City Paper Widget

Monday, April 13, 2015

Short Articles about Long Meetings Ceases Publication

This is the last post on the blog Short Articles about Long Meetings.

I am moving out of the DC area because my wife, an American diplomat, will take up an assignment this summer at the US Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Thanks to the people and publications who have complemented and linked to my writing.

I have mentioned to a few people that I will be winding up the blog. Some have suggested that I find someone else to continue it. I have not conducted an organized search for a successor, and no one has stepped forward and indicated a desire to write about Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in the way that I do.

I enjoyed doing this, but unsurprisingly found there is no money in it.

If anyone wishes to take ANCs up as a topic, I have no intellectual property claim on the style and method of this blog. All you have to do is to go to the long meetings and write down what people say.

Friday, April 10, 2015

479 Ridge Street: "Any Change Is a Huge Deal"

Some homeowners on Ridge Street NW do not want any houses on their block expanding.

(Google Street View)
That's the message the homeowners of 479 Ridge Street got when they presented a proposal to Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw on April 7. The homeowners sought ANC endorsement on the project before they presented the concept for a three-story rear addition to their two-story house to DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The project requires HPRB approval because it is located in the Mount Vernon Square Historic District.

An architect and the homeowners presented to the ANC. They said the rear addition would not be visible from the street. They wanted a staircase off the back of the present building to lead up to a master bedroom suite. The homeowners plan to live in the house.

The proposed addition would bring the height of the building up to 27 feet -- below the 35 feet the homeowners are allowed "by right" under zoning regulations. Similarly, after the proposed renovations, the house would be under 60% lot occupancy, meaning, the footprint of the house would not require zoning relief.

Commissioner Rachelle Nigro (district 04) said she had to oppose the request "because of the possibility it can be seen from the street". 479 Ridge Street is in Nigro's ANC district.

Nigro said she had spoken to or received emails from five Ridge Street residents in favor of the project, and eight against. The people in favor of the project, she said, were people who were seeking or thinking of seeking expansions themselves. Those against the expansions were uniformly people who had no interest in expanding their own homes.

For this latter group, Nigro said: "Any change is a huge deal."

Because of the desires of her constituents, Nigro said, she would have to oppose the expansion.

Three Commissioners then spoke up in favor of allowing the expansion: Kevin Chapple (district 02), Frank Wiggins (district 03), and ANC6E Chair Marge Maceda (Commissioner for district 05). 

Since the project is in Nigro's district, she was allowed to make the first motion on the project. Nigro moved to oppose the project. The motion died for lack of a second. The Commissioner Alex Padro (district 01) moved to approve the project. Padro's motion passed, five to one, with Nigro the sole vote against.

This is the second request in two months from Ridge Street that followed the same pattern: protesting neighbors, Nigro proposes a motion but fails to get a second, and then approval from the full ANC with Nigro against.

At the previous meeting last month, a Ridge Street resident told a homeowner and resident who wanted a rear addition to their house to either keep the house as it is or find somewhere else to live -- see SALM blog post of March 6. That homeowner, too, got approval from the full ANC.

This matter is on the agenda for HPRB's next set of meetings, the first of which is scheduled to take place on Thursday, April 23, at the Board's meeting room at 441 4th Street, Room 220 South (Judiciary Square metro). If all of the items on the agenda are not address, there will be a further meeting on April 30.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Shaw ANC Protest for Joe Englert Bar near Dacha Beer Garden

Long-time DC restauranteur Joe Englert got a frosty reception for his proposed new tavern, Trinity, on Tuesday, April 7. Englert appeared before Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw to ask for endorsement of a new tavern license for the proposed operation at 1606 7th Street NW, two doors up from Dacha Beer Garden at 7th and Q Streets.

Blue building center right is 1606 7th Street
Englert told the ANC the tavern would be a "barbeque concept", serving from a food truck parked on the patio behind the main building. There will be DJs inside the establishment, so Englert is seeking an entertainment endorsement on his liquor license.

