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Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia

Federation News

Volume 8, Issue 2, October 2001
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax

Federation Action Alert: Special Signs and Billboards Legislation
Office of Planning: One Step at a Time
Instant Hearing Transcripts Now Possible
Officers and Board
President’s Message
BZA Reconsiders GWU Campus Plan
Safeway and Giant Still Have School Equipment Programs
Megatower on Wisconsin Avenue: Mayor, Corp Counsel and Communities Together
Caveat Petition Circulators
Timely Reminders: Who Pays for the District?
Historic Preservation Review Board on the Ball
Crestwood Association President Jim Jones Up for BZA Membership
Upcoming Council Hearings on Photo Radar Cameras
Panel Discussion of WASA Sewer Overflow Plan
Comcast Withdraws Plans to Put Optical Transmission Shelter in Residential Neighborhood
Where Are They Now?
Crestwood Residents Have Their Day in Court on Rock Creek Park Cell Towers Controversy
Red Letter Dates: Federation Meetings and Activities

Federation Assembly Meeting

Tuesday, October 23
7:00 p.m.

Federation Business

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



by Arm Hargrove (Kalorama)

What are "Special Signs"?

For 70 years, District law prohibited billboards, except for a "grandfathered" list of then existing signs, most of which are now gone. Last year DCRA published draft regulations in the D. C. Register, adding a section called "Special Signs" which are, in effect, the same thing as billboards, and the regulations became law. These signs, with only limited restrictions, can be huge, free standing or hung or painted on buildings and roofs, and advertise such commercial products as cell phones, chewing gum, alcohol, and automobiles. They are not murals with nonadvertising attribution, nor or they signs about the premises on which they are located. This visual pollution is just what this capital city needs. Right? Wrong!

Special Sign locations

Just take a look at a few of the "Special Signs" which have already gone up-and there will be at least 31. They are enormous, both horizontally and vertically. One, for example, is around 9 stories tall. They include:

  • Four "goodwill" signs (a minority)-- two advertising the National Gallery of Art and two with a message about not drinking while driving -- at 635 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., 1108 K and 1201 L Streets, N.W., and 301 New York Avenue, N.E.
    Giant commercial screens, with more on the way, advertising Volkswagen. Banana Republic and Wrigley's gum at 1155 140'. 1240 K. 600 F Streets N.W. and 1230 South Capitol Street, S.E. The F Street address has two signs on separate walls, apparently as transfers from one of the 31 sign locations.
  • Some traditional freestanding billboards whose legal status is uncertain, such as those along New York Avenue around and above Florida Avenue advertising radio stations, cell phones, cars, and beer (with patriotic motifs substituting for some of these at the moment).

Where we are now

Simply put, DCRA's proposed regulations became law because the Council failed to act in time and has still not repaired the damage. Although the Council subsequently held hearings, with citizens appearing in opposition to this visual assault, the legislative efforts of the Council over more than a year have left us with emergency legislation which legitimizes those signs having permits as of November 9, 2000; affords certain transfer rights for these signs to locations in the central employment area, portions of New York Avenue, and areas under auspices of the Sports Authority; and creates a moratorium on any additional permits. With transferability, these signs could be with us forever. The emergency legislation had to be renewed recently (Bill 14-354), with Mayoral sign off expected by October 23rd. New permanent legislation (Bill 14-380) has been introduced as of October 10th. Numerous citizen groups and individuals, along with Scenic America, had urged amendments during the last round, including an amendment to terminate these signs after five years. While this amendment failed, a number of Councilmembers indicated they would support termination when permanent legislation comes up for vote. It has been hard to follow this tortuous legislative path.

Inadequate notice of a New Hearing Date: now set for October 31st

The date of the hearing before Councilmember Ambrose's Committee on the proposed permanent legislation has been abruptly changed from November 28th to October 31st, with notice in the October 12th D. C. Register which many subscribers would not likely receive until days later. This short notice is a surprising and disappointing development, robbing citizens of their ability to properly prepare for the hearing. While objections are being registered about this outrageous action, the Council may not change this schedule, so as of this writing, we urge you to be prepared for the hearing to take place on October 31st.

