Site for Eyesores: Brizill and Imhoff?s Columbia Heights home has been decaying for years.
Site for Eyesores: Brizill and Imhoff?s Columbia Heights home has been decaying for years. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

In early July, the Washington Post published a glowing write-up on activists and DCWatch co-founders Gary Imhoff and Dorothy Brizill. The piece, pegged to Brizill’s June arrest after a run-in with a city hall staffer, highlighted the pair’s 25-year history of civic involvement, not least their legendary exposé of forged election petitions that led to Mayor Anthony A. Williams getting kicked off the 2002 Democratic primary ballot.

Imhoff gave reporter Sue Anne Pressley Montes a nice summation of their lives’ work:

“One thing about being children of the ’60s that we have maintained is, ‘Don’t worry about the money, don’t worry about the career—worry about doing what has to be done,’” he said.

Another item on the couple’s don’t-worry-about-it list: home improvement. Brizill, 59, and Imhoff, 60, are currently subject to proceedings of the city’s Board for the Condemnation of Insanitary Buildings.

It’s no secret that the couple’s house, on the 1300 block of Girard Street NW, has long been a neighborhood eyesore. The nice thing was, for years, it fit right in with the rest of the block. After the District’s housing boom, however, the three-story brick manse sticks out in the condofying neighborhood much the way Grey Gardens once marred the Hamptons.

Glass is missing from several front windows. The front porch is rotting away. The slate roof is bare and sagging in places. Gutters and trim have rusted into the brick façade. The entire exterior seems not to have seen a paintbrush since Home Rule.

LL’s peek through the chain link fence into the backyard on a recent evening revealed about a dozen empty Budweiser cans scattered under the trees. In fairness, they looked to be tossed into the yard from the alley. The decaying file cabinets stacked next to the house, however, did not.

In a Wednesday meeting of the condemnation board, Brizill was ordered to address the house’s most pressing problems, including replacing its broken windows and fixing the decomposing porch. She told the board that repairs are on “a fast time track.”

“Replacing the windows is not rocket science,” she said. “Fixing the porch is not rocket science.”

According to Brizill, some of the problems, including the broken windows, date back to a burglary in early 2006 while the couple was on vacation. Part of the reason no work has been done, she says, is that she has not been able to clear with police what should be preserved as evidence.

“I’m a big girl. I accept my responsibilities,” she says. “There are issues. There are issues in terms of I have to take care of any [police] matters….I have to get my finances in order.”

The bout with condemnation authorities stems from a housing violation notice she received in June. After meeting with DCRA officials and discussing a repair plan in early July, she says, she thought she had satisfied the city’s concerns. Until LL phoned her on Tuesday evening, Brizill was unaware that the condemnation proceedings were still under way.

“It is my No. 1 priority as opposed to working on other people’s problems and issues,” she told the board. Brizill asked for 30 days to come back with a renovation plan; the board decided to give her 14 days.

If Brizill and Imhoff don’t make a good-faith effort in that time to bring the house into compliance, the board can order a crew to make repairs, then the city can take a lien on the property for their cost.

It’s not the first time the property has caught the attention of the authorities. In 2002, the city inadvertently placed the house on the rolls of vacant and abandoned properties (Loose Lips, “Broken Window Theories,” 6/14/2002). At the time, Brizill and Imhoff said they were slowly restoring the 1870-vintage home.

There’s been few outward signs of any sort of restoration since. One neighbor across the street says there’s been no sign of activity in recent weeks. And the broken windows give him plenty of opportunities to see if anyone’s about. “I watch TV from my second floor, and I can see right through the house,” he says.

Brizill says she and Imhoff continue to live and work in the house full-time, though they had been traveling recently.

Two-bedroom condos across the street are going for $749,000, so why don’t Brizill and Imhoff sell the house, assessed at $739,690 and owned by the couple since 1982, and move into something more manageable? Last time LL wrote about the residence, Brizill cited an unnamed developer who offered to buy the house when it landed on the vacancy rolls, and she says she continues to get offers. But Brizill bristles at the suggestion that she and Imhoff are living beyond their means in the 4,200-square-foot manse. “You talk to any black homeowner in Columbia Heights—we’re all struggling,” she says. “I’ll be damned if Mayor Adrian Fenty is going to run me out.”

Political Potpourri

• Finding the right person to do an important job can be tricky. Fortune 500 companies pay pro headhunters thousands to bring in top-notch exec candidates. Third-world countries searching for a little foreign-trade help turn to the “Executive Focus” pages of the Economist.

But what outfit looks to the 18-to-54-year-old-male demo delivered by sports talk radio?

LL was driving down 9th Street NW last Friday morning, listening to Steve Czaban’s morning show on WTEM-AM, when he got an answer. Czaban’s Skins-gab-heavy show, an announcer read, “is brought to you by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs!” The voice went on to mention that the city agency is in search of a zoning administrator—the head of an office that, according to the DCRA Web site, “administers, interprets and enforces the zoning regulations.”

DCRA spokesperson Karyn-Siobhan Robinson says the ad appeared under the agency’s contract with Clear Channel Communications, which owns Sportstalk 980 and a gazillion other stations. “It’s another way to get the word out to get the employees that we need,” Robinson says.

• On Monday, the D.C. Fire Fighters Association—the union representing members of the District fire department—announced it was asking the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority to pay the city $900,000 to cover the costs of inspecting more than 10,000 city fire hydrants.

Good idea, but how come it’s the union asking—not, say, Fire Chief Dennis Rubin?

Dan Dugan, the union’s president, says he was forced to take the lead on the issue because negotiations between WASA and the department over paying for hydrant inspections had stalled. He doubts that WASA General Manager Jerry N. Johnson is interested in making a deal. “This guy’s all fluff,” Dugan says. “When it comes down to signing the [agreement] to make it all happen, he doesn’t want to sign it.”

Dugan says the dollar amount came from a source with knowledge of the negotiations between WASA and the fire department.

An Aug. 30 closed-door meeting ended without an agreement, but both department spokesperson Alan Etter and WASA spokesperson Michele Quander-Collins say that negotiations are ongoing, with another meeting likely before the end of the month.

Quander-Collins says Dugan has no basis to make any demands. “He’s not part of the discussions,” she says. “I’m not gonna make him part of the discussions now.”

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