City Paper Widget

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

2819 13th Street: How Tall Is It Really?

At its meeting of April 21, the Design Review Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street delayed a decision on a proposed renovation and enlargement of a single-family house at 2819 13th Street NW, located between Girard and Harvard Street. The request for an endorsement of zoning special exceptions may be considered again at the next meeting of the ANC1B Design Review Committee, scheduled for Monday, May 19, at 6:30pm at the Thurgood Marshall Center (1816 12th Street).

2819 13th Street
There were a few issues with the proposed renovation. The committee wanted to see letters of support from neighbors. In addition, there was some inconclusive discussion about two other matters. One was if the improvements might cause the building to be taller than envisioned by zoning regulations. The other was whether a proposed penthouse on top of the house might require additional zoning scruntiny, due to height, setback, or both.

Presentation by the architect

Jennifer Fowler of Fowler Architects presented on behalf of the property owner, Robert Copyak. Fowler said the owner will live in the house while the renovation is in progress.

According to documents presented to the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA), the existing third floor of the building will be expanded. There will be a one-story rear addition with a two-story covered porch above it. There will be a new rear deck on the roof and a neighboring enclosed mechanical area. The mechanical area would contain a staircase, a space for mechanical items like air conditioning, a closet, and a wet bar.  

The owner will seek at least two special exceptions at a BZA hearing in June. One is for lot occupancy. According to zoning regulations, the footprint of the house should not cover more than 60 percent of property. The proposed improvements would increase the house's lot occupancy to 66 percent.

The other exception is for the side yard. It is currently 3.5 feet wide. It will not change as a result of the renovation. However, zoning regulations say such a side yard should be at least 10 feet wide. Although it is already "non-conforming", the owner will need a special exception to this rule to go ahead with the renovation.

The owner and architect are looking for a favorable recommendation of the project by the Design Review Committee to the full ANC. The ANC would then consider a resolution to support the project. With the resolution in hand, the owner and architect could then move on to their BZA hearing.

The committee's reaction

The property is located in the ANC district 09, which is represented by ANC1B Chair James Turner. Turner was at the Design Review Committee meeting. He said he had heard from six nearby neighbors and one abutting neighbor, and "the neighborhood is supportive" of the project.

However, the support of the neighbors was not in writing. The Design Review Committee asked Fowler to return with letters of support from the neighbors.

Further zoning exceptions necessary?

The building is now 35 feet tall. If the planned renovations caused the building to exceed 40 feet in height, the owner would need additional permissions from the BZA. Supporting documents claim the renovation will raise the height of the building to 37 feet, 6 inches, but some members of the committee, after examining some of the drawings presented by the architect, said the addition of the structure on the top of the building would put it over 40 feet.

The committee brought up another issue: the setback of the rooftop structure. As currently designed, it goes up to the edge of the property. Zoning regulations say rooftop structures must have a setback equal to their height.

The owner and architect may have to demonstrate they are in compliance with zoning regulations on both height and setback before the Design Review Committee will endorse their request.

On-line information indicates the house was built in 1905 and the current owner and resident bought it in 2003 for $410,000. The owner has also bought at least three other properties in Columbia Heights and Petworth in the last ten years, according to publicly-available information.

This case was the first of two that Fowler presented to the Design Review Committee at its April 21 meeting. The committee was not sympathetic to Fowler's other case either. It voted to oppose her other case -- see SALM blog post of April 25.

The documents relating to this case can be seen by going to the Case Search Tool of Interactive Zoning Information System on the web site of the D.C. Office of Zoning, and entering case number 18774 in the search bar.

(Photo credit: Google Street View)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Average Monthly Water Bill Likely to Rise by 12 Percent This Year

George S. Hawkins, General Manager of D.C. Water, said on April 22 the average monthly residential water bill will rise this year by 12.3 percent under a proposal to be voted on by the DC Water Board of Directors in July. Hawkins spoke to an audience of about 40 at a Ward One town meeting, held in the auditorium of Benjamin Banneker High School (800 Euclid Street NW). The meeting was one of eight such town meetings -- one for each ward -- held during the month of April to discuss "how rates are set and what is funded by ratepayer dollars".

If approved, the increase in water rates will take effect October 1, 2014 -- i.e., the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015.

Many of the individual line items on a water bill are staying the same or increasing less than 12 percent. For example, the average residential bill will see DC Water Retail Rates -- the largest single component of the bill -- increase 7.3 percent, from $53.56 in FY 2014 to $57.67 in FY 2015.

However, the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge will jump more than 40 percent on the average bill -- from $11.85 in FY 2014 to $16.75 in FY 2015.

The Impervious Area Charge is based on the estimated amount of water runoff from a property. According to the DC Water website, it is designed so "owners of large office buildings, shopping centers and parking lots will be charged more than owners of modest residential dwellings".

Homeowners may be eligible for a discount on the Impervious Area Charge if they implement improved stormwater management -- see explanation here.

