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Here’s a little add-on to this week’s column.

On February 4, part of an exterior wall at 1365 Florida Avenue collapsed, due to irresponsible digging at a building site next door.Starting the previous February, Collin Harris, whose girlfriend owns the house, began contacting ANC commissioners, staff-members in multiple government offices and agencies, and others about the shady construction practices next door to his home.

When he began speaking with City Paper about the collapse, he provided a 63-page pdf  showing e-mail exchanges with employees in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the mayor’s office, the Office of the Attorney General, and Councilmember Tommy Wells‘s office. The document clearly amounts to hours upon hours of failed attempts to stop what increasingly seemed inevitable: A major accident.

I contacted several of these offices, asking why they weren’t able to do more to prevent this collapse. Councilmember Tommy Wells’ staff was among those contacted. Although I wasn’t able to fit his response into my article, I wanted to reproduce it here.

Like Mr. Harris’s pdf, it really just shows more wasted time and effort, and in my opinion, a regulatory failure (though I talked with a rep at DCRA after the article came out, and he clearly stated the agency’s hands were tied):

“The Councilmember has had us pretty involved each time we heard from Mr. Harris to try and work through the problems. Here’s a rundown of our internal timeline:

March 28, 2008

  • Mr. Harris addressed an email to the DCRA Director, Linda Argo, outlining that he had complained to DCRA directly and a Stop Work order was issued earlier the in month. He was requesting an inspector come out to the property for further reviews. Councilmember Wells was cc’d on the email. DCRA responded to Mr. Harris.

April 2, 2008

  • Ms. Shuford attends the Mayor’s Ward 6 Core Team meeting and among the items discussed, 1367 Florida Ave, NE is raised. Ward 6 Services Coordinator Inspectors are sent to the site.

April 8, 2008

  • The Mayor’s Ward 6 Services Coordinator, Hiram Brewton, attended a standing meeting in Councilmember Wells’ office regarding Ward issues. Ms. Shuford asked about the property at 1367 Florida Ave, NE and Mr. Brewton said a Stop Work order had been issued and that their team is following up.

May 2, 2008

  • ANC 6A Commissioner Bill Schultheiss addressed an email to Mr. Brewton, highlighting two properties in his neighborhood (one of which is 1367 Florida Ave, NE) and requested follow-up attention. Councilmember Wells was cc’d on the email and he requested Linda O’Brien to follow-up.
  • Ms. O’Brien addressed an email to Erica Fowler and Eric Rogers of DCRA stating “Since these [properties] involve possible public safety threat there is urgency in getting these properties properly secured. Appreciate your help. Best, Linda O.”

July 10, 2008

  • Mr. Harris contacts Ms. Shuford on the phone and they discuss the property and possible violations taking place. Mr. Harris follows-up with an email outlining the specific concerns. Mr. Harris also forwards many emails between himself, his ANC and DCRA as way of background to provide more detail on the problems at the property.
  • Ms. Shuford shares the information with Ms. O’Brien, representatives of DCRA and the Mayor’s Ward 6 Services Coordinator, Caroline Jhingory.
  • Inspectors are sent to the property and a Stop Work order is issued, as well as fines, by DCRA.

December 17, 2008

  • Our office doesn’t hear from Mr. Harris again until December 17, 2008. He emailed Ms. Shuford stating “In July of this year, your office was instrumental in getting an illegal construction project stopped in our neighborhood.” Mr. Harris notifies Ms. Shuford that construction has begun again at the site.
  • The Mayor’s Services Coordinator staff follow-up with Ms. Shuford and send a DCRA Inspector to the site.

December 18, 2008

  • DCRA follows-up with Ms. Shuford in our office to notify us that another Stop Work order was issued and fines cited by DCRA. Mr. Harris confirms that he saw the Stop Work order issued, and then addresses an email to Ms. Sarah Latterner, Director of the Mayor’s Community Services Office, and Mr. Nick Majett, Deputy Director for DCRA. Mr. Harris thanks DCRA for the quick inspection and then asks several questions of DCRA regarding the permitting process and neighborhood consent. Ms. Shuford is cc’d, among others, on Mr. Harris’ email.

January 3, 2009

  • Mr. Harris addresses an email to the Attorney General’s office requesting information about the permitting process for 1367 Florida Ave, NE. Ms. Shuford is cc’d, among others, on Mr. Harris’ email. [Our office has searched, but we have yet to find an email from the OAG’s office in response to Mr. Harris’ email.]

February 13, 2009

  • Ms. O’Brien speaks to Mr. Harris on the phone and learns about the partial wall collapse. Mr. Harris requests a meeting with DCRA officials to discuss and Ms. O’Brien agrees to help facilitate the meeting and contacts DCRA Director Argo with the request.

February 18, 2009

  • Ms. O’Brien hears from DCRA Deputy Director Nick Majett that he would be happy to meet with Mr. Harris.

February 19, 2009

  • Ms. O’Brien hears from DCRA Director Linda Argo that she would be happy to meet with Mr. Harris.
  • Mr. Harris attends Councilmember Wells’ Community Office Hours at SOVA Coffee on H Street NE. Mr. Wells and Ms. Shuford join Mr. Harris to walk to and observe his property. Ms. Shuford requested that Mr. Harris send her some follow-up information. Once back in the office, Ms. Shuford and Ms. O’Brien discuss the situation and Ms. O’Brien reports that she is conversation with Mr. Harris over the phone and connecting him to the appropriate people at DCRA.

February 26, 2009

  • Ms. O’Brien contacts DCRA Deputy Director Nick Majett regarding the proposed meeting with Mr. Harris and is told that they have recently spoken at length on the phone with Mr. Harris and believe they have addressed many of the concerns.

March 9, 2009

  • Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Harris spoke on the phone and he stated that he would prefer a meeting with DCRA to include all the surrounding property owners. Ms. O’Brien emailed DCRA Deputy Director Majett to let him know that a meeting is needed and asked whether it is being scheduled.

March 18, 2009

  • Mr. Harris calls Ms. O’Brien and left a voicemail. Ms. O’Brien returned the call but Mr. Harris was not home; she left a voicemail asking him to call back.

March 20, 2009

  • Mr. Harris calls Ms. O’Brien and left a voicemail. Ms. O’Brien returned the call but Mr. Harris was not home; she left a voicemail asking him to call back.

April 2, 2009

  • Mr. Harris emails Heather Vargas at DCRA requesting information regarding 1367 Florida Ave NE and what steps he will need to take for his property at 1365 Florida Ave, NE. Ms. Shuford is cc’d, among others, on this email.
  • The Mayor’s Ward 6 Services Coordinator, Forest Hayes, emails DCRA and cc’d Ms. Shuford requesting DCRA to take action to assist Mr. Harris.

As you can see from the timeline, Ms. Shuford and Ms. O’Brien on our staff have been trying to work closely with Mr. Harris each time they were alerted to a problem. Beginning in April 2008 our staff has asked DCRA, and other relevant agencies, to take action on violations and to protect Mr. Harris and his property. In two of those cases, the result was a stop work order and fines on the 1367 Florida Ave, NE property. We haven’t heard from Mr. Harris directly since late March, and from what we can tell, it appears he’s getting the information he needs directly from DCRA at this stage.

If that’s not the case, we’re happy to jump back in again and help out. I’ll ask Ms. O’Brien to give him another call and see if he needs our help.

I received this e-mail this past monday. When I talked to Mr. Harris later that afternoon, he told me that Ms. O’Brien had contacted him and offered to call DCRA right away.