City Paper Widget

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Recommendations for Grimke School Development from ANC1B

The Design Review Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street voted April 21 in favor of a set of community recommendations for the redevelopment of the Grimke School (1923 Vermont Avenue NW) and an adjoining property (912 U Street).

Three main points

If the full ANC approves the committee's recommendation, the full ANC will ask for three points from the proposal of the Grimke Redevelopment Working Group be included into D.C.'s future Request for Proposal (RFP) on the site. The recommendations are

The Grimke School (photo credit below)
  • to limit the development of the Grimke School and associated buildings to the current "envelope"
  • to mandate development on the property be mixed use.
  • to develop daytime retail uses on the property
In addition, the committee voted to recommend that the entire working group document be attached to D.C.'s future RFP.

How the RFP will work

Reyna Alorro, Project Manager at the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), appeared at the meeting to brief on the state of project and to solicit community comment. She said the city will be sending out one RFP solicitation for the development of the two sites. DMPED will then make a short list of acceptable proposals and make them public. There will be a 30-day written comment period on the proposals. There will also be a community meeting. At the meeting, developers will present their proposals and members of the public will be able to question the developers. Members of the public will also be allowed to give their opinions, written and verbal, at the meeting. DMPED will select one proposal by the end of 2014.

The main school building is considered historic. It will be a requirement of the RFP that this building be renovated.

The neighboring building is former gym of the Grimke School. It is not a historic building, and is now home to the African-American Civil War Museum. The museum will continue to be located at the Grimke site. A significant part in the renovated buildings will be set aside for re-occupation by the museum. One member of the committee called the promise of a renovated home to the museum a de facto subsidy which had been granted without proper oversight.

The working group presents

Jeffrey Wills presented to the committee for the ad hoc Grimke Redevelopment Working Group.

"We had a lot of participants," he said. "We are asking you to embrace this statement of community goals. I hope you'll push your authority."

Willis advocated that the working group's proposals should be incorporated into the RFP, and articulated the three points that formed the basis of the Design Review committee's recommendations above.

During the discussion of the working group's document, it was made clear that "the envelope" did not only refer to the footprint of the current buildings on the ground, but also to the height of the buildings, which are shorter than what might be otherwise allowed according to zoning regulations.

Members of the community came out to voice their support for the working group's conclusions. During the meeting, it was asked how many members of the audience came to express their support of the working group document. Ten people raised their hands.

The motion to make the recommendations passed by a vote of 7-1.

ANC1B will probably vote on this recommendation at its next regular monthly meeting, scheduled for Thursday, May 1, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

The development of an RFP for the Grimke School was the subject of a March 17 report from the blog District Source.

(Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Howard Theatre Plans Weekend Summer Events in Ellington Plaza

Roy "Chip" Ellis, a trustee of the Howard Theatre (620 T Street NW), came before the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B/U Street April 16 to brief about a new plan to use outside space around the theater on the weekends, starting in June. The plan includes a summer beer garden behind the theater. As the plan stands now, the beer garden will be open Saturdays and Sundays until 11pm.
Howard Theater in 2013 (Wikipedia)
Ellis said the Howard Theatre would be working with the non-profit organization Shaw Main Streets on a concept called "Made in Shaw". As currently envisioned, the section of T Street in front of the theater will be closed off. Local artists will display on the closed street and on Ellington Plaza, a pedestrian area near the front of the theater.

However, there will not be alcohol service on the area in front of the theater, Ellis said. The beer garden behind the theater has a projected capacity of "less than 200". There are no plans to have outside concerts, Ellis told the committee.

"We might have one person playing the guitar," he said.

There will also be food service. Ellis did not talk about the menu for food or drink, but he did say: "We have Right Proper Brewery right next door."

Liquor license aspects

The plan means a "substantial change" to the Howard Theater's liquor license. Any substantial change to a liquor-license must be placarded for 60 days placarded for 45 days, per D.C. Code 25-101 (41). "Made in Shaw" may wish to open while the placarding period is still in process. To do so, the Howard Theater will also need a stipulated liquor license, which will allow the beer garden to operate while the D.C. liquor-licensing bureaucracy processes paperwork.

There was no vote by the committee. The Howard Theater will be back in front of ANC1B to request both to endorse its substantial change and to grant a stipulated license. A stipulated liquor license is one of the few powers an ANC has that is more than advisory in nature.

Liquor-licensing committee chair Nick Baumann asked Ellis to make sure the residential neighbors were consulted.

"We plan on knocking on every door," Ellis said.

