ANC delays GW Hospital helipad vote citing enforcement, accountability concerns

Media Credit: Graeme Sloan | Photographer

ANC commissioners voted to delay a vote on a contentious proposal to build a helipad on the roof of GW Hospital Tuesday.

After months of deliberation, a neighborhood group delayed a vote on a contentious proposal to build a helipad on the roof of GW Hospital Tuesday.

Six Foggy Bottom and West End Neighborhood Advisory commissioners unanimously decided to delay voting on an agreement with the hospital because the hospital wanted to adjust how the agreement could be enforced at the last minute, ANC Commissioner Eve Zhurbinskiy said. The ANC wanted more time to seek advice from legal counsel, she added.

The proposal would have established rules between the ANC and the hospital for the construction and use of a helipad atop the building and also supported legislation in the D.C. Council to amend a 30-year-old law banning new helipads in residential areas.

ANC Commissioner Patrick Kennedy said the lack of legal enforcement is a “significant complication” that will need to debated and discussed at a future meeting.

“I don’t want to seem harsh, but it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the paper it’s written on if there is no way to enforce it,” Kennedy said at the meeting.

The ANC unanimously passed an amendment Tuesday to be able to request a professional mediator in its dealings with the hospital. Kennedy said bringing in mediation would ensure the hospital is consistently reporting on the helipad’s usage to the ANC and help hold the hospital accountable if it “flagrantly violated” the agreement.

At a special meeting Sept. 8, the ANC voted to preliminarily support the helipad proposal after residents on opposite sides of the issue spoke for three-and-a-half hours during public comment. The ANC amended the agreement and pushed the vote back to Tuesday so the hospital could approve the amended agreement.

Kennedy said if the amended agreement is passed, it would need the approval of a third party, which he said would likely be the Foggy Bottom Association, another community group. Kennedy said if the FBA declines to take up the measure, the ANC will have to find other options for a third party.

Steve Charnovitz, an associate professor of law who attended the meeting, said the ANC has several options to address what he called valid concerns about enforcement.

“It seems to me as a contract lawyer the way to enforce this agreement is not to bring in the Foggy Bottom Association but to use arbitration,” he said at the meeting.

In the past few months, the proposed helipad has been a controversial topic for residents as some neighbors praised the hospital’s attempts to improve emergency medical response in the city, while others said low-flying helicopters would pose a safety risk in the densely-populated neighborhood.

At Tuesday’s meeting, some neighbors said they were concerned about the ANC’s ability to hold the hospital accountable and expressed worries about potential accidents.

“There’s no enforcement mechanism at all in the agreement,” Barbara Kahlow, a member of the West End Association, said. “The ANC needs to be able to say, ‘It doesn’t work. We want to stop this.’”

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