The Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C meeting on June 8th was as interesting and at times as tumultuous as any of the meetings this year have been. The main sticking point for this meeting was Commissioner Jonah Goodman's effort to approve a Code of Conduct for ANC 4C. Also at the meeting, At-Large DC Councilmember Elissa Silverman spoke about her team's projects and successes with vacant and blighted properties, commissioners gave various updates and Goodman also got the updated Grant requirements passed. (Hmm, doesn't sound interesting when I put it like that.)
My thanks again to Glen Lam for taking the notes at the meeting -- the delay in publication is Drew's fault. It's Glen's great work below, mixed in with photographs and additional comments by Drew in italics or specified by my name.
The meeting started promptly at 630 pm by Chair Vann-Di Galloway (4C06). After a quick roll call, the meeting immediately moved forward to the contentious topic of Approval of the Agenda.
Commissioner Taalib-Din Uqdah (4C01) requested the Chair to remove from the agenda the grant application amendments and the standards of decorum & conduct items introduced by Commissioner Jonah Goodman (4C10). Cmmr Uqdah believed that the standards were introduced out of order because it was publicly introduced before being discussed internally by the commission. When Commissioner and Vice-Chair Zach Teutsch (4C05) questioned the order of the request, Cmmr Uqdah started to refer to Cmmr Teutsch as the "the gentleman from 4C05." (Yeah, that didn't feel passive aggressive at all, no sir.)
Cmmr Uqdah also repeatedly read from his printed copy of Robert’s Rules of Order to try and get the items removed from the agenda by forcing Chair Galloway to unilaterally remove the items “without debate or delay.”
(Drew: Ok, this next indented section may seem dry and long, but it shows something important about how Uqdah bullies his way through situations with partially correct information, some valid concerns and an attempt at intimidation to get his way. To be clear, these are Drew's comments, not Glen's.
Uqdah was not giving good guidance here about Robert's Rules. He seemed to be saying that he didn't want to vote on the standards of decorum because it was seen by the public prior to any vote, and the public shouldn't have a say — something I find ridiculous — and that the commissioners haven’t had a chance to comment. Mind you, they’ve been discussing this over email and in a Google doc for two months now (it was first proposed in April).
Instead, at the ANC meeting, Uqdah repeatedly tried to get Galloway to remove the Code of Conduct and Grants from the agenda, without comment or vote by the any other commissioner. He cited a section of Roberts Rules of Order (the default guidelines for the ANC for issues not covered in their bylaws), saying Galloway must make a decision “without debate or delay.” He said this vehemently over and over while referring to both Commissioners Teutsch and Goodman only by their SMD designation.
The line he was quoting is actually from Article IV, section 21 of the Rules, which states that, “It is the duty of the presiding officer to enforce the rules and orders of the assembly, without debate or delay.” Uqdah repeated the last words multiple times while reading from what looked like to be a printed version. However, it also seems he was being a bit disingenuous, leaving off part of the section that did allow discussion.
Galloway hemmed and hawed because he seemed to not be comfortable making a decision without discussion. Uqdah would not allow anyone else to speak up.
The Rules state that when a point of order is raised, “[it] must be decided by the presiding officer without debate, unless in doubtful cases he submits the question to the assembly for decision, in which case it is debatable whenever an appeal would be. Before rendering his decision he may request the advice of persons of experience, which advice or opinion should usually be given sitting to avoid the appearance of debate. If the chair is still in doubt, he may submit the question to the assembly for its decision…”
According to the rest of the Article Uqdah was quoting from, it was entirely appropriate for Galloway to request the other commissioners — or just Commissioner Goodman, who was putting forth the vote on the code of conduct and on the new grant guidelines — for their comments and seek counsel before rendering a decision. Though it would have saved 15 minutes of unnecessary and embarrassing drama if Galloway had just replied "No" at the outset and let the commission vote on the agenda items instead of letting Uqdah try so darn hard to intimidate the commission.)
With Cmmr Uqdah and Cmmr Goodman holding their respective grounds on the agenda item issues, Chair Galloway asked for forbearance from the meeting attendees while the Chair, Vice-Chair, and the two Commissioners left the room for the hallway to speak in private to resolve the matter. After the recess, Chair Galloway announced that in accordance with ANC bylaws, the majority of the commission would be needed to amend the agenda, meaning that Commissioners would have to make motions. With that out of the way, the meeting continued.
Commissioner and Treasurer Michael Halpern (4C04) is in correspondence with the DC Auditor to inquire about the disbursements owed to ANC 4C. The ending bank balances for the checking and savings accounts were $11,263 and $16,745, respectively.
