DC Fire/EMS, Chevy Chase Pavilion Complaints Dominate ANC-3E Meeting

The agenda for the August 29 Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 3E meeting was billed to be an ambitious one, and clocking in at roughly four and a half hours, it lived up to expectations. Two issues at the top of the agenda – staffing and vehicle shortages at DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and noise and odor issues at Chevy Chase Pavilion – drew a large crowd as more than 50 neighbors packed the Embassy Suites’ meeting room.  A slew of other issues filled the remainder of the meeting, including residential parking restrictions, zoning, neighborhood bikeways and a business district improvement organization.  The August meeting also was commissioner Kathryn Tinker’s inaugural session, though she remained fairly quiet through most of it. The August 14, 2013 edition of The Northwest Current has a profile of Tinker for those interested in learning more about ANC-3E’s latest addition.  On to the recap:

DC Fire/EMS: Paramedic Vacancies and Vehicle Shortages

DC Fire/EMS has been in the local and national spotlight after a series of equipment failures, including vehicle fires and the breakdown of the ambulance that travels in President Barack Obama’s motorcade.   DC Fire/EMS Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe, Dabney Hudson, second vice president of Washington DC Firefighters Association Local 36, and Kenneth Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, discussed the ongoing issues, with most of the debate centered on staffing shortages. Starting in 2007, in the wake of a failed EMS response to the fatal beating of journalist David E. Rosenbaum, emergency response personnel were required to be cross-trained in emergency medical services and fire fighting.  Today, nearly 150 paramedic positions within the department are unfilled.  In his remarks, Chief Ellerbe said there is a lack of interested, qualified candidates who are cross-trained to fill the significant vacancies, and highlighted the positive impact of a recent waiver that allowed him to hire 20 military veterans to fill single-role paramedic positions.  Lyons, whose union represents non-firefighter paramedics, also praised the options the hiring variance provided, claiming that hundreds of EMTs and paramedics previously were turned away because they were not cross-trained or did not want to serve as firefighters.  Hudson, who represents firefighter paramedics, opposes single-role hiring, saying that dual-role, cross-trained personnel provide better service, performing two jobs for less pay than single-role paramedics.  He attributed the vacancies plaguing DC Fire/EMS to insufficient recruiting of paramedic firefighters and poor management, including the institution of mandatory holdovers that require personnel coming off a 24-hour shift to work an additional 12 hours.

There was unanimity that additional fire and EMS vehicles are needed, with Lyons calling upon the city council to give DC Fire and EMS the capital budget it needs to purchase sufficient units. Hudson echoed that insufficient funds are available to meet vehicle procurement needs, but also emphasized that the equipment the department does have can’t be fully utilized given staffing shortages.  Chief Ellerbe acknowledged the deficiencies in the department’s aging emergency response vehicles, some of which date to 2004 despite most vehicles having a recommended three-year life span. The department purchased 30 vehicles in 2012 and will purchase another 30 by the end of this calendar year.  A consultant is currently assessing the fleet to determine what additional needs there may be, and the chief anticipates purchasing 10 to 20 more vehicles as a result.  He also announced that the department is close to hiring a professional fleet manager.

