Notes from ANC 4D's October meeting

Commissioners Sheon, Branton, Colbert, Roth and Quirk

Commissioners Sheon, Branton, Colbert, Roth and Quirk

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4D’s October meeting was interesting for a number of reasons, least of which, but still important, was how calm it was in comparison to 4C. The two most interesting things that happened that night? 1) The commission delayed a vote on a variance to allow the audience time to review a developer’s plans and then asked for public feedback prior to the vote. And 2) the developer clearly heard the public concerns about parking, and came back with a way to increase available parking. Details below.

All the commissioners were at the meeting except Renée Bowser (though Bill Quirk left early and gave his proxy vote for the variance request).

ANC 4D ended the quarter with $9,166.08 on hand. Commissioner (and Treasurer) Krystal Branton submitted the FY’16 budget for a vote, asking for additional funds for mundane items like posters, tables, office supplies and the like. 

Commissioner David Sheon presented Persi Johnson, the Recruitment and Intake Coordinator from DC Central Kitchen. It was an overview presentation about the non-profit (and she brought cookies!). DC Central Kitchen provides culinary job training and 5,000 meals a day for people in need. They offer a 14-week culinary training program that consists of self-empowerment courses, in-kitchen time and workforce development, including a 4-week internship, with hands-on training at restaurants around the District. They treat their graduation as a big event, enjoying a 85% success rate with student employment.

Persi Johnson,  DC Central Kitchen Recruitment and Intake Coordinator

Their next class starts January 4th. It begins with a 5-day trial in the kitchen and group interview for candidates. They accept 25 people in a class, with the minimum age of 18. They look for a desire to change and willingness to try something new with enthusiasm, as well as a willingness to work on some of the issues that prevented a student’s full-time employment in the past. Sounds like an awesome program.  

Martia Fleming and Kendra Chatburn from Washington Latin Public Charter School presented on the school’s new gymnasium. Latin PCS is located on 2nd St NW, between Ingraham and Hamilton Streets. 

Martia Fleming and Kendra Chatburn

The school is adding a gym to the location, with construction beginning this week and the planned completion by June. The existing basketball courts will be moved to a small parking lot, and they’re installing a new HVAC on the roof (to be moved behind red screen). Staff has been and will park on the street away from residential houses (residents should contact the principal if there’s issues). Some of the nearby churches may offer their unused parking lot weekdays. Commissioner Roth asked if the neighborhood and public would have access to the new gym? Basically, yes and no. Yes, available as rentable community space or polling place, blood drives, etc., but not as a recreation center for the public. 

Councilmember Brandon Todd spoke about things his office is working on, including a new $113 million supplemental budget that was passed that provides funding for more cops, Health & Human Services needs and more. 

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd

Also important to note, the budget also makes available $500,000 for $250 rebates to residents, businesses, churches and so on who purchase security cameras and make footage available to MPD if needed.

The council also passed an EMS/FD reform bill that authorizes the city to hire a third party vendor to handle non-critical, emergency calls. Basically, after you call 911, an ambulance or fire truck will determine if the issues is a non-emergency. If so, the third party provider will deal with your issue. If emergency, FEMS will take person to ER. 

Lastly, the Mayor has proposed that the city purchase two vacant buildings on 900 block of Kennedy Street (829 & 831 Kennedy, I think) and convert them, perhaps to affordable housing and retail, not sure yet. Commissioner Roth was very happy to hear this.

A resident asked CM Todd when residents could expect to see commercial development on Kennedy Street. Todd said “Next spring you should see visible differences on Kennedy Street from the DDOT streetscape project (includes $9 million for curbs, street lights, tree boxes and such, from Georgia to New Hampshire Ave, with DCWASA kicking in $1 million for green infrastructure updates.

Commissioner Sheon asked Todd about using vacant properties for homeless, saying the vacant properties are a haven for crime and drugs. He said that it’s taking DCRA too long to manage the properties. “Can we count on you to help expedite the solutions?” CM Todd said that he was working on the issue, along with CM Silverman, and that DCRA and the Office of Tax & Revenue have convened a task force to determine loopholes and how to close them so that “in 5 years we're not presented with the same problems. That certainly has my focus.”

Another resident asked Todd about water bills, saying they’ve been going up. Todd said that bills would go up because of capital costs. If people believe they are paying too much, they should contact him. He said he will add something to his next newsletter about increases in water and gas bills (.60 cent additional per month) for pipe infrastructure improvements.

Commissioner Roth asked, “A neighbor gave me an idea about Kennedy Street infrastructure… When the street is dug up, can we add high-tech Internet service wires while the street is open? How would I know how to find out?”

Todd said that was an interesting question, and that any work would be coordination with the Office of the Chief Technical Officer (OTTO). 

Todd also provided an update on the Exelon/Pepco merger. DC has signed a settlement agreement with Exelon that includes $78 million in benefits for residents. Previous application for merger was denied, only offered $14 million in direct benefits. The Office of Public Counsel (OPC), the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Council were not satisfied previously. Todd now thinks and believes that what they are proposing is the best for District consumers. Customers would see a $50 rebate for the first month after the deal, with rates held unchanged until March 2019 (he pointed out that Pepco was looking to raise rates next year, so it is in fact a “win” to hold rates for 4 more years). The agreement includes “millions for job training” as well.  

“I am confident and comfortable that this deal is much better than the first deal submitted [by Exelon] back in August,” Todd said. 

