Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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At the D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau introduced a bill that would give advisory neighborhood commissioners—the neighborhood-level elected officials who weigh in on development plans, among other issues —personnel assistance when negotiating agreements with developers.

It’s an effort to make experts in development and real estate available to the commissioners, who in addition to their ANC duties often hold full-time day jobs and might not have the legal or technical training that is beneficial when negotiating community benefits packages. “ANCs are asked to take on a heavy burden, often without relevant experience,” Nadeau said on Tuesday of these negotiations.

Planned Unit Developments, the specific type of development project Nadeau’s bill seeks to support, gives developers wide latitude to work around existing zoning requirements, but gives the D.C. Zoning Commission and residents substantive input in the project’s design. PUDs also allow neighbors to negotiate community benefits agreements with the developer, which can range from affordable housing requirements in the new development to small community revitalization grants. Advisory neighborhood commissioners are often among the most prominent voices in negotiating these deals.

Nadeau’s bill would add a “planned unit development office” and a Council-appointed director of that office, within the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Employees of that office would be responsible for coordinating “with ward partners in the Office of Planning to provide commissioners with guidance, as requested, on how to further the meaningful public benefits resulting from a Planned Unit Development.” Beyond the PUD director, the bill does not create a specific number of support staff positions.

If passed and funded, the bill would also mandate the creation of a public database of community benefits agreements made for PUDs, along with the status of their delivery, the bill says. At-Large Councilmembers Robert White, Elissa Silverman, and David Grosso, along with Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray, co-sponsored the bill. Nadeau herself served two terms as an ANC in Ward 1.

“In conversation with many of our ANC commissioners, we’ve found that it’s hard to tell if communities are getting a fair deal out of developers, especially when it comes to the amount of affordable housing provided in Planned Unit Development projects,” Nadeau said at the meeting on Tuesday. ” The bill will work to maximize the amount of affordable housing and substantive benefits in larger development projects, track the delivery of promised community benefits, and provide additional resources to ANCs to assist in negotiations with developers.”