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February 16, 2014


Dear Clientele:

This is the lesson for today: those who plan have to listen to those whom they are supposed to be planning for, if the plans are to come out right. City planners may have technical skills, but their job is essentially the same as a tailor’s, or an architect’s — to serve the client. They need to find out what their clients want, what their needs are, how they will live in and move in their suits, or their houses, or their cities. Only then can they design properly. The tailor, the architect, or the city planner who imposes his vision on his clients without taking into account their wishes is a poor craftsman.

The candidates for city council and the mayorality are running for positions in which they can convey the wishes of the citizens to the planers whom they hire. If the candidates won’t listen to you now, they’ll be of no use to you later. How well are they listening?

Gary Imhoff


Zoning Post-Tregoning
Sue Hemberger, Friendship Heights,

It was heartening to hear last week that the Zoning Commission has extended the comment period on the proposed new zoning code until April 17. Since November, when public hearings on the draft code started in earnest, what we’ve seen is a series of concerns being raised by residents of neighborhoods across the city. And I think what we’re learning is that it was a serious mistake to do a wholesale rewrite rather than to amend the existing code. Burying a series of significant policy changes in a virtually unreadable 985-page text is recipe for poor decision-making. We need issue-by-issue consideration (which, in some cases, will mean neighborhood-by-neighborhood analysis) of proposed changes in order to evaluate whether they take us closer to (or farther away from) where we as a city want to be.

The major obstacle to this kind of deliberative approach has been the Zoning Commission’s reliance on the Office of Planning. On the one hand, that’s a structural problem. The Office of Planning serves as the experts that vet the Office of Planning’s own work. And if the Zoning Commission decides that it wants to see that work done better or differently, it has to rely on the Office of Planning to fix what’s broken. But this structural problem has been aggravated by the dogmatism and, frankly, the belligerence of the Office of Planning under the leadership of Harriet Tregoning.

Fortunately, that last obstacle is about to be removed. Weeks after having lost the Height Act battle and a few days before Bill de Blasio would announce he’d chosen someone else to head NYC’s planning department, Tregoning decided to take a job with the feds rather than to go down with the sinking ship that is the zoning rewrite effort. It’s a wise — probably essential — career move on her part. As long as she doesn’t have to get the new code passed or be held responsible for its implementation, Tregoning can claim kudos for her visionary leadership. And when, quite predictably, her vision doesn’t translate into reality — well, that’ll be someone else’s fault. Shades of Gabe Klein, Scott Kubly, and the streetcar system. Or, for that matter, Michelle Rhee and DCPS. At any rate, our challenge now is to take a fresh look both at our zoning code and at what we want from our next Director of Planning. These are timely questions to raise during this mayoral election season. In essence, zoning is about how much of what belongs where. The answer that Tregoning’s Office of Planning has proposed in this new code is “more of everything, everywhere.” This approach represents an abdication of responsibility for planning the city’s growth, as well as the abandonment of zoning as a tool for balancing the interests of neighboring property owners and for taming or channeling market forces.

Outreach on the proposed new code has focused on a few planning trends — granny flats, corner stores, and the reduction or elimination of on-site parking requirements. These issues are essentially sideshows, distracting attention away from both the sizable giveaways in the newly expanded downtown and the Office of Planning’s failure to address the most important problems — affordability, uneven development, retention of new residents, and a series of quality of life issues — we face as a city. What we need is a citywide discussion about how and where we grow, conducted by a Planning Director who listens to, learns from, and respects the people who live here. Someone who is a fundamentally a problem solver, who will appreciate what’s special about our city and recognize what we want to preserve, but who is also willing and able (both competent and empowered) to initiate the long-term efforts necessary to address our most enduring challenges. We’re not going to attract anyone with those qualities or ambitions if our next appointee is saddled with the unenviable task of implementing a poorly conceived and badly drafted new zoning code that has been adopted over the protests of neighborhoods throughout the city. It’s time to step back, learn for our mistakes, and do this right. Obviously, the current code isn’t standing in path of growth or redevelopment. There’s no urgent need to jettison it, much less to adopt something worse.


Lessons from New Orleans
Alma Gates, ahg71139aol@com

In her 2010 book, The Trouble with City Planning, Kristina Ford uses the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to demonstrate how city planning decisions are made. Ford recognizes that generally, the attitudes of and approaches taken by planners are fairly universal.

So much of what Kristina Ford experienced in New Orleans has been paralleled by DC Office of Planning’s approach to the Zoning Regulation Review (ZRR). The “review” of the zoning regulations began in 2007 with two roundtables where many residents testified before the Zoning Commission on revisions they felt were needed to update and bring clarity to the city’s current zoning regulations. Rather than listen to the public that advocated for a major edit of the current code, OP seized upon an opportunity to completely rewrite the zoning regulations. This is what Kristina Ford meant when she wrote, “[planners] write plans based more on their pet planning theories than on what they know about the city.” The young staff of planners OP hired to shepherd the rewrite knew very little about the nation’s capital, its unique neighborhoods, or its Comprehensive Plan that looks at the “big picture” of how change will be managed in the years ahead.

Currently, the Zoning Commission is struggling with OP’s ideologically-based zoning document, which vaguely reflects Comprehensive Plan guidance. This was not the intended outcome of the 2007 roundtables, and demonstrates OP wasn’t listening to what roundtable witnesses said in 2007. Ultimately, the Zoning Commission will decide whether a major edit of the current code is best, or the city should move forward a transformative ideology. There are parallel lessons to be learned by DC residents from the way planning was handled in New Orleans, but first and foremost it is important to recognize that planners have their own ideas, ideology, and pet planning theories, and they don’t listen.


