I got my first taste of local politics last month by attending the Dupont Circle ANC meeting. DC is divided into a number of regions each with an Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a group of unpaid local elected representatives. They do have certain powers, such as reviewing and approving liquor license applications, though most of the board’s actions are advisory, like giving input to city agencies on zoning, parking, historic preservation, and other decisions that affect the neighborhood.
November’s meeting was unusually contentious, with several important issues under discussion. One was a proposed development on 14th Street between T and U. That block mostly consists of low, unremarkable brick buildings containing a McDonald’s, a check cashing place, a seafood restaurant, Taco Bell, and Foot Locker, as well as a large parking lot. This area is only a single block from the nearest Metro station, making it an ideal place for new development because people can live here without needing to drive.
Several people at the ANC meeting spoke against the proposal. Some gave valuable critiques of the plan. For example, some had suggested at the prior Dupont Circle Conservancy meeting that the parking entrance connect to 14th Street rather than the one-way residential T Street. A woman who lives in the alley behind was concerned about trash disposal through the alley and construction impacts. I thought the developer had done a clever job of handling the alley: the plan calls for a few of the building’s condos to open directly onto the alley, giving it an even greater residential feel than it does today with a parking lot along that side of the alley.
As with most development, there was controversy over the scale of the plan. One woman called it “too massive, too tall, too K Street.” According to this news article about the project, citizens at a previous meeting had “concern over increasing population density at an already bustling corner.” On this point, I have to disagree with these citizens—this is just the type of area where we should be adding density. It’s on major streets with lots of retail and restaurants. It’s near a Metro stop. And the building’s scale would be similar to others nearby.
At the ANC meeting, the commission spent very little time on this issue, largely due to the major contentious topic which came before (which I will post about next). I was disappointed that the commissioners quickly voted unanimously to endorse the Dupont Circle Conservancy resolution in its entirety; some parts, like the parking entrance issue, were very sensible, but I felt the commission had been hasty in also condemning the project’s scale, especially before soliciting much debate.
The region’s population is increasing. New development will either take place in the suburbs, increasing sprawl, or in low-density neighborhoods, changing the character of those areas, or in “bustling” high-density areas like the U Street corridor. By placing larger developments near Metro, we can also reduce the need for residents to drive and park. If a 100-foot tall building should go anywhere, this corner is such a place.
This was only a preliminary presentation about the project. Should it go forward, there will be more discussions with local boards, and I look forward to watching the local political process run its course.