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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 8, Issue 3, November 2001
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

Hot DC Property to Address November Assembly: Mr. David Clark: Captain of an Important Grab-Bag Agency
Beset River Terrace Receiving Welcome Official Attention
Federation Board Meeting

Tacoma Park DC Organizing
Officers and Board
Presidentís Message: How Much Is Enough? ó Buck Clarke
At Variance with Zoning, Buildings Must Be Razed
S.N.A.P. Community Planning Sessions: Is Your Community in the Loop?
Letís Cut the Huge ďSpecial SignsĒ Down
Emergency Info: Family Preparedness Guide
Residential Property Assessments: Changes Are Coming
Real Estate Tax Assessments: Be Positive: Appeal! ó Jane McNew, Capitol Hill
Federation Annual Christmas Luncheon
Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

FEDERATION ASSEMBLY MEETING
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27
7:00 P.M.

Speaker

Mr. David Clark
Director

DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
"Preparedness in the Recovering City"

Other Business

THE CHARLES SUMNER SCHOOL
1201 Seventeenth Street,
NW (at M Street)

Hot DC Property to Address November Assembly: Mr. David Clark: Captain of an Important Grab-Bag Agency

Addressing the November assembly will be Mr. David Clark, who heads the city agency that tends to touch most directly the lives and property of District residents. Responsible for everything from doctorsí licenses to dog licenses and housing inspection to important regulations interpretation, the agency also stands to play a major role in the cityís emergency preparedness plan. That plan, soon to be announced in final form, will be the sum of the work of a number of special task forces recently appointed by the mayor. Mr. Clark is an always interesting, as well as timely, visitor.

Managerial skills rather than specialized training are demanded in the running of a grab-bag agency such as Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Mr. Clark comes to the position as director by way of the US Postal Service, where he started in 1977. For the two years preceding his appointment to DCRA, Mr. Clark served as the Manager of Delivery Vehicle Operations, where he managed a fleet of 205,000 vehicles. Responsibilities included acquisition, maintenance, and utilization of over $3 billion worth of assets. In September 1997, he received a "Hammer Award" from Vice President Al Gore for his leadership in reinventing government in partnership with the US Mint.

Mr. Clark is in Gilfordís Whoís Who of Extraordinary Professionals, and in 1999 was named a member of the Marquis Whoís Who in America in Finance and Industry. In a more civic vein, Mr. Clark served as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Capital Area Council of Boy Scouts (he was an Eagle Scout, too), and he is an assistant Scoutmaster for a troop in southern Maryland.

Mr. Clark holds a bachelorís degree in business administration from Regents College of the University of the State of New York, Albany, and received an MBA from George Washington University. 

Also speaking, briefly, will be Mr. Paul Williams of the Heritage Tourism Coalition, on the subject of the cityís relict but sturdy street telephone call boxes. These substantial and historical artifacts remain in their hundreds throughout town, and a number of suggestions are floating for their use. These range from dismantling to pop painting to conversion to flower mounts, among other solutions. We will not give away Mr. Williamsí ideas on this minor but appealing subject. Among other selling points Mr. Williams will have is funding. The street box project is able to extend funding to communities that wish to convert their now-unused call boxes into attractive neighborhood additions.

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Beset River Terrace Receiving Welcome Official Attention

River Terrace community leader George Gurley reports that on November 14 representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Philadelphia, and the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, met with community leaders to inspect and discuss the serious environmental problems that afflict the neighborhood. The River Terrace community in Northeast has been saddled for years with a huge PEPCO power plant, a municipal waste incinerator, and a large city trash transfer station. A recent study by the community and the Sierra Club brought out that the area has from three to five times the levels of cancer, asthma, and bronchitis in other parts of the city. Tellingly, a representative of the American Cancer Society attended the November meeting.

Community leaders reportedly are buoyed up by agenciesí undertaking to conduct a professional study of the situation. One agency attendee estimated a six-month time requirement for the study.

