ schools, child care centers and campuses in Tenleytown each day IN ADDITION to the anticipated River School students whose parents will decide to park in the neighborhood despite the contracts they sign and agreements they are supposed to adhere to saying that they will follow all sorts of rules about transportation to school.
- Currently the school considers 12/14 (the number varies depending upon which River School presentation one chooses to review) parking spaces enough for parents at drop-off and pick-up. It is not enough for a school population of more than 450 people and the people who will attend work at or visit the other proposed facilities.
- The River School TMP also includes a discussion of pick-up and drop-off procedures for students. It includes 4 busy pick-up and drop-off times. The plan definitely does not include accurate faculty and staffing numbers in any of the totals. The total number of cars and trips could be much higher depending upon accurate data. They cannot or have not provided accurate projected data for each facility on the proposed property including the school (students, staff, faculty), child care center (children, faculty, staff), health clinic (medical personnel, patients and their guardians and staff) and any other support personnel for the property.
- They do not discuss how the 100+ faculty and support staff will arrive and depart school each day. Nor how those would impact the numbers provided on page 6 of the TMP.
- They plan to add a health clinic and a huge child care center. They have not provided the total number of school support staff, child care center staff and students, health clinic staff, medical personnel, and patients they anticipate each day. They are not including any parking for the health clinic and child care center.
- In addition, the transportation plan appears to be developed solely to address school generated volumes NOT volumes related to the child care and the health clinic. The current plan does not plan to address traffic and parking issues related to the two additional entities. The plan also does not discuss how the school plans to sanction patients and their families and staff at the school who do not follow the parking and traffic rules since they are not under contract with the school in the same way as the families.
Why do people keep talking about the fact that Tenleytown has too many schools and who cares? Aren’t schools good for neighborhoods?
Public Schools are great for neighborhoods, and schools in general can also be beneficial. In fact, Tenleytown has 12+ schools and day care centers, a public library as well as a busy senior center and large senior housing facility all within a few block radius. Talk about amazing!
River School has the resources and the manpower to find a neighborhood that could benefit from a school like theirs that does not already have 12+ schools and child care centers as well as a library, busy senior center and senior housing facility already. In fact, many neighborhoods might welcome the opportunities the River School could bring and the economic as well as educational benefits it would provide.
“Is the argument against the River School which I thought was a school for the deaf moving to Tenleytown a NIMBY or anti-school thing and who cares if there is more traffic in the area when we already have a lot?”
All of the residents who would be the most significantly impacted by the proposal by the River School are NOT anti-school or think that traffic and parking are the only issues with the proposal. In fact, most people in Tenleytown and AU Park support the mission of the River School and wish them well. The River School and its mission are admirable and we wish them much success. Like some members of the HPRB stated, what they have planned is too much program for this neighborhood and it does not fit.
Let’s be clear, the River School is a private independent school like many of the schools in the area already. All of the River School literature, social media and the applications for zoning exemptions note that the River School is a private independent school not a school for the deaf. It has inclusive programs and speech pathologists and that it has 10-15% of their students with corrected hearing impairment.
River School has the resources and the manpower to find a neighborhood that could benefit from a school like theirs that does not already have 12+ schools and child care centers as well as a busy senior center and senior housing facility already. In fact, many neighborhoods might welcome the opportunities the River School could bring and the economic as well as educational benefits it might provide.
Why does it matter that another school wants to move to the neighborhood?
- The property is zoned for single residential use only (R-1-B).
- River School would need to obtain a Special Exception from zoning to put in a school and a commercial health clinic onto the property.
- There are already 12+ schools and child care centers in the area.
- The location they would like to purchase is a corner that is already heavily and dangerously traffic-filled.
- Cars will try to avoid this new traffic by diverting their commute to side streets throughout Tenleytown and AU Park to avoid school traffic and speed on side streets.
- The proposal will bring 500+ cars to the neighborhood each day and those cars will take away resident parking as well as create a more dangerous climate for children, elderly who are aging-in-place and physically challenged residents of the neighborhood.
