D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

If D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson doesn’t have enough pull to get his friend an illegal parking space in a Dupont alley, then what’s the point? That’s the situation he may find himself in after Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B voted to reject a parking space for Phyllis Klein.

The ANC approved a resolution during its July meeting to uphold the District Department of Transportation’s decision to not allow parking in front of Klein’s residence—a converted smokehouse in an alley where she’s lived with her family since the 1980s.

The resolution backing DDOT sets up a showdown with the chairman over an issue—this single parking space—that has a paper trail dating back to at least 2005. The dispute on Treto Way NW has apparently rankled neighbors for years.

Parking in alleys throughout D.C. is illegal with some rare exceptions. Fire trucks need at least 20 feet to maneuver, and Treto Way NW is 26 feet at its narrowest point, Assistant Fire Marshal Spencer Hamm recently determined. (Previous measurements estimated the width at 30 feet.) “In accordance with [the International Fire Code], I recommend that this fire apparatus access road remains unobstructed,” Hamm wrote in an email following a visit to the alley earlier this month.

Treto Way NW, where Phyllis Klein and Alex Mayer share a building with Tucker and Gina Foote.

The rules allow for parking in an alley if it’s at least 30 feet wide and has community support, according to an August 2020 email from former DDOT parking manager Benito Perez. In the email, Perez informed Klein that she is not allowed to park in the alley. If she wanted an exception, she would have to go through ANC2B.

So Klein turned to ANC2B09 Commissioner Kyle Mulhall. When he declined to help overrule DDOT’s decision, Klein tried Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, whose offices also declined to get involved, emails show.

She found a sympathetic ear in Mendelson, who, in May, personally emailed DDOT Acting Director Everett Lott asking that the agency reverse its decision.

“I ask that DDOT reverse its apparent ruling in this matter and that DDOT install [residential parking permit] signs on the alley as originally authorized in 2005,” the chairman wrote. He noted that DDOT’s policy change upended Klein’s life and brought undue hardship. “There is no public purpose or public interest gained” from denying Klein the space, the chairman wrote.

That’s where he and Mulhall disagree. The two talked about the issue during a Zoom call in June. Mulhall, a lawyer who has advised Congressional Democrats on transportation issues, says he reiterated DDOT’s safety concerns that the space would restrict a fire truck’s alley access to the 268-unit Louis apartment building and Trader Joe’s on 14th Street NW.

“I always advised them not to second guess safety decisions,” Mulhall says of his work with Congressional leaders. For Mendelson, who described Klein as a “longtime personal friend” during the Zoom call, the safety concern was not dispositive. “He said ‘We’ll have to agree to disagree,’” Mulhall says.

Mendelson told Loose Lips during an interview last week that he believes the issue is more about a tiff between neighbors than it is about safety.

“There’s nothing inappropriate with elected officials getting involved with helping a constituent,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but if you look at the alley, you will see there’s plenty of space.”

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Klein made her case to the ANC in early July. She said DDOT approved alley parking in front of her house in 2005 and that she and her family have parked there for 15 years without incident.

She has an email from a former DDOT employee who wrote in 2005 that the alley is 30 feet wide and is therefore “wide enough to allow parking on one side only.” But no signs were ever installed, and no other records apparently exist authorizing the parking spot.

Perez, the former DDOT parking manager, noted in an email to Mulhall that the circumstances in 2005 were much different. Neither The Louis, nor Trader Joe’s existed. “Even if permission was granted in 2005, the operational land use context changes and in the interest of public safety operations, we have to be able to change,” he wrote in the email.

The space is particularly necessary now, Klein said, because she’s about to schedule two knee surgeries and needs to park close to her front door. Mulhall told commissioners he offered to try and secure Klein a reserved spot on T Street NW, but she said that would make for too far of a walk, especially in the ice and snow. The city doesn’t salt or plow the alley, she said.

Klein also said she felt like she’s been left out of conversations Mulhall has had with neighbors and building managers surrounding the alley.

“It seems to be biased against my interests,” Klein told the ANC. “I came here as a young person, and now I’m a senior citizen. I want to stay here. DDOT is supposed to be inclusive, and you all, I often hear you talk about people with disabilities and accommodating everybody. And so, this is a necessary element of my existence.”

Mulhall acknowledged that he canceled a meeting with Klein due to a work conflict. He told his fellow commissioners that once he started reaching out to residents who live nearby, he discovered that Klein’s assertions that there was no opposition to the parking spot were not true.

“It had originally been described to me … as the applicant described in communication with the ANC members this week, that there had been no concerns or objections caused by the parking,” Mulhall told fellow commissioners. “I quickly discovered that simply was not the case.”

