Georgetown Current

Georgetown Library Set for Election Day, Despite Leak

November 2, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The D.C. Board of Elections intends to keep a polling location at the Georgetown Library next Tuesday despite currently ongoing water damage repairs to the building, board spokesperson Tamara Robinson told The Current Tuesday afternoon.

The library at 3260 R St. NW shut down on Saturday and will remain closed for minor repairs through Monday, reopening on the morning of Nov. 8, according to D.C. Public Library spokesperson George Williams.

As in years past, Precinct 6 voters are scheduled to use the library as their voting site for the Nov. 8 general election.

Though an operation team from the Elections Board is scouting potential alternative polling locations as part of a routine contingency process, Williams stressed that the board will be able to move in voting equipment on Monday, in time for Election Day crowds the next morning. Voters can check to confirm their precinct location on Tuesday.

Georgetown Library staffers discovered the leak on Saturday upon entering the building’s lobby and foyer area, according to Williams. Water had sprung from a rusted elbow joint on a pipe in the ceiling. No books or other library resources were damaged, Williams said.

Necessary repairs include replacing the pipe, drying out the floor and ceiling cavity, taking other steps to prevent mold from growing, and finally replacing part of the ceiling.

The library didn’t measure the amount of water that leaked, he said.

The library had announced earlier that it would reopen this Saturday, but the contractor assigned to the repairs determined Tuesday that the process would need more time than anticipated, Williams said.

Upon hearing about the library closure, the D.C. Board of Elections reached out to Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans’ office on Monday to scout potential alternative polling sites, Evans’ constituent services director Sherri Kimbel told The Current.

Ron Lewis, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith), said in an interview Tuesday that he hopes the library will keep community members promptly updated, particularly because of the election timing.

“We’re sorry the pipe burst and glad it didn’t affect the collection, and hope that it can be fixed quickly,” Lewis said. “We’re concerned in particular that people know where to vote on the 8th.”

Following this incident, the library now plans to conduct a survey of the building’s pipes, possibly with the help of X-rays. “We are in the early parts of having that conversation,” said Williams, who couldn’t provide an exact timeline for that survey.

The damage at 3260 R St. NW pales in comparison to a burst pipe that forced the library to close for almost a month in the winter of 2015. That flood affected all three floors and kept the third-floor Peabody Room closed to the public for the entire month of March 2015.

Five boxes of archival materials were damaged in the process, though they underwent restoration at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown.

The library also closed for a three-year, $18 million renovation following a fire caused by a construction worker’s heat gun in 2007.

This article appears in the Nov. 2 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Opposed Perspectives Clash at ANC Candidates Forum in Georgetown

October 26, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Neighborhood leaders presented their visions for the future of Georgetown on Monday at a feisty forum of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E candidates, with two contested races generating the most heat.

The District’s advisory neighborhood commissions are made up of unpaid commissioners elected to two-year terms. Each commissioner represents a single-member district of about 2,000 residents, and commissions issue advisory resolutions on issues that include alcohol license applications, requests for zoning relief and — in Georgetown — Old Georgetown Board applications.

The most contentious race in ANC 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) is for single-member district 2E05 in the southern part of the neighborhood, where Bill Starrels, a 16-year member of ANC 2E, faces challenger Lisa Palmer, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2012.

The race represents contrasting perspectives: Starrels maintains that his decade-plus of institutional knowledge will be missed if he’s voted out, while Palmer thinks a fresh perspective, particularly one of a working mother, will help ANC 2E move forward.

Starrels cited his in-depth knowledge of preservation issues and emphasized that he has contacts within numerous city agencies, as well as with the current mayor and past ones. “My emails and calls do get answered,” he said.

Palmer focused on her tendency to take action rather than complain about issues, and promised to convene a task force to deal with traffic issues in the neighborhood within 90 days of taking office. She said she backs the long-term plan to add a bike lane and an extension of the DC Streetcar as ways to improve the corridor.

Starrels said that conditions have worsened primarily because of growth in the immediate area. “When you have very nice expensive condominiums, all these people have cars,” he said. “That’s why traffic’s not gotten better down there, quite frankly.”

The two also disagreed sharply during Monday’s forum on the issue of parking in the neighborhood. Starrels supports considering a citywide Department of Transportation proposal that would allow any ANC to request “resident only” parking: Throughout that ANC, one side of each residential street would be reserved for vehicles registered in the same ward while the other side would retain existing two-hour windows for drivers without a zone permit.

“What we were trying to do, and hopefully will do, is have as a tool in our toolshed one-side-of-the-street parking for residents,” Starrels said of his October vote in support of the proposal, which ANC 2E overall opposed by a 5-4 vote. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to adopt what DDOT was proposing — that’s just too far-reaching and doesn’t exactly fit what Georgetown might need.”

Palmer countered that the community didn’t have enough time to weigh in before Starrels and his colleagues made that decision.

“I believe that the ANC commissioners need to be talking to their constituents about really big issues,” Palmer said. “I don’t think it really matters that much about what I personally think. What I need to know is what my constituents think.”

Meanwhile, a civic issue also divides the candidates. In recent months, community members have circulated Palmer’s publicly available voting records, which indicate that she hasn’t voted in a D.C. election since the 2008 presidential race.

In an email to The Current over the summer, Palmer wrote, “As a registered independent, in a city where the primaries tend to dictate the eventual winner, November elections have been hit or miss in terms of contested races.” She hopes residents will vote not based on the candidates’ participation in prior elections, but rather on their stances on current issues.

