Georgetown Current

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.

2 Comments   Click here to share your thoughts.

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.

Click here to share your thoughts.

Parents Blast Latest Tweaks to Hyde-Addison Project

October 12, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Hyde-Addison Elementary students will relocate to the Meyer Elementary School campus in Shaw for two school years beginning next fall, D.C. Public Schools Interim Chancellor John Davis confirmed to parents in a letter Friday, despite recent hopes that they could use swing space closer to Georgetown.

In a separate decision — also controversial — D.C.’s Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Niles told members of the School Improvement Team last Wednesday that the city also could cut back on portions of Hyde-Addison’s $25 million renovation project, which has been in the works for several years.

In particular, the revised design would combine the cafeteria and gym spaces and enlarge an administrative suite, moving it from its current location along O Street to the new addition that would connect Hyde-Addison’s two buildings at the center of the campus.

Members of the School Improvement Team balked at the design changes when they first saw them last week.

“The current design is the product of thousands of hours of design work — research, discussion, visiting other renovated schools, interviewing other school’s staff — shared by DCPS, DGS, our SIT and the architects,” School Improvement Team member Christine Churchill wrote in an email to The Current. “To change the approved design for something inferior is wrong for children and wasteful of public dollars.”

Plans to expand the overcrowded Hyde-Addison have been in the works for the past five years, aiming to provide the Georgetown school at 3219 O St. NW with more classroom space, a gymnasium, a cafeteria and other amenities. But the project has faced numerous delays related to budget allocations, historic preservation concerns and the need to excavate a large sewer pipe.

Churchill worries that the loss of a full-time gymnasium space would impede students’ opportunities for physical activity and that the proposed placement of the cafeteria would force the students to eat lunch underground in a room with no natural light. She also said that she and her colleagues have opposed several revisions to the administrative suite in the past, and this proposed change goes against their prior recommendations.

Meanwhile, the swing space news contradicts previous indications from city officials that Hyde-Addison students would relocate to nearby Hardy Middle during the planned construction project, rather than the Meyer Elementary building near Howard University.

Many parents in the Hyde-Addison community had been pushing for the school system to consider Hardy and the Ellington Field as possible alternatives to Meyer, which some say is too far from a significant portion of the school’s families and presents other logistical challenges. Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans told The Current in September that members of his staff had heard from the mayor’s office that the school would relocate to Hardy during the renovation.

According to Evans, the mayor had made the decision to swing to Hardy, but then Niles provided reasons why the relocation wouldn’t be possible. A reconsideration led to last week’s update with the Meyer announcement, Evans said.

Niles all but confirmed the Meyer selection at last Wednesday’s School Improvement Team meeting, and the formal letter two days later proved conclusive.

“Given the numerous delays in the modernization of Hyde-Addison over the years and the desire to have Hyde students benefit from their new building as soon as possible, the best decision is to stay on track with the modernization rather than delay the project yet again,” Schools Chancellor Davis wrote.

Davis cited Meyer’s more than 25 classrooms, multipurpose room with a stage, full cooking kitchen and outdoor space as existing resources that will help ease the transition. The school system plans to work with the Department of General Services over the next year to enlarge classrooms, install a new playground, upgrade restrooms and apply new paint throughout the building at 2501 11th St. NW, which closed in 2008 and is currently in use as swing space for students from Duke Ellington School of the Arts during that school’s renovation.

Evans stressed that he has no power to change or influence the swing space decision now that it’s been made. But he said he thinks Hardy would have made more sense for Hyde-Addison’s local population. As for the proposed cuts to the renovation, he hopes the school system will reconsider.

“I don’t support any cuts being made to the project. I think that’s a terrible idea,” Evans said. “It’s already cut back as much as it should be.”

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Niles told parents that Hardy and Ellington Field had been taken off the table as possible swing space locations, but declined to indicate why. She said  discussions of both could not be reopened. School system officials didn’t respond to interview requests for this article.

Despite Hyde-Addison parents’ enthusiasm, the idea of using Hardy drew some concern from that school’s community. Hardy’s Parent Teacher Organization co-presidents Neil Hare and Abi Paulsen told The Current last week that they were never consulted about the possibility. They were concerned that an influx of new students on their own crowded facilities would deter parents and students from coming to the school in future years, on top of inconveniencing current families.

“From a logistics standpoint, it’s not impossible but certainly problematic for this project to go forward like that,” Hare said.

At last week’s meeting, Niles did bring up another option that the community hadn’t heard before: holding the Hyde-Addison project back an extra year, and taking over trailers at the University of District of Columbia currently occupied by Murch Elementary students waiting on their school’s renovation. Parents at the meeting rejected that proposal and complained that they hadn’t been given enough time to fully consider it.

“Someone thought it would be a good idea to spring another option on parents and attendees at this meeting,” School Improvement Team member Elissa Alben told The Current. “It was a very odd tactic.”

A Citizens Association of Georgetown meeting with presentations from city officials and the School Improvement Team is set for Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 3240 O St. NW. Tours of Hyde-Addison will be offered as well.

This article appears in the Oct. 12 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

2 Comments   Click here to share your thoughts.