According a Notice of Public Hearing by DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), available here, Trinity will have a "[f]ull menu with ribs, pulled pork, turkey, and salads". It will have an inside capacity of 199 and outdoor space with capacity of 68. Trinity seeks to keep the interior portion of its operation open until 1:45am Sunday - Thursday, and 2:45am Friday and Saturday. The exterior portion would be allowed to stay open until 2am seven days a week, according to the application, but liquor service outside would end before midnight Sunday to Thursday, and just before 2am weekends.  Live entertainment would be permitted until 10pm, seven days a week.

Back-to-back with people's homes

1606 7th Street is back-to-back with a series of row houses that face 8th Street. They would be separated from Trinity's outside service by a narrow alley. ANC6E Commissioner Alex Padro (district 01) noted "significant concern" from these neighbors. The proposed tavern would be in Padro's district.

"We have families that live 10 feet from the back" of the proposed establishment, Padro said.

"The inside part, I welcome. It's the outside part that bothers me," one neighbor said.

"You need to make choices about what this is going to be," the same neighbor said.

"For us, it's a quality of life issue," said a representative of the Central Shaw Neighborhood Association. "Outdoor residential drinking space is a non-starter for some neighbors."

"We do largely welcome development in the neighborhood," she added.

Slightly odd ANC conversation

The conversation took some strange turns. Commissioner Rachelle Nigro (district 04) asked, if this application failed, and the next applicant wanted to open a "titty bar", would the neighbors object to that also? Nigro said that the neighbors could not "pick and choose" what type of businesses they liked in the neighborhood.

Other Commissioners openly disagreed.

Commissioner Kevin Chapple (district 02) said: "I can completely sympathize. You have a right to pick and choose."

Commissioner Frank Wiggins (district 03) also expressed solidarity: "I hear the cry of the neighbors."

Padro said he had served on ANCs for 15 years, and had never protested a liquor license. In this case, however, Padro (also chair of ANC6E's liquor-licensing affairs committee) said talks with Englert about the establishment and "what were the deal breakers" yielded no satisfactory conclusion.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room was the nearby Dacha Beer Garden (1600 7th Street). This establishment was mentioned in connection with the noise issue several times. When a speaker did so, the speaker usually felt it necessary to acknowledge the present applicant was not the Dacha Beer Garden, and any complaints about the behavior of the patrons of the Dacha Beer had no bearing on this application. Yet Dacha Beer Garden still seemed to be on everybody's mind.

Padro said when Dacha applied for a liquor license, they claimed their capacity was 129, but often "in reality" there were 400 people there.

"The noise is unbearable," Padro said.

Nigro noted some neighbors who had been before the ANC in support of Dacha a few years ago were now emailing and appearing against this bar's liquor license application.

Englert was present during the discussion but did not speak very often. He mentioned there was "many ways to attack noise", but he did not make any specific suggestions or promises.

Vote and next steps

The ANC voted to protest the liquor license application. The vote to protest was five to one -- the dissenting vote was from ANC6E Chair Marge Maceda (Commissioner for district 05).

The petition of protest by the ANC (and the neighbors, if they choose to act separately) have to be filed by April 27. Trinity's next scheduled ABRA hearing is scheduled for Monday, May 11, at ABRA's offices on the 4th floor of the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

Englert has opened over a dozen bars in the District. He is perhaps best known for many establishments on H Street NE, including The Rock and Roll Hotel and H Street Country Club. Englert operations in the Shaw/U Street area include DC9 and the now-closed State of the Union.

Read a 2012 Washingtonian magazine portrait of Englert here, which includes (near the end) some information about Englert's relations with ANCs on H Street NE.

(Photo credit: Google Street View)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

DCRA Director on Noise, Row House Crowding, Illegal Construction

Melinda Bolling, interim director of DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), answered some questions before the start of the the regular monthly meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street on April 2. The questions addressed various topics which are under DCRA's purview.

Bolling (center) answers questions
Bolling explained some details about about DC sound regulations. Noise was a constant complaint, she said, but DC was "hesitant" to impose new soundproofing requirements on existing buildings. Instead, DCRA concentrated on assuring that new constructions and buildings getting renovations were up to code in this regard.

"If you make renovations, you have to meet the code," Bolling said.

ANC1B Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09) brought up a specific place which he predicted would be a future headache for Commissioners.

"We're going to have a problem with Nellie's," Turner said.

