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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 7, Issue 7, May 2001
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

City Affairs from the Cockpit
Crestwood Area ANC Helps BZA See Through Developer’s Scheme
Student Car Registration Requirement
Homestead and Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Deduction Simplified
Noise Relief
Officers and Board
President’s Message
GWU Shoots for the Moon in Lawsuit: Delegates’ Input Needed
Keeping Track: District Revenue Bonds
Woodridge Activists Wow Assembly with Report on Million Dollar Grants
Office of People’s Council Goes after Gas Supply Program “Slamming”
DCRA’s Attempted End Run Around 70-Year-Old Billboard Law: Why?
Proposed Important ANC Law Amendment to Be Floated in Council Hearing
Land Use and Planning: Denial of Permit for Mentally Ill Was Not Illegal
Federation’s Legal Aid Foundation Begins Fundraising
Public Service Commission Hires Outside Firm to Investigate PEPCO’s Distribution System
Federation’s 91st Anniversary Awards Banquet Tuesday, June 5
Future Federation Assembly Meeting Dates


7: 00 P.M.

Honorable Linda Cropp
Chair, D.C. City Council

Action Status Reports
Other Business

The Charles Sumner School
1201 Seventeenth Street, N. W. (at M)


City Council chair Linda Cropp is our scheduled speaker for May. Known for her smooth direction of the council, Ms. Cropp also conducts key hearings of the Committee of the Whole. Unfailingly fair and courteous to citizen witnesses who testify in these hearings, she refuses to be distracted on the dais by lengthy sotto voce reports or conversations by staff aides or by telephone calls.

As much or more than any other counsel member, Ms. Cropp is at the nerve center of the city and is tuned into or a participant in all important events, trends and movements in the city. We look forward to how the city is moving, from the counsel perspective.

Mayor Will Be Banquet Speaker

From the Counsel perspective to the executive view of matters, Mayor Andrew Williams is the scheduled speaker at the Federation's 91 S` anniversary awards banquet June 5, at Fort McNair. If matters go as arranged, Mrs. Williams (Sr.) will open the banquet ceremonies by singing the Star Spangled Banner.

Federation Delegates Take to the Radio On Zoning Issues

Several Federation speakers appeared on WAMU radio Saturday, May 19, to present the citizen side of the George Washington University suits) against the city. Emceed by WAMU reporter Jim Rosenberg, Michael Thomas, Esq. and president Guy Gwynne were interviewed, along with spokesmen from the university side.

Overhaul of the DCMR (District of Columbia Municipal Regulations) in the Offing 

A long-needed update of the May 19, to present the citizen side of DCMR was mandated by the city council December 21, 2000 (D.C. Act 13-509). It provides that "Sec. 305(a) The Mayor shall: (1) Make available by May 1. 2001, a complete and current version of the . . . DCMR, with all sections complied by subject matter, and an index to the sections;" and (4) Make available through the Internet, by January 1, 2002, an electronic version of the official text of the DCMR, . . ." The D.C. Office of Documents advises that the update project is still in progress.

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Crestwood-Area ANC Helps BZA See Through Developers Scheme
Jim Jones (Crestwood)

At its hearing March 13, the Board of Zoning Adjustment reluctantly granted a continuance to the Poretsky Building Group in its application for a special exception to erect thirteen townhouses with 26 parking spaces at 1300 Missouri Avenue, N.W. The developers contend that the townhouses with English-basement separate living quarters would, in fact, be single-family units. The BZA was not convinced. The BZA chairman pointed out that the developers' drawings clearly show two separate living. arrangements within each townhouse, which changes the special exception request from thirteen to 26 family units.

This difference creates a new set of circumstances that the BZA must consider in making its determination. The BZA chairman took the developers and their attorney to task for duplicity and incomplete work. Apparently seeing the handwriting on the wall, the firm's attorney requested a continuance.

ANC 4A at its March meeting recommended that the BZA not allow the special exception, on-the basis that the townhouses would in fact be multifamily units, not single-family units as the developers allege. Noting ANC 4A's report and the community's opposition to the development, the BZA chairman instructed the developers to meet with the community and requested that the ANC take a mediation role in the negotiations. The BZA will continue with the application on June 26.

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Student Car Registration Requirement

In some residential communities near universities, student cars can use up inordinate percentages of available street parking space. Enforcement of student car registration in the District has left room for improvement. However, recently one university, Georgetown, stated the requirement best in a concise handout for students. It reminds:

"In 1996, the D.C. City Council changed the law relating to out-of-state vehicles owned by students living in the communities surrounding Georgetown and George Washington Universities. As a result of this law, students living in these communities are not granted vehicle reciprocity for out-of-state license tags. Even if you park your vehicle behind the house you are renting and your car is off the street, you are still required to register your vehicle in the District. It is important that you obey all District laws and we urge you to comply with this law as soon as possible. . . ."