Let's Get These Signs Down! 

First, pass resolutions through your citizen groups for the Council and the Mayor, which: (1) oppose "special signs" or billboards, (2) require the 31 billboards and those previously grandfathered to come down within a time certain (such as five years), (3) return the authority to the Council to approve signage changes in all instances, and (4) improve enforcement mechanisms for special signs and other signs.

Secondly, transmit resolutions to the Mayor and the Council, testify as individuals and organizations at the hearing, and lobby the Mayor and the Council. The hearing is scheduled for October 31st. Contact Councilmember's Ambrose's office for details and to sign up (724-8072). Also, please contact Ann Hargrove for information and to share copies of resolutions and testimony (332-6320; 

Scenic DC 

Some good news--Citizens have formed and incorporated "Scenic DC," to be affiliated with Scenic America, which has many state and city chapters across the country. Scenic DC will work with and support other organizations on signs and similar issues involving vistas, streetscapes and the like, and to prevent visual pollution. An initial steering committee for the new organization has been formed, including Harold Robinson, Dick Wolf, Ann Hargrove, Charles Cassell, Alpha Brown, Frank Vespe and Gerald Schwinn, who invite you and your contacts to participate as individuals or through your organization. A first project is, of course, to work on the billboards issue. For information about Scenic America, call Wendy Taylor or Tom Pelikan at 543-6200.

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Mr. Andrew Altman, Director of the D.C. Office of Planning, spoke effectively at the Federation's September assembly concerning the then-upcoming Citizen Summit II. In the g-and-A session afterward he was asked about the status of the new regulations being prepared, that will govern colleges and universities. Mr. Altman noted that the press of business involving current university campus plan cases has tended to use up staff time and research capacity, and that emphasis on the new regulations will resume when staff resources allow, probably in a month or two.

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Are those waits for agency hearing and court session transcripts necessary? Apparently not. The National Law Journal reports that real-time technology now allows (court and other) reporters to convert their stenographic notes into text instantly. Final copy can be made available to parties right after hearings adjourn. Is the District government rushing to embrace this technology? We'll see.

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Officers and Board

Patrick H. Allen, Esq.
Citizens Association of Georgetown

John C. Batham
West End Citizens Association

Allen E. Beach
Chevy Chase Citizens Association

Mary Bresnahan
Spring Valley Court Citizens Association

Francis M. Clarke, III
Cardozo-Shaw Citizens Association

Dino J. Drudi
Michigan Park Citizens Association

Kathryn A. Eckles
Residential Action Coalition

Carroll Green
Manor Park Citizens Association

Guy Gwynne
Burleith Citizens Association

James H. Jones
Crestwood Citizens Association

Ann Loikow
Cleveland Park Citizens Association

Jane McNew
Capitol Hill Citizens Association

Miles Steele, III
Hillcrest Civic Association

A.L. Wheeler, Esq.
Oldest Inhabitants Society

Barbara Woodward-Downs
Georgetown Citizens Association

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President's Message — Buck Clarke

Let me assert my firm belief that the thing we need fear most is fear itself. With thanks and apologies to Franklin Roosevelt, I have taken the liberty of updating his concise appraisal of the situation facing Depression era America. In 1933 the enemy, if one could be said to exist, was the popular sentiment that we were stuck, out of our ability to change, in dire economic circumstances. The President's message was clear; if we were to be done in, it would be by our own collective refusal to act, to call upon the energy and resilience which have come to be hallmarks of the American people.