Starrels criticized Palmer’s voting record in an interview after Monday’s forum. He doesn’t think that anyone should decline to vote, especially when the person then runs for public office.

“My opponent spoke tonight about how important it is for women’s rights, for women to get involved,” Starrels said. “For what women went through once upon a time to get the vote, and for a person not to exercise their right to vote for eight years, that’s a shame.”

The other contested race is between two prospective newcomers to ANC 2E: Rick Murphy and Greg Miller, competing for the 2E03 seat occupied by Jeffrey Jones, who is stepping down.

At the forum, Murphy touted his years of experience with the neighborhood and the commission, including his tenure as ANC 2E’s legal counsel, and his work with the Georgetown Community Partnership, which bridges the gap between residents and Georgetown University.

Miller, who graduated from the university in 2014 and now works there as the sustainability programs coordinator, emphasized the neighborhood’s diversity of ages and perspectives and his desire for increased environmental friendliness where possible.

Forum moderators John Lever and Topher Mathews pressed Miller on the possible conflict of interest between representing the neighbors and working for the university. Miller said he’s spoken with Georgetown lawyers and the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, who have assured him that he can accept the position as long as he recuses himself from votes on university matters.

He also pointed out that university matters represent only a fraction of ANC 2E’s work, though Lever, a former ANC member, countered that discussions with the university often take place informally. “From what happens in the background, I’d still be able to participate in those,” Miller said.

Both candidates agreed that the ongoing issues surrounding the renovation of Hyde-Addison Elementary, and the prospect of its students relocating across Northwest to Meyer Elementary for two years during construction, is the most significant issue facing their district.

“The Hyde-Addison project has been mismanaged since the very beginning,” said Murphy, who pledged to seek swing-space alternatives. “It’s been a trainwreck.”

If elected, Miller vowed to sit down with D.C. Public Schools officials in an effort to draw out concrete answers about why decisions were made without community input.

ANC 2E is undergoing a major transition this year. In addition to Jones’ departure, longtime members Tom Birch and current chair Ron Lewis opted not to run for re-election. Longtime Georgetown resident Jim Wilcox is running unopposed for Birch’s 2E06 seat, and Joe Gibbons hopes to replace Lewis in 2E02.

Georgetown student Kendyl Clausen graduated from the university in May, and current student Mara Goldman was elected to 2E04 in her place and is now seeking a full term through a write-in campaign. Fellow student Reed Howard is also stepping down from 2E08, to be replaced by unopposed candidate Zachary Schroepfer. Both students said they’re eager to be a part of the neighborhood and continue productive relations between students and residents. Ed Solomon of 2E01 and Monica Roaché of 2E07 are both running unopposed for re-election.

Other races within The Georgetown Current’s coverage area, in ANC 3B and parts of ANC 3D, are not contested.

This article appears in the Oct. 26 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Zoning Panel Denies Campus Plan Fast-Track

October 20, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Georgetown University and its neighbors have worked hard to form a collaborative campus plan, crafting a compromise agreement prior to the school’s zoning application with an eye toward easing the approval process.

But on Monday, the D.C. Zoning Commission — burned by too many fiery campus plan battles in the past — turned down a request that would have expedited part of the plan’s finalization, concerning the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

The university, with community support, was asking the commission to simultaneously consider two aspects of its campus plan application: the full plan, which broadly covers the university’s development and operations over the next 20 years; and a “further processing” decision that would allow actual construction to proceed immediately on a long-planned addition to the hospital. The latter reflects specifics about the new building rather than just the general outline included in a campus plan.

The Zoning Commission has previously granted campus plan and further processing applications concurrently, notably to American University. But community opponents around that Ward 3 school said the commission had approved too much without granting adequate time for review, and they successfully lobbied for a rule change — which just went into effect last month as part of a broader zoning regulations rewrite. Now, universities can apply for further processing only after their more-general campus plans have won approval.

Georgetown University sought a waiver of those rules, saying all parties would benefit if the agreed-upon plan can advance as quickly as possible.

Universities in residential areas are required to periodically file campus plans that demonstrate their operations aren’t unduly burdensome to their neighbors. Georgetown’s long-term plan includes bringing more undergraduate students onto campus while increasing graduate student populations. For the shorter term, the campus plan also covers construction of the hospital’s new medical/surgical pavilion — a 477,000-square-foot addition on the building’s east side, and the replacement of remaining surface parking there with green space.

The request to waive the filing rules had won support from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith), the Citizens Association of Georgetown, the D.C. Office of Planning and others. But zoning commissioners were wary on Monday.

“I don’t really care for putting regulations into place and then throwing them out the window right off the bat,” chair Anthony Hood said.

Commissioner Robert Miller countered that the authority to waive rules exists for a reason, such as this example of consensus. “They all worked years on coming together on their ‘kumbaya’ moment,” he said. “I think that collaboration should be rewarded.”

Miller added that it’s also more efficient for both the Zoning Commission and the Georgetown stakeholders to attend one set of hearings, rather than hold separate sessions for the campus plan and the hospital’s further processing.

But commissioner Peter May argued against rushing. “Going into this, we really don’t know whether there will be issues or not,” he said. “It also has to do with our ability to digest it and make thoughtful and correct decisions.”

May also questioned the benefits of acting quickly. “If there really is the level of community support that the applicant believes there is, then it will proceed smoothly,” he said. “And yes, it will set them back by a couple of months, but it’s going to take a long time for them to build this thing and maybe they can make it up on the back end.”

A zoning hearing on the campus plan — without the further processing of the hospital project — is now scheduled for Dec. 1.

This article appears in the Oct. 19 issue of  The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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