ANC 4C meets, votes on Latney’s parking, supports Grant Circle safety

ANC 4C met at the Petworth Library meeting room on a rainy Wednesday evening and brought a smaller-than-usual crowd (it was raining). On the agenda were discussions about DC Water Green Rivers program, ABRA agreements for Timber Pizza and Taqueria Habanero restaurants, a grant application for Cease Fire Don’t Smoke the Brother and Sisters, a vote on the parking exception request for Latney’s Funeral home and a letter of support for Grant Circle safety efforts. My biggest takeaway from the meeting — ANC 4C needs to do a much better job of communicating and being transparent about topics before residents show up at a meeting. It’s confusing.

Here’s my concern: A number of items on the agenda, as well as a few added at the beginning of the meeting, were not clear to attendees. Beyond the problems presented by the garbled audio system (which Commissioner John-Paul Hayworth did try to fix), the commissioners did not explain some of the agenda topics. Residents shouldn’t have to come to a meeting clueless what is being actively discussed and what is being approved or rejected on their behalf as constituents.

Case in point, Title 13 Sign Regulations Resolution presented by Commissioner Uqdah. Sitting there at the meeting, I had no a clue what the issue was or what the resolution voted on and approved by the ANC was about. Neither the resolution or the problem being addressed was communicated by the ANC prior to or at the meeting. (Turns out, it’s the controversial proposal by DC to allow electronic billboards like the ones at the Verizon Center in Gallery Place to be posted in business areas, even if they’re adjacent to residential areas. If this change goes through, you could see big, glowing signs around DC.) The ANC voted to oppose the signs. 

Commissioners Elisa Irwin (seated, left) Taalib-Din Uqdah, Kathleen Crowley and Vann-Di Galloway

Similarly, the ANC voted to oppose the council’s Nightlife Regulation Amendment Act of 2015 (B21-0196). Do you know what that is? No, I didn’t either. It’s a proposed bill (introduced by CM Vincent Orange and co-sponsored by CM Mary Cheh) that states: 

As introduced, this bill requires that certain establishments licensed to sell alcohol shall measure the noise levels outside of their establishments using a decibal [sic] meter once an hour between the hours of  9 p.m. and 4 a.m. The noise measurements must be submitted to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) on a weekly basis. Noncompliance can result in a warning for the first offense, a fine between $500 and $1000 for a second offense, a suspended license for the 3rd offense, and revocation for a fourth offense. The requirement applies to establishments holding C/R, C/N, C/T, D/R, D/T and D/N licenses. 

While I agree that neighbors have the right not to be harassed by noise from a tavern or restaurant, asking the bar to test once an hour or face fines seems a little excessive. Apparently discussion on this bill has gone to the Council’s Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs. Just so happens your Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd sits on that committee, so reach out to him if you have concerns. I don’t know the specific reasons the ANC voted to oppose this, as they weren’t discussed. Would be good to know.

Lastly, I want to reiterate my prior suggestion, as an objective recorder of events (am I objective?) as “Petworth News,” and also as a resident, that ANC 4C really needs to change how they don't allow community comments and questions during each agenda item. Having community comments be limited to 2 minutes per person and coming only before any presentations or agenda items are discussed, means residents do not have the opportunity to express an opinion or share facts on items coming before the ANC as they arise. And while this is a meeting of the ANC (and yes, as the Chair has said many times, it's not a “public meeting or an open forum”), it can not stay as a spectator event.

These meetings are generally the only time residents get the chance to present their opinions or ask questions of things that come before the ANC (especially since many commissioners do not hold SMD meetings; not always their fault). As one respected DC reporter told me recently, this is the only ANC he’s visited that so greatly restricts resident / constituent discussions and questions. Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are the first level of political bodies in the District, and as such, the 4C Chair and commissioners should strive to have neighborhood input on their decisions. If there’s no chance to discuss, why bother coming? People could skip it and just read the Petworth News notes (and as good as these things are, that would be a shame). There should definitely be community involvement at meetings.

Ok, moving on to the notes…  

Right at the start, a number of items were introduced to be added to the agenda, but it was very confusing as to what was being added and to where. The bad microphone only made it worse to understand.

