What's in a name

A lot of what’s wrong with a recent nomination by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty can be summed up by pointing at a little blue house on Capitol Hill.

A lot of what’s wrong with a recent nomination by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty can be summed up by pointing at a little blue house on Capitol Hill.

On Jan. 7, Capitol Hill Restoration Society President Dick Wolf sent an official letter to the D.C. Council laying out CHRS opposition to a recent nomination of Geoffrey Griffis to the D.C. Zoning Commission, a promotion from his current position as chairman of the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA).

“Mr. Griffis has a long record of granting special exceptions and making other rulings which are eroding the residential and historic character of Capitol Hill,” the letter read.
Wolf cited two Capitol Hill corner properties as examples of Griffis’s bad work at the zoning board. The one at 10th and G streets is a red-brick townhouse with an ugly (unfinished) extension wedged between the house and its neighbor.

But at the other site, 10th and North Carolina, you wouldn’t know which corner to look at for the menace to neighborhood character. Turns out it’s a little blue two-story containing Bruce Louie and Robin Snyder, a little married couple with the blues.

“They opposed our extension on principle,” said Snyder, who insists all her nearby neighbors supported the construction. Snyder and Louie, who both work for the federal government, met Wolf two summers ago when he happened to be walking by the house. He approached them in their yard, they say, and was confrontational about the addition they were putting on their little blue house, which would nearly double its size. Wolf denies that he was confrontational.

The couple went through an arduous process with Griffis’s BZA for leave from regulations in order to expand their house. During hearings, the couple complained, they were subjected to philosophical redefinitions of “yard,” “air,” and “space” from CHRS zoning committee Chairman Gary Peterson. (Peterson achieved eternal Hill fame two weeks ago for using a frying pan to bludgeon a dangerous armed teenager who’d broken into his house.)
CHRS, of course, doesn’t oppose Griffis solely because of this house, but because if you allow willy-nilly home expansions the neighborhood could lose its historic character. In other words, it would cease to age gracefully, like a good historic district should, and instead wind up looking like the mismatched face of an old woman with bad plastic surgery.

Snyder said she brought chocolate-chip cookies to all her neighbors and everybody told her they thought the addition was a fine idea. Now that it’s done, she said they like how the add-on prevents the block from looking like a smile missing one of its front teeth. And the property value has increased.

Wolf makes the interesting point that the inevitable side effect of rising property value is a decrease in neighborhood value because blue-collar folks will be priced out.

Louie and Snyder are so bitter about their zoning experience you’d think Geoffrey Griffis hadn’t granted the zoning exception they wanted. That their house came up in the CHRS letter of opposition, Louie said, “really makes this guy’s case for being a good appointee.”

The smoking gun

On Feb. 6, City Councilmember Marion Barry introduced a bill to toughen penalties for gun possession.

“We are in the midst of a gun-violence epidemic,” Barry said. “I myself am a victim of a gun pointed in my face — cold steel.” 

All well and good, this bill, and it has plenty of co-sponsors. But one element of it is surprising: The bill provides anybody who illegally owns a gun 90 days to register it. What? We can have guns now?

Barry admitted when introducing the bill that D.C.’s tough gun restrictions have done nothing to curb shootings, but he blamed other gun-lovin’ jurisdictions for the preponderance of firearms here.

The National Rifle Association, which has sponsored congressional repeals of D.C.’s gun restrictions in the past, told HillScape that it’s still examining Barry’s legislation and doesn’t have anything to say yet. But a Washington Times article on the Barry bill is featured prominently on NRA websites — I dare to speculate they might like it. 

That very same day, Barry introduced a bill that will provide for $100 fines against anybody caught smoking while driving with kids in the car.

“It’s not meant to be a punitive measure to adults … who want to smoke and want to kill themselves,” Barry said when he introduced the bill. If a person who gets caught agrees to enter smoking-cessation programs, that person won’t have to pay.

Where was Marion Barry with these bills back in the 1980s, when I was a wee lad and my parents, puffing away with the car windows up, had me duck my head as we drove down a bad part of North Capitol street on our way home from some party or other? Not only could I have been spared the smoke, but I could’ve peered through the side window at those dangerous, teeming masses — fearlessly —knowing that I had a legal piece of “cold steel” by my side.

Change for chumps

D.C.’s nonvoting congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton recently introduced a bill to free the D.C. city budget from Congress’s parental oversight. Currently the city has to wait for an act of Congress to set its budget. In a Jan. 30 statement Norton said her bill is second only to voting-rights legislation for beneficence to the District.
It seems wonky, but having to wait on Congress to pass the budget really can screw up the city.

In 1996, to take the worst example, congressional Democrats filibustered four times to prevent passage of the District budget primarily because of a school-voucher provision attached by Newt Gingrich-led Republicans — something antithetical to the wants of the national education lobby. Norton told The Washington Post that the stalling was “like being thrown into outer space.” The budget passed after a whopping six months of partisan congressional wrangling. City employees were laid off, essential services were interrupted, and debt went through the roof. Anthony Williams, then in his role as the city’s chief bean counter, lamented, “If we were a private business, we wouldn’t be operating.”

The budget autonomy bill is part of Norton’s “Free and Equal D.C. Series.” The statement from her office sounds what is supposed to be a hopeful note:

“One bill in the series, H.R. 392, authorizing specially designed circulating quarters for D.C. and the territories, already has passed the House.”

If the House of Representatives is willing to let us have a quarter, and we consider that a victory — well, we’ve got a bleak situation. And what are they going to put on the D.C. quarter? A panda bear? The White House? The Capitol building? Bah! Keep the change.