City Paper Widget

Thursday, January 29, 2015

1017 12th Street: Arguments about "Light and Air" Come to the Central Business District

At a public hearing on January 6, DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) agreed to grant zoning relief to ALBA 12th Street LLC which will allow a solitary vacant red-brick holdout building with historic connections at 1017 12th Street NW to be redeveloped. However, its neighbors put up a fight, claiming that the "light and air" of the their surrounding taller modern office buildings would be disrupted by the proposed upward expansion of the historic building.

From BZA official documents
The petitioners had received endorsement from Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle -- see SALM blog post of November 13, 2014 -- and had been thanked by the ANC for working to preserve the historic building, which has a connection to Elizabeth Keckley, a freed slave who went on to become Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker and a local celebrity. In December, City Councilmember Jack Evans wrote a letter joining ANC2F in support, according to the BZA file on the case.

On December 9, 2014, the building owner appeared before the BZA and pledged to rename the renovated building "The Keckley", and said he hoped to arrange a post-renovation ribbon-cutting attended by Mayor Bowser and the actress who played Keckley in Steve Speilberg's 2012 film biography of Lincoln.

The building requires zoning relief because it has no parking, takes up 100% of the lot it stands on, and will be expanded to 10 stories -- still shorter than the buildings that surround it. This expansion will block the sunlight into and the view out of some of the windows of the building. Other windows in the neighboring tall office building are (in violation of the DC building code) too close to the property line of the new building and would probably have to be removed. As a result, the owners of the neighboring building came before the BZA in December to say that the proposal would have an adverse economic impact, meaning, it would reduce their office building's "light and air" and make it less desirable to renters.

In documents submitted to the board in January, the petitioners admitted the expansion of the building might have an economic impact on the existing buildings, but the impact would not meet the requirement of "substantial detriment to the public good" which would be necessary to deny the zoning relief request.

In December, the Board recommended the petitioners take a handful of actions in exchange for the approval of their variance. The petitioners pledged to do so. For example, they will have to provide bicycle racks and Smart Cards to mitigate the effects of zero parking. The petitioners were also advised to buy Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), which they did. The quantity of TDRs they needed was so small in comparison to the transaction costs that the petitioners had difficulty finding a seller, but they eventually found one who was willing to participate, hoping for future good-will.

All three BZA members present voted to approve the zoning relief at the January meeting.

I did not attend this hearing. I gathered the information above by watching the archived video at the Office of Zoning's Interactive Zoning Information System (IZIS). Videos of both the December 2014 and January 2015 public hearings on this request, along with transcripts of the same meetings and supporting documents submitted by both sides (including the letter from Jack Evans), can be viewed by clicking on the link to IZIS above and entering case number 18878 in the search bar.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sherman Avenue & Barry Place: Howard University Changes Its Master Plan

A team developing a 60,000-square-foot plot of land at the northeast corner of Sherman Avenue and Barry Place NW into a six-story mixed-use building appeared before the Design Review Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street on January 20. Its aim was to get the first of many endorsements necessary to move the project forward.

From publicly-available zoning documents
The development cobbles together land owned by Howard University and two
other land owners. As a whole, the project will require a long and laborious trip through the DC bureaucracy, including a request to rezone the property from residential to commercial and a request to declare the project a
Planned Unit Development (PUD). In addition, Howard University has to jump through extra hoops to engage in development on its share of the land because it has a campus master plan on file with the DC Office of Zoning. The ANC vote was only to endorse the proposed amendment to the campus master plan. The developers will surely have to appear again before the Design Review Committee, mostly likely more than once.

The team presenting was led by Maybelle Bennett, Director of the Howard University Community Association. Other team members who spoke at the meeting were Leila Batties of the law firm of Hollard & Knight, and Steve Gresham from the Alexandria office of Atlanta-based architecture firm Niles Bolton.

"This is not a Howard University project," Bennett said. "Howard is a partner. A private corporation is the primary."

The company's name on official documents is Barry Place Partners LLC, with an address in Valdosta, Georgia. The Georgia address is the same as that of the Corporate Office of Ambling University Development Group, a self-described provider of "campus development solutions". Ambling University Development Group is also described as "lead developer" on official documents for this project.

The committee's discussion ranged over many different aspects of the project, including the width of the sidewalks (with a member of the committee calling the effect of the design "claustrophobic" for pedestrians), and the fate of a colorful mural on the side of an existing building (it will not be preserved, but it will be memorialized in a "digital representation" in the lobby of the proposed building), Other topics touched on included: the loading dock, curb cuts, green roofs, green walls, parking (both car and bicycle), and the plans for nearby Howard University property.

