Zoning Commission Puts Off Final Order on Hine – How Did We Get Here?

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.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Zoning Commission Puts Off Final Order on Hine – How Did We Get Here?

  1. Maggie Hall

    What a splendid – but disturbing – read. Bringing together all the sad issues that have led to the largely unwanted. And it begs the question: what is the point of locally elected representatives (both ANC & Council) if they can’t take-on-board the views of the community they represent? When he stands for Mayor, Tommy Wells might – make that will – rue the day he decided not to speak out, stand-up for Hine being developed in a proper, sane manner. As for all the folk who failed to take an interest in the Hine development, or say there’s nothing wrong with it, wait until it’s finished – then they’ll be saying, with anguish: ‘oh, I didn’t know it was going to be like that.’

  2. Nancy Sturm

    I hope Wells rues that day, and because we hold him accountable!

  3. Donna Fletcher

    Wells lost any possibility of ever getting my vote again the night he announced at a community meeting that he would defer to whatever the ANC negotiated with developers, knowing full well that ANCs have very little leverage against well-connected and well-financed developers. Unfortunately, I live just outside the boundaries of ANCB, or I would be voting to replace the members who agreed to this bad deal for our community.

    • Bobbi Krengel

      Thank you Larry, for your usual most insightful, comprehensive and truthful commentary. Years from now, when it becomes cliche to wonder “how in the world did this happen?”, we can refer to your analysis for answers.
      Thank you very much–Bobbi Krengel

  4. Elizabeth Nelson

    What on earth does “conservative” mean in the context of an ANC Commissioner? I am unfamiliar with David Garrison’s views but neither Kjersten Oldenburg nor Norman Metzger are what I would consider political “conservatives”.

  5. Gerry Connolly

    Larry,

    Thank you for your illuminating (and beautifully written) commentary on the troubling finale to the Hine miasma. You have summed up the really incomprehensible inactions of Tommy Wells in the whole messy and somewhat seamy picture. I am really disappointed in Tommy and I told him so. Instead he put the onus on the ANC, I think that both Brian Pate and Ivan Frishberg may have been in over their heads in their dealings with EastBanc, but I can’t fault them. ANC members are not compensated for the long hours they put in. They have full time jobs and lives to live beyond their involvement with the ANC. I am sure this issue has cost them much stress and angst.

    But I do fault Mr. Wells because he is paid $125,583 a year to represent his constutuents and has a paid staff as well to assist him. And by virtue of his position and stature in the community he should not be asking the ANC to do the heavy lifting for him. A run for mayor in his future? I hope not.

    I admit my bias. I watched my wife, Marian Connolly, and the rest of the Hine School North Neighbors put in so much time and treasure along with so many caring friends from nearby areas of the Hill who donated to the fight for a development project that would truly fit into the size and scale of our neighborhood. “Tommy: Right Size Hine” was our mantra. All we asked was that the project be scaled in such a way to protect the quality of life that we and so many others find so implortant about the Hill. You are correct Larry; there were better alternatives to what we now face. The project initially approved by the Council and the previous mayor looks nothing like what now looms in our future. I was saddened by the comments of the Historic Preservation Review Board and the Zoning Commission who seem to know little or nothing about the areas they rule on. Maybe I just have not been able to find all those other ten story office buildings on the Hill.

    Have we truly become a ‘bait and switch’ society?