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I’ll dispense with the drama first: Last night, after a yearlong debate over Douglas Development’s plans to build a six-story mixed-use development in Tenleytown without off-street parking, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission approved the plan unanimously. With ANC 3E’s nonbinding stamp of approval, it goes to the Zoning Commission for a ruling on Douglas’ application for zoning changes and exemptions.
But that’s not really the drama, now, is it? No, it was what happened before the vote at last night’s ANC meeting that highlighted the tempestuous emotions surrounding the parking issue.
ANC Commissioner Jonathan Bender—-by no means the commissioner most gung-ho about the development during the negotiations with Douglas—-opened the discussion by laying out the plans for the former Babe’s Billiards site at Wisconsin Ave. and Brandywine St. NW.
“Babe’s has been on our agenda on and off since 2009, and [Douglas has] been in here three or four times,” Bender said. After the long negotiations, “we got there, as of a couple days ago. Better late than never.”
“The piece of this that’s most novel is that the project will not have any on-site parking,” Bender continued, noting that there would be a handicapped space and a Zipcar space. “I think it’s true that all of us here and many residents think this can actually be a benefit,” due to reduced traffic.
“What is the matter with you?” shouted one older white woman (in a crowd, it must be said, consisting mostly of older white women; one woman—-opposed to the project, naturally—-was actually knitting throughout the meeting). “Do you not have a brain?”
She charged the commissioners with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for not providing additional handicapped spaces. Then she changed tactics and alleged that the single Zipcar space would block traffic on Wisconsin Avenue.
“One car?” an ANC commissioner asked, incredulous. The woman responded that she knows Wisconsin traffic well, and one car can throw everything off balance.
Tenleytown Neighbor Association President Juliet Six then read off a laundry list of complaints from a lawyer friend of hers about the Douglas-ANC memorandum of understanding. Bender, himself a lawyer, picked them apart one by one.
One woman in the crowd was dissatisfied with Bender’s approach. “You seem very smug about this,” she said. “You are being very condescending.”
“That’s because it’s written in a condescending manner,” he retorted.
Some neighbors, including inveterate development opponent Sue Hemberger, raised well-informed objections to various aspects of the proposal. But at other times, the meeting seemed to descend into a parody of NIMBYism.
When commissioner Beverly Sklover mentioned the environmentally friendly nature of the project and called it a “pilot program,” one woman murmured, “Why’s it have to be in our neighborhood?”
Another woman raised her voice as she interjected: “It’s my neighborhood, and you’re imposing green on us. Do this where you live, not where I live.”
As the tensions rose, ANC chair Matthew Frumin said, “I feel like we’re trying to hold the dam and it’s not going to succeed.” A woman in the audience shouted: “Good!”
Another woman stood up to complain that the occasional repairmen working on the building would have no place to park. “The emperor has no clothes!” she yelled.
The commissioners sought to parry the various attacks—-Bender had the highlight when, presented with a series of outlandish hypotheticals, replied, “And the Nats could have won in three”—-but the tensions boiled over when commissioner Tom Quinn got fed up with the accusations from chronic naysayer Marilyn Simon.
“That’s your crazy philosophy,” Quinn told Simon.
“I don’t think you listened to me,” Simon said.
“I try not to,” Quinn replied, provoking a plea from Sklover to behave like adults.
But there were a few statements of support—-mostly from men below the room’s median age—-including the final comment, thanking the visibly exhausted ANC commissioners. “I think it’s remarkable that you have this much strength,” the man said.
And then came the unanimous vote—-a “fait accompli,” in the words of one disappointed neighbor—-that sent the residents of Tenleytown out into the cold night, shaking their heads.
CORRECTION, October 18: A quote that initially appeared in this post was attributed to Juliet Six. Six emails to say that she was not the one who spoke those words but does not know who did. That quote has been removed. We regret the error.
Rendering courtesy of The Bond at Tenley