A calmer evening: Notes from November ANC 4C meeting

The November meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C was, at least from the commissioners point of view, a calmer meeting than last time. Perhaps having the executive director of the Office of ANCs, Gottlieb Simon, watching with a video camera recording the proceedings helped. From what I hear though, the behind-the-scenes communications between the commissioners continues to be fraught with anger and accusations. Upon his own request, the ANC decided not to accept Taalib-Din Uqdah's resignation as Secretary and he remains in that position.

This meeting also introduced another new commissioner, Mike Halpern, representing SMD 4C04, taking the seat given up by Rickey Williams who resigned a few months ago.

Treasurer's report: $16,287.57 in checking, $16,745.22 in savings. They must be saving for something, right?

Michelle Blackwell

Michelle Blackwell from Councilmember Todd’s office spoke briefly. She mentioned Todd’s Ward 4 State of Seniors last week, and recommended resident’s sign up for his newsletter. Commissioner Joe Martin asked about Todd pushing for a statute to have DDOT fix sidewalks in 7 days, when it’s something the agency is already supposed to be doing. Ms. Blackwell said that Todd is pushing for it because he wants a process to fix sidewalks as quickly as possible and to ”prioritize those sidewalks that really need to be repaired."

MOCR liaison Khalil Thompson

Khalil Thompson from the Mayor’s office spoke about getting ready for snow season and looking for volunteers for the “Snow Team.” He reminded attendees that residents and businesses must shovel sidewalks 8 hours after last snowflake falls. If residents are older or disabled, they can call 311 to have their sidewalk shoveled by volunteer (find more volunteer info on their website: serve.dc.gov). 

Lt. Anthony Washington, the PSA 407 manager, spoke about trying to bring back the Core Team, and said he’s committed to the neighborhood. He mentioned that he is very responsive to emails and will reply within 24 hours (I’ve found this to be true, the Lt responds quickly). He asked that more people to come to PSA and MPD meetings. “The more that get involved the easier it is to do my job,” he said. “I promise I'll do my part."

DCFD Inspector Kristina Harris

In a first for this ANC this year, a member of the fire department came to speak. Inspector Kristina Harris, the Ward 4 Fire Safety Inspector from the Fire Marshal’s office, spoke. She asked residents to call her for fire safety / inspection concerns (not for emergencies, that’s still 911). She reminded people to change your smoke detector batteries. She also cautioned people about Christmas lights, saying people should use surge protectors instead of extension cords which can overheat.

She also mentioned that people should use battery-operated candles instead of flame candles. If you do light a candle, don't leave them unattended or close to flammable objects like curtains. Oh, and if this is your thing, if you're going to fry a turkey, make sure it's thawed out. Frozen turkeys have a habit of exploding. She also suggested people purchase a “2A10BC portable fire extinguisher.” Good advice. 

Looks like the ANC listened to resident feedback and has started to allow the community to commend during presentations. (Thank you!)

Chair Galloway told the residents to look at the agenda: “If you want to comment on an agenda item with a star [next to it], please refrain and we'll give you a chance to address that matter when we get to it on the agenda.”

Karen Feinstein

Karen Feinstein from the Georgia Avenue Family Support Collaborative got up to provide notice to the public that their Allison St property needs to fix a retaining wall. She said it should take five working days to fix, and that they’ve put notices on the Petworth Listserv and notified neighbors. 

Pepco rep, Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor from Pepco gave out some information on the merger, gave some background and said that the next public comment meeting was November 17th at the Public Services Commission meeting. More info on the merger can be found at phitomorrow.com.

Philip McCall and Sharon McGraw (not sure of her last name) got up to talk about the financial company they work for in the area, and said they are looking to help residents with financial needs. I didn’t catch the name and they didn’t mention what exactly they do. 

Jose, talking about campaign finance reform

Jose from 8th & Taylor talked about wanted to get ANC support for a public financing initiative before the DC Council. It seeks to get candidates to raise small dollar donations from residents, forgoing corporate donations and have the DC government match those small donations. Wants ANC to be aware of letter. 

Meghan Kanagy, the Project Manager for the 16th Street Project from DDOT, got up to talk about the study now ongoing to look for bus improvements from Arkansas to H Street. She said they’re taking a holistic view for changes, bus travel times and reliability, bus lanes, off-board fare payment, traffic signal priority and more. They were considering a dedicated bus lane on 16th Street from 7am - 10am. They hope to have a draft proposal completed next month. 

