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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 6, Issue 6, March 2000
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

Guest Briefer: The Neighborhood Revitalization Program — Is It Getting Off the Ground?
House Legislation Would Overhaul Local Zoning Authority
Officers and Board
President’s Message
Federation’s Push Begun to Get a Grip on Negative Community Impact by Institutions
Federation Historical Records at the Main (MLK) Library
Defraying Association Legal Costs: Bootstraps Booth Project
Personnel Notes
Board Meeting Actions
Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

7: 00 P.M.

Briefer - Ms. Julie Wagner
Office of Planning
Update on the Neighborhood Revitalization Program

Other Business

The Charles Summer School
1201 Seventeenth Street, N. W. (at M)


There has been considerable pessimism expressed throughout Federation constituent communities over the perceived lack of progress or effectiveness of the mayor's well-intended, well-targeted Neighborhood Revitalization Program. The much vaunted, improved DCRA inspection corps, a key element, with much broader training and wide, inter-agency expertise and responsibilities, has seemed in reality to be merely the renamed, refamed same old DCRA housing inspection team. This was until recently made up of 52 housing inspectors and two zoning inspectors — not much with which to cover the entire city. Pertinent city council member Sharon Ambrose termed the city's inspection system "a disgrace" at a budget hearing over a year ago. Has much changed?

Well, maybe; we'll see. At recent talks at the city council and the Office of Planning, Federation delegates were advised that in this year's tight budget only three city entities are to be substantially strengthened with augmented budgets and authorizations for additional personnel. These are: the DCRA housing inspection function, the DCRA zoning function and the Office of Planning. The latter may possibly have broadened responsibilities and, at any rate, the key agency reportedly is operating at virtual skeleton level.

DCRA officials advise that the Federation’s push at the 1999 DCRA budget hearing, in which some 16 associations testified urging upgrading of the inspection functions, made a difference and they were duly thankful for the grassroots support.

Let's hope Ms. Wagner has some good news the 28th. It is of course in everyone's interest that she should have interesting progress to report.

For the record, there is a proposal brewing to have the university campus plan process transferred from the quasi-independent Board of Zoning Adjustment to the Office of Planning, in order to place it more securely within the political process. In view of past experience with the BZA, this might not be a bad idea.

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The House of Representatives on March 10 voted to give developers the right to appeal state and local zoning decisions to federal courts on an expedited basis. Now, developers, as anyone else, must go through the local zoning process when attempting to build secure zoning waivers, appeal decisions and the like. The new House-only passed law would allow property owners to sue in federal court after they had appealed a zoning decision and applied for a waiver from local authorities.

Sound like a builder's dream? It probably is. Reportedly, a home builder's association pushed the concept in a "concept paper" published in 1997. A number of Virginia and Maryland congressmen voted for the measure, including Virginians Tom Davis, III and Tom Bliley.

On the other hand, insiders give the bill scant chance of being signed into law. Noting that such a law would usurp state and local zoning authority and could intimidate local authorities with the threat of easy federal lawsuits, they believe the bill will go no further. A similar bill failed to become law in 1997, and President Clinton reportedly has said he would veto any such bill now.

If such a concept were to became enforceable federal law, District of Columbia communities' problems with the Zoning Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustment decisions and zoning problems in general could be exponentially worsened. This is something to watch, and agitate against.

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In the February Newsletter issue three resolutions were presented as possibly being useful for helping to articulate associations' own resolve. One, in favor of reopening closed crosstown Klingle Road, encountered objections in the Cleveland Park association. This notes that the scored resolution is not current Federation policy, as the Klingle Road issue has not been addressed in the assembly. Latterly, some interest in the issue has been raised, but it is probably too contentious and time-consuming to be addressed this year. Anyone is free to pursue the issue after September.

