City Paper Widget

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Interview with Jennie Nevin, Candidate for ANC1B District 02

This is a written interview with Jennie Nevin. Nevin is a candidate for Commissioner in district 02 of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street.

Nevin is running against Ellen Nedrow Sullivan. Read an interview with Sullivan here.

District 02 contains some of the fastest-developing territory in the U Street NW corridor. It extends from 12th Street in the west to 8th Street in the east. The southern border is S Street. The northern border is a jagged line, mostly defined by Florida Avenue. See bottom center of the map at right.

Don't know your ANC district? There are two search tools: one by the DC government, the other by Code for DC.

-- Tell a little about your online presence. What will voters find there? What other ways can potential voters find out about you?

You can find my website for my campaign at There, I’ve put up a brief biography as well as a description of my thoughts on several of the major responsibilities of the ANC Commissioners. My hope is that by reading my commentary and my personal story, voters can get a sense for what really matters to me and how I will approach the issues they care about. My website contains my email address— voters are welcome to use to contact me to find out more.

-- At the last ANC meeting, Commissioners agreed that your district is the one generating the most work -- liquor licenses, historic preservation requests, zoning. How will you balance your volunteer responsibilities as a Commissioner with your day job?

This is definitely true; ANC1B 02 is a busy place! I have thought about this issue long and hard, and I think the key is to concentrate and delegate. By concentrate, I mean picking certain issues where I will be able to devote significant time and effort, such as a development proposal (e.g. the Grimke School) or a certain policy topic (e.g. the zoning rewrite). By delegate I mean two things. One is recognizing the role that other officials—such as the Councilmember for Ward 1—can play in handling my community’s concerns and relying on their expertise and staff and influence to advance my constituents’ needs. The second way I will delegate is by involving constituents in helping me keep abreast of issues that matter to the community. I will rely on active and involved citizens of ANC1B, many of whom I already know, to take a leadership role in some of the issues that matter most, and I will work with them to accomplish the community’s goals.

-- Your district has a lot of retail in it, and parking is always a problem. What, if anything, can ANCs do to help businesses get the local parking that they need?

Concern about being “underparked” is very real for many businesses in this district. Short of insisting that the zoning ordinance contain reasonable parking requirements for new developments in the area, a Commissioner can be helpful to businesses by assisting with more creative parking solutions. For example, U Street Music Hall has partnered with Parking Panda to offer spaces that customers can reserve before shows so that they have a spot when they arrive to park. As a Commissioner, I would work with businesses to pursue these kinds of solutions to make the most of existing space in the area.

-- There is push back now against density in residential area, particularly in favor of limiting “pop ups”? What do you think about these proposed new regulations? How is it possible to have more affordable housing if it is so difficult to add to the housing stock?

I am not in favor of limiting pop ups. It is impossible to deny that the District is in the throes of an affordability crisis, with thousands of residents unable to afford a place to live, and thousands more spending far too much of their income on housing. Often the influx of new “Class A” residential units in large apartment buildings is cited as a possible solution to affordability. But this is not a sufficient solution; after all, those buildings are a reality because their developers know they can turn a profit by charging high rents. To drive down housing costs, the answer is ultimately about increasing supply of all kinds, and there are only so many ways to do that in a city where heights are limited. As a result, I am in favor of all creative building types, from tiny houses to English basements to pop-ups.

My single member district includes what is commonly referred to as one of the most dramatic pop ups in the City and a symbol for all that is “evil” about unrestricted popup development. But at the end of the day, what we are talking about isn’t “evil”, it’s just “ugly.” I believe that if we are going to build a DC that has room for all of us, we must be prepared for change and be accepting of a different skyline. I’d like to borrow from an Atlantic Cities article on this topic: “By the Office of Planning's own accounting, demand will greatly outstrip supply in D.C. if the status quo is maintained. The city needs to stop talking about whether pop-up condo conversions are "ugly"—full stop. That…debate over aesthetics implies mutual interest. But really, only one side wins when the rules are made to stop development to protect a[n existing] homeowner.”

