Friday, June 19, 2009

CPCA Sets Process Going Forward

Apparently the leadership of the Cleveland Park Citizen's Association has heard the clarion call from the residents of the community and have set the date for the annual elections which, by the by-laws, should have been held June 6th.

The rescheduled date is Tuesday, September 29th at 7:00PM. The CPCA has also pledged to hold a candidates forum for those who intend to run for elective office in the organization. The date for this event is to be determined.

Van Ness Walgreens Update

An update on the previously discussed Walgreens in Van Ness from the Tsarchitect blog.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

As the Cleveland Park community awaits an announcement for the rescheduled elections, pro- and con- posts continue to appear on the neighborhood listserv. Former ANC Chair Nancy MacWood (and current Commissioner) offered this defense of CPCA President George Idelson:

I have read many of the postings about CPCA and George Idelson over the past few weeks. I have worked with CPCA on a variety of issues over the past 8 years as an ANC commissioner and have known George since he became president of CPCA. This is a personal note because I think it is time to share my experience with the community association and with George, specifically. My intention is not to defend George --- he is a tough guy, but to provide some context for considering the future of CPCA and George's role in getting it to where it is today.

I want to start by saying that George is a friend of mine, I respect him. Do we agree on all matters? No. But I admire the process he uses for arriving at decisions. George asks people he thinks might be knowledgeable on an issue to challenge his developing views. He will come back to you with more questions as he hears from other people and considers what you have said. He will often schedule a meeting around a topic that he thinks is unresolved but of critical interest to the community or to the city. That might be in his living room or during a CPCA meeting. More than likely, there will be a debate format and if its an official CPCA meeting there will more than likely be panelists representing different points of view.

George also has a penchant for urging city officials to connect with the community by attending meetings and staying for questions and answers; no free rides for them to just get out their message. He has joined the Woodley Park Community Association and Palisades Community Association on presenting issues of interest or concern beyond Cleveland Park. He is a collaborative guy by nature and he never thinks that he is the sage of Cleveland Park. George knows he is representing an educated, well informed, and committed community that is increasingly diverse and he recognizes that there are new pressures on the community and the city to change in a variety of ways. George has enough experience to know that there is positive synergy from communities like ours and times like these, but also big challenges to prevent the community from splintering. How you build community is debatable but I think George has demonstrated that his tactic is to get out balanced information, let residents ask questions and, at a minimum, help residents to develop an understanding of the other guy's opinion.

So why so much criticism and focus on CPCA right now? It seems to be two issues: opposition to the Giant PUD and the postponement of the CPCA election. The irony, and probably what is most painful to George, is that on the Giant issue he spent years trying to avoid any opposition at all to the PUD. He attended probably 20 meetings since 2005 with Stop & Shop representatives encouraging them to improve the store immediately while developing plans for expansion and renovation. He repeatedly advised S&S that they had an opportunity to do something of great benefit to the community and that could serve as a model for other DC communities that grapple with development if it was done sensitively. He also told them that he thought the overlay was critical to the success of the project. It wasn't until the PUD application was filed that he learned, as did everyone, that the overlay wasn't mentioned and that the Office of Planning interpreted that silence to mean an approved PUD would end the implementation of the overlay restriction on restaurants and bars.

The overlay is an issue that has been championed by CPCA for many years. George inherited the organizational commitment to the overlay. What's so great about the overlay? It is only significant if you value a variety of retail and services in the immediate commercial area, and secondarily want to try to control traffic and parking problems. There seems to be growing evidence, or at least more vocal advocates, for the view that residents want more restaurants and less access to other types of shops. Its not inevitable that our commercial areas transform into more entertainment districts, but it may be a preference. Nonetheless, CPCA ,under George's leadership, has spent countless hours trying to update the overlay so that eating establishments that primarily serve the neighborhood could locate here. It took years to convince the Zoning Commission and many meetings with the Office of Planning to make needed changes. CPCA finally accomplished that and then set out to make sure the Zoning Administrator was implementing the rules in a sensible way. George tracked down non-resident owners of CP commercial buildings to ask about filling vacant sites and he questioned real estate brokers about how aggressively and creatively they were marketing our area. So the silence on the overlay and later the active effort to remove the overlay from the Giant PUD pushed CPCA into a decision on an unresolved issue for the community, but one that CPCA had strived to preserve and modernize while the debate continued.

