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What Exactly Do ANCs Do?

Dupont Circle ANC 2B Borderstan

ANC 2B-Dupont is one of three ANCs in the Dupont-Logan-U Street area; the others are ANC 2F-Logan and ANC 1B, which includes the U Street area. (Image: ANC2B website)

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 people—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 series—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 license—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.

Voluntary Agreements

One of the best-known and sometimes contentious things ANCs are known for is voluntary agreements with local businesses—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 business—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 1B—which includes the U Street corridor—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 interesting—especially when dealing with an issue that’s in your backyard.

ANCs in the Dupont-Logan-U Street Area

This post was written by:

- who has written 1898 posts on Borderstan.

Rhoades has lived in the Borderstan area for 17 years. When he’s not writing about the area he loves, he follows politics, tends his garden and spoils Lupe, the world’s cutest and smartest dog. Find him on Twitter @mattyrhoades; email him at matty[AT]borderstan.com.

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  • One Photo A Day - Luis Gomez


15 Responses to “What Exactly Do ANCs Do?”

  1. WARD4NDC says:

    I wish they would do away with the ANCs. Many of the ANC boundaries were drawn based on class and race. I live in Ward 4 near the Carter Barron. My street is in ANC 4C01 and across the street from me is ANC 4A07 and 2 blocks down is ANC 4A06. ANC 4C is huge and go all the way across Georgia Avenue, NW over by the Old Soldiers Home. ANC 4A is a part of Crestwood in Ward 4 and comes upper 16th Street, NW into Brightwood, Shepherd Park, North Portal Estates, and Colonial Village mostly affluent neighborhoods. I am right across the street from the 4A boundary and I have more in common with my neighbors in 4A than I do with 4C. The same with voting. I am 2 blocks from Brightwood Elemetary School, but I have to go down 14th Street, NW about 8 blocks to vote at West Elemetary School.

    • Keith says:

      Your comments are ridiculous example of ignorance.
      Boundaries are set by population and voting precincts with absolutely nothing related to race or class.
      Your suggestion is such that would suggest that you haven’t taken the time to even look into the reason or need for the ANC’s. Maybe the suburbs are best for you!

  2. WARD4NDC says:

    I wish they would do away with the ANCs. Many of the ANC boundaries were drawn based on class and race. I live in Ward 4 near the Carter Barron. My street is in ANC 4C01 and across the street from me is ANC 4A07 and 2 blocks down is ANC 4A06. ANC 4C is huge and go all the way across Georgia Avenue, NW over by the Old Soldiers Home. ANC 4A is a part of Crestwood in Ward 4 and comes upper 16th Street, NW into Brightwood, Shepherd Park, North Portal Estates, and Colonial Village mostly affluent neighborhoods. I am right across the street from the 4A boundary and I have more in common with my neighbors in 4A than I do with 4C. The same with voting. I am 2 blocks from Brightwood Elemetary School, but I have to go down 14th Street, NW about 8 blocks to vote at West Elemetary School.

    • Keith says:

      Your comments are ridiculous example of ignorance.
      Boundaries are set by population and voting precincts with absolutely nothing related to race or class.
      Your suggestion is such that would suggest that you haven’t taken the time to even look into the reason or need for the ANC’s. Maybe the suburbs are best for you!

  3. Manor says:

    You’re also assuming that ANC’s actually function. In my 20 years in DC I’ve lived in seven different ANCs. One of those ANCs was functional, the other six were unable to ever meet, have rational discussion, or decide on anything. ANC reps hold far too much power over such proceedings, and the wrong rep can result in appalling abuse. I think of ANCs as a throwback to pre-telephone/internet days, when communication was more challenging. I’d rather see reform that killed the ANCs and diverted the money to councilmember offices for constituent relations. Note this is NOT an endorsement of councilmembers of course, but rather an idea to remove the ANC roadblock.