Public space aspects

Another committee member asked if there was a traffic plan. She said valets from Howard Theater were parking customer vehicles in nearby residential alleys.

"Your valets are filling up the alleys," she said. "Do you have any plans to make it better?"

"When we come back, we will have a traffic plan," Ellis said.

The project may also require a public space use permit from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). ANC Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09) asked Ellis to call on ANC1B's Transportation Committee to talk about public space aspects of the plan.

Ellis is also CEO of Howard Theater developer Ellis Development Group.

Thanks to Brain Molloy of the DC Liquor Law Blog for setting me straight on the length of the protest period (corrected above).

Monday, April 21, 2014

1248 Fairmont Street: Curb Cut Helps Turn Single-Family House to Five Units

1248 Fairmont Street NW is being converted from a single-family home to five units by an addition to the rear. If you are a neighbor and stand to lose sunlight and air from the rear expansion of this house, you still have a chance to make your displeasure known. There is a meeting of the Design Review Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street scheduled for 6:30pm tonight (Monday, April 21) at the Thurgood Marshall Center (1816 12th Street). The developers converting the property have said they will be there.

As seen from Fairmont Street (Google Street View)
This conversion is a "matter of right", which means that the developers do not have to ask for zoning variances or special exceptions from the D.C. government. A publicly-available letter from D.C. Zoning Administrator Matt LeGrant (.pdf here) confirms no zoning variances or special exceptions are necessary. Nevertheless, the developer told the Transportation Committee of ANC1B on April 17 they would be at the Design Review Committee. They will probably present to the committee as a matter of courtesy.

A representative of the developers of 1248 Fairmont Street NW appeared before the Transportation Committee to ask for ANC1B endorsement of a curb cut. The curb cut is necessary to provide access to the two parking spaces that the zoning will require for the five units. The developers received a conditional endorsement of the curb cut. Now their request moves to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) for final approval.

The building is on the southeast corner of Fairmont and 13th Streets. The proposed curb cut will be on the Fairmont Street side, about 85 feet from the corner of 13th. It will provide access to a two-car covered garage. The representative said LeGrant told him surface parking would not be permitted -- only garage parking.

The curb cut will remove one on-street parking space.

Members of the committee asked if more than two spaces for the five units were possible. The developers' representative said it was not.

How happy are the neighbors?

Commissioner Ricardo Reinoso (district 05) asked if the developers had been in touch with ANC Commissioner for the district Sedrick Muhammed (district 03). The developers had not.

Reinoso also asked the representative if he had been in touch with the neighbors. The representative said he had been in touch with abutting neighbors only. He did not report any complaints from the abutting neighbors.

A person who says "[m]y townhouse is connected to 1248 Fairmont Street", in a March 3 post in a forum of the blog Popville, said that the proposed development will block views and sunlight. The neighbor wished to discuss the situation with the developer. The neighbor, identified on Popville by the user name "comerte", also said he/she could not find contact information about the developer online.

(Google searches for the developer on April 18, 2014, yielded addresses, but no phone number or email.)

It is possible that, in the time between the March 3 Popville post and the April 17 Transportation Committee meeting, all the parties met and came to a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

Other details about the project

The additions are all on the rear of the building.

"The building will look as it is," the representative said. "It will look like it was built in the early 1900s."

The architect is Jennifer Fowler of Fowler Architects.

Plans for the renovation are available online -- six-page .pdf here. In addition to the garage, more basement space will be dug underneath the existing ground-floor patio. Two additional floors will be added over the rear part of the existing house and the proposed garage. The roof of the addition will have a deck. The total square footage of the house will increase from about 3,800 square feet to nearly 6,900 square feet.

On-line information says this house was sold in December 2103 for $990,000.

About the parking

The Transportation Committee was concerned that the placement of the curb cut was too close to the property line. It voted to recommend that the full ANC endorse the request to DDOT for a curb cut, on the condition that it be moved a few feet off the property line to allow optimal street parking. The vote was two in favor and one abstention.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Glen's Garden Market Moves towards Beer Garden

Glen's Garden Market (2001 S Street NW) is taking steps to use the space outside its front door as a beer garden. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle endorsed a request to change the use of the space. Right now, customers are purchasing food and coffee inside Glen's Garden Market and consuming it on benches on the patio.

Tables and umbrellas will replace benches
Danielle Vogel, owner/operator of Glen's Garden Market, told ANC 2B of plans to expand the scope of the outside space by adding a series of tables with umbrella and hiring extra servers. There will 16 places and will operate between 10am and 10pm, seven days a week.

The application will go next to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which handles applications of use of public spaces like sidewalks.

