City Paper Widget

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Merry Christmas from SALM

Due to family obligations, SALM must start its Christmas break early.

I look forward to posting again in the New Year.

Best wishes for a joyous Christmas, a happy holiday season, and a safe and prosperous New Year to all readers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Darnell's: "The Only Option These Residents Want is Closing The Establishment"

At its regular monthly meeting on December 4, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street voted to reject a draft settlement agreement with Darnell's Bar (944 Florida Avenue NW), even though the settlement agreement had been drafted by an ANC1B Commissioner. The vote was 4-2 against approving the settlement agreement, with one abstention and four Commissioners absent.

944 Florida Avenue (Google Street View)
Commissioners voting in favor of the agreement: Sedrick Muhammed (district 03) and ANC1B Chair James Turner (09).

Commissioners voting against the agreement: Ricardo Reinoso (05), Mark Ranslem (08), Allyson Carpenter (10), and Zahra Jilani (12).

Abstentions: Dyana Forester (06).

Absent: Mark Morgan (01), Deborah Thomas (04), Juan Lopez (07), and E. Gail Anderson Holness (11).

In the DC liquor licensing world, settlement agreements are made between licensees and members of the community -- often ANCs, sometimes neighbors or neighborhood groups, sometimes in some combination of the groups just mentioned. This settlement agreement which was to be between the licensee and the ANC only. The most important parts of the agreement dealt with the topic of noise. They specified that external amplified music was forbidden, that windows and doors would remain closed at all times, and that trash could not be taken out between 11pm and 7am.

The agreement was "fairly consistent" with other settlement agreements, ANC Chair Turner said at the meeting.

But some neighbors of the establishment were reportedly "not happy with the settlement agreement as written", Nick Baumann, chair of ANC1B liquor-licensing affairs committee, told ANC1B.

"The only option these residents want is closing the establishment," Turner said.

Darnell's has been in a prolonged battle with its discontented neighbors -- see SALM blog post of October 22 -- over its liquor license. The status of the liquor license was further confused recently when the ownership of the establishment was "transferred" (not further explained at the meeting), so the liquor licensing placarding and protest process must start again from square one.

Prior to the ownership transfer, ANC1B tried to broker peace by negotiating the settlement agreement detailed above. Commissioner E. Gail Anderson Holness (in whose district Darnell's is located) was designated as the Commissioner responsible. The agreement which was rejected was negotiated by Holness, but she was not at the meeting to defend it.

If the settlement agreement had passed, a group of six neighbors protesting the liquor license might have been eliminated from process. Section 25-609 of DC Code states:
In the event that an affected ANC submits a settlement agreement to the [DC Alcoholic Beverage Control] Board on a protested license application, the Board, upon its approval of the settlement agreement, shall dismiss any protest of a group of no fewer than 5 residents or property owners...
See a December 9, 2014, ABRA document (21-page .pdf) here in which the group of six neighbors is given standing to protest the liquor license application.

The neighbors were reported at the meeting to be dead set against reaching any agreement with the establishment. Opinion at the meeting was that the neighbors are working against their best interests.

"The neighbors will be unable to close this establishment," Nick Baumann said.

"The possibility of winning this protest is possibly zero," James Turner said.

No representative from Darnell's or the protesting neighbors identified themselves at the ANC meeting.

Even though the settlement agreement was rejected, ANC1B still wants a seat at the table. It was agreed at the meeting the ANC will write a letter asking that its previous protest of Darnell's liquor license be grandfathered in to the application of the new owners, so the ANC will still be part of the negotiations.

During the daytime, The Blind Dog Cafe, a coffee house, also operates at 944 Florida Avenue. The Blind Dog Cafe was not discussed at the meeting. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Columbia Heights Liquor Store Fined $8000, Closed 15 Days, For Serving Minors

Fairmont Liquors (2633 Sherman Avenue) has been fined $8000 and ordered to close for 15 days for selling alcohol to minors. The November 19th decision was announced and briefly discussed at the December 4 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street.

