City Paper Widget

Friday, October 3, 2014

Interview with Abigail Nichols, Candidate for ANC2B District 05

This is a written interview with Abigail Nichols, a candidate for Commissioner for district 05 of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle.

Nichols is the incumbent. She won her seat in a March 2013 special election.
Her opponent in the race is Jonathan Jagoda. An interview with Jagoda was published yesterday.

District 05 is a thin rectangle, longer on the north-south axis. The borders are
(roughly) 15th Street NW on the east, Lafayette Park on the south, and Q Street on the north. The western side of the district is a jagged line running (south to north) along 17th Street, Connecticut Avenue, 18th Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and 17th Street again until the intersection of Q Street. It is in the lower-right corner 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.

-- Where can voters go to find out more about you?

My website is

-- The M Street bicycle path runs in part through your district. It is like riding on a washboard, much like part of the 15th Street bicycle lane was before it was repaved. DDOT seems to have a pattern of setting up mid-town bike lanes (good), but then not making sure they are usable for bicyclists (bad). What can you, or others, do to improve this situation? What can ANCs do to help make paving bike lanes an automatic part of the process, instead of always being the result of months of complaining and pressure?

Response to street problems will never be automatic because there’s always competition for road surface improvements. We must advocate for safe sidewalks and streets (consider also the cost of potholes to cars in this equation.)

Although I have a section dedicated to bicycles on my website, I have not heard from constituent bikers; I have heard from churches (Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal and St. Luke’s) about problems with the interface of cars and bikes. 

-- Your district is also home to “Club Central”, the clusters of nightclubs on Connecticut Avenue below Dupont Circle. There is another cluster on the 1800 block on M Street. These clubs are a chronic source of dispute with neighbors over noise. The result seems to be a drawn-out and expensive use of city resources to investigate and judge the complaints. Why can’t neighbors and nightclubs solve these problems between themselves? Can ANCs do something to make this issue less contentious?

Neighbors and nightlife establishments can mutually solve problems despite their different interests. Since ANCs know a lot about this process they can help by having strong positions up front on what we consider “appropriate” so that businesses know what to expect. ANCs can also take the lead in proposing legal reforms.

Legal reform is needed. The structure of alcohol regulation says that the government is to protect residents from “inappropriate” bar situations, but the time it takes neighbors to get that protection in the license is incredible. Then if the business does not stand by its license, getting enforcement from Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) seems impossible. The problem is the government, not unwillingness by neighbors and bars to solve problems.

ANC 2B could take a stronger role, particularly in dealing with outdoor amplified music. It was a resident group, and not the ANC, which obtained ABC Board protection to reduce noise from Ozio on M Street. Similarly, ANC 2B declined to protest the renewal of Sauf Haus but a resident group is successfully bringing their concerns to the owners, and agreement is likely.

Similarly, it has been residents, not ANC 2B, who got the attention of ABRA on the city-wide noise issue. ABRA’s noise task force has been an ineffective response to the problem, but Noise Task Force results have underscored inadequacies in the current regulatory system.

-- Much (perhaps all) of your district is also part of some historic district or another. What, if anything, should DC’s Historic Preservation Review Board do to make the process of getting necessary permits less onerous for homeowners?

Several projects from 2B05 have gone before the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) this year, but the participants didn’t suggest systemic changes to the review process. The cases I’m aware of did need some review.

My concern has been with policy rather than implementation. Both the Board and ANC 2B seem to give little attention to the legal requirements of the Historic Dupont Circle Overlay which trumps zoning. As new construction and additions to existing buildings increase the number of residences in Dupont Circle, the ANC and Board should consider whether new projects are acceptable in terms of their effects on 1) congestion on sidewalks, streets, and alleys 2) parking competition, 3) the light and air of neighbors, and 4) infrastructure such as water, sewer, parks, etc. Right now, the Board seems to care only about sightlines from the street.

Residents consistently bring up this issue so that when we don’t look at them, we put ourselves in the position of voting against a project’s neighbors. I tend to abstain or oppose these resolutions. I hope that in January our new Commission can take up our criteria for evaluating HPRB projects.

-- Your district has a many churches in it, and parking is always a problem. What, if anything, should ANCs do to help churches get the local parking that they need? 

Church parking is not an issue that constituents have asked me to help with.

Metropolitan AME Church took their own action to protect their parking by getting the M Street bike path rerouted. On Sundays a lane of parking is opened on Church Street for St. Thomas Church. St. Luke’s Church on 15th has a parking lot. St. Luke’s concern has been that exiting the parking lot across the bike lane and parking lane can be difficult. Foundry Methodist Church has an arrangement with a garage. (I don’t know the parking arrangements used by St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, and First Baptist Church on 17th Street.)

-- There are two liquor license moratoriums in effect in ANC2B, and one will come up for renewal during the next two years. What is your opinion about the extension of liquor license moratoriums in ANC2B?

The issues surrounding the 2013 expiration of the 17th Street moratorium were alcohol regulation and the desire for a vibrant, diverse commercial environment. Given the difficulty of regulating individual licensee, the moratorium offers a tool to keep a commercial area from being oversaturated with bars. Unfortunately, the moratorium brings its own negative consequences. One is that DC effectively gives owners had an asset in their license which they can sell. This makes it difficult for any but the largest bars from coming in. Furthermore, the vibrancy of local businesses is an economic problem affected very little, if any, by a moratorium. The ANC has to depend on others such as the Historic Dupont Circle Mainstreets and the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District who do aim to support business and to give them our support.

