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ANC 2B Commissioners Battle Each Other Even as They Tackle Packed Agendas; Charges of Conflicts of Interest Against the Chairman Publicly Alleged

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the August 2019 issue pdf

By William G. Schulz

Acrimony among Dupont Circle ANC 2B commissioners seemed to reach a boiling point in June and July with one commissioner resigning as a committee chair and another turning up the heat on ANC Chair Daniel Warwick — no stranger to controversy — for alleged conflicts of interest on development projects under the ANC’s jurisdiction.

Nonetheless, the commissioners have managed to tackle packed agendas this summer, including a special session in July to deal with spillover work, on all of the usual official matters they must consider — ABC licenses, zoning matters, public space usage, and more.

After a dust-up with Warwick at the July 24th special meeting, Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee Chair Beverly Schwartz submitted a letter of resignation from that committee. The action became widely known after it was publicized on neighborhood listservs by ANC 2B09 Commissioner Ed Hanlon.

“I was taken aback by the sharpness of his tone,” Schwartz said of the exchange with Warwick, in which he was trying to manage allotted time for the meeting while Schwartz was pushing for more time to discuss a matter involving the National Geographic building complex at 17th and M Streets, NW.

“I may have overreacted in my response,” Schwartz continued. “However, as a consequence, it now opens up a perfect opportunity to discuss [with Warwick] how future meetings are conducted.”

But Schwartz has not rescinded her resignation as ZPD chair. Rather, “I have all intentions of remaining part of the ZPD committee — as a commissioner rather than the chair,” she told The InTowner. “Not being an architect or an historic preservation expert, I find it too distracting to take notes and facilitate the meeting and pay close attention to applicants and the public at the same time.”

Schwartz subsequently reported that Warwick has since apologized and that the two planned to meet and discuss the situation — a positive outcome in her view, wishes that Hanlon hadn’t broadcast her resignation as ZPD chair.

Hanlon has taken Warwick to task for alleged conflicts of interest, particularly involving the proposed Masonic Temple/Perseus Realty development in the empty lot behind 1733 16th Street, NW. The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple is an historic landmark, but the Masons would like to build a luxury rental apartment building behind the temple.

As we previously reported last year in a wide-ranging story, they say, they need the money for upkeep on the temple as well as to fund their own activities in the face of dwindling membership.

Neighbors on surrounding streets — Riggs Place, 15th, and S Streets — vehemently oppose the project because, they say, it robs the neighborhood of open green space and blocks views of the Scottish Rite Temple. Led by former ANC 2B09 Commissioner Nick Delledonne, they recently filed suit in DC Superior Court to stop the project under the aegis of the Dupont East Civic Action Association (DECAA), even though it had won approval from the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

Hanlon says that official emails from Warwick’s ANC 2B chair email account lay bare those conflicts.

On Oct. 29, 2018, for example, Warwick wrote the following in an email to David Alpert, founder and president of the smart growth group, Greater Greater Washington:

“Please do not quote me on this issue. My employer has done work for the applicant on this site, though I did not work on the project nor was it about any items relevant to regulatory approvals. That said out of an extreme abundance of caution I may end up recusing myself from the process at a later date.”

The employer Warwick references is RCLCO, a real estate market analysis firm Hanlon claims Warwick hid this conflict from fellow commissioners and that conflict of interest rules for ANC commissioners mean he should have recused himself from voting on ANC support for the Masonic Temple project.

In rebuttal, Warwick referred The InTowner to his response to a constituent regarding conflict of interest on the Dupont Forum listserv:

“The test is current or prospective financial relationship between entities. The work that was performed by my (now former) employer was a discrete task related to an item which is not pertinent to ANC historic preservation (or otherwise) review. The relationship was of a multiple week time-delineated nature which ended approximately six months before the November 2018 ANC meeting. I was not involved in the project and am not aware of the result.

“This information was shared promptly with the ANC Executive Committee and ANC Commissioners. I believe there were also some public discussions on forums regarding this information as well. At the November 2018 ANC meeting where the ANC first reviewed the project, before the applicant’s presentation and any discussion regarding the matter, I publicly shared this information, the reasoning for why a recusal would not be required, and publicly offered to recuse myself from the conversation if a commissioner said they thought I should. No commissioner, including Nick Delledonne who founded the Dupont East Civic Action Association, asked me to recuse myself from the conversation.”

Hanlon further claims that Gottlieb Simon head of the city council’s Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, in a 2015 email exchange with Warwick on a different matter, defined conflicts of interest as “current or prospective financial relationship between a Commissioner’s employer and a project or issue before the Commissioner’s ANC creates a conflict of interest for that Commissioner.”

But in emails provided to The InTowner by Warwick, he reveals the following elaboration from Simon in the same email exchange:

“I didn’t mean in the wide possibility of anything could happen, by future relationship I really meant a current agreement to work in the future, as if a project is approved then your employer would be engaged to work on it.” Further, Simon wrote, “Until there is a relationship and you know or should know about it, you won’t have a conflict.”

Warwick says RCLCO’s work with the Masons fit this scenario and he therefore did not believe he had a conflict nor an obligation to recuse himself from the Masonic Temple issues before the ANC.

“Without that obligation, I was elected by my constituents to vote on issues and, through my role as Chair which my fellow commissioners elected me to, I have a responsibility to facilitate the ANC’s discussion and vote on agenda items,” Warwick told The InTowner. “If the timing of the ANC’s review of the project were different, I would have recused myself and the Vice Chair would have facilitated that portion of the agenda—however that hypothetical was not a reality.”

Hanlon continues to press the case that Warwick has conflicts of interest, now  through his current employer, HR&A Advisors, a nationwide real estate development consulting firm, which, among other clients, is employed as a contractor by both the DC Office of Planning and the DC Housing Authority, the latter which has responsibility for myriad low to moderate income apartment buildings throughout the city — with many in Ward 1.

The firm, Hanlon says, assists developers in, for example, winning necessary approvals from jurisdictions in which they want to build.

“I don’t know how Daniel can both continue as an ANC commissioner and work for HR&A,” Hanlon states. “The endless conflicts of interest seem obvious. HR&A probably represents some of the largest developers and real estate investors in the city. These clients almost certainly have positions they want HR&A to help them with, including changes to the Comprehensive Plan, transportation priorities, ‘smart growth,’ zoning changes, historic preservation review issues, etc., etc.”

Hanlon continued, “How will anyone know when Daniel’s employer is being paid to work on, advocate, navigate about a particular issue which Daniel is also voting on and discussing at ANC meetings? Is Daniel Warwick going to have to give out a list every month of potential conflicts of interest because of the clients his firm has? It’s not just what project at the firm is Daniel personally working on. The issue is also, do the positions Daniel takes before the ANC benefit or foreseeably benefit his firm’s clients and, therefore, also financially benefit HR&A?”

The August meeting of ANC 2B will be on Wednesday, the 14th at 7 pm at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Room 500. As of the time of publication, the ANC’s published agenda showed no item pertaining to the Masonic Temple case or the controversy reported above; whether there might be a last-minute addition to the agenda we have not been able to ascertain.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §§ 107 & 108 (“fair use”).