(Google Street View)
The announcement at the ANC meeting said the liquor would be closed for two weeks in December. However, the official document announcing the decision from DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) says "the Respondent's fifteen (15) suspension days shall begin on January 12, 2015 and end at midnight on January 28, 2015."
The liquor store has been a subject of brief discussion at several recent meetings of ANC1B's liquor licensing affairs committee. At the meeting neighbors claimed that the store was known as a place where students from nearby Howard University who had not yet turned 21 could buy alcohol.

The ABRA document notes the testimony of an Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer, who said, on the day he observed underage liquor sales (August 24, 2013): "Most of the individuals in line had on Howard University sweatshirts and other university gear."

The MPD officer called the Howard University Police Department (HUPD) for assistance. From the ABRA findings of fact on the case:
While MPD and HUPD were standing outside the store, a white male patron exited the store and one of the HUPD officers called him by name. They then questioned the white male patron regarding his age, and he disclosed that he was 19 years old. The white male patron also produced identification, a Maine Driver's License, indicating that he was 19 years old. The white male patron also disclosed that he bought the beer and that he always buys his beer at the Respondent's establishment. [Citations of other documents, which occur at the end of each sentence, omitted.]
The owner of the store, Abel Gizachew, denied selling alcohol to the 19-year-old.

On January 24, 2014, according to the report, ABRA investigators responding to "numerous complaints regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages to under aged students from Howard University" observed the sale of alcohol to a man who, when confronted, could only produce a Howard University student ID to identify himself. The man turned out to be 20 years old.

When the investigators returned to the store and confronted Gizachew and other store employees, the document says, "many of the patrons started leaving the store without any purchases."

In response to this second incident, Gizachew said the underage customer in question had "could have used a fake ID".  The ABRA investigator said that the underage customer was in the investigator's site at all times and at no time was ID asked for.

The DC liquor licensing board voted 5-2 that Fairmont Liquor violated DC law on three of four charges connected with the two separate occasions of sales to minors. These three charges, taken together, added up to the $8000 in fines and 15 day suspension. Two members of the board who dissented from the ruling felt that Fairmont Liquor should also have been found guilty on the fourth charge. The fourth charge could have carried an additional penalty of $2000 and five additional days of closure.

Monday, December 8, 2014

ANC1B Achieves Quorum, Does Business

At its last regularly-scheduled meeting of the year, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street achieved a quorum and conducted business. Seven out of 11 sitting commissioners were present. Six were required for a quorum.

From ANC1B Twitter feed
Commissioners attending the meeting: Sedrick Muhammed (district 03), Ricardo Reinoso (05), Dyana Forester (06), Mark Ranslem (08), ANC1B Chair James Turner (09), Allyson Carpenter (10), and Zahra Jilani (12).

Commissioners not attending: Marc Morgan (01), Deborah Thomas (04), Juan Lopez (07), and E. Gail Anderson Holness (11).

All of the Commissioners who did not attend the meeting either did not run for re-election or lost the election.

Two Commissioners who did not run for re-election (Reinoso and Jilani) attended their final meeting and said a few words thanking their colleagues.

Many Commissioners-elect observed the meeting, including: Brian Footer (01), Nicholas Ferreyros (05), Jessica Laura Smith (07), Robb Hudson (11), and John Green (12).

Commissioners-elect Footer and Kevin Cain (04) were already put to work. The ANC voted to have them draft new policies and procedures for the next session.

It was briefly noted that the race in district 06 will trigger an automatic recount. The incumbent, Dyana Forester, is so far the victor by a single vote (205-204) over challenger David Gilliland. No date was given for the recount or announcement of results.

The DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) certified the results of the November general election on December 3, according to an announcement on Twitter.

DC Councilmember-elect Brianne Nadeau also attended the meeting.

ANC1B has had difficulty achieving a quorum on several occasions this year -- see, most recently, SALM blog post of November 7.

Friday, December 5, 2014

1504 Swann Street: Residence Expansion Domino Effect

On December 1st, a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle voted to support the expansion of 1504 Swann Street NW. Architect Julian Hunt, Founder and Chairman of Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground, is supervising the renovation and expansion of this home, which he has owned since 1998 and lives in. In a publicly-available zoning document, Hunt has said that one of the purposes of the renovation is "to adapt the house by going up to recapture the light and air."

