Greater Greater Washington

Preservation


Congo embassy paves over front yard, breaking promises

The embassy of the Republic of the Congo has removed trees and paved over the entire front yard of their new building, breaking promises they made when asking for permission to relocate to 16th and Riggs.


Photo by Rick Busch.

This past January, the Republic of the Congo agreed to purchase the Toutorsky Mansion at 16th and Riggs to house their embassy, previously located in Crestwood. The Congo initially asked to create a circular driveway in the front yard, which was then grass and enclosed by an iron fence.

Neighbors and DDOT (and I) opposed the idea, saying it wasn't necessary and was bad for transportation. The State Department said that it saw no security need for the driveway.

The building already has a garage in the rear, and the Congo got approval to turn a walled-off rear yard into parking as well. The circular driveway would lead to curb cuts too close to the corner than regulations allow, and would force moving a bus stop (though some people who ride the bus said moving the stop would be welcome).


Toutorsky Mansion before changes. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.
One of the biggest worries was that the yard would turn into permanent parking. At first, Congo representatives said the ambassador would park his car there permanently. DC regulations prohibit parking cars in public space, and existing circular driveways can only be used for pick-up and drop-off, not car storage.

However, many embassies do park cars in their driveways, and even though that territory is still technically public space rather than part of the property, there's nothing DC can do about it.

Further, there are 3 mature trees on the property, and while the driveway proposal avoided the trees, people experienced with construction pointed out that building a driveway would very likely kill the trees.

Wanting to move ahead quickly with the application, the Congo withdrew its request for the circular driveway, and the Foreign Mission Board of Zoning Adjustment, which rules on applications to locate embassies, approved the application without any permission for curb cuts or paving in public space.


Photo by Rick Busch.
Recently, neighbors noticed that the embassy was paving its front yard after all. Worse yet, they paved the entire front yard, even more than in the original application. They took out all 3 mature trees.

This doesn't add in the curb cuts themselves and cars can't get into the paved yard (so far, anyway), but it still creates the same visual blight or worse than the initial application, which showed the yard remaining unpaved (except for the driveway) and the trees remaining.

It also breaks promises made during the hearing. According to Jack Jacobson, the ANC Commissioner for the area who attended the zoning hearing, one of the Congo's expert witnesses, local preservationist Emily Eig, testified that the only changes to the property were to add the parking in the rear, restore the building, and add the flagpole.

The Dupont Circle Conservancy sent a letter to the Department of State and the DC Zoning Administrator asking them to insist that the Congo remove the paving, restore the yard, and replant mature trees.

The Congo needs to be held to its promises in its zoning application and in its testimony at the zoning hearing. If the State Department won't do that, then any zoning applications for locating embassies will have no meaning; any foreign government can simply promise whatever residents and government agencies ask, get control of the property, then do whatever they wish. That will make neighborhoods fight even unobjectionable applications, fearing the consequences.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Too bad NIMBYs were so adamant in causing headache for the other proposed usage of this building: a bead and breakfast. Good luck trying to convince a nation to change recent work done on their sovereign territory, v. the leverage neighbors would have had, say, over a B&B.

I believe the NIMBYs were worried about...wait for it...too many vehicles?

by Joel on Sep 21, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

"any zoning applications for locating embassies will have no meaning; any foreign government can simply promise whatever residents and government agencies ask, get control of the property, then do whatever they wish."

Uh, I guess I assumed that was how things worked. It's a shame but I'm going to go out on a limb and say the front yard will still be paved a year from now.

by Josey23 on Sep 21, 2011 12:31 pm • linkreport

I'm going to go on a farther limb and say that nothing will EVER come of this.

by Michael on Sep 21, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

@Joel "Good luck trying to convince a nation to change recent work done on their sovereign territory."

Like the Conservancy's letter (in the link) points out, this is DC PUBLIC SPACE where this occured ... i.e., this is NOT their sovereign space. Besides, the idea of sovereign spaces does not extend to the area of building codes (and permits), zoning uses, etc. It's strictly limited to diplomatic purposes. Embassies are legally held to the same standards as their neighbors ... including B&B's. And incidentally .. B&B's are allowed as a matter of right ... i.e., you don't need a variance to put in a B&B ... you just need to fit DC's definition of a B&B ... including that the owner/manager must live on the premises and that there be no more than 6 (or maybe it's 7) rooms rented out. This was a hotel that was being proposed for the site ... not a B&B. The fact that the idea got painted as a "B&B" should tell you something about the trust you could put into the proposal ...

by Lance on Sep 21, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

Lance wrote: "Embassies are legally held to the same standards as their neighbors"

HAHAHAHA. By whom, in what version of reality, and with what army? I note the photos above are by Rick Busch. Please call him up and float your theory of Embassy accountability. Rick is the man who had to hound the US State Dept for YEARS for some action on another Embassy property nearby.

