City Paper Widget

Monday, March 31, 2014

Red Light Dessert Bar Seeks ANC2F Endorsement, Is Told It Doesn't Need It

Restaurateur Aaron Gordon appeared before a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle on March 26 to ask for endorsement of a public space use application for a sidewalk cafe at R and 14th Streets NW. Gordon will soon open Red Light Dessert Bar at 1401 R Street NW, the former site of his Bar de Bari, which closed in January.

Already OK for Red Light to use this space
ANC2F's Community Development Committee (CDC) told Gordon he doesn't need to file a new public space use application. Gordon already has a valid public space use permit for the same space from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) from the time Bar de Bari was open. He will not change the number of outdoor seats (44), move the fences, or change the footprint of the sidewalk cafe, so doesn't need new permission. The CDC Chair Walt Cain (Commissioner for district 02) thanked Gordon for his appearance and wished him the best of luck.

Gordon told the committee his lawyers recommended he appear before the CDC because he was planning to change the arrangement of the tables and chairs on the patio. The CDC is not empowered to manage outdoor cafes to this level of detail, he was informed.

Committee members asked Gordon why he had closed Bar di Bari.

"It was a daytime concept in a nighttime area," Gordon replied.

Red Light Dessert Bar will be more of a nighttime spot, he added.

The establishment is scheduled to open in April and will have 27 seats inside and 18 places at a bar. It gained some publicity because of its planned red-light-district theme -- a reference to 14th Street's "colorful past". Read more coverage of Red Light Dessert Bar from Eater DC here, and Washington City Paper here.

Comment on Adams Morgan Liquor License Moratorium Solicited

D.C. liquor-licensing authorities are soliciting public comment on the proposals to renew the Adams Morgan liquor license moratorium zone (see map). In-person testimony will be taken on May 7. The authorities also encourage written comment from people who cannot attend the hearing.

On March 28, the D.C. Register published an official announcement of the upcoming hearing. Below is the text of the announcement (links added by me):

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (Board) will conduct a hearing to receive public comment on two proposals regarding the renewal of the Adams Morgan Moratorium Zone. One proposal, submitted by Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1C proposes to renew the existing Adams Morgan Moratorium Zone for a five year period with certain modifications. A second proposal submitted by the Kalorama Citizens Association seeks to have the existing Moratorium Zone renewed with no changes to current restrictions. The Board believes both of these proposals merit further evaluation, and thus adopted emergency rules on March 12, 2014, to extend the existing Moratorium for another 120 days to receive public comment.

The public comment hearing will be held on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. at 2000 14th Street, N.W., Board Hearing Room, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20009. Individuals and representatives of organizations who wish to testify should contact Martha Jenkins, General Counsel, at (202) 442-4456, or by e-mail at by May 1, 2014.

E-mail contacts should include the full name, title, and affiliation, if applicable, of the person(s) testifying. Testimony may be limited to five (5) minutes in order to permit everybody an opportunity to be heard. Witnesses should bring nine (9) copies of their written testimony to the hearing.

If you are unable to testify and wish to comment, written statements are encouraged and will be made a part of the Board’s official record. Copies of written statements should be submitted to Ruthanne Miller, Chairperson, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, at 2000 14th Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20009, no later than 4:00 p.m., Friday, May 9, 2014.
A version of the same announcement on the web site of D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABRA) makes it clear that e-mail comments will also be accepted. They may be sent to Martha Jenkins at the email address above through 4 pm on May 9.

View the original announcement here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Historic Preservation to Mandate Placarding for Pop-ups

A committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle heard on March 26 that major exterior renovations, including "pop-ups", in historic districts will soon need to be placarded beforehand.

HPRB placards will resemble this
Steve Callcott, a senior preservation planner with the D.C. government, told the Community Development Committee of ANC2F that the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) will launch the placarding requirement for "a trial run" starting at the end of April. The trial period will run until at least the end of the year. Callcott said placarding will only be required for major exterior work in historic districts. A member of the committee asked if this included pop-ups (meaning, extra floors added onto the top of existing buildings). Callcott agreed it did.

Calcott said the placards will be similar to those used by D.C.'s Board of Zoning Adjustment (see photo). The placards will be required to be clearly displayed at the site of the proposed renovation for at least 15 days prior to the meeting at which the HPRB will consider the matter. Information on the placards will include the date and time of the public hearing on the project, at which time concerned parties can register objections.

The consequences of improper placarding were not discussed at the meeting. However, liquor license renewals or applications also require placarding. There have been cases recently involving accusations of improper placarding by potential liquor licensees -- see, for example, SALM blog post of February 11. The remedy in these cases has been to "re-set the clock", that is, the applicant must start the process from the beginning and re-placard. The result can be costly and inconvenient delay.

Calcott also told the ANC that the HPRB is working on an update of its historic preservation guidelines. A draft version of the updates will soon be published in the D.C. Register, he said. Among the subjects addressed will be the construction of new one-story garages on properties in historic districts, and what kind of rear additions to historic district homes can be "approved administratively", meaning, do not have to go through a potentially long and complicated series of reviews and hearings.

Historic preservation requirements are of special interest because much of ANC2F is part of a historic district. Major exterior renovations to most buildings in a designated historic district require HPRB review. Among the historic districts wholly or partially in ANC2F are the Blagden Alley Naylor Court Historic District, the Fourteenth Street Historic District, and the Logan Circle Historic District.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

UPDATED: District Flea Liquor License Green Light from ANC1B

UPDATED (April 3): Hospitality law and liquor-licensing attorney Brian Molloy (blogging at The DC Liquor Law Blog) emailed me to say that District Flea has been granted its stipulated license by DC authorities. It is unclear if the neighbors attempted to file a protest. Thanks Brian!

CORRECTED (March 27): Commenter (below) correctly points that District Flea, even though it now has a stipulated license, may not be able to serve alcohol if there is a protest against the license pending.

Thanks to the anonymous commenter for schooling me on this.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street cleared the way for District Flea to serve beer when it opens on April 5. It voted unanimously at its meeting of March 25 to both to support a stipulated license for District Flea and to endorse a request for a long-term DT (Tavern) category license for the flea market.

Granting a stipulated license is one of the few actions that an ANC can take that is more than advisory in nature. On the basis of ANC1B's action, District Flea will be able to legally serve alcohol until its long-term liquor-license application makes its way through the D.C. bureaucracy. 

