Posts about ANC
DC transportation officials would like to help cyclists avoid the streetcar tracks, heavy car traffic, and pedestrians along H Street NE. Yesterday, the transportation committees of both Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) along H Street supported a plan to let cyclists ride in both directions on G and I Streets, while keeping car traffic one-way.
2-way Montreal bike traffic on a 1-way street for cars. Photo by Joe McCann.
G & I Streets NE are both one-way for cars and bicycles for their whole length from 2nd Street NE to their eastern ends, at Maryland and Florida Avenues in between 13th and 14th Streets. Each are 30 feet wide along most of their length, with a few 35-foot-wide blocks at the west ends. Even for the narrower sections, the current travel lane is 16 feet wide versus a typical 9-foot travel lane.
Bicycle planners from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created 4 options. All add painted sharrows in the primary direction of travel (west on I, and east on G). They differed on what to do about traffic in the opposite directon.
- Make no further changes and keep bicycle travel only one-way
- Maintain parallel parking on both sides of the street and add a contraflow bike lane on either side of the parked cars, depending on the road width
- Convert parking to diagonal, back-in along only one side of the street with none on the other side; add a contraflow bike lane on either side of the parked cars depending on the road width
- Allow 2-way traffic for both cars and bicycles.
The committees favored option 2, as did an informal audience poll. There are smaller sections similar to this option already in place on New Hampshire Avenue and R Street NE near the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
Any of these options could be mixed within the corridor, such that the wider blocks use different layouts or G & I receive different treatments. DDOT bike planner Mike Goodno presented one such hybrid option, "3A," which combined portions of options 2 & 3. This would eliminate only 7 parking spots, and was the second choice of the committees and in an audience poll.
Each of the affected ANCs will take up this issue at their next full commission meetings, and DDOT will continue to refine these options and solicit community feedback. Ideally, DDOT will be able to install this new bicycle infrastructure sometime later this Summer or early Fall.
Disclosure: I am a commissioner for ANC 6C, but not a member of its transportation committee. I did not participate in the audience or committee votes.
The ANC for southern Capitol Hill, ANC 6B, formally endorsed almost all provisions of DC's zoning update proposal, including removing many parking minimums, but it also wants to require a special exception to add a corner store in a residential area.
From their letter,
ANC 6B recommends changing the test to a special exception for certain commercial uses in residential areas in any building, including so-called "corner stores", if they meet the certain conditions set forth in OP's proposal.A special exception for corner stores is far less onerous than the variance it requires today, but still is a significant burden to a small business owner. If the Zoning Commission does choose to require a special exception for any new store in a residential area, however, then we don't also need the long list of restrictions OP created to limit corner stores and their impacts.
Corner stores are very hard to open today
Today, it is almost impossible to put a store in a residential area, even in a location that historically had one, but the store closed. That means neighborhoods that once had walkable retail have lost the opportunity.
Someone can get a variance, but there is a very high legal bar that the owner essentially has to prove they can't use the property without it; since the building works fine as a residence, that's not possible. So even if neighbors are eager for a store, there isn't a path to get one.
One approach would be to allow a special exception, where the owner still has to go through a time-consuming and costly legal process, but the standard is lower. That gives residents a say, which is what many people want to see happen. Still, the process can be a burden; Aaron Wiener's story on the Anacostia Playhouse shows how waiting for a zoning hearing can block something even if people support it and the zoning board is almost sure to approve it.
The Office of Planning took a different approach. They instead said, if people are really concerned that a store will bring trash, noise, and smells, let's just set strict limits to avoid the impacts, but if someone can open a store with minimal effect on neighbors, then allow them to move forward without the time and expense of a hearing.
OP ended up placing so many limits on the stores, though, that it's possible we will see almost no corner stores. In particular, the stores now have to be in actual corner buildings, or buildings originally built as commercial; they also can't be within 500 feet of a commercial corridor to avoid competing with the commercial space.
The proposal also only applies in medium density house zones, but not detached house neighborhoods or higher-density apartment neighborhoods. All told, that leaves very few eligible spots for stores.