Why do the yard signs say that there will be 500+ new cars in the area because of the school?
The River School Transit plan includes data stating that there will be approximately 500 car trips a day related to their school. We believe that number to be low and we look forward to reviewing more accurate information from the River School on their population.
Based on the schools current publicly available population projections this is where the 500+ car number we use comes from:
90 Faculty Members
X school support staff
X school visitors and guests
X cars related to the children in the child care facility
X cars related to staff at the child care facility
X cars related to the staff at the health care facility
X cars related to the support staff at the health care facility
X cars related to the patients visiting the health care facility
X grounds crew
How would this school buying the property impact me? I don’t live close to 4220 Nebraska Avenue NW.
For those who don’t live within a few blocks of Wisconsin, Nebraska, 42nd and close cross streets, perhaps you don’t see the changes in traffic and safety over the years. Those of us who live in those areas have seen a major change. And it has not been for the good. Even during the pandemic, the Fannie Mae-site construction workers park and drive all over the neighborhood; the new unified GDS campus has brought many new cars to the area each day causing large backups on 42nd Street between River and Davenport Streets; there is a lot of new cut through traffic on what used to be quiet side streets where kids could safely play. Now that Janney is slowly bringing kids back, the pick-up and drop-off blocks between Yuma and Albemarle Streets and St. Columba’s traffic is an increasing issue too. They are making a negative impact and all of this without normal non-pandemic impacted traffic.
The River School would bring hundreds more cars to the Tenleytown and AU Park community every day who would drive through the smaller neighborhood roads to avoid the traffic caused by this school.
Can’t DDOT Assist with Traffic Issues?
DDOT “assistance” in addressing traffic related issues to or caused by private schools in the Tenleytown area like the mini circles, new or altered traffic lights, changing which streets you can turn left on or the poorly thought out slow street on Yuma Street, have not solved any of these issues and actually have exacerbated many of them.
There are currently 12+ schools and child care centers in Tenleytown. Hundreds of residential units are planned or in the pipeline to be constructed in the next few years in and around Tenleytown. The families that live in those new buildings will walk around the neighborhood, will use the schools, the streets and the parks. The River School does not yet own the property at 4220 Nebraska Avenue, NW. We have time to stop another major influx of cars and infrastructure in the area.
What is the current River School Population and how do they deal with traffic in their current location?
The River School currently has 210 students and 72 faculty not including support staff at their Palisades location on MacArthur Boulevard. If you visit Palisades in the morning or particularly at pick-up, you will see a major traffic jam. They have been at that location since 1999, they should have their traffic handled by now. What will happen if they move to 4220 Nebraska Avenue, NW?
What mechanism will be created for neighborhood residents to file complaints about specific traffic or parking actions related to the school and other entities on the property like we have with AU, NPS and GDS?
No information about this has been provided to the community.
Currently, cars and buses related to the private schools in the community do not always fully comply with neighborhood agreements. How will River mandate respect for the community agreements?
Other schools in the Tenleytown neighborhood have mandated that their families sign contracts regarding traffic and parking including carpooling rules (GDS for example). Those rules are frequently broken by a large number of students and their families despite the contract. We do not know how/if the River School will do things differently to actually make their families and employees comply.
What zoning exemptions is River School requesting?
River School is seeking special zoning exceptions to locate a private school in a residential area and an exemption to add a commercial health clinic as well.
Why is the River School failing to include the residents in more discussions and being more transparent about their plans with that group and other neighbors?
The River School has been marketing their project with the city and private entities for months. However, the River School has not been a part of any community town hall type meetings.