District Flea is the local branch of New York's Brooklyn Flea. It started operation last September on a vacant lot at 945 Florida Avenue NW, and operated for 12 weeks.

"It went very well," District Flea Market Manager Hugh McIntosh told ANC1B.

Last year, McIntosh said, Churchkey restaurant (1337 14th Street) served beer on the premises of District Flea on the basis of a caterer's license. This year, District Flea will be administering the alcohol concession directly.

District Flea will be at the same location this year, open Saturdays from 10am-5pm. They will only serve alcohol until 5pm, McIntosh said. They will also use wristbands to identify people who are old enough to drink legally.

Some residents of the Floridian (929 Florida Ave), a nearby condominium, are protesting the liquor license. McIntosh told the ANC residents were concerned about double-parking in the area, as well as litter once the day's operation is over. McIntosh said District Flea would put out signs reminding visitors not to double park, and would have clean-up people pick up trash on Saturday evenings.

McIntosh also said District Flea was contemplating an outdoor movie night on the property this summer. However, it would not be able to serve alcohol until it made a "substantial change" to the license it is now seeking. Making a substantial change to an existing liquor license means a completely new trip through the liquor-licensing bureaucracy, which might give neighbors a new opportunity to protest.

The application for a liquor license has its next hearing at D.C's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) on April 21.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ANC1B Achieves Quorum, Rejects Lower Parking Minimums

Neighborhood Advisory Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street achieved a quorum at its meeting last night (March 25). The meeting was necessary to deal with business that had to be put off at its meeting of March 6 because ANC1B failed to have a quorum -- see SALM blog post of March 10.

Six Commissioners are enough for a quorum
The ANC voted on liquor licenses, historical preservation and zoning cases, and resolutions about transportation and education. Future blog posts will have some details.

No to lower parking minimums

The ANC rejected a recommendation made in February by its own Transportation Committee (see SALM blog post of March 4) to endorse the reduced parking minimums in D.C.'s proposed zoning update. Under the proposed update, developers of multi-unit apartment buildings would be obligated to provide one parking space for every six residential units in areas well-served by public transit. As it stands now, these developers are often obligated to provide one space for every three units.

During the discussion period before the vote, Commissioner Deborah Thomas (district 04) said the problem was the tickets residents get. When Thomas gets home in the evening, she must "ride around about 50,000 times" to find a place to park her car. Thomas said that, even though she has a resident parking sticker, she often gets tickets for parking in the only on-street parking spaces remaining in the evening, because they are too close to corners or to fire hydrants. Drivers with resident stickers should not get tickets for this reason, Thomas said.

Commissioner Dyana Forester (district 06) said lowering the parking minimums would reduce ANC leverage to compel developers to provide parking.

"We won't be able to weigh in," she said.

The vote was 4-2 against endorsing the new parking minimums.

Voting in favor of endorsing the new parking minimums: Commissioners Ricardo Reinoso (district 05) and Zahra Jilani (district 12).

Voting against endorsing the new parking minimums: Commissioners Thomas, Forester, Juan Lopez (district 07), and ANC Chair James Turner (district 09).

Taking attendance

The following commissioners attended the meeting in full: Reinoso, Forester, Lopez, Turner, and Jilani.

Commissioner Thomas arrived 40 minutes late.

Commissioner Marc Morgan (district 01) arrived on time but left the meeting more than 30 minutes prior to its conclusion.

The following commissioners did not attend the meeting: Jeremy Leffler (district 02), Sedrick Muhammed (district 03), Tony Norman (district 10), and E. Gail Anderson-Holness (district 11)

Below is ANC1B Commissioners' attendance record for the last five  meetings, based on my observation. Just like airlines, I define "late" as arriving more than 15 minutes behind schedule. Meetings usually last between two and three hours.

  • Morgan (01): Three present, one absent, one early departure*
  • Leffler (02): Two present, three absent
  • Muhammed (03): One present, four absent
  • Thomas (04): One present, three absent, one late**
  • Reinoso (05): Five present
  • Forester (06): Two present, two absent, one late***
  • Lopez (07): Three present, one absent, one late****
  • Washington (resigned, 08): Two present, one absent
  • Turner (09): Four present, one absent
  • Norman (10): Three present, two absent
  • Anderson Holness (11): Three absent, two late*****
  • Zilani (12): Five present
* missed at least 30 minutes of meeting
** arrived 40 minutes late
*** arrived 20 minutes late, left same meeting after 90 minutes
**** arrived 25 minutes late
***** arrived 90 minutes late twice

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dupont Outlobbies Shaw for SW Circulator Bus

Dupont Circle and Shaw are candidates for new Circulator Bus routes from Southwest. But Dupont Circle is mounting a more vigorous lobbying campaign.

Map of possible DC Circulator expansion
At its regular monthly meeting March 12, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle passed a resolution calling for the creation of two new Circulator bus routes. One route would run from Southwest to Dupont Circle. Another would run from the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall to U Street, home of Ben's Chili Bowl -- spawning the nicknames "Abe to Ben's" and "A to B" for the proposed routes.

Perhaps more importantly, Commissioners from ANC2B and ANC 2A/Foggy Bottom have been actively lobbying for the Dupont Circle routes. The Commissioners have been advocating for the Abe to Ben's route on the blog Greater Greater Washington. These same Commissioners -- Mike Silverstein (2B district 06) and Patrick Kennedy (2A Chair, district 01) -- also testified at a DC Circulator public meeting held by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) February 25 at Eastern Market (see result of the meeting in 25-page .pdf here).  

There is no comparable campaign from the Shaw neighborhood. Both candidates in the April 1 Democratic primary for City Councilmember from Ward Six have promised to advocate for a Southwest-Shaw line if elected -- see SALM blog post of March 13. But the general election is not until November, and the winners will not be seated until January 2015. By that time, decisions may have already been made.

The effect of the Dupont effort can be seen in the report of the February 25 meeting. At the meeting, participants were asked to post stickers on a map to show where they would like to see Circulator go. The results were then weighted and tabulated. Interest in the Dupont Circle alternatives scored twice as high as the proposed route from Southwest to the Convention Center in Shaw. The comments section of the report also shows much greater interest in another Dupont Circulator route.

See a summary of the February 25 meeting made by goDCgo using the tool Storify here.