Nellie's Sports Bar is a popular establishment located at 900 U Street NW. It is next to a parcel of land likely someday to hold a multi-story mixed use building. This neighboring parcel is one of two parcels which are being considered (together as a single unit) for redevelopment by the Bowser administration. The other package in the deal is the nearby Grimke School (1923 Vermont Avenue).

A proposal to redevelop these two pieces of land was approved in the last moments of the administration of former Mayor Vincent Grey in December 2014. The award was "put on hold" shortly after Mayor Bowser was sworn in, and is now being reevaluted.

In response to a question on illegal construction, Bolling gave the name of the city official responsible -- Jill Byrd -- and a telephone number to call -- 202-442-STOP. (Byrd's email is Jill.Byrd@dc.gov.) However, Bolling says, "no one works on weekends", so complaints about any illegal construction happening after Friday evening will have wait until the next business day for action.

In response to a question about illegal rooming houses, Bolling said it was legal for six unrelated people to live together in one house.

ANC1B Commissioner Nick Ferreyros (district 05) said he had been told the actual legal limit is five or less.

No, Bolling said, six was permitted.

DCRA has the responsibility to enforce rules against illegal rooming houses but "we have to build a case", and it was often difficult to do so, she said.

Bolling also briefly addressed the DCRA"s "Third Party Inspection Program", meaning, practice of having private businesses to do inspections to ensure buildings are up to code, in lieu of inspectors on the city payroll. Bolling said many inspectors were hired by developers. There was a profit motive for inspectors not to scrutinize too closely the properties they were being paid to inspect, she admitted.

There was only one person in the audience who had a question, and the matter turned out to be one handled by another DC government agency.

The ANC thanked Bolling for coming. She departed and the ANC moved on to its regular agenda.

Bolling became DCRA interim director at the beginning of 2015. She was DCRA's General Counsel for several years prior.

Read here a February 27 post from the blog Park View DC about a recent Ward One town hall meeting where DCRA's chronic "unresponsiveness and failure to address issues" was the focus of many citizen complaints.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Florida Avenue Improvement Project Delayed Until 2016

A long-planned improvement of Florida Avenue NW between U Street and Sherman Avenue will be delayed until April 2016, according to Richard Kenney of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Kenney made the announcement during the latest regularly-scheduled meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street on April 2.

(From October 2014 DDOT presentation)
According to a presentation made by DDOT on October 27, 2014, the Florida Avenue project was to start construction in October 2015.

The delayed project will eventually bring bike lanes and sharrows to this stretch of Florida Avenue. It will also improve drainage, provide a traffic light at V Street, widen sidewalks, and add wheelchair ramps. There will also be additional green space, Kenney said. 

Kenney told the ANC that "outstanding issues were putting the project on hold" including one involving District Department of the Environment (DDOE) storm water management regulations and another involving curb cuts along Florida Avenue which need to be closed before work could start.

In addition, a separate project will soon begin nearby on Georgia Avenue, Kenney said, and DDOT does not want to have two projects in close proximity in progress at the same time, since both will obstruct north-south traffic.

The Georgia Avenue project will bring dedicated bus lanes. The October 2014 presentation said construction would start in February 2015. At the meeting last week, Kenney said the start of the Georgia Avenue project was "imminent".

ANC Commissioner Ellen Nedrow Sullivan (district 02) asked Kenney if, since the project was delayed anyway, whether new street lights for the 1900 block of 9th Street could be incorporated. Much of the neighborhood has received new street lights with an elegant, retro look to replace utilitarian-looking street lights used before -- see a examples of the two styles in this SALM blog post. But the 1900 block of 9th Street has not yet benefitted from this upgrade.

See a September 2012 post from the blog Greater Greater Washington about this project here. This post references 2011 input (see here) from ANC1B.

Monday, April 6, 2015

All Souls Bar Mobilizes Social Media to Support Outdoor Service

CORRECTION: When originally published, the first sentence of this article said the patio would be at the corner of "8th and I Streets". Apologies.

All Souls Bar (725 T Street NW) has launched a campaign on social media to gain community support for a planned patio at the corner of 8th and T Streets. As a result, Nick Baumann, chair of the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street, has received about 50 emails in support of the planned patio as of last Thursday evening, April 2, when the ANC had its regularly-scheduled monthly meeting. (Baumann also tweeted this information on the same day.) By comparison, at a meeting of the liquor-licensing committee on March 18, Baumann reported he had received eight emails, divided for and against.