Reportedly, the neighborhood of 3,000 residents is frustrated to the point of planning demonstrations to protest the seemingly perpetual environmental mess in the area. According to Mr. Gurley, community goals are the removal of the PEPCO power plant from the residential area, removal of the garbage transfer facility, and transfer out of the area of the city waste incinerator.

If the federal study of the River Terrace situation corroborates community findings relating to disease in the neighborhood, federally mandated remedial action may well follow. Reported lack of city attention to this area is puzzling.

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Federation Board Meeting

At its November 8 meeting the Board of Directors addressed the following matters:

  1. The WASA (Water and Sewer Authority) Combined Sewer Overflow Forum, held November 7 and cosponsored by the Federation, the Consumer Utility Board and the Federation of Civic Associations.

  2. A Federation emergency preparedness symposium.

  3. The DCRA "special signs" issue.

  4. An invitation to Mr. David Clark, director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, to speak at the November assembly meeting.

  5. Appointments to city boards and commissions.

  6. Beginning of the 2001-2002 association dues period.

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Takoma Park DC Organizing

Citizens in Takoma Park are organizing a citizens association. In response to requests for help in devising its constitution and bylaws, the Federation forwarded to the organizing committee the basic documents of the Georgetown, Cleveland Park, Burleith, and RAC citizens associations.

Such calls for assistance come from time to time from newly organizing groups, and good examples of existing, functioning association constitutions and bylaws are a considerable help. The Federation is keeping a file of such documents for future use. If your organizationís founding documents would serve as an example for other associations, please send a hard copy to Constitutions, 3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007. If you would like examples for comparison with your current constitutions, simply order from the same address.

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Officers and Board

Patrick H. Allen, Esq.
Citizens Association of Georgetown

John C. Batham
West End Citizens Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Mary Bresnahan
Spring Valley Court Citizens Association

Francis M. Clarke, III
Cardozo-Shaw Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kathryn A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Carroll Green
Manor Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

James H. Jones
Crestwood Citizens Association

Ann Loikow
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Jane McNew
Capitol Hill Citizens Association

Miles Steele, III
Hillcrest Civic Association

A.L. Wheeler, Esq.
Association of Oldest Inhabitants

Barbara Woodward-Downs
Citizens Association of Georgetown

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Presidentís Message: How Much Is Enough? ó Buck Clarke

Rather than run the risk of ticking off too many folks (from both sides, no less!) right off the bat, it will be best to establish this disclaimer up front. This missive will provide no answers, and does not attempt to do so. Its sole purpose is to elicit thought and some measure of self-examination. Read on and be befuddled.

We live in an age in which information is far more plentiful and available than could even have been imagined two decades ago. We are bombarded daily with print, broadcast, and now electronic media news. Status of that hurricane in Cuba? Weather in St. Lucia? Patagonia? No problem: www.weather.com will fill you in instantaneously. Concerned about troop movements in Afghanistan? Rebels in Sierra Leone or Liberia? Washington Post, at your service, or tray CNN for round-the-clock coverage. Need to know the latest on the aviation security bill? Just give C-SPAN a whirl. Stock quotes, movie listings, airline schedules, all accessible at a momentís notice. Even many Council hearings are televised, and many District agencies offer web sites with all sorts of info about their operations. All without the need to leave the comfort of your home.

All this access is fantastic, but is it enough? On the other hand, is it too much? Who among us as time to sift through it all, and to form accurate conclusions? Who can separate the wheat from the chaff, the valuable from the filler, and, just as importantly, the truth from the spin? Dare we ask ourselves if we have what it takes to "know the truth"? Are we indeed the experts we would pretend to be, capable of analyzing the facts to second-guess those ostensibly in charge of running the show?