The presenters indicated that the building will add much-needed affordable housing. According to DC law, a development of this type must allot eight percent of its floor space to "affordable housing", renting below market rate.
At the meeting, the presenters said they planned to have "at least" 27 of the proposed 319 rental units designated as affordable housing, of which four units would be two-bedroom apartments. These would be designed as "affordable" by people making 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) -- about $87,000 annual salary for a family of four. A one-bedroom apartment in this case would rent for a maximum of $1,611 a month.

The four two-bedroom apartments would be affordable at 60% AMI (about $66,000 annual salary), the presenters said. This two-bedroom apartments might rent for a maximum of about $1,450 per month.

This amount of affordable housing is less than the amount promised a December 31, 2014, DC government document about the project, which said that ten percent, or 32 rental units, would be affordable housing, five of which would be two-bedroom.

There will be 59 further units priced at "affordable housing" prices, but these units would be set aside for Howard University faculty and staff. There would be nine two-bedroom units that would be affordable at 60% AMI. The rest would be smaller units affordable at 80% AMI.

The committee voted in favor of supporting the amendment to the Howard University Master Plan contingent on the provision of the promised benefits. Five committee members were in favor, none opposed. There were two abstentions.

Documents related to this project can be viewed by the Interactive Zoning Information System of the DC Office of Zoning. Put case number 14-21 into the search bar.

Articles about this development also appeared in the Washington Business Journal in November 2014 and the blog Urban Turf in September 2014.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who Can Serve Alcohol in DC without a Liquor License?

DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) decided on January 21 to schedule a hearing on the issue of whether WeWork is required to obtain a liquor license, according to a January 26 email from Jessie Cornelius, an ABRA Public Affairs Specialist. A date for the hearing has not been scheduled.

Detail from last year's letter to the Hamiltonian Gallery
WeWork, which located in the Wonder Bread Factory (641 S Street NW) in Shaw, is a multi-city company that provides office space for start-ups and small companies. It provides beer free of charge to its tenants, along with water, coffee, tea, and soft drinks.

In a separate SALM post today, it was reported, on the same day as the ABRA decision, WeWork got the endorsement of the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street for both a temporary liquor license (effective sooner) and a permanent liquor license (takes a while to obtain).

A team of representatives from WeWork explained the events which had led to their appearance before the committee. In an effort to comply with the law after a visit by ABRA enforcement staff, WeWork applied for a category CX liquor license. A CX liquor license, according to the ABRA web site, "[p]ermits multipurpose facilities including theaters, museums, sports facilities, passenger-carrying ships and trains to sell and serve beer, wine and spirits." This category license would cost $1,950 and expire on March 30, 2016. It was reported at the meeting that ABRA then told WeWork it would need a category CT, or tavern, license, which could cost up to $3,120 and expire on September 30, 2016.

Committee member Joan Sterling suggested a liquor license was not necessary. (Sterling is also President of the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance.) Sterling said there was new liquor-license-related rulemaking in the works which would make clear that businesses in this circumstance do not need a liquor license.

Sterling also said a similar set of circumstances existed last year when the Hamiltonian Gallery (1353 U Street) was visited by ABRA staff who informed the Hamiltonian it would need a liquor license to serve complimentary glasses of wine and beer at receptions that occurred once every six weeks -- see SALM blog post of July 22, 2014.

ABRA, Sterling said, decided that the Hamiltonian Gallery did not need a liquor license. A note on page 15 of a 28-page .pdf document here confirms that, on October 1, 2014, ABRA "determined no license was necessary". A transcript of the October 1 meeting (see page 17 of another 28-page .pdf here) shows DC liquor-licensing authorities voting unanimously that a liquor license was not necessary in this case "provided they [i.e., the Hamiltonian Gallery] comply with DC Code Section 25-102". ABRA spokesperson Cornelius confirms in his email that the Hamiltonian Gallery had received a letter signed by ABRA Director Fred Moosally stating a liquor licensing was not necessary.

Cornelius also explained in his email that DC ...
... laws and regulations provide that an entity—not a restaurant, tavern or other establishment that serves food, non-alcoholic beverages and/or provides entertainment—does not need to obtain a liquor license to provide alcoholic beverages gratuitously. A temporary liquor license or a caterer’s liquor license would still be needed for any event at a facility where:

(1) Alcoholic beverages are being sold or not provided gratuitously to guests;
(2) There is a cost, such as a cover charge or a requirement to purchase tickets to attend the event;
(3) The facility is being rented out for compensation;
(4) A caterer or bartender has been hired or is being paid to serve alcoholic beverages; and/or
(5) Non-alcoholic beverages, food, or entertainment are being sold or being charged for at the event.
At the January 21 ANC1B committee meeting, Sterling moved the ANC write a letter to ABRA stating the ANC does not believe a license is necessary. The motion was passed, and will be probably considered at the next meeting of the full ANC, scheduled for Thursday, February 5, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets) -- unless ABRA first makes a decision which renders the point moot.