Jasmin Benab from the Executive Office of the Mayor came up to talk about the Capital Pride parade on June 11th and for people to be aware of street closures during the event. The next announcement was that the DC City Council has approved legislation to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. Tipped restaurant workers’ wages will rise to $5 by 2020.
During the Community Comment period, Patricia Hampton representing Alpha Kappa Alpha said that they received many applications for scholarships that will be awarded to graduating high school students and that a list of recipients would be announced this summer.
Cmmr Uqdah also made some announcements:
- DC Office of Zoning (DCOZ) website has released a 2016 Zoning Handbook and Zoning Map to facilitate the transition to the new ZR16 zoning rules. The new regulations will go into effect on September 6, 2016. For more information, email ZR16@dc.gov.
- MPD has busted an illegal fencing operation in the 5400 block of Georgia Ave NW. Weapons, drugs, and electronics were seized.
- A two-story building at 3819 14th St NW and a three-story commercial building at 3831 Georgia Ave NW will be razed.
Commissioner Joe Martin (4C09) had the following announcements:
- 414 Varnum St NW, which a developer wanted to convert from a single family home to a three-unit condo, will go back up for sale. This ANC voted against supporting the zoning change. For the time being, it will remain as a single family home.
- A $25 million lawsuit that a developer brought up against some Petworth residents near Grant Circle has been thrown out of court.
- The home at 415 Varnum St NW, which has an extensive pop-up and pop-back, is in a holding pattern. Engineers will determine if it went too far up and back without proper notice to the ANC.
Commissioner Timothy Jones (4C08) announced that the May 21st pet vaccination event was cancelled due to rain and was rescheduled to June 11th at Upshur Dog Park.
Cmmr Halpern announced that a second public workshop for the Rock Creek East II Livability Study will present preliminary results on June 13, 2016 at 6:00 pm. It will be held at the Truesdell Education Campus cafeteria at 800 Ingraham St NW. They received hundreds of comments on the website, farmers’ markets, and metro stations. Arkansas Ave NW traffic flow and road structure will be discussed as well as many other intersections. Recommendations on curb outs, carve outs, and other traffic calming measures to improve traffic flow and meet Vision Zero goals will be provided. Cmmr Halpern is on the steering committee, and they are looking for community input in prioritizing the tasks.
Lisa Swanson with Green Neighbors of Petworth spoke about legislation under council review that would seek to change the make-up of campaign donations to the offices of the Mayor, City Council and Attorney General. In a recent report published by the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), only 5% of campaign funds came from local residents donating $100 or less in the last DC election cycle. The goal for the Citizens Fair Election Program Amendment Act of 2015 is so that candidates can concentrate on a local campaign and reduce the reliance on raising large amounts of funds from out-of-state donors. Participating candidates would qualify for the program by only accepting contributions $100 or less and would receive a base grant plus a 5:1 public match on eligible contributions. The growing list of supporters include Green Neighbors of Petworth, The Sierra Club, ANC 4D, and others.
The Pitch at 4015 Georgia Avenue NW is requesting a stipulated license for outdoor seating in the rear as a "summer garden" with seating for 20. No representatives from The Pitch were present; however, several community members came forward and spoke in favor of The Pitch’s request, including ANC 4D Commissioner David Sheon and Leroy Johnson, the owner of a building at 4009 Georgia Ave NW. Cmmr Teutsch motioned to support outdoor seating at The Pitch. Seven commissioners voted in favor while Cmmr Jones abstained.
Cmmr Teutsch spoke of a violent incident happening at Golden Paradise (3903 14th St NW) relayed to him by MPD and made a motion to authorize himself as a representative of ANC 4C to advance our interest of community safety, and if any official action needed, he will present it to the commission. Cmmr Uqdah says that he spoke to the owners of Golden Paradise and they claim that they were not involved. Cmmr Teutsch will talk directly to the arresting and responding officers since we don't yet know all the facts. The motion for Cmmr Teutsch to represent the ANC 4C in this matter passed unanimously.
Before proceeding with the architectural presentation for 320 Webster St NW, Cmmrs Goodman and Teutsch asked the firm to clarify for the commission whether or not the current owner of the property had any relationship to Jay Gulati (a developer who has the reputation for flipping problematic properties, to say the least). Martin Sullivan and Alexandra Garcia from the firm Sullivan & Barros responded that the current developer has no relationship to Jay Gulati other than having bought the property from him. After the clarification, Will Cleaveland from Oella Design Studio presented the architectural details of the requested zoning relief for conversion of the single family rowhouse to a three-unit condo.