Good luck with it all, Lance. Send us an update in a couple years.

by Joel on Sep 21, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

NIMBY advocates in that neighborhood are a bunch of lunatics. See, e.g, the the unnecessary and pointless battle against Hank's expansion.

by Biker Dude on Sep 21, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

@Joel, Believe me I know about the problems of trying to get embassies to follow the law in this regards. It's just as hard as trying to get their diplomats to pay for the parking tickets they incur. That doesn't change the fact that you were incorrect in calling this public space 'Sovereign Territory' ... it's not.

by Lance on Sep 21, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

Are the trees in the tree boxes still intact? They'd be in jeopardy if they want to add curb cuts.

by Steve S. on Sep 21, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

Lance: I was speaking in terms of pragmatism, reality, i.e. what the Embassy will claim, what the State Dept. will default towards, so forth and so on.

But yeah, you have a letter.

Again, update us in a few years.

by Joel on Sep 21, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

simply promise whatever residents and government agencies ask, get control of the property, then do whatever they wish.

Sounds a lot like what leaders of Congo do in their own country, so why is anyone expecting anything different?

And also, why can't DC just ticket the cars that park in public space, or tow them?

by Scoot on Sep 21, 2011 12:56 pm • linkreport

And btw Joel, do you know how impossible it also is to get a business to follow the law in DC once it's up and running? Ask the people living near some of the 'bad players' such as on the 2100 block of P Street or on 18th just south of Dupont Circle. Enforcement in this city of agreements made (including Voluntary Agreements) is a difficult issue. I.e., You're idea of thinking that a hotel on that site would have been a better idea is not well thought out. As an adjacent neighbor, give me the choice of having to put up with the eyesore they've created of the front yard OR with a hotel and all the commercial-related activity that entails, and I'll gladly take the ugly yard over being trampled over by the hotel's activities.

by Lance on Sep 21, 2011 12:56 pm • linkreport

DC should remove any curb cuts, and sign the curb as available for on-street parking. Problem solved.

by oboe on Sep 21, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

@Scoot "And also, why can't DC just ticket the cars that park in public space, or tow them?

Ticketing them won't work because they'll just ignore it. Towing on the other hand might be effective. They'd probably get tired of having to go to the impound lot to retrieve them after a while. (And of course the impound lot won't releast them without getting their towing fee ... ) Yeah, they'd complain to State. But what could State do about it ... They can't legally tell the District not to enforce these laws ...

Parking on the public space in Dupont is a very pervasive problem ... and it isn't limited to the embassies. Everyone from doctor's offices to apartment buildings ... (and even some single family homes) is doing it. The last time the police tried to enforce it, many 'people in charge' ... including our own ANC ... sided with the people/entities illegally using this public space for parking. It belongs to the city and it's given over to the adjacent property owners for very specific and very defined uses that act to beautify the city ... i.e., the uses spelled out in the legislation include 'greening the space' such as putting in gardens, and builing stairways and bay windows. They certainly don't include paving the space over and using it for parking. But until the powers that be, including our own ANC, lead the effort in getting this illegal parking stopped, it's not going to happen.

by Lance on Sep 21, 2011 1:03 pm • linkreport

@Oboe, there aren't any curbcuts there ... At least not yet!

by Lance on Sep 21, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

Isn't there now a provision that a country will be denied (or delayed) new dip plates if there are outstanding tickets?

In terms of street parking, I don't see why we give that to any embassy. Or charge them 10K a year for the privilege.

by charlie on Sep 21, 2011 1:09 pm • linkreport

Thanks for posting this, David. Unfortunately, there's little recourse for correcting this issue, as Joel has pointed out.

I argued strenuously that the project should not be judged on what the Congolese witnesses put forth, but by how they treated their existing property at 16th and Colorado -- which was in shambles.

The entire Board of Zoning should be contacted regarding this as should the "expert" paid witnesses on behalf of the Embassy who gave assurances that were ultimately ignored by a client who wasn't properly vetted.

Anyone with a client should conduct full due dilligence before agreeing to represent that client. In my opinion, future assurances by the Congolese Embassy's "experts" will be based on the reputation they garnered through this event.

by Jack Jacobson on Sep 21, 2011 1:20 pm • linkreport

Shoulda/woulda/coulda. A B&B is not that bad now. Thanks a lot NIBY's

by Oh Well.. on Sep 21, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

Yes, let's all blame the opponents of a different project for the wrongdoings of the Congolese. smh.

by 7r3y3r on Sep 21, 2011 1:36 pm • linkreport

I knew something like this would happen when the B&B proposal was quashed by local opposition. A sad loss of mature trees and grass there. Would have been much nicer if this historic property was converted into an inn as proposed, so the public could have access to the grand interior. Oh well.

by MrTinDC on Sep 21, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

I'll throw in my 2 cents as well: thanks a lot Dupont NIMBYs...what could have been a publicly-accessible lodging option (call it a B&B, hotel, whatever) is now rapidly turning into the worst of all kinds of neighbors - those who don't care about the neighborhood, do as little as possible to keep up their property, and can ignore laws/regulations/etc. with impunity.