Second floor to go on top of 1504 Swann Street
In the same document explains Hunt and his wife Lucretia Laudi (also an architect) had been living in the house for 14 years when "the adjacent house to the south was sold and an enormous addition (pop-back) was built in 2012 and completely closed off all the air and light..." for Hunt's property. Ironically, this expansion was made possible after the adjoining home had been downzoned, a process that is supposed to make expansion of homes more difficult. However, in this case, Hunt explained, downzoning removed Floor-to-Area Ratio (FAR) restrictions, which enabled the neighbor to expand the footprint of the structure on his property, and, as Hunt put it, erect a "monster" expansion.

The Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee of ANC1B heard the case on December 1. They voted to support both the historic preservation and the zoning aspects of the expansion of the house. I was not present for this portion of the meeting. In an email, ANC2B Chair Noah Smith (also Commissioner for district 09, where this property is located) gave the following reasons for ANC endorsement:
The support is based on the unique circumstances created by a neighbor's previous addition, which eliminated light and air for this property to the south. Swann Street is a beautiful and well-maintained historic street and this project will enhance it while adding an interesting, but not out of place, fa├žade.
The proposed addition will add two additional stories, or about 20 feet, over  the structure in the picture above. On top will be a roof deck. According to drawings submitted to zoning authorities, the completed structure will be roughly as tall and as large as the neighbor's expansion. The new structure will contain a rental apartment, which the owners plan to use for income. This, they said in zoning documents, would allow them to "age in place" with "the security of a small income from the rental".

The expansion requires zoning relief because the building, built around 1870, is not in compliance with 1958 zoning regulations. It covers 100% of its lot, but zoning allows only 60%. In addition, zoning requires a rear yard, which is clearly not possible since the house covers the whole lot.

The historic preservation aspects will have to be reviewed by DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) because the house is located in the U Street Historic District.

Endorsement of historic preservation and zoning aspects of this renovation is on the agenda for the next meeting of the full ANC, scheduled for Wednesday, December 10, at 7pm, at the Brookings Institution (1775 Massachusetts Avenue).

The plans for the expansion of 1504 Swann Street, along with other documents, are available from DC Interactive Zoning Information System here -- put in case number 18897 into the search bar.

Hunt's initial appearance in June before ANC2B in support of this project was the subject of the SALM blog post of July 1.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

941 S Street: Planned Renovation for Long-time Vacant and Blighted Building

On November 17, the Design Review Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street endorsed the historic preservation and zoning elements of a proposed renovation at 941 S Street NW. This building has been vacant for many years and was designated a vacant or blighted building by the DC government as of March 2012.

945 S Street on the left behind tree
This item is on the agenda for the meeting of tonight (December 4) of the full ANC. The meeting is scheduled for 7pm at the Banneker Recreation Center (2500 Georgia Avenue).

Online information says this building was built in 1885 and was sold in July 2014 for $985,000. At the November 17 meeting, the tale of this building unfolded bit by bit. It became vacant after the 1968 riots. The city acquired the property through tax liens. It stood empty for a long time -- "at least 10 years", according to one member of the Design Review Committee. The same member recalled trying unsuccessfully to buy the property "20 years ago".

This property is located in ANC1B district 02, which is currently vacant. It has fallen to the recently-elected (but not-yet-officially-seated) Commissioner for this district, Ellen Nedrow Sullivan, to do some research and other spadework that a sitting Commissioner might ordinarily do. Sullivan reported to the Committee. She said that, after the 2011 earthquake, the nearby Westminster Neighborhood Association, of which she had been member, had determined who in the DC government had the authority to sell the long-vacant building. There had been a successful push over a long period by the neighbors and the Association to get it sold.

Unsurprisingly, the Westminster Neighborhood Association also supports the request for the necessary approvals from DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and zoning authorities so the building can stop being an eyesore and start being somebody's home.

The property falls under HPRB's jurisdiction because it is located in the U Street Historic District.

There will be a new rear roof deck addition to the house. This addition will not be visible from the street, and will not put the property over 60% lot coverage, so no zoning relief is required for this particular aspect. The sole zoning relief required will be for a side court on the property. The Committee supported this unanimously and members said that this type of zoning relief was granted in 99% of the cases. 