The River School has only had one meeting where they invited the neighbors who live within 200 feet (the “200 Footers”) of the Buchanan’s residential property since providing written notification of their intent to purchase the property. That zoom meeting took place in December 2020. The school also attended an ANC meeting, not posted on the ANC schedule two days ahead of the meeting, where at 11:45PM they presented their proposal. Very few neighbors were still on the call at that time and few if any were able to comment who were still on the call. On April 13, the River School sent an email to the “200 Footers” inviting them to a listening session on April 22, 2021 at 4pm. They asked for an RSVP and said to invite neighbors. To join the Zoom meeting on the 22nd at 4PM, click here.
How does the River School currently manage parking, traffic and neighborhood issues in the Palisades?
Residents of Tenleytown have gone to watch the drop-off and pick-up first hand and say that it is a mess of cars, traffic and confusing arrangements. The school has been at its current location for years and still cannot manage traffic and parking. How can it guarantee to the new neighborhood that it is not just saying one thing and doing another similar to what it does in its current location?
Given that the Buchanan residential property is historic, what has the HPRB said about the proposal?
The River School presented to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) in February 2021 to discuss the possibility of landmark status for the main house of the Buchanan property, not the entire property.. The HPRB told the River School that their plan for the entire property did not respect the historic aspects of the property and grounds. What will River do if the HPRB is not content with the next design? Is their contract contingent upon landmark status of the whole or some portion of the property? We don’t know.
Can the Neighborhood gas, electric and water lines support a new school this large given all of the problems that we have, with the gas lines in particular, already? What will happen if there are infrastructure or environmental impacts completely related to the school?
The River School has not presented any plan regarding environmental or infrastructure impact on the community and nearby residents. So, we do not know.
The River School says that they will let the neighbors use the grounds at off times. Isn’t that good for the community?
The tradeoff to gain another playground is not worth the negative impact of the relocation of the school to the neighborhood. The River School representatives in the HPRB meeting on February 25, 2021, noted as a major selling point to the community that they would allow the residents to use the school play space/green space at times. The neighborhood currently has several playgrounds, schools and parks that residents use freely. The popular play spaces for the residents tend to be further from Nebraska Avenue, typically at St. Columba’s, Janney Elementary, Turtle Park, Fort Bayard, Fort Reno, the green space at AU Law School and most recently, the beautiful and expansive new playground at GDS.
What happens to the historic property and gardens if the River School buys it?
The River School is seeking advice from the HPRB to see if their construction plan would be approved by the HPRB and if landmark status could be given to the main house of the property, not the entire property including multiple structures and its historic gardens by the late Rose Greely, the first female licensed architect in Washington, DC.
The Buchanan Estate/ Under Oak and its mature greenery are an important anchor in our community. Currently, the gardens, mature trees and greenery provided by the Buchanan Estate/ Under Oak, one of the last historic estates in Tenleytown, add to the tranquility, beauty and mystique of the property and the neighborhood. The River School has presented to the neighbors that they will be removing most of the existing trees on the perimeter of the property, with the exception of a couple of historic/heritage trees which will be moved, and replanting 2 rows of immature foliage and new landscaping. Several members of the HPRB board noted that they admired the lush green trees and secluded beauty of the Buchanan Estate/ Under Oak. They said that it is so tree-filled and private that they did not even know that the Buchanan Estate/Under Oak was hidden beyond the “dense” trees. What the River School proposes would destroy the peace and beauty of the historic Buchanan Estate/ Under Oak and that corner of the neighborhood.
Estate/ Under Oak, its mature trees, gardens and structures are a well loved part of Tenleytown and its history. The River School’s board members call the Buchanan Estate/ Under Oak a “magical property” because they want a site for their school that has massive amounts of space and many non-landmark designated structures within the property that can be demolished or moved at their whimsy.
The River School wants a conveniently located space within the District so that they can expand their enrollment and build huge buildings as well as a new public health clinic, day care and summer camp to suit their needs. The school plans to change the character of the lot to minimize the main house and the gardens that were painstakingly created and maintained for more than 80 years.
If the HPRB determines that the Buchanan residential property may be worthy of landmark designation we hope that the entire property including the minor structures, gardens and trees are included as part of their historic landmark decision.