CPCA could have gone the route of "yes, but." The executive committee has said that they voted to be "no, but" because that position allowed them more time to testify and the ability to question witnesses. The Zoning Commission doesn't sanction gray areas. In my view, CPCA and George decided that they could not abandon the overlay and that they could argue persuasively to the Zoning Commission that it was important to maintain the overlay to ensure local retail options and to avoid the parking supply/demand and traffic congestion problems existing in neighborhoods where many restaurants have located. I believe George felt confident in recommending this position because S&S had consistently said that they had no objection to the overlay and only wanted a few more restaurants, which CPCA endorsed. There was never an issue of trading the overlay for an improved grocery store.

Then there is the his own account George was presented with a large bundle of new memberships that coincided with the perceived deadline for eligibility to vote in an election of officers. Rumors of "coups" and other nefarious undertakings circulated and the CPCA executive committee reacted with apparently one main goal: to ensure that as many residents as wanted could vote. To be sure one person's coup may be another person's lesson in democracy. Democracy can be ugly but one of its enduring tenants is the right to vote in a fair election. Is it fair to let a group energized by the Giant development control the CPCA elections while the rest of the community sleeps? Is it fair to the organized group that had a winning strategy to delay the election so that other groups could organize prior to the election? Knowing George, as I do, there was not a clear choice. Disclosure -- he asked me to attend a meeting with some members of the executive board to help sort out the options available under the bylaws and precedent. It was a difficult meeting and I suspect subsequent meetings were more difficult. In the end I think George decided to risk his personal reputation in order to allow as many as residents as were interested to vote on the future of CPCA and determine who would lead it into the future. I doubt very strongly that George will offer his services again and that is not a comment on anything that has been said --- I think George feels that he has given his all to the community, made informed judgments, and trusted and respected the CP residents. He has relished his opportunity to steward CPCA and I am sure nothing has changed regarding his love for this community and its residents.

Whatever your views on the Giant development or the CPCA election postponement, I hope that this much too long email will help to put the last few months of turmoil into some perspective. CPCA has been a credit to our community. The postponement of the election may indeed be a gift to the community that allows time for each of us to think about what is important to us about Cleveland Park, what changes we would like to see, what concerns or desires of our neighbors we may not have considered or been aware of, and how we manage to continue to have the most wonderful community in the city.

Here is one of what will probably be a number of responses:

The following four comments were particularly interesting:

1) "...intention is not to defend George...but to provide some context for considering the future of CPCA and George's role..."
2) "large bundle of new memberships that coincided with the perceived deadline for eligibility to vote in an election of officers."
3) "rumors of 'coups' and other nefarious undertakings."
4) "Democracy can be ugly but one of its enduring tenants is the right to vote in a fair election."

On point 1, isn't Mr. Idleson much better placed than anyone else to explain his own rationale, his own community building philosophy, and so forth?

On point 2, bylaws exist for a variety of reasons. Bylaws make it clear to members how an organization operates and prevent organization leaders (who are elected to act on the behalf of members) from changing the rules at random and for their own convenience. Don't the CPCA bylaws clearly state a deadline for individual members' eligibility to vote in an election? If so, how is this a 'perceived' deadline? The bylaws either speak to a deadline or they don't.

As to point 3, the scheduling of the CPCA election was not a secret. As I understand it, it is held in June of every year. It seems to me that those who wanted to vote in this election were not staging a coup--in fact, as I understand such things, coups generally are violent affairs that dispense with the finer points of elections. To call an orderly effort to express the opinion of a large, organized group of CPCA members a coup is to misrepresent an effort to have voices heard.

