CPSG’s Liza Collery recently interviewed Sauleh Siddiqui, newly elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for District 3C05:
Sauleh Siddiqui, an Associate Professor of Environmental Science at American University, won a contested election in November to join the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) for District 3C05. (See boundaries here.) The ANC is an independent DC government body that provides advice on significant policy issues. Although they are not binding, ANC recommendations must be given “great weight” by DC government entities. In this interview, Siddiqui discusses why he ran for the ANC and shares his vision for Cleveland Park’s future.
How long have you lived in Cleveland Park? I grew up in Pakistan and came to the United States for college. I then briefly lived in Cleveland Park in 2007 before heading to the University of Maryland for a PhD in Applied Mathematics. Seven years ago, I purchased a condo at Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street. I live there with my wife Lacey and our dog Swift. (To check out Swift, visit his Instagram account at “swiftthewonderdog.”)
I love Cleveland Park because it’s the coziest neighborhood. Everything is available within two blocks, including restaurants, retail, and my gym, Foundation Fitness. I love walking to Byblos Deli for lunch and stopping by Indique for dinner.
Why run for the ANC? I have been working to improve Cleveland Park for several years. After the Ripple restaurant on Connecticut Avenue closed, I joined the Economic Vitality Committee of the Cleveland Park Business Association to help support our neighborhood businesses. I was then elected to the Cleveland Park Citizen’s Association (CPCA), where I served for a year and a half until I was elected to the ANC.
I wanted to join the ANC for two main reasons. First, I believe our community’s interests should prevail over those of commuters in cars. The status quo now favors the latter, with Connecticut Avenue designed so that drivers can reach downtown quickly. Second, I wanted to improve how the ANC communicates with Cleveland Park residents. Many neighbors don’t know what the ANC is for. Others want more transparency and engagement with the Commission. During the campaign, for example, neighbors located near Hearst Park often raised concerns about ongoing problems with the pool construction. They expressed frustration that their voices were going unheard. I believe that the ANC could play a stronger role in communicating such concerns to the DC government and in relaying relevant information back to neighbors.
What was it like campaigning during a pandemic? Well, I hope no one has to do it again. Social distancing made traditional campaigning hard and voters were understandably preoccupied with other matters. We had to try alternative strategies. Accordingly, my wife, who is a professional photographer, helped me record a campaign video. And the CPCA made its candidate’s forum available online, which allowed more people to watch. Despite the pandemic, I found many voters to be very engaged with the issues. In the end, the campaign made me realize how important local elections are and how many people in Cleveland Park want real change.
What improvements do you hope to see? I want to prioritize people in our public spaces. For example, Connecticut Avenue currently has six lanes for traﬃc, a set-up that promotes car- commuting at the neighborhood’s expense. I believe some of that space should be used instead for protected bicycle lanes. The District Department of Transportation is currently studying several proposals for modifying the reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue. One proposal, Concept C, includes bicycle lanes, as well as 24-hour parking with loading and drop oﬀ on Connecticut Avenue. (See DDOT’s options here.) Concept C would be a big step forward for Cleveland Park, improving the local neighborhood while helping to combat the global problem of climate change. I think this proposal could happen if Connecticut Avenue neighbors jump on the chance to support it.
There are other opportunities to create public spaces. The Macklin project at Connecticut Avenue and Newark Street, for example, will transform an empty parking lot into a place where people can sit outside and eat. I’d like to see other developments that provide similar neighborhood amenities.
And I think that we should make space for new multi-family housing in Cleveland Park. Currently, single-family zoning and height restrictions hamper construction of such housing. In my campaign video, for example, I pointed to the charming brick apartment buildings on Porter Street. These buildings are a wonderful fit for cozy Cleveland Park but, sadly, they could not be constructed under today’s rules. The Broadmoor and the Kennedy-Warren are examples of larger apartment buildings that also complement the neighborhood. As part of the Comprehensive Plan Amendments, I support raising the upper limit on buildings heights on Connecticut Avenue to make new apartments, including more aﬀordable units, possible.
What should be done about the Connecticut Avenue service lane? The service lane allocates critical public space for the parking of private vehicles. It’s been a joy to have that space back for bicycles, pedestrians and outdoor dining during the pandemic. As Ashok Bajaj, the owner of Bindas and Sababa restaurants, noted in the Washington Post, closing the service lane adds a “neighborhood feel” to Cleveland Park. His experience during the pandemic has convinced Bajaj that the service lane should be permanently closed. But other businesses, such as the dry cleaners, are helped by the service lane through customer pick-ups and drop-oﬀs. I therefore support creative solutions that reclaim the service lane for public use while still providing some vehicle access for local businesses that depend on it.
What changes do you foresee at the ANC itself? ANC 3C now has a new Chair in Commissioner Beau Finley. I congratulate him on his election and I’m excited to see the positive changes his tenure will bring. Some changes are already in the works. For example, unlike many other ANCs, ANC 3C previously had only one committee: Planning and Zoning. We are changing that by establishing new committees for Transportation and for Parks and Recreation. ANC 3C is also promoting transparency by releasing draft resolutions several days in advance of meetings. Previously, resolutions were often revealed the same day or the day before.
Final thoughts? The ANC can only be eﬀective if the community participates. I urge you all to write to me and all your commissioners with your thoughts. One of the reasons we were able to pass the recent resolution in favor of the Future Land Use Map was because so many people reached out to us. In the final tally of all the emails I received, over 70% of my SMD and over 56% of ANC 3C supported high density land-use on the Connecticut Avenue business district. It’s that type of engagement that causes change to benefit our community and I hope everyone remains engaged at that level going forward. It was heartening for me to see it happen and I’m excited about representing our progressive views on the ANC.