(photo credit: from DC Circulator website)

Monday, March 24, 2014

ANC1B "Great Weight" Fails Meridian Hill Property Owners

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street twice voted last year to support the exclusion of individual properties from the soon-to-be-created Meridian Hill Historic District. However, D.C's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) did not agree with the ANC. It voted on March 6 for the properties to be included in the historic district.

Augustana Church
According to an article starting on page one of the March 19 edition of the Dupont Current newspaper (32-page .pdf available here), Kim Williams of HPRB staff persuaded the board to include both 95-year-old Augustana Church (2100 New Hampshire Avenue NW) and a row of 1930's-era townhouses (2313, 2315, 2317, and 2319 15th Street) as contributing parts of the historic district. This will make it more difficult for the property owners to renovate, modify, or demolish the properties -- see HPRB page for homeowners here.

ANC1B voted to support the exclusion of Augustana Church and the row houses at its regular monthly meeting of November 2013 -- see SALM blog posts of November 11, 2013, and October 30, 2013, respectively.

Agencies of the D.C. government, including the HPRB, are required by Section 1-309.10 (a)(3)(A) of the D.C. Code to give "great weight" to ANC decisions. This means agencies must acknowledge receiving ANC recommendations and respond to them in writing. This means it is often easier for DC agencies to agree with ANC decisions, since disagreeing with an ANC may mean having to compose a well-reasoned response explaining why the "great weight" has been disregarded. However, there is no obligation to agree with ANC recommendations.

2313, 2315, 2317, and 2319 15th Street
According to an HPRB document (page 41 of a 119-page .pdf here), the 15th Street row houses were originally on a list of "non-contributing" buildings to the district. It is easier to get permission for renovations and modifications for non-contributing buildings in a historic district.

However, the buildings face, and are visable from, Meridian Hill Park across 15th Street. Williams apparently convinced the Board to remove them from the list, saying they are "an important contributor", according to the Current.

In the same article, HPRB members said inclusion in the historic district would not present insurmountable hurdles to homeowners. Members said the review process is speedy and few requests are shot down. Churches are often given special consideration, a Board member said.

See the recommendation by Historic Preservation Office that Meridian Hill be designated a historic district here.

See design guidelines for the new historic district here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March 7 Shooting in Shaw: MPD Youtube Video of Persons of Interest

D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has released a video on Youtube showing two persons of interest possibly connected with a March 7 shooting at Fifth and Q Streets NW. At a community meeting last night (March 20) at KIPP DC Public Charter School (421 P Street) in Shaw, the MPD shared information about the case and urged members of the public to come forward to aid the investigation, particularly people who were walking around the neighborhood at the time immediate prior to the shooting at 8:45pm.

The video, from the night of the shooting, is below. If you have trouble viewing it, find it in the MPD Youtube channel here.

Detective Scott Guthrie of the MPD reviewed the public facts of the case. Two 22-year-old men were shot at the intersection of Fifth and Q Streets. The victims survived and were released. The victims did not reveal the identity of the shooters. Guthrie said the two victims do not reside in the area but "have ties". Police are looking for a slim African-American, between 6 feet and 6 feet 2 inches tall, who was seen fleeing the scene, in connection with the case.

There have been no related incidents since then, Guthrie said. As a result of increased police presence in the area in the days following the shooting, a man was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, but there is no evidence this arrest has any connection to the shooting.

The police took questions from the roughly 30 members of the audience. There were many details the police said they could not reveal, for example, placement of video cameras, number of shell casings found, and possible criminal backgrounds of the victims.

Someone asked if the shooting was gang-related.

"Everybody jumps to that conclusion," Detective Kenneth Arrington said. "But we haven't established any connection."

Some people complained about local policing. One person said police can be "very disrespectful".

"The residents here do not trust the police," said another.

Toward the end of the meeting, mayoral candidate and D.C. City Councilmember Tommy Wells (Ward Six) appeared. Wells did not comment or ask the police any questions. 

Anyone with information about the incident is encouraged to contact the MPD at 202-727-9099 or via the MPD text tip line 50411.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

At-large Candidates on Bicycling, Marijuana Legalization, and LiquorLicenses

Nate Bennett-Fleming, Pedro Rubio, and John Settles, three candidates for the At-Large City Council seat in the April 1 Democratic primary, met at a candidates' forum on Tuesday, March 18, at the Black Cat nightclub (1811 14th Street NW).

One doesn't know how to ride a bicycle.

Another is a skateboarder.

One has never smoked marijuana.

One wants to extend operating hours for liquor licensees.

The conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics. Here is a selection of comments about issues of particular local interest.


A question about bicycle policy also asked the candidates about their person bike use. Bennett-Fleming admitted he did not know how to ride a bicycle.

"I learned how to read at three, but I never learned how to ride a bike," he said.

Bennett-Fleming proposed (as one of many "small solutions") making drivers answer some questions about pedestrian and bicycle safety when renewing their driver's licenses online.

Rubio said he was in favor of more bicycle lanes, increased traffic police visibility, and more street cameras. Rubio said he was a skateboarder and wanted to make streets safer for skateboards.

Settles produced his bicycle helmet from under the table to demonstrate his creditibility.

"This speaks to the difference between me and people running on the council. I ride every day," he said.

Settles went on to say "some of my fellow cyclers" are part of the problem, running red lights or failing to observe the law. But he also said police could be more aggressive against drivers who fail to pay heed to bicyclists.

See a video of the candidates' answers to this question below. If the video below will not play, see it on Youtube here.


Will Sommer of Washington City Paper asked the candidates for their views on marijuana legalization in light of the March 11 decision by the District of Columbia Board of Election and Ethics (DCBOEE) to allow a possible referendum on legalization to go ahead if supporters can gather enough signatures.

John Settles said he never smoked marijuana, but was glad to support decriminalization. He said he would support any decision made by the voters. "I won't disrespect the votes like the attorney general vote," Settles said, referring to the recent court decision that effectively overruled a D.C. referendum in favor of an elected attorney general.

Rubio, after recalling a childhood neighborhood riddled with drug dealers, said he was not in favor of legalization now "but will be down the line". Rubio said he had smoked marijuana.

Bennett-Fleming also said he had smoked marijuana when he was a student at University of California at Berkeley. He called the present D.C. law "restrictive" and said he would "uphold legalization".  

Liquor license related issues 

Near the end of the evening, one question brought some general opinions about D.C. liquor licensing practices together with specific comments on the recent proposal by D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward One) to license party promoters.