Freedom of information. Conspiracy theories. Full disclosure. Back room dealing. Misleading information. Incompetency. Accountability. Yikes, the more weíre told, the more we need to wonder about its completeness and veracity. Whatever happened to the "need to know" basis? Why donít we just do as weíre told by those who seem to be in charge of making the decisions? Havenít we heard that too many cooks spoil the pot, and that we cannot have all chiefs and no Indians? Whatever happened to the belief that we put people in positions of authority to manage and direct for us, and that a great deal of meddling and interference on our part is just detrimental and counterproductive? How can we (most of us being amateurs in all but a few areas at best) begin to think that by being given all the information on a specific topic, that we can make better use of it than the professionals charged with that job?

When the overwhelming need to get the inside scoop on virtually all subjects? Does it stem from a cynicism born of having had the wool pulled over our eyes (repeatedly) by those we have elected and chosen to serve our interests? Or perhaps from a more naive conception that we can master our lives if we just have a bit more supporting documentation? Or, really, is it just that we have the information resources and so weíre darn sure going to make use of them? No matter . . . for the real skinny, Iím goiní fishiní!

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At Variance with Zoning, Buildings Must Be Razed

An instructive example of teeth for zoning regulations and land-use planning was reported in the October 15 issue of the National Law Journal. On an issue it called "unprecedented," the Florida 4th District Court of Appeals ruled on September 26 that a trial court had the authority to order the complete demolition of several multifamily and multimillion dollar residential buildings because they were inconsistent with a comprehensive land-use plan.

At the buildingsí proposal stage, nearby single-family home owners challenged the consistency of the developerís development order with an existing comprehensive plan. But, without awaiting a final decision, the developer proceeded with construction.

Rejecting the developerís claim that the equities were imbalanced because he stood to lose $3.3 million, as compared to the homeownerís [sic] approximately $26,000 loss in property value, the appeals court said, "If the rule of law requires land uses to meet specific standards, then allowing those who develop land to escape its requirements by spending a project out of compliance would make the standards of growth management of little real consequence." Pinecrest Lakes Inc. v. Shidel, No. 4099-2641.

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S.N.A.P. Neighborhood Planning Sessions: Is Your Community in the Loop?

An important, cutting-edge part of the Neighborhood Action Plan, as assiduously emphasized by the Mayor and Office of Planning Director Andrew Altman, is the Strategic Action Plan (SNAP), designed for neighborhood liaison and input. The program is being used to help plan improvements in city services for next year -- including next yearís budgeting process.

For planning purposes the city has been divided in 19 clusters. Priorities for most or all of those were decided at the Mayorís last Citizens Summit. Such priorities range from better government services and accountability by city agencies to commercial and institutional development pressure and crime suppression. Better delivery of city services seems to be on all lists of priorities. Citizen telephone calls to report local service needs and ongoing problems are important.

Office of Planning Neighborhood Planning Coordinators have been fanning out in the city for some months now, interfacing with associations and ANCs and serving as a conduit for community concerns. According to the Ward 2 coordinator recently, all calls for service should be directed to 727-1000, the DC government call center. Such calls may concern burned-out street lights, abandoned cars, potholes, dead trees, illegal construction, building code enforcement, and trash problems. All reports to the call center are given a tracking number, and one may call back later and see what has been done about a particular request or report.

Perhaps more importantly, the DC government is counting all the calls and using the count for next yearís budget. The more calls from a given area, the greater the resources that are likely to be given to that area. Good advice seems to be: call responsibly but freely, in order to ensure that association neighborhoods will get their fair share of street work, tree work, and building inspectors, inter alia, next year.

Adapted from the Burleith Newsletter

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Letís Cut the Huge "Special Signs" Down!

. . . says committee chair Ann Hargrove concerning the ongoing struggle involving 32 "special signs" that are actually billboards under another name.

Background:

  1. For over 70 years, the District has had laws and regulations strictly governing billboards throughout the city.

  2. This virtual prohibition has served to keep huge eyesore commercial signs from detracting from the appearance of the city.

  3. Unannounced, the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) in late 2000 unilaterally authorized the installation of 32 special signs, possibly in perpetuity and transferable, without size limitations.

  4. The City Council, correctly perceiving an encroachment on its authority to control and define signage matters and at community urging, subsequently passed emergency legislation to halt further agency billboard authorizations and to give itself time to address the problem definitively.