The developer is looking for a special exception to the minimum of 900 sq ft per unit, an 18-foot pop-back, and a pop-up that is set back to maintain architectural integrity from the front. Currently, there is 35% land coverage and the plans are for 45% coverage (the rule allows for 60% or below). The developer is also asking for penthouse access that will lead to a roof deck. The architectural firm performed a study of equinox, summer solstice and winter solstice, and it shows that direct neighbors will be affected by shadows from the pop-up and pop-back. Mr Cleaveland said that three-unit density is highly appropriate to the neighborhood. The property was bought as an investment, and there are financial concerns.
Cmmr Halpern asked about when the property was bought because some properties were bought to beat the deadline before the new BZA rules went into place. Mr Cleaveland did not know when the home was purchased.
Chris Jones, a direct neighbor of the property, explained that he met with Michael, the developer, and spoke about his concerns with the adjoining chimney and the penthouse roof access. Mr Jones’ main worry is about the possibility of trash, fire, and people falling from the roof deck onto his own property.
Cmmr Martin said neighbors who live directly across the street received letters from BZA about this project. Cmmr Martin has spoken to several people because this is a hot topic and all those neighbors have asked Cmmr Martin to oppose this zoning relief.
Cmmr Halpern chimed in to say that the noise on top of a roof deck carries a lot more than regular backyard noise. From his own residence, Cmmr Halpern can hear neighbors that are on a roof deck, so he wants to add noise concern as an issue to the roof deck.
The commission voted unanimously for a resolution opposing the application of 320 Webster St NW. Cmmr Goodman will represent the ANC before BZA.
At this point of the meeting, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman came forward to give an update on some of the larger issues that her office was working on. Councilmember Silverman thanked the ANC 4C commission on the passing of a resolution supporting paid family leave which her office is currently pushing for. The United States is the only industrialized nation to not give some kind of paid family leave to welcome a new child, to address a health issue, or to take care of a sick family member. Her office is pushing for up to 16 weeks of paid family leave. The Universal bill covers all residents of DC and people who work here and would give 100% wage replacement for lower wage workers, and up to $3000 on the higher end. Changes were introduced by the City Council Chairman to lower the number of weeks from 16 to 12, reduce eligibility to only workers in DC, and to limit the death relationship (ailing parents not included). Councilmember Silverman urges the community to call the Chairman to let him know that we care about this issue. Councilmember Silverman has talked to both small and big businesses, and they have told her that it's good for them because it builds loyalty, retains women, sends message about caring, and is a good recruiting tool. Patagonia says employees work there because of their family leave policies.
Councilmember Silverman is on the finance and revenue, housing, and business consumer and regulatory reform committees (DCRA and DOES). She has heard from residents that DCRA was not doing a good job of protecting health and safety of residents by not policing construction projects and also by businesses saying that the permitting process is difficult.
Her office has made an effort to introduce legislation to address the issue of vacant properties, which impacts public safety, revenue, and on how people feel about their neighborhood. The goal would be for DCRA to serve businesses better and putting the property back into the housing market for residents. Currently, the process is to identify vacant properties every six months, but we should put the onus on the property owner to get themselves delisted from the vacant property list. There is a companion bill that will: close a loophole where vacant property owners will keep taking out construction permits, have DCRA look at water usage to check for vacancy, and assess bigger fines. There is a hearing on July 14th, so please speak with Kelly Hunt and Ashley Fox in her office regarding these matters.
Cmmr Uqdah said he had discussions with other property owners and they are very particular about who they sign as a tenant. He doesn't want to be forced to take a tenant that wouldn’t meet his standards just to avoid the vacant property penalty. Councilmember Silverman responded by saying that this bill is targeted toward property owners that are intentionally not taking care of the property and are a blight to the neighborhood.
Cmmr Halpern spoke about the announced settlement between the DC Attorney General with the Hofgard developer. He has heard from adjacent homeowners and would like to make sure this developer doesn't profit from this situation. Councilmember Silverman will follow up with the Attorney General’s office on any properties in-progress owned by the Hofgards.
Chair Galloway brought up an issue with 121 Randolph St NW "playing the vacant property construction permit shell game," so he is happy about this vacant property amendment act. Chair Galloway asked if there will be additional resources for DCRA to hire more inspectors. Councilmember Silverman said that the bill will close vacant property loophole and that the committee will look at adding additional inspectors. There are currently three inspectors in the district. In previous hearings, people had come to hearings to talk about illegal construction projects so the action was to have weekend enforcement. Please come to the July 14th hearing and ask for more resources and to affect the council and budget.