He cited a letter from 2009 from the former property manager of the Nolando apartments, which backs up to the alley. The letter from Ronald Clayton, with the subject line “regarding Phyllis Klein bullying of tenants at 1413 T Street NW,” was sent to then-Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office. It said:

“I would like to know as soon as possible whether Phyllis Klein has exclusive rights to park on Treto Way. If so, please provide any documentation or information that you may have. I took the attached photos from the roof of my building minutes ago. The white van to the fore, is certainly blocking emergency access to this rear of this building with its 29 units and nearly 40 residents. This happens on almost a daily basis and will no longer be tolerated.”

Mulhall also said he received objections to parking in the alley from the management at Trader Joe’s and the Louis apartment building, which houses more than 300 people.

“We oppose the installation of parking in Treto Way,” a June 12 letter from the Louis’ manager Jamie Cade-Samuels says. “Since the Louis opened, we have struggled with complications caused by illegal parking in the alley. This has included residents in alley dwellings parking multiple vehicles up to and over the center line of the alley.”

Cade-Samuels’ primary concern is the risk of restricting emergency vehicle access, the letter says. “The District Fire Department brought heavy vehicles to Treto Way in March 2021 and struggled to maneuver due to illegal parking, including in the location currently being considered for residential parking,” the letter continues. “Representatives from the Fire Department explained that in a genuine emergency, firefighters would have been compelled to break out the car windows and push these cars out of the way.”

Cade-Samuels tells LL in an interview that she’s aware of other neighbors who’ve raised similar safety concerns about the parking space. “It really, to me, is open and shut,” she says. “I don’t understand why this has gone on so long.”

Klein’s closest neighbor, Tucker Foote, also spoke against Klein’s parking spot during the ANC meeting. He told the ANC that when Klein’s vehicle is parked in the alley, it sometimes encourages other vehicles to park behind her, blocking the door to his home. The parking also makes it difficult for trash and delivery trucks to maneuver.

“So what we’re talking about is asking people using it in a legal manner to be inconvenienced so someone can park illegally,” he said.

Foote described his frustration with the whole situation—that after denials from government agencies and officials, Klein “appealed directly to the chairman of the city council to put his finger on the scale.”

“I just fundamentally think that’s not the way we should operate,” Foote said. “We shouldn’t be going to get political favors that fly in the face of safety.”

Foote and his family have lived in the only unit that shares a wall with Klein’s property since 2015. Shortly after he and his wife purchased the property, Klein and her husband, Alex Mayer, sued Foote over an easement they claimed to have over a lot behind their residences. Foote’s home is north of Klein’s. An empty lot sits directly behind Klein’s home and is divided in two; one side belongs to Mayer and Klein, the other belongs to Foote. But in order to access their side from the alley, Klein needs to cross Foote’s side of the lot.

Foote said he offered Klein and Mayer up to a 15-foot easement, but they insisted they needed 20 feet. The case dragged on for three years and ended after a four-day trial. D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Rigsby ultimately threw out the case.

In explaining his decision, Rigsby noted that Klein and Mayer did not need an easement in order to access their back lot and rear entrance in part because they had a garage door entrance on the front of their house. (Klein and Mayer said that the door was never functional.) “Moreover, should Plaintiffs (Klein and Mayer) seek to have an indoor area to park their vehicles, they can still do so by reconfiguring Plaintiff Mayer’s art studio and the current ‘garage’ that connects to the outdoor area,” Rigsby wrote in his opinion dismissing the case in 2019.

As the easement lawsuit was ongoing, Foote filed suit against Klein and Mayer in December 2016 under D.C.’s wiretapping statute. He accused them of spying on him with security cameras. The judge ultimately ruled that Foote does not have an objective expectation of privacy and granted Klein and Mayer summary judgment.

Foote declined to speak with LL on the record.

Although he no longer works for DDOT, Perez also spoke to ANC2B. He said after repeated denials, the agency eventually took the issue all the way up to Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure Lucinda Babers, who Perez said ordered Klein’s vehicles to be ticketed and towed. Babers told LL in an email that she is not familiar with the issue.

Perez left DDOT in March 2021 thinking it was resolved. Then he heard from Mulhall this summer. DDOT employees showed up in the alley in June to began the process of marking a parking space. When Mulhall reached out to DDOT to ask what was happening, he was told that Mendelson sent a letter asking that their decision be overturned.

Perez’s replacement, Haley Peckett, asked that Mulhall bring a resolution to the ANC so DDOT had an indication of whether Klein’s neighbors supported her parking space. Mulhall’s resolution supporting DDOT’s rejection of the parking space passed 6-1-2. LL reached out to DDOT to ask about its final decision in the matter. He will update this post when the agency responds.