Why nothing can get done in Mt. Pleasant

A long-running feud between Mt. Pleasant Main Streets and the leadership of ANC 1D burst into the open yesterday, when MPMS President Adam Hoey raised the alarm: The ANC could cause Main Streets to lose a $242,000 grant for streetscape improvements like better lighting, new trees, tables, benches, and crosswalks—many of the things recommended by the city’s plan for the neighborhood.

The money, from the District Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, is subject to ANC approval. After receiving the grant in October 2009, Hoey says he met with commissioners to explain their concept, and heard no objections. Several months later, however, chairman Gregg Edwards asked for an extension to the deadline the ANC had been given to respond. Now, if the six-person ANC passes a resolution against the project before June 16th—their next meeting is June 15th—DDOT will take back the money.

Commissioner Jack McKay objects to the funding on the grounds that he’s pretty sure it’s not being used efficiently. “Small steps, like the cosmetic changes proposed by Main Street, will accomplish little,” McKay wrote to Prince of Petworth. “Surely that $241,000 of taxpayer money could be better spent. I don’t support wasteful uses of public funds, even if opposing waste causes those funds to go to some other DC neighborhood.” An officer from Historic Mount Pleasant also opined that spending on smaller things could push funding for larger needs further down the road.

Edwards agrees with McKay that the money should go to other needs in the city, and also takes issue with Main Streets’ approach.

“For almost a year I have offered a collegial discussion with MPMS, as have other commissioners,” he writes to Housing Complex. “MPMS has refused every one of these offers, instead taking the stance of take it or leave it…. I am still considering the project on its merits. This is not easy, because all the arguments directed at me are those of political pressures. Indeed, pressures that appear to transgress the principles of good government.”

In talks with DDOT, Edwards and Gregg have continued to push their idea for a pedestrian encounter zone, which would require sidewalk modifications and the re-routing of buses. In a May 3 letter to the ANC, DDOT made clear that while they didn’t have funding to consider the ambitious plan, Main Streets’ project wouldn’t preclude considering it later, and the grant money couldn’t be diverted.

Hoey is fed up with the pair’s obstructionism.

“Their position represents a general disdain for neighborhood organizations and our business association and a desire to dominate all things Mount Pleasant,” he wrote. “I hope at some point that MPMS can work together with an ANC that is more transparent, fair and supportive of local organizations as partners willing to share in the community development process.”
If Gregg and Edwards offer a resolution opposing the grant at their June 15th meeting, Commissioner Phil Lepanto predicts that the commission would deadlock, 3-3. Lepanto says he’s tried to offer a resolution in support of the grant for months now, to no avail. And it’s starting to look like a power struggle.

“I think this goes to a larger issue,” Lepanto says. “At some level, this ANC is at war with the civic associations.”

Mt. Pleasant residents, it seems, are the casualties.

Photo from NCinDC.