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Commission Concludes Agreement 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), Edward Ryder (6B08, chair) and Matt LaFortune (6B09) were present, either online or in the room. Chander Jayaraman (6B06, vice chair) was not present.

Request by Conservative Partnership

Clear Plains LLC has applied to the District  to close a dead-end alley in Square 762 behind the former Capitol Lounge, 229 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. This is one of nine properties on the block purchased by the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI) since 2022.

The applicant plans to incorporate the historic structures into a single building featuring first-floor retail, second-floor offices and second- and third-floor event spaces. The project will make additions to two of the historic buildings. The courtyard created by the alley closure will serve as an event space.

The applicant has negotiated a community benefits agreement (CBA) with the commission to earn its support and compensate for the loss of public space. The CBA includes requirements for:

  • indoor trash storage and limitations on hours and frequency of collection;
  • security cameras on the alley space and a blind-corner mirror and additional lighting;
  • a contribution of $100,000 total to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation on the following schedule: $10,000 within a week of approval by the ANC subcommittee; $15,000 more within a week after ANC approval; the remaining $75,000 within week after a bill is passed by the DC Council;
  • a detailed construction management plan addressing traffic, communication, site management, rodent control, work hours and truck access;
  • agreement not to alter the zoning of abutting properties as long as they are owned by applicant;
  • restrictions on the hours of courtyard use: 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 the courtyard. If there is no tenant at the two-year mark after the passage of a law closing alley, the public should be granted access;
  • permission for the ANC to use the alley up to six times per calendar year;
  • provision of interior space 12 times per calendar year for ANC community meetings, starting within six months after the agreement is approved by the ANC.

At stake is not who owns the alley property but an easement held by the city for public access to the space, stated ANC Planning & Zoning Committee resident member and former ANC 6B05 commissioner Ken Jarboe. In this case, the alley was created from private property in three stages between 1887 and 1911, he said. District guidelines say once the space is no longer needed as an alley, it should revert to private property, in this case to the applicant, Jarboe said. “I am surprised there is a [community benefits] agreement,” Jarboe added, given this application’s adherence to those standards.

Map showing conditions and alley on Square 762, the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Image: CORE Architecture, from NCPC application

Alley closings require the passage of a bill by the DC Council and signed by the mayor. The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and the National Capital Planning Commission both must approve the closing. No public hearing is necessary since CPI owns all the adjacent property. As with other District legislation, Congress has final approval.

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

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 expressed his appreciation of the work of the P&Z Committee but was not supportive of the agreement. The benefits were insufficient to compensate for the closure of the alley, he said. Neighbors do not support the agreement, he added. “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,” he said.

The application needs to be considered on neutral grounds, stated Sobelsohn. “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 the ANC’s consideration of the application, Sobelsohn argued; such discrimination would be a violation of the First Amendment.

Some commissioners objected to the approval of the CBA, arguing there had been insufficient opportunity for public comment. A few more rounds of public review would not be unusual, said Avery. However, a motion to table the agreement failed, with Ryder abstaining.

Particularly controversial was a provision of the CBA stating that until the DC Council voted 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 worried that the clause would put the ANC in the position of lobbying for CPI. However, CPI’s attorney, Christopher Cohen, offered to drop the the clause.

The ANC voted to approve the CBA without the requirement, with Avery in opposition and Durkit and LaFortune abstaining; as well as send a letter in support to the DC Office of the Surveyor. The commission further agreed to request the DC Council incorporate the provisions of the CBA in any legislation related to the alley closing.

Other Business

The ANC voted unanimously to:

  • write to the mayor’s office and the DC Council suggesting the District increase the gasoline tax in light of the budget shortfall. DC has a tax of 23.5 cents per gallon, compared to 38.5 in Virginia and 47 in Maryland;
  • write the DC Department of Parks and Recreation in support of the Congressional Women’s Softball Game hosted at Watkins Elementary at 400 12th St. SE on June 26;
  • appoint Sarah Moore as the 6B05 resident member to the SE Library Task Force.

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

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