The Board of Zoning Adjustment is a small but powerful quasi-judicial body buried deep in the District’s bureaucracy. Simply stated, its five-member board can grant zoning variances. If a builder, developer, or land owner wants to change zoning restrictions, the BZA can make it happen.
For builders and developers, a BZA decision can reap millions of dollars in profits. Its members, three of whom are appointed by the mayor, should be well-versed in the intricacies of zoning regulations or the business side of development. It’s best that they not be currently involved in property development.
So why did Mayor Muriel Bowser nominate Fred Hill for one of the coveted BZA seats?
Hill is president of the Hill Group, a consulting firm located in Bethesda. His executive profile touts his experience working with federal agencies on conferences and publications. He doesn’t seem to have much experience in zoning or development.
But Hill does own at least one DC company that is dabbling in real estate development. Alba 12th Street, LLC, owns property that its trying to redevelop property near downtown. Coincidentally, Alba recently got a variance from the BZA.
Hill also contributed generously to Bowser’s recent mayoral campaign. Between himself, his family and his companies, Hill gave Bowser’s campaign $10,000, according to DC campaign finance records. He and his wife, Christine, gave the maximum $2,000. Each of his three companies — Hill, Alba and Tyto — contributed $2,000.
The contribution and the nomination caught the eye of at-large DC council member David Grosso.
“It is likely that people who want to be influential in government raise their profile through campaign donations,” Grosso told Washingtonian. “The best thing for government is to have qualified people at boards like the BZA. This guy has absolutely no background at all.”
“Mr. Hill has a wealth of experience in the public and private sectors,” Bowser spokesperson Michael Czin told Washingtonian. “His experience and diverse background make him uniquely qualified to work on behalf of District residents on the BZA board.” Czin also notes that Christine Hill contributed $100 to Grosso’s 2012 council campaign.
Fred Hill’s $10,000 in campaign contributions fall into the category of bundling, where an individual can amplify his or her financial punch by giving maximum amounts through family members and companies from the same addresses. When Bowser was writing her legislation to reform DC’s campaign ethics laws, she declined to include language that would have limited an individual’s ability to bundle cash through the use of LLC’s, or limited liability corporations.
Council member Kenyan McDuffie has introduced legislation to limit these bundled donations.
The council is scheduled to hear testimony on Fred Hill’s nomination this afternoon.