  5. The situation percolated on until a hearing October 31, 2001, on Bill 14-380, chaired by Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, aimed at permanent legislation to regulate the "special signs" issues, to be followed by a scheduled markup session in committee.

  6. Citizens are calling for, at least, an amortization over five years of the 32 signs/billboards already authorized by the DCRA, and for additional consideration of the bill. End background.

City planner and civic activist Dr. Dorn McGrath notes, "Bill 14-380 needs an amendment to provide for the amortization of these fabric [sic] billboards, described glibly as "special signs," within a reasonable period. Amortization provisions designed to rid landscapes of visual blight are found in local codes and ordinances throughout the United States. Law journals since 1955 have explained their constitutionality and use in great detail, and cities as nearby as Falls Church have made good use of sign control and amortization provisions in their ordinances."

Inside word is that the City Council is drawn toward skirting the issue by declining to strike down the fluke 32 DCRA-engendered billboards (it could amortize them, though) but prohibit any further such authorizations. Fear of lawsuits by the owners of the new billboards is adduced in justification. We will see where this leads.

Prominent in citizens thinking is, how and why did DCRA authorize these 32 huge billboards in the first place? (One, on a downtown hotel, is nine stories high.) Dr. McGrath has referred to records as DCRA "being in such disarray." Apparently it is time to scrutinize the decision-making process at that agency, as well as its record keeping.

In the meantime, the committee on this issue urges everyone to:

  1. Request the Council to delay consideration of Bill 14-0380 until 2002.

  2. Contact Council Committee Chair Sharon Ambrose and other Councilmembers to request delay in marking up the bill in committee, and to allow additional information and amendments to be prepared by lawyers representing citizens.

  3. Communicate to the Council and the Mayor that you believe we can work out a way to get huge offensive eyesores down.

For more information, contact Ann Hargrove/ Scenic DC at 332-6320 or ahhjlhdc@worldnet.att.net

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Emergency Info: Family Preparedness Guide

The DC Emergency Management Agency has prepared a brief but useful Family Preparedness Guide on what to do before, during, and after an emergency. Copies of this useful brochure will be available at the November 27 assembly meeting on the publications distribution table. Among other things, it advises how to cope with power and water shortages, how to prepare an emergency Go Kit, and how to cope with power and water shortages. Copies of the preparedness guide can also be obtained from the Emergency Preparedness Management Agency, 2000 14th Street, NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20009, tel. 727-6161.

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Residential Property Assessments: Changes Are Coming

It is a virtual certainty that residential property reassessments, on a yearly basis, are in the offing. Past observations on the Districtís property value estimation process include suspected drive-by assessment inspections, undue lumping of properties or areas together for evaluation, and an often gummy appeals process. The new assessment process is likely to engender increased appeals of the new evaluations. The following article offers insider insights and suggestions for prudent readying-up for real estate assessment appeals in a hot "up" market -- in advance.

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Real Estate Tax Assessment: Be Positive, Appeal! ó Jane McNew, Capitol Hill

Donít get a monster headache when the time comes: be ready to appeal your upcoming residential property tax assessment if you think it is way too high. Bear in mind that if you are over-assessed, year after year the overassessment will only compound itself.

The following is a thumbnail sketch of the basics for getting ready. First, start now. Obtain comparable house sales data from your favorite broker or go to the Washingtoniana section of the MLK Library, where compilations of these data are also available. Find out the zone designation, neighborhood and use code categories of your property. The "comparables" should be physically, and in lot and improvement size, as near your house as possible, and in the immediate neighborhood. Area sales for the past year are good to have. Ask a Realtor what the percentage increase has been over the past twelve months. Increase the value of your house by that percentage (in an "up" market) after you have taken into account any deferred maintenance, geological problems, and other problems. This process is called "making adjustments" in order to derive actual fair market value.

