Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Growler Speaks!

The Growler is more than happy to post comments or corrections from individuals who represent themselves as ICCA board members as long they sign their own names and address the Growler properly (with a capital G).

To post with your name, use the option "Other" instead of "Blogger" or "Anonymous."

And as long as we're here, the Growler would welcome official answers to the following questions:

1. Did Mr. Hart request time from the ICCA Board to present 1261 Madison at the January meeting or did he just show up with Engin Artemel and the drawings in tow? If the latter, are developers allowed to make ad hoc, unscheduled presentations about their projects?

2. Will 1261 Madison be on the February agenda or a later meeting?

3. Will a vote be taken on this project?

4. Was the ICCA board aware that the Planning Department staff report on 1261 Madison stated incorrectly that ICCA supported the project and was any attempt made to ask for a correction?

5. Who informed the developer that there was no quorum at the October meeting? (Strange that a developer should know the details of the ICCA bylaws ...)

Breathlessly awaiting your answers --

Yours truly,
The Growler

This One's for Bud

No rest for the wary (even on a federal holiday like Martin Luther King’s birthday), so the Growler is hard at work doing some fact-checking and trying to keep developers honest.

Frankly, it’s getting to be a full time job.

The Growler has continued to follow the proposed condo development at 1261 Madison Street. This project involves a nine-story 122-unit condominium with first floor retail wedged into a small oddly shaped lot that is the last green space at Braddock Place. It was supposed to have been on the Planning Commission docket in October 2005 but has been deferred repeatedly – the sure sign of a controversial or troubled project.

At the beginning of this month, the Planning Department formally recommended denial of this project, citing insufficient setbacks, problems with mass and scale, and general incompatibility with the neighborhood. Once again the developer asked for a deferral.

(Ya know, sometimes Eileen Fogarty is on the side of the angels and when that happens the Growler wants to give her a big bear hug.)

But there was something odd in the staff report which caught the Cranky One’s eye:

Community meetings have been held about this application. From the outset, nearby residents expressed concern about the project’s size and scale. Although the Inner City Civic Association and some neighbors support the project, many of the immediately adjacent neighbors do not. (Growler's emphasis added)

Now, this project was indeed presented at the Inner City Civic Association’s October 2005 meeting though Braddock Place is some distance outside the boundaries of the ICCA. No vote was requested or taken on 1261 Madison, and the official meeting minutes confirm this.

So the Growler shuffled down to City Hall to look through Planning staff’s project materials for evidence to support the statement of ICCA approval. But the cupboard was bare. No letter, no FAX, and no E-mail. So the Curmudgeon asked the city planner in charge of this project to investigate how this statement crept into the document.

After a couple of days and a follow-up call, the planner admitted the claim of ICCA approval “needs to be qualified” and informed the Growler that Bradley Gray (a representative of the developer) was the source. According to the planner, Mr. Gray told him that there wasn’t a quorum present at the October ICCA meeting, which is why there was no vote to endorse the development. And the planner also mentioned that the proposal will probably be resubmitted again in May after the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan has been finalized.

On the surface, this about-face shows that Planning staff need to be more cautious about accepting developer statements at face value. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals that something else may be afoot.

The preliminary agenda E-mailed to ICCA members for the January 2006 meeting didn’t include 1261 Madison. But who should turn up but the project attorney Harry P. “Bud” Hart, with drawings in hand. Clearly Mr. Hart was there by prearrangement.

The lengthy discussion of crime pulled the meeting off schedule, so 1261 Madison will now be presented at the February meeting.

But why is this project coming back yet again? Could ICCA’s first flier distribution in years – which the Growler would normally applaud – be more about whipping up a quorum for a possible vote on Bud Hart’s project than for pulling the neighborhood together about crime and other issues of concern?

It sure looks like Mr. Hart is getting anxious to salvage this project in the face of opposition from Planning and from the neighbors around Braddock Place. His reputation as developers’ favorite go-see guy for the Inner City may be in jeopardy. So are ICCA officers willing to oppose residents most affected by the project in order to throw Bud a life raft?

Cui bono, baby?