The committee also endorsed the historic preservation aspects of the renovation but suggested that cement not be used as a material. However, a member of the committee who objected to cement said if HPRB could live with cement, it was OK with him.

The owner and his architect said the renovation included painted brick and "all new windows to historic standards". There would also be a green roof, they said.

Both the HPRB and zoning aspects of this renovation received unanimous endorsement in separate resolutions.

(Photo credit: Google Street View)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

St. Thomas' Parish Church Tries Again

St. Thomas Parish Episcopal Church (1772 Church Street NW) was back before a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle on December 1. Their representatives presented a revised design for a controversial plan to expand the church and construct multi-story residential units at the site on the corner of 18th and Church Streets.  The revised plan dropped more than 1000 square feet from the previous iteration of the building.

It would not look as tall from the street (photo credit below)
Some neighbors attending the meeting of ANC2B's Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee complimented the new design, but there were also attendees who were determined to object to any construction on the site. A representative of developers CAS Reigler called these objectors "the elephant in the room".

Laurence Caudle of Hickok Cole Architects presented the new plan. He said Hickok Cole had "taken over" the project. Previously, the project had two architects -- one for the residential portion, another for the church. Hickok Cole had been in charge of the residential portion of the project and MTFA Architecture had been in charge of the church portion. It seemed like MTFA Architecture had left the project -- but the name of the firm was never mentioned at this meeting, and did not appear on the latest plans for the project.

"We switched design teams in midstream," said Kevin Reigler of CAS Reigler.

Size is the issue

Laurance Caudle, presenting the revised plans, said the new design was "less of a block". The total area of the residential building is between 1,000 and 1,200 square feet less than before. The upper stories were set back further from the street, so that a person standing on the sidewalk on the far side of Church Street would not see any stories above the fifth story (see example in photo above).

"This breaks it down to essentially a five-story building," Caudle said.

"We've effectively lowered the mass of the building one story," Caudle said at another point.

However, the rear side of building, facing an alley, still looks like a seven-story building, as the neighbors were quick to point out. One Church Street resident said that DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) had recommended a larger church and a smaller residential component, but this revised design did not follow this recommendation.

"You say that it's 50 feet [tall] when it's really 80 feet," the neighbor said.

Ramon Estrada, President of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, said: "The project still looks too big, too massive, too tall."

"If the HPRB says shave this further, you're prepared to come back?" Estrada asked.

The presenters answered that they were.

The plans are a "moving target"

The presenters said they met with a committee of neighbors three times in the last month, and had sent to the interested neighbors a set of revised plans shortly before Thanksgiving, i.e., about 4-5 days before the meeting, as they had promised. The neighbors came to the meeting prepared to comment on these plans. However, the plans that were presented to the ZPD Committee were further revised, that is, they were not the same as the pre-Thanksgiving plans sent to the neighbors. There seemed to be suspicions that somebody was trying to get away with something.

"I am becoming less and less sympathetic to this concept of evolving plans. We were presented with a different set of plans," said Noah Smith, ANC2B Chair and Commissioner for district 09.

"We're simply trying to respond to comments," said Kevin Reigler.

"I'm very concerned with this moving target," said Commissioner Mike Silverstein (district 06).

The presenters' goal, they said, was to get an agreement on the "massing" of the building (meaning, the general shape and size) before moving on to matters like the materials used on the exterior, the design of the rear loading area, traffic patterns, shape and size of the windows, and so on. The presenters said that massing was the only issue the neighbors wanted to talk about so far.

After a lot of discussion, the ZPD Committee decided they would review the newer version of the plans, and said ANC2B would publicly post them. This promise has already been kept -- see a 39-page .pdf file of this version of these plans here.

Members of the committee will review the documents and prepare a draft resolution ready for the next full meeting of ANC2B, scheduled for December 10, at 7pm, at the Brookings Institution (1775 Massachusetts Avenue). The resolution would address the concept and massing of the building only. It would be worded to make clear that any approval of the concept and massing should not be construed as approval of other aspects of the design, e.g. the materials or colors.

See the full agenda for the December 10 meeting of ANC2B here.

(photo credit: detail from a drawing presented by Hickok Cole to the ZPD Committee)