From what I've read about it, the Toutorsky mansion had one of the best-preserved late-Victorian/Edwardian interiors in DC. If the Congolese are willing to do this to the yard, anyone care to imagine what they've done (or what will happen) to the interior?

Thanks a lot, NIMBYs. I hope you're happy seeing this once proud building destroyed by neglect/negligence. Take a look at the Sierra Leone embassy at 19th/R if you don't believe me.

by Anon2 on Sep 21, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

Not all front yards are public space! Depends on the street, lot, and original subdivision and building permit, whether projection permits were required or not. That is why police could no longer enforce the "chardonnay lady" caught drinking wine on her front porch (or even inside in her bay window, technically). Not sure of this particular property, but the public aspect is on a case by case basis, and requires some research before you post or write about these issues.

And, they don't call Traceries "Cut and Pasteries" for nothing.

by Anon13 on Sep 21, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

Haha...the bums will always lose. NIMBY victory.

by aaa on Sep 21, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

If the area in question is in fact public space and not owned by the embassy then there are any number of things DC could potentially do. As one commenter suggested, towing cars parked there would be a good start. The city could also place a large object on the driveway (like on of those portable moving container PODS) so it can't be used for parking. The city could also pull a Mayor Daly and just a take a jackhammer to the concrete and demolish the driveway.

Of course, all of this requires DC having huge, enormous balls.

by Falls Church on Sep 21, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

Free roundtrip ticket to Paris for anyone who can cite the last time a foreign embassy's fenced-in close-quarters front yard was subject to District enforcement as public space, *and* that instance was more recent than, say, a number of retail establishments being subject to District leverage/enforcement.

Let's just go ahead and consecrate the Congo field o'cement as "NIMBY Memorial Garden."

by Joel on Sep 21, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

Anon13: Why do you assume I haven't done research before posting or writing? During the discussion of the zoning in January, it was explained that the property line here goes through the front steps, just a few feet from the building front. The DC Zoning Map shows the property lines and confirms this.

by David Alpert on Sep 21, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

Wait, wait, CONGO flouts the rules set by other countries and is oblivious to international disapproval?

Never!

by Erica on Sep 21, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

Can someone provide background, e.g. a link or two, on the alleged NIMBYism that led to the demise of th inn proposal? Would like to know if the ANC had a position on this and if current elected officials have responsibility. Not even sure when this debate took place. It is especially unfortunate b/c by blocking the inn it was almost inevitable that an embassy would sweep--who else could afford such a place? FWIW, we live right nearby and have to deal not only with the unsightly concrete "yard" but more concrete problems like cars parked illegally and blocking sidewalks (as has happened repeatedly with the curb cut on Riggs over the past month or two).

by anon on Sep 21, 2011 2:57 pm • linkreport

Well, this certainly seems like an eyesore, and the Congo reps do appear to be a bunch of weasels (+1, Erica).

but

There's a very small part of me that is amused by someone sticking it in the eye of the Dupont Circle NIMBYs/Conservancy. I can't help but think that karma has reared its concrete covered head.

I'm not proud of this, mind you, but I can't help it. I'll try to be a better person.

by dcd on Sep 21, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

dcd: The Conservancy is not a bunch of NIMBYs. They fully supported the 17th and O project, for instance. They supported the 4th floor on the house at 15th and S which the HPRB ended up rejecting.

Every project has some people against it, but it's not always the same people, and in most of the cases it's not the Conservancy or the ANC.

by David Alpert on Sep 21, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

Let's just go ahead and consecrate the Congo field o'cement as "NIMBY Memorial Garden."

by DW on Sep 21, 2011 3:18 pm • linkreport

Since anyone who opposed the hotel is a NIMBY, does that make anyone who opposes the new concrete parking area a NIMBY? The way that term is so thoughtlessly used debases the conversation.

by The Heights on Sep 21, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

@anon on Sep 21, 2011 2:57 pm

I've been the ANC Commissioner for the area including the Mansion since early 2008, and it occurred before I was elected. Honestly, I would have supported a B&B. They're generally good neighbors, they like the neighborhood to be lively, safe, and well-lit, and they generally keep beautiful grounds.

Also, regarding parking, I've been calling 911 twice a week since the Embassy took over to get the cars parked illegally on the Riggs Place sidewalk, and MPD has done a good job of ticketing when I call. I urge neighbors to do the same -- eventually the cars will be booted or towed.

If folks on here want to ensure this doesn't happen again, keep a VERY close eye on the former Green Door Clubhouse at 16th and Corcoran, only a block or two south of the Toutorsky Mansion. It's for sale, and is similar in architecture (though not as grand) and square footage. This could happen again in an instant. -Jj

by Jack Jacobson on Sep 21, 2011 3:33 pm • linkreport

even though that territory is still technically public space rather than part of the property, there's nothing DC can do about it.

