Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D met on April 13 over WebEx. Commissioners Gail Fast (6D01), Anna Forgie (6D02), Andy Litsky (6D04) and Fredrica (Rikki) Kramer (6D05), Rhonda N. Hamilton (6D06) and Edward Daniels (6D07) were in attendance. Commissioner Litsky presided. Ronald Collins (6D03) was absent.
Columbia Property Trust, owner of the office building that houses WeWork, at 80 M St. SE, requested a 16-week, 24-hour, six-day-a-week afterhours construction permit to expand the structure by three floors. All construction operations would be limited to off hours, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. This schedule was not put forward when the project was discussed during earlier commission meetings.
Construction work would be confined to the building’s interior, stated Columbia representatives. They applied for the waiver to allow construction to proceed at times that did not impact existing tenants.
Columbia’s request for such substantial after-hours construction left commissioners completely incredulous. Standard hours for construction in the District are from 7 a.m.to 7 p.m. on weekdays. This reporter does not ever remember a request of this magnitude in the decade that he has covered the commission.
144 residents of the neighboring Velocity Condo, Commissioner Forgie stated, had signed a petition against it. Condemning the request in unambiguous terms, she said, “Residents are surrounded by construction all day long. They need to be able to sleep in peace at night.” Several Velocity residents echoed her concerns.
The commission voted with one abstention to oppose the after hours waiver.
Councilmember Allen Visits Virtually
Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) virtually visited with commissioners to address the COVID crisis. Addressing its economic impact, he stated, “There are a lot of local businesses that are not going to survive.” Allen is focused on keeping a “heartbeat” going at these firms and also at small nonprofits. The latter are under threat as traditional sources of philanthropy dry up.
In his role as Judiciary Committee Chair, Allen has also been monitoring the health situation at the DC Jail. One inmate had died from COVID, he stated. Access to the jail has been severely curtailed to defend against further infection.
Other public safety agencies have also taken safety measures, stated Allen. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has moved its roll calls outdoors. Fire and Emergency Medical Services have more difficult challenges due to their shared quarters. Court services have been significantly paired back.
Allen believes the June 2 election will have to be significantly reengineered for safety. The DC Board of Elections (BOE) is urging residents to vote by mail. There will be only 20 voting stations citywide for in-person voting. This is a significant decrease from the usual number of precincts. The issue of ballot petitions remains to be solved, he added.
Allen noted that unemployment claims are being held up by antiquated systems at the DC Office of Employment Services.
Allen acknowledged the enormous racial disparity in COVID infections and deaths. African-Americans are disproportionally impacted. “We have a lot of work to do,” he stated.
The schools would likely remain closed through remainder of the academic year, Allen posited. “We need to be very aggressive in having an “academic recovery plan,”” he added.
Commissioners asked Allen about the impact of COVID on the homeless. Allen warned of a significant increase in homeless encampments because people are scared that the shelters are not safe. Measures are being taken to ensure these institutions maintain social distance and cleanliness.
Commissioner Kramer raised concerns about social distance and supermarket operations. The Mayor’s Order needs amendment, Allen stated, to ensure consistency. “Part of this requires common sense and allow us to accommodate these new shopping patterns.” There will be enforcement, Allen warned.
Asked about the city’s micro-grant program, Allen stated that he expected awards to go out the door by the end of April. There were over 6,000 applications, more than the available funds.
When would the city see a significant increase in testing, asked several commissioners? About 10,000 people have been tested. Currently, both the DC State lab and private companies are performing the tests, mainly LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics. A new hotline has been established to help connect folks with tests, he stated.
The public lab can test 500 people a day. All testing is being focused on first responders and at-risk individuals, Allen stated. A drive-through testing center has been established at United Medical Center in Ward 8. The problem is that many of those impacted do not own cars.
One commissioner asked Allen why small business faced so many challenges reopening. Restaurants and retailers have thin margins and high fixed costs, Allen replied. “They have these financial obligations that continue when they are ordered to close their doors, yet have no cash flow,” he pointed out. Moreover, online sales are crushing local retail.
“Your local business is on life support and is hard hit. Everyone one should buy local whenever possible to keep them alive,” Allen stated.
