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Volume 7, Issue 1, September 2000
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax
Kickoff 2000 Big
FEDERATION ASSEMBLY MEETING
KICKOFF 2000 -- BIG YEAR AHEAD
Having won the Democratic Party primary race for the Ward 4 city council seat, political newcomer (but former council staffer) Adrian Fenty is being called the hottest political news in town. Mr. Fenty is a lifelong resident of the District. After attending D.C. public schools he received a B.A. degree at Oberlin College in Ohio and a law doctorate at Howard University. He is president of a 16`h Street neighborhood civic association and is an active ANC commissioner. He formerly worked with Council Member Kevin Chavous. We welcome yet another community oriented civic activist to the council.
The summer months have been active for a number of the constituent associations, particularly at the D.C. Zoning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment, in connection with (1) discrete university campus plans and (2) the welcome moves being contemplated and acted upon by the Zoning Commission and the Office of Planning to overhaul the city's deficient zoning regulations. The united associations' informed and constructive presentations at a definitive Commission hearing in July were on the mark, excellently presented and coordinated, and based on years-long collective experience. (Article below). The Federation also presented, without requesting party status, at the Georgetown University campus plan hearing, along with eight affected associations and ANCs. For the record, the Georgetown campus plan has been put on hold by the BZA until the university rectifies the negative community impact of its 2,400-plus off-campus students without on-campus housing. Given existing university resources, a penchant for making empty gestures and the magnitude of the BZA-deplored impact, the hold is apt to be a long one. In point of fact, there is no hurry. It makes little sense to rush through approval or disapproval of ten-year campus plans presented in 1999-2000 under defective old regulations, when overhaul of these is a near-term city priority.
A number of delegates have participated in or monitored D.C. Council hearings of special interest to District communities. Of definite local interest was Councilmember Carol Schwartz's hearing that highlighted for the first time a seemingly practical way to dismantle the myriad and proliferating overhead electric wires that detract from the appearance of Washington's streets, trees and alleys. The solution: "Trenchless Tech", whereby wires are put underground without the necessity of digging and paving over trenches, stands to be the wave of the future to all appearances. (Article below).
Reopening Pennsylvania Avenue: The Presidential Candidates
One of the Federation's approved and stated goals is to achieve the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White, for practical, historic and aesthetic reasons. The present Congress has forbade major expenditure on construction to.permanently block the street. The current White House was persuaded to close the street by the Secret Service, for reasons of security. A running controversy surrounds the closure, with the Federation on the disagreeing side.
Dr. Nelson Rimensnyder, historian of Federation member Association of Oldest Inhabitants, reports that on May 2, 2000 presidential candidate Gore was asked by D.C. political commentator Mark Plotkin, "If elected president will you reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House?" Gore replied, "I attended the Secret Service security briefing with President Clinton and I support the President's decision to close the avenue. It was the right decision." Tough, in the eyes of many D.C. residents.
Often, however, candidates expediently change direction in the course of a campaign. A number of members of Federation constituent organizations were elected as Democratic state committeemen, and went to the Democratic convention. We urge them still to (1) contact the campaign platform committee, and (2) attempt to have inserted a secondary plank to reopen The Avenue. The jury is out at this point, and our affiliated Democratic Party officials should keep pushing.
The same Federation effort was made on the Republican side. Some of our affiliated Republican state committee members wasted no time in contacting their platform committee staff (others, including the mayor, did too), and succeeded in getting a GOP plank to Reopen Pennsylvania Avenue where it is currently closed.
By now it seems fairly well accepted that the inconvenient closure of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House has been an effete gesture. A Congressional hearing on the subject brought out that a number of less drastic methods exist for protecting the White House from the Pennsylvania Avenue side, all allowing for normal use of the Nation's Avenue, not just once every four years on Inauguration Day. Delegates are urged to keep this issue alive with both parties.
IRS Warns 501 (C) 3 Organizations on Politicking
The Internal Revenue Service issued an election-year advisory, reported by the Associated Press, warning churches, charities and other tax-exempt organizations that federal tax policy forbids political campaign activity.
Prohibited activities include donations, endorsements and fund raising. Candidate debates sponsored by organizations are not controversial, but specific politicking appears to be on the prohibited list. Violators could be taxed on nonexempt activity or lose tax exemption entirely.
President's Message Guy Gwynne
We will begin year 2000-2001 running. The summer has been busy, along the lines of the projections of June this year. The Federation was able by dint of good organization and having done the best homework around to help move campus plan regulations overhaul forward. The July 27 Zoning Commission-Office of Planning hearing on zoning-regulation revision was a good example of the new reform administration combining with the city's organized citizenry to effect needed changes in outdated administrative procedures. A spectrum of constituent associations testified professionally and to the point. It was an exemplary exercise in civic responsibility.
The Federation Legal Aid Foundation has been duly approved by the city, and has now filed for final approval by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status. This status means, inter alia, that contributions to the fund will be tax deductible by donors. Also, the Fund can serve as an umbrella mechanism for tax-free contributions to discrete projects of individual or groups of associations. The five-person Fund board will comprise ex officio Federation president Guy Gwynne, ex officio Federation first vice president A.L. Wheeler, Esq., Foggy Bottom president Michael Thomas, Esq., Penn Branch attorney Laura Richards, Esq. and one other member. Members on the ten-person Fund advisory board are being carefully selected and invited to serve.