Bennett-Fleming was against Graham's proposal. He said D.C. had to have "solid nightlife options", so he was in favor of longer open hours for liquor licensees.

"I would look into extending operating hours, particularly on the weekends," he said.

Bennett-Fleming went on to say that small groups of residents shouldn't be allowed to obstruct liquor licenses.

"We can't let small groups, you know, two or three ad hoc groups, stop liquor licenses, stop development, stop nightlife," he said. Bennett-Fleming said he would look into changing D.C. regulations on this matter.

Rubio and Settles also said they were against Graham's proposal for licensing promoters. Settles recalled working as a D.C. party and concert promoter "in college and after college".

Anita Bonds, the incumbent and a candidate for re-election, did not attend the forum.

In addition to Will Sommer, Sarah Anne Hughes of the DCist and Clinton Yates of the Washington Post questioned the candidates. The event was sponsored by the Washington City Paper, which has an audio recording of the entire event available here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

1815 Riggs Place: "Adding More Ugly Isn't a Nice Thing to Do"

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle voted to endorse a one-story pop-up on a two-story apartment building at 1815 Riggs Place NW. The vote took place at ANC2B's regular monthly meeting of March 12.

 At present (Google Street View)
ANC2B Commissioner Leo Dwyer (district 07), introducing the matter to the ANC, called the building "fairly nondescript". However, the building is located within the Dupont Circle Historic District, so changes to the exterior must get the blessing of D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). Dwyer said the building is "non-contributing" to the historic district, meaning, it has no particular architectural merit.

Dwyer said he had solicited comments about the project from its neighbors.

Schneck presents an image of the addition
"The majority of the comments is that this building is ugly," he said.

Dwyer is also chair of ANC2B's Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee.

Architect Ronald Schneck, principal of Square 134 Architects, presented to ANC2B. This project is on the HPRB's agenda for its next meeting, and Schneck sought ANC2B's endorsement.

"Everyone can agree this is a non-contributing building," Schneck said.

At the same time, Schneck was also hoping to get endorsement for zoning variances before an April hearing with D.C.'s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA). The building as it stands now is not zoning compliant because it occupies too much of the lot it stands on, and because the rear yard setback is not big enough. The architect's proposal does not add additional non-compliant elements.

The developer's HPRB proposal had been considered by the ZPD Committee, but its BZA proposal had not. The ANC voted to approve its HPRB application, but asked the architect to return to the ZPD Committee for a separate presentation on its BZA proposal.

Commissioner Stephanie Meltz (district 03) also reminded Schneck of her request, made the previous week, to reach out to her constituents who lived across the street from the building and have concerns about the effects of the addition on both light and parking.

Tom Bauer of the Dupont Circle Conservancy (DCC) told the committee his organization will support the massing of the building before the HPRB but will oppose certain aspects of the design. Specifically, it objects to the use of metal seams on the exterior, and would prefer to see brick and limestone.

"We think it's ugly but adding more ugly isn't a nice thing to do," Bauer said about the building.

Read another article about this project from the blog District Source here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

15 Dupont Circle Sets the Bar Higher for Car-free Buildings

"This is fantastic," said Noah Smith, representing district 09 on Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle. "This is an overwhelming amount of accommodation."

The developers of 15 Dupont Circle NW (also known as the Patterson Mansion) have set a new standard for assisting with car-free living. They presented a list of benefits they will give to their future car-free tenants as a part of their presentation to ANC2B at its last monthly meeting on March 12. The developers, led by Mary Katherine Lanzillotta of Hartman-Cox Architects, received ANC2B endorsement for a handful of zoning variances necessary to convert the historic mansion into 92 small apartments.

Among the variances requested will be relief from the obligation to have parking spaces, which in this case might mean the developers would have to find space for 23 parking spaces or more. As is often the case, the developers promised to remove the property from D.C.'s list of those eligible for on-street resident parking and provide "convenient and covered secure bike parking facilities".

More unusual are the promises to do the following:
  • designate a transportation management coordinator
  • provide a screen in a public area showing transit options
  • have a bicycle repair facility
  • provide free Capital Bikeshare memberships for non-bike-owners "for the initial term of the lease for the first five years the building is open"
  • have a minimum of 10 bicycle helmets on hand for resident use
  • give free membership to car-share services "for the initial term of the lease for the first five years the building is open".
Commissioner Abigail Nichols (district 05) asked about the legality of excluding residents from the residential permit parking program. A parking consultant with the team assured her that doing so is legal.

If this building goes through as planned, it will create more demand for Capital Bikeshare in the Dupont Circle area. Commissioner Noah Smith thought a nearby area on New Hampshire Avenue near Books-a-Million would be a good spot for a new station. He requested the presenters lobby for an additional Bikeshare station. However, the ANC's endorsement of the zoning variance was unconditional. The developers are not obligated to get a new Bikeshare station.

Other zoning variances concern the mechanical penthouse structures on top of the building. They are in part taller (13 feet in one area vs. 8 feet allowed) and insufficiently set back (5 feet vs. 8 feet required) according to the provisions of D.C. zoning ordinances. A representative of the Dupont Circle Conservancy said the Conservancy would recommend to D.C.'s Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) that the mechanical penthouses be reduced.

The vote was 7-0 in favor of endorsing all zoning variance request. Two Commissioners, although present at the meeting, were not in the room at the time of the vote.

Read a report about the same vote in the blog Urban Turf here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Today: Wrecking Ball Comes to 1101 Rhode Island Avenue

Barring snow delay, demolition will start today on both the former headquarters of Diamond Cab and an adjacent two-story apartment building. The properties are on the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 11th Street NW. They will be replaced by a multi-story mixed-use building.

Soon to be rubble
Representatives of property developer CAS Riegler and Snead Construction held a final pre-demolition meeting with the residents of nearby properties last Thursday, March 13, at CAS Riegler offices at 1501 11th Street NW. Two employees each from CAS Riegler and Snead Construction briefed seven residents plus Commissioner John Fanning (district 04) from Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle.

The property is in Fanning's ANC district.


Snead Construction told the residents the project should take "fourteen and a half months" from today to complete. A fence will go up two weeks after demolition, and excavation of the site will start. The digging will start on the north (near Q Street side) and move south toward Rhode Island Avenue. The depth of excavation will vary, but the deepest digging will be 12 feet on the east (11th Street) side of the property.