Why is the bill going up so much?

Hawkins explained why this increase was necessary.

"The bulk of the cost is deferred maintanence," he said. The median age of water main pipes in DC is 79 years old. There are also 7000 miles of unlined cast iron pipers with a median age of 96 years old. Some of them date to the 1860's.

The Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge will fund a project mandated by law under a consent decree signed by DC and federal government authorities in the 1990's. Its aim is to reduce pollution in Rock Creek, the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, and Chesapeake Bay.

This project to reduce pollution is getting minimal assistance from the federal government -- almost all of the funding will come from D.C. ratepayers. Hawkins termed it "an unfunded mandate" by the federal government.

The project has many large and expensive components, including the construction, 100 feet underground, of a storm-water tunnel 26 feet in circumference and 13 miles long from Shaw and Bloomingdale to the Blue Plains Advanced Water Treatment Plant. The construction of the tunnel will result in street lane closures in Shaw and Bloomingdale -- see SALM blog post of April 15.

This will probably not be the last year of substantial increases in D.C. water bills.
A November 2013 DC Water document predicts continued increases in the average water bill -- 10 percent and 7.9 percent for FY 2016 and 2017, respectively (see page 25 of a 39-page .pdf available here).

Audience reaction

A member of the audience asked if it was possible to get more funding from the federal government for the project. Hawking said it was not likely.

People were, unsurprisingly, not happy to hear their water bill would be increasing. They complained about the increase but they seemed to understand Hawkins was not to responsible for the increase and there was no point in blaming the messenger. One community member called DC Water "the city's only unregulated utility" and suggested closer supervision might be necessary.

The eight ward-wide meetings are over, but there is one more chance to comment on the proposed rate hikes. The DC Water Board of Directors will hold a public hearing on the proposed rate increases. The hearing will be held on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, beginning at 6:30pm. The location will be DC Department of Employment Services (first floor community room), 4058 Minnesota Avenue NE.

Monday, April 28, 2014

T Street: New Streetlights from 7th to 11th Streets

T Street NW between 7th and 11th Streets will get more elegant-looking street lights soon. The Transportation Committee of Advisory Neighborhood Committee (ANC) 1B/U Street heard about the project at its April 16 meeting.

Out with these
In with these
Representatives of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) told the Transportation Committee the design phase of the project is 95 percent complete. The all of the 11 existing 400-watt "cobra-head" street lights (right) will be replaced. Ten new street lights of the same design will be added. The new 100-watt street lights will have a retro look (see example left), with a vase-shaped glass lamp on a column.

"They'll look really great," a DDOT representative said.

Work along T Street will start in May or June and take 4 to 6 months. DDOT will have to dig a trench and eventually resurface the entire stretch of road. The trench will be dug along one side of the street, section by section. Steel plates will be put over the trenches when work is not in progress. When the work is in progress, there will be no room for parked cars. After completion, there will be dedicated manholes on T Street for the street lights.

"Is this going to interrupt traffic?" a committee member asked.

"Every project is going to interrupt traffic," the DDOT representative replied.

T Street has a bike lane.  Members of the committee asked if the trench was going to be dug on the side of the street with the bike lane. The DDOT representatives were not sure and promised to get back to the committee with the information.

ANC1B Commissioner Ricardo Reinoso (district 05) asked if the residents had been informed.

DDOT representatives said they were using email, ANC meetings, and postal mail to inform residents in the affected area.

A flyer distributed by DDOT at the meeting promised sidewalk repair along T Street will be coordinated to coincide with the work on the new street lights.

The old "cobra-head" street lights will be retained by DDOT and used elsewhere as needed.

Representatives of DDOT may be back to present to the full ANC at their next monthly meeting. This is scheduled to take place Thursday, May 1, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

(Photo credit: left - from DDOT brochure distributed at the April 16 meeting, right - Google Street View of 900 block of T Street)

Friday, April 25, 2014

1248 Fairmont Street: One ANC1B Committee for, One Against

When Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street has its regular monthly meeting at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets NW) on Thursday, May 1, at 7:30pm, it will be faced with an unusual situation. Two separate ANC1B committees have considered a request for the same project. One voted to approve it, the other voted to oppose it.

1248 Fairmont Street (Google Street View)
Jennifer Fowler of Fowler Architects and Brian Smith of Coldwell Banker are asking ANC1B to endorse a request for a curb cut on the street next to 1248 Fairmont Street. This is a one-family house on the southeast corner of 13th Street and Fairmont. It is being converted into five units "by right". The curb cut will allow access to the two spaces of enclosed off-street parking the developers are obligated by zoning regulations to provide.

On April 17, ANC1B's Transportation Committee voted to endorse the request -- see SALM blog post for April 21. The vote was 2-0 with one abstention. On April 21, ANC1B's Design Review Committee voted not to support the request. The vote of the Design Review Committee was 7-0 with one abstention.