Could Aplert or anyone else who knows elaborate on "there's nothing DC can do about it"? Do you mean that DC has no legal right to do anything? If so, who exactly would enforce this if DC did try to do something?

by Falls Church on Sep 21, 2011 3:34 pm • linkreport

Foreign embassy personnel in all countries are under diplomatic immunity, meaning that they're generally exempt from local criminal and civil laws. Amusingly enough, the Wikipedia article on diplomatic immunity has a picture of a car with diplomatic plates double parked. Naturally, though, I'd encourage the State Department and the city to do what they can.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplomatic_immunity

by Weiwen on Sep 21, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

A bed and breakfast would have been better. The city will do nothing and this eyesore will remain. Maybe city activists will think twice next time deciding to punish innovators and settle for something 'government'.

by Pelham1861 on Sep 21, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0911/64062.html

"Foreign diplomats owe over half a million dollars in unpaid parking and traffic tickets in Washington, D.C., and Russia is the top scofflaw, according to a new report Wednesday."

by charlie on Sep 21, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

@Jack "If folks on here want to ensure this doesn't happen again, keep a VERY close eye on the former Green Door Clubhouse at 16th and Corcoran, only a block or two south of the Toutorsky Mansion. It's for sale, and is similar in architecture (though not as grand) and square footage. This could happen again in an instant. -Jj

Yeah, the problem though ... as you are aware ... is that it's the State Department that finds these properties for the embassies, and once a property has been decided on by the embassy and the State Department the bar needed to reach the reasons the FMBZA needs to decline the application is so high as to be basically impossible to meet. In my 15 years experience with these matters (first as an ANC Chair and then in the historic preservation groups), I've NEVER seen an application turned down. The most I've ever seen happen is for the concept for the building/rebuilding of a property being influenced by the neighborhood. (I'm thinking specifically of the Turkish embassy on Mass. Ave which was planned to look like a mid-rise modern office building but which after much litigation took instead it present 'grand house' form. BUT the neighborhood had to raise and payout $40,000 to attorneys to get this to happen.) Long term we need to do as my old neighborhood (where the Turkish embassy is located) did ... They took the long term approach to and influenced the re-write of the Comprehensive Plan so that the newest release no longer designates that area as a place for new embassies. (They were able to show that the saturation of foreign missions was already so high that further foreign mission development would cause the neighborhood to reach the tipping point where it would lose its residential aspect.) But again, this cost lots of money for attorneys and included lots of volunteer time of individuals willing to work out the percentages of block occupied by foreign missions and a lot of other minutia which when added up created a good case for getting the Comprehensive Plan to exclude new embassies from there. But, of course, they had to go somewhere ... so specifically, places such as 16th Street and NH Ave. in Dupont where designated as the new places for new (and re-locating) foreign missions.

If the State Dept choses the Green Door for an embassy there's nothing we can do. We need to work to stop the tide of new embassies down the road. AND we need to do what we can now with the ones here. For example, since this is public space, the District would be well within it's rights to go in and remove the paving and plant a new lawn and new trees ... and send the Congolese the bill. It might take till the next time that property gets sold for the District to collect on that bill, but it would eventually be paid AND in the meantime the lawn would be returned. (Of course, that's assuming the Congolese don't voluntarily replace the lawn and the trees once they realise this is public space.)

by Lance on Sep 21, 2011 4:54 pm • linkreport

The key is just never giving them a curb cut and the issue will resolve itself.

by Nicoli on Sep 21, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

How about blocking off the parking area in front of the embassy, and making it into a park? Move the curb, plant 4 mature trees, and move the bus stop. Also add bollards.

That way, the new driveway is 100% useless.

AND the embassy loses the ability for people to stand and load/unload directly in front of their building.

If they want to play dirty, play dirty. But the city "dirty" is actually a big win for the neighborhood.

by JJJJJ on Sep 21, 2011 5:02 pm • linkreport

DDOT should just install some bike racks in the space where a curb cut for this parking pad would go. Given what they did here I wouldn't be surprised at all if they just rip up a section of sidewalk and put in their own curb cut one day sans permission.

by MLD on Sep 21, 2011 5:11 pm • linkreport

I have one word, reciprocity. That is why dc should not do anything unilaterally. Can you imagine what the reaction in congo if they did and what the congolese would do to the us diplomats there.

by Nathaniel on Sep 21, 2011 6:11 pm • linkreport

@Nathaniel "Can you imagine what the reaction in congo if they did and what the congolese would do to the us diplomats there."