DDOT project manager, Meghan Kanagy

She said that Arkansas has traffic pressure from Piney Branch, which will need to be looked at by DDOT and WMATA. Commissioner Mike Halpern said that local residents in that are are not happy about the proposal to run busses down Arkansas (from 14th, onto Upshur, left onto Arkansas and then left onto 16th Street). He said Arkansas is already at saturation with almost no space as it is, and residents are concerned about adding buses into the mix. He said that residents concerns haven't been responded to in the past by DDOT and WMATA. 

Commissioner Michael Halpern, newly installed for SMD 4C04

Apparently this is a long-term issue, as residents have submitted their concerns about the housing structures needing repair due to the ground settling (he said the houses along Arkansas are built on fill and aren’t as stable), and that the street isn't built to handle the increased traffic. He asked if the street be reinforced and if the city can demonstrate better vehicular flow with the proposal? He said there are issues with improving signal timing and signing, as well as pedestrian safety issues.

Ms. Kanagy said they were very valid concerns, and being able to hear them is exactly why she is at the meeting. She said DDOT and WMATA are still looking at options, and are looking to make a decision about the draft alternatives by January. She asked residents to email her comments by next Friday. (Megan.Kanagy@dc.gov)

Commissioner Elisa Irwin said “There used to be a bus stop at Spring, and it was removed because it caused traffic to back up. I find it amusing that now they want to bring back the buses.” She said the proposals don’t resolve bunching issues on 16th street, and is concerned about left turn restrictions on Park Rd.

Commissioner Elisa Irwin

Ms. Kanagy said there are many issues contributing to bunching of buses, and that the draft alternatives were designed to alleviate those problems by changing where buses come from, vary their patterns and change signal light priority in order to reduce bunching. 

Vice Chair Zach Teutsch said “We appreciate your work on this issue, it’s incredibly important. I want to understand why the Arkansas piece is attached only to Alternative 1, but it’s not part of alternatives 2 and 3.” Ms. Kanagy said they were “looking at a range of options to find the best possible solutions.”

Commissioner Teutsch said that pedestrian safety at Piney Branch and Arkansas were very large concerns in the neighborhood, and that any proposal needed to find a way to resolve this issue and avoid a tragedy.”

Commissioner and Secretary Taalib-Din Uqdah

Commissioner Taalib-Din Uqdah said that he thinks “People aren’t aware that 16th St buses currently go north up 14th street” (S bus). He said he was a former bus driver for WMATA, and understood “driver culture.” He said, "Just speaking real briefly to this bunching issue, being a former bus driver that worked for metro, part of this busing issue is driver culture. They know what passengers are going to crowd their bus so they’ll either speed up or slow up to let another driver pick up. And it makes their work a little easier. Alright? Well, it’s part of driver culture, because I was a driver, so I know they do."

Commissioner Uqdah added that if the proposed alternatives are designed to save $250K, they should put that money into a 14th St express bus line. 

Commissioner Irwin said, regarding the 16th and Florida left hand turn, “You know what would be really great? No construction during rush hour.” Apparently the cars parked along the street there, along with the construction, are causing backups. Commissioner Martin mentioned that DPW enforces towing, so residents “need to keep pressure on DPW.”

Chair Galloway then invited residents to line up to share their comments. 

Resident speak about their concerns with Arkansas, Piney Branch and the bus proposal

Jack A, talked about resident concerns about turning left from Taylor to Arkansas (it’s illegal during rush hour). Another resident discussed the problems with pedestrian safety at Piney Branch, saying it’s a "ticking time-bomb, someone is going to die there, not to be sensationalist..." Residents want ANC to oppose the work unless pedestrian safety at Piney Branch is addressed. Ulysses, another local resident, said that “Arkansas is a mess during rush hour now.”

Commissioner Irwin asked “Should we make a resolution to oppose using Arkansas?” Chair Galloway responded, “We should come up with a written resolution. I wasn't aware of these issues and had been in favor of the [proposed] changes until hearing residents' concerns.” The issue was left there.