The sidewalk on Rhode Island Avenue will be closed "pretty much for the entire duration" of the project. Construction vehicles will enter and exit on that side of the property. The sidewalk on the residential Q Street side will remain open "until absolutely necessary".

What's under the site?

An issue between the developers and the neighbors has been the possibility of ground contamination -- see SALM blog post of September 30, 2013. The grounds functioned as a repair shop for Diamond Cab for many years, and for a long time before that it was a gas station. It is possible there could be old undocumented gas tanks or other waste underground. The briefers told the residents they had already used ground radar on the site and found no evidence of a tank. However, CAS Riegler has committed to check the excavated material.

"We will have expert testing as it [i.e., the dirt] comes out of the ground," a presenter said.

Noise and vibration

Some neighbors were worried about the effects of pile driving of poles on the property. First, there is the noise. Also, the neighbors live in historic row houses abutting the property line, and fear vibrations will lead to cracks in the walls of their homes. The construction team assured the neighbors there would be no pile driving. Instead, they will drill holes in the ground and drop beams into the holes.

"The whole thing is going to be noisy," the presenters admitted.

The two sides have agreed work may begin at 7am weekdays and 8am weekends. Work can continue until 7pm every day, but presenters hoped work would usually end at around 3pm, assuming work continued as scheduled.

The presenters fielded questions from the neighbors about a variety of additional topics, including the placement of cranes, the effect on phone and Internet service, the closure of the alley from Rhode Island Avenue to Q Street (none for now -- 24 hours notice if necessary), the moving the 11th Street bus stop (in negotiation), and the placement of fences and walls during and after construction.

One neighbor asked about the planned 3,000 square feet of retail space. It is designed for one business only, but the space hasn't been marketed yet.

"There will be the ability to put a restaurant in that space," a presenter said.

See an image of what the proposed building may look like at CAS Riegler's web site here.

In October 2013, ANC2F's Community Development Committee voted to support this project, contingent upon settling some issues to the neighbor's satisfaction -- see SALM blog post of October 28, 2013.

Thanks to CAS Riegler, Snead Construction, the neighbors, and Commissioner Fanning for permitting me to observe and write about this meeting.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jack Evans to Assist Dupont Underground Developer (Video)

D.C. Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jack Evans engaged in some constitutent services at the regular monthly meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle on March 12.

During a short question-and-answer session at the beginning of the meeting, Evans fielded a question from Patrick Smith, a Cleveland Park resident and real estate consultant, who has been pitching the idea of turning the former trolley car storage space tunnel under Dupont Circle into a $26-million-dollar mixed use project called Dupont Circle Artwerks.

According to the Washington Business Journal, the complex would include a 21-room micro-hotel with rooms as small as 180 square feet. In addition, there would be space for cafes, restaurants, a theater, and an art gallery.

Smith said there has been a lot of media interest in the space recently but the city has been resistant to letting media into the space.

"Is there any way of getting the media down there so they could start generating buzz about what might happen?" Smith asked.

"Sure," Evans replied, before asking Smith to give the details to his constituent services assistant.

Evans then recounted briefly his experiences with the same space many years ago when Evans was a Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner. The space has had several failed proposals for redevelopment. The most spectacular failure was Dupont Down Under, a food court that failed within a year in the mid-1990s. The developer Gary Simon was later found to have multiple convictions for fraud and to have spent much of the prior 20 years in jail.

"It would be wonderful, to be honest with you, to get something down there that really worked," Evans said.

Below is a video of Evans responding to the question. Apologies for the sound quality, and also for my fumbling with the camera. If you cannot view it below, watch it on YouTube here.

Read an article about the Dupont Circle Artwerks project published yesterday (March 13) by the blog District Source here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Raising "the Tommy Wells flag" at the Ward Six Candidates Forum

Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson, candidates in the April 1 Democratic primary to replace mayoral candidate Tommy Wells as Ward Six representative, met for a forum in the basement of Watha T. Daniel Library (1630 7th Street NW) in Shaw on March 12. The forum was moderated by Andrew Lightman, publisher of MidCity DC and other hyperlocal news outlets.

The candidates were urged to take off their ties.
The candidates agreed on many things. For example:
  • There is an ethical crisis in DC government.
  • They support new legislation on campaign contributions.
  • They want to improve public transit in Ward Six.
  • They will not seek outside employment if elected to the DC Council.
  • They are against neighborhood preferences for charter schools.
"These wonderful men are very well behaved," Lightman said at the beginning of the evening. Throughout the forum, the candidates spoke respectfully to one another and the general tone remained civil.

Tommy Wells: absent but present

The most discordant note was when Thompson accused Allen of either adopting or rejecting the legacy of Tommy Wells according to political expediency. Allen has been Wells' Chief of Staff for more than six years.

"You can't raise the Tommy Wells flag when it helps you and lower it when it doesn't," Thompson said.

Thompson cited two instances when he thought Wells was insufficiently attentive to his constituents. The first involved the former Shaw-Southwest Circulator Bus, which discontinued service in 2011.

"It got yanked largely at your mentor's [i.e., Wells'] request," Lightman said.

Allen said he would fight for its reinstatement.

"You were there when we lost Circulator in the first place," Thompson said.

The second involved a question about increased demand for "walk-to" neighborhood schools.

"That's a difference between Tommy and me," Allen said. "I'll be a stronger fighter for neighborhood schools."

Thompson said Allen should have started fighting sooner as Chief of Staff.

"You have the ear of your boss," Thompson said.

The Culture of Corruption

The forum took place at the same time as Mayor Gray's State of the District address, and Gray's recent problems were a subject for discussion. In answer to a question about legislative initiatives to curb corruption, Allen suggested a complete elimination of corporate contributions.

As it stands now, a limited liability corporation (LLC) in D.C. can donate to a campaign, so people can and have anonymously established multiple LLCs to enable large but quiet donations.

"When someone is able to give once as themselves, and once for each corporation, that's wrong," Allen said.

At another point in the evening, Allen said: "The way you make sure you have accountability is that you have one name on the check."

Thompson did not come out for elimination of corporate contributions, but instead said "the [D.C. city] council should have some say so."

"We should hold corporations responsible," Thompson said.

Later, Thompson said, "We need new fixes and legislation. This comes back to integrity and character."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ANC2F Sticks to its Guns vs. "The American" in Blagden Alley

At its regular monthly meeting March 5, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle has decided not to settle for half a loaf in its negotiations with local serial restaurateur Xavier Cervera. But not without misgivings.

