Chevy Chase ANC Ends Opposition to 5333 Conn. Ave.
A sharply divided Chevy Chase Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4G voted on Tuesday to accept the changes to the building planned by Calvin Cafritz Enterprises for 5333 Connecticut Avenue (at Military Road) and abandon its support for the appeal being pursued by the 5333 Connecticut Neighborhood Coalition against the permits issued by the DC Government. The vote came in the face of a room-full of residents who pleaded with passion and loud applause for the ANC to postpone any action to allow for full ANC and community discussion of the agreement.
The agreement was negotiated by three commissioners, Henry Griffin, Randy Speck and Chair Jim McCarthy and supported by David Engel. It includes reduced glass surface area and more masonry in the building; a two-foot height reduction and two less residential units; a circular driveway on Connecticut Avenue; about 40 more parking spaces and no Residential Parking Permits; making the building green with planters, a green-roof garage, slowed stormwater runoff, separate utility metering and low-flow plumbing; “more efficient unit layouts with less wasted space and lower energy usage;” reduced light from the building at night with built-in shades and “reasonable effort” to encourage their use.
The Coalition leaders argued that they felt they had been working with the ANC and negotiating together with Whayne Quin, the Cafritz lawyer, including signing a confidentiality agreements. “We thought there was no daylight between us,” said Linda Komes a member of the Coalition. Added George Gaines, a Coalition leader: “Not only was the Neighborhood Coalition kept completely in the dark about this, but even the other members of the ANC had not been informed.”
The Coalition was therefore taken by surprise last Thursday when Commissioners Griffen, Speck and McCarthy presented the agreement to the Coalition. “We were shocked and surprised,” said Komes who reiterated her call for the ANC to “continue to work with us” and not vote.
The pro-agreement commissioners said they had negotiated over hundreds of hours with Quin to get the best deal possible, given their limited power, the already-issued city permits (allowing construction to start) and the unlikelihood of success of the Coalition’s appeals to the Board of Zoning Adjustment and possibly the courts. “I’m concerned that construction could start very soon and perhaps jeopardize the agreement we got,” said Speck. McCarthy added that we had to “strike when we had the leverage.”
In response, Commissioner Carolyn Cook asked her colleagues to “let us all go home and digest [the agreement] and think it though” adding rhetorically to loud applause, “are we all going turn into pumpkins” if we don’t approve this?" “What is wrong with standing with the people?”
Cook was joined by Commissioners Rebecca Maydak in voting against the agreement, with Commissioner Gary Thompson abstaining (although he had earlier voted to postpone the vote).
After the vote, former Commissioner Robert Gordon wondered why Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh was not there to support the community and the Coalition. “We expected her to help and support us [to ask the ANC] to postpone any decision…if she had been here she might have turned the tide” for us.
Gaines focused on Quin’s role. “From the beginning Quin was seeking to split the ANC from the Coalition in hopes that it would discourage the Coalition from proceeding with our appeals,” he said. “We are not, and will not be, discouraged from appealing…because the Cafritz building, as documented by the plans used to get the permits, is illegal and our appeals will prove it.”
The Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing is scheduled for September 24.