Turnover at ANC 3D prompts ‘philosophical debate’ over priorities

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Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D debated how to allocate its roughly $20,000 budget for nearly two hours at its April 5 meeting, exposing fault lines between newer commissioners who want to shift the body’s priorities and longtime members.

ANC 3D includes Foxhall, the Palisades, Spring Valley and Wesley Heights, and its commissioners vote on advisory positions communicated to higher levels of the District government. Four of its nine members are new this year, after three stepped down and one lost his re-election bid.

In the November elections, Troy Kravitz delivered a surprise defeat to former chair Tom Smith, who represented eastern Spring Valley. Holmes Whalen now represents the rest of Spring Valley and part of the Palisades, and Michael Sriqui represents northwestern Palisades. Three freshmen — Chuck Elkins, Sriqui and Kravitz — were elected by their colleagues Jan. 24 as ANC 3D officers: vice chair, secretary and treasurer, respectively. Incumbent Stephen Gardner, who clashed frequently with Smith, was elected chair with two members abstaining: Whalen and Alma Gates, a longtime commissioner who had sided with Smith on several key issues.

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The reshaped commission showed its divisions during the April 6 meeting, in which Kravitz pushed to set aside $6,000 for a new community grants initiative, a current feature of other Ward 3 commissions. His budget proposal also slashed dedicated funds for consulting expenses. Opponents and procedural wrangling tanked the proposal, and a budget without those grant funds won in a 5-4 vote.

In an interview, Gardner — who offered an unsuccessful compromise of his own at the April 5 meeting, with less grant money than Kravitz’s proposal — described a “philosophical debate and split within the commission.” Some prefer allocating funds for grants, while others want to place funds in reserve and spend them on consultants. Supporters of the adopted budget said expert advice has been valuable as ANC 3D reviews complex zoning or historic preservation cases.

The disagreements at the April meeting reflect the possibility of further tensions on issues coming before the commission. Some new ANC 3D members want to break away from the past, advocating for closer ties with neighborhood groups and mending relations with institutions like American University.

Elkins and Kravitz have presented more than a dozen proposals to accomplish over the next six months, including redesigning the commission’s website at anc3d.org, and posting meeting agendas and draft resolutions online earlier. Kravitz — who campaigned against Smith by accusing him of silencing dissenting voices — said in January he hopes ANC 3D becomes “a more representative body with actions being dictated by, not to, the community.”

Gardner said in an interview that he also more community involvement. “ANC 3D was perceived, by some, as a commission who knew better than their constituents what was best for their community,” Gardner said of the past.

ANC 3D has been frequently divided in its stance on major development projects. Over the last two years, the commission voted to support historic designation for the Palisades Recreation Center and led vigorous discussion on proposed construction at the Spring Valley Shopping Center. Another frequent source of conflict is ANC 3D’s relationship with American University, which falls largely within its borders. Student housing issues have dominated some past meetings, with stiff questioning by some.
Among its reforms this year, ANC 3D will release a quarterly public report on agency responses to the commission’s resolutions.

Broadly, Elkins said he wants to be more transparent with residents about how the ANC makes decisions and spends money.