Nearly seventy years later, America is at war. The circumstances are indeed more dire than in 1933, and less of our own making. A very real enemy has declared its intention to cripple our country, and obliterate our way of life. The means to effect this plan are of a type not previously used on a large scale. Indeed, there are those who would do us harm through terror itself, through the fear of what may be lurking silently, invisibly, around the corner. The threat to our physical health and safety does exist, but a larger threat, to the country as a whole and to our own city, is the possibility of destruction of our way of life caused by the fear of what may be out there. As a nation, as a city, and as individuals within our numerous communities, we run the very great risk of destruction by paralysis brought on by this fear. The fear of venturing out to shops, restaurants, plays, museums, monuments can cripple this city and others like it just as certainly and quickly as any number of terrorist attacks. To cower in our caves would be to give victory over to the enemy. To fortify our gardens and playgrounds would have just as certainly the same effect.

As active residents of this great city, what can we do to preserve the life and values we cherish as Americans? Don't be reckless. Reflect on what you are about to do or where you are about to go. Use caution, but continue to be active and make the most of the myriad opportunities available in this most wonderful of cities. Take your spouse, partner, parents to dinner or a show. Buy that sofa or suit you've had your eye on. If finances are an issue, don't despair; there's plenty that can be done without spending a cent. Fly a kite with your children on the Mall, help your elderly neighbors with their yardwork, get out and research that book you've been meaning to write. Don't allow yourself or others to be pulled under by the fear of what could happen. Be alert to the possibility of danger, but be equally aware that around most corners lies opportunity, not problems. Live your life, and appreciate the fact that you are doing so in a country which allows you to do so largely in the manner you choose. Carry On!

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by Barbara Spillinger (Foggy Bottom)

On Tuesday, October 9, the Board of Zoning Adjustment met to consider yet again the George Washington University Foggy Bottom Campus Plan, which had been remanded to the board for clarification and decision after the university filed a suit contesting the final BZA Order of March 29, 2001

As BZA chairman Sheila Cross Reid said in her opening remarks, "this case ... is one that has been fraught with a great deal of complexity," and after discussion and consideration of enormous amounts of material and testimony, revolves primarily around condition 9 (the focus of the GWU suit), finally coming down specifically to "how many, where, when, and how."

In addressing these specifics, Commissioner Carol Mitten put forward a motion, seconded by Commissioner Geoffrey Griffis, to amend condition 9 as follows: (a) by August 31, 2002, the university will house 70 percent of its undergraduate population as indicated on February 13, 2001 (i.e., 70% of 7,881) in university-controlled housing, either on campus or outside the Foggy Bottom/West End area; (b) this requirement will also cover one additional bed per fulltime undergraduate student enrolled thereafter; and (c) as of August 31, 2006, this housing requirement must be met exclusively on campus.

The campus boundaries will remain as set forth in the March 29 order, pending resolution of use of the 1957 E Street site, which case is now before the Zoning Commission. (In other words, if the Commission approves modification of this development, this plot would become part of the campus. )

If it is determined that the university is out of compliance with the above provisions, only special exceptions for residential projects -- projects with greater than 50 percent residential use -- would be permitted for further processing.

The university is also ordered to report semiannually, on February 28 and August 31, beginning in the year 2002, the number of undergraduate students enrolled and a breakdown of available housing. In an unusual display of unanimity, the BZA approved the motion, with the above amendments, by 5-0.

In discussing the advantages of this proposal, its simplicity was duly noted, in that it would not require tracking of segments of the student population or recalculation from year to year. Recent acquisitions of buildings (the Aston, the Howard Johnson's, the St. James and 2424 Pennsylvania Avenue) and students living in the Columbia Plaza apartment complex and other neighborhood houses and apartment buildings are excluded from the 70 percent on-campus tally. The Board did not, however, reinstate an undergraduate enrollment cap contained in the March order.

In stating the overall objective of the BZA decision, Chairperson Reid cited, "the ultimate sustainability of the Foggy Bottom Community as well as the viability of George Washington University, given the fact that both entities are inextricably linked."

The proposed order is scheduled for release October 30, with two weeks given the parties (until November 13) to file special exceptions. Final review and vote by the BZA will be on November 20. One objective of this schedule is to have the ground rules in place before GWU begins its admissions process for 2002. Only time will tell whether this can be accomplished, or whether the university and the community will one more time be "surprised" by GWU's "unexpected" increase in undergraduate enrollment. (From the Foggy Bottom association newspaper)

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Both Safeway and Giant are continuing their programs to provide equipment to local schools. Equipment can range from computers to band and gym and other equipment, according to the choice of the recipient school. According to the Georgetown Safeway, Safeway contributions are made in cash rather than in kind, with the schools "ordering from catalogues."