Here is Harriet Tregoning explaining the reasons for the corner store proposal at the recent DC Council oversight hearing:
An alternative: special exception, but more broadly
The Zoning Commission (ZC) ought to accept OP's proposal or even loosen the set of restrictions. However, if that board decides they aren't comfortable with any matter-of-right stores and wants to require a special exception, then potential retailers should be able to ask for a special exception to some of the restrictions as well.
In other words, if we believe that it necessary to have a zoning hearing that gives residents a chance to weigh in, and that forum can balance residents' desire for the store against the potential impacts, then we should trust the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) to have the leeway to decide how many square feet is too much, or how close to other stores is too close, or whether the store can include something on the second floor of a building.
OP devised a set of restrictions they thought would ensure stores had minimal impact. They suggested allowing stores as of right in only these extremely narrow circumstances. If ANCs or the ZC don't like this approach, fine, but then we don't really need this extreme set of restrictions.
Instead, make these general criteria the BZA should consider, but give the BZA freedom to allow a corner store even when it doesn't meet all of these criteria. Instead of a rule limiting the stores to corner buildings and historically commercial ones, let the BZA consider the impact on neighbors, understanding that a corner building may be less likely to affect neighbors.
Instead of forbidding stores within 500 feet of commercial corridors, let the BZA decide if the store is going to sap nearby commercial space. Sometimes there's commercial zoning nearby but few or no actual stores, not because the properties are vacant but because they're filled with other things. The BZA could have the power to decide whether a store is going to detract from a commercial strip, or not.
ANC 6B seems open to loosening some of the restrictions:
During ANC 6B's deliberations on this issue, there was discussion about the restriction in OP's proposal that a proposed use not be within 500 feet of a commercial zone and whether a different or more flexible standard might be worth considering. ANC 6B also discussed whether to recommend that "purpose built structures" should be matter-of-right rather than require a special exception. ANC 6B will investigate these questions and may propose further comments and recommendations at a later stage of the consideration of these zoning changes.Basically, there are two approaches. One is to make zoning define what is and isn't allowable and let people plan their houses and stores around that without having to ask some board for permission each time. Under that approach, it's important to have clear and specific zoning rules to allow what you want but don't allow what you don't want.
The other approach is to pass the ball to a group of people who make a case-by-case decision including resident input on a case by case basis. In this situation, you don't need a lot of detailed rules, just guidelines, because the board can use its discretion.
There's no reason to do have both a very tight set of rules and also require a hearing even to open a store that meets all of those tests. Either go with OP's proposal as is, or replace it wholesale with a rule that you can create a corner store in a residential area under a broader set of circumstances, but need a public hearing and a special exception to do it.
ANC 6B, which covers the southern portion of Capitol Hill, is likely to endorse the DC zoning update after a majority of its members voted in favor at a committee meeting. It would join Glover Park's ANC 3B, which endorsed the proposals about 2 weeks ago.
In a post on his blog, Capitol Hill Corner, resident Larry Janezich (who clearly doesn't agree with the zoning update) reports that chairman Brian Flahaven, vice-chairman Ivan Frishberg, commissioners Nichole Opkins, Kirsten Oldenburg, Brian Pate, and Phil Peisch all voted for the proposals, along with 3 resident (non-commissioner) members.
According to Janezich, commissioners cited the value of encouraging more affordable housing and reducing car pollution, among other reasons, for supporting proposals to reduce parking minimums and allow accessory dwellings in single-family areas. Another part of the zoning update, allowing more corner stores in residential areas, appeared less controversial.
A majority of the ANC voted for the changes at the meeting, making it very likely they will fully approve these recommendations at their full meeting on Tuesday.