Clyde E. Howard, Jr.,

It seems that the DC government is in violation of a federal law that forbids the construction of overhead wires in the City of Washington. The law is as follows:

“The Commissioners of the District of Columbia shall not, after the fifteenth day of September, eighteen hundred and eighty-eight, admit or authorize any additional telegraph, telephone, electric lighting or other wires to be erected or maintained on or over any of the streets or avenues of the city of Washington, and the said Commissioners are hereby directed to investigate and report to Congress at the beginning of its next session the best method of removing all electric wires from the air or surface of the streets, avenues and alleys, and the best method of interring the same under ground, and such legal regulation thereof as may be needed; and they shall report what manner of conduits should be maintained by the city of Washington, if any. and the cost of constructing and maintaining the same, and what charge, if any, should be made by the city for the use of its conduits by the persons or corporations placing wires therein, and upon what terms and conditions the same should be used when required so to do, and for such investigation, one thousand dollars is hereby appropriated: Provided, That the Commissioners of the District may, under such reasonable conditions as they may prescribe, authorize the wires of any existing telegraph, telephone or electric light company now operating in the District of Columbia, to be laid under any street, alley, highway, foot way or sidewalk in the District, whenever in their judgment the public interest may require the exercise of such authority — such privileges as may be granted hereunder to be revocable at the will of Congress without compensation and no such authority to be exercised after the termination of the present Congress.”

Which means that the DC government cannot authorize the erection of overhead power lines in the City of Washington. This law was issued by the 50th Congress in 1888 for the 1889 fiscal year for the DC government. And because the DC government is in violation of the law they should be dealt with accordingly.


Anacostia River Cleanup Petition
David Bardin,

Please ask friends and family to consider cosigning, with former Mayor Williams and me, the petition below asking today’s elected officials to give toxins seeping into the Anacostia River their priority attention (and please consider signing yourself if you have not already done so). Yesterday’s Washington Post reports our big program to end most overflows carrying sewage fecal matter into the Anacostia. We need parallel efforts to control toxins in the river’s banks and bottom, left over from past industrial activity. Let me know if you have any questions.

Take the first easy step by signing the petition to the mayor and DC councilmembers at, “The Anacostia River and its surrounding community have the potential to be an extraordinary ecological, recreational, social, cultural, and economic driver for the DC region. However, the nation’s capital cannot reach its potential as long as dangerous chemicals in the riverbed and at certain places along the banks remain unaddressed. I urge you to make a commitment to fully cleaning up the toxic chemicals found in and around the Anacostia. Specifically, I ask that you pledge to have the toxic cleanup underway by January 2017 — three years from now. Experts say this is aggressive but doable. River toxins have been associated with an increased risk of developmental and behavioral problems as well as cancer. The longer we wait, the longer we jeopardize the health of our community. Instead, let’s get on track to fully enjoy the benefits from this extraordinary natural resource.”


Homelessness and Liberals
Bryce Suderow,

Gary’s item in “themail” [February 9] was quite timely. He talked about how liberal the city is, but let’s take a look at the effects of that liberalism. In the Washington Post on February 10 there was an article on homelessness in the District, which has reached epidemic proportions. The article did not discuss one of the worst of the city’s facilities for the homeless, the campus at DC General. Three or four years ago Ward 6 City Councilman Tommy Wells deposited thousands of homeless people in abandoned buildings on the site. At the same time he allowed other members of the city council to concentrate all the methadone clinics on the campus. The result was an influx of drug dealers. What kind of politician permits this to happen to powerless poor people? A liberal, that is who.

All Liberals have two traits. First they are paternalistic. They know better than anyone what is good for the downtrodden. I doubt the homeless people at DC general wanted to be dumped there en masse. Forty years of housing projects revealed to everyone what the effects are when you concentrate thousands of poor people in one area. Pathologies such as crime and drug dealing are the inevitable result. No one knows this better than the poor and they certainly would have voted against being concentrated like livestock. And I am sure they would have opposed locating a methadone clinics nearby. But Tommy knew best.

The second liberal trait is that liberals just want to feel good about themselves. Tommy felt good because he was helping the poor by giving them a place to stay. He had done a good deed. The long term consequences never entered his feeble little mind. If you are interested you can read the E-mail traffic of the neighborhood effected by Tommy’s policies at The group is New Hill East. Here is the link:



Plan to Develop Dupont Circle’s Historic Patterson Mansion Revealed, February 17
Peter Wolff,

A plan for converting the Washington Club’s former home to a new use is to be presented to the Dupont Circle ANC on Monday evening, February 17. For more information, visit to read the Special Report posted at the top of the home page.


McMillan Park Fundraising Event, March 27
Cecily Kohler,

Join the Friends of McMillan Park on Thursday, March 27, at 6:30 p.m., for a cocktail party fundraiser at 410 GoodBuddy Gallery, 410 Florida Avenue, NW. The proceeds from this major event will benefit the Save McMillan Park Legal Fund to preserve this historic and important green space. The evening will include food, drinks, and raffle prizes!

McMillan Park is currently endangered by commercial development that would destroy the park’s majestic underground caverns. Our organization was founded by community supporters and neighbors who have fought tirelessly to preserve McMillan Park since 1989. Until World War II, the land was used by the DC community at large as a central park for recreation, cultural events, and gatherings.

For ticket sales and additional information, please contact us at 237-0427 or and visit


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