Specifically, Safeway customers are asked to indicate the name of the individual school to which they want their purchase credited. Each time a customer uses his or her red Safeway card, the amount is applied to that school's name.

Giant has a Bonus Card similar to Safeway, and will credit purchases in the same way.

Neighborhood schools and PTAs may help the process along gently, by passing out prepared slips or cards to incoming Giant and Safeway customers that suggest that the shopper name their particular schools as recipients of the generous food-store bounty.

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Everyone has by now seen from Route 50 in Virginia the eyesore telecommunications towers that loom behind the National Cathedral, marring the D.C. skyline. The would-be biggest of these, a mega-tower already partly built by the American Towers, Inc. firm, would, if completed, at 756 feet dwarf the two existing large towers and present major difficulties for the surrounding neighborhoods, according to community activists and the mayor. Work on the project was stopped by the city, when the full impact it would have became clear and when its incompatibility with zoning regulations was realized. In step with the times, the company sued the city in federal court for a stratospheric $250 million.

Recently, D.C. citizens and the city government received encouragement from the pertinent federal judge, who threw out the American Towers suit by ruling that there is no federal interest involved in the case. Ergo, it would have to be decided by D.C. courts or boards and commissions. The company reportedly will appeal in federal appeals court. It stands to lose there too, on the already-aired merits of the case.

Here is a case involving an outsized industrial use in an area wisely zoned non-industrial, and an outsized, exaggerated lawsuit and subsequent tedious public relations campaign by the developer. Just why the mega-project was to be sited in the District in the first place, when area alternatives exist, is unclear. But the developer has not given up yet. (Rumors, hotly denied by American Towers, are that the firm is in financial difficulties, with an uncertain future. A large court award wrung from an unsuspecting District would be welcome.)

In this case an informed and active citizenry alerted the mayor and the city enforcement apparatus to an attempted misplaced but skillfully organized industrial project. The new city administration was able to correctly assess the situation and act responsibly. A basic fact here is that the administration is now defining matters, and showing the courage to enforce the law as well as not to cave in in the face of bugaboo lawsuits, often effective in the past. The mayor, Corp Counsel and local residents all deserve kudos on this one.

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With elections coming up in 2002, many delegates and association members will be circulating petitions for candidates. Surprisingly (that it was necessary) the city council this summer passed a tough new law affecting petition circulators. Titled the "Election Petition Penalty Amendment Act of 2001," the new act provides that "(3) All signatures on a petition shall be made by the person whose signature it purports to be (sic) and not by any other person. Each petition shall contain an affidavit, made under penalty of perjury, . . . and signed by the circulator of that petition which shall state that the circulator is a registered voter and has: (A) Personally circulated the petition; (B) Personally witnessed each person sign the petition; and (C) Inquired from each signer whether he or she is a registered voter in the same party as the candidate and, where applicable the signer is registered in and a resident of the ward from which the candidate seeks election." Nothing different.

A new paragraph (4) now reads: "Any circulator who knowingly and willfully violates any provisions of this section, or any regulations promulgated pursuant to this section, shall upon conviction be subject to a fine of not more than $10,000, or imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both. Each occurrence of a violation of this section shall constitute a separate offense."

Is this new law necessary? One can surmise that widespread petition signature scamming led to such an act, but delegates queried stated they are unaware of any such devious activity. At any rate, the law is in place, and especial care is in order when circulating petitions -- particularly when several people are hovering and ready to sign.

