City Paper Widget

Monday, October 27, 2014

Interview with Colleen Costello, Candidate for ANC1A District 12

This is a written interview with Colleen Costello, who is running for Commissioner of district 12 of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1A/Columbia Heights-Park View.

From ANC1A web site
Costello's opponent is Margaret Hundley. Normally I print interviews with both candidates. In this case, Hundley did not respond to emails sent October 10 and October 22 to the address she gave to DC election authorities. She also did not respond to a phone message left on October 22 at the phone number she gave to DC elections authorities.

District 12 is a compact, mostly residential district on the lower left of the map at right. It extends in an irregular rectangle from 13th to 16th Streets NW, and from Fuller Street to Columbia Road.

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?

I encourage voters to contact me at I’m happy to answer any questions residents might have about my goals as their representative. I’ll also be knocking on doors again between now and the election and hope to meet more residents then!

– Sixteenth Street borders your district on one side. What do you think about the proposed 16th Street dedicated bus lane? Will a lane make 16th Street more congested, or less? Will it be easier or more difficult for commuters in your district to get to downtown jobs?

I applaud efforts by ANC member Kishan Putta and other advocates to address the increasing demand for public transportation along the 16th Street corridor by seeking a designated bus lane. Many 1A12 residents rely on public transportation along 16th (and 14th) Street NW to get to work. Unfortunately, we live near the lower end of the 16th Street route, which often means overcrowded buses and lengthy wait times, particularly during inclement weather when demand is high.

A designated bus lane on 16th Street is just one of several ideas being considered by the D.C. Department of Transportation to meet commuters’ needs. DDOT has also begun to add longer buses to the route and optimize traffic signal times to keep buses moving along 16th Street, which has resulted in a small improvement in bus wait times and congestion.

We’re not out of the woods yet, though. While some of these improvements might address current demands, there’s no guarantee that they’ll satisfy future needs. DDOT has promised to study the feasibility of creating a buses-only lane along 16th Street during rush hour. I urge DDOT to quickly complete its feasibility study to determine whether a designated bus lane will meet both current and projected future demand without exacerbating congestion problems.

Commuters can also play an important role in easing congestion by using public transportation, walking, or biking whenever possible. DDOT should ensure that any solution to this problem will enable residents to safely and easily use multiple modes of transportation along 16th Street.

– Public safety is always a big issue. Can ANCs do anything to make the streets safer for people? Is there anything the police might try to improve safety?

ANCs can absolutely play a role in addressing safety and security concerns. When problems arise, ANC representatives should serve as liaisons between their constituents and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to ensure that MPD district commanders are aware of problems and develop a plan to address them. ANCs can also work closely with residents, community leaders, and District agencies to ensure that other safety problems—poor lighting, dense shrubbery, blighted properties, etc.—don’t contribute to increased criminal activity. ANCs should also identify opportunities to help build a stronger sense of community within their districts so neighbors feel comfortable relying on one another to be vigilant against criminal activity.

– Recently, the DC Office of Planning has proposed new regulations that would, if implemented, seriously cut back on the ability of residents to add “pop ups”, and for developers to buy rowhouses and convert them into multi-apartment units. Do regulations like that unfairly infringe on the rights of homeowners to do what they want (within reason) with property they own? If we don't allow people to create more housing, how can we expect the price of housing to become more reasonable?

Recently-proposed regulations would limit the building height restrictions for rowhouses zoned R-4, reducing height limits from 40 to 35 feet. Nearly 95% of the city’s R-4 properties currently stand at 35 feet or less; the proposal essentially seeks to keep these homes at or below that height. Parties seeking to build beyond that limit would have to request a variance from the Board of Zoning Adjustment — a process that could add additional costs to the project, which could in turn get passed along to renters and buyers. Before the city reaches a final resolution on this proposal, residents need to be given ample opportunity to learn how it will affect them and to weigh in with officials.

This proposal came as a result of concerns raised by residents about increased development in low-density neighborhoods, which is driving up the cost of single family homes and pricing out many would-be buyers. The city only has a finite supply of single-family homes, and costs are already too high for many buyers. I share these concerns, and I support efforts to preserve D.C.’s supply of affordable single-family homes.

At the same time, I believe that these initiatives must be carefully balanced with the growing demand for affordable rentals and multi-family housing. The city has made a compelling case for the need to preserve single-family homes, but I think it also needs to more thoroughly explain how these proposed changes will affect the cost and availability of new rental and condo units, and how this proposal fits in with the city’s Comprehensive Plan for planning and development. I hope to have the opportunity to raise this issue with officials on behalf of residents as the next ANC 1A12 Commissioner, and I will urge city officials to ensure a fair regulatory process that takes into account everyone’s concerns.

– Parking is always a hassle. Everybody wants on-street parking for free, but the fact is that there are more cars than there are places on the street. What role does the ANC have in making parking less of a nightmare?

Parking will always be a problem in D.C.’s congested neighborhoods. Unfortunately, our area is no exception. One of the most important responsibilities of an ANC is to listen to residents and ensure that their concerns are addressed. I look forward to working with 1A12 residents to find creative parking solutions. Those might include taking another look at mandatory parking minimums (for off-street parking) and finding ways to reduce the need for street cleaning (thus freeing up on-street parking).

I also hope to work closely with residents to identify smart solutions to the increased demand for public transportation and other alternative modes of transportation. D.C. has some of the best walk, bike, and transit scores in the country, and the 1A12 district is among the top 10% most accessible neighborhoods in the city. That’s a statistic we can be very proud of. As ANC, I will work hard to ensure that public transportation continues to be a viable option for residents who want or need to forgo reliance upon a car.

– How are the relations between liquor licensees and residents in your district? Do you think the current method of community input through ANCs for liquor license applications and renewal is working OK? Do residents have the ability to make the system work in the case of “bad actors”?

ANC 1A12 is almost entirely residential and, to my knowledge, has no liquor licensees. Although there are liquor licensees in bordering districts, 1A12 residents have told me that their chief concerns are affordable housing, development, noise, crime, trash, and safety issues. As ANC, I hope to help give voice to these concerns in ANC meetings, policymaking deliberations, and by engaging regularly with D.C. agencies and other stakeholders on behalf of 1A12 residents.

– Is there any question that I should have asked you but didn't?

What motivated you to run for this position?

I love our neighborhood and I want my neighbors to know they have someone they can rely on who will respond to their needs and solve problems when issues arise. 1A12 is a very diverse district, not unlike the broader Columbia Heights neighborhood, and I hope to find a way to address the concerns of both longtime residents and newcomers in a way that preserves the fun, vibrant character of the community.

End of interview.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 4, but early voting centers in nine neighborhood areas (including Columbia Heights) opened on October 25. There is also early voting downtown at Judiciary Square.

Thank you to the candidate for responding to my questions.

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