How Much Power Will A Proposed Bill Give ANCs?

by Shilpi Paul

How Much Power Will A Proposed Bill Give ANCs?: Figure 1
An early rendering of 5333 Connecticut Ave NW

When news dropped that Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh was proposing a bill to allow advisory neighborhood commissions (ANCs) to weigh in on by-right residential projects of a certain size, the criticism came almost immediately.

In short, Cheh’s bill proposes including residential buildings larger than 150,000 square feet in an already-extant process known as Large Tract Review (LTR). LTR, which currently is used for commercial and mixed-used projects over 50,000 square feet, is a process wherein ANCs and city agencies take a look at a development in the early stages of planning, communicate with the builder, and formally record their opinions and concerns. The Office of Planning then collects the opinions and sends the report to everyone involved.

Cheh believes that the outsized reactions to the proposed legislation may be because people think that ANCs will have more power than the bill actually mandates.

“There is no approval, there is no great weight,” Cheh told UrbanTurf regarding questions about new powers being given to ANCs. “The purpose of the bill is to see what the concerns are and to require engagement early on. Builders/developers don’t have to respond to the concerns raised by the ANC unless a law is being violated in some way.”

Cheh stressed that LTR is categorically different from a current ANC process that gives the commissions the opportunity to support or oppose projects that need a zoning variance from the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) or approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board; in those cases, the opinion of the ANC is given “great weight.” That is not the case for LTR, said Cheh.

The bill adjusts a couple other elements of LTR, one of which Cheh hopes that developers will like. Right now, there is no real end date to the review period, and the average time for the process is 140 days. In some cases, Cheh told us, agencies and community members “drag their feet” with the hope of getting concessions from developers. So, Cheh added a time limit in the new bill. Specifically, LTR should be completed within 60 days, but can last no longer than 120 days.

“I have no interest in slowing down important projects in the District of Columbia,” emphasized Cheh.

Still, developers that UrbanTurf spoke with were not enthusiastic about the bill, to put it lightly.

“Let’s not create another bill which can open a Pandora’s box of neighbors’ wish lists and unrealistic expectations,” Ramin Bassam, president of PERS Development, said. “By-right properties, commercial or residential, require the highest amount of financial resources. They don’t and shouldn’t involve everyone’s desires.”

Cheh, however, thinks that getting buy-in from the community can be a good thing for developers. The development that led to this bill was the hotly contested project at 5333 Connecticut Avenue NW, a large, by-right residential development that has drawn the ire of many in Ward 3. Cheh believes that the developer’s failure to communicate with neighbors is what fueled the ill will towards the project.

“If the people behind it had gone out to the community and engaged with them, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are,” Cheh posited. “If you don’t do that, people in the neighborhood are going to search high and low for any aspect they can object to. They are going to fight every step of the way.”

ANC commissioners that UrbanTurf spoke with had varying perspectives on the bill. (Note: We didn’t hear back from anyone on ANC 3G, where the aforementioned Connecticut Avenue project is located.)

Matt Raymond, the chairman of ANC 2F, which covers development-friendly Logan Circle, doesn’t see much support for the bill from his fellow commissioners.

“Legislation like Cheh’s comes with little conceivable upside and a lot of potential downside—unnecessary delays that could imperil projects and much-needed housing inventory, additional costs to both government and the private sector, and probable litigation,” Raymond said. “It also sends yet another signal that DC is hostile to business at a time when we can least afford it.”

Mark Eckenwiler of ANC 6C doesn’t have a strong opinion about the bill, but sees an upside to increased communication.

“In an ideal world, you would have developers of projects of that size coming in and voluntarily engaging with the community and hearing potential concerns,” Eckenwiler told UrbanTurf. “There is no way that you can satisfy everybody, but I do think that projects benefit from input from people who are more familiar with the community, to learn about something like traffic flow or concerns about nighttime activity.”

As for its status, the bill has been referred to the Committee of the Whole, and it has not yet been announced what action they will take with it. We’ll keep you updated as the legislation moves forward.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/just_how_much_power_will_mary_chehs_proposed_bill_give_ancs/6942


  1. makeba said at 4:06 am on Thursday April 18, 2013:
    Wow...I think the ANC has some good intentions...but more red tape is not the answer. DCRA is already a pain often enough. 'Matter of Right' is just that. But when it comes to historical stuff, there is a need. DC needs the tax base. Also, most neighbors opinions are often skewed.Non-rational emotions are thrown into the mix as a way for someone just to be heard. And some folks dont like change...even if the block looks crappy. Now if DCRA would let me run thru faster...then maybe the ANC can lean in a little more...to a point.
  1. Dave said at 2:29 pm on Friday April 19, 2013:
    As it turns out, 'Matter of Right' is not often a matter a right. Developers announce that their project is a matter of right and everyone (DCRA, council members and some neighbors)just yield. DCRA seems to have a conflict of interest in making sure developers get whatever they need/want to keep developing. The ANC needs to have more weight so that someone will make sure interests (including neighborhood interests) are balanced.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »