What are Advisory Neighborhood Commission(er)s?

The following content is borrowed from Commissioner Costello with permission, because I can’t improve on it.

First established in 1976, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are non-partisan, neighborhood bodies made up of locally-elected representatives called Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners. ANCs were established to bring government closer to the people, and to bring the people closer to government. Commissioners serve two-year terms without pay.

A Commissioner’s main job is to be their neighborhood’s official voice in advising the District government on issues affecting their community. Although District agencies are not required to follow an ANC’s advice, they are required by law to give an ANC’s recommendations “great weight.” Moreover, District law says that agencies cannot take any action that will significantly affect a neighborhood - including zoning, streets, recreation, education, social services, sanitation, planning, safety, budget, and health services - unless they give the affected ANC 30 days’ advance notice.

Commissioners may also initiate recommendations for improving city services, conduct neighborhood improvement programs, and monitor resident complaints.

end of borrowed content

I want to know more about…

We can’t do the work of making our neighborhoods and city the best they can be if we don’t understand our tools. I’ve prepared this index of topics to let folks jump in wherever they’re unclear, and check back as needed if they get lost. If you’re genuinely curious and are confused by any of the below, let’s discuss and we’ll improve our understanding and these explanations together!

  • A loaded acronym that can refer to:

    • Advisory Neighborhood Commissions: identified by DC Ward and a letter (e.g. 5C) these are (very) local governing bodies
    • Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners: an elected member of a Commission
    • occasionally Neighborhood Commission Areas, a Commission’s geographic jurisidiction
    • occasionally Single Member Districts, political subdivisions of a Neighborhood Commission Area and a single Commissioner’s constituency

  • Local governing bodies that are:

    • unique to the District of Columbia
    • provisioned by the federal DC Home Rule Act of 1973, and a 1974 ballot referendum of DC residents
    • a testament to the hyperlocal governance DC historically performed through Civic Groups
    • a result of lacking local representation pre-Home Rule
    A Commission

  • A geographical section of DC that is:

    • redrawn every decade following the US Census (most recently in 2022, taking effect in 2023)
    • one of 46 that make up the whole of DC (starting in 2023 and until the next redistricting)
    • one of 5-7 in a particular Ward, though some are split between Wards (e.g. 3/4G and 6/8F)
    • further split into 2-12 Single-Member Districts

  • A human member of a Commission, elected:

    • from a Single Member District
    • in a nonpartisan General Election contest
    • to serve a two-year term without pay

  • Frequently shortened to SMD. Identified by Commission and a two-digit number (e.g. 5C07), an SMD is:

    • a district that elects one Commissioner
    • a subdivision of a Neighborhood Commission Area
      • with each Commission containing 2-12 SMDs
        • in turn determining the number of seats in that Commission
      • for a total of 345 SMDs DC-wide in 2023
      • redrawn each decade to contain roughly 2000 residents by Census numbers

  • Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are governed by a number of laws, rulings, and texts, including

    what bylaws include

    Per DC Code § 1–309.11(d)(1):
    • (A) The geographic boundaries of the Commission area;
    • (B) A statement of Commission responsibilities;
    • (C) Voting procedures;
    • (D) The establishment of standing and special committees, including provisions for giving public notice of all committee meetings;
    • (E) The manner of selection of chairpersons and other officers;
    • (F) Presiding officers;
    • (G) Procedures for prompt review and action on committee recommendations;
    • (H) The use of the Commission office and supplies;
    • (I) Procedures for receipt of, and action upon constituent recommendations at both the single-member district and Commission levels;
    • (J) Pursuant to § 1-309.13(c), the procedures for the filling of a vacancy in the office of treasurer; and
    • (K) Transition protocols for officer positions; and
    • (L) A tiebreaking procedure for Commission officer elections.

  • I’d categorize the work into three buckets:

    • casework: hearing and conveying details of certain types of projects (examples listed below) within the Commission boundaries and taking the lead on shaping outcomes based on community concerns
    • bureaucracy: creating and tracking service requests with various DC (and federal) agencies to secure desired improvements and outcomes for the community
    • outreach: general visibility within the community and offering knowledge and support to working groups, community organizations, or the Council
    The logistics of how a Commission approaches work and what is delegated to individual Commissioners depends on the by-laws and formal resolutions of a Commission, as well as the capacity of individual Commissioners. Official actions of a Commission must occur in publicly announced and accessible meetings with a quorum present, by formal votes on motions. Informational and preparatory matters can be handled in less formal ways as authorized. Commissions have a quarterly allocation of funds from the DC budget based on population represented (~$19k annually for a 7-member Commission in 2023, with savings carried forward indefinitely) to spend on basic functions or outreach projects.

    • Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA): When applicants (e.g. developers of a building) are seeking minor zoning relief such as higher lot coverage or fewer parking spaces than generally required of a particular zone, they go before the BZA, which will expect ANCs to marshall community input/feedback on the project and ideally pass a formal Resolution of Support or Opposition.
    • Zoning Commission (ZC): Similar to BZA cases, though these concern larger variances such as changes to the Zoning Map, or Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) where significant variance is granted in exchange for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).
    • Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB): The HPRB considers cases of newly protected landmarks or districts, modification of the original L’Enfant street plan, or the adjudication of construction on a protected building for design/material compatibility.
    • Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA): Establishments that serve, sell, or produce alcohol apply for various kinds of licenses that can have any number of limitations or provisions. ANCs are one of several types of party with standing that can seek to influence the conditions on a business through the license application/renewal process.
    • District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Notices of Intent (NOIs): These are near-final plans for the installation/modification of transportation infrastructure. This can include small projects like the installation of a speedhump, or larger ones like significantly reapportioning road space to accomodate protected bike lanes. ANCs are given a chance to comment, and their comments (or formal resolutions of opposition) can significantly delay work.

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  • The recognition DC agencies legally must confer to ANC resolutions. Commissions formally vote on resolutions of support or opposition to cases before various DC agencies and decision-making bodies. In the absence of a resolution, somebody with business before one of those entities would need to establish work was done to brief the relevant Commission and gain its support. Commissions may also vote for resolutions regarding pending or desired legislative/executive action, which can inform Councilmembers and the Mayor of the will of their constituents. Agencies are supposed to seriously consider concerns raised, though a DC Auditor investigation found inconsistent results across various agencies.

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