A successful application to DDOT will not necessarily mean that Glen's Garden Market can immediately begin to serve alcohol outside. If it has not already done so, Glen's will have to apply to D.C.'s alcohol-licensing authorities for a change to the terms of its liquor license.

Good feelings all around

Glen's Garden Market seemed to have an especially cordial relationship with the ANC. It has found an unusual way to create good feeling: it named one of the sandwiches on its menu after their district's ANC Commissioner, Mike Feldstein (district 01).

During the discussion of the public space application, Commissioner Mike Silverstein (district 06) invoked the theory of social capital.

"I can't think of a better example of that than Glen's Garden Market," Silverstein said. "I think it's an invaluable asset to the community."

Silverstein later asked Danielle Vogel, a first-time entrepreneur and former lawyer, what she had learned since the opening of Glen's, which opened with the idea it would carry exclusively locally-sourced products.

"Folks care about convenience and price point," she answered. "We tried to be responsive."

As a result, she said, Glen's has had to stock inventory that is "not indigenous".

All the Commissioners present voted to support the public space request of Glen's Garden Market.

The vote was taken at ANC2B's regular monthly meeting on April 9.

See a .pdf copy of the letter in support of Glen's that ANC2B sent to DDOT Public Space Committee here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shadow Senator Paul Strauss Represents Dino's Grotto at ANC1B

Dean Gold and Kay Zimmerman came before the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street last night (April 16) in support of their soon-to-open Shaw restaurant, Dino's Grotto (1914 9th Street NW). Speaking on their behalf was D.C. Shadow Senator Paul Strauss, in his day-job role as a private attorney. Gold and Zimmerman have recently closed their award-winning Cleveland Park restaurant, Dino's.

Strauss in 2007
"The emphasis is on fine food and a fabulous wine cellar," Strauss said of Dino's Grotto.

Dino's Grotto doesn't need any sort of approval or endorsement from ANC1B. They have a liquor license, which they acquired from the previous occupants of the space, Portico Restaurant. They don't plan to request any changes to the license, which will allow the restaurant to stay open until 1am Monday - Thursday, and 3am Saturday - Sunday. The restaurant is not licensed to use outdoor space. There was no indication the owners of Dino's Grotto were interested in outdoor service.

"The plan is to have the same business as Cleveland Park," Strauss said. The restaurant will even look the same as the Cleveland Park restaurant, since a lot of the furnishings will migrate with their owners.

Strauss explained that Dino's Grotto will operate under a tavern ("CT") license, not a restaurant ("CR") license. Holders of a restaurant license have the obligation of showing to D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) that at least 45 percent of their income derives food sales. A tavern license has no such obligation.

Dino's Grotto will be the sort of place, Strauss explained, that has a selection of high end wines, the price of which might be at least equal to the price of the food portion of the meal. Having a tavern license will free the owners from the worry that sales of expensive bottles of wine will cause the restaurant cross the 45 percent threshold, and endanger their liquor license.

Since there was no need for a vote, the liquor-licensing affairs committee thanked Strauss, Gold, and Zimmerman for coming to the meeting and wished them the best of luck.

Dean Gold promised "a very soft opening" in the near future.

"We look forward to it," said ANC1B Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09).

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Doi Moi to Have 60 Outside Seats on S and 14th Streets

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle endorsed a proposal that would give 60 outdoor seats to Doi Moi (1800 14th Street NW). The popular Southeast Asian restaurant at the corner of S Street received the endorsement at ANC2B's regular monthly meeting on April 9.

Doi Moi's patio facing S Street
Of these, 48 seats will be enclosed in a purpose-built patio (see photo) facing S Street. It is set apart from the sidewalk and will have outdoor umbrellas.

The other 12 seats will be on the 14th Street side of the restaurant. There will be six "two-tops" running along the east wall of the building, starting at the south corner.

There was some discussion about the amount of space this would leave on the sidewalk for pedestrians. On paper, DC requires a pedestrian space ten feet across. At the meeting, Commissioners noted this requirement was no longer being enforced outside the downtown business district.

There is a bicycle rack, a lamp post, and a tree with knee-high railing on the sidewalk on the 14th Street side of Doi Moi. The addition of outdoor tables may create a pedestrian choke-point. ANC2B, as part of its endorsement of the plan, will urge  the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which oversees public space managment, to make sure that the placement of tables is appropriate for pedestrian safety on 14th Street.

