A group of advisory neighborhood commissioners is trying to enlist the help of some City Council members in an attempt to block proposed rules for zoning hearings that some commissioners contend will sharply limit their participation on behalf of their neighborhoods.
The rules, proposed by the Board of Zoning Adjustment, would require Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to submit written testimony in a zoning case at least seven days before a public hearing. And, for the first time, ANC representatives would not be allowed to participate in the public hearings, except to read previously submitted written statements or answer questions from the BZA.
The ANC representative no longer would be allowed to examine or cross-examine zoning applicants.
The Zoning Commission, which must approve the rules, part of the first overall revision of BZA procedures since 1972, has scheduled a public hearing on them for 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 12, in Room 11A of the District Building.
At least one council member, David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), has written the Zoning Commission objecting to the ANC changes. Clarke called the proposed rules "unnecessarily burdensome" and said they would "severely impair the fairness" of BZA hearings, at which persons seeking zoning changes are often represented by experienced zoning lawyers.
Council members Betty Ann Kane (D-at large) and John Ray (D-at large), have also expressed concern about the rules. Council member William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5), chairman of the government operations committee, which oversees the advisory commissions, has been asked to investigate the proposals.
There are 36 nonpartisan advisory commissions in the District, with a total of 365 commissioners elected by popular vote to serve two-year terms.
By law, all of the city's boards and agencies are required to inform the affected ANC of any action taken by the government in a city neighborhood.
About 40 ANC commissioners, with representatives from each of the city's eight wards, met last week at the Martin Luther King Library to organize opposition to the proposed hearing regulations.
Led by ANC commissioners from Ward 2, the group agreed to encourage other ANC commissioners to sign up to testify against the rules at the hearing.
Kenneth Rothschild, an ANC commissioner from Dupont Circle, argued that if the BZA rules are adopted, other city boards and commissions might write special rules for ANC participation, resulting in several different standards that the usually underfinanced and understaffed ANCs would have to meet.
"It's not for the BZA to judge us," Rothschild said. "In terms of procedure, we are elected; they are appointed."
Logan Circle resident Thomas Lodge, a former ANC commissioner, argued last week that the right to examine or cross-examine witnesses at a zoning hearing "is extremely important. Many times they (ANCs) bring out a considerable amount of information."
Steven Sher, executive director of the zoning secretariat, the administrative arm of the BZA and Zoning Commission, said last week the rules were partially based on the BZA's experience with some ANC members. He said some ANC commissioners have attempted to speak for an entire ANC without specific authority. He said some commissioners also have attempted to bring up what he called irrelevant data about zoning cases.
He emphasized, however, that the rules are "only proposals" and that there was no attempt to infringe on the legal rights of ANC commissioners. "I could see this whole section (on ANC participation) going down the drain, or at least modified," he said.