Old and new clash at monthly ANC meeting

Washington, D.C.’s Ward 1B ANC councilmembers, representatives, and residents gathered for its monthly meeting.

Meetings are held once a month to address and vote for regulations that affect the community. It started as a routine meeting but later transformed into a sparring match between residents and corporate representatives.

Photo: Kaylin Culliver

Commissioner Anita Norman began the meeting by introducing herself, and each of her eleven co-councilmembers. Norman then started reading minor requests made by the public regarding property regulations.

At first, it was a simple exchange over small issues like consideration of legal working hours.

Residents complained that certain construction companies in the community had been working outside of the allotted hours given to them and interrupting people’s sleeping ability.

However, the conversation soon turned into a shouting match when two issues concerning zoning were addressed.

Commissioner Norman read the request for an exemption in regards to height and lot occupancy requirements. A company, Madison Investments, applied to the board, asking for the approval to build a 240-unit apartment complex near a residential area in south Columbia Heights.

In the meeting, Pamela Towkin, who owns a business in an eighteen-unit building next to a lot of the new apartment building, challenged zoning commissioner, Jon Squicciarini.

“There’s no justification for an exemption of the rules that every other building is required to follow,” Towkin argued. “You’ve said nothing compelling enough to justify why we need 242 apartments and eight stories. They have to justify it. All the community is asking is that Madison Investments abide by the rules that have been in place for thirty years.”

Squicciarini responded, “Well, doesn’t your building have exemptions? Eight years ago your building received an exemption from lot requirements and off-street parking requirements. You’re taking advantage of [an] exemption yourself. I think you should direct your attention to things that matter.”

People in the room grew silent as tensions were high. Commissioner Norman read a request seeking an exemption about fencing requirements behind a residential property.

Resident Alison Weyes stood and said that extending her fence a few feet in front of her house wouldn’t affect her neighbors. She added that in building a fence in her backyard, her only goal is to ensure the protection of her future children while they are outside. Neighboring resident Andrea Feniak jumped out of her chair, yelling, “You just moved here! You don’t get to come to the neighborhood and mess up years of historic architecture.”

After constant arguing, Commissioner Norman was given the final verdict, and she voted in support of the fence extension.“I approved the fence because approving it allowed the residents to have an additional few feet to enclose their backyard for their future children and the dog they have. I just added a few feet; I didn’t give them anything that they weren’t entitled to”
Angered and frustrated, Feinak stormed out of the room.

“I’m so hurt by that verdict. It’s not personal. I don’t have an issue with my neighbor. It’s just that the fence is not compatible with Ledroit Park Historic District. It’s not compatible with the architecture,” she said.

“A wood fence, 6 ft high, at the street level, was not what was constructed in the 1800’s in Ledroit Park.”

“If one house begins to change rules, all the houses will change rules, and then there will be no history.”