ZC Adds Hine Part III at Part II

The Zoning Commission (ZC) met in a 2nd session on the Hine Redevelopment project from 630pm to nearly midnight on 21 June.  But in those 5 hours the ZC did not manage to hear all wanting to testify in support of or opposition to the project.  This, despite a 1st session on 14 June that lasted nearly as long.

Midway through the evening, the ZC chairperson interrupted the proceedings for an extended 45-minute discussion with all of the parties about the need for a third hearing in order to accommodate all who had asked to testify.  Various options were considered including delaying the third session until the fall and in the end it was decided to hold the third and final hearing on Wednesday, 11 July.  The date of the final session was made possible by the Chair’s decision to change the normal order of these proceedings and hear all of the opponents with “party status” that evening, as one of their witnesses was unable to be present on 11 July.  The Chair announced that only those who had requested to testify by the end of the June 21 hearing would be permitted to speak at the July 11th final meeting.

So, what did happen on the 21st?  The following testified and were cross examined: the applicant’s transportation expert, DDOT, ANC6B, and the opposing parties with status (Eyes on Hine, Hine School North Neighbors, EMMCA and Diverse Management).  DDOT, whose testimony was delayed from the 14th so that more data and analysis could be obtained, seemed still not convinced of the need for a garage with 320 parking slots.  But, a deal seems to have been struck on the 55’ truck delivery issue with the final solution to be determined by a public space permitting process during the post-ZC period.  During cross examination, Ms Riehle of EMMCA pressed DDOT on the idea of putting the garage entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue rather than the new C Street.  This idea was pretty fairly shot down by DDOT’s analysis of the traffic and pedestrian safety problems that would ensue and its statement that the one existing in the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue would never to approved today.

The ANC was next with Commissioners Frishberg and Pate presenting the ANC’s support in favor of the PUD application (somewhat modified by the MOA between the developer and the ANC).  On balance, given the complexity and multifaceted nature of the Hine project, I feel the two 6B witnesses, who did not speak from a prepared text and instead worked from notes, did a credible job.  However, in my view, some of their presentation veered a bit off course from what the ANC had actually seen and debated.  I was particularly struck by an analysis of the existing Metro Plaza in support of opposition parties desire to restrict retail on a portion of the façade facing the Plaza, an analysis that had never been offered before the ANC.  The ZC complimented the ANC’s presentation (as compared to what they normally hear from ANCs) but only asked a few clarifying questions.

During the opposing parties hour, Marcel LaFollette of Eyes on Hine presentation was eloquent but wrong in its analysis of the impact of the Hine complex on the lives of the residents of the 300 block of 8th Street SE.  Bill Pate of the Hine School North Neighbors (200 block of 8th SE) suggested that the North Residential Building be excised from the project in favor of open space.  He did not mention how the loss of 34 affordable units would affect the overall number of such units in the complex, which now stand at 30 percent of the total.  EMMCA presented its written testimony, trying to make the case that what the developer has said were its goals for the project will not be realized by the current design.

Then, Diverse Management (owned by Michael Berman who runs the Sunday flea market on the Hine parking lot) had its presentation.  It consisted of 3 witnesses (that the ZC decided were not “experts”) who discussed the monetary and social value of the existing flea market.  The implication of this testimony being that it all would be lost with the current Hine design but it failed to put this potential loss within the context of what the Hine project and an enlarged Eastern Market weekend operation would generate.  Berman showed his design for a redesigned Hine plaza that would hold 100 tents but, again, failed to identify the impact on the loss of 7-day a week brick and mortar retail or residential units above. None of the opposition testimony generated much comment by the ZC or cross examination.

At about midnight, Session 2 was over.  Part III will resume the hearing with testimony by the Supporting Parties followed by all the individuals who will offer supporting and opposition testimony.  Rebuttal will end this 3rd session, after which the ZC will debate internally to come up with its decision on the project.  When this decision, in the form of an Order, will be publicly announced is unknown.

NOTE: Several folks have mentioned they did not see me at this Part II hearing.  Right they are, as I watched the entire proceedings from the cool comfort of my home on my laptop.  Also see my previous article on the Hine hearing for information about how to access documents submitted to the ZC.

ZC on Hine, Part I

At the initial Zoning Commission hearing on the Hine Redevelopment project (14 June), the session began with a lot of procedural matters.  There were instructions to the audience on how to behave and discussions among the 4 Commissioners as to which groups would be given party status, which enables them to cross examine witnesses.

Three community groups (Eyes on Hine, Hine School North Neighbors, and EMMCA) and Diverse Management (which owns the Sunday flea market operations) were successful in their bids to gain status.  A few others were denied.

Then, Stanton Eastbanc the developer of Hine and the applicant before the ZC was given an hour to present its case. The presentation included testimony by two of the SEB partners, the architect, and the firm that designed the landscaping.  For anyone who has sat through the numerous Hine presentations over the last few years, this ZC one was not much different in content but clearly structured for the purposes of informing the ZC Commissioners.

There was a bit of drama when the lawyer for Diverse Management aggressively grilled the landscape architect during cross examination.  Many of the questions were outright rude and beside the point.  But, DM is fighting for its livelihood as there is no guarantee that once Hine is built and the new Eastern Market legislation is in place that DM or the owner of the Saturday market will be back running a “flea market.”  Most of the vendors could be accommodated but this notion has been lost in the “Save the Flea Market” campaign being waged by the 2 current owners.

Next up to testify was the Office of Planning (OP) who summarized its report.  This report is in basic agreement with plans of the Hine applicant but has a few quirks.  A major one is a recommendation for cantilevering one of the buildings facing the Plaza to enlarge it, an odd design feature that the Historic Preservation Review Board would surely not support.

Donna Scheeder, chair of the Eastern Market Citizen’s Advisory Committee, then testified.  The EMCAC statement focused on the need for parking in the area and did a powerful job of blowing a big hole in the controversy over the size of the Plaza for weekend flea markets.  On parking EMCAC supported the developer’s plan to provide over 300 spaces in the underground garage. On the flea market, EMCAC put the flea markets in context with the rest of the Saturday/Sunday outdoor elements at Eastern Market and with the pending new Eastern Market legislation that will alter the governing structure of the Market.

After some grilling of Ms Scheeder by the DM lawyer, the 1st ZC session on Hine concluded after 4 hours give or take 10 minutes or so.

Note:  All of the prepared statements by witnesses are available on the Zoning Commission’s website under Case # 11-24.  Also available on the website is video of all the sessions.

Hine Moves From ANC to ZC

The Hine Redevelopment zoning package skimmed through ANC6B on 12 June (2012) with a narrow vote of 6-4 in favor of supporting the Memorandum of Agreement between the ANC and the developer, Stanton-Eastbanc.  Now, it will be up to the Zoning Commission to shape the final form of this complex of offices, residential units, and retail shops.

Including myself, Commissioners Frishberg, Garrison, Flahaven, Metzger, and Pate cast the 6 votes in favor.  Commissioners Campbell, Critchfield, Green, and Glick voted in opposition.  My dilemma on this vote, discussed in “Hine Begins to Wrap Up”, was resolved when changes were made in the MOA over the weekend as I said in my  Statement on Hine at ANC6B June 12 Meeting.

Once the ZC speaks in the form of an order, SEB will negotiate its final agreement with the city, assume ownership of the property, and construction can begin.  SEB has estimated that construction will take 27 months including demolition of the Hine school building, excavation for the underground garage and retail space, and building of the structure.

HINE Begins To Wrap Up

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”