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In a recent letter to the press, Councilmember Jack Evans cited some basic details that are useful to bear in mind, when discussing District finances and the tax base:
  • The District raises 97 percent of its revenue locally, with the federal contribution comprising a small percentage of the total.
  • The three key areas of tax generation are property taxes, income taxes and sales taxes.
  • The District is prohibited from taxing people who work in the District but live elsewhere. Both Maryland and Virginia tax revenue at its source.
  • If the District could do the same, it would amount to some $400 million in additional revenue annually.

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In mid-October, the HPRB denied permission for another unauthorized, outsized sign, after the sign was already in place. An upscale bakery mounted the huge advertisement, apparently without clearing its installation with either the community or the city government. And this at a time of major contention in the city over the billboard issue. The Historic Preservation Review Board took similar action against a restaurant on Connecticut Avenue recently, refusing to allow it to keep renovations made without a permit.

Time was, when businesses, institutions and developers would rush to put up building additions, billboards and new construction without permits, and then plead hardship before city agencies. The hardship would consist of halting work on or dismantling illegally executed projects. This seems to have changed, and city boards and commissions are exercising their authority with increasing confidence and regard for laws and regulations.

As the boards and commissions (apparently) bring their performance up to good standards, it is time for the city to get its DCRA enforcement act together -- something that is not in the immediate offing. (Councilmember Sharon Ambrose: "Enforcement in this city is a disgrace.") The reform administration cannot do everything at once after years of city-service deterioration, but the DCRA enforcement mechanisms (housing inspections, zoning inspections, the DCRA Zoning Administrator, definition of the regulations, inter alia) are a prime target for next intragovernment campaigns.

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The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment is one of the key boards and commissions that impinge most directly on residential neighborhoods and the lives of resident citizens of the District. The term on the board of Ms. Sheila Cross Reid has expired, and the mayor is seeking a qualified replacement: to fill the position. The board is composed of five members: three District of Columbia citizens appointed directly by the mayor, member of the National Capital Planning Commission ex officio, and a member of the Zoning Commission ex officio.

For the record, Mr. Jones is president of the Crestwood association and a member of his Ward IV ANC, and serves on the Federation board of directors. In the discharge of these offices he has evenly demonstrated an excellent grasp of detail, a calm demeanor come what may, and an intimate familiarity with the problems that normally come before the BZA. If Mr. Jones should be appointed to the board, his talent for cooperation in group efforts will serve to move business along on often crowded schedules.

Many of our associations, as well as the Federation itself, are actively endorsing Mr. .Jones for the BZA position. It is the aim of this citizen groundswell of active recommendation to get a capable, even-handed incumbent onto a key board. Those associations that have not filed an endorsement of Mr. Jones with the mayor (copy to the Office of Boards and Commissions) may wish to pass endorsement resolutions at their October or November meetings, and send them in as soon as possible. There is at least one other candidate for the BZA position, and the appointment is expected soon.

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Heeding, or anticipating, the pain, council member Carol Schwartz has scheduled a hearing On The Use Of Automated Photo Radar Cameras To Detect Red Light And Speeding Violations on Monday, October 22, at 11:00 a.m. in the Wilson Building Council Chamber.

Council member Schwartz, chair of the Committee on Public Works and Environment, has scheduled the hearing "to provide an opportunity for the Council and the public to receive a briefing on the District's implementation of these automated traffic control devices and for the Council to question government representatives about the use of these devices to reduce red light and speeding infractions."

Delegates and other persons who wish to testify should contact Ms. Adrienne Carter at 724-8105 by Thursday, October 18. Representatives of organizations will be allotted three minutes for oral presentation. The record for written testimony closes at COB Monday, October 28.

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On Wednesday, November 7, there will be a public discussion of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority's long-term combined sewer overflow plan. The session will-be at the Sumner School, from 6;30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and is jointly sponsored by the Federation, the Consumer Utility Board and the Federation of Civic Associations.

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by Jim Jones (Crestwood)

On October 9, 2001, the Board of Zoning Adjustment BZA) accepted the request from Comcast to withdraw its application for a special exception to allow construction of an optical transmission node equipment shelter in a residential neighborhood at 6336 Piney Branch Road NW. The reality is that. Comcast, working under an improper building permit, has already completed 70% of this construction. The work was stopped on August 10; 2001, when Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty, discovering the issuance of the improper permit, leaned on the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to correct its error and issue a "stop work" order to Comcast.