Councilmember Silverman thank the ANC 4C commission for their good work and says that suggestions received about new legislation came from commissions.
The second item regarding BZA was for 4009 Georgia Ave NW where the tenant/owner of the building is asking for internal changes only. Leroy Johnson presented that they are required to have a 14-foot ceiling and would like to fill in the two-story portion at the front of building to make a conference room with an 8' 1" ceiling. The owners have received support from neighbors.
Cmmr Teutsch introduced a motion (with Cmmr Hayworth's authorization) to authorize Cmmr Hayworth to write a letter to support this request. The motion passed 7-1. Cmmr Hayworth will represent the ANC's interests.
Onto New Business and a Code of Conduct
Cmmr Goodman is proposing a document stating the standards of decorum and conduct, which he originally brought forth on April 28, 2016. He says that the commission lacks civility and was not welcomed by the full commission ("It's a massive understatement to say I was made welcome"). The post of commissioner is a tireless and thankless position, Cmmr Goodman said, and he wants the commission to get past the name-calling and angst. Cmmr Halpern commended Cmmr Goodman for this document and hopes to move forward with this.
Cmmr Uqdah stated his staunch opposition to this document, and he took issue with "the gentleman from 4C10" (referring to Commissioner Goodman) about it not being Goodman's idea (the Code of Conduct is based on a version currently in use by ANC 1A). He said there was no discussion from the commission in bulk with only email exchanges of a few. Cmmr Uqdah also said that it was highly unusual to present this to the public first and get their feedback. He went on to say that the standard is very subjective and will get the commission into trouble, saying it opens a larger can of worms because it offers concerns to be raised by commissioners and the public. Cmmr Uqdah thinks this was a "one-man show," referring to Goodman.
Cmmr Jones joined in to say that this was not started right and therefore doesn't want to go down this road.
Commissioner Maria Barry (4C02) said that this document has been shared with the commission electronically and was viewable. Cmmr Halpern said that the code of conduct was derived from other codes of conduct from other nearby ANCs and that it has been a transparent process with public and commissioner input.
Cmmr Martin said that as a freelance filmmaker, he has to sign documents like these all the time. The document speaks about appropriate and non-appropriate behavior and there have been instances in the commission that can be categorized as being a hostile workplace. Cmmr Martin has seen issues with vicious personal attacks and said "three out of four of the women involved with the ANC (this term), including commissioners and our administrative person, have told me they did not feel safe coming to executive committee meetings." This was pathetic, he added.
The commission voted on the document and it passed by a vote of 5-2 with one abstention. Cmmr Uqdah requested a roll call and so it was announced that Cmmrs Goodman, Martin, Halpern, Barry, and Teutsch were in favor, Cmmrs Jones and Uqdah opposed, and Chair Galloway abstained. (Author’s note: whew, glad that’s over with).
After that contentious debate, Chair Galloway introduced the more tranquil topic of a letter of support for the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) for its project to improve the triangular plot situated between 13th Street NW, Kansas Avenue & Quincy Street NW.
Chair Galloway said that the changes would make it a reflective park, replace existing grass with native, drought tolerant plants and wild flowers, and slow-growing grasses. This will reduce the load on maintenance by DPR, which has no record of people using it so they can't justify putting resources toward it. There is no record because people are not currently reserving the land for use, but residents do use it. This is an effort to keep this property improved and prevent developers from buying it off surplus and developing on it. Cmmr Barry supports this and requested language in the letter to name a "Friends of …" group to help with on-going maintenance.
Carol Herwig, a local resident with a fair amount of experience working with parks, was involved with the Quincy/Kansas park ten years ago. The biggest issue is that there is no water, so it is “pie in the sky” that it will be ready in the fall because it will take major infrastructure improve it. She also echoed Cmmr Barry that maintenance will be an issue.
Emily Price, a local resident, said she understands that residents will have an opportunity in the future to talk. Ms Price says the dry landscape rock garden is restrictive to residents in giving ideas for future improvements. She doesn’t want to lose the only grassy space in the vicinity. Chair Galloway says the language in the letter can be changed to reflect low maintenance native drought tolerant gathering space.
Andrew Cotter, a local resident, says that all grass in the neighborhood has turned into Astro turf or put behind a fence, and this is the only place with grass to throw a football or Frisbee. There is photographic evidence that people use this park all the time. Original plans only leave 15 sq ft of grass, which is about the size of an urban backyard, so that is not useful as a public open space. Chair Galloway responded by saying actual drawings will be done by Ward 4 staff, and this is just a support letter to the Commission of Fine Arts for an open space that DPR will improve.