The settlement agreement still has to be approved by the Public Service Commission. Any future rate increase will have to go through OPC, who is a staunch advocate for residents. Todd said that OPC believes this is a good deal for consumers. 

Commissioner Roth introduced Amit Vora and William Teass for a request for zoning exception for 525 Longfellow Street. It’s a detached 1940s house in the middle of row houses that the developer wants to raze and build three new townhouses. 

William Teass and Amit Vora

According to the architect, Williams Teass, no neighbor seems to have objections. He mentioned that residents have complained that with the current house, kids cut through the yard to get to the alley from the street for not "terrific" activity. The new development will offer three duplexes for six homes (in place of one).

Mr. Teass mentioned that the northside of Longfellow is predominately two-story row houses with front porches. They’re looking to build 16.7' lots (smaller than required 18), 1,800 sq ft max, asking for relief for 3 new row houses, 250’ smaller than minimum required. They want community support for the board of zoning adjustment. Each home will be three bedroom, three bath and 38' tall (slightly taller than existing row houses). Parking will be accessible via Shepherd Road with three parking spots (1 spot per 2 dwellings, or 3 spots for 6 units). 

A resident expressed concern about the safety of Shepherd Road (not Street, but road). She was concerned about taking a single family home and creating 6 units, saying parking is already a problem. 

Commission Chair Lisa Colbert said she wants to delay any vote on the variance request to give the public a chance to look at the architect’s documents and images. This seemed to confuse the architect a bit, but he agreed. I thought it was really interesting, and wondered if it would lead to argument. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) 

Commissioner Roth asked if there was any chance to increase the parking? Teass replied, “Potentially we can increase the parking. We would need to work with DDOT and city administrator and might be able to do 4 spots. However, Shepherd Road is a strange street. “In an ideal world we could do 4 spaces but…”

After some further discussion, Commissioner Roth made a motion to support the variance requests, with caveats that the developer look to find ways to increase available parking. 

Then they asked if the community finds the motion acceptable? (Say what!? This is something strange and unusual… asking the public for an opinion and getting it, without arguments. Very nice, 4D!)

The architect got up and said that he and the developer had sketched out some ideas to see if they could get 5 spaces in, based on the conversation with the ANC and residents. With support by DCRA and DDOT, he thinks they could get 5 spots instead of 3.  First time I've ever seen a developer come back to the community -- especially at an ANC meeting -- with an idea for more parking, and a suggestion on how to make it happen. That the motion was put in front of the public, and a developer tried to help solve an issue, were both new and welcome to see.

(Side note, I heard a funny comment from a resident behind me: “Do we vote or do they do?”)

The motion to support the variance request passed.

Chair Colbert then introduced Khalil Thompson, the mayor’s Ward 4 Liaison, and Jay Melder, the Chief of Staff from the DC Department of Human Services, to discuss an impending ANC resolution to support the city’s commitment to end homelessness. Commissioner Bowser drafted a proposed letter of support (up for a vote next month).

Khalil Thompson and Jay Melder

Mr. Melder said that DC has “the chance to end an intractable problem.” He said the mayor’s goal is to close and replace DC General, DC’s largest homeless shelter, and replace with smaller shelters that offer more dignified shelters that incorporate the local community. “A shelter is not a solution, it's an emergency service. Homes are the solution to homelessness,” Mr. Melder said. He added that DC is making a historic investment into housing stability, with the need to enhance the crisis response system and get people on a path out of homelessness. He said it’s “about improving the standard and raising the bar for families in crisis. We know people do better when they're in homes that look like apartments.” The goal is to protect the “dignity and privacy needs of residents.” He’s asking the ANC to reconsider some points in Bowser’s proposal that he disagreed with, saying the issues were addressed or incorrect. He said the plan calls for smaller, 50-family units spread across the district. . “DC General is no place to raise a family.” They hope to close DC General in 2-3 years, when the new shelters open. 

Commissioner Sheon asked if the kitchen and baths would be shared? Mr. Melder said that it would be varied: “Some would have private bathrooms, some would have private family bathrooms and bathtubs.” Others will offer male and female shared bathrooms. “Choices are based on needs,” he said. All will include places to store food and microwave ovens.

Sheon asked, “Why not use the vacant properties we have for housing homeless?” Mr. Melder said that it’s logistically impossible. “It would be cumbersome to provide on-site services spread out to so many locations,” adding that the locations would need to be somewhat merged. DC currently houses 730 families in the shelters in DC, with 260 in houses and apartments.

Lastly, Reuben Pemberton from the Department of Public Works attended the meeting to talk about issues at 5401 9th Street.

Reuben Pemberton

A condo building there has been repeatedly cited for bulk trash being left but other people in back of the building, near the alley. Long story short, the building has been calling the city to pick up the bulk trash, but the city would say district services aren't allowed for them. So the condo has been paying fines and paying for private companies to collect the trash. They’re trying to get the city to do something about the dumping. Mr. Pemberton said he had just been given the issue that day, and wasn’t too familiar with the issue. He said that they should install more lighting, and consider getting a camera to capture the license plates of people dumping trash. 

Here’s an interesting thing he said, good to know. When you see bulk trash, call 311 and use the term “sanitation enforcement,” not "illegal dumping" — that term causes a 28-day investigation process for illegal dumping. When you say it’s a sanitation enforcement issue, it’s resolved in 3-5 days. Who knew?

All other business was skipped, as time ran out and the meeting ended at 8:57pm.

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.

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