The site is currently a boxing gym
"They have lawyers," said Commissioner Greg Melcher (district 06). "We don't have lawyers."

ANC2F will meet Cervera's lawyers at a March 17 hearing before D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). The topic will be a liquor license for Cervera's planned new restaurant "The American". ANC2F is protesting the liquor license, hoping to compel Cervera to sign a settlement agreement with shorter outside operating hours than he wishes.

The disagreement seems to be over a single hour, on Friday and Saturday nights. Cervera wants to have service in the outdoor part of his restaurant until 1am. The ANC, urged on by future neighbors of the restaurant, wants outdoor service to end at midnight.

Melcher told the committee further negotiations were not possible.

"The applicant has rebuffed me," he said. "The community wants more but we can't get more."

The American will be located in Blagden Alley, which is part of Melcher's ANC district.

ANC2F and The American have agreed on all other aspects of the restaurant's operation, including operating hours for the indoor portion of the establishment and weekday hours for the outdoor part. See a copy of the draft settlement agreement here.

The negotiation between Cervera and ANC2F started last September. The ANC voted to protest the liquor license application at its February 5 meeting -- see SALM blog post of February 11.

Melcher seemed to think it possible that ABRA would find against the ANC, in which case The American might be free to stay open even later -- possibly until 2am on weekdays and 3am on weekends. He wanted to give the ANC and the community the opportunity to settle for Cervera's hours rather than risk losing everything.

An audience member who identified himself as a near neighbor in Blagden Alley urged Melcher not to compromise. At least some of Melcher's fellow commissioners seemed to think the case was winnable.

"I think our chances are pretty good," said ANC2F Chair Matt Raymond (representative for district 07).

No action was necessary to continue the ANC's protest, so no vote was taken on the matter.

An article on the blog BadWolf DC has drawings of what the proposed restaurant might look like.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Increased Nightclub Noise Enforcement to Start Thursday

A task force from a variety of D.C. agencies will begin more aggressive enforcement of noise control laws starting this Thursday evening, March 13.

ABC Board Chair Ruthanne Miller speaks about the plan
The Crime and Public Safety Commission of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle held an information session about the initiative last night (March 10) at the Embassy Row Hotel (1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW).

"There will be increased noise checks starting this Thursday in many areas, including this neighborhood [i.e., Dupont Circle]", said Fred Moosally, Director of D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). "Business will not be informed beforehand."

The task force

The task force will respond to complaints the same night, Moosally said. Those found in violation of D.C. noise ordinances will receive a written warning for a first offense. A second violation would be result in a $1000 fine. A third violation would result in a $2000 fine. After that, violators who are holders of liquor licenses may be in danger of losing that license.

The task force will operate from Thursday to Sunday evenings only, from 10pm until 3am. Moosally said liquor licensees will receive a letter reminding them of the increased enforcement. The letter will also be posted on the ABRA web site.

ABRA is also working on a fact sheet to explain D.C.'s noise laws in plain English.

Moosally also announced a hotline for noise complaints. The number is 202-329-6347. This hotline will work outside of normal business hours only, starting Thursday.

Enforcement problems 

ANC2B Commissioner Mike Silverstein (district 06) said there was a problem of "one hand of the government not knowing what the other is doing."

Silverstein is also a member of D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board.

The enforcement of noise ordinances is hampered by a confusing patchwork of jurisdictions. For example, if noise from a nightclub comes from amplified music from a nightclub, it is an enforcement problem for ABRA. However, if the noise comes from heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment, it is an enforcement problem for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). People yelling and screaming on the streets, or excessive noise from private homes, is a matter for the police. This is why a multi-agency task force is necessary.

The target of the task force will be liquor licensees and other businesses that are open late, not private individuals or homes, Moosally said.

A member of the audience asked: "How long will this go on?"

"We'll have to see how it goes," Moosally replied.

A group of nightclub owners came out to make sure their case was heard. They were reassured they would not be victimized by the process.

"The hospitality industry generates $400 million in taxes," Silverstein said. "It is the second biggest industry in D.C. after the government.... Maybe the third biggest, after corruption."

"We respect the residents but we also respect the business people," said Sherry Kimball Sherri Kimbel, Constituent Services Director for D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward Two).

Correction: The director of ABRA is Fred Moosally, not Mousally. Apologies for the error.

Monday, March 10, 2014

ANC1B Again Fails to Have a Quorum

For the second time in four months, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street failed to have a quorum for its regular monthly meeting. Only five of 11 sitting Commissioners attended the meeting on Thursday, March 6. Six were necessary to have a quorum.

About 45 developers, architects, homeowners, businesspeople, and members of the community were left waiting, hoping an absent Commissioner would show up so the Commission could take binding votes on the matters on the agenda. The meeting, which began at seven, eventually broke up at 9pm.

Not enough for a quorum
The following Commissioners attended the meeting: Marc Morgan (district 01), Deborah Thomas (district 04), Ricardo Reinoso (district 05), James Turner (district 09), and Zahra Jilani (district 12).

The following Commissioners did not attend: Jeremy Leffler (district 02), Sedrick Muhammed (district 03), Dyana Forester (district 06), Juan Lopez (district 07), Tony Norman (district 10), E. Gail Anderson Holness (district 11)

Commissioner Emily Washington (district 08) announced her resignation at last month's meeting. She is moving out of her ANC district.

In December 2013, ANC1B also failed to have a quorum when a meeting was held on the same day as a Christmas party for ANC Commissioners -- see SALM blog post for December 9, 2013.

Recent attendance record of ANC1B Commissioners

Below is record of ANC Commissioners' attendance record for the last four monthly meetings, based on my observation. Just like airlines, I define "late" as arriving more than 15 minutes behind schedule. Meetings usually last between two and three hours.
  • Morgan (01): Three present, one absent
  • Leffler (02): Two present, two absent
  • Muhammed (03): One present, three absent
  • Thomas (04): One present, three absent
  • Reinoso (05): Four present
  • Forester (06): One present, two absent, one late*
  • Lopez (07): Two present, one absent, one late**
  • Washington (resigned, 08): Two present, one absent
  • Turner (09): Three present, one absent
  • Norman (10): Three present, one absent
  • Anderson Holness (11): Two absent, two late***
  • Zilani (12): Four present
* arrived 20 minutes late, left same meeting after 90 minutes
** arrived 25 minutes late
*** arrived 90 minutes late twice

March meeting: making the best of it

To productively fill the time while hoping in vain that another Commissioner would eventually arrive, ANC1B Chair James Turner asked newly-appointed ANC1B committee chairs to speak and take questions from the audience about their work. Alcohol-policy committee Chair Nick Baumann, Transportation Committee Chair Ben Klemens, and Design Review Committee Chair Lela Winston spoke.

