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.