Not everyone supported the changes. Francis Campbell, Chander Jayaraman, and Dave Garrison voted no. It also got opposition from Ken Jarboe, a former commissioner defeated by Pate in 2010; Jarboe spoke against reducing parking minimums back in 2008 during the first round of Zoning Commission hearings. Janezich writes:
Former ANC commissioner Ken Jarboe, who worked on the ANC's Regulation Review Task Force, said he opposed the OP proposals because no alternative to taking away the parking had been presented. He pointed to the problems likely to ensue from the plan to put multiple small units in the Medlink building (7th and Constitution, NE) with no onsite parking. He said he was frustrated by people trying to use the Zoning Code to fix a problem that you can't solve by using the Zoning Code, likening the effort to using a hatchet where a scalpel was needed.It's funny Jarboe makes that last point, because that statement is a perfect argument for removing the minimums, not against them. Much of the opposition to removing parking minimums has nothing to do with parking minimums at all, but on-street parking. People are afraid that the change will mean more cars competing for limited space on the street, but that's already a problem, minimums or no minimums.
At a recent debate, Elissa Silverman expressed some trepidation about removing parking minimums entirely. I had a very productive conversation with her on the phone, and we were able to explore the issues more deeply. I pointed out the analogy to why the government doesn't require, say, rooftop pools on every building. That would certainly make buildings more expensive, though it's something many residents would benefit from.
One difference, Silverman noted, is that omitting rooftop pools has no detrimental impact on other neighbors. And this is what she had been most concerned about: new development significantly upsetting existing residents' ability to park on a street near their home.
Many zoning update opponents keep claiming that no parking minimums means no parking, but that's fallacious. The Park Van Ness project, for instance, is building 226 parking spaces, far more than zoning requires, even though it is a matter-of-right proejct and 2 blocks from a Metro station.
People are also already parking on the street even when buildings have a lot of parking. Often they park on the street and spaces in the building go empty, because on-street spaces are cheaper and more convenient. In short, we have a problem that parking minimums aren't solving today. The solution, therefore, is not to keep things as they are, but to actually solve the problem directly.
Silverman also said that she wants to see housing near Metro stations accommodate everyone from singles to larger families, but a lot of buildings in places like H Street and 14th Street are just providing studios and one bedrooms. I agree we should have housing for families. Again, though, parking minimums are doing nothing today to ensure family housing near Metro stations.
There are definite problems with our parking policies today. We don't effectively manage on-street parking spaces. That causes problems. Jarboe is, therefore, right to be "frustrated by people trying to use the Zoning Code to fix a problem that you can't solve by using the Zoning Code." People are trying to use the zoning code to protect some residents' ability to park on the street, a problem you can't solve by using the zoning code.
Our current parking minimums don't fix on-street parking; if they did, it wouldn't be a problem today. They don't ensure family housing; if they did, we'd have more being built. It's wrong to oppose reducing parking minimums because of other problems which our parking minimums aren't preventing anyway.
This Thursday night, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) in affluent upper Northwest's Ward 3 will vote on a resolution about the DC zoning update. We need you to go try to dissuade the reactionary, backward commissioners from trying to keep new residents out of their fancy neighborhods and... wait a minute... they're totally for it!
ANC 3B, which covers Glover Park and Cathedral Heights, is considering a resolution to endorse the changes in the zoning update. Assuming they pass the proposal, they're totally enthusiastic about more neighborhood-serving corner stores, renting out basements and garages and other parts of homes.
The resolution strongly defends the plan to remove parking minimums "that undermine market forces, increase housing costs, reduce incentives to use mass transit, and damage the historic and walkable form of many neighborhoods."
If you live in Glover Park, please head to their meeting, which starts at 7 pm at Stoddert Elemetary, and speak up for these important (and quite modest if not overly timid) changes.
Here's the full text of the draft resolution:
Whereas, the District's current zoning code, written in 1958, predates Metro and the modern mass DC bus system, and is not consistent with past population shifts or expected trends in population growth in Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, and the District of Columbia as a whole;In the interests of full accuracy, it's not strictly true that the update "does not modify parking minimums outside of transit zones," since new residential buildings of up to 10 units won't have parking minimums even outside transit zones. However, that doesn't override any of the cogent arguments for the change.
