The March meeting for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C was Wednesday, March 9th. I thought it would be a long meeting, and it ended up going right to the 9pm hard stop (the library closes at 9pm). A new Commissioner joined the ANC, Councilmember Brandon Todd spoke and answered questions, concerns about liquor licenses in 4C came up, as did about a bazillion Zoning issues and Gordon Banks, one of the owners of the upcoming Italian restaurant Little Coco’s, spoke about their upcoming outdoor seating.
Jonah Goodman took his seat as the new commissioner for Single Member District 4C10, recently vacated by Kathleen Crowley who resigned in January. He was sworn in on Tuesday, March 8th by Councilmember Brandon Todd. (Note that no one else picked up nomination paperwork for the open seat, so there was no election for the open seat.)
Jonah has been very active in the community for years, particularly with neighborhood clean up initiatives (he cleans the triangle park near his home) as well as crime issues. He's very active on the listservs, including the MPD-4D listserv, and has been tracking gun violence in our area for quite some time.
I've personally relied upon Jonah for information regarding crime data and for help with notes for Police Service Area meetings when I couldn't attend. He's going to be a great asset to ANC 4C and to the neighborhood in this new role.
Chair Vann-Di Galloway invited Councilmember Brandon Todd to address the Commission and the audience before the meeting started. Todd spoke and gave an update on some of the things his office has been working on, and he took questions from Commissioners and residents.
Todd spoke about his time on the Council so far, working on oversight season, and said that budget meetings begin on April 4th. He said the Mayor will send the budget on March 24th, and then the Council has 45 days to review. He spoke briefly on the Walter Reed Omnibus Act, which allows the Federal government to transfer 66.5 acres to the DC government. The redevelopment will include new housing for homeless and seniors, two charter schools (in 2017). The 2019 budget will put in an above ground pool. He also spoke about the $12.5 million investment in a new fire station at Butternut and Georgia, slated to open in 2017. He also mentioned his support for the Mayor’s plan to close DC General and develop the new homeless shelter at 5th & Kennedy St, offering 49 units (102 persons).
Commissioner Elisa Irwin asked about Todd’s thoughts on pop-backs and their impact on residents’ enjoyment of their existing property.
“I hear this all the time,” Todd said. “I’m happy the BZA passed regulations last June to somewhat deal with pop-ups, but now what we're seeing is the pop-back issue.” He said the Mayor and the DC Council don't have the authority to make any zoning changes due to the Home Rule Charter; only the Zoning Commission has that authority. He said he will send a letter to the Zoning Commission to look at pop-backs.
Commissioner Irwin followed up, asking about the recent zoning rewrite for conversions in R-4 zones that restrict pop-backs to 10 feet for new buildings, but existing homes built before 1958 are not included. “Would you be willing to ask the Commission to change the regulations?”
Todd said he'd be willing to ask the Commission to look at that.
Commissioner Timothy Jones asked about littering and trash along Georgia Avenue. He said he’s looking for a Clean Team for GA, 14th, Kennedy, etc. Todd agreed to look into it.
Commissioner Zach Teutsch spoke about the support for express bus service on 14th Street. “Any thought on being a champion on that?” Teutsch asked. Todd said he is willing to support the express bus, and has been in discussions with WMATA and DDOT and would look to include in budget priorities.
Commissioner Michael Halpern brought up pedestrian safety at the corner of 14th and Randolph St. He gave an example of a man recently hit because car failed to yield. “The intersection needs attention,” Halpern said. Todd asked if this intersection was on the “punch list” he and residents created over the summer for open issues. Teutsch agreed it was, and Todd said his office will go back and look at it. Commissioner Teutsch said that DDOT has done a study on the intersection, but since then “total radio silence on the results.”
