Housing Complex

Election Reverb! Preservationists and Planners “Jubilant” About Gray

I picked up on this after the penultimate campaign finance filing deadline, but it’s become more concrete recently: An ad-hoc collection of prominent preservationists and city planners are thrilled at the election of Vince Gray, and are hosting an after-the-fact fundraiser for him this Friday Thursday, September 30. Along with the Greater Greater Washington crew, they’re another group that bucks the narrative of wealthier, whiter people favoring Adrian Fenty.

The host committee includes former Office of Planning Director Ellen McCarthy, Ann Hargrove of the Kalorama Citizens Association and Committee of 100, lawyer Andrew Potts, and former Historic Preservation Review Board Members Charles Robertson and Denise Johnson. The last two, when we spoke for a story about new HPRB chair Catherine Buell, were none too happy about Fenty’s appointment of relatively inexperienced boardmembers. Johnson in particular recalled being notified by voicemail a few days before a hearing that her term was up—but that she could serve on any other board she wished.

“If the mayor doesn’t want me on a board that I’m qualified for, why would he want me on a board that I’m not qualified for?” Johnson said. “To me it’s just a blatant slap in the face of what these boards and commissions are supposed to be about."

Sally Berk, the Committee of 100’s point person on Union Station and an expert on pre-World War II firehouses, is hosting the “Victory Feast” at her house on Wyoming Avenue. Her explanation of why she’s so excited about Gray reflects a desire for the kind of respect and attention that Fenty never gave.

"I’ve testified before Gray on several occasions–always, of course, on a topic related to preservation," Berk writes. "Each time, Gray had prepared extensively for the hearing.  He was conversant with the topic, listened attentively, asked incisive questions, made astute comments, and was polite to everyone regardless of her position or comportment.  On one occasion, he was the only councilperson to show up for a hearing that was supposed to be before the Committee of the Whole. On another occasion, I sent him an email a few hours after the hearing, to receive, only a few hours after that, a response—a meaningful, not generic response. Several years later, he recalled one of my testimonies...Regarding preservation issues, I have every reason to believe that Gray knows or is educable about the value of preservation to economic development and to reducing the carbon footprint."

  • Neve

    Sometimes the best "politicians" end up being the ones who haven't been pining for political power and who's egos are not dependent on it. Looking forward to Mayor Gray's term.

  • downtown rez

    It's a NIMBY anti-density/smart-growth thing.

  • DC Guy

    Except that Ellen McCarthy is a smarth growth proponent.

  • downtown rez

    Some would say that, not all.
    In the spectrum of proponents, it's fair to say she's less enthusiastic than Tregoning or Alpert.

  • downtown rez

    Also, context is key. Who else named on the host committee is a smart-growth "proponent"?

  • John

    Rez: Ding! I'd also note that Linda is wrong on GGW. Only David A supported Gray, the other two leads endorsed Fenty, and David A got smacked all over in the comments for placing expediency over smart growth. The list about iis almost completely a bunch of NIMBYs.

  • John

    "list above is"

  • downtown rez

    Progressives take note:
    At the very very best you are fighting to hold the line.

  • Sally Berk

    Dear Lydia, Thanks for accurately reporting on my feelings toward Gray. However, there is an inaccurancy in your article. The Victory Feast for Gray that will be at my house, will not be this Friday, but on Thursday, September 30, 6:00-8:30. If you would issue an erratum, I would be grateful.

  • Sally Berk

    p.s. Every one of the planners and preservationists on the host committee is in favor of growth that is smart.

  • John

    Note Sally cute language. She knows full well that smart growth has a certain meaning. You have to love disingenuous NIMBYs.

  • Lydia DePillis

    Hi Sally - Whoops, apologies, it's fixed now.



  • LOL

    I have to say this again. Lydia, you really know how to use this platform. I always find you to be very responsive to your reader's input and your writing reflects that you are always open to learning and writing more about housing in this city. Keep up the great work!

  • ThomDC

    Sally Berk is a fraud, who cares what she thinks? 'Point person", what does that mean? She needs cute language to make up for what she lacks in credentials.
    It is always great fun to see her smacked down by actual experts with experience and credentials.

  • Ellen McCarthy

    @ Downtown Rez "Some would say that, not all.
    In the spectrum of proponents, it’s fair to say she’s less enthusiastic than Tregoning or Alpert."

    Hogwash! I'll put my Smart Growth credentials up against anyone's! Let's start with 1988-1991 -- you wouldn't even BE a downtown rez if a very small group of us, including preservationists like Sally Berk and Steve Callcott, had not fought (and I mean FOUGHT) a two year battle against virtually the entire development community and most of their zoning law firms to get the zoning overlay in place that requires Downtown housing, arts and retail, as well as preservation. It also substantially increased density. And Tersh Boasberg, a major preservationist, was the deciding vote on the Zoning Commission.

    Then try reading the new Comprehensive Plan (subtitled Growing an Inclusive City), and look at the Smart Growth zoning that the Office of Planning put in place when I was there, for areas like The Yards and the Ballpark District, or look at the numerous PUD's that OP supported that were huge fights with NIMBYs. Lastly, I'll just mention the scars from fighting the NIMBY's for the Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Study.

    Please know your facts before you cast aspersions.

    And while I'm at it, let me say that the notion that preservation is inconsistent with economic development and smart growth is just wrong-headed. Which is not to say that there aren't several who have tried to use historic preservation arguments when what they were really trying to do is stop a project. But all you have to do is look at the area of Downtown from 11th to 6th and D to Eye, and you see many projects that have preserved historic buildings, (sometimes just facades, true), incorporating them into high-rise buildings, that, by virtue of the historic buildings at street level, have created a vibrance and quality of place that is extraordinary, and also extremely successful economically. Some examples include: Karchem's Gallup Building/Masonic Temple, Jemal's Atlantic Building, Jemal's Ventana, Gund's The Lansburgh's, JPI's Square 457, Carr's Terrell Place, and I could go on. In addition, special merit conditions, under our Historic Preservation Law, many of which I personally participated in, gave us the E Street Cinemas, housing at 7th and E, below-market artists' studios in the 900 block of E and F Streets, and a requirement for a club or live entertainment space in the old 9:30 club space. Really Smart Growth is more than density -- it is creating intensity AND a sense of place, and preservation can play an important role in that process.

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