Housing Complex

C100 Wants Harry Potter-Style P.R. Campaign to Protect Neighborhoods “Under Attack”

Nowhere is safe! (Dailybillboard.blogspot.com)

Oh dear. The last time the Committee of 100 on the Federal City's zoning chair spouted off on some issue, I suggested that the venerable organization could use a better public relations strategy. Lo and behold, a few months later, the Business Journal reported that they'd hired a P.R. firm to modernize their image.

It doesn't seem to have done much good. On the Historic Washington listserv yesterday, Alma Gates penned another passionate letter calling for a campaign to warn the public about the pernicious effects of the comprehensive zoning update that's nearing completion. Here are some excerpts:

Neighborhood preservation is of great concern because many of the special exception requirements under the current code will become matter-of-right under the [zoning regulations rewrite]. It is reasonable to expect some changes to neighborhoods, but their character, that which makes them unique and defined, should not change. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee neighborhood character will survive under the new zoning code. Given the proposed changes, it's reasonable to ask, "Why have zoning?" Allowed uses in zone districts will be expanded, required off street parking will be significantly diminished, setback and height measurements will change. It is reasonable to expect neighborhood character will also change. [...]

Zoning is a very difficult concept to grasp and as a result the public has ignored many opportunities to actively participate in the process over the past four years. On the whole, even ANCs have been absent at the table. Left unchallenged, the new code will substantially change neighborhood character. Preservation will no longer be an option.

A public education campaign on the scale of Time Warner's publicity for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2." is needed to wake up residents to the fact their neighborhoods will soon be under attack by developers taking advantage of the increased density that the new code permits. Such a campaign is not going to come from the Office of Planning, the Council or the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Rather, they are more intent on pushing through a new set of zoning regulations that will alter neighborhood character and allow greater height and density throughout the city. [...]

It's time for residents in every ward of the city to take back their neighborhoods. For too long a few have manipulated the thinking of many leaders in the city. If you are serious about a public education campaign begin your effort today to preserve neighborhood character. The C100 and Federation plan to work actively to get the word out to the public about the zoning changes and we hope the preservation community will support and join in our efforts.

Clearly, preservationists should have an outreach strategy to help the public understand why historic buildings and districts should be protected. Portraying Planning Director Harriet Tregoning as Voldemort, or whatever Gates meant by a public education campaign on the scale of what Time Warner did to promote the last Harry Potter movie, probably isn't it.

I'd actually be interested to see specifics on how Gates thinks that the zoning update is going to destroy neighborhood character, given that many changes actually help preserve green space and setbacks. If she thinks she has a compelling argument for why the zoning update is so threatening, I imagine the public might be interested too. But the Committee of 100 has no idea how to do public outreach, besides sending letters, doing reports, and offering testimony. So they might want to start by figuring that out first.

  • DC Guy

    I think the issue is that Ms. Gates and some of her 'fear of change' cohort have lived and breathed the current zoning code and its amendments since their derivation in the 1950's. Anything that wipes out the codes like a horcrux will have the same incremental effect on the Death Eate, er Committee of 100.

  • RT

    The Committee of 100 is actually Voldemort. What an awful collection of individuals. What's taking so long with the zoning update?? It's been 4+ years, hasn't it? Watch Gray come in and destroy it.

  • cminus

    I find it amusing that an organization whose very name is testimony to the exclusivity of its membership is worried that, "[f]or too long a few have manipulated the thinking of many leaders in the city". Isn't that their mission statement?

  • Bob

    It might surprise you to learn that there are a number of us in Washington who don't share Harriet Tregoning's vision that every neighborhood should have to resemble U Street.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Is it possible that those of us who have given testimony on the plan are actually in favor of it? I know that's tough for someone like Ms. Gates and the rest of the Cmte of 100 to swallow, but sometimes, you're just not the most popular kid in school.

  • TM

    And it might surprise you, Bob, that that neither Harriet nor Travis Parker feels that way too! OP has bent over backwards to extend this process to listen to groups like C100 (which is the epitome of the "few who have manipulated the thinking of many leaders"). The simple fact is that C100 isn't getting it's way despite the drawn out process. That's the destruction they fear: irrelevance.

    But in the end, C100 and OP are really not that far apart. What C100 really wants to do is to ensure every single special exception and variance procedure is as complicated as possible to make sure the "few who gave manipulated the thinking of many leaders" (ie, them) continue to manipulate.

  • Steve

    Maybe not Bob.

    But I would imagine no one wants more development like New York Avenue past Florida.

  • http://www.winchesterwalkapts.com/ Winchester Walk

    This is funny! hahaha. Well it's a case of wrong place at the wrong time. hahahaha

  • rg

    Steve hit the nail right on the head: the Committee of 100 is concerned with parking above all else. Neighborhood character is code for "we are afraid new development will make it more difficult for us to park and therefore more difficult for us to drive everywhere for everything." Under the current zoning code (which is better suited for a new suburb circa 1967 rather than a dense, mixed-use city originally built around a streetcar network and now with a subway), almost every new building must have a huge amount of parking. Simply put, if Dupont Circle or Capitol Hill burned to the ground, it would be illegal to rebuild them in their current form because they do not have enough parking.