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Officers and Board

Patrick H. Allen Esq.
Citizens Association of Georgetown

Gracie V. Baten
Shepherd Park Citizens Association

Rhoma Battle
Penn Branch Civic Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Larry Chatman
16th Street Heights Citizens Association

Buck Clarke
Cardozo-Shaw Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kay A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Lois Forster
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

M.R. Peggy Snyder, Esq.
Hillandale Homeowners Association

Alice F, Stewart
Palisades Citizens Association

A.L. Wheeler, Esq.
Oldest Inhabitants Society

Dr. Marc Weiss
Southwest Neighborhood Assembly

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President's Message — Guy Gwynne

Speaking with one, loud, resourceful voice is the order of the day now for the organized citizenry of the District of Columbia. And the hottest, as well as the most persistent issue on the immediate horizon is that of university and other institutional encroachment on residential neighborhoods.

Everyone pertinent seems to have finally embraced the issue: the Federation, the Office of Planning, council members, the Ward 2 Democrats organization, the Committee of 100 and, of course; the sixteen or so important neighborhoods that abut university campuses. Even the mayor has made sympathetic noises at a meeting, noting that "There is a problem" with university spread. All of this is a long shot from previous degrees and focuses of awareness.

We intend to approach the problem of pervasive encroachment by private institutions on taxbase communities by (1) a united push for legislation to regulate the now laissez-faire license with which universities et al., grab properties, export thousands of students into surrounding neighborhoods, and beat taxes, (2) an equal effort to achieve the same through the regulatory process, (3) individual-association efforts to achieve relief for suffering impacted communities (4) gathering our legal strength, and (5) interfacing with the mayor, mayoral staffers and the Corporation Council to clarify the problem.

Illustrating the most horrible instance of unbridled university spread will be a listing in the next Newsletter of the property acquisitions of George Washington University through purchase, and thereby removal from the tax rolls, or by de facto takeover and thereby removal from community use and identity.

The time for action is now. Further aspects and details of the matter appear elsewhere in this issue. This will be a major Federation effort over the foreseeable future. We will prosecute this for as long as it takes.

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Asking, "Can the District's problems with the unchecked and worsening university and institutional expansionism, property acquisitions and negative neighborhood impacts go on?" , the Federation's consortium of campus-impacted communities held its first meeting in March. Already widespread and frequent, a recent explosion of D.C. university expansion, proposed increased enrollments without on-campus housing and property deals has broken the camel's back and illustrates the city's lack of control over institutional impact on taxbase residential communities.

A basic fact of civic life in the District of Columbia is that institutions, especially universities, are freely and uncaringly (1) not housing thousands of their students, whom they push into the surrounding residential neighborhoods, (2) acquiring both major and small properties in residential and mixed residential-commercial communities, (3) expanding headlong in uncontrolled, irresponsible fashion and (4) ignoring the terms and boundaries of their campus plans. Reportedly, such major problems with universities in the District have arisen only in the past ten to fifteen years.

Probably no corpus of problems is simpler in its solution, from the point of view of all concerned - city government, taxbase residential neighborhoods and the universities themselves. The bottom line consideration is that the numerous communities now impacted by universities and other institutions basically would not care what these large private corporations do on their campuses if they would (1) house on campus the students they attract to the city and get them out of the impacted communities, and (2) refrain from causing overflowing problems from on campus such as overflow parking, traffic and noise.

A Federation move is now on to achieve a clearer recognition by impacted communities (if that is necessary) and by the city government itself that the current situation has become excessive and that remedies are called for. Being urged are:

  • the urgent need for legislation and regulations to make campus plans contractual and enforceable
  • regulation, without prohibiting, of university property acquisitions outside campus boundaries, with a view to keeping such properties on the tax rolls and to preventing them from causing negative community impact
  • taxation of universities or (the more common) payments in the lieu of taxes (PILOT) as is done by major universities elsewhere
  • · working out and definition by the mayor's office and the Board of Zoning Adjustment of coherent rules and guidelines for campus plan approvals

Into the virtual vacuum of ideas as to how to go about remediation, the Federation has under review a number of concrete proposals that will comprise a good start:

