For this edition of One on One, we sat down with Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B commissioner Brian Flahaven.
Attending ANC meetings is an underutilized way for city residents to have a surprising impact on the future development in their neighborhoods. Until recently, Brian Flahaven was a concerned resident; now he is serving in his first term on ANC 6B, which covers near Southeast from Capitol Hill to Barney Circle, including Hill East. Flahaven got attention in the Twittersphere for his active role in grilling the Mayor and other DC officials during a recent meeting regarding Reservation 13, a ripe-for-development plot of land in Hill East; Flahaven also has one of the most active blogs of any ANC member in the city.
Most days, Flahaven can be seen pounding the pavement of the neighborhoods he serves, doing everything from passing out flyers to attending hearings. We recently chatted with him about life as an ANC Commissioner, Reservation 13 and the future of Hill East.
Why did you decide to become an ANC commissioner, and has it met your expectations?
Brian Flahaven: In 2010, I was concerned about the way that a proposal to make Barney Circle a historic district was moving forward. There wasn’t a lot of community engagement, and it appeared we were going to sign on to being a historic district when we weren’t really concerned with door, windows, facades, etc. People were actually concerned about pop-ups. I thought it wasn’t good policy to go for full historic designation, and, more than that, I thought that people didn’t have enough information about it. We had a commissioner who was voting for the historic district, and I went to him and said ‘You’ve got to slow this down – people need to have a conversation about it.’ His response was essentially ‘if you’re not happy, run against me.’ I am continuing to talk with historic district supporters and opponents about a possible compromise.
I view the commission as being a voice for the neighborhood. The three biggest issues to me are Reservation 13, cars speeding on 17th Street, and the future of the Eastern Branch Boys and Girls Club, a vacant building owned by the city. It’s sitting vacant and we’re trying to work with the city to figure out what to do with it. I’m going to spend my time pushing on those issues, the ones that affect people who live in my district.
Our ANC has folks who are retired and folks who are working like I am, and we currently have a setup where every commissioner attends every committee meeting [in addition to the monthly ANC 6B meeting], but we are trying to change that. I’m afraid that if you have everyone going to every committee meeting, you burn people out. If people have day jobs and families, they may not run. From the perspective of representing the community, we also want to represent young families and folks who have jobs.
How much sway do you have within the committee you serve on?
BF: It depends. We tend to give a lot of deference to the Single Member District commissioner. If it’s an issue in my district, I’m a believer that you should do everything you can do to make sure it’s not a train wreck. On Douglas Development’s redevelopment of the old KFC site, we started bringing the nearby neighbors in on the conversation. Douglas came out and did a couple meetings, and we walked folks through the plans. They asked a lot of questions about the alley, parking and construction.
Did Douglas concede any points during that negotiation?
BF: We have an Memorandum of Understanding about what can go into the development. It’s not binding, it’s good faith. We got them to put in some thing to make it as transit friendly as possible, and they agreed that they won’t have certain businesses, like 7-11s and check cashing places, [occupy the retail portion].
With all the development happening in Hill East, do you feel like you have the opportunity to shape it?
BF: Everybody had hope in what, I think, is the top priority: the waterfront [the redevelopment of Reservation 13]. There were plans, developers had bid, and we were all ready to go ahead with the development. There is not another transit-friendly, undeveloped large parcel of land on The Hill. Obviously, that stalled. So, from our perspective, that is the biggest issue here. I’m very frustrated by how slowly the city has worked on it, but the deputy mayor is issuing an RFP [Request for Proposals] for the two sites closest to the Armory Metro.
We have some interesting issues. One of the biggest is the need for more restaurants and retail, but in order to warrant that, we need more daytime people. That’s why Reservation 13 is so important, because of the office space and day jobs that will come. Pennsylvania Avenue has a lot of potential too, but we’re limited by the actual retail space on that block, which is not great. We’re excited about the Douglas Development plan, which is bringing retail to the corner, but nothing compares to Reservation 13. It’s huge for the neighborhood.
People are also very excited about the [Lock 7 Development at 321 18th Street SE]. That building is in front of the Hill East Community Garden. It’s such a blighted building, it’s hazardous — people are thrilled. People would love to see more residential and retail. That intersection of 15th and Pennsylvania is prime for development.
What did you think of the meeting [with the Mayor regarding the possibility of putting a Redskins Training Facility on Reservation 13]?
BF: I appreciate the fact that he came out, but I was frustrated by the meeting. I was one of the moderators, and I felt they would give answers that didn’t really answer the questions that were asked.
It did seem like it may have had the impact that you wanted, though.
BF: In terms of getting Reservation 13 back on the agenda, and reminding people of the plan, I think it was successful, and the fact that the training facility is not going to go there is a good thing. It wasn’t going to bring any benefits to our neighborhood. But I don’t want to lose momentum. We have to keep pushing the city to get the RFP out and keep moving on this. They also need to come up with a comprehensive plan on how to deal with the number of social services over there — the homeless shelter, the methadone clinic. The jail isn’t going anywhere. We’ve been trying to push the city to really think proactively about that, to start working on that now, rather than just bid out the two first parcels and deal with the other stuff later.
You mentioned that ANCs can burn people out. Do you find yourself burned out or more interested in politics as a result of your new role?
BF: I’m weird, because I find myself more energized by it. My wife would say that I need to chill out. I go to a lot of meetings. When redistricting happened, I found myself doing things almost every day after work — going to the Wilson Building, going to meetings; I went to every redistricting meeting happening around the city. When I focus on an issue, I get very passionate about it. I like to get people to take action, come to meetings. I have a website that I post a ton of information on, but I think you have to flyer.
You personally have to flyer?
BF: Yeah. I probably know the doorsteps of my district better than anybody. Between redistricting, Reservation 13, and the speeding on 17th Street, I’ve probably put a flyer up on 17th Street houses 20 times. [Sitting on the ANC] does take a lot of time, but I am going to run again…I feel like I can handle it all. I am frustrated by our commission meetings because they take four hours and you end up hearing things twice, but the ability to have a say on issues that affect our neighborhood outweighs that.
Do you see yourself on the ANC for awhile or perhaps moving forward in politics?
BF: On the ANC, I can represent my constituency, and also have a voice on issues that effect The Hill as a whole — Eastern Market and the Hine School, for example. From that perspective, I see myself on the commission for awhile. Of course, that is really up to my constituents. Who know what opportunities may come up in the future.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/one_on_one_anc_6bs_brian_flahaven/5719
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