From All Souls Bar's Facebook page
In order to serve outside, All Souls will have to get permission from DC liquor-licensing authorities. The first step toward this permission would be getting buy-in from the community, including the ANC. Neighbors of, and property-owners near, the establishment have come to the last two meetings of the liquor-licensing affairs committee of the ANC to oppose the proposal -- see SALM blog posts of February 25 and March 25.

On April 1, All Souls Bar published a post on its Facebook page asking for community support. At the same time, it tweeted a "call to action", directing readers to the Facebook post.

The Facebook post has pictures of the proposed space (see above) and also cites reporting on this blog. All Souls Bar's owner/operator David Batista writes he feels "opposition is unwarranted with some misinterpretation of the law and our intentions." Batista also writes:
We want to take a barren lot and surround it with trees and plantings to beautify the corner for pedestrians and patrons alike. We want a patio with table service only—no standing, no speakers and no smoking (sorry folks). A patio with limited hours.
The post urges supporters to email Baumann and ANC Commissioners and "let them know why you support All Souls and our patio". As of this writing, the post has 190 "likes" and has been shared 40 times, including on the SALM Facebook page.

Shortly after the post was published, it was shared on the Facebook-based blog U Street Buzz and was the subject of a sympathetic article on the blog Popville. In both places, it received many additional likes and favorable comments. The Popville article also has some unfavorable comments.

Since the original Facebook posting, All Souls Bar has thanked it supporters on Twitter for the "great and truely humbling" response, and urged supporters to "keep the emails coming, you are being heard".

At the April 2 meeting, several ANC1B Commissioners said they had received emails in support of the patio. Baumann told the ANC the matter would come up again at the next regularly-scheduled liquor-licensing committee meet, and he expected it to be "contentious". There was little further discussion and no vote of any kind on the project at the April 2 meeting.

The next meeting of the liquor-licensing affairs committee of ANC1B is scheduled for Wednesday, April 15. Meetings usually start at 7pm, and take place at the Thurgood Marshall Center (1816 12th Street, between S and T Streets).

Friday, April 3, 2015

DC Attorney General's Office Launches Charm Offensive at ANCs

In the quest for budget independence, representatives of newly-elected DC Attorney General Karl Racine stopped off at the regular monthly meetings of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) 2F/Logan Circle on Wednesday, April 1, and 1B/U Street last night, Thursday, April 2.

Representatives of the office pitched a plan that would allow the Attorney General's office to retain up to $20 million annually from settlements and awards it wins as a result of litigation.

"We want to keep some of the food we kill," said Vanessa Natale, chief of the Neighborhood and Victim Services Section of the Attorney General's Office at  ANC2F's meeting.

"What we're asking for is to be more independent," Natale also said.

Natale told the ANC the Attorney General's office was seeking the unusual funding arrangement in part to be able to hire more attorneys. The office currently has 275 attorneys, she said, and it needed another 75 attorneys to bring it up to size that similar offices have in cities of the same size.

The Attorney General's office also wished to strengthen its consumer protection division, she said, and be able to fund a proposed new "affordable housing" division.

Natale also compared the budget of the Attorney General's office -- about $55 million a year, or 1% of the District's overall budget -- with the amount of money the office ("a revenue-generating agency for the District government") takes in. For example, the Attorney General's office won an award of $60-90 million from online hotel companies who were booking hotel rooms without paying appropriate taxes.

A presentation submitted to the ANCs said: "This fiscal year, we project that we will recover or save the District more than a billion dollars."

At the ANC1B meeting last night, attorney Argatonia Weatherington, also of the Neighborhood and Victim Services Section of the Attorney General's Office, made a similar, but shorter, presentation, emphasizing that the Attorney General's Office sought "more independence" and "more autonomy". The Attorney General's office wished to retain a portion of settlements and awards in order to "expand the organization". Weatherington mentioned hiring 65-75 new attorneys.

The proposal must be approved by the DC Council. Natale said a hearing on the proposal is scheduled for April 22. Weatherington told ANC1B the hearing on April 27.

See a March 30 article from the Washington Post about Racine's proposal here.