    Look no further than a few posts up re: the old KFC at 15th & PA SE. That new building will be required to have parking (increasing building costs and decreasing the affordability of the apartments), even though it is one short block from a subway station, right in front of numerous bus routes with frequent service, across the street from a Zipcar lcation, two blocks from another Zipcar location, one block from a bike sharing station and within walking distance of numerous shops and services.

  • Lance

    " given that many changes actually help preserve green space and setbacks."

    This statement indicates that Lydia is one of those who could benefit from Alma's request that more information be released. From what's been learned to date, the changes do NOT actually help preserve green space and setbacks. They do the opposite.

  • http://dcjack.org Jack

    Being of rather advanced age, I remember the days when the ideal was a single-family house on a big lot with a lawn and a white picket fence and a two-car garage. I'd bet that many of the C100 members are still in that mind-set, and live in houses of that sort, out in the far reaches of Ward Three. But it's not 1955 any more, and the modern world is recognizing the benefits of compact, walkable, high-density neighborhoods, versus suburban sprawl.

    The current zoning regs were written for the days when cars ruled the city. A change is long overdue!

  • Lance

    @Jack, Actually, the proposed regulations will do far more to destroy the inner rowhouse neighborhoods than to do away with the idea of the single family house on a big lot. In addition to doing away with the rear setback for these properties, they also will permit commericial use of ANY property within something like half a mile from established commercial areas. This essentially does away with the idea of the living downtown (which incidentally the Committee of 100 first came up with and promoted over the past couple decades.) Because properties fetch higher rents (and sales prices) when for businesses than for residential, we can expect this 'establish a business anywhere' loophole to as surely destroy our downtown residential areas as just blantantly re-zoning these residential areas to commerical. Converting all these living downtown residential neighborhoods to commercial is something I suspect most people would oppose ... if only they knew. But, as Alma correctly states, the details of the plans have not been widely disseminated. Only platitudes have been circulated to date. You'd think at a minimum Lydia would ask why the plans AND implementation details haven't been disclosed.

  • Karl

    I too am of advanced age and live in a single family house where my children were raised. I like it here with the trees and birds. You prefer a high density neighborhood. There's plenty of room in the city for both lifestyles, so I'd appreciate it if you and Harriet didn't push your lifestyle on me -- please! I like the zoning for my area just fine. Nice of Lydia to afford old farts like us an opportunity to tell each other what we think.

  • EH

    I'm getting a little tired of this C100 bashing - seriously, if you have an opinion, state your opinion - don't just discredit someone else's as your lead. That's a pretty weak tactic.

    Also, this characterization by many of you that folks from the C100 are stuck in the 50's, reliant upon automobiles, etc. is load of crap. Sorry, but I know many of their members - and they live all over the City and (gasp), many are reliant upon metro for transportation. Some even ride bikes and take buses! Just because some of them have a different point of view doesn't mean they should be completely discredited.

    As with public policy issue, you are going to have a range of opinions and, with luck, a compromise that people can live with. I don't always agree with the C100, but I also don't agree with you or GGW sometimes either. I, for one, am glad we have a range of opinions defending a variety of interests. Frankly if we all just rolled over and drank the "smart growth" kool-aid spouted by Tregoning and her colleagues, I think we'd end up in a strange incongruous world of dense highrises, urban compost piles, streets lined by forests, no gas powered engines, and thousands of bicycles rolling aimlessly in every direction. Some might like this - but I don't.

    So Lydia, come off it. If you want to be useful, figure out how to reconcile differing opinions rather than trying to marginalize those you don't agree with. Otherwise it makes it look like you don't have any real purpose.

  • Bob See

    EH says Frankly if we all just rolled over and drank the "smart growth" kool-aid spouted by Tregoning and her colleagues

    and then has the nerve to say: If you want to be useful, figure out how to reconcile differing opinions rather than trying to marginalize those you don't agree with.

  • Bob See

    It's time for residents in every ward of the city to take back their neighborhoods.

    It's a bird...it's a plane...it's SuperNIMBY!!

  • EH

    @ Bob - differing opinons include my own. I am not a journalist, or pretending to be. I am simply a commentator on this board. I hold Lydia to a different standard.

  • Bob Loblaw

    If you think the Committee of 100 is exclusive, just think of how exclusive the DC land use bar (i.e., land use lawyers) is. They are the ones in control, working quietly behind the scenes.

    Most interesting: Steve Scher, the DC Bar's "representative" on OP's zoning rewrite task force, is neither a lawyer nor appointed by the DC Bar. DC Bar does not make appointments that are not required by law or court rule. Welcome to the world of Holland & Knight and, to a lesser extent, Pillsbury Winthrop. Now THAT is exclusive.

  • Bob Loblaw

    ... So between the crotchety old people on the Committee of 100 and the slick-as-snake oil land use lawyers whose clients stand to benefit even more handsomely from the zoning rewrite than they do under the existing rules, I'll side with the crotchety old people who have been around this block and played this particular game already.

  • http://DailyBillboard.blogspot.com Jason Hollywood

    Thanks for the photo use and credit - it's actually DailyBillboard.blogspot.com, not DailyBillboard.com - cheers!!

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Jason Hollywood

    Whoops, thanks, will change!

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