by Mary Beth Ray and Sally Gresham
Former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners for ANC 3F03 and 3F04
(January 12) – As we ring in the New Year, Commissioner Sally Gresham and I have additional cause to celebrate: We are wrapping up four years of service on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F.
January seems like a good time to reflect on our experiences, both positive and negative, and to look forward to our hopes for the future of our neighborhood.
We feel honored to have served our community, and in fact, this was Sally’s second tour of duty, having served for two years back in 1995-1996. We both feel admiration and respect for our fellow commissioners. Throughout almost every topic, our discussions maintained a level of civility and camaraderie rarely seen on Capitol Hill. Commissioners showed up to meetings, they prepared, and they listened to alternative views. And unlike another ANC, no punches were thrown!
The ANC really is where the rubber meets the road on local politics. And while the DC Council and Congress debate larger topics, it’s important to remember that the only meaningful forum for issues like sidewalks, curb cuts, trees, public space usage, liquor licenses, noise, and so forth is the ANC. These are not sexy topics, yet they very much impact our daily lives. In short, ANC commissioners focus on nitty-gritty details that can improve our community.
And so while we don’t want to scare off future potential candidates, Sally and I wanted to give you a bird’s eye view of our ANC experiences.
What was the best thing about being on the ANC?
And, yessiree, that parking permit is the bomb!
How much time did you spend on ANC work?
MBR: It varied by week, but on average I spent 10-20 hours per week on ANC business. With a few ANC meetings going until after midnight, some weeks exceeded 20 hours.
SG: On average, 30+ hours per week … and Mary Beth is being modest about her inputs as a Commissioner.
What are your biggest accomplishments?
MBR: Founding the Van Ness Vision Committee of ANC 3F, which then incorporated and became Van Ness Main Street, has been a real source of pride for all of us. The ANC served as an incubator that helped launch a lasting management structure that is really benefiting our neighborhood. Council member and Forest Hills neighbor Mary Cheh was pivotal in helping us secure the DSLBD grant that got us started.
I am also proud to have started the Soapstone Committee, which is in its second iteration as the Soapstone/Hazen Parks and Trails Committee, headed by Commissioner Pat Jakopchek. I can sleep better at night knowing that our beloved parks and trails are being protected! I am hopeful that our Albemarle resolution passed last month will serve as a catalyst to improve conditions along this potentially beautiful corridor.
Finally, I feel that through various activities and projects, we have forged a stronger relationship with the University of the District of Columbia, which is a key stakeholder that is essential to our success as a community.
SG: I second VNMS getting started, because it has the opportunity to be a sustainable force for change in our neighborhood. Back in 1995, we started Friends of Connecticut Avenue, a group of merchants and residents aimed at improving the corridor, but now there is a critical mass of interested merchants and residents who are making positive changes.
Working with DPR, DGS and Friends of Forest Hills Playground to get the first major playground improvements in many years implemented was rewarding. Having a whole block of 32nd Street upgraded with a new sidewalk, gutter and roadway has really made a difference. Helping get Park Van Ness shepherded through DDOT’s Public Space Process, bringing with it Soapstone Market and Sfoglina Restaurant was noteworthy. As was getting a standardized ABRA agreement written for the ANC, working with the Murch School Improvement Team and working with the few but awesome DDOT employees that are bright lights of hope!
What are your frustrations?
MBR: I hate to pick on an agency, but dealing with DDOT can be extremely frustrating. Probably 80 percent of our ANC issues tie back to DDOT, and the agency is a bureaucratic maze of sub-agencies and contractors, which means issues often get stuck or lost. Several DDOT employees have been terrific, and they have actually helped us cut the red tape. But a reorganization, or a streamlining, of DDOT is overdue.
A related frustration is the length of time it takes to resolve an issue. Sometimes that is understandable, because the fix involves numerous agencies, or money that has not been budgeted, or litigation. But often the resolution trail seems to lead to a black hole. I am hopeful that Mayor Bowser’s new system to track ANC resolutions will help address this problem, and that agencies will be held accountable for following up on their duty to give ‘great weight’ to ANC resolutions.
SG: Ditto on DDOT as the most frustrating DC Agency to deal with by far. One cannot seem to reach the correct person within the correct department to get a simple repair or improvement done without having to go to the top dog(s) with multiple e-mails and ANC resolutions to no avail. Cases in point are two extremely dangerous pedestrian conditions – the collapsing sidewalk at Albemarle and 32nd Streets intersection and the lack of a southern crosswalk on Connecticut Ave at Windom Place.
Another frustration is self-entitled constituents who demand the impossible but won’t do anything themselves. Things aren’t going to fix themselves. As President Obama said in his farewell address, “If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.” Amen!
With the multitude of programs and grants offered by our city government, one would not think this is an issue for commissioners and the community – the lack of resources to get things done. Van Ness Main Street is helping with this, but with more resources that are easy to access and implement, so much more could be accomplished.
What are your hopes for the future?
MBR: I hope our ANC continues to thoughtfully address the many details that arise on a day-to-day basis, but I also hope that the commissioners stop to ponder the longer view: What do we want our neighborhood to be in a year, five years, even fifty years? Taking the longer view can really help keep commissioners in tune with constituents and each other, and it can also serve as a vision or context for individual votes that don’t seem big on their own, but can potentially have a big impact on the future.
Sidewalks, curb cuts, and bike paths are great examples of something that seems piecemeal, but with a broader vision, individual votes can contribute to the long-term walkability of our community. Protection of trees, and water quality in Soapstone Valley, are more examples of ‘one offs’ that can have a long-term impact on our environmental quality, health and well-being.
There will be many opportunities for the ANC and Van Ness Main Street to work together for more improvements that benefit all our residents, businesses and students: thoughtful landscape improvements along the Connecticut Avenue corridor, wayfinding, public art, enhanced farmers’ markets, and linking with our embassies. My over-arching hope is that more neighbors will get involved in the work of the ANC and Van Ness Main Street, because we need your help!
SG: Building on Mary Beth’s hopes, my ‘hopes and desires’ for the future include:
- Tearing down these buildings and replacing them with something worthy of the neighborhood: 4111 to 4123 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 4215 and 4221 Connecticut.
- Either repurpose or rebuild the old Walgreen’s at 4225 Connecticut.
- That UDC and Bernstein will successfully redevelop 4250 Connecticut in a way that allows the retail at the ground floor to serve the neighborhood.
- That Roadside Development gets started with a transformation of the 4300 block of Connecticut.
- That the block of 4400 – 4422 Connecticut is redeveloped into more housing and retail.
- Other noticeable gaps along Connecticut Avenue beg for redevelopment. Filling in these gaps and all the above will dramatically improve the street presence and connectivity.
These are not at all small desires and will take time, patience and fortitude, but everyone in this wonderful community can roll up their sleeves and make this happen!
Any advice for your successor?
SG: Of course. Ditto to Mary Beth’s sage advice plus…
- Illegitimi non carborundum
- Keep a touch of humor during long ANC meetings
- Use that parking pass with gusto!
What are you going to do with all that free time?
MBR: Double down on work with Van Ness Main Street, as President of the Board of Directors; and enjoy the fruits of our labor by hanging out at some of our terrific businesses like Soapstone Market, Sfoglina, Acacia Bistro and Bread Furst!
SG: What free time? We’ve only been out of office for a week and my calendar is already full again!