Now that hitherto bedeviling campus plan regulations are being duly addressed by the city, we will renew and give additional emphasis to the equally corrosive problem of inadequate city land use regulations and lack of enforcement. The Land Use Committee, chaired by city planner Lois Forster, will be the vehicle for this. Few problems burden our residential communities as much and with such impunity as illegal house and building use and conversions, dicey additions, overcrowding and the resultant negative impact on taxbase neighborhoods. Land use comes within the portfolio of the city's problem Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), whose director recently bailed out to join an important District law firm. This won't be easy, but the Federation base of associations affected by this problem is broader even than that impinged upon by university and institutional campus negative impact. Together we'll see it through.
Parade Participation As Polling
Each year the Palisades Citizens Association sponsors the city's biggest and best - some say hokiest - free-form 4th of July parade. Anyone can march, witness for causes, protest anything, campaign for office, or just show off pets, rollerblades, costumes and the like. Tellingly, this year's group receiving the most applause along the parade route was the Association of Oldest Inhabitants squad. Its banners and signs calling for Reopen Pennsylvania Avenue got the biggest rise from the many hundreds of cheerful parade viewers along a mile-long route. The message was clear: reopening the Avenue is a popular item in an important part of Northwest. Marching or riding were the mayor, several councilmembers and various candidates, ubiquitous TV reporter Tom Sherwood and other notables.
This parade, incidentally, is an excellent multi-community affair, worthy of being imitated elsewhere. It consists of an accepting parade, followed by an association-sponsored picnic at the end of the parade route. Abundant hotdogs, watermelon and soft drinks are served up by community volunteers to all comers. There are waterpans for the dogs, moonbounces for the small fry and a firetruck to climb about on. Anyone can set up a stand along the shady picnic ground periphery from which to push causes, petitions, whatever. Even the Masonic youth organization of DeMolays had a table, for example.
Chevy Chase Activates Inspectors
In the customary D.C. do-as-you-please approach to zoning matters, a Chevy Chase restaurateur recently built an enlarged deck that exceeded city specifications regarding size. Local activists reported the infraction to the Building and Land Regulation office of DCRA, which sent inspectors who caused a $500 fine to be issued. At the same time it was discovered that the restaurateur had failed to get approval for a modified deck, and another citation is pending.
Ho hum and so what? The broader context of this incident is that alert citizens, particularly the associations and ANCs, can trigger city remedial action if they make the effort to report infractions, eyesores, illegal building and the like. Based on past experience with unresponsive city agencies, it is tempting to throw up one's hands, give up and overlook silently-installed neighborhood encroachments. Things seem to be changing. The next time an unlicensed house extension, overcrowded house or illegal basement apartment installation is in evidence in the community - report it. Point people at DCRA are Michael Johnson (442-4560), Vincent L. Ford (4424558) and James Aldrich (442-4600). Chances are that a response will be forthcoming.
Federation Doing Its Job: United Communities Testify On Revision of Zoning Regulations
Recognizing that the District's current zoning regulations do not work and do require urgent reformulation, the Zoning Commission and the Office of Planning on July 28 held an important all-day Roundtable hearing by way of community consultation. Also on the dais were members of the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the DCRA Zoning Administrator.
At root is the problem that, although current regulations require that college and other uses be permitted on a zoning exception basis only if "not likely to become objectionable to neighboring property because of noise, traffic, number of students, or other objectionable conditions" (11 DCMR 210.2), over the years the opposite has occurred. Some universities have become objectionable to the point of virtually destabilizing or devouring their neighboring communities. This is due primarily to many thousands of off-campus students forced into their neighboring communities by lack of on-campus housing and lack of definitions concerning campus spread.
Twenty-odd Federation and constituent community witnesses testified skillfully and constructively at the hearing, joined by other nonmember community spokesmen, the chairmen of the Wards II and III Democrats, and a representative of the Committee of 100. The Federation submitted proposed legislation.
Community representatives with long collective experience called for the Zoning Commission to:
Aiding the communities is broad recognition that the current regulations are not working. Mayor Williams noted at the May Federation banquet that the process is flawed and called for a process review. The City Council has since at least the 1989 Comprehensive Plan deplored the negative impact of unregulated university expansion and requested the Zoning Commission to amend the regulations to comport with the Comprehensive Plan. The Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) in May 2000 expressed his frustration with the campus planning process, but stated his "hands are tied", since the DCRA Zoning Administrator must follow existing regulations when making decisions. And, the Federation and the fifteen residential communities that suffer from uncontrolled university impact and expansion are protesting the effective lack of city protection for thousands of affected homeowners, taxpayers and neighborhoods.
The newly invigorated Office of Planning will assist an underfunded, understaffed Zoning Commission without technical backup and little legal backup to do any reformulation of the regulations. There is some talk of simply incorporating both the BZA and the Zoning Commission into the Office of Planning, in order to strengthen both zoning agencies. This is double tempting in view of the spotty record of the BZA over the years.
