Want your alley paved? It’s easy. Write a letter. Be nice.

Tuesday, June 21, circa 10:00am, an alley feeding into Kings Court

Tuesday, June 21, circa 10:00am, an alley feeding into Kings Court. The building in the background featuring the blue tarp is the pop-up condo, the developer of which requested paving of the alley.

About half done

About half done.

Later that day.  Nice job, DDOT.

Later that day.  Nice job, DDOT.

Want Your Alley Paved?  It’s Easy.  Write a letter.  Be nice.

(And employ a full time person who stays at the District Building to take care of things.)

by Larry Janezich

Neighbors of the contentious pop-up at 242 14th Street, SE, (See here: http://bit.ly/1Suk9Gg) were surprised at the appearance of DC Department of Transportation paving equipment in their alley last week.  Some months ago, long-time Capitol Hill developer Bob Hess floated the idea to neighbors of petitioning to have the dirt alley behind his new two-unit condo pop-up paved.  The project features an unusual main entrance for one condo fronting on an alley feeding into Kings Court and this is the alley Hess wanted paved.  Neighbors were not inclined to cooperate, being upset at the height and mass of the project, which – even though within legal limits at the time permits were issued – is out of character with the roof line on the block.

So when the city’s paving equipment showed up on Monday evening last week, irate neighbors demanded to know through their ANC commissioner if the imminent paving had received the appropriate sanctions.  Apparently they had, as a visit to the site in mid-morning on Tuesday, June 21, showed the paving well underway.

There are many alleys on Capitol Hill that need paving, and a timeline for paving them reportedly exists, but one which is dependent on the funding available for those projects. Naturally, neighbors were curious to know how the paving of the alley just off Kings Court had been achieved so expeditiously.

When CHC asked a worker on site how CHC could get its alley paved, he replied, “Work through your ANC.”  But the ANC commissioner for the neighborhood was not involved nor was he aware of the paving.

CHC reached out to DDOT Associate Director of Public Space Regulation, Matthew Marcou and asked:

“Can you give me some background about how today’s paving of the side alley emptying onto Kings Court, SE, came about?  I was there this morning and I saw that a DDOT crew has paving well underway.

The aspect of the job that I’m curious about is that it seems to have been undertaken primarily for the benefit of a private developer – Bob Hess – who has built a two unit pop up on 14th  Street, SE, with an unusual arrangement whereby the main entrance to one of the units is on the alley which feeds into Kings Court.  It is this alley that is being paved.

So, can you walk me through what transpired to make this work possible?  There are many residents who have alleys that are in much worse condition than the one that is being worked on this morning.”

Pending a reply, CHC also went directly to developer Bob Hess and asked how he managed to get the alley paved.

Hess said, “I wrote a letter to the mayor and included photos.  I made it technical and talked about erosion, puddling, water run-off – silt build up.  I employ a person full time who stays down at the District building and takes care of things for me.  That’s why I don’t have any problems.”

CHC said it had an alley that needed paving.  Hess said, “Write a letter to the Mayor.  You have to be nice.”

Later that day, CHC received a terse reply from Director Marcou:

Dear Mr. Janezich:

I am looping in DDOT’s PIO Terry Owens.

A week later, on Monday, June 27, CHC replied to Marcou that no word had been received from Owens, and that CHC was asking if the developer had received preferential treatment, and if so, what the basis was.

As of close of business today, Monday June 27, there has been no reply.  If one should come, CHC will update this post.

Bob Hess is a crusty, likeable, old time, hands-on, small developer – probably in his late 60’s.  He wears Levis and a work shirt, drives a battered pickup truck, and personally oversees the work on his projects.  He continues building, probably not because he needs to, but because he loves it.  He knows how the system works and, he likes to say, “I know what I’m doing.”  He’s cut from a different bolt of cloth than some of the of the larger developers on Capitol Hill, e.g., the Hine developers.  But what he shares with them is an unawareness that continuing the methods used to develop properties in an undervalued section of the city seems today like exploitation – and that an insensitivity to the fact that working within the letter of the law – or receiving the benefit of doubt (if not preferential treatment) from the city’s oversight agencies – is no longer in the best interests of the community.

