Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tunlaw Street alley dispute

The City Paper has reported on the ongoing dispute in Glover Park:

The alley running between Hall Place NW and Tunlaw Road NW in Glover Park is hardly an alley anymore. It's narrow and choked with weeds, and bamboo makes it impassable sans machete. Jersey barriers block one entrance, and a retaining wall holding up one side of the alley appears to be crumbling.

Hall Place resident Tim Robinson obtained permits to park in a spot behind his house last summer. So he called the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to have the jersey barriers at the front of the alley removed. But soon after they'd been taken away, Tunlaw Road property owner Ron Bitondo had them put back, citing the instability of the retaining wall. (The alley sits 8 feet above the edge of Bitondo's property.)

Robinson says DDOT officials told him they'd hire an engineering firm to analyze the alley and come up with some proposals for fixing it, but a short while later, another DDOT official—Robinson doesn't remember exactly who—said nothing was going to happen with the alley because of a “political issue with your neighbor.”

Bitondo co-chaired D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp’s mayoral campaign. Says Robinson, “Linda Cropp is in his pocket.”

In the fall, Bitondo submitted an application to close the alley to the city surveyor, complete with a petition with neighbors’ signatures and a $1,870 fee. His petition has wound up as a bill before the D.C. Council to have the alley closed—typical alley-closing procedure.

And now rages a fight that's seen neighbors taking sides—one side of the alley against the other. The Tunlaw folks who live down below the alley support closure; Hall Placers want it left alone for a variety of reasons, the chief one being that a closed alley reverts to private ownership; they'd be responsible for long-neglected pieces of land and would have to pay taxes on it, too.

At an Oct. 10 D.C. Council hearing on the alley, Robinson forced Cropp to acknowledge that she had more-than-typical relationship with Bitondo. But Cropp denied that his financial support of her campaign had anything to do with the alley legislation.

A city employee testified at the hearing that the rules had been followed, and Bitondo denies any impropriety. “It's taking the normal process across the board,” he says.

There is an update to this story. On the Glover Park Listserv one resident posted her report of the proceedings:

For those who asked me to report on yesterday's City Council hearing regarding a proposal to close the alley that runs behind the 2100 blocks of Tunlaw Road and Hall Place:

There was a gigantic turnout, a few dozen people, of whom about 20 testified (including me). More than half of those who testified (mainly Hall Place residents) were strongly opposed. The people in favor (mainly residents of Tunlaw) were as strongly in favor. This week's ANC meeting (7 pm Thursday at Guy Mason) should be interesting! I testified against, because closing the now-impassable alley would prevent its ever being used as a public footpath from 37th St. to the commercial district.

• Reasons to close the alley include that people like the privacy and serenity afforded by the greenery growing there now. People on Tunlaw, a whole house-height lower than Hall Place, also count on the green space to filter and divert heavy rains.

• Reasons not to close the alley include that people want to study whether the alley can be re-opened to car traffic. More than one resident of Hall Place has been granted a permit to park behind his house, but there's no way currently to get his car back there.

• The DC Dept of Transportation seems to have issued two conflicting opinions on whether the alley can be used in the future for vehicular traffic. (The retaining wall that supports it failed in 1961 and was reassembled rather than replaced.)

• The current bill would split up the alley into segments and give each segment to the property owner whose land abuts it. No one, even the people in favor of closing the alley, seems to want that. There was talk of changing the bill so that the
alley would stay public but would be limited to foot traffic.

• People whos land abuts the alley have different ideas of how it could be used, including possibly opening it for foot traffic but installing locked gates that only those adjacent to the alley would have keys to.

• Tamela Gordon, our ANC chair, asked Linda Cropp not to let the City Council act until the ANC has had a chance to investigate the matter.

• Will Miller, who is running unopposed for ANC from the single-member district that includes the alley, asked Mrs. Cropp not to let the Council act before those whose property abuts the alley had gotten together to discuss the matter.

• My new hero, a guy named Roger who lives on a part of Hall Place that has a functional back alley, said that he has no trouble with the people who use his alley as a footpath and that he would like to see the whole alley opened for pedestrian traffic.

There, end of objective report. OK, the part about Roger was not objective. Whatevs. It seems to me that the disposition of this publicly owned land should not be decided only by those whose property abuts it, especially if they're considering installing locked gates. People who want to live adjacent to private green space should maybe buy houses adjacent to private green space. Just a thought.

Thanks to those who signed in support of my testimony. If you have not contacted me but are in favor of keeping the alley open for possible future public uses, including as a footpath, let me know. To repeat from an earlier post, there is no current proposal to build a footpath. The question is whether such a footpath could *ever* be built.

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