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ANC 6B Supports CBA with Conservative Partnership

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B held a hybrid meeting via Zoom and in-person at 700 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, on May 14. Frank Avery (6B01, treasurer); Jerry Sroufe (6B02); David Sobelsohn (6B03, secretary); Frank D’Andrea (6B04); Kasie Durkit (6B05); Vince Mareino (6B07, vice chair); Edward Ryder (6B08, Chair); and Matt LaFortune (6B09) were present, either online or in the room. Chander Jayaraman (6B06) was not present.

The ANC considered the terms of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with Clear Plains LLC for a proposed alley closing in Square 762. CPI intends to renovate the historic buildings to create a single building including first-floor retail, second floor office and event space and third floor event space. This involves additions to two of the buildings. The courtyard will be combined with the site and used as event space.

The dead-end alley is located behind the former Capitol Lounge (229 Pennsylvania Ave SE), one of nine properties on the block purchased by the Clear Plains LLC affiliated Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI) since 2022.

The ANC seeks community benefits to compensate for the loss of public access. Key CBA benefits include:

  • Indoor trash storage in buildings and agreement on hours and frequency of collection;
  • Applicant installs security cameras on alley space and blind corner mirror and additional lighting;
  • Applicant to donate $100,000 total to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation (CHCF) on schedule: $10,000 within a week of approval by ANC subcommittee; $15,000 more within a week after ANC approval; the remaining $75,000 within week after bill passed by DC Council.
  • Construction Management plan addressing traffic, communication, site management, rodent control, work hours and truck access;
  • Agreement not to change zoning of abutting properties as long as they are owned by applicant;
  • Hours of courtyard use restricted to 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m. until 1 a.m. Friday to Saturday, hours that would apply to any alcohol license application.
  • A provision that a ground lease tenant can use courtyard; if no tenant at 2 year mark after law closing alley passes, public should be granted access;
  • ANC can use alley up to 6 times per calendar year;
  • Interior space will be provided by CPI 12 times per calendar year for ANC community meetings, starting within 6 months after agreement is approved by ANC.
Map showing existing conditions and alley on square 763, the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Image: CORE Architecture, from NCPC Application. NCPC.gov

ANC Planning & Zoning Committee Resident Member (and former ANC 6B05 Commissioner) Ken Jarboe noted that what’s at stake is not who owns the alley property but an easement held by the city for public access to the space. In this case, the alley was created from private property in three stages between 1887 and 1911. District guidelines say once the space is no longer needed as alley, it should revert back to private property, in this case to the applicant. Jarboe said that this application meets the standards so well, “I am surprised there is a [community benefits] agreement.”

DC Council must pass legislation closing the alley with the approval of the Mayor. The application must also be approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and by the National Capital Planning Commission. A public hearing is not necessary if all property owners have signed off on the closure; in this case, CPI owns all of the property surrounding the alley. As with other District legislation, Congress has final approval of the bill.

P&Z Committee Chair Frank D’Andrea (6B04) pointed out that discussions around the CBA had been ongoing at committee level for over a year, noting that further negotiations may jeopardize the balance that had been struck.

Concerns

The CBA is controversial in part due to politics. CPI is chaired and was founded by former Senator Jim Demint after stepping down from his role at the Heritage Foundation.  Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is a senior partner.

Lafortune said he appreciated the work of the ANC committee, but not the agreement that was reached. He said that he found the benefits insufficient to compensate for the closure. Lafortune also noted that neighbors do not support the agreement. “It has pretty much been unanimously in opposition to this alley closing, for a lot of reasons, frequently specifically because they do not support CPI.”

Sobelsohn said that the application needs to be considered on neutral grounds. “Few of us like the Conservative Partnership Institute,” he said. “Many of us think they support politicians who disregard principles of democracy like freedom of speech and the sanctity of elections. But as Americans we have to follow our principles —our constitution prioritizes equal treatment, not just for ideas that we cherish but also for ideas that we hate.” The ideology of the applicant cannot matter in ANC consideration of the application, Sobelsohn argued; such discrimination would be a violation of the First Amendment.

Some commissioners argued that residents need more time to provide feedback, arguing that the terms of the CBA had only been publicly presented at the last ANC Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. Commissioner Avery suggested that a few rounds of public review would not be unusual. However, a motion to table the agreement failed 3-4 with Ryder abstaining.

Key to objections was a provision of the CBA that states, “[u]ntil the DC Council votes to approve or reject the alley closing, a representative of the ANC will periodically contact DC’s Ward Six Councilmember to urge Council approval of the alley closing.” Durkit in particular worried that the clause would put the ANC in the position of lobbying for CPI.

However, counsel for CPI Christopher Cohen offered to drop the contentious provision.

The ANC voted 5-1-2 to approve the CBA without the requirement, with Avery opposing and Durkit and Lafortune abstaining. The motion also included sending a letter of support to the surveyor’s office. It was further moved that ANC 6B send correspondence to DC Council to include the request that the Council include the entire CBA or the provisions of the CBA in any legislation related to the alley closing.

Other Business

The ANC voted unanimously to:

  • support a letter to the Mayor’s office and to DC Council suggesting the District increase the gas taxes in light of budget shortfall. DC has low gas tax at 23.5 cents per gallon in taxes, compared to 38.5 in Virginia and 47 cents in Maryland.
  • Support a letter to DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) in support of the Congressional Women’s Softball Game hosted at Watkins Elementary (400 12th St. SE) on June 26. The game raises money for young survival coalition, helping young adults with breast cancer diagnoses. Representatives agreed to mitigate sidewalk concerns and communicate with the Watkins elementary Principal.
  • appoint Sarah Moore 6B05 resident member to the SE Library Task Force

ANC 6B next meets in-person (700 Penn Ave. SE) and via Zoom at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 11. ANC 6B usually meets on the second Tuesday of each month. Find details at anc6b.org

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed Chander Jayaraman as Vice-Chair. Jayaraman was Vice-Chair in 2023 but did not run for re-election in 2024; Vince Mareino was elected Vice-Chair of ANC 6B in January 2024. The Hill Rag regrets the error.

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