Chevy Chase Pavilion Noise and Odor Has Neighbors Up in Arms

Easily the most contentious segment of the ANC-3E meeting centered on neighbors’ complaints about noise and odors emanating from the Chevy Chase Pavilion.  Residents were clearly hot under the collar as they described “toxic, cancer causing” cigar smoke permeating the streets adjacent to the Civil Cigar Lounge, the noise from air filtration and refrigeration units that are at the same level as residential properties and the late night carousing of tenant employees on the pavilion’s outdoor deck.  A representative of the District Department of the Environment (DDoE) said the department had conducted an odor test and found no issues related to Civil, and that the cigar lounge has an advanced filtration system that, when operating properly, should remove any detectable odors.  Most in attendance at the meeting were surprised to learn that odor inspections are a simple, human smell test, depending upon the olfactory sensitivity of the inspector rather than a scientific or chemical test.  DDoE said that it was possible for neighbors to request a second test be conducted, and planned to inquire whether an air quality test could be performed, as well.  The owner and general manager of Civil acknowledged that there were some issues with the effectiveness of the $1 million filtration system when it was installed, but they were unaware of any issues following its recalibration until they received a notice from DDoE.  Subsequently, the building owners hired an independent consultant to look at the system’s original specifications, review current performance and make recommendations for changes and upgrades, which Civil has committed to implementing.  Neighbors were not mollified by this plan, and Civil opened the door for a meeting between residents, Commissioner Tom Quinn, who represents the neighborhood, the consultant and Civil’s management.  Regarding noise issues, Cassidy Turley, the firm that manages Chevy Chase Pavilion, committed to: exploring whether ventilation and refrigeration units can be moved to the top of the pavilion structure, addressing with tenants their employees’ usage of outdoor patios after dark, determining if their are alternative locations for staff to smoke, and exploring limiting loading dock hours to after 7 a.m.  The resident property manager, who has been on the job for only a couple months, appeared as a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding semi for most of the meeting, unable to answer many of the commissioners’ questions.

Parking, zoning, bikeways, oh my!

Attendance dropped off by over half as the meeting reached the two and a half hour mark. Discussion of Ward 3 residential parking permit holder only restrictions on the 4900 block of 43rd Street took up an unconscionable 45 minutes, despite Commissioner Sam Serebin’s assessment that the issue was “much ado about absolutely nothing.”  With unanimous support from neighbors on both sides of the street and at the corners, a resident has requested the District Department of Transportation (DDoT) implement restrictions along one side of the block to mitigate against evening parking by customers of neighborhood business, including the nearby Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza.  Commissioners approved a motion calling for a trial period for the restriction, despite concerns about spillover parking pressure on nearby streets, lack of faith that the restriction will address the problem and opposition to what Serebin called”not in my front street” (NIMFS)-ism.

Community members spoke in support of ANC-3E’s efforts to appeal to the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) regarding a massive home nearing the end of construction at 4201 River Road (the word McMansion was bandied about).  Commissioner Matt Frumin expressed surprise that the size of the home did not trigger a requirement for a variance, as well as the infill that raised the height of the building.  Neighbors complained that the fill dirt was impermeable clay and that the grading of the property will cause rainwater to flow around the house and down through the neighboring front yards, leading to flooding.  Serebin indicated that upon completion 70% of the total property will be impervious surfaces, describing the home as “an atrocity.”  Neighbors also expressed concern about the negative impact on trees along River Road whose roots are now buried deeper than they are acclimatized.

On a brighter note, the relatively new owners of The Dancing Crab shared the story of how they came to own the restaurant and the improvements they are making to this neighborhood fixture, as they sought ANC-3E support for a permit for their enclosed outdoor space.  Click here for the full details – it’s too good a story to bury in this recap.

As midnight approached, the agenda began to pick up speed, particularly as fewer than 10 intrepid souls remained in the audience at that point.  Commissioner Tom Quinn presented his resolution in support of DDoT’s proposal for neighborhood bikeways on Jennifer and 41st Streets.  The full resolution as well as a neighborhood bikeway fact sheet that were handed out at the meeting can be found here and here respectively.  The bikeway will consist of sharrows and signs, and will not displace cars or remove parking spaces.  Quinn also presented a request for DDoT to repair pavement, construct new sidewalks and add parking spaces to the 4100 and 4200 blocks of Livingston Street.

The meeting wrapped with ANC-3E endorsement of a plan to establish a business district improvement organization.  Commissioner Jon Bender will spearhead the group, which will be open to any interested resident and business owner.

ANC-3E will meet next on September 19.

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Did you attend the meeting?  Think I missed something or have a point of view on an issue raised at the meeting?  Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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