Whether Walter B. Lewis, acting dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at Howard University, should be reappointed to the D.C Zoning Commission was the topic of an "informal discussion session" recently.
James O. Gibson, assistant city administrator for plainning and development, invited 270 community leaders to the meeting but only about a dozen persons came. Some supported Lewis, others backed other candidates, and al told what they thought was wrong with the city's zoning process.
Most criticism about Lewis and other zoning commissioners centered on complaints that they allowed over-development of the city and that they were more receptive to developers than to residents.
"The entire Zoning Commission should be condemned for what they did to the citizens for the last four years," said Grosvenor Chapman, of the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Committee (WACC). Chapman urged Gibson to "make every change you possibly can in the appointees who have done this dastardly thing to us."
Chapman said his organization would support any of four candidates whose names were submitted to Mayor Marion Barry by the Washington D.C. Citizens planning Coalition, a citywide group of zoning activists.
The candidates are Bert Anderson, of 4518 Albermarle St. NW, an architect and planner; Peter S. Craig, of 3406 Macomb St.NW, an attorney; Carol M. C. Santos, of 903 North Carolina Ave. SE, former president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, and Frederick H. Thomas, of 5703 Chillum Pl. NE, an architect.
Representatives of the Palisades Citizens Association, the Federation of Civic Associations, the Friendship Neighborhood Association, the Citizens Association of Georgetown, Advisory Neighborhood commissioners from districts 3E and 3G and several other speakers also spoke in favor of appointing any of those candiates to replace Lewis, who helped work out the city's zoning system in 1958.
Robert Barry, of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, asked Gilbson if he had asked for the resignations of all three mayorally appointed members of the Zoning Commissions, as suggested in a letter from the Washington D.C. Citizens Planning Coalition to the mayor.
In addition to Lewis, whose four-year term expired Feb. 4, Ruby McZier and Theodore Mariani were appointed to the commission by former Mayor Walter E. Washington. McZier's term will expire in 1982, and Mariani's term will end in 1981. The architect of the Capitol, George White, and John Parsons, representing the National Park Service, also sit on the commission.
Gibson replied that he was "not persuaded that the damage done by the commission was so great" as to warrant that action and asked the citizens to document their case.
In response, Lindsley Williams, an ANC commissioner from Cleveland Park, presented an analysis of voting records in 50 recent zoning cases. According to this tabulaiton, only one of the commissioners -- John Parsons -- voted to supprot the course of action endorsed by citizen groups in more than 50 percent of the cases. Lewis' score was about 40 percent.
Carol Gidley, chairman of the Washington, D.C., Citizens Planning Council, called Lewis the "least evil" of the three commissioners appointed by the city but called for his replacement.
As an example, Gidley cited the new regulations for the Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), which she contended were passed without adequate public were passed without adequate public hearing. Under the PUD process, property owners may exceed the city height and density limits with the Zoning Commission's permission. Gidley also cited the fact that the Zoning Commission often failed to give "great weight" to the views of ANCs, as required by the Home Rule Act.
Gidley said her group would document other damage done to neighborhoods by the Zoning Commission and present it to Gibson.
Raenelle H. Zapata, representing Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc., in Anacostia, said her group supported the idea of a citizen representative on the commission "but not at Dr. Lewis' expense."
"We found Lewis a fair and impartial member of the commission, not swayed by special interests," said Zapata."Dr. Lewis has been a big benefit to most communities. He can't control the others -- they are the ones who need to be replaced."
George Frain, representing the D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations, also supported Lewis, adding that he didn't think "the people proposed to take Dr. Lewis' place were committed to the goal of housing for everybody in the city."
Theresa Jones, representing the Far Southeast Community Organization, said that Lewis had been helpful to her group in some zoning cases but declined to supprot either Lewis or any of the four candidates backed by the Washington D.C. Citizens Planning Coalition.
"My area has been consistently harmed by the Zoning Commission," said Jones. "But we don't support these nominees. They don't represent the area east of the (Anacostia) River. The nominee should come from east of the river and should be black."
Jones said her group would present the name of a candidate to Gibson later.
Gibson said he would make a recommendation to the mayor on the appointment within the next few weeks, after reviewing the material people who attended the meeting promised to present to him.
Lewis said in a telephone interview that he thought it would be 'inappropriate to comment' on the matter.