Commissioner Taalib-Din Uqdah said,” I apologize to bring this up, but someone at your office said you'd address these issues, but you hadn't. There are an exorbitant number of ABRA licenses being issued in 4C,” said Uqdah, “And BZA variances are being given out with no consideration for parking or infrastructure issues for a geographic area.” Uqdah said he thinks this lack of oversight will cause issues. “There are too many liquor licenses and not enough retail,” he said. “So with mixed use development, the [first-floor] space is being held out for a restaurant or tavern, because a developer can get more per square foot than putting in a flower shop, baker, etc., things that serve the neighborhood.”
CM Todd said he “Wants to make sure the neighborhood is right for businesses to open, but I don’t have the ability to say what should open or not.” He said he likes the progress they're seeing across the Ward, happy to follow up on a specific request if the Commissioner has one. Uqdah responded that he “Wants neighborhood-serving retail.”
(Ed note: Commissioner Uqdah’s concern for supporting more retail over bars in empty property or first-floor mixed use building has merit — everyone wants to see neighborhood retail stores thrive so shopping can be in walking distance and it's not all restaurants and bars. However, there is also the benefit of having local restaurants and bars within walking distance, especially ones owned by locals and that cater to the neighborhood. For clarity, ANC 4C currently has 34 active liquor licenses coming up for renewal, of which three are for “Marine Vessels,” 14 are for restaurant licenses and 16 are for tavern licenses. This does not include liquor or convenience stores. You can view the licenses due for renewal this year on this handy PDF provided by ABRA.)
Residents asked CM Todd about pop-backs and the conversion of single-family homes into multi-unit condos, as well as the “sweetheart deal developers are getting” for DC General. Rat abatement on 9th and Shepherd was also discussed. Todd said he would look into those issues, and reiterated he supported the Mayor’s plans for DC General.
After that the ANC got back to the agenda, and wasted some time with Uqdah and Teutsch sniping at each other over moving items around on the agenda prior to approving it. (Commissioner Teutsch made a motion to move two BZA items owned by Uqdah to the Old Business part of the agenda since they weren’t current cases in front of the BZA, while Commissioner Uqdah disagreed, saying those two items might impact discussion on the other BZA items and should move to the top of the agenda. In the end they voted to move the items to the top — they could have done it without the drama, but then, it wouldn’t be ANC 4C if so.)
Commissioner Halpern provided the Treasurer’s Report (now that he has access to the bank accounts). Savings has $13,760.25, while checking is at $16,745.22. (Give out grants, give out grants…)
Commissioner Uqdah asked that any matter on the employment of their admin assistant be tabled until the commission can have full discussion later.
Then MPD Lt Raul Figueras, PSA 404 manager, spoke about police issues in the neighborhood. He said burglaries are down due to a lot of community vigilance; same story with stolen auto also down. He said there were six robberies last month, a couple with a gun (he said sometimes they're recovering BB guns, but MPD always assumes it’s a real gun until they know for sure).
Lt. Figueras said that detectives are closing cases and are getting good participation from local businesses. He again asked residents to be careful. He said “basically, whenever there's a robbery report, MPD gives the description to Metro as the kids are jumping on the train to get away.”
Michael Lewis, one of the Ward 4 liaisons from the Mayor’s office (he replaces Khalil Thompson) spoke briefly. He mentioned the importance of the new security camera program and suggested residents and business take advantage of the rebate program; however, perhaps he didn’t realize that the program is not currently open to any businesses or residents in Petworth (for both PSAs 404 or 407). You can read more on this issue: Security camera rebates begin, just not for Petworth (Feb 21, 2016).
Chair Galloway mentioned an upcoming crime prevention workshop on March 30th at 6:30-8:30pm at the Library. Official from MPD, Metro police, Mayor’s office and ANC 4C commissioners will be on hand to discuss public safety issues.
Ted Van Houten, a transportation planner with DDOT, spoke about an upcoming “livability study” for Ward 4 south of Missouri & Military, covering all of 4C. He said it’s a quality of life study, looking at how residents move around, what challenges they have with transportation and safety improvements, including pedestrian issues and intersection improvements.