-- Several liquor licensees in your district are the targets of chronic noise complaints from the neighbors. How can the ANC and the district government more adequately address these complaints?

Noisy bars and residential communities make naturally difficult neighbors. Because their needs are often in direct conflict, I believe that the best approach to achieving peaceful coexistence is one grounded in compromise, mainly through negotiating settlement agreements. These agreements can lock establishments in to terms that are realistic for both parties, particularly regarding operating hours, outdoor activity and vermin control. Beyond these specific agreements, the issue becomes about enforcing the laws that govern noise in the District. As an ANC commissioner, it is important to be willing to express the concerns of citizens to the agencies that are responsible for enforcing the law and responding to noise complaints. I promise to be an advocate for my neighbors in engaging District government when it is required to enforce controls on noise.

-- What is your position on the proposed Reeves Center land swap? If the deal goes through, what would be the best use of the current site of the Reeves Center?

My views on the Reeve’s Center swap have evolved significantly over the course of the debate. Along with many residents of our neighborhood, I initially reacted to the proposal with deep skepticism. The Reeves Center site is clearly one of the City’s crown jewels, and the prospect of relinquishing control of that asset without a solid understanding of what would replace it—or whether it will be valued appropriately—is concerning.

Overall, however, I do agree with many of the assumptions underlying the deal. The Reeves Center was originally constructed in its current location to serve as a catalyst for economic development in a troubled area. It has clearly served its purpose, and the prospect of relocating the center to a place where its 800 employees might help spur similar development is compelling. While our businesses will need to adapt to a shift in demand from new uses at the site, I believe that moving this asset to Anacostia to complement existing government buildings would benefit our City as a whole. Similarly, I believe that linking the Southwest Waterfront with the existing Nationals Stadium area would support beneficial development at Buzzard Point, and while the loss of potential housing in that area is concerning, existing conditions do not indicate that there is a real possibility of residential development there without this kind of sea change.

Ultimately, I think the deal comes down to two questions: is the District getting a “good value” for the land, and what is the planned use of the 14th and U property. Fortunately, the District has invested a substantial sum in an independent evaluation of the former point, which will hopefully clear up competing claims about the true costs of the deal (including the opportunity cost of not acting). I remain concerned about the valuations of the Reeves Center, but I understand that while a higher price might come from auctioning the property, there are elements of the swap that only work as part of this larger deal, and I know from my own work that an alignment of interests that make a deal of this scale possible are hard to come by and valuable for that reason. Unfortunately, to my knowledge the report commissioned to investigate the costs of the deal has not yet been released. Pending that, and pending a more solid commitment from the developer and the City to lock-in an appropriate, community-supported use for the 14th and U site, I am not in support of the deal. My opinions, however, may change as these two points come into greater focus.

I would like to see the 14th and U site be a residential property with some ground floor retail but also some significant space dedicated to daytime uses and public benefit (perhaps a small start-up incubator or a one-stop career center); I am fully supportive of requiring affordable housing units in the building to the greatest extent possible.

-- Why vote for you, and not the other person?

I have a proven track record of a multi-year voluntary commitment to serve the ANC, which sets me apart from other candidates. Far too many people who run for this office don't understand the hard work, long nights, and difficult decisions for which they are signing up. I know exactly what this commitment means, and I have thought long and hard about making it. I'm in this for the right reasons, and I have the right skill set for the job. I have worked in local government for my whole career, and I have a base level of knowledge about the details of issues like development, liquor, stormwater, transportation, etc. that will help me hit the ground running as a Commissioner. My combination of proven local government experience and proven commitment to the ANC set me apart, and I believe I am the strongest choice for ANC1B 02.

End of interview

ANC1B, in addition to U Street, includes all or part of the following neighborhoods: Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, Pleasant Plains, Shaw, University Heights, and lower Georgia Avenue.

The election will take place on Tuesday, November 4. Thanks to all candidates for responding to my questions.

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