Last night the ANC met for the first time in 2012. As predicted by GM, the issue of the West Heating Plant dominated the early discussion. But, the rest of the meeting was actually quite interesting too. So let’s to it:
GSA Don’t Care
The ANC invited Tim Sheckler of the General Services Administration to discuss the disposition process of the West Heating Plant. Sheckler started by giving a bit of a history of the building: It was built in the 1940’s to provide steam heat for the federal buildings on the western edge of downtown. It ceased operations about ten years ago and has sat unused since then. Now the federal government wants to get rid of it.
The long and the short of Sheckler’s presentation is that the GSA doesn’t care how this property gets used after it sells it. This is not a typical RFP process you may be familiar with, where the solicitor evaluates the merits of the bids. Once GSA moves to finally sell the property, it is simply a question of who the highest bidder is. The bidding even will be online, like Ebay. Sheckler estimated that this will take place in the late summer into the fall.
The ANC and the community was not particularly pleased with this news. The only real input the public has into the GSA-disposition process is to argue whether or not the GSA should sell the property at all.
The thing is, there is no DC Office of Planning plan for this lot that would detail how it should be used. This lot isn’t even zoned in the first place. So ultimately the public will have some input on how it is used (via OP) and how it looks (via the Old Georgetown Board). But that won’t occur until after a developer has already bought the property, and has a whole lot of money already laid out towards however they want the property to be used and how it will look.
The ANC and the community urged GSA to delay the process until OP could develop a plan and zoning for the property. The idea being that a publicly vetted plan will mean that whatever developer purchases the property will already know what constraints they’ll be operating under.
Sheckler was non-committal. One point GM suggested was that as the process would currently stand, the developers are taking a risk that whatever plans they have don’t get approved by OP or OGB. But if GSA waits for OP’s plan, GSA faces the risk that the plan results in a lower bidding price, particularly if OP zones half the property as parkland. GSA doesn’t really have an incentive to take that risk. They just want to sell the property and be done with it.
The Great Macaroon Battle of 2012
As GM detailed last month, a young couple is planning on opening a new macaroon shop called Macaron Bee on Book Hill. This is what GM had to say last month:
The ANC commissioners expressed some reservations about the idea of selling food out of the front window. They feared the shop eventually turning into a pizza slice restaurant. In the end, the ANC decided to support the request with a (probably unenforceable) condition that the window not be used for any other type of food product.
GM’s prediction is that these sort of windows never work out. People would rather just come in to the store. GM hopes the store thrives and drives more foot traffic to upper Book Hill, but it’ll be because people like the food, not the convenience of sidewalk service.
Not much changed since then except that the two store owners next to the proposed location came out strongly against the plan. Specifically, Maureen Littleton of Littleton Gallery is particularly incensed at the idea of macaroons (or, really, any food) being sold on the street next door. She basically threw every argument she could against it, and GM can’t help but conclude that what she really wants is nothing at all.
Here’s the thing: All the ANC is really being asked to approve is an openable window. It just happens to be that they know how the shop owner plans to use that window. They can ask the OGB to condition its approval of the window on the understanding that it will only be used to sell macaroons, but there’s no way for OGB to enforce that. And guess what? There are openable windows all over Georgetown. If the threat of allowing this openable window is so grave, then what about all those other windows? How can the ANC try to pervert the OGB review process (which is ostensibly about architecture, not use) to squash a new small business while allowing such grave threats of openable windows up and down Wisconsin Ave. to remain?
In the end they didn’t do that. After some haggling and some 2-2 splits, Tom Birch basically split the baby (which by all patrilineal rights really should be Ed Solomon’s job) and proposed a resolution that didn’t really oppose the new window, but strongly urged the shop owners to move the operations completely indoors.
Speaking of Ed Solomon: he pleaded with the media not to describe how long the ANC spent talking about goddamn macaroons. Prior restraint!
Trying To Appease The Unappeasable
Outside of the south exit of Safeway there is a crosswalk on the north side across Wisconsin. After the new store opened, the ANC noticed that there was a period during the light phase where pedestrians were allowed to cross Wisconsin, but no traffic was allowed outside of Safeway. Allowing right turns out of Safeway would be unsafe due to the pedestrians, but the ANC convinced DDOT to install a left turn arrow to be activated while the pedestrian light was on.
So just to summarize: In the original state, all drivers had to wait thirty seconds or so for pedestrians to cross before exiting Safeway. After the change, some additional drivers were able to able to turn left while the pedestrians were crossing. The original car-only phase that followed the pedestrian phase remained. The only thing that happened was even more time for some drivers!
Well as with all changes designed to appease drivers, it is apparently not enough. Sometimes the car at the front of the Safeway exit is trying to turn right when that new bonus left turn light comes on. And this results in the absolute tragedy whereby some drivers wanting to turn left have to wait the exact same amount of time they used to wait before the left turn arrived.
So to address the calamity that is some drivers having to wait upwards of an extra minute(!) the ANC and Safeway are floating the idea of creating a third lane for the curb cut. What’s the problem with that, you might ask? Well having a three lane curb cut is more dangerous for pedestrians. Curb cuts inherently produce conflicts between pedestrians and drivers since where the former sees a sidewalk, the latter sees a driveway. Increasing the number lanes increases the likelihood of an accident.
Pedestrian safety is far more important that trying to prevent drivers from ever having to face the slightest and most inconsequential delay.
Rounding Up The Round Up:
Here’s what else happened:
- MPD reported a 12% decline in violent crime in Georgetown for 2011 but a 12-14% increase in property crime. Tip of the week: did you know you can contact MPD before you go away to have them check on your house while you’re gone? You do now.
- Eno Wine bar looks like it’s a go for the old Lorenzo spot next to Bridge Street Books.
- The final Zoning Commission meeting on the campus plan will be February 9th during which the commission will debate and vote on the plan.