Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

At a DC Council hearing on Zoning Commission nominee Greg Selfridge, it became evident that he lacks the experience and policy depth for this extremely important board.

As Lydia DePillis reported, Selfridge is a developer, but seems to have little knowledge of zoning issues or citywide policy, and didn’t even specifically want to be on the Zoning Commission:

Selfridge ... had no personal relationship with the Mayor, but had asked the head of Boards and Commissions for a position, and that it was decided that the Zoning Commission might be a good fit.

He has been to exactly two Board of Zoning Adjustment meetings, had only glancing familiarity with the comprehensive zoning review underway right now, and had only read bits of the District’s Comprehensive Plan. He didn’t have much to say about the priorities of affordable housing and historic preservation except that he supported them.

"As far as intimate familiarity with the regs, I don’t have it,” Selfridge said, “but I’m certain that I could get myself up to speed.”

Every board is important, but the Zoning Commission is especially important because it’s one of the areas where the federal government maintains considerable influence over the shape of DC. Two federal representatives, Peter May from the National Park Service and Michael Turnbull from the Architect of the Capitol, serve alongside three Mayoral representatives. Unlike in most places, like Montgomery County, the elected legislature doesn’t have the power to review land use decisions.

DC has limited control over its own destiny in a number of areas, including land use. It’s therefore particularly important that DC’s representatives be extremely knowledgeable and effective advocates for the District’s needs. They need more than a cursory knowledge of policy, or else they’re likely to be swayed by the persistently anti-urban attitudes of Peter May or simple ignorance.

For example, DePillis notes, Selfridge’s first reaction to zoning on U Street is that it needs lots of parking and not so many restaurants. He’s also uncomfortable with new restaurants on Barracks Row. Sounds like someone very nervous about growth, even good growth in neighborhoods that want it.

This makes me wonder whether Fenty has much of a vision for the city. He’s aggressively pushed streetcars and bike lanes and added housing opportunities, but how much of that is just the good counsel of Harriet Tregoning and Gabe Klein? When he overrides them, it often seems to be for the worse, like on sidewalks.

Mayor Williams talked about a goal of bringing in 100,000 new residents to DC. That’s the right path to grow our tax base and our retail offerings and make DC a better place to live. Now Fenty has nominated someone to the Zoning Commission who seems instinctively uncomfortable with the urbanism Fenty’s been advancing just because the guy asked to be nominated to something.

According to DePillis, the Council is expected to reject either Selfridge or Stan Wall, Fenty’s other recent nominee, because they don’t want all three DC members to be developers. The Council should send Selfridge back and ask the Mayor to pick someone who shares his policy goals and who has the policy depth to defend them against people like May.

Maybe we can help him find someone. Anyone here want to apply for the Zoning Commission? You need to be able to spend every Monday and Thursday night at the meetings.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.