Doi Moi has a settlement agreement with ANC2B and a group of 29 neighbors (starting on page four of a .pdf here). Doi Moi's plan is "consistent with the settlement agreement", according to Commissioner Noah Smith (district 09). In fact, the settlement agreement states the exact amount of outdoor places Doi Moi may have, which is the same number as they are applying for.

Doi Moi is in Smith's ANC district.

The settlement agreement also states there will be no outside standing bar, no outside line for outdoor seating, and no outdoor seating hostess. Customers wanting outdoor seating will have to see a restaurant hostess indoors.

Outside service will end at 11pm Monday - Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. There is no provision to extend hours on the evenings before holidays.

Commissioner Smith made the motion to endorse Doi Moi's public space application. It was passed by a unanimous vote of all the Commissioners present.

The request now moves on to DDOT for final approval.

See a .pdf copy of the letter about Doi Moi's outside space that ANC2B sent to DDOT's Public Space Committee here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Long-term Street Lane Closures in Shaw Starting 2017

Good news first: a massive DC Water project will ease chronic flooding in Shaw, LeDroit Park, and Bloomingdale. Bad news: to complete the project, it will be necessary to close traffic lanes for periods of 18 to 36 months on and near Rhode Island Avenue NW, starting 2017.

(from DC Water web site)
One closure is in Shaw. The other is very near Shaw and will severely affect east-west traffic in Shaw.

Want to know more? DC Water will hold a Ward 6 town meeting tonight (Tuesday, April 15) at 6:30pm in the Multipurpose Room of Eliot-Hine Middle School, 1830 Constitution Avenue NE. The meeting will address all aspects of the DC Water project, including street and lane closure both in Shaw and elsewhere in D.C. This meeting is part of eight ward-wide town meetings DC Water is holding this month.

If you can't get to the town meeting

DC Water presented the outlines of the ambitious project to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6E/Shaw at its regular monthly meeting on April 1.  The street lane closures are only a small part of the plan to build the Northeast Boundary Tunnel, a hole 23 feet in diameter, located 100 feet underground. The tunnel will not only reduce flooding but also is necessary under a 1998 multi-party consent decree designed to clean up water in the Anacostia River and beyond. The district ratepayer is footing the bill for the project.

The projected closure in Shaw will be one lane for 24-36 months around the perimeter of Cooper Park (a "pocket park" made from a triangular patch of land bounded by Rhode Island Avenue NW, 6th Street, and R Street). The projected closure near Shaw will be two lanes at Florida Avenue and Third Street NW (near Rhode Island Avenue) for 18 months.

Some work at the Florida Avenue site should have started already. The plan is for this work to be completed by April 21. Later, DC Water will also have to drill holes in the ground at this site. There is no projected date to begin, but, once begun, work will take "two to three months", according to the presenters at the ANC meeting.

The presentation said the final design and construction phase of the project will start in December 2016.

Cooper Park

Cooper Park (left) at RI Avenue, seen from 6th Street
Since the Cooper Park site is in ANC6E, it got the more attention at the April 1 meeting. Like the Florida Avenue site, DC Water will, at some uncertain date in the nearish future, drill some holes in the ground at Cooper Park. This work is exploratory and there will not be any lane closures. This phase of the work will take two or three months.

During the 2017 construction phase, the park will be used as a staging area. The complete restoration of the park is included in the budget for the project. DC Water has hired a landscape architect and has a conceptual design for the park restoration. It solicited comment from the Commissioners on this point. ANC6E Commissioner Alexander Padro (district 01) suggested public art for the new space, and asked DC Water not to forget a water source in the park. Commissioner Marge Maceda (district 05) asked DC Water to include "playable art".

It is difficult to drive across town now. The lane closures will make it even more difficult. Padro worried about the impact the closing of a lane on R Street at Cooper Park. R Street carries a lot of crosstown traffic, Padro noted, and cannot be completely blocked.

"You must have some carrying capacity there or all hell's going to break loose," Padro said.

Padro also asked about the piles of sandbags around the vent on the median of Rhode Island Avenue at 7th Street, next to the Watha T. Daniel Library (1630 7th Street NW). The sandbags are there to prevent flooding on Metro's Green Line. Padro would like to see the sandbags removed. DC Water said the removal of the sandbags was not part of the DC Water project.

ANC6E videos its meeting and puts the videos on YouTube in 30-minute chunks. The presentation by DC Water can be view by following this link, starting at the beginning of the video, which is part two of the meeting. However, you cannot see the accompanying slideshow presentation. I was unable to find a copy of the slideshow presentation on DC Water's web site.

The Committee unanimously voted to send a letter to DC Water summarizing its concerns as articulated at the meeting.