Councilmember Fenty stated, "It is a slap in the face to the residents of this neighborhood that Comcast would attempt to put a purely business use in a residential neighborhood. Moreover, they committed an egregious error in community relations when they neglected to inform the community of their plans beforehand."

On October 4, 2001, at the ANC 4A meeting on the Comcast application, the Brightwood residents who attended in large numbers voiced strong opposition to the construction and filed a petition containing signatures of 364 local residents in opposition to the building. ANC 4A recommended by a vote of 7 to 0 that BZA deny Comcast's application for a special exception. The Commissioners found that Comcast failed to meet its burden of proof which required them to show that the building is in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the Zoning Regulations and Maps; that it will not tend to affect adversely the use of neighboring property in accordance with the Zoning Regulations and Maps; and that it meets the special conditions for antennas permitted in residential districts.

At the conclusion of the October 9, BZA meeting, Comcast representatives indicated that they planned to work with the Office of Planning, Councilmember Fenty and ANC 4A in exploring other alternatives to locate their optical transmission node shelter.

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Mr. Robert Sockwell formerly served as a member of the Board of Zoning Adjustment The D.C. Register reports, "Sec. 2. The Council of the District of Columbia confirms the appointment of Mr. Robert N. Sockwell (address) (Ward 2) as a member of the District of Columbia Commemorative Works Committee .... for a term to end 3 years from the date a majority of the first citizen members are sworn in." Mr. Sockwell is an architect.

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by Jim Jones (Crestwood)

On October I L 2001, Crestwood residents_ the Audubon Naturalist Society and the Maryland Native Plant Society joined forces as plaintiff in a civil action against the National Park Service for issuing a Right-of-Way Permit to Bell Atlantic Mobile for the construction of two wireless telecommunication towers and associated facilities in Rock Creek Park on November 8, 1999. Spearheaded by Georgetown University Law Center's Institute of Public Representation, the plaintiffs moved for a summary judgment before Judge Oberdorfer in the United States District Court of the District of Columbia. Specifically, they asked the Court to resolve two issues:

  1. Whether the National Park Service (NPS) failed to take a hard look at the cumulative and direct impacts of the Towers in violation of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and therefore, the NPS Finding of No Significant Impact was arbitrary and capricious and otherwise not in accordance with law; and
  2. Whether the National Park Service failed to consider reasonable alternatives to the location of the Towers in Rock Creek Park 'in violation of NEPA and therefore, acted in a manner that was arbitrary and capricious, and otherwise not in accordance with law.

Should the Court find in the affirmative on either of these two questions, then it should also find that NPS's decision to issue a Right-of-Way permit to Bell Atlantic Mobile was arbitrary and capricious, and otherwise not in accordance with law. Therefore, the plaintiffs' ultimate request is that the Court: (a) enter a declaratory judgment that the National Park Service violated NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act; and (b) set aside the Right-of-Way Permit until such time as the National Park Service complies with NEPA.

Judge Oberdorfer complimented the Institute for Public Representation attorney and staff on their preparation and presentation, indicated that he would take the matter under advisement. However, he did not specify when he would release his findings which may have ramifications for other cell tower cases as well as other local cases involving the National Environmental Policy Act and the placement of cell towers on federal land.

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Red Letter Dates: Federation Meetings and Activities

All delegates and alternates are requested to mark the following dates of. Federation meetings and activities on pertinent calendars. By flagging these in advance it will be easier to avoid conflicting plans and dates for other activities. Fourth Tuesdays are for monthly meetings; luncheons are specified:

Tuesday, October 22
Tuesday, November 27
December Quarterly Luncheon (TBA)
Tuesday, January 29
Tuesday, February 26
March Quarterly Luncheon (TBA)
Tuesday, April 23
Annual Awards Banquet (TBA)
Tuesday, June 25

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