City Paper Widget

Monday, October 27, 2014

ANC1B Commissioner Calls for Resignation after Committee Vote on 2724 11th Street Zoning

Mark Ranslem, Commissioner for district 08 on Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street, has called for the Chair of the ANC's Design Review Committee, Lela Winston, to resign. Ranslem first called for the resignation in an October 21 email which went to both a group of fellow ANC1B Commissioners and neighbors of a troubled Columbia Heights building (2724 11th Street NW).

October 5 rally of tenants and neighbors of 2724 11th Street
2724 11th Street is a rent-controlled building in serious state of disrepair and vermin infestation. The family who has owned the building for more than 50 years has recently gotten permission to raise rents by 31% and is also asking for zoning relief, including relief from parking minimums, to facilitate a building-wide renovation. On October 20, the Design Review Committee voted unanimously, with one abstention, to oppose the zoning relief -- see SALM blog post of October 24.

In his initial email, Ramslem was replying to a neighbor of 2724 11th Street who reported and praised the committee's decision. The email said:
As a commissioner, let me be very blunt. I think [the Design Review] committee has gone way outside its jurisdiction and overstepped. The committee has allowed itself to be drawn into the emotional part of this matter when it hasn't stuck to what its role is intended to be. 

While the plight of the tenants is very serious, the committee has made this situation almost unworkable. 

I also disagree with your assessment that Lela Wilson [sic] is an able chairperson. She has proven that she is is not. I call for her resignation.
On the same day, Winston replied to Ranslem and the other addressees:
I take high offense that you would call my capabilities into question regarding a case conducted by the Design Review Committee simply because a routine decision was not to your satisfaction.  I understand you are new to the ANC, but that is the democratic process, Mr. Ranslem.  

What's more, to suggest that emotion fulled the decision without actually having attended the meeting, further calls into question your claim.  Also, If I am correct, you are not the Commissioner for 1B09, where this property is located.  

Having been a member on this committee and now a chairwoman, I can say that such decisions happen often.  Just last ANC meeting you were on the forefront of a vote not to recommend by-right use of a rear yard simply because doing so would make rear access unavailable to neighbors, despite the fact that the owner had a right to build and it was his property.  Shall I call into question your judgement and capabilities?  


Because I know that this a democratic republic of men and women who work together with the rule of law to make democratic decisions--who give their time to make their city better.  Because these are individuals, regardless of whether I agree with one decision or another, I respect, because they volunteer their free time to support our republic.  I know and understand that these decision will not always be to my satisfaction.  That is democracy and we have all pledged to be a part of that regardless of the outcomes.  We vote.  We all vote and that right should not be taken away--nor the right of the citizens of our good city to exercise freedom of speech and be heard by a government for the people and by it.

Quite frankly, I am not sure which I am more offended by--your unfounded and baseless call or your calling into question of our democratic process simply because a decision did not go the way you intended.  Quite frankly, sir, I am shocked and disturbed.
I sent an email to Ranslem asking if he had any further comment. His October 23 reply:
I stand by my call for Ms. Wilson's resignation. Aside from the fact she doesn't know how to operate under Robert's Rules of Order, things are out of control. It's heartbreaking to see what's taking place. These tenants live in deplorable conditions and deserve so much better. At the last ANC meeting, we heard from many of the tenants. Like the other commissioners, I was shocked to hear that problems were this bad.

Ms. Jennifer Parker has taken the reigns of the [2724 11th Street] property from her father in law and is starting over -- planning to renovate and make living conditions acceptable. Transitions aren't pretty. They had to start somewhere, and they can't do it without cooperation. That cooperation begins with partnering with the ANC and working through the parts to make this work. To mix the tenant rental negotiations and the design elements is comparing apples to oranges. Ms. Wilson refuses to accept this fact. She seems to see this as an opportunity to light the torches and grab the pitchforks and go to the top of the hill like in a Frankenstein movie and burn the monster alive.

This is in Chairman [James] Turner's SMD [meaning, "Single Member District", or ANC district -- in this case, district 09]. He and others have fought hard for a balanced approach. That means a win/win. Instead, this matter is headed into the ditch. So, instead of trusting in the process that was unfolding under Mr. Turner's leadership, Ms. Wilson seems intent on circumventing the ANC and to scold the developer. I think it's a lose/lose unless things are quickly turned around. Imagine: instead of redeveloping the property, the landlord just sits back and does nothing. The property falls in further disrepair and is ultimately condemned. Everyone loses. We need to point this in the right direction and give the developer the chance and the tools do right for the tenants. This doesn't mean not being critical along the way, there have been problems along the way. However, I've been to enough of committee to know where things have been headed. Nothing personal, Ms. Wilson is a delightful woman. I just think it's time for her to go.
The following day, Ranslem wrote a separate email:
The Design Review Committee is supposed to review designs and make recommendations to the ANC-- nothing more, nothing less. It is not-- and let me emphasize-- it is NOT-- a mini ANC. 

Any responsible chairperson at that committee meeting on October 21 might have said something like this, "The concerns of the tenants are at the very heart of why renovation is needed, the spirit of which was duly noted at the October ANC meeting. Therefore, it's doubly important to get it done right and urge that it be done expediently. The purview of this committee is limited. We are here to deal with zoning, architectural plans, and other related elements based on their own merits. With that said, please keep your comments focused on the subject at hand."
Winston has not commented further on the case.

Ranslem was not present at the portion of the October 20 meeting devoted to this case, but he has witnessed several earlier Design Review Committee meetings. I was present at portion of the October 20 meeting that dealt with this case.

Thanks to Ranslem and Winston for permission to quote their emails.

Winston was voted Design Review Committee chair in February -- see SALM blog post of February 13.

Ranslem has been ANC Commissioner since May. He ran unopposed in a special election.

(Photo credit: Amal Mimish, used with permission)

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