This is a constructive law, passed at the behest of suffering communities. What is needed now is for appropriate associations to press harder for meaningful enforcement, with as few procedural trammels as possible on .police enforcement personnel. In particular, out-of-state tagged cars secreted behind houses would seem to be most vulnerable to police identification and subsequent ticketing for compliance.

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Homestead and Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Deduction Simplified

On March 16, the city council enacted the "Homestead and Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Emergency Act of 2001". It provides principally that:

"Sec. 2 Chapter 8 of Title 48 of the District of Columbia Code is amended as follows:

(a) Section 47-813(d-1) (2) is repealed.

(b) Section 48-850 is amended by adding a new subsection (h) to read as follows:

`(h) Notwithstanding any other provision in this section, the Mayor shall not mail a 5-year renewal application to owners of real property eligible for the deduction. Real property which has been previously qualified to receive the deduction shall continue to receive the deduction unless the real property shall cease to qualify for the deduction. The Mayor shall continue to receive applications for the deduction on behalf of real property which shall become eligible for the deduction. . . .'"

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Noise Relief

For noisy neighborhoods, relief has arrived. In late December 2000, the city council passed an amendment to "the District of Columbia Noise Control Act of 1977 to clarify the definition of noise disturbance to provide that noise meter readings are not required evidence of violations of the reasonable person standard that occur outside of the Central Employment area." Previously, when faced with complaints involving noisy parties, gatherings and other disturbances the police were required to use noise meters, which were often unavailable. The new law makes the work of the police in controlling noise pollution considerably easier in contested cases.

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Officers and Board

Patrick H. Allen, Esq.
Citizens Association of Georgetown

Gracie V. Baten
Shepherd Park Citizens Association

John C. Batham
West End Citizens Association

Rhoma Battle
Penn Branch Civic Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Larry Chatman
16th Street Heights Citizens Association

Buck Clarke
Cardozo-Shaw Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kay A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Lois Forster
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

James H. Jones
Crestwood Neighborhood League

Miles Steele, III
Hillcrest Civic Association

Alice F, Stewart
Palisades Citizens Association

A.L. Wheeler, Esq.
Oldest Inhabitants Society

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President's Message — Guy Gwynne

The biggest single event of the Federation for May-early June is the mayor's appearance at the June 5 annual awards banquet at Ft. McNair. The reform city administration has accomplished a lot in the past year, and has even more ambitious projections for 20012002. While there is no Q-and-A period at banquets, Hizzoner likes to mix it up with delegates and guests, and some good opportunities to communicate with our head guy will be available. We are delighted that Mayor Williams can be with us again this year, after his rousing appearance at last year's 90' anniversary gala.

We expect this year's banquet to be the biggest and best, and I urge every association that can to show its colors at an association table. The well identified tables with name signs high on stanchions add a festive, as well as a city -wide, touch to the cheerful atmosphere. Banquet committee members will be calling delegates soon. I look forward to seeing everyone at the big party.

A combined meeting of the independent Federation Legal Aid Foundation board and advisory board was held in May. Delegates can be proud of the impressive array of legal talent concentrated in the foundation. The first major project of the boards will address the deadly serious lawsuits George Washington University has lodged against the city over a community-friendly and condign BZA decision on the GWU campus plan projection. To a fair extent the decision answered the long-suffering communities' prayers. The Federation is not about to let threatening, poorly-based suits (one in federal court, one in District court) bully the city away from protecting its tax-base neighborhoods. Serious fundraising for legal costs has begun. The Federation and the legal fund plan to weigh in on the side of the city in courts wherever necessary.

The nominations committee is busy at work assembling a good basic slate of officer and board candidates with the time and desire to serve. As I have noted in the past, this basic slate is formed primarily to ensure that there is at least one candidate for each office. Additional nominations will be called for from the floor at the June election meeting, and everyone is free to nominate one or more additional candidates for each office, including self nominations. Could things be improved? Step up and run for office and make it happen.

In the hot redistricting area, a reminder to delegates with a vital interest in the ongoing pulling and hauling, to attend and speak at Councilman Phil Mendelson's local public meetings, marshal written public opinion and volunteer for pertinent council members' Redistricting Committees. Call in for the latter, in order to be included. Redistricting will affect a number of our association communities, and we can influence the process.