After the items were added, Commissioner Crowley gave an update on budget. For end of June, checking balance was $15,750, and savings balance was $16,741. Time to spend some money -- just think of the community projects that could be accomplished!

Matt Santoro, Director of Communcations from Brandon Todd’s office came up to speak. He said the recent Family Fun Day on June 28th went well. Todd’s team is working on building the Block Captain network, and is planning on having five from all 20 neighborhoods in Ward 4. They hope to soon offer Block Captain training. Todd did a meet and greet with ANC Commissioners from the Ward at the house of Michael Yates (a former ANC). Todd also conducted a walk-through of McFarland Middle School to determine the amount of work accomplished. Todd found that everything they promised to do has been completed or they have made significant progress on 80-90% of their committed work. DCPS again committed to "do everything in their power to get the winter sports facilities by December and the outdoor open by Spring,” said Santoro. (Work includes bigger lockers, paint, AC replacements and new AC in the auditorium).  

Brandon Todd's Director of Communications, Matt Santoro

Mr. Santoro said, “It's night and day in terms of what the facilities look like now, but we're still asking questions about possible early movement.”

While they’re getting ready to close out the legislative session, they’re keeping an eye on public safety issues (concerns have arose in Crestwood in the past few weeks, as well as ongoing issues on Kennedy, Jefferson, Longfellow, etc.). Todd is working closely with the 4D Commander on these issues. They’re planning a meeting at Grace Lutheran Monday night, details to come, as well as an All-Ward 4 public safety meeting later this month, details to come. 

Commissioner Uqdah asked, regarding the modernization at Roosevelt, “Can you tell us why the DGS (Department of General Services) representative who has come to the ANC 2 or 3 times, why did DGS not say they were running behind?” Santoro said he doesn’t have an answer, but knows that DCPS and DGS apologized for lack of communication. The Deputy Mayor for Education has made a commitment for better communications. Commissioner Uqdah said he thought it was intentional deception.

Then Khalil Thompson got up to briefly speak (he’s one of the two Ward 4 liaisons for the Mayor). Good success for Mayor's July 4th celebrations. Office hours for the liaisons are again starting as soon as DGS finds a location. Will be announced on listservs. 

Ward 4 Liaison, Khalil Thompson.

MPD/DC-EMS — no one came from either agency.

Community Comments period had three residents come up to present their opposition to the parking exception for the development at Latney’s Funeral Home (sorry, I only got the first names of the residents). (Here's my first article on this from March.)

Christian speaking, Mark in the back.

Christian spoke about parking issues, reiterating that the plan was for only 2 spots for 20 units. He does not believe the developer’s claims that the building will only need 2 spots. He feels that parking is already tight along Randolph St. He asked the ANC to oppose the request for variance. Then Mark presented 21 letters in opposition from Randolph Street neighbors. “These letters are from local residents, while supporters of the exemption are from up to a mile away. We don't think 20 units with only 2 spots is acceptable.” 

Resident Jeff Green talked about the community meeting held two months ago by Commissioner Jones where attendees said at the time that the community did not want the density or the parking variance. "It just doesn't fit with the neighborhood, looks good, but doesn't fit." (Here's my Facebook notes from that meeting.)

Jeff Green talking about March community meeting about Latney's.

Then Commissioner Uqdah mentioned that the Petworth Post Office is closing on July 28th. “The Postmaster has assured Representative Norton that they will be opening another location in Petworth,” Uqdah said. The nearest post offices that will remain open are Lamond Riggs (6200 North Capital St), the Brightwood location (6300 Georgia ave ) and the Columbia Heights location (3300 Georgia Avenue). (Here's my article about it.)

Commissioner Zach Teutsch mentioned the recent public safety walk (article coming) to look at problem properties in PSA 404. “We have been working with OAG on a house that has a lot of prostitution issues, and DCRA looked at dangerous construction sites.” He also mentioned that he’s working with Khalil Thompson on looking at putting in speed bumps on Taylor Street. Teutsch also discussed the increase in mosquito issue related to storm drain cleaning, and asks residents to contact their ANC commissioner if storm drains are not draining and accumulating water (havens for mosquito).

