Just who should have say about developement here…and from how far away?
Today feels like a mixed bag. There’s a lot that’s been happening. ANC decision on Matchbox’s exetended hours. The 14th Street post office out in part, because the developer didn’t ask them back. Growing steady pushback on parking…as if the streets around U & T aren’t jammed now, let’s invite a whole new bunch! And crime on the rise. Local residents are feeling a little squeezed and ignored.
I’m reminded of an question that touches on many of these matters (which we hope our neighbors will also generously be writing on!)
It was Thanksgiving; the main meal was finished, desserts were yet to come, so we mingled and had wine. Everyone was happy, until someone brought up Matchbox. “Ooo, I love Matchbox!” said one friend, and noticing my face added “what, you don’t? What don’t you like about it?”
I don’t care about Matchbox in the abstract. For those making the ‘foodie’ argument, most of the food in DC still holds a pale candle to New York or Chicago. Give me a fish taco at Pica Taco anyday over $20 tacos at ElCentro. As a yuppie place to spend too much money on mediocre pizza, I’ll never go to Matchbox. But lots of people will. Fine, let people choose.
But buildings and tenants aren’t abstract. They’re real: involving deliveries, garbage, patrons and workers, noise, and the ubiquitous DC rats. And it’s in the the specific – as in operating 10 houses down my block, drawing customers from everywhere by car or Metro – that I can state I don’t like it. “We have enough restaurants – and the chains are pushing out the cheap places who have been here forever,” I retort.
“What are you, a NIMBY?” he laughs, souring my happy humor, adding “Well I like it and I vote it stays!” ”
Well I don’t and I Live Here so I vote no.” “So do I, only three blocks away! Does that mean you have more of a vote than me?” Meaning: I’m close enough to walk to it, far enough away to not have to deal with any of the mess and the traffic tangles, but I like it so I have just as much say as you. Pie comes before the argument escalates.
Is this really the way local governance works? As long as someone likes something they should be able to vote for it, wherever they are; while those who don’t and live next door get sidelined as NIMBYs? Hmmm.
Which got me thinking: just who should have a say in a DC development? Let’s say, a 8-level development on 14th street, between T and U, east-side. For sake of argument, this one block development will involve taking down some existing structures & evicting long-term tenants, all to build small condos with possibly some retail on the first floor. Lastly, let’s say the project is getting next to no tax breaks; just the standard sort of utility and street work that comes with the build.
Now. Should someone living in Pennsylvania have a say in whether the building can go up, and what it’s ultimate shape is? Even if that person likes coming to DC and enjoys the U Street area? No. No, that person should not have any say whatsoever about what we do in the District, just as we would have no business poking our nose into their development. (Yes, all this with the caveat that none of the development threatens federal statute or regulations, in which every American has an equal stake.)
This is axiomatic. Why should Gladys Kravitz have no say? Because she doesn’t live here. She doesn’t pay taxes here. She doesn’t contribute in any meaningful way to the community. And because – this is the big one – it doesn’t affect her. So, having established some principles, let’s pull that right a bit tighter now.
Same development, same location, but this time, we ask someone in Takoma Park what they think. Considerably closer, yes, although she’s still in another jurisdiction. Doesn’t pay DC taxes but does contribute to a healthy DC financially and otherwise. Someone who’s interested in low-cost housing for all people. Should she have a voice in what happens? Well, she can exercise her voice all she likes, raising awareness, arguing for or against the development, building buzz. Campaign away! But as far as the district is concerned – with it’s overlapping ANC, CDB, PSAs and City regulatory boards that determine arts, significance, infrastructure…and on and on…she’s not a player. Her voice may be interesting, but it really doesn’t count – it’s not her neighborhood.
Tighter still. Same project, but now we ask someone living on 17 & Swann NW; only a stone-throw from the development, but offiicially outside the ANC and some other regulatory bodies. Do they have a voice? What about someone living in Foxhall? It’s the same thing, after all: they live in the city, they’re outside the ANC but hey, it’s their city, too, and they’re close and likely to be experiencing this new development.
Should we all have a right to vote in all our developments through the city? Think carefully. Answering yes unleashes a thousand thousand people who are fed up with development in their area, and will take it out on yours.
So it’s pretty well established then: unless federal laws or city tax breaks are at stake, development at present is a region by region thing. Which means those that live there get more say than those who only hope to some day, or those others who would love to come visit X or Y if it were only put up on someone else’s turf.
It is the presumption, from this point on, that anyone hurling the NIMBY label is in fact someone who just doesn’t live here. Someone who is butting his huge Alice Kravitz nose into places it doesn’t belong.
Let those most affected by development to decide on their own what they want and what they don’t want. Anyone else – you can watch, you can talk about it, but you don’t get a vote.
Tend to your knitting. We’ll tend to ours.