I understand your sentiments ... But what if one day the Congolese decided to dig up the sidewalks in front of the embassy and put 'Sidewalk Closed - Please Use Sidewalk Across the Street' signs up blocking access? Would it be okay then for the District to come in and right things? It's public space outside the fence ... AND it's public space inside the fence up to the building/property line.

by Lance on Sep 21, 2011 9:08 pm • linkreport

@Lance
I do understand it is public land inside the fence, but not only would Congolese not agree with that neither would 99% of Americans. Hell 80% of DC residents probably think that people should be able to do what they want inside the fence.

by nathaniel on Sep 22, 2011 8:52 am • linkreport

Let me get this right. LANCE, of all people, wants DC to destroy parking access. And the GGW commentariat is worried about reprials in Brazzavile? Isn't that the State Department's job?

I agree with Lance. remove the curb cuts, boot and tow every car found there.

by charlie on Sep 22, 2011 9:01 am • linkreport

It is disappointing to see this property placed under the control of any foreign government. I fondly remember Bruce Johnson's parties. The home served as the location for a music video shot by Spike Lee's cinematographer, Malik Sayeed, my first foray into film locations work.

The bed-and-breakfast concept sounded very appealing. In 16th Street Heights along 14th Street above the car barn, the Intown Uptown Inn has proved to be a great success - including with the surrounding neighborhood. A lot of neighbors encourage family members to stay there when visiting town.

Writing as the now former chair (still a commissioner) of ANC 4C, we received no complaints whatsoever about the Intown Uptown Inn. In fact, the Inn has proved to be a big hit for gatherings. Friends of 16th Heights & Upshur Parks holds a fundraiser there this weekend, one of the more delightful, stylish social events in Ward 4.

If another property like this comes on the market, I hope the neighborhood, the DCCA and ANC 2B are supportive of a more creative and tax-paying use than a sale to a foreign government.

Like Ward 2, Ward 4 has considerable embassy-owned properties along the 16th Street corridor and nearby streets. Some maintain their property well. Some are indifferent, and it shows - with little anyone can do to force their hands.

by Joseph Martin on Sep 22, 2011 9:12 am • linkreport

Curb cuts required according to the Americans with Disability Act.

by Mike on Sep 22, 2011 9:50 am • linkreport

@Mike - Pretty sure those only need to be wide enough for a wheelchair. And they're usually put near the corner for the crosswalks. The Congo won't be using those for accessing their parking area.

by ah on Sep 22, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

@ ah. Thanks!

by Mike on Sep 22, 2011 10:12 am • linkreport

Just for clarification ... The front (now paved over) front lawn is not being used for parking (at least not yet) as there are no curb cuts and no gates in the fence wide enough to accommodate a car (at least not yet.)

by Lance on Sep 22, 2011 11:12 am • linkreport

More likely that new missions will be going onto Walter Reed space. I believe State ended up with a chunk.

Since the host gov't [us...] is responsible for security; OFM would prefer missions be in clusters.

by George B on Sep 22, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

Joe Martin makes some good observations here.
Also, as a point of practicality, it is very difficult (read: impossible) for DC government to compel any foreign power to comply with its laws. Most requests are routed through the Office of the Secretary, which deals with the State Department. And the State Department (as they must) takes a much larger view of the situation. Public Parking or curb cuts are way down on their list of priorities. So, I'd suggest those who want to change this rely upon honey, not vinegar.

by Mark Bjorge on Sep 22, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

The larger view is what local issues and laws face the US embassy in the Congo.

When the DC gov't comes down on the Congo embassy, there can be a tit-for-tat payoff with the US embassy in the Congo. This sort of thing would go on all the time between the Soviet and US embassies, making life miserable and dangerous for those that work there.

by goldfish on Sep 22, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

I'm unclear what the designation of the front yard as "public space" means, especially when that space is behind a lockable iron gate. Am I, as a member of the public, allowed to use this space when/as I want? Hold a picnic there at noon (or midnight) for example? Can I clamber of the fence with impunity if/when locked, to access my "public space"?

At least the other Congo (Democratic Republic of the) vacated its dilapidated embassy at NH & S a few years ago, although it seems the post-embassy renovation there has stalled. In any case, looks a good bit better than it did when the DRC was resident. I can't imagine what a total wreck its interior must have been. hopefully it was not particularly historically significant/beautiful to start with.

by td3 on Sep 22, 2011 12:40 pm • linkreport

@goldfish and others claiming that any effort of DC to enforce its laws may result in problems for the US Embassador/embassy in Brazzaville: The inverse is also true. If the Rep of Congo so blatantly disrespects the host city of its embassy then they should expect the US to also disregard local laws and customs in Rep of Congo to the same extent.

