Housing Complex

This Is How Much People Care About Parking

I'll dispense with the drama first: Last night, after a yearlong debate over Douglas Development's plans to build a six-story mixed-use development in Tenleytown without off-street parking, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission approved the plan unanimously. With ANC 3E's nonbinding stamp of approval, it goes to the Zoning Commission for a ruling on Douglas' application for zoning changes and exemptions.

But that's not really the drama, now, is it? No, it was what happened before the vote at last night's ANC meeting that highlighted the tempestuous emotions surrounding the parking issue.

ANC Commissioner Jonathan Bender—by no means the commissioner most gung-ho about the development during the negotiations with Douglas—opened the discussion by laying out the plans for the former Babe's Billiards site at Wisconsin Ave. and Brandywine St. NW.

"Babe's has been on our agenda on and off since 2009, and [Douglas has] been in here three or four times," Bender said. After the long negotiations, "we got there, as of a couple days ago. Better late than never."

"The piece of this that's most novel is that the project will not have any on-site parking," Bender continued, noting that there would be a handicapped space and a Zipcar space. "I think it's true that all of us here and many residents think this can actually be a benefit," due to reduced traffic.

Any questions?

"What is the matter with you?" shouted one older white woman (in a crowd, it must be said, consisting mostly of older white women; one woman—opposed to the project, naturally—was actually knitting throughout the meeting). "Do you not have a brain?"

She charged the commissioners with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for not providing additional handicapped spaces. Then she changed tactics and alleged that the single Zipcar space would block traffic on Wisconsin Avenue.

"One car?" an ANC commissioner asked, incredulous. The woman responded that she knows Wisconsin traffic well, and one car can throw everything off balance.

Tenleytown Neighbor Association President Juliet Six then read off a laundry list of complaints from a lawyer friend of hers about the Douglas-ANC memorandum of understanding. Bender, himself a lawyer, picked them apart one by one.

One woman in the crowd was dissatisfied with Bender's approach. "You seem very smug about this," she said. "You are being very condescending."

"That's because it's written in a condescending manner," he retorted.

Some neighbors, including inveterate development opponent Sue Hemberger, raised well-informed objections to various aspects of the proposal. But at other times, the meeting seemed to descend into a parody of NIMBYism.

When commissioner Beverly Sklover mentioned the environmentally friendly nature of the project and called it a "pilot program," one woman murmured, "Why's it have to be in our neighborhood?"

Another woman raised her voice as she interjected: "It's my neighborhood, and you're imposing green on us. Do this where you live, not where I live."

As the tensions rose, ANC chair Matthew Frumin said, "I feel like we're trying to hold the dam and it's not going to succeed." A woman in the audience shouted: "Good!"

Another woman stood up to complain that the occasional repairmen working on the building would have no place to park. "The emperor has no clothes!" she yelled.

The commissioners sought to parry the various attacks—Bender had the highlight when, presented with a series of outlandish hypotheticals, replied, "And the Nats could have won in three"—but the tensions boiled over when commissioner Tom Quinn got fed up with the accusations from chronic naysayer Marilyn Simon.

"That's your crazy philosophy," Quinn told Simon.

"I don't think you listened to me," Simon said.

"I try not to," Quinn replied, provoking a plea from Sklover to behave like adults.

But there were a few statements of support—mostly from men below the room's median age—including the final comment, thanking the visibly exhausted ANC commissioners. "I think it's remarkable that you have this much strength," the man said.

And then came the unanimous vote—a "fait accompli," in the words of one disappointed neighbor—that sent the residents of Tenleytown out into the cold night, shaking their heads.

CORRECTION, October 18: A quote that initially appeared in this post was attributed to Juliet Six. Six emails to say that she was not the one who spoke those words but does not know who did. That quote has been removed. We regret the error.

Rendering courtesy of The Bond at Tenley

  • DC Guy

    Thank you for covering this. As I said in a previous comment, development issues in Tenleytown are a sport. Break out the popcorn before the zoning commission hearings on this proposal!

    As I understand it from reading the MOU posted here a couple of days ago, the developer is paying several hundred thousand dollars to underground the utilities in that area. I think these Ward 3 blue hairs need to get out a little more and see how the city has changed since 1985. It is almost like that scene from "Being There" when Peter Sellers comes outside of his residence for the first time in decades, to a whole new world.

