Zoning Commission Puts Off Final Order on Hine – How Did We Get Here?
by Larry Janezich
Monday night, the Zoning Commission considered the Hine project for some 54 minutes, during which the commission asked the developer – Stanton-Eastbanc – for additional information; asked ANC6B for a final report; and put off issuing a final order for and approval of the Hine project until the commission’s November 19 meeting.
Commissioners want to know why the developer can’t provide for 55 foot trucks to turn around in the loading dock and why there isn’t more complete information on First Source local hiring intentions. In addition, the commission wants more specific language regarding the developer’s cash donations for improvements to Eastern Market Metro Plaza and a playground in the park bordered by the 800 block of D Street; they want to marginally lengthen the period the affordable housing will remain affordable before becoming market value properties; and they are also seeking clarification of language regarding how bike racks will be treated in the Memorandum of Agreement with the ANC.
Thornier issues like the arrangements for the flea markets and governing of the newly reopened C Street were pushed off to be worked out by other entities. Commissioner Peter May who had requested an update on the project’s Floor Area Ration (FAR), stated that although the new figures showed an increase, the project was a “reasonable density, overall.”
A number of community members – and a minority (4) of ANC6B commissioners – believe that the community received relatively little in terms of benefits and amenities from the developer. Many lay this at the doorstep of ANC6B, but perhaps more responsibility lies with Councilmember Wells – who had several opportunities to influence this development in a direction more favorable to the neighborhood. Unlike fellow Councilmember Jack Evans, who, like Wells, has expressed an interest in running for mayor, Wells chose not to make demands on the developer before voting on the Land Disposition Agreement. In contrast, Evans intervened effectively on behalf of the community in Eastbanc’s other controversial project, the West End Library, insisting on the construction of a new library and fire station, and Eastbanc was forced to agree. When prodded to intervene on behalf of the community in the case of Hine, Wells responded that he would leave the resolution of height and mass issues to the PUD process and the Zoning Commission.
Also unlike fellow Councilmember Mary Cheh, Wells elected not to testify on behalf of the community before the Zoning Commission. To do so would have been a highly unusual move and one that Jack Evans criticized as “inappropriate.” At the same time, Evans can point to the major concessions a councilmember can achieve prior to consideration by the Zoning Commission, and shown a willingness to use that power. When asked at a community meeting if he would testify before the Zoning Commission on Hine, Wells declined and said he would endorse whatever ANC6B could agree upon with the developer.
Some critics of the ANC6B’s agreement with the developer suggest the ANC negotiators did not fully use this grant of authority and settled for too little. And it is true that when ANC6B negotiators Brian Pate and Ivan Frishberg accepted the burden Wells placed on them, they accepted responsibility for the outcome as well. Without the Councilmember’s active participation, the Stanton-Eastbanc negotiator and then-Eastbanc Vice President Joe Sternlieb – political fundraiser for Mayor Fenty’s primary and general election campaign, co-founder of DC Vote, and now head of the Georgetown BID – had little incentive to make major concessions. (It is interesting to note that the Fenty Administration awarded two plumb projects to Eastbanc: the West End Library – initially a no bid award until neighbors forced a competitive bid process eventually won by Eastbanc – and the Hine School Development.)
As the process has unfolded, the Zoning Commission appeared – to this observer – less and less engaged with the community organizations and the issues they brought before them. Some of the Zoning Commissioners appeared to have little familiarity with the submissions from parties, appearing to read them for the first time during the hearing. And while stressing the need to give “great weight” to the ANC in this matter, the Commission appeared to be paying them lip service rather than giving them their due as the elected officials representing the community. This attitude seems to often characterize ANC dealings with city agencies. From the Office of Planning officials, who appear to be helpful to the community without being of any help whatsoever; to the HPRB, who listen politely to community concerns and then give an unqualified thumbs up to greater height and density; to the Alcohol Board of Control (ABC) officials, who allow the ANC to be bypassed by well-placed and well-connected applicants; to the Department of Transportation officials, who often take the ANC for granted.
Yet some of the responsibility clearly lies with the ANC. Oddly the coalition of six ANC commissioners who voted to endorse the Memorandum of Agreement with the developer on Hine included the ANC’s three most conservative members: Garrison, Oldenburg, and Metzger, plus three recently elected reformers: Frishberg, Pate, and Flahaven. Metzger is retiring and one of the two candidates for his seat is a vocal Hine opponent, Randy Steer. Frishberg and Pate both have opponents who are making the Hine issue central to their campaigns. Oldenburg, Garrison, and Flahaven are running unopposed on the ballot, though a write in campaign has been launched against Oldenburg. Flahavan has recently said that while he does not plan to run for councilmember next cycle, he cannot rule it out either.
After all is said and done, the community will have lost a middle school (closed with only token public input, and arguably with little input solicited from the families Hine was serving at the time), lost a reasonably sized and reasonably dense Hine Development project, lost much of the flea market as we know it and lost much of the diversity and character which has been the fabric of our neighborhood. And readers will remember that the many here supported the more attractive and better funded proposal of another developer for the Hine Development in the first place.
As Tommy Wells contemplates and organizes his run for mayor, he may well want to reflect on how well he has performed as a steward of one of the most beloved and best known areas of his own Ward.