City Paper Widget

Friday, November 21, 2014

Two Leads in ANC Races Remain in Single Digits as "Final" Count of Ballots Released

The DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) released a "final" but not yet official tabulation of votes at a few minutes after 2pm yesterday (November 20).

Board of Elections tweet from yesterday
In district 06 of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street, the number of votes won by each candidate remained unchanged from the previous release of ballot count information -- see SALM blog post of November 19. This means that incumbent Dyana Forester retained her single-vote (205 to 204) lead over challenger David Gilliland.

In district 05 of ANC 2B/Dupont Circle, challenger Jonathan Jagoda again shaved a few votes off the lead of incumbent Abigail Nichols. After the last release of absentee and special ballots, Jagoda was behind by six votes -- 231 to 225. Now, he is behind by four votes -- 233 to 229.

In a tweet yesterday, Jagoda noted that DCBOEE rules mandate a recount when the margin of victory is less than 10 votes. In a separate tweet, Jagoda said he was "going to a recount".

There are two write-in-candidate only races in ANC 2F/Logan Circle. A tweet from DCBOEE yesterday said the write-in winners "will be notified by letter and posted to the web" today, Friday, November 21.

In a press release yesterday, DCBOEE said some precincts will be randomly chosen for manual audits. The drawing to determine which precincts will be audited will take place today, and the audit itself will be conducted on Monday, November 24, in Room 1117 at 441 4th Street NW (a.k.a. One Judiciary Square).

The final results will be certified by the DCBOEE at its next regularly-scheduled meeting on December 3.

Sex Club Building Conditional Demolition Endorsement from ANC Committee

A committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle voted unanimously to give conditional endorsement to a request to raze 1618 14th Street NW. For years until 2009, the building was the site of the gay sex club "Men's Parties", which was closed after a man fell to his death on premises.

1618 14th is at the corner of Corcoran (Luis Gomez Photos)
The support for the demolition of the building is "strictly contingent" on the retention of the 14th Street facade of the building, according to the resolution passed by the Community Development Committee (CDC) of ANC2F.

The request to the committee was made by the "personal attorney since 1989" of Stephen Jaffe, the owner of the building. A NBC4 report about the lawsuit by the DC government following the 2009 death says the building was owned by 1618 14th Street LLC, "a company listed at 9464 Newbridge Dr. in Potomac, Md., the home of Stephen and Pirjo Jaffe."

The case for the raze

Accompanying the attorney was Peter Neubauer of Neubauer Consulting Engineers.

The attorney began his presentation by warning the committee the discussion and vote should be about the demolition only, and not "what comes after".

The attorney and the engineer detailed recent study of the building. The building has been "fully vacated" since December 2010. An architect retained in 2011 recommended facade repairs and full interior demolition. In May 2012, an internal demolition of the building received official approval and was done. The true condition of the building was revealed. Moisture at ground level had rotted the floorboard and led to termite infestation according to Neubauer.

A June 2013 raze request met objections from ANC2F and DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). There has been some further study since then.

The building is in terrible condition and some of the walls are bowing. It is structurally unsound, Neubauer said. In order to restore the south wall facing Corcoran Street, for example, the original bricks in the wall would have to be removed individually or in groups and then replaced. Some of the wall would be lost in the process.

"The brick is failing," Neubauer said.

Three sides of the building (south, west, north) are unsound in part because the bricks are only two-deep. However, the east wall is three-deep (the usual standard). The engineer said in response to committee questioning that the east wall (facing 14th Street) was not structurally unsound.

Historic Preservation attends the meeting

The new raze request seems to have the support of HPRB, although that support is not yet official. Steve Callcott of HPRB appeared in support of the raze request, waiting patiently for over two hours while the CDC considered other matters.

Callcott said the building dates from the 1870s.

"It probably wasn't intended to last this long," he said. "It's significant for that reason. It's a nice reflection of the earliest period of the neighborhood."

However, as the structural integrity of the building is failing, the building may no longer be considered a contributing building to the 14th Street Historic District, in which it is located. 

New ANC Commissioner responds

This building is located in ANC2F district 01. Katherine Gordon was elected earlier this month to be the Commissioner for this district after running unopposed. Her term will start in January.

Gordon told the committee she had spoken to neighbors and the building has been a problem since 2001. (Jaffe bought the property in 2005.) The building owner has not listened to neighbor complaints about the condition of the building since he owned it.

"It has been demolition by neglect," Gordon said.

"I've been expecting this," the attorney replied.

Jaffe only became aware of their concerns after "the 2009 horrific event".

"The neighbors never voiced concerns." the attorney said. "My client was unaware of their concerns."

"If my client had been aware of concerns," the attorney said, "my client would have responded."

The attorney said the building owner now addressed graffiti and vermin problems "weekly".