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GWU Shoots for the Moon In Lawsuit: Delegates' Input Needed

Context: George Washington University, the city's worst offender in terms of uncontrolled negative community impact, recently sued the city in both federal and city court over a recent BZA decision it does not like. The decision enables the city for the first time to get a normal regulatory grip on runaway college impact and expansion. Not satisfied with suing the city, the mayor and the BZA, GWU has filed against the individual members of the BZA as well. The latter inclusion, wryly laughed at as futile spite by Federation attorney delegates, is of concern to zoning board members.

At the heart of the university action is the contention that colleges in general, and GWU in particular, are exempt from city zoning regulation. Such a contention has little chance of success in court on its merits, but the private institution seems to be counting on massive resources and expensive, protracted suits and appeals to overcome city and community defense of normal BZA regulatory action. The Federation will help the city, in the interests of protection of our residential communities. End context.

On April 25, George Washington University filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit alleges that a recent BZA decision applying reasonable (according to the community) and normal zoning requirements to university expansion and impact:

  1. Violates the takings and due process provisions of the Fifth Amendment;

  2. Violates the college's academic freedom under the First Amendment; and

  3. Violates the University's federal charter. The relief sought includes voiding the BZA order and declaring that the BZA lacks authority to regulate the university's "business".

According to Federation attorney delegate Michael Thomas, ". . . the idea that GWU's federal charter means that its unilateral determination of institutional needs trumps the District's authority to enforce planning and zoning laws is bizarre." Although reading like a press release, the GWU suit is deadly serious, in that it claims any order or regulation constraining a university is unconstitutional. This suit may well go to the Supreme Court. While the plaintiff will likely lose its shirt, the process stands to be long and dirty.

The D.C. Office of the Corporation Counsel (OCC) will be responsible for the defense of the city agency and officers. The Federation, the Foggy Bottom Association and individuals are devising strategy for assisting the OCC and the courts. This includes entry as interveners and entering amicus briefs, and urging the mayor to loosen up funds for engaging outside counsel to assist OCC. The mayor decried at the Federation's May 2000 banquet the appalling state of university impact on tax-base residential communities and pledged to do something about it. His administration has. Now it is the time for him to join the current hands-on effort.

In cases of this sort, there are (1) the defendants (the city et al.), (2) interveners (organizations and individuals with a direct basic interest in the case), and (3) friends of the court or amicus brief filers organizations and individuals with an important general interest in the case). Initially, mainly Foggy Bottom-area associations and individuals are likely to enter as interveners. Other Federation associations impacted in other university areas will likely file amicus briefs supporting the city, expected to be in groups of 3 - 5 associations.

The bottom line in this incautious university lawsuit is: 

  1. The city's most egregiously offending university has entered an exaggerated and likely unsustainable lawsuit; 

  2. The university's constitutional claims are farfetched at best; 

  3. Most or all of its protestations of net benefit to the city and the tax-base community will likely be easily disproved, if made; 

  4. There is a built-in bias on the part of courts to support city agencies in the exercise of their legitimate functions; 

  5. The mayor, city government and the united communities are backing the BZA and its condign decision; and 

  6. The city government and the communities MUST win this lawsuit, or our important tax-base communities that adjoin universities are effectively lost to existing and future negative institutional encroachment.

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Keeping Track: District Revenue Bonds

A copy of the applications for revenue bond financing may be inspected during business hours at the Office of the Deputy Chief Financial Officer of the District at 1 Judiciary Square, Suite 160 North, Washington, D.C. 20001.

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Concerning the GWU lawsuits, every Federation delegate, alternate and associate is requested to write to the mayor to:

  1. Inform him of your interest;

  2. Tell him how important his continued support and the defeat of the GWU lawsuits are to you, your community and the District;

  3. Urge him to authorize the employment of outside counsel to assist the Corporation Counsel in defending the suit; and

  4. Note your view of the importance of the need for such outside expertise in the litigation of constitutional issues in the federal courts.

Write to: Mayor Anthony Williams, 1 Judiciary Square, Suite 1100, South Washington, DC 20001 Or E-mail: 

Please do this immediately.