Commissioner Elisa Irwin spoke about an upcoming meeting to discuss ABRA (alcohol) license renewals for this Wednesday, March 16th, 6:30-8:30 at the Petworth Library. The meeting will discuss how to create (or rescind) a settlement agreement, protest a renewal and more. ABRA Community Resource Officer Sarah Fashbaugh will be in attendance.
Audrey Nwanze, chair of the Community Alliance For Upper Fourteenth Street (CAUFS), who advocate for 14th Street strategic planning, spoke briefly CAUFS covers an area that includes 14th Street from Spring to Missouri, Georgia to the Park. One of the programs they have coming up is a Community Soup, called a “pop-up with a purpose.”
Juan Miranda, Site Director from Mary's Center, spoke at the meeting (he was at last month’s meeting as well). He reiterated that the center is expanding to Ward 5.
Stacey Lincoln from At-Large Councilmember Vincent Oranges’ office, talked about Vincent Orange and DC Emancipation Day (Orange is sponsoring a lunch). He also said that as an At-Large Councilmember, they defer to the Ward Councilmember for area issues.
Dolly Turner from CM Todd’s office just got up to invite people to the Washington Performing Arts, politics and art show at Wilson Building.
Commissioner Uqdah said that the Ward 4 Education Alliance will present a "Know Your Rights" a panel discussion on special education at West Education Campus on Thursday 3/10 (this obviously occurred last week).
Commissioner Teutsch mentioned the Golden Paradise restaurant at 14th & Randolph Street, which recently applied for an entertainment endorsement on its alcohol license. The restaurant wants to have music and dancing, but there has been community pushback (they recently opened as a “family restaurant” and now are looking to have a bouncer, DJ and dance floor). The community has been meeting with the owners to try to find a good compromise on the concerns. Teutsch said if people have concerns or want to support the entertainment endorsement to contact him. He also mentioned that the Twin Oaks Community Garden next to Powell is applying for historic landmark status for a building on Taylor behind Powell.
Commissioner Halpern said that Taqueria Habanero (3700 14th Street) has applied for a sidewalk permit. He asked if people have concerns, to contact him.
Then Gordon Banks came up to ask for a letter of support for outdoor seating for the upcoming Little Coco’s Italian Restaurant (located where the Rib Pit used to be at 3907 14th Street NW). He said Little Coco’s will be a casual, family-friend rustic Italian / pizza place. It will be open during the day (7am for coffee and breakfast, lunch), as well as dinner. They also want to have a sidewalk cafe accommodating 14 seats.
Mr. Banks mentioned he lives right around the corner, excited to walk to work and about having daytime activity at the intersection. Commissioner Irwin asked about what community outreach they’ve done, and Mr. Banks said they have done a lot during the ABRA application process. Commissioner Halpern said Mr. Banks did a lot of outreach and has been very responsive from the very beginning.
Commissioner Teutsch moved for a letter of support for the outdoor seating and to authorize him to represent the ANC. The motion was approved, though Commissioner Uqdah said he abstained because he said, “I didn't get to ask a question.” Irwin also abstained, not sure why.
Commissioner Halpern then introduced Jennifer Schneider from So Others Might Eat, Inc. (SOME), which is redeveloping two buildings into a single long-term affordable housing unit to have 36 apartments. Construction is set to start in the Fall. Will try to mitigate construction issues for the community. The building will house about 70 people and serve residents whose income is in the 0-30% of the Average Median Income bracket. No vote, just a head’s up at the moment.
Then came the Board of Zoning Adjustments fun.