Hess offered to send me the letter he sent to the Mayor.  But he didn’t.


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11 responses to “Want your alley paved? It’s easy. Write a letter. Be nice.

  1. robin diener

    Nicely balanced article, with apt conclusion.

  2. truthy

    On the plus side, I think anyone willing to put in the time (or the money to buy someone else’s time) can learn the people and processes of DC government.

    Just to be clear here… the paved alley is good though, isn’t it? Might as well appreciate the benefit of the ‘hyper-vigilence’ of the developer on this issue of the paved alley.

    Did the developer hire good contractors? Is DCRA properly requiring foundation monitoring? It gets tougher conflicting with a developer when the only people who care about an issue are the developer and a direct neighbor, especially when permits are already in hand.

  3. Russ Mawn

    The alley behind our house was a mix of beautiful antique yellow brick, ugly strips of concrete (where sewer lines were cut in), asphalt, dirt and massive potholes. You could bottom out your car with ease.
    Calls were made and letters written to the appropriate government oversight organizations. Nothing seemed to be happening.
    A couple years ago during the 11th Street Bridge opening party, we encountered a table of DDOT folks, that’s when the magic happened. We had a great conversation, exchange phone numbers and email addresses. They confirmed that indeed our alley was on the list of action items and it was a matter of waiting until it was our turn.
    We would have been happy with them just coming through and filling in the pot holes, what we got instead was a massive excavation of the alley. We now have an alley that is the envy of anyplace on the hill. The whole process took about two weeks to complete once they broke ground.

  4. anon_1

    [eye roll]

    it doesn’t work that way for normal citizens. we’ve requested alley repair numerous time with no response whatsoever. it’s only about who you know, not about the merits of your request.

  5. Jim Myers

    It seems from the photos that the city paved over areas that, until recently, were considered or claimed as private property, i.e, part of alley lots not owned by this Hess fellow. How does that work? . Are those areas now a public thoroughfare?

  6. Evan Handy

    Asphalt was a poor choice

    As nice as the new alley paving may be, it’s a missed opportunity. DDOT could have installed pervious paving and met some of the goals of the RiverSmart Program. Instead, we have a brand new impervious asphalt surface that will shed runoff into the Anacostia for 20+ years.

    • anon_1

      that’s our only consolation to being repeatedly ignored by DDOT — at least they have yet to ruin the cobblestone with a half-assed blacktop job

  7. Megan Spencer

    We’ve (meaning a group of neighbors) have been trying to get our alley paved for over a year. We’ve met with Charles Allen’s office, had a survey, had letters from ANC commissioner, been nice, been not nice, gotten on a list — but still no trucks in sight. Meanwhile our alley is like a rural road in Burkina Faso, without the chickens. I guess we forgot the full time person at the District Building.

  8. Jim Myers

    Who is ths full-time employee Hess keeps down at City Hall. Is he on the Council. Something about this claim raises a number of questions.

  9. John

    My takeaway from this article is that Mr. Hess has done absolutely nothing wrong, immoral, or unsightly. The tone of the article insinuates that his greatest sin is ongoing investment in the community. We should all be so lucky to be surrounded by such sinners!

    The real problem here is one that has existed for some time, and it is that DCRA is completely unresponsive unless expeditors are paid to sit in the DCRA office and walk permits through the process personally. This is a problem for all homeowners seeking to make improvements. This is a problem for all businesses seeking to expand. This is a problem for all businesses seeking to open.

    DCRA’s ineffectiveness is a huge burden on the city that stifles innovation and slows improvements. Charles Allen’s “Made in DC” schtick fails to address this fundamental failing of the District government.

    • Chris

      Sounds like someone has spent some time at DCRA. That place is like Cheers, everyone knows your name if you make a living as an expeditor.