Taking creative liberties with the Dupont ANC's votes
The Dupont ANC sent its letter to the Board of Zoning Adjustment weighing in on the residential and retail development proposal at 14th and U that the BZA will consider Wednesday. That's the customary process when the ANC has passed a resolution concerning an upcoming hearing. But there's just one problem: the letter, signed by Chairman Ramon Estrada and sent by ANC staff member Freddie Blicher, doesn't actually precisely reflect the Commission's vote last month.
To make a very long story short, the developers are seeking four variances. The ANC considered them one at a time at its October meeting, and voted on each separately. On three, they voted unanimously to support; on one, as I reported here, they voted 5-3 to "not support" the variance.
The letter, however, presents things slightly differently:
With eight of nine Commissioners in attendance, a quorum at a duly-noticed public meeting, the Commission approved the following three-part motion by a vote of 5-3:No three-part motion was ever introduced. The Commissioners voted on each variance separately, and never all together.
- The ANC hereby approves the area variance requests as presented for the project (a) Lot Occupancy .... (b) Required Public Space ... (c) ARTS Prohibition of Driveways ...
- The ANC hereby opposes ... the request for area variance for (a) Rear Yard ... because ... [detailed legal rationale here]
- The ANC reserves the right to comment on any changes or revisions to the plans and/or BZA application ... and grants the Commissioner of Single Member District 2B09 [Estrada] ... full authority to take all needed action on this project going forward, including negotiations with the owner and preparing testimony before regulatory boards, and any other action required...
Also, most of this language was never read at the meeting. Estrada's motion on the rear yard variance, as introduced, was to "not support" rather than "oppose". The part about granting authority came up, but in only a general discussion, not as the specific language in the letter. Based on my recollection, that portion concerned only the BZA hearing, not all "regulatory boards and any other action required." Finally, the legal rationale for disapproving the rear yard variance summarizes some reasons which were brought up at the meeting, but this level of detail was never part of the actual motion.
Does this matter? After all, if a motion had been introduced comprising all four variances and the part about granting authority, it's fair to say it probably would have passed 5-3; the three who voted against disapproving the rear yard variance would probably have voted no, and the rest yes. But that's not what happened. This letter suggests that ANC opinion was divided on the entire question. In fact, it was united on three of four variances. That misrepresents the sentiment of the ANC to the BZA.
This isn't the first time the ANC's letters don't quite match the discussion at the meetings. The previous month, when the developer was preparing to go before the Historic Preservation Review Board for a trivial modification, Estrada introduced a resolution reiterating the ANC's previous position that the project was too large. As I wrote then, Commissioner Jack Jacobson introduced an amendment saying that, based on the developer's changes over time to accommodate the community and the HPRB, the ANC supports moving the project forward as presented.
Estrada decided to accept Jacobson's amendment as friendly (most likely because of the clear sentiment in the room in favor), and the amended motion passed unanimously. Later, however, no language matching the amendment appeared in the official letter to HPRB. As with this month's, that letter contains detailed language in the motion, none of which was actually read at the meeting. Jacobson said, "The way the letter was written, I wouldn't have voted for it." While the letter makes it seem that all Commissioners agree with the language written there, that's not true.
Estrada has made it clear he doesn't want the 14th and U project to move forward as currently proposed. He's introduced repeated resolutions calling for a smaller project and more setbacks. That's his right, of course, as the duly elected representative of his district. Estrada has effectively advocated for his point of view, and helped reduce the original project's size and mass. But whatever the Chair's personal feelings, an ANC's official letter must reflect the ANC's actual vote, not a slight variant that shades the actual language toward the chair's position.
The burden isn't Estrada's alone. Other ANC commissioners should insist on clearly defined motions, so that they know exactly what they are voting on. When members vote based on some back-and-forth discussion and allow the staff and Chair to craft a motion later, it opens the door to these shifts. When I attended the Adams Morgan ANC, for example, Commissioners brought detailed motions already written out, and any amendments had to be similarly specific. The Dupont ANC follows Robert's Rules of Order at their meetings. They should likewise take seriously their position as a real elected body voting on real motions, and ask for actual language before they take a vote.
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