By Conor Arpey
Recently, PN Hoffman – a reputable DC-based developer – withdrew its zoning application to redevelop 1800 Columbia Road NW, the corner location of the SunTrust Plaza in Adams Morgan. This decision followed feedback from the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (“ANC”) criticizing the company’s proposed mixed-use development project. PN Hoffman later released new renderings that took the ANC’s recommendations into account. This revised plan included fewer housing units and more limited retail space. However, on September 21st, the local ANC committee voted to oppose the revised plan. Although the altered project satisfied DC zoning regulations, two of the three ANC committee members determined that the design was incompatible with the area’s historic district.
As PN Hoffman’s recent difficulties demonstrate, ANCs can stymie the construction of much needed housing and create additional costs for developers. The 40 ANCs in DC derive their authority from the District’s Home Rule Charter. Each ANC is comprised of elected commissioners, who live in the locality and are responsible for officially communicating with the DC government on issues impacting their neighborhood. Specifically, DC agencies are required to give notice to ANCs regarding government actions – such as education, sanitation, safety, planning, streets, and zoning – that will significantly impact a neighborhood. Although ANCs serve in an advisory capacity, DC government agencies are required to give great weight to an ANC’s recommendations.
In recent years, developers and other businesses have criticized the broad authority granted to ANCs. Specifically, some believe that ANCs have an inherently chaotic structure that lets the bias of a few neighbors easily derail the entire governing process. However, some DC residents see ANCs as a valuable mechanism for helping property owners and concerned citizens have a say in what happens in their neighborhood. They argue that ANCs often operate as a moderating force in neighborhoods, because they force different stakeholders to reach compromise.
Although businesses likely raise valid concerns about obstructive tendencies of some ANCs, other cities, like San Francisco, do not have this type of localized control, but still face substantial barriers to growth. Consequently, reforming the structure of ANCs, instead of eliminating them, may be the best solution for both developers and residents. One possible solution is to grant the mayor authority to override an ANC’s objections to a specific development project. Although some may say this approach threatens localized control in the District, the measure’s impact would be limited in scope. The mayor would be wary of approving a widely unpopular project, because of the potential backlash from residents. In this way, the mayor has natural political constraints incentivizing him or her to only override the ANC’s vote when a small, overzealous group of residents are derailing the process.
 Nena Perry-Brown, PN Hoffman Withdraws Zoning Application for Suntrust Plaza Development, Urban Turf (Sept. 20, 2016, 4:00 PM), https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/pn_hoffman_plans_to_revise_application_for_suntrust_plaza_development/11657.
 Andrew Ramonas, Latest SunTrust Site Plan Doesn’t Impress Key Adams Morgan Leader, Boderstan (Sept. 21, 2016, 1:00 PM), https://www.borderstan.com/2016/06/09/latest-suntrust-site-plan-doesnt-impress-key-adams-morgan-leader/.
 Andrew Ramonas, Local ANC Official ‘Heartened’ by Decision to Redo SunTrust Site Plans, Barderstan (Sept. 21, 2016, 2:00 PM), https://www.borderstan.com/2016/09/16/local-anc-official-heartened-by-decision-to-redo-suntrust-site-plans/.
 See Id.
 Nena Perry-Brown, ANC Committee Opposes Revises Design for Adams Morgan’s SunTrust Bank Redevelopment, Urban Turf (Sept. 25, 2016, 8:00 PM) https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/anc_1c_committee_votes_on_revised_suntrust_plaza_proposal/11706.
 David Whitehead, You Could Be an ANC Commissioner, and as a Reader of This Blog, You Really Should Think About It, Greater Greater Washington (Sept. 21, 2016, 2:30 PM), https://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/32907/you-could-be-an-anc-commissioner-and-as-a-reader-of-this-blog-you-really-should-think-about-it/.
 See Drew Schneider, A Night at an ANC Meeting: This is What Dysfunction Looks Like, The Washington Post (Sept. 25, 2016, 10:00 PM)
 See Patrick Kennedy, In Defense of Hyperlocal Government in DC, Greater Greater Washington (Sept. 25, 10:30 PM) https://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/33071/in-defense-of-hyperlocal-government-in-dc/.