It is not timely to express a view on the expiring P Street moratorium.

-- There is push back now against density in residential areas, 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?

First, Dupont Circle continues to add housing stock to an already densely populated area. Second, the problems of “affordable” housing for the District as a whole are not going to be solved in ANC 2B.

With ANC 2B’s September 29, 2014, vote in support of the St. Thomas condominium, ANC 2B has recommended more than 400 new housing units for Dupont Circle. There will be 322 new units in 2B05 alone: 218 units this fall at the Drake on 17th Street, 69 units at 1745 N Street NW, 15 units in conversions of single family dwellings on Q Street NW, and 20 new units in the former Planned Parenthood Building on 16th Street.

Note: with all these new residences, ANC 2B is likely to get a new Single Member District in the next Census.

Furthermore, Dupont Circle is one of the most densely developed areas in the city. Population is increasing while parking has been reduced and there has been no accommodation for increased congestion in streets and alleys. We lack the desired acreage in parks set as a standard by the District government. These factors that suggest ANC 2B needs to be concerned with development in the District as a whole. Yes, the cost of housing has gone way up. But further crowding at Dupont Circle without looking at what is happening or not happening elsewhere isn’t the answer. That’s what zoning is for. There are other parts of the District with metro stops that would love to see more development.

Because we are in a historic district, we are not going to see some crazy three-story addition on the front of one house among a row of similar houses like other areas are complaining about. However, we are being affected by additions on the rear of buildings that we don’t see from the street. .

-- Is there any question I should have asked you but didn’t?

Why should someone vote for you?

In me the voter gets experience, diligence, time to do the job, intelligence and broad perspective, and knowledge of neighbors and government. Plus I’m a nice person who listens to constituents and fellow commissioners.

Experience, diligence and time: A lot happens in ANC 2B05. ANC 2B’s regulatory reviews include alcohol licenses, historic preservation reviews, zoning reviews, public space reviews and more. Of ANC 2B’s 372 or so such reviews since I took office in April 2013, 95 have been in 2B05. At 26 percent of all such reviews, ANC 2B05 has a disproportionate share of regulatory agenda items.

ANC 2B has also faced big issues this last term. These have included:

The expiration and renewal of the 17th Street liquor licence moratorium (August 2013)

Proposed U Street moratorium (May 2013)

The conversion of the Patterson House on Dupont Circle

A proposed roof deck for the Carlyle Suites Hotel

St. Thomas’s church and condominium proposal

The Board of Elections Precinct Borders Redesign

The District of Columbia’s Zoning Rewrite

The renovation of Stead Park

I’ve had the time and motivation to keep up with these diverse, time-consuming (and very interesting) issues, lead the necessary reviews, and do policy advocacy in several areas.

Success, Intelligence and Broad Perspective: During my first term, I have often been in the minority on ANC votes but I have succeeded on the same issues using different means, e.g., a) reducing noise south of the circle and b) preventing the addition of an ill-conceived gate on the east side of Stead Park

But my views get attention elsewhere. My letter on nightlife noise appeared in the Post, and on September 24 the Current newspapers published my views on the St. Thomas condominium project. Testimony before the ABRA oversight committee of the DC Council led to a first-time visit by a Council Member to observe Club Central nightlife and its effects on residents.

Our neighborhood: Within ANC 2B there are distinct neighborhoods that face different problems that I’ve been addressing as the incumbent. For example,

The Palladium on 18th St. is inundated by noise from roof top decks in Club Central as is Jefferson Row in a neighboring SMD with whom we cooperate.

Residents surrounding Stead Park are glad the park is being renovated but they don’t want so much noise that their homes are uninhabitable.

Smaller groups of residents are affected by additions to neighboring buildings with or without the conversion of a single family dwelling to a multi-family dwelling.

Policy leadership:

ABC policy - As the new chair of ANC 2B’s Policy Committee, I will continue to push ANC 2B to push for policy reforms together. As a citizen I work in this policy area all the time as noted above.

Elections - There is a great fit between my work on elections with the League of Women Voters and the Board of Elections’ Precinct Boundary Project which has come before the ANC.

Zoning - I’m still trying to fully understand the zoning rewrite and how to be effective in that process. I testified against a proposed change that would allow alcohol establishments in the current special purpose zones.

We cannot lead in all areas. Others deserve our thanks. I salute fellow commissioners who take the lead where I am not so active. For example, Commissioners Noah Smith and Kishan Putta advocate for bicyclists. Noah Smith is taking the lead on parking issues for ANC 2B. Kishan Putta advocates for parks and bus service on 16th Street. Commissioners Mike Feldstein and Mike Silverstein advocate for parks at Dupont Circle and support our several neighborhood festivals as well. Mike Silverstein looks for opportunities to honor residents who make a positive difference. He also works to improve the parking situation. Commissioner Stephanie Maltz is a leader in education issues.

I believe I represent my constituents and I ask for their vote.
End of interview.

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

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