How can it be defensible to cancel an election that from all appearances was going to be well attended in order to "ensure as many residents as wanted could vote"? I suggest that if Mr. Idleson et. al. were truly interested in voter turnout, and were truly interested in ensuring as many residents as wanted to could vote, he/they would have expended some amount of energy well in advance of the election in ensuring this in fact occurred. As far as I can tell, Mr. Idleson has never expended effort to ensure as many residents as possible could vote, and certainly has never cancelled an election to ensure as many members as possible could vote, so why on Earth start in May, 2009?

As to point 4, I need help understanding how getting out the vote, a time honored method of community activism, makes an election unfair. How is growing membership in an organization that should welcome more members unfair? How is advocating a message of change and growth unfair? How is operating within the published bylaws of one's own community organization unfair? And as to the assertion "Is it fair to let a group...control the CPCA elections while the rest of the community sleeps?", I ask were those characterized as sleeping going to be disenfranchised? Were they going to be prevented from voting? Since when is not paying attention the same as disenfranchisement? The new members of CPCA were not going to "control" the election. They simply were going to arrive at the appointed place at the appointed time and vote. Does the possibility that the candidates the new members supported were going to win either prevent others from voting or make the election unfair?

To close, I do not believe the move by the CPCA executive committee, which has at no time in the past postponed elections in order to increase voter turnout and has never taken extraordinary efforts to increase the number of voting members at an election, is a gift to the community, or that it reflects well on this wonderful community of ours.

There have been few, if any personal attacks of Mr. Idelson or his character. However, there have been many questions raised about the actions of the CPCA under his leadership. They are two very different elements of this discussion, and playing on any sort of sympathy for someone who has chosen to lead an organization for 5+ terms confuses the core issues that residents may have and does nothing constructive to move the community past the current divide.

Monday, June 15, 2009

цarьchitect on Giant and Wisconsin Avenue

The Tsarchitect blog has an entry about Giant with an interesting passage:

Wisconsin Avenue needs more of this healthy density. The example that this sets will be a lesson to Ward 3, demonstrating how a few stores and few more stories can create an enjoyable neighborhood center. Not only will the extreme non-failure of the site be ammunition for people who support smart growth, it will serve as a billboard for those who are not engaged in debates, that urbanism is possible in Northwest.

He includes an admonition that pedestrian improvements and mass transportation enhancements are key components to a successful result.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

DC Metrocentric: TD Bank Update

The DC Metrocentric Blog has this update on the former Cinema site at Ellicot and Wisconsin.

Zoning Commission: Giant is Planned Appropriately

In its June 8th hearing, the Zoning Commissioned approved the Giant PUD application 4-0 without conditions.

The Commission did ask the applicant to revisit the loading dock issue which may impact the Idaho Street residents, but this seemed to be a suggestion and not necessarily part of the future written order.

The Commissioners reviewed each of the issues: loading, traffic, parking, land use, zoning and the relationship to the Comprehensive Plan and found the applicant had sufficiently addressed each of the areas of concern.

What is next for this project?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Don't like your Association? Start another one!

In the recent discussion over Community Associations, one Friendship Heights activist offered this advice:

...membership in neighborhood associations is voluntary and no such
group has monopolistic powers. If you think an existing neighborhood
organization represents a small out-of-touch group, you can always start another one.

That seems to be a standard operating procedure in upper Northwest, where there is no shortage of Community Associations representing the masses.

There is the Alliance for Rational Development and the Committee to Stop Tenleytown Overdevelopment which have no mention of who it is, who the leadership is, any bylaws or dues, how to join etc.;

The Friendship Neighborhood Association features a little used, closed Yahoo Listserv and no other website or additional information.

There is the Fort Gaines Citizens Association of which there is virtually no information.

The Friendship-Tenley Neighborhood Association which seems to exist, or have existed in the early 2000's. but appears to be moribund now.