Also, there's a power imbalance in the relationship between the US and Congo. Its not at all like the relationship between the US and former Sov. I expect the embassy in Brazzaville is there mostly to host CIA agents and provide protection and services to US citizens in the country, whereas the Congo Ambassador is here in DC to curry favor for his country from the US.

by Tina on Sep 22, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

Tina, I have no idea what the US embassy in the Congo is faced with. But I dare say they have their share of complaints with the local authorities, and that the embassy must contend with what they consider to be capricious and ridiculous laws and customs, and that theses laws and customs interfere with embassy business and the convenience of the staff. Likewise, I'll bet that the Congolese staff feels the same way about foolish parking and zoning regulations, relations with neighbors, etc. here in DC. When the Congolese staff complain about their treatment in the US, that can undermine the US mission in the Congo, whatever that may be. Currying favor and CIA operations (if true) are the missions that can get thwarted, and such operations may return a lot more value to the US taxpayer than the public amenity of a tree on the front of the embassy property or the cost of a few parking tickets.

That is the balancing act confronting the State Dept.

by goldfish on Sep 22, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

@goldfish - did you read the original post and the earlier one when the negotiations were in process to allow the Congo to take the historic property for an embassy? They blatantly lied. Bald-faced lies. Said they would comply with local laws if they took the property and clearly never had any intention of respecting either their host city neighbors, its laws or the integrity of their own word. Do you think thats what the US ambassador is doing in Brazzaville? Blatantly lying to his neighbors and proceeding with no intention to make his word a trusted part of his reputation? Maybe he is, but I doubt it.

by Tina on Sep 22, 2011 1:26 pm • linkreport

@Goldfish; the point is Congo is a 5th rate African state, and the US is still the only global superpower. There is a disparity there.

Our interests in Congo: oil, of course!

by charlie on Sep 22, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

Tina, I have no doubt that the Congolese did not deliver what they promised, for whatever reason. But you have to pick you battles; some cost you more than they are worth. That is all that I am saying.

by goldfish on Sep 22, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

@goldfish -I think its worth ruffling up the relationship with Congo to enforce local laws and make them comply to their agreements. I really doubt it would turn into an international problem for the US. I expect Congo gets more out of the relationship with the US then the reverse. How much foreign aid does Congo send the US? You seem to think its not worth it to expect a foreign national to respect the host city. I do. Mutual respect is the foundation of diplomacy.

by Tina on Sep 22, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

@George B "Since the host gov't [us...] is responsible for security; OFM would prefer missions be in clusters.

Correct, one of the strategies employed by the group that worked on reducing the number of foreign missions in my old neighborhood was to find alternatives to their neighborhood including not only existing places such as 16th Street and parts of New Hampshire Ave. and Southwest, but new clusters such as the Walter Reed parcel. They knew that for security purposes places like the International Center off of Wisconsin would be well received by the stakeholders responsible for security and oversight. At one point they'd also proposed expanding the area to include the suburbs. EHN was leading the effort to make this change. But the State Department objected for security reasons. The embassies would have liked being able to place foreign missions in the subsurbs since this would have addressed one of their main issues ... cost. (The reason so many third world countries end up converting residential properties such as the Toutorsky Mansion over to chancery use is that foreign missions, unlike any other business users, are the only non-residential users that can go into a residentially zoned area. And residentially zoned areas tend to be far cheaper per square foot of facility than commerically zoned areas. Of course that may all change if OP gets their way and other non-residential uses are allowed to situate in residentially zoned neighborhoods near Metro and bus lines. Then the cost of locating in these neighborhoods will increase for all ... including the foreign missions as well as for residents since the demand which is kept artificially low by excluding non-residents will increase when anyone and anything can locate in all parts of neighborhoods including the residentially-zoned parts.

by Lance on Sep 22, 2011 1:53 pm • linkreport

@td3 "I'm unclear what the designation of the front yard as "public space" means, especially when that space is behind a lockable iron gate. Am I, as a member of the public, allowed to use this space when/as I want? Hold a picnic there at noon (or midnight) for example? Can I clamber of the fence with impunity if/when locked, to access my "public space"?

That's a good question. There are all sorts of types of public space out there ... each with its own set of rules. For example, curbside parking spaces are public space. Anyone from the public can use them as the rules for them dictate. (I.e., You can use them to park in, but you can't use them to hold a picnic in.) The roped off areas that restaurants downtown have their sidewalk cafes on are public space, and there are rules there too. I.e., The adjacent landowners pay a yearly rent and they get to dine and wine paying customers there. You don't get to bring your Subway sandwich there and sit at one of their tables and order 'just water' ... just because 'it's public space'. The public space immediately adjacent to most downtown properties started off as 'street'. Back in the days streets served all types of purposes and sidewalks didn't exist. L'Enfant (the visionary) designed Washington with very wide streets. By the 1870s (when areas such as Dupont were being developed, and the automobile wasn't yet in popular use ... ) the developers in DC thought 'look at those wide streets in front of the houses and buildings we're putting up ... what a waste of space since people and horses can just walk in the middle of the road ... maybe we can convince the powers that be to give us some limited use of it?" And so was born the idea of handing over part of our streets for private use ... But not ALL parts of it ... just the parts of it that would help beautify the city's streets. So laws were put into a affect that allowed adjacent landowners to fence off parts of the street in front of their houses/buildings (but with fences no higher than 48 inches) and to use the space behind it for planting gardens (that's why legally this area is called the 'parking area' ... i.e., the area of the street reserved for creating long swaths of parks on the sides of our street); to use it for building elaborate wrought iron staircases; to use it for building bay windows (which before this law was passed just meant an above-ground projection ... like you see in other cities ... but which here evolved to go down into the basement and up to the top floor ... since it meant 'free' building lot square footage.) It didn't mean putting in driveways (that doesn't beautify anything) and it didn't mean your the general public could just jump the fence and enjoy it with you. Their enjoyment is supposed to be visual ... i.e., seeing the 'greening' and nice stairs and nice bay windows. That's all.