Whereas, 50 years of accumulated amendments have made the code complicated and hard to navigate and understand;
Whereas the Office of Planning proposed and sought public comment on a December 2012 update to the generations-old zoning code;
Whereas, the updated proposal makes reasonable allowances for local corner stores in rowhouse residential areas such as Glover Park so that the ability to walk a short distance to local, neighborhood-friendly stores enriches our neighborhood fabric and provides easy access to daily necessities;
Whereas the December 2012 draft of the zoning update contains reasonable limits on these corner stores to limit trash, noise, or other problems;
Whereas the updated proposal offers improved options for homeowners to create an accessory dwelling unit, creating more affordable housing, increasing the value of existing housing stock, allowing for neighborhood population growth without modifying existing building density, and allowing seniors to age in place in their own homes;
Whereas the December 2012 draft of the zoning update contains reasonable limits on such accessory dwelling to prevent overcrowding of neighborhoods or accessory dwellings that are not consistent with the fabric of traditional residential neighborhoods;
Whereas, the updated proposal modifies required parking minimums that undermine market forces, increase housing costs, reduce incentives to use mass transit, and damage the historic and walkable form of many neighborhoods;
Whereas the December 2012 draft of the zoning update does not modify parking minimums outside of transit zones so that the proposal will not adversely impact the availability of on-street parking;
Whereas, a simplified zoning code will offer clear rules that can be followed by the average resident and enable the zoning code to be transparent and accessible to all;
Therefore, be it resolved that the ANC supports the December 2012 Office of Planning zoning code draft that will let Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, and the District of Columbia grow in a sustainable way while meeting the needs of current and future residents of all ages;
Now, therefore be it further resolved that the ANC 3B asks the Zoning Commission to adopt the December 2012 draft zoning code proposal.
Plus, we've already seen, when there have been parking minimums, that it doesn't guarantee abundant street parking. The neighborhood can protect its street parking by creating smaller RPP zones, making permit prices better match supply and demand, and using performance parking to promote turnover by non-residents.
Meanwhile, the Foxhall Community Citizens' Association took a look and outright opposes just about everything, mainly on the usual grounds we've heard: they don't really want more people around, especially not students, and also think that more people will make it harder to park. Here is an email we obtained, which FCCA historic preservation chair Paul DonVito sent to other citizens' associations:
Here are a few of our concerns. These issues aren't unique to FV - or the FCCA area in general - but they are at least some of the areas of potential concern that have been discussed:The basement apartment rules will actually not "lead to pressure [for] additional front entrances" because the zoning proposal already forbids new front entrances in single-family type houses (they're okay for row houses, unless it's a historic district and historic preservation blocks such a change).
Apartments over garages - seems like a back door way to pack more students into rental housing. Would a "garage apt" mean a house with a max of 6 students could suddenly add a couple more over a "garage" - increasing the max to 8?
Making basement apartments a "matter of right" - Clearly this would lead to pressure additional front entrances as well as full height basement egress windows. This is already a growing problem in the neighborhood as at least a half dozen houses have expanded basement windows on facades over the past few years.
Reducing parking requirements - we already have an overabundance of cars due to all the group houses. Increasing density would only make that problem worse.
Corner shops - we are definitely concerned about commercial encroachment - ie corner stores.
The new ANC 5D, which includes the neighborhoods of Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver Langston, and Gallaudet University, will hold its second monthly meeting next Tuesday at a location outside the ANC's boundaries. Why would the level of DC government closest to the people purposely meet at a place that makes it difficult for residents to attend?
When the ANCs were redrawn last year, I was part of the team that created the map for Ward 5 which the DC Council adopted.
We made a serious effort to push for geographically-smaller ANCs than the 3 large ones the ward had previously. One significant reason was to help residents reach meetings without driving long distances. We purposely drew what ultimately became ANC 5D to unite dense, urban, rowhouse neighborhoods in the southeastern part of the ward into a compact commission.
There are multiple community spaces that could house meetings within the ANC: Gallaudet University, churches, two recreation centers, multiple schools, and other locations open to the public. It would be easy to find a place where residents could walk a couple blocks to interact with their elected representatives.
Last month, the newly-seated ANC met for the first time at the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District headquarters, on Bladensburg Road in the Arboretum neighborhood. While located outside of the new ANC, this location is within the boundaries of the former ANC 5B, which included all of the new ANC 5D as well as more area to the north (Arboretum, Gateway, Brentwood, Langdon, and part of Brookland).