The vote was 7-0 in favor. Chairman Galloway abstained to remain neutral in this matter that he brought forward.
Cmmr Teutsch said he has finally seen express bus service in this city. From a Ward 4 standpoint, we would see additional service and get from start point to downtown faster. Councilmember Todd will hopefully get more express bus service and local service routes. Good bus transit is essential to local residents. Recent WMATA proposals have been to reduce buses south of I St NW and allocate more buses to higher ridership areas. The vote was 8-0 in favor of Cmmr Teutsch writing a letter of support to WMATA to add express bus service on 14th St NW.
Cmmr Barry brought up the topic of a letter of support to be sent to DDOT for the installation of a pedestrian-activated (nicknamed HAWK for High Intensity Activated Crosswalk) traffic signal at Georgia Avenue NW & Emerson Street NW. ANC 4D, on the east side of Georgia Avenue above Buchanan, has asked for DDOT for the same.
David Sheon, ANC 4D Commissioner, said that residents wanted safety to cross and 60 days ago someone was hit at 930 Farragut St. This finally spurred DDOT to study the situation, and it was deemed impossible to make a safe crossing by a pedestrian without assistance. The bus shelters will be moved (ones Farragut St will be moved to Emerson St) to encourage people to cross at the correct spot where the HAWK will be installed. The commission voted in favor of Cmmr Barry writing a letter of support of the HAWK light.
Cmmr Jones motioned to have the commission support him in drafting a resolution for a percentage of proceeds of the DC Lottery to go back to the community instead of an amorphous general budget. It would propose that proceeds go back to the ward where it originated. The commission voted in favor.
Cmmr Jones will also write a letter of support for First Baptist Church’s use of the nearby triangle park on August 27, 2016 and that the fees be waived.
Onward to Old Business!
Cmmr Uqdah spoke about the revisions to the ANC grant application and that the commission did not have a chance to sit down and talk about it. Discussion was only through email, he said, but "people only answer emails they want to answer while ignoring other recommendations" that were also made. (Uqdah raised some valid points in his emails and at the meeting, but he seemed upset that no one agreed with his points.)
Cmmr Goodman made a motion to accept the grant application as submitted. When Cmmr Teutsch asked for clarifications to Cmmr Uqdah’s proposed changes, Cmmr Uqdah stood up, walked up to Cmmr Teutsch, and said no difference would be made.
(Drew: This felt like a tense moment. Uqdah stood up abruptly, saying, "You know what, do what you want to do. Cause it won't make any difference," and walked around the table toward Teutsch to give a microphone back to Galloway. Uqdah went to return to his seat, but then turned back abruptly after Teutsch spoke and he stepped right up to Teutsch, close to the table. I jumped up with the camera and snapped a photo as a way of reminding the commissioners there was a visual record. To me, Uqdah seemed angry at what looked like having his suggestions being pushed aside and his opinions ignored.)
Cmmr Jones said this also wasn't started right, advocated for an ANC "retreat" to discuss these matters, and that the commission shouldn't air dirty laundry in public. Cmmr Goodman said this is the third ANC meeting discussing this issue, edits have been made to document, and that commissioners have had the opportunity to see it.
Chair Galloway said that the treasurer will need to check with the DC auditor on what happens if someone asked for an amount and comes back again for another amount. The commission ultimate voted 5-2-1 in favor of the amendments to the grant application. Cmmr Jones and Uqdah opposed.
Cmmr Uqdah made a motion for additional amendments to the grant application but this failed due to a lack of a second to his motion.
As the last order of business for the night, Dolly Turner from the Office of Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd came forward to speak about the vacant property amendments, co-introduced by Councilmember Brandon Todd, that seeks to provide homeowners protection from construction damage. Councilmember Todd supports the minimum wage increase and is waiting on changes by Chairman on the family paid leave legislation.
Ms Turner wants to see if anyone is interested in block walk with MPD, neighbors, civic assoc, and Councilmember Todd. Please contact his office if interested.
The Office of Councilmember Brandon Todd is organizing a Family Fun Day from 2-4 pm on Sunday June 26th at Kingsbury Day School at 5000 14th St NW. There will be kosher food and entertainment. Please contact his office if interested.
At this point, the meeting wrapped up just as the library was closing. Thanks again for reading the ANC 4C meeting notes. If you have any comments, please feel free to post them below.