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Woodridge Activists Wow Assembly With Report On Million Dollar Grant

Living up to expectations, Woodridge community activists Anthony Hood and John Washington impressed the April assembly with interesting reports and observations on their area's successful acquisition of a one-million-dollar grant for civic work. The secret: team-up with a civic minded corporation, in their case the giant Allstate Insurance Company. Mr. Hood explained the civic partnership negotiations and arrangements, and Mr. Washington emphasized some of the successful civic action projects the partnership has produced. These included:

  • Support for local parks

  • Summer job programs for young people

  • A new special van for seniors for the Washington Center for the Aging

  • 40 new computers for two elementary schools

  • Education grants for both seniors and young high school graduates

  • Sponsorship of youth sports teams

  • Home safety workshops for the area

  • Matching grants for "Christmas in April" rehabbing of three area homes

  • A proposed special pharmacy

  • Community activities at the Langdon Recreation Center

  • Insurance workshops for the community

Everyone applauded our two informative speakers, who showed just what good teaming of communities and outside partners can accomplish. Can the Woodridge example be duplicated?

One suggestion came from an assistant to another speaker of the evening. He noted that, since the way has been shown by Allstate, it could be a good idea for other communities or ANC's to approach Allstate competitor insurance companies. to see if they are interested in teaming up for civic action. Not a bad idea. Our thanks go to the Gentlemen from Woodridge for showing us how it's done.

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Office of People's Council Goes After Gas Supply Program "Slamming"

In a move to protect District gas consumers from being "slammed" by new alternative energy companies, D.C. People's Counsel Elizabeth Noel has filed a complaint against with a petition asking for an expedited investigation of solicitation practices of natural gas suppliers in the Washington Gas Residential Pilot Program. ("Slamming" is the practice of switching a customer's service to another provider without consent.)

OPC's complaint resulted from an incident in a District apartment complex for seniors. Residents of the Tyler House complex at 1200 North Capitol Street, N.W. were met by sales representatives of Powertrust in July and August, 2000. The agents requested and received copies of the tenants' gas bills. Then, the October/November gas bills of the tenants showed their gas service accounts had been switched from Washington Gas to Powertrust.

As Ms. Noel notes, "This incident undermines consumer confidence in the WG Customer Choice Pilot Program. We urge the Public Service Commission to act now, to direct Powertrust to cease and desist (from) its abusive practices, to impose sanctions, fines or penalties and to establish consumer protection rules... that will help us standardize the "switching of supplier" or enrollment process..."

Just as District consumers are making the transition to a competitive energy market, consumer protection has taken on renewed significance. The OPC has proposed a set of consumer protection standards to the Public Service Commission that would prohibit actions such as those indulged in by Powertrust.

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DCRA's Attempted End Run Around 70-Year-Old Billboard Law: Why?

The District has had laws regulating billboards, garish and outsized displays, and signage in general since the 1930s. Mainly, the laws prohibit most or all billboards, and constrain signage in general. This has worked to a fair degree until last year in March 2000 the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs published and made effective in September 2000 regulations that provided for the issuance of permits for the placement of large commercial advertisements covering exterior building walls and for free-standing signs on vacant space in the District. The public was to understand that such new displays are not billboards; rather, they are "special signs."

Discreetly, the regulations were published with no advance publicity to associations, citizens or ANCs, regarding a major shift in public policy and the ramifications of the regulations. Responding to public concern, on November 8, 2000 the city council enacted a 90-day moratorium on the approval of any location permit for the new advertising. The council later extended the moratorium to January 30,2001 on the approval of any advertising copy (known in the new DCRA regulations as "artwork"), pending further council processing.

Days before the council's November 8 moratorium, the DCRA approved and issued 32 location permits for sites around the city. Not losing a stitch, the same day the initial moratorium was enacted, DCRA approved artwork submission of 19 of the 32 locations, so that these were not subject to the moratorium. Later, DCRA published additional artwork standards in the D.C. Register of May 10, 2001.

Reportedly, most of the new six billboards and signs are sizable and commercial at best and tawdry at worst, bearing in mind that one person's acceptable large "art" is another persons idea of visual pollution. One aspect of the new signage is that illustrated signs can be changed to less desirable ones, as the DCRA makes no distinctions between signs based on esthetics. Once a location is selected, it is permanently eligible for a sign or replacement sign.

Two delegates from Federation member associations testified at a major council roundtable hearing on the billboard question on May 16. Chaired by council member Sharon Ambrose, the hearing addressed PR 14-178 "Construction Codes Amendments Approval Resolution of 2001". This bill, if passed, will enable the city council to get a regulatory grip on the DCRA-instituted attempted end run around the city's normal billboard control law. Better than squeezing the DCRA regulations that essentially nullify D.C.'s longstanding billboard control laws, would be the clear rescission of the surprise agency regulations.

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Proposed Important ANC Law Amendments To Be Floated In Council Hearing

On May 23, Councilman David Catania will conduct a hearing of the Committee on Public Services, to consider interesting amendments to the Advisory Commissions Act of 1975. Agenda specifics include whether to amend the Act to:

  • Increase from $400 to $1,000 the maximum amount of funds an ANC may receive annually from an individual without specific authorization from the city council.