1900 Half Street
Representatives of Douglass Development and Eagle Academy support adding a 24,000 square foot charter school to the RiverPoint development at 1900 Half St. SW at the end of Buzzard Point. Currently zoned for retail, any change in use requires Zoning Commission (ZC) approval under the terms of the Capitol Gateway Overlay District.
Eagles new campus would accommodate pre-K to Third grade classes. Douglass asked the commission to support a waiver so that the ZC could consider the change as a matter of “consequence” rather than one of “significance.” Unlike the former, the latter designation requires full consideration by the sitting ZC, which would significantly expedite the project.
In a very confusing exchange, Commissioner Kramer, whose district includes RiverPoint, tried to frame a motion on the fly that would have required the developer to insert language into its commercial lease with the charter school requiring both public enrollment reporting, formal recruitment cooperation with neighboring public schools and a return of the space to commercial use in the event of the school’s failure.
Eagle’s use of the space was controversial. The commission was not opposed to the school, which has earned solid support for its existing southeast campus. Rather, commission and developer had had earlier disagreements about the use of ground and mezzanine space at RiverPoint. Commissioners had been adamant about Douglass finding a retail tenant such as a small grocer or pharmacy.
Due to technical difficulties with Commissioner Kramer’s WebEx connection, it was impossible for the other commissioners to understand her motion. Chair Fast paused the process to address other matters, while Kramer produced a written version to post on the WebEx blackboard. When the commission returned to the matter, the motion failed to garner enough support. Kramer than reframed her motion, dropping all the requirements. The second motion passed with four commissioners in support and two abstentions.
While Eagle’s project proved controversial, a request by DC Central Kitchen to locate its headquarters at neighboring RiverPoint, 2121 First St. SW, earned unanimous support from the commission. The nonprofit plans to combine 20,000 square feet of the project’s ground floor space with another 15,000 square feet of on the building’s mezzanine.
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Captain Michael Pulliam briefed the commission on public safety. Citing the recent crowds at the Southwest Fish Market as an example of what not to do, the captain urged listeners to “Please stay home.” The health crisis has a resulted in a 30 percent fall in property crimes, he continued.
Asked about the recent homicide at the Fourth Street Safeway, the captain stated that it was a result of an argument between acquaintances in the store that spilled over onto the street. The police have suspects in mind. Other the other hand, there has been no progress in solving the shooting in Capitol Quarter on the 300 block of K Street SW. More cameras were being deployed on the 1300 of First Street, he added.
The commission voted to:
- support the Army 10 Miler on Oct. 11;
- support the Prevent Cancer Foundation 5K on Nov. 1;
- support the new Providence Diagnostic Center;
- support the Southwest Arts Festival on July 11 (Subsequently canceled.);
- encourage residents to participate in the 2020 Census;
- support Jose Andreas World Kitchen at Nationals Park;
- approve a liquor license and cooperative agreement for La Famosa, 1300 Fourth St. SE;
- approve a liquor license and cooperative agreement for Colada, 10 Pearl St. SW;
- support the set of public easements necessary for the Randall School Project, 820 Half St. SW;
- send a letter to the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) requesting the agency tighten its COVID, work safety guidance on the construction industry;
- support a change in use allowing a residents-only rooftop bar at 950 South Capitol St.;
- authorized Commissioner Kramer to testify before the ZC regarding a text amendment to Subtitle K, Special Purpose Zones;
- send a letter to the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) requesting the agency alter its rules for after hours utility work to ensure the commission’s input and display permits;
- send at letter to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) protesting Metro buses illegally idling particularly at night;
- send a letter to the DC City Administrator protesting the five-month closure of the Unity Health Clinic;
- send a letter DDOT’s Committee on Public Space reminding them that the commission’s approval is required for all sidewalk café permits;
- support after hours construction for the removal of a crane at 250 M St. SE limited to one Saturday and the following Monday with no late night work;
- approved the first quarter FY20 Treasure’s report.
ANC 6D’s next meeting will be held on May 11 at 7 p.m. at a place to be determined. Visit www.anc6d.org for more information.