WeWork's Liquor License: "I Didn't Realize It Was a Big Deal until the Police Came In"

A DC branch of WeWork, located in the Wonder Bread Factory (641 S Street NW), has gotten endorsement of both permanent and temporary liquor licenses  from the liquor licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street.

641 S Street in November 2013
The committee also voted to draft a letter to DC's liquor-licensing authorities stating that the ANC does not believe WeWork actually needs a liquor license. Whether WeWork actually needs a liquor license is the subject of a separate blog post today here.

The decisions occurred at the most recent committee meeting on January 21.

WeWork is a New York-based start-up that "creates collaborative co-working communities". It has branches in 13 cities in four countries. According to, the company "takes out a cut-rate lease on a floor or two of an office building, chops it up into smaller parcels and then charges monthly memberships to startups and small companies that want to work cheek-by-jowl with each other." A report in said the company was valued at $5 billion.

At the January 21 meeting, Carl Pierre, head of DC Operations for WeWork, called the company a "shared office space collaborative environment". It supplies to tenants, as part of their leases, a shared kitchen stocked with water, tea, coffee, soft drinks, and beer, at no additional charge. The beer is sometimes deployed to lubricate "speed business coaching" and computer coding sessions, but is locked up at 10pm.

WeWork operated in this matter until they were visited by the enforcement division of DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).

"I didn't realize it was a big deal until the police came in," Pierre said.

The committee held a single vote that recommended to the full ANC that they endorse both a stipulated liquor license and a permanent liquor license for WeWork. The vote was nine in favor, one against, one abstention.

A stipulated liquor license, explained here, is one of the few acts which an ANC can take on its own authority. If the ANC approves a stipulated license (and if there are no other objecting parties), then an establishment can start serving alcohol immediately after the payment of a $100 fee to ABRA, while the establishment's paperwork for a permanent license works its way through normal channels.

The full ANC will probably consider endorsement both the stipulated liquor license and the permanent license at its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, February 5, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

However, as explained in a today's other blog post, it is possible that WeWork does not actually need a liquor license, in which case the time and money Pierre and others at WeWork spent engaging consultants, visiting the ANC committee meeting, etc., will have been unnecessary. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

ANC1B Committee Votes to Protest License for 24-hour Operation by Satellite Room

Satellite Room, a "hipster diner" located across from the 9:30 Club at 2047 9th Street NW, is asking for a change to its liquor license which would allow 24-hour operation. However, Ian Hilton, one of the co-owners of the Satellite Room, told the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street on January 21 that the intention was to operate 24 hours only on weekends, from opening at 5pm Fridays to "last call" Sunday night.

Satellite Room in 2012 (Photo credit below)
The sought-after changes would not only allow the establishment to stay open all night, but also to serve alcohol, both inside and outside, until 3am. Hilton said the intention was to stop serving alcohol at 2:30 am "last call" and not resume until 11am. Those remaining would be able to order food and remain inside.

The committee voted to recommend to the full ANC a protest for the proposed change in the license until a modified settlement agreement can be worked out between the Satellite Room, the ANC, and a group of objecting neighbors who are resident at The Floridian condo (929 Florida Avenue). The motion was made by ANC1B Commissioner John Green (district 12). Eight of the 11 committee members present voted for the motion, none against, three abstained.

A settlement agreement is a binding legal agreement. In the case of DC liquor licensees, a settlement agreement often deals with hours of operation, noise, trash disposal, parking, and other matters of community interest. A settlement agreement is part of the establishment's liquor license.

In this case, a settlement agreement (see page 4 of a 6-page .pdf here) was entered into in 2011 by the establishment (then called "Satellite Pizza") and the ANC. It allows the establishment to routinely stay open until 3am on the weekends. If the Satellite Room wishes to get DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) to consent to the increase their opening hours, they will have to get the ANC to agree, as well as placating the residents of The Floridian who are planning to file a "group of five or more" protest.

Nick Baumann, chair of the ANC1B liquor-licensing affairs committee, said he had received "several emails" objecting to the extended hours. Baumann read one email as representative of all. The email complained of the noise from the Satellite Room's rear outdoor patio, which is legally defined as a "summer garden", even though it is largely concrete.