Then there is the Tenleytown Historical Society, and the Tenleytown Neighborhood Association whose site hadn't been updated since 2005 and seems to be a dead link anyhow - the TNA is a member of the Federation of Community Associations;

Finally, there is Ward 3 Vision which is a campaign, not a membership organization.

So when activists claim that "six different organizations who passed resolutions" are the voice of the broader community, who are these organizations, how many members do they have, who is their leadership? What is their outreach, and how do they justify speaking on behalf of a community of thousands of residents? Is there outreach or notice given for new membership? Is there notice given that a resolution is to be discussed or acted upon?

Certainly the Tenleytown Historical Society provides programming and education, and has sponsored historic landmark applications to the city, and the Tenleytown Neighborhood Association appears to be a member of the Federation of Citizens Associations.

Perhaps the actions of the CPCA open the door to shed light on other community groups throughout the Ward and the City?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Some Defense of the CPCA

Three listserv contributors have come to the defense of the Executive Committee of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association. Longtime resident Margaret Lenzner suggests:

The suggestion that postponing the annual meeting "disenfranchises" anyone is ridiculous. In fact, the delay will fully and indisputably enfranchise all. Not only will there will be no question of whether a new member joined in time for a pre-meeting/vote deadline, but members won't be conflicted by the year-end school events so prominent on many calendars for June 6.

Jeff Davis says that he wants CPCA to use online polls to identify issues and assess neighborhood views, and to allow members to voice opinions (and, even, to vote?) without attending meetings. I agree that internet use can be a valuable tool, but it is no substitute for meetings. I hope that all members, new and old, will appreciate that attending meetings regularly, meeting other members in person, and becoming actively involved in person -- not just online -- is essential to building and maintaining a healthy community association. It isn't always easy, but it's worth it.

Meanwhile, Friendship Height resident Sue Hemberger argues:

A hostile takeover campaign of a voluntary association based on a single issue and with votes essentially buyable (pay the membership fee and you get a vote) is a crisis not so much because it threatens the current leadership but because it threatens the association as a whole. You can't tell whether the newcomers will stay and put in the hard work necessary to keep an organization like this alive or whether the goal is just to destroy/neutralize the organization as a power base for the "other side." That's why a kind of sweat equity requirement might be functional.

Advocates for a reinvigorated CPCA make a different argument:

Over and over the new members have said that their goal was to revitalize the CPCA by providing better communications with its members and more participation. We want to keep the effective members of the current leadership and tried to develop a joint slate in keeping with the precedents of uncontested elections with the CPCA. Because the CPCA now has over 500 members, it is ludicrous to think that a small minority could "destroy/neutralize the organization". Instead, the new members are making a major commitment to improve the organization.

For example, I volunteered to start a listserve to facilitate internal communication. This is not a casual commitment but one that I view as at least a five year effort. And not an easy effort at that. The executive committee of the CPCA wants me to shut down the listserve and stop all unsupervised internal discussions. The executive committee will not help me verify who is a member of the CPCA and so I have to use addresses and rely on the word of the people joining.

To use terms like "hostile takeover", "votes essentially buyable" and "destroy/neutralize" in one paragraph is more than mischaracterization, it is insulting our intelligence. I have put in lots of sweat equity over the years to improve Cleveland Park and for a person in Friendship Heights to say that I should have no right to vote in a Cleveland Park organization is more than annoying.

Many of the new members of the CPCA are more than ten-year residents of the neighborhood, some even have more tenure than the entrenched leadership of the organization! Should these variables matter in the lifeblood of the community and its community association?

Friday, June 05, 2009

ANC 3E meeting: June 11, 2009

Among the agenda items:

Discussion of, and possible vote on, request for zoning relief to permit use of off site parking at Lord & Taylor lot for retail development at Western Ave. and Jennifer Street.

Discussion of status of 5013 Belt Road

Discussion of and possible vote on request for letter seeking elimination or alteration of N8 bus travel on Yuma Street.