The raze application resolution will now move to the full ANC for approval. The next meeting of ANC2F is scheduled for Wednesday, December 10, at 7pm, at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle).

All requests (like this one) to demolish contributing buildings in a designated historic district must be heard by the Mayor's Agent in the DC Office of Planning.

Cheater's Guide to Dream City -- Part 26 of 26 (Afterword)

This is the twenty-sixth and last installment of a series (see the first installment here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. This book has recently been republished as an ebook and a paper book. HBO has plans to use material from the book to make a movie about the life of Marion Barry.

Afterword (four of four)
The last part of this book describes the rise of Mayor Vincent C. Gray up until April 2014, when it went to press.

“[Gray] grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Northeast Washington.... His partents never attended high school. Gray graduated Dunbar High School... and went on to George Washington University.... After graduating college, Gray went into social work, first for senior citizens, later for people with developmental disabilities” (Kindle location 6363).

“Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly appointed Gray to run her human-services department in 1991. When she lost reelection in 1994, Gray became executive director of Covenant House, an organiation that served the homeless and at-risk children. He ran it for a decade” (l. 6364).

“In 2004, at the age of 62, Vince Gray won the Ward Seven seat on the council... Just two years later in 2006, Gray ran citywide for council chairman and won.... He was deliberate, patient, collegial – all qualities that helped the 13-member legislative group function well. He watched the new Mayor Fenty treat the council with indifference” (l. 6364).

“Members of the 'old guard' lobbied Gray and promised to raise funds for his campaign.... Polls showed Gray could challenge Fenty. In March the council chairman declared his candidacy for mayor; a month later Fenty officially entered the race” (l. 6375).

“On quality of life and civic accomplishments, Mayor Fenty could run on a solid record. The city was safer. Crime was down. Homocides had fallen to 140 in 2009, a 45-year low. District agencies were running more efficiently.... Residents said in polls that the city was headed in the right direction” (l. 6377).

“But Fenty could not shake the widespread impression that he was arrogant and insensitive. He refused to accept polls that showed his popularity in free fall” (l. 6377).

“An undercurrent theme in the campaign to unseat Fenty was that Gray would resurrect Marion Barry's power base, bring back his machine, and redirect the flow of city contracts to Barry's friends. Fenty had tossed many old-guard Washingtonians from his government and from city contracts. Encouraged by Barry, they wanted back in” (l. 6402).

“In the decisive Democratic primary on September 14, Vince Gray trounced Fenty with 54 percent of the vote to Fenty's 44 percent. The city cleaved along racial lines: In black precincts across Anacostia in Ward Seven, Gray polled 82 percent of the vote. Fenty got 80 percent of the mostly white votes in Ward Three” (l. 6404).

“Mayor Vincent Gray was in office for fewer than two months when more than a few voters experienced an extreme case of buyer's remorse” (l. 6415).

“Gray had run as the clean candidate – 'Character, Integrity, Leadership' – and promised high ethical standards and a more approachable city government than Fenty had run. Gray had barely moved into the executive suite when news broke that his appointees and staff in top jobs in his administration were busy installing dozens of family members and friends in other posts with high salaries” (l. 6416).

Sulaimon Brown had run against both Fenty and Gray for mayor, but spent much of his time on the campaign trail attacking Fenty. Brown then got a $110,000-a-year job in the Gray administation.

“When his past legal problems surfaced in the news, Brown was fired and escorted his office by police” (l. 6421).

Brown accused the mayor of paying him to attack Fenty.

“The mayor and his campaign advisors scoffed. Gray hastily called a news conference and called for an investigation to clear his administration's name. But Brown produced documents, money order receipts, and phone records to help prove his account” (l. 6427).

"When Gray could rise above the fray, he governed well..." (l. 6432).

"His economic-development aides helped jumpstart projects that had been in the planning stages during the Williams and Fenty administrations. Construction cranes once again defined the District's skyline. Gray cut ribbons for the long-stalled Skyland shopping center in Ward Seven; new shops, offices, and housing at the O Street Market site along 9th Street, Northwest; and a total redevelopment of the Southwest waterfront along Maine Avenue" (l. 6444).

"... Young couples pushing baby strollers began showing up in traditionally African American neighborhoods like Petworth along Georgia Avenue. Newcomers moved into row houses in Bloomingdale and Eckington, east of North Capital Street" (l. 6540).

"Nowhere was the revival more evident than on 14th Street north of downtown. The eight blocks from Massachusetts Avenue to U Street became famous -- and infamous -- for redevelopment and gentrification. Developers knocked down warehouses and replaced them with condominiums. The Central Union Mission, which had housed homeless people for decades at 14th and R Streets, sold its building and moved to another location...." (l. 6543).

"The city's revival failed to lift all boats: The District's poor residents suffered from unemployment, poor health, and violent crime, especially if they lived east of the Anacostia" (l. 6552).

