I wasn't able to attend most of the July meeting for ANC 4D as I was participating on a neighborhood walk-through along Kennedy Street with a large group of residents, DC agency heads and CM Brandon Todd. However, I'm grateful for Sarah Levine, who volunteered to attend the ANC meeting and take notes. The only things that's probably missing from the notes below is a bunch of my snark. In that case, you should really enjoy these! Big thanks Sarah for being awesome!
The meeting started a few minutes late, as two commissioners (Bowser & Roth) were also attending the Kennedy St walk-through. Chair Lisa Colbert, Krystal Branton, and David Sheon were all present at the outset of the meeting, and Commissioners Renée Bowser and Bill Quirk arrived at 7:10. Commissioner Roth arrived around 8pm at the end of the walk (I arrived at the same time). This meeting was also upstairs in room 118 instead of the usual location of the cafeteria at Truesdell Education Center.
There were three big items up for presentation at the meeting. The first was a presentation by Charlena Hamilton, program director of the Housing Counseling Services (HCS), Inc.
Ms. Hamilton presented on how her organization, HCS, can assist DC Homeowners with applying for a loan or grants through DC HUD. (See a copy of the HSC handouts.) Essentially, qualified residents can receive $75,000 in loans; a $15,000 grant for roof repair/replacement, or a $30,000 grant for work to make a home handicap accessible. This program is not “rapid response” and there is currently a year backlog for giving loans and grants.
HUD may be trying to prioritize applications that are emergency situations, but Ms. Hamilton is unsure if this is standard procedure. Of note, applicants must not have been late on a mortgage payment in the last 12 months. There was some grumbling from the crowd and Commissioner Quirk about that limitation. HCS holds 2 hour workshops to prepare residents for the application process.
Commissioner David Sheon then presented on the safety measures coming to Georgia Avenue and Farragut Street (see my previous article on these new measures, with charts and photos!).
DDOT will install a lighted crosswalk to aid seniors crossing Georgia Ave at Farragut St. They are also going to paint a “ladder” (crosswalk) on Illinois to make the crosswalk more visible. DDOT's study determined that people are only going approximately 4 miles over the limit, but that visibility is low. They are also going to install more "No Parking" signs close to the crosswalk as people are parking too close to it, further reducing visibility. DDOT stated they will install the crosswalk and ladder painting within 30 days but have to allow a public comment period for the signs, so that will take longer.
The last big item was also from Commissioner Sheon and had to do with Castello’s Restaurant and Lounge. Sheon reported that the owners of the property on 931 Hamilton St (formally known as 51 Hamilton, but DCRA says the correct address is 931) made an "about turn" from their presentation at the June ANC 4D meeting. The owners had previously stated that the restaurant/lounge would close at 11/11:30pm Monday through Thursday and Sunday but then petitioned ABRA to stay open until 2am on those days, and 4am on Friday and Saturday. A number of residents that live close to the location became concerned about potential noise and filed a protest against the ABRA license. The owners refused to negotiate with the neighbors and arbitration failed. They did not show up for the last petition meeting and their first application was thrown out.
However, they submitted a new petition that ABRA was to review the day after the July ANC meeting. Commissioner Sheon was very confident that ABRA would reject this petition. A resident asked what Councilmember Todd’s position is on this issue. Sheon replied that he did not know Todd’s stance, but believed that he would side with the residents. He will contact Todd if the second application goes to a protest meeting.
Chair Colbert gave a quick update on ANC 4D Fun Day (a family-oriented day on September 14th, kind of like a "Taste of Bethesda." Commissioner Colbert reported that only four people had volunteered for the committee (c'mon people, ANC 4D needs your help!). They also need to raise money for the September 14th event.
During the Community Comments section, most of the conversation was around issues with vacant buildings and dealing with break-ins. Khalil Thompson, from the Mayor's office, gave some advice on dealing with vacant homes that had been broken into and left in disrepair.
One resident (who I was told actually lives in 16th Street Heights and not in ANC 4D?) reported that there is a “2:30 crew” that breaks into houses from around 2:30-3pm, as people are away at work and it's during a shift change for MPD officers. There was some back and forth discussion of this. (I had arrived by this time, and I while I know there can be an issue with criminals taking advantage of MPD shift changes, not all officers shift at once. This fellow also claimed that Ward 4 only had 2 officers on duty, so frankly, I took a lot of what he had to say with a healthy grain of salt.)
Commissioner Sheon discussed his research into the problem of vacant properties in the area. He spoke in length about his interaction with one owner, who has 40 vacant properties that he is not maintaining, waiting for the value to increase. For example, this property owner has one vacant, run-down building that he lists at $500,000, thus getting around the vacant building tax assessment. Sheon stated that once he reached out to the owner, the owner started harassing and threatening him. Sheon reached out of Councilmembers Todd, Silverman and Bonds, who are both interested in reforming the vacant building code loophole. The Commissioner stated how unfair this problem of blighted properties is to residents.
Commissioners Bowser and Roth gave a quick update on the walk-through along Kennedy Street (from Georgia Ave to North Capitol). They felt the event went well and that Councilmember Brandon Todd was very receptive to residents’ concerns about vacant and blighted properties. The residents also noted problematic sidewalks and pinched sidewalks, where it is difficult to walk.
Commissioner Roth gave a quick overview on her participation, along with members of the Kennedy Street Development Association, in the Office of Planning’s Vibrant Streets workshop on July 9. Basically, the workshop gave participants an understanding of how to establish and maintain a vital retail area. Roth noted that several of the problems present along Kennedy Street, such as the vacant buildings and crumbling sidewalks, make it difficult to establish a solid retail area. She suggests one idea is giving a tax credit to business owners who open in the area.
Also noted, the parking lot next to Horton’s Funeral Home is going to be senior housing.
That's it! Thanks again to Sarah Levine for taking the notes!