Discussion of and possible vote on resolution regarding the "Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2009," which would, in part, require construction of a sidewalk on at least one side of the street in most instances when the District resurfaces or reconstructs streets, curbs, or gutters.

Monday, June 01, 2009

History of the Commerical Overlay in Cleveland Park and Woodley Park

In light of the discssion about the CPCA and the Zoning Overlay in Cleveland Park, former ANC Commissioner and zoning expert Ann Loikow has provided the following history:

ANC Commissioner Reeves asked why if CPCA has been working on the overlay for years it wasn't referred to the ANC. ANC 3C has been involved in the the issue of the neighborhood commercial overlay districts for twenty years.

ANC 3C was intimately involved in the creation of the neighborhood commercial overlay zones in Cleveland Park (both on Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues) and in Woodley Park which the Zoning Commission created in May 1989 (Zoning Commission Order No. 616, cases No. 86-26 and 87-27). These cases grew out of the effort to eliminate inconsistencies between the Zoning Regulations and the 1984-85 Comprehensive Plan Land Use Element. ANC 3C, and in particular Commissioner Phil Mendelson, the Cleveland Park Citizens Association (CPCA), the Woodley Park Community Association (WPCA), and the Cleveland Park Historical Society, among others, participated actively in these cases. As an Office of Planning's report noted these overlays were designed to ensure the compatibility of the use and scale of development in these neighborhood commercial centers with the surrounding residential areas. The limitation on uses was designed to help maintain a mix of neighborhood retail and services and ensure that there were a sufficient volume of both daytime and night-time customers to keep the businesses there economically viable. However, the overlays' limitations on eating and drinking establishments were never really implemented.

In 2000, both ANC 3C (which adopted a resolution on the issue in January 2000), individual commissioners from Woodley Park and Cleveland Park, CPCA and various community members sought to get the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to enforce the limitations on eating and drinking establishments in the overlay districts. In fact, the Zoning Administrator made a formal presentation about this to the ANC at its June 2000 meeting. As a result of this, DCRA issued proposed procedures for implementing the the limitation for eating or drinking establishments in the neighborhood commercial overlay districts in February 2002 which it adopted in May 2002. ANC 3C and CPCA and several individual District residents formally commented on the procedures.

In May 2002, in order to consider some of the concerns raised by the Zoning Administrator and DCRA on how to interpret the overlay regulations, the Zoning Commission published a notice of public hearing to be held in July 2002 on Case 02-06, "Text Amendments to Neighborhood Commercial Overlay District: Limitation for Eating or Drinking Establishments." In December 2002, the Zoning Commission tasked the Corporation Counsel with producing a proposed replacement or amended text. In November 2003, CPCA approved a resolution proposing a text amendment to the Zoning Commission to eliminate the ambiguities in the regulation regarding the limitation on eating and drinking establishments. The Zoning Commission noticed a second public hearing on Case 02-06 which was held in September 2005. At its December 2005 meeting, the Zoning Commission itself proposed an alternative solution and decided to hold further public hearings. This was all covered extensively in The Northwest Current.

In May 2006, ANC 6A petitioned the Zoning Commission to amend the Zoning Regulations to revise the definitions of "restaurants" and "fast food restaurants," among other things. The Zoning Commission set down the case as Case No. 06-23, "Text Amendment - Eating Establishment Definitions," in March 2007 and noticed a public hearing to be held in April 2007. ANC 3C, CPCA and WPCA, among others, participated in this case. The Zoning Commission approved a final order on the text amendments in Case No. 06-23 in July 2007.

The Zoning Commission's consideration and adoption of the neighborhood commercial overlay regulations has been a public process, of which both the public and the ANCs have been notified. ANC 3C, CPCA, WPCA and other neighborhood groups and individuals, as well as others from across the city, have been active participants in the process over the past twenty years. There is a substantial public record on the issue, as well as much news coverage, particularly in The Northwest Current, that is there for anyone who wishes to learn about it.