A married couple were present at the meeting to represent the residents of The Floridian. They reported that about 1/3rd of the units in face the Satellite Room on 9th Stree. They had 16 signatures of Floridian residents against the change in hours, and planned to get more.

"All of the unit owners are bothered by the current state of affairs," one of the Floridian residents said.

"You get the bass, the people talking over the music," she said.

She also said that, although the summer garden has a legal capacity of 24 seats, there are "roughly a hundred people there on many nights".

"Everyone's having difficulty sleeping," she said, adding that residents have to use white noise machines and ear plugs.

In addition, there have been problems with late-night smokers congregating in front of the condo, as well as on-street vomiting near the condo.

Owner Ian Hilton disputed that noise had been a problem, noting that DC authorities had visited his establishment after the neighbors had complained. ABRA had taken readings, and NOT cited his establishment for noise violations, unlike some of his neighbors.

"We've had visits from ABRA," he said. "We've been a compliant owner."

Hilton called the accusations of noise from his establishment "a case of mistaken identity"

The Satellite Room is in ANC1B district 11. The newly-elected ANC1B Commissioner for the district is Robb Hudson. Hudson was present at the meeting, and it seems like the task of trying to negotiate an agreement will fall to him.

The full ANC will probably vote at its next regularly scheduled meeting on the recommendation to protest the application for the liquor license change. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 5, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

ABRA will have a "roll call" hearing on February 17, 10am, at ABRA headquarters on the fourth floor of the Reeves Center. The ANC and "group of five or more" will have to show up and have standing as a protesting group officially accepted. After that, there will probably be attempts at mediation.

(Photo credit:, used by permission)

Friday, January 23, 2015

1309-1315 Clifton Street: "Affordable Housing *is* the Public Amenity"

At its regularly-scheduled monthly meeting on January 20, the Design Review Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street heard a presentation from a team hoping to develop two adjoining parcels of land (1309-1315 Clifton Street NW) into a 160-170 unit, six-story apartment building. The team includes Aria Development Group, attorneys from the firm Goulston & Storr, and Cunningham Quill Architects. They presented their ideas to the committee for review before it applies to the DC Zoning Commission for a Planned Unit Development (PUD).

Artist's conception of the finished building
No vote on the project was sought by the developers or taken by the committee. The plan is still in the discussion stage.

The group had had an initial consultation with the Design Review Committee the previous month. At that time, the Committee indicated components of a development they were interested in, including off-street (car) parking, bicycle parking, and affordable housing.

Off-Street parking: The two parcels of land are zoned R-5-B. According to Section 11-2101.1 of DC Municipal Regulations, an apartment building on this category of land would be required to have one parking space for every two units, meaning in this case 80-85 parking spaces. The original proposal provided 22 parking spaces. In December, the Design Review Committee suggested more parking. The team came back with a revised design that provided for 36 parking spaces.

Bicycle Parking: According to documents submitted by the team at the meeting, 55 bike parking spaces (one per three units) are required. The current design envisions 80 long-term bike parking spaces and 10 short-term. The bike storage area will have its own ramp from the public alley in the rear of the building. The building will also have a "bike workshop" area.

Affordable housing: Also at the suggestion of the committee, the building plan includes a increased contribution to local affordable housing, as defined by the Inclusionary Zoning Affordable Housing Program of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development. Specifically, it increased to eight percent (perhaps 12-14 units) the planned number of rental units that are intended to be affordable for people earning 50% of Area Median Income (AMI). (Washington area AMI in 2013 was $107,300.)

The committee approved of this pledge for increased 50% AMI housing.

"We're not having developers who are willing to go into 50% AMI," one committee member said.

According to a 2013 official document, an two-bedroom apartment designated as affordable at 50% AMI could be rented for a maximum of $1,207 per month.

In addition, the development team said, a further two percent (perhaps 3-4) units would be designated as affordable at 80% AMI. An two-apartment designated as affordable at 80% AMI could be rented for a maximum of $1,931 per month.

When the DC government declares a PUD, a developer pledges "public amenities", to the community. In return, the developer gets to build a something which might otherwise require zoning relief. The result is community groups (e.g., groups devoted to the beautification of local parks), schools, or other organizations appear after the declaration of a PUD and ask for "amenities", often in the form of cash, from developers.

After the developer's presentation was finished, a member of the Design Review Committee reminded the developer: "A PUD requires public amenities."

The developer seemed to be trying to avoid getting into the business of giving away money.

"Affordable housing is the public amenity," a member of the development team said.