During the presentation section, no one showed up from DC Water to provide the Green Rivers Update.

Title 13 Sign Regulations, presented by Commissioner Uqdah (and discussed above) was next. This was the approval of the ANC’s resolution of opposition to specific sections to "a new section of DCMR" sign regulations. 

ABRA issues were next on the agenda.  Commissioner Hayworth asked to move Timber Pizza’s ABRA request to August’s ANC meeting. No reason given, but they’re not slated to open until the end of this year at the earliest.

Then Anna De Leon came up with the owners of Taqueria Habanero Restaurant (3710 14th Street NW) to request an approval of the Community Settlement Agreement and a Letter of Support (Ms De Leon has appeared a few times at the ANC to support Spanish-speaking restaurant owners). Besides the community agreement, they were also asking for a stipulated license for alcohol. While the establishment has had a long struggle with DCRA, they’ve now been open a year and are doing well. It’s a family-owned business (the owner, who’s the chef, along with his wife and daughter attended the meeting). The restaurant’s current hours are 10am-10pm and they plan to keep those hours, but their ABRA submission requests the normal full range of hours available. 

Owner of Taqueria Habanero and Anna De Leon

Commissioner Teutsch asked about plans for entertainment. Ms De Leon replied that they do not plan to have live entertainment, but there is a juke box, “But that's kept reasonable,” she said. “It’s not a club or anything.” Teutsch then asked to add language to that effect (having a juke box only) to the agreement. They agreed and the ABRA license support and settlement agreement were approved.

Next up was the redevelopment of Latney’s Funeral Home at 3831 Georgia Avenue NW. Fun stuff.

”When we first began work, we realized there wasn't enough space for cars,” said the developer’s representative, Donald Malnati.

Latney's developer, Donald Malnati 

“We designed the project to minimize the need for parking. We chose this location because it has a walk score of 94, is two blocks from metro and across the street from Safeway.” He went on to say that the location seemed perfect for the possible updated zoning regulations to control density and encourage use of other transportation methods. 

Mr. Malnati said they plan to offer bike storage and repair on site, a metro transit screen to show live status updates in the building. Additionally, they plan to provide tenants with guides about cycling and commuter connections and information people would need on getting to work without a car. He said they plan to also offer annual memberships to bike and car share services to tenants as they come in.

“We want a large amount of encouragement for tenants not to have cars,” he said. He added that they conducted a traffic study, and maximum time/use showed there were 8 spaces available in the RPP spaces. “This area has a lot of restricted parking for residents,” he said. “Both Park Place and 3 Trees have parking available for rent. For all these reasons we feel we have provided the necessary considerations to minimize parking so we are asking BZA to give the variance.”

Chair Galloway pointed out that Park Place (at Georgia and New Hampshire Ave) rents parking spots for $180 a month. “Residents don't want to pay at Park Place,” he said. “They think it’s cheaper to get a ticket once a month or so.”

Commissioner Williams asked “What happens if you don't get the variance?” 

Rendering of the proposed 20 unit building at the site now occupied by Latney's Funeral Home

Mr. Malnati responded that “We'd have to resubmit the [request] in a different form… the retail would have to go away... the first floor is so narrow, I’m not sure we could accommodate parking. There's virtually no way to provide 10 spaces in that space. There really isn't anyway we can figure out to configure the building to allow parking.” 

Commissioner Uqdah asked “What kind of due diligence did you do? Did you think you'd get a variance before you even started this project?”

Mr. Malnati replied that “Yes, honestly… we've been building in DC for 12 years, some buildings require variances. It's not reasonable to assume everyone in DC is going to have a car. All regulations are headed in the direction of reducing parking density.”

Commissioner Teutsch asked to change topics, and said that at a prior meeting a representative of the developer planned to only look for a local business instead of national chains to occupy the retail space. “Is that still the plan?”

Mr. Malnati replied that “We'd prefer to have local tenant, something like a tea or coffee shop.” 

4C Chair Vann-Di Galloway, Commissioners Zach Teutsch, Joe Martin and John-Paul Hayworth

Commissioner Hayworth asked what time of day was the traffic study conducted. “There's a significant difference between 6pm and 7pm for parking,” he said.