Commissioner Jones introduced Kimberly Lions, who is requesting Residential Parking Permits (RPP) be created for the 800 block of Shepherd. Ms. Lions said residents can't park along the street, as the police station has taken all residential parking, and other people park long-term on the street. she mentioned that Shepherd has a lot of senior citizens, including one resident who has lived there since 1959 and now can't park because of commuters and police vehicles. Ms. Lions points out that MPD has two parking lots, but they remain empty as officers park their personal and MPD vehicles on Shepherd Street instead. The residents are requesting RPP and extended restricted hours to 11pm at night.  

Kimberly Lions

Chair Galloway said that it's not an ANC matter but an issue for DDOT. He recommended they get the required signatures from neighbors, get them to your commissioner and turn them into DDOT.

The ANC then took up the request for a special exception for 307 Taylor St NW. A developer wants to convert a single family home to 3-unit apartment building. Mike Crisci, the developer, got up to say they have been working with neighbors and trying to make compromises. They’ve decided to shrink the “matter of right” changes. There are new plans coming, and are seeking approval for the special exception.

Developer Mike Crisci

Commissioner Irwin said, “Just a point… approval without plans?” Commissioner Crowley said they’ve seen the plans previously. “If [the developer] doesn’t get the special exception,” she said, “they'll go with the full matter of right changes they can make.” They want three units in order to make the compromises they’re suggestion, or they won’t compromise (this is a common threat I’ve heard made by developers at ANC meetings, including one recently at ANC 1A: support our special exception or we’ll radically change the architecture as much as allowed by matter of right).

Neighbors got up to share their opinions. Overall, they said while they don't have a written agreement from the developer, they are willing to support three units. However, they want the ANC to wait on voting until they see new plans for the development.

Residents discuss their concerns about 307 Taylor Street

They’re concerned about sunlight blocking in the backyard. One resident said she was happy that all the neighbors came together to work together. "I respect my neighbors and what they want." Two residents talked about their parking concerns, defacing of the front of the house design and the unity of neighborhood design. One resident, Marta, said, “We have a lot of older neighbors, are we going to have this happen over and over? We want a voice in the building that's left behind.” 

Another resident pointed out that the plans call for one bedroom units with two “dens,” saying these could easily turn into two bedroom rentals and that the application misrepresents the impact on community. “Just because you can build it doesn't mean you should.” Another resident, Kim, said there are opportunities to scale down the plans, as “the original plans pretty much add another house on the back. With the new plans, sounds like things are moving in the right direction.” Christian said he supports density but is against taking off the porch. The BZA hearing on the property is December 8th.

Commissioner Uqdah said that the developer can “request a continuance of the BZA hearing. Has been following process, seems they are close to an agreement, why not wait and let them finish [before going to the BZA]?” 

Commissioner Irwin said she wants to table the issue and postpone the BZA hearing.  Commissioner Teutsch said it “seems like the residents and developers are close to a mutually agreeable solution.” Commissioner Crowley moved to table the vote, ANC approved to motion to table.

The owner of 3901 Illinois Ave (in the back) and his lawyer (?) discuss their request

The next special exception request was for 3901 Illinois Avenue. The current homeowner is seeking to add to his existing residence by converting an attic to a family room. Due to the odd-shaped lot, it makes the desired change a "non-conforming structure" and exceed the 60% lot occupancy requirement. Commissioner Crowley moved to support, and the ANC approved the special exception. 

Commissioner Irwin had an item on the agenda (referencing 1521 Varnum, to investigate legal advice from area law clinics to help the ANC understand zoning issues). “Turns out it’s UDC, not area clinics.” [University of the District of Columbia] “UDC doesn't provide advice to ANCs, only low income people.” So this issue went no further.

The last item on the agenda was a by-law amendment sponsored by Commissioner Irwin, requiring the Secretary and Treasurer officers to remain separate from simultaneous holding of any other ANC office. “It jumped out to me after reading the by-laws,” Irwin said. “I think it's good policy that the person who signs the checks be separate from the others.” The ANC passed the amendment.

Commissioner Maria Barry added at the end that WMATA’s parking garage at the 14th Street bus barn will be undergoing renovations in the future. A community meeting to come in the future.

That’s it. Nice and calm in public.


12/2/15 Update: This article has been edited to reflect a slightly updatef quote from Commissioner Taalib-Din Uqdah regarding bus driver culture. The phrase "problem riders" was removed and his exact quote was added.

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.

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