by Lance on Sep 22, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

Tina -- Regarding respect due to the host city: there are laws on parking and then there are laws on drunk driving. Save your powder for when it counts.

Respect works both ways. As has been pointed out, the US has a lot more money than the Congo, and possibly the reason they converted a residence to an embassy was to save them money. I suppose that the embassy staff suffers the same problem: being underpaid in an expensive city. We owe them some consideration on this point; perhaps since we feel so strongly about the superficial appearance of their embassy, then the DC taxpayers should contribute something for the landscaping of their building, if it means so much to us?

by goldfish on Sep 22, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

@goldfish? "then the DC taxpayers should contribute something for the landscaping of their building

Are you implying that they're maybe paving over the lawn so that they don't have to mow it? Your average suburban residence has a far more extensive lawn ... and they manage to mow their lawn. My elderly mother on a very fixed (and meager) income has a larger lawn ... and she manages to get it mowed ... Please, upkeep of a lawn is not an expensive propostion. Over the long run, upkeep of the cement paving they've put in will easily involve more costs than just mowing a lawn would.

by Lance on Sep 22, 2011 3:16 pm • linkreport

@goldfish...truly, the money they spent on pavement and labor could have paid for a lot of perenniels, shrubs and trees. Hell they could get trees for free from Casey Trees. Why are you defending their dishonest and disrespectful behavior? Because their from a poor nation? I know a lot of poor people who have excellent, respectful manners and enough self-respect to honor their agreements and their word. Money and/or power, lack of or abundance of, is never an excuse or even an explanation for boorishness.

by Tina on Sep 22, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

*they're from..

by Tina on Sep 22, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

eventually the cars will be booted or towed.

I beleive they can only tow diplomatic cars to the nearest legal space.

by Juanita de Talmas on Sep 22, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

Tina and Lance, you should re-read what I wrote. I am not defending the behavior of the Congolese embassy; I am questioning our behavior.

by goldfish on Sep 23, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

@goldfish, I doubt the Congolese are trying to save money. They're buying a mansion for an embassy after all. The United States has a lot of money and (I think) a moral obligation to help others throughout the world. I don't think it has an obligation to pay for fancy digs in expensive neighborhoods for countries, to put it mildly, don't exactly do right by their own citizens. Congo should follow the local rules when building their embassy.

For that matter, so should we.

by Tim Krepp on Sep 23, 2011 10:10 am • linkreport

@goldfish - I am questioning our behavior.

Exactly.

You are questioning why we expect the Congolese to honor their agreement, follow the law and not lie to us, and you are questioning why, when they fail do all those things, apparently with forethought of deceitfulness and cavalier disregard and not b/c of some circustance beyond their control, we don't like it.

by Tina on Sep 23, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

Tina, because your arguments do not consider anything besides local interests, you have exemplified parochial shortsightedness and bureaucratic rigidity that I have been complaining about (unsuccessfully, apparently). Why did the Congolese break their promises? I have no idea, but I am sure they had their reasons, reasons (money? staff convenience?) which you refuse to fathom. Regardless of their behavior, I point out that hassling them can undermine other more important interests abroad, and again you do not consider this.

When I get out of town, how trivial some of the concerns expressed here (such as parking tickets) become clear. Once I had roommate from Haiti. He was not so interested in sweeping dirt off of the floor, because in his previous home the floor was dirt. You seem to be all fired up about the appearance of a historic DC house, and I wonder what people back in the Congo think about their government spending money, or even worrying about, such matters.

They were required by the State Dept to locate their embassy here, so therefore your beef is with State, who's job is to balance such issues.

by goldfish on Sep 23, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

@goldfish -Why did the Congolese break their promises? I have no idea, but I am sure they had their reasons, which you refuse to fathom.

..and it seems to me you refuse to fathom that they simply acted dishonorably. You seem to be inventing hidden reasons for their dishonorable behavior when none are seen by anyone else.

Look at what happened.

