ANC6B Squares Off Against Department of General Services (DGS) on Watkins School Design

Watkins renovation project manager Greg Benson (left) and  Architect Sean O'Donnell before ANC6B last Tuesday night.

Watkins renovation project manager Greg Benson (left) and Architect Sean O’Donnell before ANC6B last Tuesday night.

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:

For photos of the design concept, go here:


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5 responses to “ANC6B Squares Off Against Department of General Services (DGS) on Watkins School Design

  1. freshaire

    By the way, did Benson and/or O’Donnell of the DGS, at lease as a courtesy, inform our Ward 6 Council member about the proposed design and schedule? Or was Councilman Charles Allen ignored/by-passed?

    Does anyone know if the DGS doing other construction/renovation at other schools in other Wards? If so, were the appropriate ANC’s also ignored and by-passed? … or was it only ANC6B ignored?

  2. Vince Mareino

    Good for DGS. The ANCs have no business getting in the way of other government agencies’ statutory authority. They may not like the way that the laws are written. Well, take it to City Council.

    • IHM

      I agree. Moreover, the needs of a school renovation should be discussed among and determined by those familiar with the needs of the school. Being on the ANC means you live in the neighborhood, I must have missed something when it comes to how that would possibly qualify someone to weigh in on matters related to school infrastructure. The same holds true for the members of the historic review board, for that matter.

  3. WTF

    Hello? The process is that the ANC gets to review the design and determine whether it could be better. Yeah, the ANC does have that right per statute. DGS and DCPS short-circuited a statutory protection to the neighborhood so we don’t have to live with a hideous building. Shame on DGS and DCPS. Either this was absolute incompetence or ramrodding. Either way it’s wrong.

  4. Some Facts

    The ANC has been involved from the very beginning of the Watkins project. DGS’ Watkins project website contains meeting notes showing that three ANC members including the ANC 6B chair have attended meetings going back to 2014. Commissioner Burger has reported on these community meetings on his ANC6B06 blog at In March of 2015, for example he posted on how DGS and the architect had responded to community input and revised the design. In March of 2016, meeting notes on the ANC 6B web site report that the full ANC voted 9-0 to support the inclusion of a larger gym in the project. The article above suggests that the ANC knew nothing of this project until last week. The evidence demonstates otherwise. Many of us with families in 6B have waited years for this project to happen. The community supports it. Let’s get it done.