(Photo credit: from documents submitted to the Design Review Committee)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

CORRECTED: Assaults by Staff at 14th and U Club Alleged at ANC1B Committee Meeting

CORRECTED: After publication, I received an email from one of the woman mentioned below with a list of corrections. As I result, I rewrote parts of this article. I have tried to indicate edits with strikethrough for deletions and italics for additions. Also, I am adding the text of the email at the end of the article.

Two women came before the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street last night (January 21) to allege that they had been assaulted inside the dance club Tropicalia (2001 14th Street NW).

"He dragged me down to the floor," one woman said. "He slammed me to the wall trying to drag me out."

Tropicalia is downstairs from the Subway at 14th and U
Although both of the women identified themselves (and their attacker) by name at the public meeting, I am not printing any of the names out of an abundance of caution, even though one of the women specifically gave me permission to print her name. After the meeting ended, I asked permission from both of the women to write a story about their testimony. They both agreed without hesitation.

One of the victims identified herself as a 24-year-old woman. She went to Tropicalia on New Year's Eve in early December, but neglected to take identification. She was allowed into the club, but was marked with a black "X" on her hands to indicate that she could not drink in the club. Nevertheless, she managed to obtained a drink from a performer. When the staff member saw the woman with the drink, he told her to leave the club approached her. She attempted to talk to him, and put the drink down and apologized. The staff member then assaulted her without warning, in the manner quoted above, she told the meeting. She also said the incident took place in front of five witnesses, one of whom was punched in the face.

The other woman said her incident took place on New Year's Eve, and did not detail what happen to her at the club, but she said she was injured and had to go the hospital. She also said the incident took place in front of five many witnesses, two of whom gave statements to the police.

"It's hard enough for me to talk about this," said the second woman.

The woman said she was in the club and felt a man touch the small of her back. She told him not to touch her there. She told him to say "excuse me" when trying to get by, instead of touching. The man grabbed her, picked her up bodily, crushing her ribs while walking her around. He told the woman he could touch her wherever he wanted.

Both women have reported the incidents to the police and have police reports.

One of the women The 24-year-old woman said the owner of the club had called to apologize. The owner also said the employee would be removed. But when the woman went to Tropicalia to meet with the owner, she said, the owner was absent but her assailant was present. The assailant told her that he would not be losing his job, that he had never actually touched her, and there was no footage of the incident from security cameras.

She also told the committee the assailant said: "Bitch, I'm not going anywhere."

"I'm astounded and I'm shocked," said one committee member, himself a liquor licensee.

The same committee member told the women that they might wish to press the owner on the matter of security footage because, according to DC law, licensees were only obligated to hold onto security footage for 30 days. By the end of the month, the liquor licensee would be able to legally destroy the video of the New Year's Eve incident.

Members of the committee told the women that this matter was one to be brought before DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). They also advised the women to make sure that ABRA got a copy of the police reports. Committee Chair Nick Baumann said the incident would certainly come up when the liquor license came up for renewal in 2016, but there was a feeling at the meeting that it was a long time to wait.

"People need to be accountable for what they do," a committee member said.

Baumann said he would ask the licensee to come to the next meeting of the liquor-licensing affairs committee, scheduled for February 18. Would the women be willing to return and talk with owner in front of the committee?

They would, they said.

Committee members called up public records at the meeting which indicated that there had been an alleged assault at the club in 2014, but ABRA declined to take any action against the club in relation to the event.

(Photo credit: Google Street View)

UPDATE: Below is the text of the email from one of the women, correcting the record:


I would correct the following inaccuracies:

Woman #1

·       This occurred in early December
·       She did not buy a drink, the performer passed one to her
·       The staff member did not tell her to leave the club, he simply approached her
·       She put the drink down and said sorry before he assaulted her, without saying anything
·       At least 5 witnesses, one of whom was punched in the face
·       When she went back and was surprised he was not fired as the owner had promised, the security staff told her, “Bitch, I’m not going anywhere.”

Woman #2 (me)

·       31 years old
·       New Year’s Eve
·       I felt hands on the small of my back from a random person walking through the crowd. I told the man, “Don’t touch me there.” I told him he could say excuse me when trying to get by, instead of putting his hands on my body. He got aggressive, grabbed me, put me in a bear hug, and crushed my ribs while lifting me up and walking me around, telling me “I can touch you however I want.”
·       I only found out when I talked to the police that he was the head of security.
·       Many witnesses, 2 of whom were with me and have given statements to MPD
·       Owner called me to apologize, but this is disingenuous; he already knew about this particular staff member assaulting women, because he knew about what happened to woman #1.

end quote