  • Eliminate the requirement of filing minutes of the meeting indicating the commission's approval of disbursements reported in the quarterly report.

  • Eliminate the process by which the Executive Director of ANCs may be removed.

  • Add that the position of Executive Director of ANCs shall be appointed by the city council.

  • Provide that funds may be transferred from the Office of ANCs through an infra-District transfer for operations of the Office.

Delegates who wish to testify in person or submit written testimony for the record should contact the office of Councilman Catania: telephone 724-7772, Fax 724-8087, or E-mail 

Among bills and resolutions passed by the city council between April 23 and May 7 was, "Executive Director of the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions Gottlieh C. Simon Appointment Resolution of 2001," PR 14-126.

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Land Use and Planning: Denial of Permit For Mentally Ill Was Not Illegal

Cleveland did not violate the Fair Housing Act when it denied zoning variances for a residence for mental ill homeless people, the Ohio Court of Appeals held on March 22 Eppler v. City of Cleveland, No. 76372.

The variances would have allowed the owner of a commercially zoned building to rent the building to an agency that wanted to establish a residence for mentally ill homeless people. The city did not discriminate against the disabled in denying the variance, the court held, because it consistently denied residential zoning to all properties within 200 feet of an industrial area, except for properties that benefited from grandfathering.

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Federation’s Legal Aid Foundation Begins Fundraising

The move is on. The Legal Aid Foundation is now raising funds on an urgent basis for use in connection with the Federation's support of the city and Board of Zoning Adjustment, as they face major lawsuits by George Washington University. Initial donors are the Foggy Bottom association, the Georgetown Kiwanis Club and the Federation itself. Other associations are considering their donations. The foundation has begun outreach to corporations and foundations for support.

Such contributions help the Federation, its member associations and the independent legal aid foundation make Washington and its neighborhoods better places to live. The foundation's work has just begun.

A planned gift carries direct benefits for individual donors as well:

  • They reduce income taxes;

  • They reduce estate taxes;

  • They avoid capital gains tax on appreciated securities and other property.

The Legal Aid Foundation treasurer is Linda Swift, Esq., at telephone 202-244-4632.

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Public Service Commission Hires Outside Firm to Investigate PEPCO's Distribution System

The PSC recently awarded a bid acceptance to the engineering consulting firm of Sone & Webster, in its effort to investigate the state of PEPCO's local power distribution system in the District. The tip of the iceberg to be investigated is the frequent manhole explosions and displacements. PSC chairman Angel Cartagena believes the use of an independent third party firm is necessary to making a credible and accurate determination about PEPCO's aging electric infrastructure. Sone & Webster is one of the world's foremost engineering - construction companies. Founded in Boston in 1889 as an electrical testing laboratory and consulting firm, Stone & Webster has evolved into a global organization employing more than 5,000 people worldwide.

Federation representatives will suggest to the PSC that the possibility of underground installation of an updated PEPCO infrastructure be on the consulting firm's agenda for evaluation. Much of the city is already wired underground. Ideally all of it should be. This may be the optimal time for such action.

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Federation's 91st Anniversary Awards Banquet Tuesday, June 5

The gala annual awards banquet is upon us in a few short weeks and it is time to secure tickets and arrange for association table(s). As in previous years, the banquet will be held at the Fort McNair Officers Club. The guest of honor will be Mayor Williams and a great time is in store for everyone attending. This is the one occasion when the Federation includes wives, friends and other guests of delegates, association board members and our many friends in the associations. The gala will be held:

June 5 (Tuesday)
Fort McNair Officers Club
6:30 to 9:00 p.m.

Tables will seat 8 - 10 persons
Tickets $35

Banquet committee members will be calling everyone to arrange for individual attendance and association tables. Tables are clearly marked with the sponsoring association's name. This year, four awards for outstanding civic service in the District will be presented.

For associations: Tables for eight are $280; tables for ten are $350. Associations with more than 14 attending will occupy two tables. Advance ticket purchase is encouraged to avoid crowding at the entrance table.

This year's celebration is expected to be our biggest and best.

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Federation Assembly Meeting Dates

The Sumner School has reserved the following dates for the Federation's Assembly meetings. Unless otherwise identified, each meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the School and Museum, which is at 1201 Seventeenth Street, at the corner of M Street, N.W.

Tuesday, May 22
Tuesday, June 5 (Annual Awards Banquet, Ft. McNair)
Tuesday, June 26 (Election Meeting)

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