It made sense to hold the meeting at a familiar location, and I assumed this would be a temporary location until the commission chose a regular meeting space inside the new ANC's boundaries.
Unfortunately, at this meeting, the commission announced they would continue to meet regularly at the police station. They gave spurious reasons:
- Meetings would be held at the police station because people's emotions run high at these ANC events and it would be good to have the police nearby in case things get out of hand. If this were the case, why don't other ANCs all hold meetings in police stations?
- There is nowhere in the ANC that could hold the thousands of people who live in the ANC all at once. I have attended ANC meetings for years now, and I've never seen attendance higher than a couple dozen people. As noted above, there are many places in the neighborhoods that could hold ANC meetings.
- Everyone drives to these meetings anyway, so it doesn't matter if it's far from the homes in the constituent neighborhoods. This is the most facetious reasoning of all. It's a chicken-and-egg situation
— people drive to the meetings now because there's no easier way to get to the meetings. Biking is difficult because the most direct route (Bladensburg Road) is a dangerous six-lane arterial with speeding commuters and a long, steep hill.
Only one bus route (the B2) runs up to the police station from where most of the population lives, and it doesn't run frequently in the evenings when meetings are held. The end result is that those without cars have multiple reasons to not attend ANC meetings.
According to the latest Census estimates, approximately 51% of the households in ANC 5D have a car. By holding the meetings in a place where driving an automobile is the most logical way to attend, the ANC is selecting for a certain type of resident, and not receiving the input of at least half of the community.
Rob Pitingolo, NeighborhoodInfo DC, assisted with data for this post.
Something unprecedented is happening at the most grassroots level of DC's democracy. For the first time ever, 9 college students are choosing to run for seats on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
These candidates represent part of a broader trend of enhanced student engagement in local affairs. Since DC Students Speak launched at Georgetown only 2 years ago, the organization has developed chapters at campuses through the District. Consequently, thousands of students have made the decision to register to vote in DC.
Unfortunately, too often, a heightened level of student engagement has met animosity from a few older residents. David Lehrman, an ANC commissioner in Foggy Bottom's ANC 2A01 who is facing a student challenger, recently told the Current that students "should be thinking about dating the prettiest girl and getting into the best graduate program," rather than focus on local government, and accused his challenger, GWU junior Patrick Kennedy, of running for "resume-enhancing" purposes.
This "soft bigotry of low expectations" often deters so many of my peers to become involved in civic affairs. The reality is that not only is a more aware college student population better for students, it is also in the best interest of the District.
There are almost 85,000 college students in the District of Columbia, who make up a substantial portion of the overall population. The District does itself a disservice by not engaging this large chunk of the populace. Having college students being more civically aware means more college students volunteering for non-profits, and pushing for reforms necessary to the District's vitality.
A major element of increasing the level of civic engagement is having college students run for local office. It demonstrates that students have a stake in local affairs, and are an actual political constituency. Washingtonians have to move beyond debates about who is a "native," and recognize that regardless of whether one is here for 4 years, or has been here for 40 years, everyone should be welcome in civic life.
Thankfully, after years of hard work, the interests of college students are gaining more recognition. For instance, when Councilmember Jack Evans (ward 2) came to campus at Georgetown recently, he told a meeting of DC Students Speak that college students completely have the right to live off campus, and that they should be encouraged to run for office. This is definitely a change in tone in Evans' rhetoric from only a few years ago.
Left to right: Patrick Kennedy, Jackson Carnes, Peter Prindiville, and Craig Cassey.
3 students are running at George Washington University: Peter Sacco, Jackson Carnes, and Patrick Kennedy. Sacco and Carnes are running uncontested, with Carnes on the ballot in 2A07 and Sacco as a write-in for 2A08, while the race between Kennedy and long-term incumbent David Lehrman has turned out to be a very competitive race in a district, 2A01, that contains many students and non-students.
Nicole Goines, who is also an American University student, is running for ANC in Brentwood's ANC 5C05. Connell Wise, a student at Marymount University, is running in 6E07, in the Mount Vernon Triangle.
