On Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on the front porch of my friends A & O when two men walked by with a clipboard. My initial reaction was to run away, fast. The only three scenarios I could think of were:
- I was about to be handed the latest edition of The Watchtower,
- I would be asked to join PIRG or the Sierra Club, or, worst of all,
- I would be guilted into buying some crappy product for an outrageous price to support a likely fictitious charity.
This man spent at least a half an hour with us explaining his development plans. He was seeking a zoning variance in order to convert the former gas station into 8 high-end condominiums. As part of this process, he would be going before the ANC to explain the project, and was seeking feedback and signatures from the neighbors in support of his project. He discussed his architectural ideas, and seemed genuinely interested in the feedback from the residents in the immediate vicinity. He expressed the desire to create something that the negihborhood would genuinely appreciate and wanted the neighbors to feel as if they had been involved, rather than surprised, by the result.
Bear in mind that there are no historic regulations that govern construction in Columbia Heights and Petworth. A developer does not technically need to solicit any feedback, or get any support, from the neighbors. While I'm not 100% sure, I don't even think there's any requirement that the ANC be involved at all. A zoning variance is an issue with DCRA. Now certainly, there's a benefit for this individual to seek buy-in from the neighbors, because it could help reduce any possible resistance that individuals could mount. But this is far from the typical approach we see. Usually, developers come in and gut the building before anyone's heard the first thing. So while he certainly has his own interests and goals in mind as well, the fact that he was very open about his plans and the process was refreshing.
Only time will tell what happens with this, but the simple fact that a developer was taking the time to introduce himself, explain his plans, and solicit feedback is rare. If this man intended to build something cheap that would ruffle feathers, we'd have never heard a thing before the structure went up. I feel good about the exchange and wish that more builders would take the time to get some feedback from the residents. It would surely be better for the neighborhood, and would probably make for smoother sailing in any such project.