Monday, September 24, 2007

Compromise is Preferable to Conflict

We are all so fortunate to live in a vital city vastly improved over its 1980s state of decrepitude. Even so, those of us who moved here after the beginning of the improvement took some calculated risks. We made bets that we could continue to afford property taxes, that we would like the new commercial development, and that the growing congestion would be within our tolerance limits, for example. I’ve lost some of these bets. I don’t like that parking is becoming scarce, that some new buildings area hideous, or that I can not afford some of the new restaurants and shops. Yet, I still stay in the neighborhood because I feel that the benefits outweigh the inconveniences — and they are inconveniences, not crises . I have also learned to take a deep breath and accept compromise. After all, no one promised me that I would have a parking space available to me, that city living would be inexpensive, or that I could rely on quiet in an urban area. I also realize how little my daily life has been affected by some of the things that I protested. I know that a democratic system means having an option to speak up but not having a guarantee of getting one’s way.

I am therefore, baffled by certain disputes in District neighborhoods, particularly in some residential areas. Below are some examples of situations where residents lost perspective.

1) The Dupont Current reports that Cathedral Heights reluctantly supports the conversion of the Zebra Lounge to a wine bar under new ownership. One concern was that the wine bar would have 32 outdoor seats. Across Macomb Street, Cactus Cantina patrons such as myself swill margaritas on a large outdoor patio. That a classy wine-based operation replacing an existing bar garnered only reluctant support surprised me. Aside from a brief period when Brother’s Coffee first opened at this location, an alcohol serving establishment with the same square footage has been located at the site of the Zebra Lounge since the 60s.

2) Some upper northwest residents area adamantly opposed to a new zoning rule. This rule allows for “accessory structures” like garages, breezeways, and sheds to be approved more easily. The possible negative consequences, according to those opposed, are that green space will disappear and denser development will overtake existing neighborhoods. DC already has a protection against residential development becoming overly dense; one may not build structures, accessory structures included, on more than a certain percent of one’s property. Besides, presently there is nothing preventing residents from completely destroying green space by paving over their yards. However, it seems that the owners of these expensive single family homes care enough not to destroy property values in that fashion.

3) A few neighbors of Hotel Helix adamantly and emotionally opposed a tiny increase to the Hotel’s footprint. One argument against the growth was a concern about decreased EMS access to a property they don’t own — an issue considered by the Zoning Board anyway. These residents were also bothered by the planned removal of a tree that had to be removed anyway. Another issue of protest was that Helix may be inappropriately using public space by providing two parking spaces in its driveway. ANC Commissioner Chris Dyer had to point out that those parking spaces were completely irrelevant to the present discussion and no reason to “hold hostage” the current expansion plans.

4) An acquaintance of mine knocked down a rotting low wooden fence bordering the back of his property. It was listing toward the alley and already partially knocked over after some garden work. His neighbor pursued him for altering property in a historical district.

5) While walking through Kalorama, I saw a car with its wipers stuffed with papers. Curious, I read few. They were all notes tearing apart the driver for taking up more than one parking space; he had three feet between his hood and a driveway and maybe as much space between his trunk and a no parking sign, a space that a motorcycle was occupying. All of the notes ripped into the driver, making assumptions about his intelligence and lambasting him for parking legally in one space for too long. Maybe the driver was being somewhat rude, but those residents have to realize that parking along Connecticut will always be tight. A house guest or a new car owner could just have easily occupied one more space in the neighborhood. The residents were also equally rude in covering this car in nasty-grams, not a productive way of dealing with a conflict.

It upsets me to see DC residents making life more difficult for other residents and businesses when it is not necessary. I really hope that reasonable folks can reclaim a productive and calm tone for ANC meetings and other neighborhood disputes.

1 comment:

Lane said...

You are right to be upset, but the real target of your complaint ought not to be the nosy neighbors of DC, but a local government structure that gives so much power to the complainer and nearly always allows a heckler's veto to prevent construction, development, or change of any sort. The example of the fence is the perfect example of the kind of thing that in most cities would be thrown out on its face without a moment's notice, but will likely get a full hearing in DC and more likely than not result in a fine for the improvement of personal property. You can't blame people for responding predictably to the incentives provided by the system we've put in place here, which is to desperately cling to the status quo at all costs. And there are many, many costs.