Two new commissioners were elected into the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission last week, and they may change the dynamics of the group that opposed all three University zoning proposals this fall.
The commission advises D.C. government on zoning issues and neighborhood concerns. One of the former commissioners, James Morris, resigned after the ANC voted to oppose the School Without Walls application in October. He only had one more month to serve as commissioner because he did not run for reelection.
“That vote on the School Without Walls did it for me,” Morris said. “The ANC and the Foggy Bottom Association have been up in arms for years about all the students living off campus. They demand that the University build more dorms. And when the University listens and proposes to build a dorm, it’s too big or in the wrong place and probably the wrong color brick.”
The School Without Walls application, approved Monday, allowed GW to buy the high school’s parking lot from D.C. Public Schools for $12 million to erect a 474-bed residence hall. DCPS will then use the funding for improvements to the school, which has had maintenance problems for years.
When Morris was elected into his office two years ago, he was sponsored by the FBA, a community group opposed to University development. He was generally against the University’s development but eventually began to agree more with GW. Morris described the attitudes of other ANC members as “monolithic” against the University.
The two new commissioners, senior L. Asher Corson and attorney Jeffery Binder, have been encouraged by the FBA, but it is uncertain whether they will side more with GW or University opponents, said re-elected commissioner David Lehrman.
“You could almost make the argument that Asher is the justice Kennedy to next year’s ANC . There will be a battle for the soul of Asher,” Lehrman said.
He said Morris’ change in voting behavior on GW-related zoning proposals illustrates how unpredictable a commissioner’s stance can be. Lehrman added that a new ANC chairperson to replace Vince Micone and the lack of large University zoning proposals will affect the commission’s behavior.
“I think the zoning hearings really weighed on Vince,” Lehrman said. “(He) has been the best chairman he knew how to be. It’s a very tough job.”
Lehrman said Commissioner Michael Thomas has expressed interest in filling the chair position and “has the votes.” Thomas was elected in a special election earlier this year after a commissioner moved out of the area. He also served as ANC chair in 2000 when the Campus Plan on GW’s development was negotiated between the community and the University. Micone cannot be chair for the next two years under ANC bylaws.
Micone said he was relieved to have the large zoning proposals out of the way so he can focus on bettering the community through traffic improvements.
“We have been focusing on these land-use applications. Good, bad or indifferent, we will be done with these by the end of the year,” Micone said.
“This is an opportunity, I think, to have a different dialogue – an opportunity to make our community a stronger community.”
Public safety will be a focus of Commissioner-elect Binder, he said. Binder, who runs his own practice in telecommunications law, said he ran for election because of his concern for the neighborhood.
“The first issue . is public safety – keeping the neighborhood as safe as possible,” Binder said.
He said he has spoken briefly with other commissioners and plans on learning more about the ANC during his orientation. He added that he is in favor of new development within the neighborhood under certain circumstances.
Corson, who beat incumbent Commissioner Anne Savage, said he will be inclusive of local groups like the FBA. He said, though, that he plans on approaching issues before the commission with an open mind.
“Some (thought) I was going to take a really knee-jerk reaction against the University . Just because I don’t agree with internal policy doesn’t mean I am against the University,” Corson said.
While on the Student Association, Corson expressed a dislike for certain members of the University administration, said SA Sen. Luke Moses (CCAS-U), a senior.
“I don’t think Asher had a problem with development so much as he had problems with particular administrators,” Moses said.
Unlike previous student members of the ANC, Corson said he will remain on the commission after graduation. FBA President Joy Howell and neighbor of Corson’s encouraged him to run. The senior lives in an apartment and is self-employed, buying and selling Internet domain names.