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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 4, Issue 7, April 1999
1642 Thirty-fifth Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20007-2334
(202) 337-6505, phone; (202) 337-6504, fax

Residential Neighborhoods — Where do they fit into the economic development puzzle?
Housing — or more industry downtown?
Before neighborhoods, housing?
March madness. . .
Delegates testify for DCRA funding
“Great weight” and the ANCs
Officers and Board
President’s Message: Barbara Zartman
Sidewalk Cafe Task Force: Good work, poor outcome
New residency requirements proposed for candidates
Key contact numbers for DCRA agencies, new location
Keeping some of the “profits”

Tuesday, April 27

Federation Assembly Meeting

Business Meeting at 7:00 p.m.
Program at 7:30

John McGaw
Clerk, Council's Committee on Economic Development

This powerful committee will have a profound effect on the viability of the District's economy. How do neighborhoods fit into the economic picture? How the new NCRC will affect us all?

The Charles Sumner School
1201 Seventeenth Street NW (at M)

Residential Neighborhoods: Where do they fit into the economic development puzzle?

With the District's budget in balance, great attention is being focused on what must be done to keep the local economy growing, so that resources will be available to support a reformed government and an improved quality of life for District residents.

The Federation has sought a greater role for neighborhoods in the debate about economic development in the District. Too often, discussion is limited to commercial activity, or even more narrowly, land developers and the professions that support them.

Missing from such a narrow focus is the understanding that District residents provide the largest share of revenues to fund local government.

Personal income taxes arid personal property taxes, to say nothing of the residents' share of sales taxes and utility taxes, are a greater source of revenues than is produced by commercial activity.

When policies are set or plans designed for the economic future of the District, we believe the policies that affect residents — for good or ill — need the strongest possible consideration.

This is not to say, by any means, that residential communities are opposed to policies that promote commercial development. Far from it.

Many Federation member organizations have sought enhanced business operations in their communities, from sit-down restaurants to grocery stores to family-related service businesses.

Moreover, most citizens enthusiastically welcome new entities that will contribute tax revenues to local government, happy to share the burden with new enterprises in the District

However, not every commercial expansion represents a net gain for the District's economy.

  • Some neighborhoods believe they have an over concentration of commercial activity and have sought zoning relief in the form of moratoriums on additional alcohol licenses, lest the character of their community seem inhospitable to family living.
  • On page 6 of this newsletter is the story of efforts to restrict the alcohol-related use of public sidewalks in the form of cafes, and how efforts to achieve a balance of interests failed It is included because means must be found to successfully reach these balances.
  • Other communities have implemented zoning overlays to restrict commercial activity that is not related to those businesses that serve the immediate community.
  • A central element of most economic planning is enhanced tourism How much additional visitor traffic some parts of the District can support is an open question. Planners are working to bring some of the tourist activity away from the Mall, into less trafficked areas. How will this affect feet historic residential districts?
  • "Grandfathered" commercial uses that continue in residential communities are constrained by policy, prohibited from greater or more intense use. Yet many of these properties continue to "push the envelope" with greater and greater commercial activity, heedless of the impact on residential property values.
  • Residential neighborhoods that abut (or coexist with) commercial areas have sought enforcement of long established public policy that supports limiting curbside parking to residents whose homes face those streets. Must this policy be changed to accommodate businesses' desire for free on-street parking?
  • Proliferation and expansion of nonprofit organizations is repeatedly cited as a problem for neighbors who cannot understand why non taxpaying organizations are given broad access to District property and services, frequently to support membership based in suburban jurisdictions.
  • A parallel circumstance is cited in connection with rapid expansion of colleges and universities, when residential communities become "off-campus dormitories" for the students who cannot be housed within the confines of the academic institution.

Other examples readily come to mind for those organizations whose communities need business expansion — and those who have had a surfeit.

The Federation is working to assure that this period of economic expansion will finally see the interest in strong communities provide residents with a seat at the table and a strong voice in advocacy.

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Housing — or more industry downtown?

Beth Solomon and the Shaw Coalition have continued their efforts to preserve housing in the Mt. Vernon East residential area, where housing is 'planned zoned, and ardently desired." The Department of Housing and ( Community Development had apparently independently decided to locate a tour-bus marshaling yard at 5th and K Streets NW, killing any chance for housing on this site.

Working with the Committee of 100 on the Federal City and with the local ANC the Shaw Coalition met with Deputy Chief of Staff Sandy McCall, who along with Deputy Mayor Doug Patton agreed to delay the bus marshaling yard proposal until the full impact could be considered, including alternative sites that are zoned for this kind of industrial use. Stay tuned.