Meanwhile, Federation community representatives and other civic activists are waiting with interest to see if the OP and Zoning Commission will produce meaningful regulations to get a grip on heretofore uncontrolled greedy universities and their negative community impact. There is reason to hope that the reform city administration means what it says in this particular. Whether it can carry through on (1) halting institutional sprawl and abuse and (2) rectifying past encroachments or (3) causing them to evanesce remains to be seen.
Councilmember Schwartz Uncovers Likely Solution To Overhead Power Lines Problem
At a July oversight hearing on, among other matters, feisty Councilmember Carol Schwartz aired D.C.'s growing problem with power and cable lines mounted on poles that line numerous streets and alleys. Apart from being unattractive and old-timey in themselves, the overhead wires require freedom from obstruction, which regularly means gouging deeply into trees that similarly line city streets. The wires often come near to buildings and schools, as well.
The technology exists for placing most or all of such overhead electric and other wires underground without messy and traffic impeding trenches in the streets and alleys. Hence the term Trenchless Tech. Basically, the idea is to prepare X-sized pipes beneath the ground, take down the overhead lines, and run them through the pipes. According to Dr. Henry Liu of the University of Missouri, "The cost of installing a pressure pipeline or cable duct under a road by guided (horizontal, ed.) drilling is substantially less than the cost of trenching with pavement reinstatement."
Considerations of underground impediments in a city are a factor in drilling to change wires from overhead to underground, but it is interesting to note that the change is a definite possibility and, reportedly, there is some wiggle-room for avoiding impediments encountered during horizontal drilling:
Mr. James W. Wills of the Flippo Construction Co. noted at the July hearing that some Trenchless Tech arrangements are already installed on Capitol Hill, and that his company can do much more of the same installation. The Flippo Co. has already done various work for the city.
Cost is a factor in this matter, and Mrs. Schwartz and the Council will duly have to wrestle with this. However, that there is a solution at hand to the city's overhead wires problem comes as a revelation. The councilmember is to be commended for her (and her staff's) timely spadework.
We plan to invite Councilmember Schwartz to be a guest speaker at an upcoming Federation assembly meeting. By then there should be further developments and greater insight into the Trenchless Tech option that she will be able to share.
Estimate: Mayor and Council to Return to District/Wilson Building in December
The best guesstimate at One Judiciary Square seems to be that the city government will move back into its historic quarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in December: January at the latest. At any rate, the major move is imminent. Delegates and other persons having to meet with city officials, attend hearings and the like will have to adjust to the Pennsylvania Avenue parking situation or secure different public transportation. It is unclear if all or most of the government offices spread out in the 4th Street building will be able to fit into the renewed Wilson Building.
Council Members Support Federation
Five D.C. city council members united in July to send the Zoning Commission a joint letter in support of Federation positions regarding overhaul of campus plan regulations. The members were: Sharon Ambrose, David Catania, Jack Evans, Phil Mendelson and Carol Schwartz. Councilmen Evans and Mendelson submitted separate letters also, and Mr. Mendelson appeared as a witness at the Roundtable hearing.
DC Control Board Moves to New Offices
The D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority is in the process of moving to new office space. It will open for business in the new offices at 9:00 a.m. Monday, September 25. The board's new address will be One Judiciary Square, 441 41 Street, Room 570 North, Washington, D.C. 20001. The board's phone number (504-3400) and web-site address (www.dcfra.gov) will stay the same.
Garden Resources of Washington, a private foundation, has announced the availability of small grants of up to $1,000 for Fall community greening projects. Funds are available to existing community garden clubs, community groups, schools, churches, civic associations and other organizations for projects located in Washington, D.C. D.C. projects can include clean-ups, new gardens, tree plantings, garden renovations, educational projects and special events. Funds may be used for events, gardening supplies, seeds, plants, tools and the like, and for fliers and educational materials.
Selection criteria include long-term benefit to the neighborhood and the environment, level of community participation, community-building impact, realistic project plan, timeline and budget, and applicants' financial need.
Applications are due immediately. Funds will be released by September 21 for projects that must be completed before November 20. Grant recipients are required to submit a brief activities report with "before, during and after" photographs, and receipts for all expenditures.
For more information, call (202) 234-0591 or e-mail GROW19@aol.com.
Harvard: Leading the Way?
Harvard University announced in 1999 that it is taking several actions that can be instructive for similar District of Columbia institutions:
Application Deadline to D.C. Parks Department For Permission to Use Fields and Properties
The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation will be accepting applications from September 5 through November 23 for permits to use D.C. fields and properties for the Fall/ Winter 2000 season. After November 23 the fields will be off-line until March 15, 2001.
Permit applications should be addressed to: D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, 314916'h Street, NW, Washington, DC 20010, Attention: Permit Office
Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates
The Sumner School has reserved the following dates for the Federation's Assembly meetings. Each will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the School and Museum, which is at 1201 Seventeenth Street, at the corner of M Street, N.W.
Tuesday, September 26
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