They were required by the State Dept to locate their embassy here

They actively sought this house. US State did not tell them to obtain this particular house.

and I wonder what people back in the Congo think about their government spending money,

I agree. They could have obtained a bldg that was less expensive and didn't have all the caveats to go with it b/c of its historic value.

Once I had roommate from Haiti. He was not so interested in sweeping dirt off of the floor, because in his previous home the floor was dirt.

And I'm sure you educated your roommate on the different expectations, just as the Congolese embassy was made aware of what was expected by anyone taking possession of this house.

In order to obtain this house they had to agree to maintain certain standards. They agreed. Then they broke the agreement and violated local laws too. You think there's some hidden reason why they did that when the simplest, the most logical and the explanation with the most evidence is that they lied when they agreed to maintain certain standards.

You seem to be all fired up about the appearance of a historic DC house,

though I care about the historic cultural importance of the house, what I have commented on exclusively, and what I am offended by is the Congolese embassy's dishonorable and disrespectful behavior.

your beef is with State,

Indeed, the Congolese ambassader surely is cognizant of the special immunity granted diplomats and thus knew it would be difficult for his host city to enforce the standands he agreed to before taking possession of the house, and he knew the city would have difficulty enforcing laws he willingly and actively violated.

This is evidence that this breach is simply an act of dishonesty as well as an abuse of privilege and power; nothing more complicated nor hidden. I'm sure the Congolese people are very familiar with this attitude and behavior from their government leaders.

Regardless of their behavior, I point out that hassling them can undermine other more important interests abroad, and again you do not consider this.

The only repercussion you preseneted was that the US mission in Brazzaville might be equally hassled when it knowingly breaks local laws. I doubt the US mission is acting so dishonorably but if it is then they rightly out to be forced to respect the host city.

When I get out of town, how trivial some of the concerns expressed here ... become clear.

If you think concerns for how your own community is run and maintained and what the plans are for the future are trivial, then why are you reading and commenting on this blog?

by Tina on Sep 23, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

Ok Tina, I grant that the Congolese may have blown off their promises, and that they may negotiated in bad faith. That does not change anything, because regardless of why did what they did, it falls on the State Dept to enforce their local commitments. This is one of the challenges that arise out of diplomatic immunity, and one of the special issues of living in the US Capital (which you knew about when you chose to live here).

Nevertheless, the concerns expressed here about the Congolese removing some trees and paving their front yard are trivial, and I'll bet State will see it that way.

One of the problems in how DC is run is how over-regulated property owners are, particularly in historic districts, where for example the DC gov't dictates how they are to manage their privately-owned trees. DC is rule bound and big-picture blind. This is one reason why I comment here.

by goldfish on Sep 23, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

@Goldfish; I am not sure you have that correct.

To the extent that the front yard is public land, DC could enforce parking regulations -- including towing -- on it. As lance as pointed out, it hasn't gotten to that point yet. DC would also be responsible for any curb cuts.

I doubt DC could enforce the garden/front lawn rule. DC may have the legal right, as public property, but there is no enforcement.

DC could also deny on street parking.

by charlie on Sep 23, 2011 2:03 pm • linkreport

..yes...there's nothing so diplomatic as calling other peoples concerns "trivial"

by Tina on Sep 23, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

I'm embarrassed I thought of this so late, and no one will see it, but it appears that Congo has, in fact, paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Thanks, folks, I'm here all week. Try the veal.

by dcd on Sep 23, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

DC would ask the Office of the Secretary, which would ask the Department of State, prior to enforcing any PS rules here.
Goldfish is right.

by Little birdie on Sep 25, 2011 9:44 pm • linkreport

I guess this is how they do things in the Congo. Lie and then do whatever you want. They must have mistaken DC for a third-world kleptocracy. Perhaps they wen't far off.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Sep 25, 2011 10:19 pm • linkreport

The Congo Embassy are just following the example of their across-the-street neighbors, the Scottish Rite Temple, who are paving over their garden space this winter.

Mmm yes, more pavement, I think that's what DC needs.

by Jack Love on Sep 26, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

Perhaps Dupont Circle neighbors should appeal to the embassy to plant trees in honor of fiery Kenyan environmentalist & Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, a woman who was involved in efforts to save central Africa's Congo basin forest and just passed away after a long illness. http://bit.ly/c6V8Ow

by Kerry Kemp on Sep 26, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

@Jack Love "The Congo Embassy are just following the example of their across-the-street neighbors, the Scottish Rite Temple, who are paving over their garden space this winter."

I'd heard they needed that space to stage equipment for the major renovation they're performing on the temple building. Where did you hear they're planning to pave over this space?

by Lance on Sep 26, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

LOL urban politics in national capitals

by Rickyrab on Dec 10, 2011 8:39 pm • linkreport

Much to my surprise, it appears that the DRC Embassy has jackhammered the cement in front of their building. Wonder what's happening! Did they agree to remove it?

by Kerry on Dec 27, 2011 8:17 pm • linkreport

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