The ANC and the community are nearing a major milestone in the so far 4-year review of the Hine Redevelopment Project. The case moves out of our arena into the hands of the city’s Zoning Commission (ZC) on June 14.
As the end nears, the volume of the strident voices of the “anti forces” has been increasing. But the blooming of DownSizeHine yard signs seems to have reached a plateau. As someone who has attended countless Hine meetings–ANC and otherwise–over the last 4 years, I must say that listening to constant negativity and the same old arguments can grate on a person. I happily look forward to a summer relieved of “Hine.”
But, while a frustrating period, the last 4 years have also been invigorating. My knowledge about development, historic preservation, and zoning and the processes that govern them has increased immeasurably. I have learned by listening how not to fight against something. I have met and engaged in conversations with many people because of Hine. Many of these discussions revealed how we feel about our Hill and how we perceive its future. The differences abound but we all care about our community. Some simply do not want it to change. Well, in the 25 years I have lived on the Hill, it has changed immensely. More change is inevitable. We may live in a historic district but it has been a long time since it was a Victorian village.
At its critical Planning & Zoning Committee meeting on Tue 5 June, the ANC punted. Lots of discussion, issues placed on the table, but no decisions were made. On Tue 12 June, it is up to the full ANC—as the officially recognized representative of the community–to finally decide what to tell the Zoning Commission about this major change coming to the center of our Hill.
Punting on the 5th was caused partly by the fact that Commissioners did not receive decision documents until 1/2 hour before we were scheduled to meet to vote on Councilmember Wells Eastern Market bill. This gave us no time to review the documents prior to the Hine meeting. The ANC’s PUD (Planned Unit Development) review process has been problematic throughout. Perhaps it was the overly complex structure the ANC set up. Or, the lack of communication with Commissioners on negotiation details between public meetings. Whatever the cause, we constantly have had to make decisions without full debate as meeting time ran out and/or documents were presented at the last minute. At this stage of the PUD process, one week from the ZC hearing, the ANC ought to be tying up loose ends not making major decisions. Now, as a Commissioner, I am forced to vote next Tuesday up or down on an agreement between the ANC and the developer; a 10-page document with 44 paragraphs plus innumerable “Whereas” clauses.
The whole purpose of any PUD is for a developer to give back to the community in return for being granted a change in zoning that will enable its project. While there are many aspects of the agreement with which I can agree, I find the core element–benefits to the community at large–miniscule. I also feel that denying residents in the affordable units the ability to park a car in the underground garage or curbside to be unfair. Eighteen of the 44 paragraphs in the agreement deal with transportation issues, most of which will be decided by public space permitting processes after the ZC has spoken. Nine of them are about retail issues that will be covered in a post-ZC Retail Plan that the developer has to submit to the city before the final land transfer occurs. Several others deal with the weekend flea market (and partly overlap with the Wells legislation) or other management issues.
What’s left as true tangible community benefits? A grant of $50,000 to help pay for the redesign of the Metro Plaza, restricted community use of a conference room, and a promise to help fund a 24-infant daycare facility—on or off the site. Another benefit was lost when the developer was convinced to take one floor off the office building component of the complex. (I am a well-known opponent of that “taking”.)
Against stiff opposition from one Commissioner, I and two others have argued that the infant care facility serves a very small segment of the Hill population even if all spaces are used by Hill families rather than parents working in the office building who live elsewhere. As an alternative, we have proposed that the developers fund a children’s playground somewhere on the Hill to benefit all families with children of all ages. Earlier in the process I proposed that the developer replace the basketball court that used to be in the Hine parking lot area but I lost that vote. (Note: Community benefits do not have to be located on the development site but can be anywhere within the boundaries of ANC6B.)
ANC6B will not be the only voice speaking to the ZC next week. DDOT has issued a report on traffic issues that is critical of parts of the developer’s analysis. The Office of Planning (OP) issued its required report. This key report basically supports the Hine project as designed but OP came up with a bizarre solution to “Save the Flea Market.” It suggested cantilevering the North Residential Building’s top floors (i.e., setting back the ground floor) to provide additional space in the Plaza. OMG … this is a design nightmare. [Look folks, the flea markets will be just fine. There's the whole 300 block of 7th, the Metro plaza, that triangle of brick in front of Hine, and the large space in the north parcel of the Metro plaza. We need to move on from this issue ... or, at least deal with facts.]
Also in the mix is a report to the ZC from the DC Housing and Community Development that embraces many aspects of the project including the 7-floor height of the office building, and calls for the placement of retail all along the ground floor of the two building segments that face the Metro Plaza. The agency does question some features of the plans for 46 affordable housing units, however.
I–who can react negatively to change–have embraced the changes the Hine Redevelopment Project will bring to our neighborhood. It will provide a surge of energy and liveliness and I look forward to being a part of all. But, my immediate dilemma is whether to vote against the ANC’s position and, thus, the project itself because I do not agree with parts of the “agreement”