"The first polls in the mayor's race showed Gray with a lead, thanks to his base in the black wards east of the Anacostia River and a field jammed with challengers...." (l. 6579)

Meanwhile, corruption investigations that had been picking off members of the Grey administration closed in.

"On March 10, three weeks before the election, [businessman and Gray confidant] Jeff Thompson pleaded guilty to violating campaign-finance laws. Among many admissions, he said he had paid former councilmember Michael Brown to drop out of the 2006 mayor's race and endorse Linda Cropp against Adrian Fenty. He admitted to funneling more than $2-million in illegal contributions to local and federal campaigns over a six-year period. His pleas detailed how he had raised and directed more than $650,000 for Gray's 2010 election" (l. 6591).

"The blockbuster: In open court, Thompson alleged that Vincent Gray knew of the illegal contributions. Vernon Hawkins and other Gray aides had asked Thompson for $400,000 to help Gray get out the vote" (l. 6592).

"Mayor Gray needed to rally his base in the black wards. He never had much support among white voters, who pined for Fenty... and assumed Gray knew of the corrupt campaign" (l. 6594).

"Whom was he going to call? Marion Barry" (l. 6603).

"On Wednesday, March 19, Barry showed up in the basement of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Anacostia to endorse Gray's reelection bid. He had to help helped onto the stage" (l. 6604).

"The weekend before the April 1 vote, Barry joined a caravan through African American wards. Riding shotgun, Barry used a megaphone to exhort voters to turn out for Grey" (l. 6617).

"[Muriel] Bowser won the April 1st primary decisively. She captured 44 percent of the vote to Gray's 32 percent" (l. 6618).

"Few voters showed up citywide to vote on April 1. The 83,000 votes cast represented the lowest turnout in nearly 30 years. Precious few showed up in the black precincts Gray needed to win. While half of the voters turned out in some white precincts, fewer than 10 percent bothered to vote in black precincts along the Prince Georges County line" (l. 6621).

"Gray had failed to assume the cloak of victimhood that Barry tried to pass to him. In his first campaign defeating Fenty, Grey had received more than 25,000 votes east of the Anacostia. In the new election, despite Barry, Grey got fewer than 9,000 votes" (l. 6624).

"At the Democratic Unity Breakfast a few days after the election, Gray had to be goaded into shaking Bowser's hand" (l. 6629).

The chapter ends with a brief portrait of David Catania and the threat his campaign might pose to Muriel Bowser. At the time of the writing, Carol Schwartz had not announced her candidacy.

The books ends with a nod to its subject, Marion Barry.

"Marion Barry showed up in a wheelchair at Grey's election-night party. He said it was time for city voters to rally against Catania. Barry, the survivor, endorsed Bowser" (l. 6641).

Cheater's Guide to Dream City ends

There was a lot of fascinating detail in this book which I left out of this summary. If you want to understand the local politics of DC, you must read this a great book in its entirety.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

2724 11th Street: Graham, Grosso Weigh in Against Zoning Relief

DC Councilmembers Jim Graham (D-Ward One) and David Grosso (I-At Large) have written letters in opposition to a request for zoning relief by the owners of 2724 11th Street NW. The troubled Columbia Heights property has been the subject of a long struggle between tenants and neighbors on one side and the owners on the other -- see SALM blog posts of October 23, October 8, September 17, August 4, and June 23.

Tenants rallied against the zoning relief on October 5
The letters of Councilmembers Graham and Grosso came in advance of a November 18 hearing of DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) on the request for zoning relief. The request was not granted at the hearing, which will be the subject of a separate blog post.

From Councilmember's Letters

Graham's letter says: "...there is no need for the owners to develop new units given the existing vacancies and the poor living conditions present in the building."

"After decades of neglect and deferred maintenance," Graham's letter says, "these owners have permitted the building to reach a state of advanced dilapidation, including rodent infestation, mold and advanced disrepair."

"On October 29, I toured the building and four individual units," says Grosso in his letter. "I was disturbed by the visible dilapidation caused by long-term neglect, rodent and vermin infestation, mold, and general disrepair of the building. There is no evidence that the property managers or owners have taken any steps toward improving these conditions for the safety and welfare of the tenants...."

Grosso also says: "... this renovation is not in the interests of the current tenants..." and "... this variance would only perpetuate the unaddressed issues that have plagued this building for years."

The letters of Councilmembers Grosso and Graham, along with 43 other letters or emails in opposition to the zoning variance (plus one in support), can be seen by going to the BZA's Interactive Zoning Information System and entering case number 18790 into the search bar.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

1508 Caroline Street: ANC Says Popup OK, Just This Once

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle voted unanimously to endorse a request to add two additional stories on a residence on Caroline Street NW, one of which will be visible from the street. The unanimous endorsement occurred at the ANC's regular monthly meeting on November 12.

