Removal of Zoning Administrator Draws Criticism

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 19, 2007

D.C. Zoning Administrator Bill Crews said yesterday that he has been placed on administrative leave for non-disciplinary reasons, a move by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration that is being criticized.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) had a letter hand-delivered to Fenty (D) yesterday asking why Crews, whom he described as "a respected individual," was removed from "this hard to fill position." Mendelson questioned why Fenty would remove Crews when the city is dealing with a backlog of requests from developers and residents involved in construction projects.

"Why would your administration create a vacancy when the Office of the Zoning Administrator continues to struggle with a backlog?" Mendelson wrote. "The zoning administrator must be an individual who has an understanding of the arcane details of the city's zoning regulations. This is not an easy find."

Mendelson said he had not received a response from Fenty by the end of the business day.

Karyn-Siobhan Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said Crews was not terminated. She said he was placed on administrative leave Thursday but acknowledged that the agency's interim director, Linda Argo, has begun a search for a permanent zoning administrator. The change in Crews's status was first reported by the Examiner.

In an interview yesterday, Crews said he did not want to elaborate on his situation.

The zoning administrator interprets and enforces the city's zoning rules, reviews building permits and grants certificate-of-occupancy licenses. The administrator can also obtain court orders to have buildings shut down or demolished.

Crews was hired by the department director, Patrick Canavan, less than two years ago.

During Crews's tenure, the agency has been the subject of several high-profile zoning battles. A $1.5 million house in Northwest Washington was demolished in April after the agency acknowledged it had not followed the guidelines for building near federal parkland. Crews did not make the error, but he approved the request to divide the property into two lots, angering neighbors, who said it allowed the house to be wedged between the back yards of two other homes.

Crews also decided that the Appletree Institute for Education Innovation should not be allowed to open a preschool in the Lincoln Park neighborhood as "a matter of right" because it did not meet the definition of a public school. His decision led to changes in the zoning code affecting charter schools.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company