When complaints come to the Dupont Circle advisory neighborhood commission, more often than not they're about parking -- diplomatic parking, that is.
When an embassy moves into the neighborhood and signs are posted saying "Diplomatic Parking Only," street parking for the residents becomes a difficult proposition. These signs are posted without warning to either the neighborhood commission or the community at large. And, because diplomats seem to enjoy their immunity, they frequently double-park. During social occasions, cars are often double-parked for a block or more.
Parking isn't the only problem. Questions of zoning also irk embassy neighbors. What can local residents do? Not much.
Twenty years ago, an Ad Hoc Committee of 100 was formed to address the many problems associated with embassies in residential areas and to lobby both Congress and the city government to solve the problems. The committee wanted the control of diplomatic zoning kept in the hands of the city's Zoning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
No such luck. For a time, the National Capital Planning Commission made diplomatic zoning decisions, but still no public hearings were held and neighborhoods received no notice. By 1964, Sen. J. William Fulbright got a bill through Congress stipulating federal control in zoning involving embassies and chanceries. Needless to say his bill was opposed by the Committee of 100.
More recently, Congress passed the Foreign Missions Act. But that 1982 legislation was not to the liking of the Committee of 100, either, which lobbied hard against it. Among other things, the act added a new division within the Department of State to oversee and mediate problems arising between citizens and diplomats. It provided that representatives of the department sit in on relevant cases before the Zoning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment.
But this didn't help entirely. In fact, there has been criticism that the State Department's liaison does not take the complaints seriously. For example, when the Embassy of Grenada moved to its current location on New Hampshire Avenue, no notice was given and no hearings were held. The Philippine Embassy acquired a building site at the corner of 17th and Massachusetts, but is using the lot for parking without a city permit. Is the State Department doing anything? No.
And now we have a new gripe: the installation of communications equipment on the roofs of embassies. These are added intrusions to the Dupont Circle Historic District. If the double-parking doesn't ruin the character of the neighborhood, the satellite dishes and antennae surely will. They just don't make satellite dishes in the Victorian style.