The aim is to make it symmetrical-looking from the street.
At the meeting, and in the resolution subsequently approved by the ANC (see text halfway down the page here), it was emphasized that this property had a unique situation and the approval of additional stories should in no way be construed as setting a precedent for the neighborhood.

Caroline Street is runs one block from 15th Street to 16th Street, just south of U Street. With the exception of 1508 Caroline Street, it is made of matching pairs of two-story houses, constructed at the same time in the 1880s.

A third story was added on 1508 Caroline Street sometime before 1900. This makes it the only three-story building on the block, and the only building on the block which does not match its next-door neighbor.

The new owner of 1508 Caroline Street has also owned 1506 Caroline Street next door since 1989. He told the ANC he had meet with neighbors two weeks ago to brief them on his plans for the renovation and expansion. It includes a complete interior renovation and the removal of the chain link fence in front of the house, which the owner believed was the last chain link fence in the neighborhood.

HRPB placarding on the property
The owner said the basement will also be excavated to create a basement apartment. The apartment will have a side entrance which will not be visible from the street.

On top of the new third floor, built to match its neighbor, there will be a fourth floor, set back nine feet two inches from the front of the third floor.

Tom Bauer, President of the Dupont Circle Conservancy, testified that his group intended to endorse the "unique semidetached" project. The renovation would make the pair of buildings look more consistent and historic.

"This third story should not set a precedent," Bauer said.

The owner of neighboring 1510 Caroline Street asked about the time of day when construction would take place. The owner said construction work would generally take place during normal working hours with "rare" weekend work.

Since the building is in the U Street Historic District, the renovation and expansion must get the approval of the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). Consideration of the project on the HPRB's agenda for its next pair of meetings, the first of which is on November 20.

However, the proposed matching third-story popup on the front of 1508 Caroline Street has not been viewed favorably by HPRB staff -- see report here. The rest of the project, including the two-story rear addition and the basement alterations, raised no objections.

Online records show this building was last sold in July 2014 for $725,000.

Lead in ANC1B Race Changes Hand as Incumbent Gains One Vote Lead

The DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) did a fresh release of ballot counts last night, November 18, at about 5:30pm, including a fresh batch of special and absentee ballots to the total, according to information posted on its website.

A tweet from DCBOEE yesterday said there was at least one more update to come -- "we hope to have more tomorrow or Thursday".

As a result, the lead in one Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street race has changed hands. Incumbent Dyana Forester now leads challenger David Gilliland by a single vote, 204 votes to 203, for the position of Commissioner from District 06.

The first release of preliminary results directly after the November 4 election gave Gilliland a three-vote lead. A updated results including some special and absentee ballots last Friday (November 14) increased Gilliland's lead to six.

Meanwhile, Abigail Nichols held onto her single-digit lead over challenger Jonathan Jagoda in the race to retain her seat as Commissioner for district 05 of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle. Nichols initially had an 11-vote lead. The first release of special and absentee ballots closed the gap to 6 votes, 221 for Nichols to 215 for Jagoda. After this latest update, the difference remains 6 votes -- 231 to 225.

See the latest results for all DC contests at the DCBOEE website here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

1420-1422 12th Street: Stop Work Order on Logan Circle Renovation

DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) has issued a stop work order for a renovation of conjoined residences at 1420-1422 12th Street NW. However, it is not clear if this is in response to last week's letter protesting the renovation from Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle -- see SALM blog post of November 12.

These properties to be inspected
The details of the stop work order were outlined in a recent email from Rohan Reid, the Zoning Enforcement Officer at DC's Office of the Zoning Administrator, to Joel Heisey, a member of ANC2F's Community Development Committee (CDC). Several ANC Commissioners and other interested parties were cc'ed on the the email, which was sent at the end of the business day last Friday, November 17.

The email says "the property was inspected several times within the past months and was issued a stop work order (SWO) following one of those inspections for a violation(s) of the building code regulation." The email does not say when the property was inspected or when the stop work order was issued. It also does not make completely clear why the stop work order was issued.

However, the email says: "The inspection results, land records, and maps, indicated that the footprint [of the buildings] was changed over time. Based on this information we met with the property owner and informed him to submit building plans..." The owner agree to submit plans "as soon as possible," according to the email.

The email promises an update once documents are received from the owner and analyzed.

This email seems to contradict certain statements made at the November 5 ANC meeting. At that time, members of the community said they had, after many unreturned phone calls and emails, managed to contact DCRA only to be told that the agency found no basis for action against the renovation.

Meanwhile, the property at 1422 was featured yesterday on the blog Popville, which noted that it was for sale on line for $999,900. Popville also reported last month that the property at 1420 was for sale for $1.2 million.