Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Holding Your Nose

Michael Sendar appeared last night at the CCCA meeting to make his pitch for a zoning variance for his notorious derelict property (see posts below). He claimed that he has wanted to develop the property but was stymied by its R4 zoning status. Interestingly, he did confirm that a couple of years ago he did have an offer to buy from respected residential developer Jim Abdo, but said that Abdo's offer was about $200K below the amount reported (that would probably put the offer above $600K, which would likely have netted Sendar a profit of at least $400K). He admits that he's not interested in developing the property now and just wants to sell it; currently his asking price is about $950K (if I recall correctly).

He asked for input about the idea of having a small food store there which could also sell alcoholic beverages. The reaction of residents present was uniformly negative, noting that there were already plenty of such businesses in the area and that they tended to be magnets for other problems. He claims to be willing, however, to accept a restriction on the zoning variance that would exclude off-premises sale of alcohol.

Here's the issue, as I see it:

Morally, Sendar doesn't have a leg to stand on. He knew the property was R4 when he bought it. He could have sold it at substantial gain to someone willing to develop it as a residential property. He has allowed the property to deteriorate to the point that it is currently uninhabitable. He has gamed the system to avoid paying the vacant property taxes that he probably should have, if the DC government wasn't so shiftless and negligent about enforcing its tax laws.
Still, he will profit if he gets the variance, because that makes the property more valuable to a potential buyer. Sendar isn't the devil, but he has taken advantage of a complaisant and corrupt system, and he has shown no concern whatever for the consequences of his actions or inactions for the neighborhood.

BUT, if he doesn't get the variance and hangs on to the property, it will continue to be a festering drag on the neighborhood, because it's clear nothing will happen there.

So, even though it makes me gag, I think the variance should probably be supported with requisite prohibitions against off-premises alcohol sales.

Sometimes you just have to accept unpalatable choices to get some improvement on a bad situation. That applies to the financial bailout Congress is considering, and I think it applies here as well.

Sendar is supposed to appear at tonight's ANC meeting. I don't know what the other two commissioners think about it, but it seems that Alex Padro and Kevin Chapple have reached the same conclusion to hold their nose and support the variance.

I wouldn't mind seeing Sendar have to squirm a little, though.

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At 10/01/2008 1:16 PM, Blogger Mr. Q said...

Great summation...

It stinks that Mr. Sendar's going to get away with years of neglect and personally profit from DC's incompetence, but its in the neighborhood's best interest to move this thing forward...with the restrictions discussed...

At 10/01/2008 6:02 PM, Anonymous Sam Farmer said...

I think there is more chance Sendar will get the zoning variance he wants, up the price by 100k, not sell and then wait out the current downturn before selling.

Hopefully I'm wrong but lets see...

At 10/01/2008 7:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if we lived in the most economically vibrant neighborhood in the City and this was the last nuisance vacant property on the East Coast, why would we cut off our own noses to spite Mr Sendar? It does not benefit us in this situation to hold grudges, we should "try" to do what is best for the sake of the community.

We live in a free country. Mr Sendar can do whatever he wants with his property. We should not limit him to the option that hurts all of us.

Martin Moulton

At 10/02/2008 8:07 AM, Blogger ed said...

Now that DCRA and OTR are finally making vacant property owners pay the higher tax rate, Mr. Sendar gets all concerned about selling the property. This shows that high vacant property taxes, when enforced, do have an effect; something Jack Evans doubted when I testified before the subcommittee last year. It is not holding a grudge to expect a property owner to obey the laws like everyone else. The only thing stopping him from selling the property now at a reasonable price is his greed. In fact, there is no guaranty that he will sell if he gets the variance. His only incentives are the high taxes and perhaps fines for violations of the vacant building maintenance standards (still waiting for enforcement).

Giving a variance now only increases the price of vacant property which in turn stiffles small business developement. Who can afford to buy this building and rehab it? Since assessments are based in large part on recent sales prices in the neighborhood who can afford to pay the higher property taxes? Granting a variance now to a speculator helps only the speculator and hurts everyone else.


At 10/02/2008 12:15 PM, Blogger DaddyFiveOh said...

Ed: I might agree with you if Sendar were actually paying the punitive vacant property tax, but he isn't and never has. And there is no reason to believe that it will ever be applied to this property, because the DC government just doesn't care.

At 10/02/2008 6:10 PM, Anonymous OffSeventh said...


At 10/03/2008 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the ANC meeting I resigned myself to the BZA's retention of the R-4 with a variance to use the first floor for a small retail operation. It is better than C-4, as first requested. I realized Alex had outmaneuvered me by having Jack come to the meeting and speak on Sendar's behalf. That would shut up Doris and Barbara. Clearly, Leroy had been told to shut up too, as his letter to the BZA against Sendar was in direct contrast to his cowed demeanor at the ANC meeting. Furthermore, it is clear that our community sees no conflict of interest in Alex representing both his constituency and his paid advocacy role in Shaw Mainstreets, which is intent on commercializing Seventh and Ninth streets, even the now residential sections, in return for donations to him from developers. I doubt that Sendar will sell even if the Class 3 Vacant Property tax is imposed on him. Besides being an attorney, he owns Big Wheel Bikes, so he won't be hurting to pay taxes on his homes in Potomac and Georgetown. Poor people need cheap transport in times like these. Ray M


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