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Before neighborhoods, housing?

The institutions that create housing in the District — as represented by the D.C. Building Industry Association and the Apartment and Office Building Association — have held on-going meetings to consider what is necessary to produce or rehabilitate housing in the city.

The Housing Committee of BIA convened a forum to consider housing policy for Washington, which produced consensus on the following items.

The forum, which was sponsored by Fannie Mae, included among its panelists: Dr. Stephen Fuller, public policy professor at George Mason University; Margery Turner, director of the Metropolitan Housing center at The Urban Institute; James Banks, chair of the Anacostia/Congress Heights Partnership; and Anthony Downs, senior fellow in economic studies at The Brookings Institution.

  • Housing policy must transcend housing. For a healthy housing market, on both the demand and supply side, policy must also address improving general neighborhood conditions, schools, public service provision, and private services.
  • New residents must be attracted to Washington, even while working to retain existing residents. Two demographic groups in particular have historically been drawn to the city —  immigrants and younger professional households.
  • Washington, D.C., possesses unique attributes, both as the central city in the metropolitan area and as the nation's capital. The District has cultural attractions, unique and spectacular build environments, and numerous economic strengths. These attributes must be strongly marketed in attracting both new residents to the city and new investments in the city.
  • Properties with special characteristics — buildings that can stand as icons for neighborhoods and serve as a unifying force — have a unique role to play. These properties need to be identified and preserved to maintain the existing housing stock and instill and develop community cohesion among neighborhood residents.
  • The District's multiple neighborhoods with different characteristics and housing concerns mean that problems differ from neighborhood to neighborhood, even while increasing home ownership is a city-wide goal.
  • An inefficient and burdensome bureaucratic culture constrains increases in the supply of housing. Pursuit of a housing policy must include a shift in public sector mentality toward facilitating desired development.

This shift would include such developments as the provision of tax incentives for investment in order to ease the transfer of government-owned abandoned properties to groups that can rehabilitate them, plus the streamlining of the construction inspection process.

  • A housing policy for Washington will be most useful if it is driven by a bottom-up development process. Neighborhood residents will best be able to articulate local housing needs and community development obstacles. However, government must also play a key role here to coordinate the needs of the multiple neighborhoods that make up Washington. This will help prevent the scenario that gains in one neighborhood come via losses in others.
  • Lack of political autonomy clearly hampers District development. While the District is effectively governed by Congress, a body where it has no effective representation, its suburban neighbors and competitors for metropolitan resources enjoy full representation. Ideally, Washington would benefit from a more cooperative metropolitan structure with greater regionalism, but realistically its suburban neighbors have little incentive to pursue such developments.

The leaders of the housing forum concluded that this useful "laundry list" of ideas needing to be incorporated into a housing policy for Washington, but that actually creating that coherent policy will be a formidable task. Nonetheless, it was felt that the goal was so worthwhile that the Building Industry Association declared its intent to continue working with other organizations and government officials toward such a policy.

This article was abstracted from one that appeared in D. C. Agenda's Update, and it is used with permission.

The Federation welcomes reaction from its members to the proposed policies.

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March madness. . . .

Federation members are forgiven if they feel they have spent the month of March in a parallel universe. You didn't get the newsletter that was written, printed, and mailed The Postal Service apparently decided, for the first time, that the format was "outsized" and required additional postage. But rather than contact us, they baled up the 200 copies and s l o w I y sent them back. Making them totally useless for our meeting, or for the budget hearings. We are seeking at least repayment of our costs.

Nonetheless, the March program scheduled for the Sumner School had its speaker, Councilmember Carol Schwartz, and a goodly number of delegates ready to proceed. The normally very efficient Sumner School had transposed us to Wednesday night, and the entire building was otherwise fully occupied when we arrived. Carol Schwartz graciously agreed to come and speak at a future meeting, and the arriving delegates were greeted curbside with smiles and apologies.

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Delegates testify for DCRA funding

At the City Council budget hearings on April 7, Federation delegates and officers provided strong voices, and very effective testimony, in support of greater resources for enforcement of DCRA regulations.

Organized by Vice President Guy Gwynne, more than a dozen speakers offered thoughtful analyses of ways in which better enforcement could provide far greater quality of life for District residents — and enhanced property values to benefit the city's economic future.

Lois Forster of Cleveland Park spoke of her research into illegal apartments being listed on sales documents and the willingness of the private insurance market to work with District government toward legal, safe, insured property use.