This turned out to be a surprisingly effective use of time. The committee chairs outlined the responsibilities and current concerns of their committees. Members of the community spoke up to ask questions about how the process worked. Several people who seemed somewhat baffled by the proceedings received clarification. One urged the committee and community members to use fewer abbreviations and jargon, so novice members of the audience could more easily understand.

After that, several members of the community who had hoped to get ANC endorsement on various projects spoke up. The longest presentation was by the developers of Portner Place (1450 V Street NW), who sought ANC endorsement for their appearance before D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) later this month. The ANC Commissioners in attendance asked about the concerns raised when the developers presented before the Design Review Committee on February 26 -- see SALM blog post of March 3.

Members of the current tenants' committee of Portner Place spoke up in favor of the design and plans to move families out while construction went on. The commissioners in attendance seemed to approve of the development.

In addition, the aspiring proprietor of Peace Lounge (2632 Georgia Avenue) and a homeowner from the 1300 block of S Street also wished to tell the committee they needed ANC endorsement this month for their projects, because they would soon be appearing before various DC government bodies. Commissioner Turner suggested they could get letters from their ANC district representatives praising their projects and explaining why the ANC failed to vote. While this would not carry the "great weight" of a conventional ANC decision, Turner said, it might help.

At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Turner announced there would be a special election to fill the place of Commissioner Washington, and urged interested members of the public to pick up nomination papers from the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. No date for the special election has been set.

Friday, March 7, 2014

ANC2F to Make Statement on Drug Case

For the second time in six months, Roger Kemp, a community prosector at the US Attorney's office, has appeared before Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle. At ANC2F's regular monthly meeting, March 6, Kemp asked the ANC to write a community impact statement on a drug-dealing case to come up for sentencing in March.

ANC2F voted unanimously to author a community impact statement. Commissioner Peter Lallas (district 01) will write it. Lallas is the chair of ANC2F's Crime and Public Safety Committee.

Previous statement effective

Kemp previously asked the ANC to write a community impact statement at its meeting of November 6, 2013 -- see SALM blog post of November 8, 2013.

At the November 2013 meeting, Kemp asked ANC2F to weigh in with a community impact statement in the case of Jahlani Brown, who pled guilty to first-degree sexual abuse. In September 2013, Brown raped a woman who worked at an apartment building in Shaw.

Kemp reported he had received community impact statements on this case both from ANC2F and neighboring ANCs. The court noted the impact statements, Kemp said, and the judge "imposed a significant sentence."

"The sentence was higher than guidelines called for," Kemp said. "The victim was very happy."

"Community impact statements really do make a difference," said Assistant US Attorney Erin Lyons at the meeting.

U.S. vs Peoples, Long, and Green

Lyons and fellow Assistant US Attorney Kate Rakoczy asked the ANC to write a community impact statement on the cases of Antonio Peoples, Kevin Long, and Isaiah Green. They were arrested on drug-related and armed robbery charges as a result of a "long-term, in-depth drug investigation" in the summer of 2012. All three initially pleaded innocent but recently changed their pleas to guilty.

Peoples, Long, and Green were part of a "pretty large group of guys" who operated in the Lincoln Westmoreland Apartments, an affordable housing complex located on 7th and 8th Street NW between R and S Streets in Shaw. They will plead guilty to drug conspiracy charges, which may in this case carry stiffer charges because some of the activity took place in a designated drug-free zone near Grover Cleveland Elementary School (1825 8th Street NW). Peoples is also connected to a homicide case that is being tried separately.

Rakoczy urged all present not to think of drug dealing as a victimless crime.

"They're not victimless crimes because all of you, all of us, are victims," she said. 

ANC 6E/Shaw has already submitted a community impact statement in the case of Peoples and Green. It is available here.

You can view the DC Court records of Peoples, Long, and Green at court search page here. You can search by their full names, or enter the following case numbers into the "case number search" tool on the right:

Peoples: 2013 CF2 001589
Long: 2012 CF2 001592
Green: 2013 CF2 016141

There is a good explanation of community impact statements about half-way down this page from the US Attorney's Office.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Special Elections in ANC 2F and 1B

Three Commissioners of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) 2F/Logan Circle and 1B/U Street have moved or will soon move out of their districts, so must vacate their seats. There will be special elections to fill their vacancies.

From ANC2F web site
According to the web site of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE), anyone can run for ANC commissioner if he or she is a registered voter in DC, has lived in the ANC district for at least 60 days, and holds no other elective office. A candidate must gather 25 signatures to appear on the ballot.

ANC2F: Districts 03 and 08

At its regular monthly meeting last night (March 5), ANC2F Chair Matt Raymond (district 07) announced that this was the last meeting for ANC Commissioner Chris Linn (district 03). Linn is buying a home in Columbia Heights. The Commission passed a resolution thanking Linn for his work.

In January, Commissioner Matt Connolly (district 08) left the commission. On an announcement on the ANC web site, Connolly said he was moving back to Boston. At its January meeting, ANC2F thanked Connolly for his service.

At last night's meeting, Raymond announced nominating petitions would be available starting this Monday, March 10. Prospective candidates would have until Monday, March 31, to file their petitions. There would be a "challenge period", during which the validity of signatures on nominating petitions could be challenged.

Assuming that there is more than one candidate for at least one of the ANC2F positions, special elections will be held at the next possible ANC2F meeting. Raymond said this would probably be ANC2F's May meeting, currently scheduled for May 14.

ANC1B: District 08

From ANC1B's web site
At last month's meeting of ANC1B (held February 6), it was announced that Commissioner Mary Washington (district 08) was attending her last meeting as a commissioner. She is also moving out of her district. It was announced that there would be a special election to fill her seat, but no other details were given.

Further details may be announced at ANC1B's next meeting general meeting, which will take place tonight, March 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets NW).

ANC special elections do not draw a great turnout and are often decided by a handful of votes. For example, last year's ANC special election for a open seat in neighboring ANC 2B/Dupont Circle was won by a vote of 34-12.