“I’d have to check,” said Mr. Malnati. “I believe it was surveyed at two distinct times; Friday 4-10pm, Sunday morning for highest residential uses.” This got some eye rolls from the residents in attendance.

Commissioner Timothy Jones then made a motion to reject the requested parking variance for the location, stating it was “a detriment to the public good.” There were 3 abstentions, but the ANC passed the opposition resolution.

Half the crowd left.

Commissioner Timothy Jones making a motion regarding parking at 3831 Georgia Avenue

Then Commissioner Joe Martin discussed a letter to DDOT (Department of Transportation) regarding pedestrian safety in Grant Circle. Martin gave an overview of the recent DDOT's Notice of Intent (NOI) for traffic calming measures (paint, pylons), then read part of the letter to support studying the possible implementation of the more robust 2009 Pedestrian Safety Master Plan. (I wrote two articles on this topic: one talks about the 2009 plan and the other about the NOI.) As someone who was almost hit by a car crossing the circle recently, I'm a big fan of implementing a safety plan.

Commissioner Uqdah asked about issues with church parking on the circle. Martin agreed to add an amendment to the letter asking DDOT to study St. Gabriel's church parking (though they do have their own parking lot and these changes do not impact parking spaces around the circle). 

Commissioner Uqdah, talking with Lenore, a resident interested in St. Gabriel's church.

There were a lot of questions from commissioners about this topic, as well as residents who had questions, but Chair Galloway would not allow any discussion (“A motion has been moved and seconded”). Honestly, the commissioner’s questions could have been addressed previously if they had actually read the NOI beforehand, and there has been plenty of discussion of the topic on both the listservs and here on Petworth News (of which all commissioners are aware of both platforms, I’m sure). Allowing some community questions would have been good. The ANC voted to approve the letter of support to DDOT. Commissioners Williams and Irwin abstained.

Commissioner Uqdah presented a resolution for the ANC to research and purchase a cordless microphone system for less than $500. Lots of support for this idea. It passed. He also requested money for business cards, and money to cover the costs of FOIA requests regarding 6-8 Grant Circle. (If I understand correctly, a lawyer is requesting the ANC’s emails in a Freedom of Information Act request regarding development along the Circle.)

Commissioner Uqdah also proposed that the ANC oppose the Nightlife Regulation Amendment Act of 2015. (This part was confusing, and no one in attendance seemed to know what was being discussed. See my thoughts above). 

Lastly, there was a grant request from “Cease Fire Don’t Smoke the Brother and Sisters,” a non-profit that seeks to help defuse rival gangs, represented by two member (Charlotte and Jennifer; apologies, I didn't get their last names). The group was started in 2005 and has helped to get five different gangs to call a truce that has lasted to this day. They’re seeking $500 to help defray costs for their 8th Annual “Moratorium to Stop the Killings” Cook Out / amateur boxing match event. They think there will be 5,000 people in attendance at Upshur Park (I don’t have the date for this event). They said there will be a "Peace Squad" of men to make sure there's no problems throughout the day. 

Representatives from "Cease Fire..." Jennifer and Charlotte (speaking) 

Commissioner Hayworth asked if there were any opportunities for residents to volunteer and assist with the event. The representative said “No, we go through the court system and use current and former gang members” as volunteers.

Commissioner Hayworth then asked them to commit to respect the equal rights of all, and the representatives said they would, and thanked Hayworth for bringing that up. (Long story short about what that's about: according to the Washington City Paper, Al-Malik Farrakhan, founder/executive director of the non-profit, allegedly made disparaging / bigoted remarks about homosexuals during the Marrion Barry Memorial service in 2014.) Commissioner Crowley moved to supply the grant money. Motion was approved, John-Paul Hayworth abstained.  

That’s it — after that I took my friend to the emergency clinic after she forgot that there was a bottom step on her front staircase and we picked up a nice set of crutches for her. Good job, Carla!

Congrats for reaching the bottom of the article. There’s no special prize except for the great feeling you now have of being an informed citizen.

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