  4. Manor says:

    You’re also assuming that ANC’s actually function. In my 20 years in DC I’ve lived in seven different ANCs. One of those ANCs was functional, the other six were unable to ever meet, have rational discussion, or decide on anything. ANC reps hold far too much power over such proceedings, and the wrong rep can result in appalling abuse. I think of ANCs as a throwback to pre-telephone/internet days, when communication was more challenging. I’d rather see reform that killed the ANCs and diverted the money to councilmember offices for constituent relations. Note this is NOT an endorsement of councilmembers of course, but rather an idea to remove the ANC roadblock.

  5. Former ANC Commissioner says:

    Actually, the smallest ANC in the city is ANC2D, the Sheridan-Kalorama ANC. It consists of 2 Commissioners representing a total of about 2,400 residents. The reason for such a small ANC is that ANCs are supposed to be neighborhood based. And this neigbborhood, based on its own unique citizens associations, historic district and other ties (formal and informal) is just that small. We shouldn’t expect all ANCs to be equal in size any more than we should expect all neighborhoods to be equal in size. This question comes up every 10 years during the census re-apportionment when all Wards and ANCs get new boundaries. (And no, ANCs are NOT a part of any Ward … they are a separate branch of government established by the DC Homerule charter, and thus do not need to follow Ward boundary lines). I wish we’d give real names to the ANCs rather than an alphanumeric code, this would help us keep in mind that when the re-apportionment comes, we shouldn’t be moving ANC boundaries around unless the neighborhood has moved around in the last 10 years. (Which is possible, though not likely.) I.e., We need to base our unique ‘neighborhood’ organizations and the ANC boundaries around our neighborhoods and not the other way around. We shouldn’t every 10 years have an ANC redefining its boundaries, and then its civic associations, business associations, etc. being forced to change along with the change in boundaries. This isn’t post WWII Poland. The District should let neighborhoods define their own boundaries, and not the other way around.

  6. Former ANC Commissioner says:

    Actually, the smallest ANC in the city is ANC2D, the Sheridan-Kalorama ANC. It consists of 2 Commissioners representing a total of about 2,400 residents. The reason for such a small ANC is that ANCs are supposed to be neighborhood based. And this neigbborhood, based on its own unique citizens associations, historic district and other ties (formal and informal) is just that small. We shouldn’t expect all ANCs to be equal in size any more than we should expect all neighborhoods to be equal in size. This question comes up every 10 years during the census re-apportionment when all Wards and ANCs get new boundaries. (And no, ANCs are NOT a part of any Ward … they are a separate branch of government established by the DC Homerule charter, and thus do not need to follow Ward boundary lines). I wish we’d give real names to the ANCs rather than an alphanumeric code, this would help us keep in mind that when the re-apportionment comes, we shouldn’t be moving ANC boundaries around unless the neighborhood has moved around in the last 10 years. (Which is possible, though not likely.) I.e., We need to base our unique ‘neighborhood’ organizations and the ANC boundaries around our neighborhoods and not the other way around. We shouldn’t every 10 years have an ANC redefining its boundaries, and then its civic associations, business associations, etc. being forced to change along with the change in boundaries. This isn’t post WWII Poland. The District should let neighborhoods define their own boundaries, and not the other way around.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Advisory Neighbhorhood Commissions (ANCs) technically do not have regulatory or approval powers, but they can smooth the way or put up [...]

  2. [...] neighborhood are in play. Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats are critically important to the development of businesses, residential areas and cultural spots near your homes. Commissioners are elected every two years from single-member districts (SMD). [...]

  3. [...] are witing and posting about ANCs, there must be readers. Borderstan did a two-part series on ANCs and the role of commissioners in April; the number of readers who clicked on those two links was [...]

  4. [...] of the best-known and sometimes contentious things ANCs are known for is voluntary agreements with local businesses—especially restaurants and bars. For example, ANCs in thie area will often automatically protest [...]

  5. [...] What Exactly Do ANCs Do? [...]

  6. [...] Last week we looked at the function and role of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in DC government (“What Exactly Do ANCs Do?”). [...]

  7. [...] Last week we looked at the function and role of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in DC government (“What Exactly Do ANCs Do?”). [...]