Commissioner Uqdah discussed the lack of totality of awareness approach that the Board of Zoning Adjustment seems to follow, as they don’t track the impact on the community of the special exception requests they receive, nor the number of variances given out in an area. Therefore they don’t understand the impact on parking, on infrastructure, and so on, and vote on requests on an issue-by-issue basis. Uqdah said that regarding the development at 1117 Allison Street NW: “It's a big mess, it’s still a big mess.” DCRA has removed the stop work order, leaving the neighbor with no recourse but to sue the developer. (The BZA voted to overrule the ANC’s and the neighbor’s opposition to the development.)
Commissioner Halpern discussed the redevelopment of a vacant property at 14th & Spring Rad (3700 Spring Road, the former Carolina Restaurant). The plan is for a four-story building with three residential units and one retail on the first floor. They plan on gutting the existing (unused) restaurant and reinforcing the building. ANC 1A considering a resolution on the same night and will likely approve the developer’s variance request for 1 parking spot. Halpern said the owner agreed to postpone the BZA hearing so that a community meeting can occur.
Commissioner Uqdah asked if the fenced side yard is public space or if the developer is claiming it's their property. He said he has some experience on this type of issue, as the Mayor's office came to him years ago to help figure out how to help Carolina Restaurant, as they considered the side yard public space and he had a similar issue with his building on Crittenden. Halpern thanked Uqdah and said he looked forward to his help.
Commissioner Joe Martin then discussed 414 Varnum Street NW, which is seeking zoning relief to redevelop a rowhouse into a three-unit condo, and pop-out the back. Martin said the yard is very deep and can accommodate a large pop-back, and the neighboring house itself has a pop-back. He said the developer met with community a week ago, and that it’s his understanding that residents are against the zoning relief. Commissioner Uqdah also mentioned the monster condo building at 415 Varnum St NW (across the street, along the same alley).
Martin moved to submit a resolution to BZA to oppose the zoning relief request. Passed. Then Martin moved to appoint himself to represent the ANC at the hearing, and if he can’t make it, then Commissioner Uqdah would represent the ANC. Uqdah made a joke about the BZA board greeting him by name when he goes there. Approved.
Commissioner John-Paul Hayworth introduced the attorney and architect for 4424 Georgia Avenue NW. They’re redeveloping the property at the intersection of Allison and Georgia into a mixed used building with seven units and first floor retail.
The developers are asking for variances for both parking and rear yard requirements as they say there is no alley access, the oddly shaped lot does not allow for parking, and no place for a rear yard. Commissioner Irwin said she went by there and disagreed with the developer, saying there is alley access. The architect disagreed with Irwin, then lots of back-and-forth debate (they just need a plat to determine if the building has access or not.)
Commissioner Hayworth said he wants to continue working with the community and the developer to meet the needs of both. (There is a meeting on Sunday, March 20th at 6pm at 4424 Georgia Ave to discuss.)
Commissioner Teutsch asked the attorney how they're promoting local business development with the first floor retail, and the attorney said they're happy to meet to discuss ideas.
Last was the application by the Star of Bethlehem Church of God (5331 Colorado Avenue, NW) for a special exception from child development center requirements. Apparently this issue is one of fixing a past problem and the commissioners were happy to expedite the process. They approved the letter of support.
By this point it had gotten quite late, and Megan Aniton, the Assistant Attorney General, Public Safety Division, PINS Unit from the Office of the Attorney General for the District of the Columbia, suggested that they move her public awareness campaign presentation to the April meeting. She got up to introduce herself and give a little background on her department and talked about how sex trafficking occurs in our communities. She said that her department only deals with the youth involved in sex trafficking and not the pimps or customers. She said DC does not prosecute minors for prostitution. She suggested people call 202-671-SAFE (7233) if they think they see sex work involving a minor. She said they people should always call MPD.
To close out the meeting, Commissioner Uqdah made a motion to extend the employment contract for the ANC’s admin assistant until the May 11th meeting, allowing time to hash out various employee contractor items. Passed.
Then Commissioner Teutsch made a motion to authorize himself to represent the ANC’s interests regarding the 14th Street express bus. Approved.