Find out what ANC district you live in here.

A blank DCBOEE declaration of candidacy form is available here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2712 11th Street: Dry Cleaner Joins Mid-block Laundromat

JK Enterprises LLC, owner of a mid-block laundromat on 11th Street NW, wants to open a dry cleaner in the adjoining building. To do so, they will need a use variance from D.C.'s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA), because the lot is zoned residential. The Design Review Committee of ANC 1B/U Street voted unanimously to endorse the use variance request of JK Enterprises.

(Google Street View)
2712 11th Street is located on a public alley between Fairmont and Gerard Streets.

No dry cleaning will be done on the premises -- only pick up and drop off. There will also be alterations and shoe repair available.
Although it is zoned residential, documents submitted to the BZA indicate there has been some type of business there for more than 40 years. Before 1968, a grocery store operated in the location. From 1969 until the 1980's, it was also a dry cleaner, with cleaning done on the premises. At the meeting, a representative of JK Enterprises said an upholstery shop operated there before he bought the property in 1998. More recently, the building has been used as storage for the laundromat.

There are three parking spaces behind the laundromat. However, documents submitted to the BZA indicate most of clients of the laundry go there on foot, and JK Enterprises thinks the dry cleaner will be largely the same.

At the meeting, the presenter claimed neighbors supported the opening of the dry cleaners.

Documents relating to JK Enterprise's BZA case can be viewed at the Interactive Zoning Information System of Office of Zoning by entering case number 18699 into the search bar.

The full ANC will probably vote on the Design Review Committee's recommendation at the next meeting of the full ANC, scheduled for Thursday, March 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

ANC1B Committee Supports Reduced Parking Minimums

The Transportation Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street voted, 4-2, to endorse the reduced parking minimums in D.C.'s proposed zoning update. The vote took place at a meeting on February 20. The recommendation will now go to the full ANC for approval.

Logo from the zoning update blog
Cheryl Cort, Policy Direction of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, told the committee about the new parking minimums. As the law stands now, developers of new residences are generally obligated to have one parking space for every three residential units. If the proposed zoning update becomes law, the parking minimum will be one space for every six units in areas well-served by public transit.

"Well-served by public transit" is defined as less than one-half mile from a Metro station or a quarter-mile from major bus lines (e.g., the 16th and 14th Street lines).

This minimum is a change from an earlier proposal, which would have eliminated parking minimums altogether in areas well-served by public transit.

"One space for six units is below where the market is producing parking," Cort said.

The proposed change would also eliminate downtown parking minimums entirely, and require buildings with 50 parking spaces or more to have at least one space for car-sharing services.

See an information sheet about the proposed new parking minimums from the Coalition for Smarter Growth here.

The full ANC will probably consider the committee's recommendation at its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, March 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets)

Monday, March 3, 2014

1450 V Street (Portner Place): Tepid Endorsement by ANC1B

The vote was 2-1 in favor with five abstentions.

It was not a resounding vote of confidence for the proposal by Somerset Development Company to develop a two-part apartment complex on the current site of Portner Place apartments (1450 V Street NW). Portner Place abuts the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets) to Portner's east.

Eric Colbert presents
The Design Review Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street, meeting on February 26, was skeptical about the size of the building. In addition, a committee member said the project "implied segregation" because the 96 units of affordable housing would face V Street on the north side of the lot, while 270 units of market-rate housing would be in a building facing U Street on the south side of the lot. The two buildings would share a common wall but not a common entrance.

Nancy L. Hooff, Principal of Somerset Development Company, led the presentation team, which included architect Eric Colbert from Eric Colbert & Associates. They seek ANC1B endorsement of the project before they present to D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The project must go before the HPRB because it is located within the boundaries of the U Street Historic District.

Rich housing, poor housing

As it stands now, Portner Place is 48 units of Section 8 (i.e., low income) four-story garden apartments. It was built in 1978-79. It is located midblock between the Reeves Center on 14th Street and the Dunbar Apartments facing 15th Street.

Representatives of the tenants of Portner Place appeared at the meeting to confirm the tenants were on board for the renovation and understood the details. The tenants, it was reported, willingly gave up their rights under D.C. Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) so the project can move forward. As proposed, the eight-story, 70-foot-tall V Street apartment building will double the number of available affordable housing units. The units will be priced to be affordable for a family of four whose income is about $52,000 a year. 

The U Street side will be 11 stories, or 105 feet, high. There will be retail space on the ground floor of this side only, according to project drawings.

Each side will have separate underground parking -- 24 spaces on the V Street side, 172 spaces on the U Street side.

Committee unenthusiastic

The developers promised to find 48 housing units for the currently residents of Portner Place, to help them move, and to help them move back once the project is finished. They said they were currently looking at housing in Ward Four.

ANC Commissioner Tony Norman (district 10) was skeptical. 

"I don't know of a project yet where they've moved the residents and they've returned back," he said.

Norman and several other members of the committee disapproved of the height of the building.

"The height is a little bit worrying," said ANC Commissioner Zahra Jilani (district 12). Portner Place is in Jilani's ANC district.

The presenters pointed out that existing neighboring buildings were taller.

Another committee member worried about "implied segregation".

He said: "You have wonderful intentions but I have to sit to get used to that," meaning, the separation of the affordable and market-rate apartments.

Presenters defended their choice saying each building would have a different set of amenities for different types of tenants. For example, the affordable half would have a roof-top playground and a computer center for residents. They also said they had given residents several options and the tenants had agreed to this design. Tenants' representatives at the meeting confirmed this claim.

"We gave them all the options. They chose that option," Nancy Hooff said.

There was a motion to endorse the concept and massing, but not the detailed design, of the project. There were only two votes to endorse, but since there was only one "no" vote, the motion carried.

The project is scheduled for a hearing before the HPRB on March 28, the presenters reported. The presenters may have to appear before the Design Review committee again for endorsement of detailed design and then appear again before HPRB. They will likely have to request ANC endorsement of zoning variances and/or special exceptions as well.

Meanwhile, this recommendation will probably come up for approval by the full ANC at its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, March 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center.

The Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association (MHNA) heard a presentation from Colbert on Portner Place at its January 21 meeting. Details are available here. MHNA also posted the project's HPRB documents (including drawings and artist's conceptions of the buildings) online -- an 11-page .pdf available here.

The blog District Source has also reported this story.