Recommendations included detailed analyses of staffing and funding required to implement current enforcement provisions, which need to be funded for the coming year.

Thanks to Glover Park, to Southwest Neighbors, to Burleith, to Foxhall, to Hillcrest, to Michigan Park, among others, who provided first-rate testimony.

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“Great weight,” and the ANCs

One of the great frustrations for Advisory Neighborhood Commissions has been the way in which "great weight" has NOT been given to their testimony at public hearings. At last fall's Federation Assembly, Corporation Counsel John Ferren expressed his amazement that agencies so regularly dismissed the concerns raised by ANCs. It troubled him particularly since he had written the original court opinion outlining how agencies should respond to ANC concerns.

In one of' his last contributions as Corporation Counsel, fudge Ferren has offered a summary memorandum for District government, outlining how agencies are to handle input from ANCs:

When presented with formal decisions of ANCs, made al properly called meetings and in response to publicly noticed decision making hearings of official District bodies, the views of ANCs must be discussed in the written rationale for the government decision taken, including explicit reference to each ANC issue and concern, as well as specific findings and conclusions with respect to each.

Chairman David Catania of the Local and Regional Affairs Committee has indicated his desire to sponsor legislation that will bring the standard of regard to ANC positions to a still higher level, one that will require government agencies to offer a preponderance or evidence as to why it could not do what the ANC requests.

Kudos to both Judge Ferren and Chairman Catania.

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Officers and Board

Patrick Allen, Citizens Association of Georgetown, 337-8760
Gracie Baten, Shepherd Park Citizens Association, 882-6162
John Batham, West End Citizens Association, 628-3527
Allen Beach, Chevy Chase Citizens Association, 362-2239
Larry Chatman, 16th Street Heights, 291-7381
Dino Joseph Drudi, Michigan Park Citizens Association, 526-0891
Kay Eckles, Residential Action Coalition, 265-5961
Guy Gwynne, Burleith Citizens Association, 338-5164
M. R. Peggy Snyder, Chancery Court, 338-1972
Miles Steele III, Hillcrest Community Citizens Association, 582-7832
Kathy Sternberg, Kalorama Citizens Association, 328-4806
Alice Stewart, Palisades Citizens Association, 364-1505
Marc Weiss, Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, 535-1970
Al Wheeler, Oldest Inhabitants of DC, 337-00340
Barbara Zartman, Cloisters in Georgetown, 337-6505

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President’s Message: Barbara Zartman

The Federation is continuing its focus on the work of City Council, especially its oversight of D.C. agencies on which residential communities are so dependent.

In February we saw a very impressive performance by Sharon Ambrose, Chair of the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The wide-ranging discussion showed areas of her concern, and she clearly understood our message of enforcement as a budget priority. In fact, she indicated her intent to make sure that the enforcement function did not "starve" in the budget process.

Best efforts to continue this dialogue with Public Works Chair Carol Schwartz will have to wait another day, but this month we continue with the talented committee clerk supporting Chairman Charlene Drew Jarvis in Economic Development.

Various items in this newsletter focus on ways in which citizens and government and business interests need to balance their sometimes competing interests. Our future in the District is a shared one; it needs to be approached with understanding and respect.

With regard to the annual banquet, we had hoped to be able to include the speaker's name in this newsletter (in fact, you will receive this later than I wish because of our effort to include that information).

At the banquet, it is the Federation's practice to recognize institutions and individuals that have made particular impact on the quality of life for residents of the District. We are now finalizing the awardees, but it you have a very special nominee in mind, please contact one of the Board members with a description of your candidate and the "case" for special recognition. You can also fax items to me at 337-6504, or e-mail them to

I look forward to honoring wonderful District citizens and groups.

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Sidewalk Cafe Task Force: Good work, poor outcome

For nearly a year, a DPW task force of citizens and bar/restaurant operators met until 1997 to consider how new regulations governing sidewalk cafes in public space could be better regulated.

The experience may be illustrative of what happens when push comes to shove, and a conflict of interests preclude compromise.

The citizen members agreed to support better administrative processes for granting cafe licenses and public space permits, but they asked that some ceiling be placed on the number of cafes that could locate on a single block, and that there be a limit on the hours of operation when a cafe was adjacent to a residential neighborhood

Public space, which "rents" for $2.50 a square foot for the entire mild weather season, is a great asset for commercial operations. In many cases, it expands the size of a restaurant operation to double its size or more.

The task force found that the majority of sidewalk cafes did not apply for permits, nor pay any rent at all. Few met the established requirements regarding clearance space, impeding public thoroughfares, and the like.

