One of the local governmental institutions that seems to generate the most confusion among Washingtonians, especially newcomers, is that of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs.
This is ironic since ANCs are actually the unit of government closest to DC residents. For example, each single-member district of ANC 2B-Dupont has about 2,000 peopleâ€”governmentally, that is as local as it gets in a city of 600,000.
In the Dupont-Logan-U Street area, ANCs tend to be newsworthy when a restaurant or bar wants to open or expand or have outdoor seating. But, what do ANCs do? What is their role in DC Government? If you don’t know, you are probably in the majority in DC.
This is part one of a two-part seriesâ€”today is the basics, the mechanics of ANCs. On Friday we will have Q&A with four ANC commissioners from the three ANCs in our neighborhood: ANC 2B-Dupont, ANC 2F-Logan and ANC 1B, which includes the U Street area.
Home Rule Charter
ANCs are a product of DC’s Home Rule Charter and date from 1976. First, here is some language from their Web site:
The Advisory Neighborhood Commissions consider a wide range of policies and programs affecting their neighborhoods, including traffic, parking, recreation, street improvements, liquor licenses, zoning, economic development, police protection, sanitation and trash collection, and the District’s annual budget. In each of these areas, the intent of the ANC legislation is to ensure input from an advisory board that is made up of the residents of the neighborhoods that are directly affected by government action. The ANCs are the body of government with the closest official ties to the people in a neighborhood. The ANCs present their positions and recommendations on issues to various District government agencies, the Executive Branch, and the Council. They also present testimony to independent agencies, boards, and commissions, usually under the rules of procedure specific to those entities. By law, the ANCs may also present their positions to Federal agencies.
That’s Why They’re “Advisory”
ANCs do not have legal authority to regulate or pass binding laws. Instead, they have the role of advising DC’s government agencies and regulatory bodies on issues related to their respective areas and neighborhoods. Hence the name, Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
For example, if a restaurant wants to get a liquor license there is a process the owners must follow to get the licenseâ€”including going to the ANC. Want a zoning variance to build out the back of your house? You need to see your ANC, which can support or oppose a request by resolution.
One of the best-known and sometimes contentious things ANCs are known for is voluntary agreements with local businessesâ€”especially restaurants and bars. For example, ANCs in thie area will often automatically protest the granting of a liquor license until the ANC reaches a voluntary agreement with the establishment. The “V.A.” will set certain conditions and guidelines for the operation of the business in order to address concerns by members of the ANC or residents of the area.
Perhaps the new establishment will agree to shut down its outdoor cafe earlier than it closes its inside businessâ€”even though the establishment is under no legal obligation under DC law to do so. Once the voluntary agreement is reached and approved by both the ANC and the business owner, the ANC will vote to recommend that that the establishment gets its liquor license or business operating license. The appropriate DC regulatory bodies are then supposed to take this agreement into account when deciding whether to grant the liquor license or operating license.
Restaurants and bars can be (and in this area of DC often are) flash points in a community. Some residents may feel the new establishment is too close to homes and will cause late-night noise, for example. Hank’s Oyster Bar on the 1600 block of Q Street (just east of 17th) went through a lengthy and contentious process in order to open for this very reason.
Lots of Democracy
There are many ANCs in DC: 38 to be exact. They are composed of commissioners elected by single-member districts for two-year terms. These are non-partisan offices and campaign contributions are limited to $25 per person. Officers are selected each year by the commissioners themselves. The number of members on an ANC depends on the size of the neighborhood it represents.
For example, ANC 2B-Dupont has nine commissioners, one of the larger ANCs in the area. ANC 2F-Logan has only six commissioners while ANC 1Bâ€”which includes the U Street corridorâ€”has an astounding 11 commissioners. On the other end of the spectrum is ANC 2C-Shaw with only four commissioners, which can result in tie votes (and does).
Help with City Services
In addition, individual ANC commissioners can be of great help if you have a problem with city services, or an issue in your area that needs attention. The amount of time that ANC commissioners devote to constituent services depends on the commissioner. These are, after all, unpaid positions.
So, if you are interested in neighborhood democracy, check out a monthly ANC meeting sometime. They can be interestingâ€”especially when dealing with an issue that’s in your backyard.