Having so many students run for office represents major progress, but there is still much work yet to be done. What is at stake is more than just 9 college students running for local office, but how to get all groups of residents to participate in the civic life of this great city.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners work on many subjects besides development, but challengers for a few seats on Capitol Hill want to make the election a referendum on a single project, the Hine school.
Such a narrow focus ignores the many subjects that ANCs work on, like public safety, liquor licenses, and just helping connect residents with public officials who can solve their problems.
Members of ANC 6B spent hundreds of hours listening to resident testimony and brokering a compromise on the important Hine project. A committee negotiated with the developer, Stanton-Eastbanc, around community concerns, such as noise, loading, and accommodating the flea market that currently uses the parking lot each Sunday.
Many weren't happy with the ultimate compromise. The developer took off one floor to please neighbors. Some felt that made the building aesthetically worse, while other immediate neighbors wanted an even smaller building.
Another concession to neighbors removed street-activating retail at a prominent corner. Still, the ANC pushed for changes that allayed many residents' concerns while maintaining many of the benefits of the project.
A pair of residents who wanted the ANC to more strongly oppose the Stanton-Eastbanc proposal are running to unseat the commissioners in the districts right around Hine, Ivan Frishberg in 6B02, and Brian Pate in 6B05. These opponents, Gerald Sroufe and Steve Holtzman, respectively, specifically cite Hine as the primary, if not the only, reason for running.
The Hine project is a good one for Capitol Hill. It will activate this major corner, bring new customers to local businesses, increase housing choices near Metro, and add retail space to better connect Barracks Row to the south with the 7th Street commercial strip and Eastern Market to the north. If the election is a referendum on Hine, voters should resoundingly return Pate and Frishberg to the commission.
However, elections shouldn't turn on a single development project alone, especially not over issues that are now essentially settled. Hine isn't the only reason to re-elect these 2 incumbents. They have worked hard to listen to their neighbors on this and many other issues. They have toiled to improve the quality of life on matters that will ultimately affect residents far more than the number of floors on the Hine project.
Pate pushed to restore a Capital Bikeshare station at Lincoln Park after DDOT almost took it away. He and Frishberg both ran 2 years ago on a platform of improving the procedures of the ANC, involving more residents and increasing transparency.
Ironically, Frishberg and Pate had the support in 2010 of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), an organization that fought implacably against the Hine project this year. EMMCA hasn't visibly supported one set of candidates, but Hine was the only concrete issue they asked the candidates about in their voter guide.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Hine aye votes Dave Garrison (6B01) and Brian Flahaven (6B09) are running unopposed, as is Francis Campbell (6B10), who voted against the project. There is also only one candidate in the open seats for 6B07 and 6B08, Sara Loveland and Chander Jayaraman, respectively.
Longtime commissioner Norman Metzger, who voted for the Hine compromise, is not running for re-election. 2 candidates are vying for the seat: Philip Peisch and Randy Steer. Steer says he would have opposed Hine, while Peisch would have supported it; single-issue voters would therefore be best off supporting Peisch.
But that's again not the only reason. When listing the challenges the ANC face, Steer's statement in the EMMCA voter guide focused primarily on opposing things, like liquor licenses on Barracks Row, or future buildings that might be even a little tall. On the other hand, Peisch talked more about building consensus and also helping Barracks Row thrive while balancing its needs against resident issues such as noise and trash.
Kirsten Oldenburg (6B02), another vote in favor of Hine, has a write-in challenger, Tim Britt. Britt does not make any overtly anti-growth statements and generally seems supportive of some change. Meanwhile, Nichole Opkins and Chris Harlow are running against incumbent Jared Critchfield in 6B06, who voted against the Hine project. Both Harlow and Opkins emphasize the bread-and-butter ANC issues like being accessible to constituents; Opkins says that she got involved because Critchfield wasn't reaching out to the people in his district.
I met Opkins at a recent event and was impressed with her commitment and energy, but ultimately, as with the districts where Hine is the primary issue, residents of these districts are best off trying to meet their candidates directly, or reading the candidates' online statements and platforms discussing the many issues that affect the community.
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