ANC6B Squares Off Against Department of General Services (DGS) on Watkins School Design
by Larry Janezich
ANC6B wanted to hear directly from DGS why the Commission was not brought into the historic preservation design review for Watkins School at a point where they could have some input instead of after the deal was done and all they could do was rubber stamp the plan.
DGS Project Manager Greg Benson showed up for the meeting with ANC Tuesday night, apparently believing that a good offense is the best defense. He was accompanied by Perkins Eastman Architect/consultant Sean O’Donnell, who was tasked with explaining why the ANC didn’t need to be consulted. O’Donnell went to some lengths to demonstrate the extent of community input on the Watkins School renovation project. Then he told the ANC that since the building was being done as a matter of right, HPO says DGS is not required to contact the ANC for review citing language from the agencies’ “Notice to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions”
He would have been better served by remembering that even when you are going to have your way with the ANC, you have to at least pay lip service to them.
Commissioner Denise Krepp, expressed the sentiment of the entire Commission: “I’m not going to have DGS tell us we don’t have a role in the review of this project.”
She cited the opening paragraph in the “Notice to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions”: “HPO and HPRB welcome and encourage ANC participation in historic preservation review process. HPRG gives great weight to duly adopted written ANC views on matters of significance to neighborhood planning and development.”
Benson, silent until then but realizing O’Donnell had wandered onto this ice, quickly spoke up, saying, “We’re not saying that at all. We came here at your request to show we’re not trying to skip over you.”
But the presentation tonight and before ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee on September 6, contradicted his words.
Last week, the DGS presentation before the Committee appeared to be an afterthought – and given the lack of detail and depth in that presentation, clearly reflected the attitude of casual indifference with which some city agencies treat ANC opinion.
Tuesday night, in attempting to be transparent, DGS made a presentation that raised additional questions, including how long the current design concept had been available (most members of the community had never seen the latest design before a posting on CHC last week), whether the public engagement had been adequate, the possibility of a full court gymnasium, and the health hazards associated with the use of polycarbonate windows for the site. This, in turn, demonstrated how the community could have been better served by earlier involvement of the ANC.
Commissioner Jim Loots suggested what appeared to him to be DGS’ operating principle: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” Loots told the DGS reps: “It’s absurd to assert you don’t have to go before the ANC unless the ANC reaches out and then to say, if ANC does reach out, HPO has to give the ANC opinion great weight.
Loots continued, “I’m disappointed. The community was involved on a lot of issues – all important, but not historic preservation issues. Projects need to come before ANC in design phase. Especially in a non-conforming building in the historic district.”
ANC6B Vice Chair Nick Burger was willing to give DGS a qualified benefit of the doubt – having little choice. He said one of the goals of tonight’s presentation was aimed at getting the clarification on the project the ANC needs. But the other was “to send a clear signal what we expect in the future.”
An unenthusiastic ANC voted to approve the design concept, 5 – 0 with four abstentions. That vote was followed by a 9 – 0 vote in support of sending DGS and DCPS a letter that ANC6B expects to be notified of any further developments in ANC6B in a timely manner, and to express concerns about the lack of notification on the Watkins project.
For the CHC post on Planning and Zoning Committee protest on DGS’ failure to notify, go here: http://bit.ly/2bZCXml
For photos of the design concept, go here: http://bit.ly/2cCc7za