The majority simply placed chairs and tables on sidewalk areas and began operating.

This was one more instance of inadequate inspection and enforcement, even when city revenues would be generated by expanded operations.

The particular recommendations in the final Sidewalk Cafe Task Force report draft included the following provisions, which have subsequently been adopted by several Advisory Neighborhood Commissions:

  • Areas in which established residential communities exist next to commercial zones, or areas zoned for mixed use, required the task force to look creatively for a balance between interests of cafe operators and residential neighborhoods.
  • There was agreement that all cafe operations — existing and new — that are proximate to residential areas should be subject to strict compliance with the 60 decibel noise limit set forth in the Noise Control Act.
  • With strong dissent from representatives of came operators, the task force adopted a recommendation that new sidewalk cafe operations that are near residential areas be required to end their outdoor operations at 11 p.m. weekdays (midnight on weekends).
  • Similarly, with dissent, the task force recommended that, on streets proximate to residential areas, IMPS should in the future limit the amount of building frontage that can be devoted to
    sidewalk cafes to no more than 25% of the relevant available commercial total, and to no more than 40% of' any single block in that commercial area.
  • Advocates for residential interests argue that concentration is a critical concept in planning outdoor cafes, since it impacts noise levels, parking availability, retail balance, street congestion, trash, and related issues such as rodent infestation.
    These advocates say that, along with late-night sidewalk operations, these density-connected matters can depreciate the value of homeowners' investments and the quality of life that keeps neighborhoods healthy.
  • Advocates for late-night operation of sidewalk cafes argue that their patrons provide crime-defeating eyes and ears on public streets, add to the District's sales tax revenues, and create little disturbance to residential neighbors if other DPW and DCRA regulations are enforced.

Even a citizens' proposal to allow unlimited sidewalk cafe utilization in the downtown business area, 24 hours a day if desired, could not create a counterbalancing provision for limited operations in residential areas. The experiment in taught many lessons, if not success.

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New residency requirements proposed for candidates

Legislation was introduced last month by Councilmember Phil Mendelson to change the residency requirement for candidates seeking ward seats on the Board of Education, requiring that candidates must have lived in the ward for a year before seeking office. This would make the standard equal to that required for ward seats on City Council.

The legislation, Bill 13-142, the Elections Amendment Act of 1999, has been referred to the Committee on Government Operations.

Some are seeking to amend the bill to require the same period of residency for ANC elections.

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Key contact numbers for DCRA agencies, new location

New Numbers: DCRA is now in its new quarters at 941 North Capitol Street; new phone numbers for key bureaus are: 442-4600 for Housing Regulation and Inspection, 442-4455 for Building and Land Regulation, and 442-4445 for Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.

Neighborhood Stabilization Officers: DCRA has now assigned inspectors by geographic area, rather than sending all inspectors to any part of the District, as calls come in. The goal is to have inspectors become familiar with local communities and provide better follow-through on problem properties. Calling the Housing Inspection folks at 442-6000 to find out who is assigned to your community.

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Keeping some of the “profits”

Carol Schwartz has again introduced legislation that would reward agencies that generate additional revenues.

Many District agencies with high impact on community stability can and do generate revenues in excess of their operating budgets.

Under Schwartz's Bill (13-40), the "Fee Collection Incentive Act" of 1999, an experimental period would be established during which the agencies could retain a percentage of any increase in generated revenues.

Testimony at a recent Council hearing elicited recommendations that the percentage to be retained be a substantial amount, as much as 15 or 20 percent, in order to justify special efforts the agency might undertake.

It was also recommended that the experimental period be longer than two years, in order to be able to see the impact of changed policies and procedures.

Last year the Council passed a similar bill, but it was rejected by the Control Board.

Since the additional revenues are the equivalent of "found money" for the District government, providing incentives for agency managers to see that fines are levied and fees paid properly.

As is noted in the discussion of sidewalk cafes, the District currently collects very little of the admittedly low "rents" for public space.

If agency personnel knew that "rental payments" would produce resources for better equipment, training, and systems, it might be that more would be collected.

Yes, adequate funding should be provided through the regular budgeting process, but this approach to motivating compliance could recoup monies the District is due anyway, and monies that do not have to come from the taxpaying public.

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The Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

requests the pleasure of your company at its 79th Annual Awards Banquet

on Monday, May 24, at 6:30 o’clock at the Fort McNair Officers Club

30 Dollars
Rsvp: (202) 337-6505

Fourth and P Streets, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20319