  • A study by the Office of Planning of the amount of property held by all universities and colleges in the District of Columbia.
  • A map of these holdings which will show that, primarily, the land next to universities and colleges is zoned and used residential. Analysis will show that expansion of a university or college into residential areas takes away from the residential housing of the District of Columbia and will displace and/or keep out long-term taxpaying residents.
  • A report by the Office of Finance and Revenue to show the amount of personal income taxes and property taxes paid by addressees within the effective campus area.
  • Requirement by legislation or regulation that universities and colleges provide financial reports of their various holdings.
  • Requirement by legislation or regulation that campus plans present all university and college-related uses. An area over which a university has total or partial legal, financial or administrative control (including leases) should be presented as part of the campus plan.

To put these preparations and requirements into proper perspective, an updated map of the area of the District of Columbia should be commissioned by the Office of Planning. This will show the numbers of squares or other dimensions that are occupied by federal, park (D.C. and federal), university, school, hospital, D.C. government, non-profit and tax exempt international organizations, commercial, Metro and any other special categories.

In response to possible claims of "takings" when controlling universities' land use, the proper definition is that the impact of the current unregulated usage has a greater detrimental effect on the common good of the citizens of the District of Columbia than on a narrow and "self benefiting" prerogative of a college or university. Inasmuch as the District of Columbia is responsible for land use planning on behalf of its citizens, this is a rightful, necessary and normal governmental function.

There is a general awareness within the residential taxbase communities and increasingly - within the city government that it is urgently necessary to get a grip on the unbridled community impaction activities of universities and other large tax-exempt entities with campuses. How to go about this will be the subject of intense debate. Fair enough. But the taxpaying permanent-resident citizenry of the District need pro-active city action. Without equivocation. Now.

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Federation Historical Records At the Main (MLK) Library

For delegates with interest, experience or healthy curiosity in archival matters, an opportunity for interesting activity is at hand. MLK Library archivist Ms. Fay Haskins would like to confer with Federation representatives about (1) material on hand at the library, (2) recently transferred records, and (3) streamlining future transfers. If this sounds interesting, please contact Board member Alice Stewart at 364-1505.

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As a result of vigorous recent efforts to curb expansion efforts of the major Hilton Hotel on Connecticut Avenue, three member associations incurred legal expenses. The non-nonsense are Residential Action Coalition, Kalorama Citizens Association and Dupont Circle Association, and normal defrayal moves are being. For the record, these area associations have an excellent record of achieving action on legislation and mounting actions to protect the interests of the communities. A latest imaginative project for fund-raising is broadly participatory, and sounds as interesting as it is utilitarian.

On Sunday, March 26, (9 to 5) RAC will mount an all-day antiques, collectibles, etc. sale at its big stand at the Georgetown Flea Market. For delegates who want to observe the action and see how it's done, or perhaps to nab a treasure, or just to experience the huge Georgetown Flea Market while it's still around, this is the time.

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Personnel Notes

The Federation's new parliamentarian is Michael Thomas, Esq. of the Foggy Bottom association. Procedural rules will come from, as in the past, the New Robert's Rules of Order.

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At its March 9 meeting, the Federation Board of Directors took the following actions:

  • Discussed university tax-exempt and institutional impact as being the principal direct problem for the District's residential taxbase communities.
  • Voted for an action plan to address impact and a responsible measure of control over negative impact on neighborhoods and to regularize the campus plan process.
  • Voted support via resolution for open access to the D.C. cable television franchise by competing cable companies.
  • Approved co-sponsorship with the League of Women Voters of a forum on restructuring the D.C. School Board, provided that panel or speaker roster composition includes an appropriate number of Federation participants.

N.b. The April Federation Board meeting will be held Thursday, April 13 at 1524 T Street, NW. Host: Kay Eckles, President, Residential Action Coalition.

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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, April 25
Wednesday, May 17 (Awards Banquet)
Tuesday, June 27

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