Your appeal must be filed in timely fashion, with all your supporting evidence. Remember that the first thing you will hear when you start your appeal is that you, the appellant, bear the burden of proof. In other words, the assessor is presumed to be correct until you can show that the assessment data and/or conclusions are flawed. When you submit your appeal, GET A RECEIPT. Take a Xerox copy and ask appeals office personnel to date-stamp each sheet of your copy for which they received an original. Insist. Many appeals get lost. Donít let it happen to you.

Appeal preparation: the three most common bases for residential appeal are: 1) recent purchase, 2) deferred maintenance, and 3) assessor selection of only the highest-priced sales in your area. The latter is checked by going to the Assessorís office and obtaining a list of all properties in the same zone, category or use category.

Whatever the category of your property, you must take photos of each house front, back and sides (if detached). Take close-ups to make your point of deferred obsolescence. 

Take photos of comparables to show good maintenance. In every instance, photos are essential to your appeal. (Get these stamped, too.)

In the second and third categories listed above, in order to show comparability, you compare your house to similar properties "system by system," e.g., windows, plumbing, bathrooms, kitchens, hardwood floors, fireplaces, swimming pools, level or awkward lot topography, landlocked lots, etc. Differences in size are discussed in the next paragraph. You compare and get estimates of the differences and adjust for time increase of property prices, and come to your "estimate of value." This dollar figure is the basis of your appeal; this is the number you have to be able to defend in order to carry the burden of proof. If you estimate is within five percent (5%) of that of the assessor, you are not allowed, by law, to appeal.

If you have recently purchased your house and your purchase price is your estimate of value, you will still be subject to serious challenges by the assessor. Your evidence must include the contract of sale, the closing documents, and the bank appraisal. You must bring comparable with photos and information about the condition of those other sales. (Were the interiors improved without permits so the assessor has no knowledge? Or were additions made? What is the GBA [gross building area]?) Take the sales price and divide it into the assessorís estimate of GBA. This is one of your strongest talking points, if all other things are equal. Which are the bigger houses? Get advice from the Assessorís office on how to count HBA for the attached garages, finished or unfinished basements. If your purchase price is lower than the assessorís you will likely be challenged to prove that it was an "armís length deal," meaning that the buyer was under no undue pressure to buy and the seller was under no duress to sell. Your broker can be your witness for this issue.

One last word. Each member of the public who appeals to the Board may be able to resolve the prepared differences of estimates of value directly with the assessor, before appearing before the Board, thereby avoiding an appearance altogether. Whenever you are dealing with appeals board personnel, be prepared to be your most persuasive, most patient, and most firm self. Each person appearing before the Board is entitled to a 20-minute hearing. Very often you can accomplish your hearing in less time. However, do not allow your hearing to be short circuited if you do not think you have had enough time. (The Board can extend times as it deems necessary.) You have 20 minutes. If only two Board members want to hear your case, they will require you to sign a waiver for the hearing to proceed. It is your call, and you are well within your rights to decline until a three-person Board can year your appeal. This may be a wise, although inconvenient decision.

Be assertive. Be prepared.

EDITORíS NOTE: This may be a useful article to save.

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Federation Annual Christmas Luncheon

Tuesday, December 18, will be the date for this yearís festive Federation December Quarterly Luncheon at the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Club. The elegant downtown club will, as in years past, wear its beautiful holiday decorations. Free-flowing sherry precedes the clubby luncheon, as usual, and delegates have the chance to renew acquaintances and meet new faces on the scene. The clubhouse is the stately red brick mansion at the corner of 18th and F Streets, NW, near Pennsylvania Avenue. A limited number of delegatesí guests can be accommodated. Festivities begin at noon.

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Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

The Sumner School has reserved the following dates for the Federationís Assembly meetings. Each meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. at 1201 Seventeenth Street, at the corner of M Street, NW.

Tuesday, November 27
Tuesday, December 18, Quarterly Luncheon
Tuesday, January 29
Tuesday, February 26
March Quarterly Luncheon (TBA)
Tuesday, April 23
May Annual Awards Banquet (TBA)
Tuesday, June 25


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