  • VibeGuy

    Thank you for covering the meeting, and for calling it as it was. It's refreshing to FINALLY have a perspective that defines the opposition as what it truly was -- NIMBYism of the highest order. I don't like to pull the NIMBY card, but the venom spewed by several of the attendees last night was laced with pure NIMBY sentiments as quoted in the article -- e.g., "Why's it have to be in our neighborhood?" "It's my neighborhood, and you're imposing green on us. Do this where you live, not where I live."

    Kudos to the Commissioners for standing up to the incredibly rude bullies. When will people learn that you get nowhere with such childish behavior, no matter what your viewpoint.

  • Peever

    Of course, since the ANC's decision has NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER, none of this really matters, except to give crazies a forum in which to exhaust their crazy, crazy lungs.

  • Thomas Meixner

    Actually the audience sounds less like NIMBY's than CAVE's (Citizens against virtually everything).

  • http://tsarchitect.nsflanagan.net Neil Flanagan

    When commissioner Beverly Sklover mentioned the environmentally friendly nature of the project and called it a "pilot program," one woman murmured, "Why's it have to be in our neighborhood?"'

    Good lord. Where would she put it? Seriously - in whose neighborhood? Because invariably, it's going to be in neighborhoods that have less political clout and free time. So, does she not care if those neighborhoods change, or is she just against everything.

  • Typical DC BS

    Will be interesting to see how the "no parking spaces" concept works. Will there be a discount to the rental rates in this building because they don't offer this amenity?

    Hope there is follow-up on how well this concept works.

  • DC Guy

    @Typical

    That is the whole point. You are decoupling housing from car storage, so the rental rates ought to reflect that discount as compared to other housing units which have parking.

  • z-man

    I agree with the comment about "citizens against virtually everything." I used to work in Tenleytown and it is a highly underdeveloped central area of DC. It heavily reminded me of living in Capitol Hill.

    Yes, the developer is getting away with a huge amount of cost by forgoing the provided parking, but the lack of development in that area has provided tons of on street parking that makes other residences in NW drool. The city of DC is going through some huge changes and the lack of understanding by some of the city's residents can not stand in the way of making this city an economic power house.

    It boils down to selfishness. Move to the burbs.

  • http://leftforledroit.com Left for LeDroit

    @Typical

    Separating the apartment rent from parking space rent is nothing exotic. In fact, it's somewhat typical already. Leasing options vary, but multi-family projects in cities tend to charge separately for parking. In suburbs, sometimes the rent includes a parking space, sometimes it doesn't.

  • Alf

    To Z-man, you might wanna' check your map. When it comes to Washington, Tenley/AU Park aren't exactly a "central area of DC," they're on the periphery. "Move to the 'burbs"? They ARE more like the 'burbs!

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  • MJ

    I love stories that remind me that the crazies don't plague only my capitol hill neighborhood. They're everywhere.

  • DC Native

    I'm about to move into the Tenleytown house I grew up in and can't wait to join the fun!

  • Tenley Gal

    This warms my heart. So sad to have missed the meeting. Finally, the tide has turned and the crazies aren't running the ANC. How refreshing. Thanks so much to Jon, Matt, Tom, Sam and Beverly(?!) for taking the heat on this.

  • Typical DC BS

    @DC Guy and Left for LeDroit: I'll have to call and see what their rental rates will be and compare it to other buildings in the area, net of parking. I was very aware that if you have off-street parking in the city, you typically pay extra for parking, but to not offer it at all in a brand-new building is unique. If they don't have to build underground parking, it should save them a ton of money during construction and enable lower rents.

    But, sometimes that reduced costs doesn't get passed on to renters, as developers justify higher rents because it's "new construction" or "market-based rents" when you ask why the rent doesn't reflect the lack of a certain amenity.

  • D

    Rents won't be "discounted." That's not how the market works. Rents will be set at what the market will bear at a point in time and a renter's willingness to pay that rent for this particular building. The lower costs the developer will enjoy only impact whether or not the project moves forward--they have rent projections over a number of years based on their specs, and as someone already pointed out if they were forced to build parking they would have to greatly increase the size of the project in order to reach the rate of return they require based on those projections. Their projections could be wrong--there are a lot of factors that influence rental prices and I'm fairly certain that aside from Kreskin no one has discovered how to predict the future.

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  • Faith Tanney

    Just found this article. Condescending comments regarding women would not have been tolerated against any other group (e.g., African-Americans, Jewish people, Muslims). Why is it OK to slam women in our society? Seems sexist to me. Please watch your prejudice against women, even women who (horrors) chose to knit in public.

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