Fowler presented to the Design Review Committee at the very end of a 3-1/2 hour meeting. She was told there was no community support for the project, only opposition.

ANC Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09) said he had sent an email requesting the developers do outreach to the neighbors about the planned expansion of the house. There had not been any outreach.

"Brian's been doing outreach," Fowler said. Smith was not present, and Fowler didn't know anything about what Smith might or might not have done.

Turner explained that, although the project itself is in the district of Commissioner Sedrick Muhammed (district 03), the neighbors across the street from the project were in Turner's own district. At the April 17 meeting, Smith said he had been in touch with abutting neighbors only -- implying Turner's constituents had not been contacted.

The committee also disputed the contention, made by Smith in his April 17 presentation to the Transportation Committee, that the curb cut would remove only one space from the street. With the addition of a two-car parking garage, this would result in a net gain of one parking space for the area.

The Design Review Committee maintained that, even though the curb cut might be the length of one car, legally-mandated no-parking areas on each side of the cut, plus the inexpert parking methods of the average on-street car parker, would mean that, in practice, two on-street spaces would be lost. On top of that, committee members said, it seemed likely that five units would bring more than two cars into the neighborhood.

Members of the committee further redefined the situation. What the developers were doing, they said, was removing two public parking spaces and making them private.

Fowler said it might be possible to design a garage with three spaces. 

A committee member also noted that the design for the ramp from the street to the enclosed garage included a five-foot-high wall on the property line. This meant that pedestrians and bicyclists coming down Fairmont Street would be invisible to drivers backing out of the planned garage, and visa versa. Fowler suggested the developers could put in a mirror.

A representative of the project may present some new ideas at the next ANC meeting on May 1, when the full ANC may try to reconcile to two conflicting recommendations.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tipsy Peacock: Conditional Liquor License Support from ANC1B

Donna Colaco, aspiring proprietor of the Tipsy Peacock (2915 Georgia Avenue NW), appeared before the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street on April 16 to ask for endorsement of her application for a tavern license. It will be "Georgia Avenue's first wine bar", according to Tipsy Peacock's Facebook page.

Intimate moment in front of 2915 Georgia Ave
"It sounds great to me," said ANC1B Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09).

Colaco briefed the committee on her plans to convert the basement of the
building into a small wine bar. She is applying for a maximum capacity of 50, but in reality, she said, this "very small space" will fit 35 people or less.

Colaco said she owned the building and planned to live over the shop. A member of the committee said, although he had no reason to doubt Colaco's sincerity, he would take her stated intention to live over her establishment with a grain of salt. Many previous petitioners to this and other committees, it was said, say they plan to live in renovated properties, only to revise their intentions after they've received ANC endorsement.

Colaco told the committee she had spoken to the abutting neighbors on Georgia Avenue. They support the establishment. The neighbor on the right, she said, is also a bar, and the neighbor on the left is a wellness center. 

The Tipsy Peacock seeks a entertainment endorsement for the inside part of the establishment only, to have recorded and live music. There may be "occasional" dancing inside. However, it is not seeking an entertainment endorsement for the rear summer garden. Colaco pledged windows and doors will remain closed when there is music playing in the bar.

Rear summer garden

To the rear of the property is a narrow public alley. On the other side of the alley is the side wall of 654 Hobart Street. Colaco had not spoken to this neighbor yet.

"I'd really like to hear from the neighbors," said committee chair Nick Baumann.

The plan is to have a summer garden in the rear of the property with a capacity of 15. The planned summer garden will have the same operating hours as the rest of the establishment: until 1am Sunday - Thursday, until 2am Friday and Saturday. In the winter, the summer garden might function as parking for two cars.

Colaco promised improved lighting in the front and rear. She also promised security cameras.

The committee voted to recommend that the full ANC support the tavern license application on the condition the proprietor get a letter of support from the neighbor at 654 Hobart Street. The vote was five in favor, none against, and three abstentions.

ANC1B will probably consider this application at its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, May 1, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets). The initial hearing by D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) on this liquor license will happen on June 2 at 10am. ABRA is also located at the Reeves Center.

(Photo credit: Google Street View)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

CORRECTED: Recommendations for Grimke School Development from ANC1B

CORRECTION: Grimke Development Working Group calls for any daytime use, specifically including office use, not only retail use as previously reported.

Jeffrey Willis emails: "Goals call for any daytime use, specifically including OFFICE.  We already have two developers interested in this market, which remains strong, according to our research."

Apologies for the error.

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

Three main points

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

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

How the RFP will work

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

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

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

The working group presents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Howard Theatre Plans Weekend Summer Events in Ellington Plaza

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

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

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

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

Liquor license aspects

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

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

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

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

Public space aspects

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How happy are the neighbors?

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

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

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

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

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

Other details about the project

The additions are all on the rear of the building.

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

The architect is Jennifer Fowler of Fowler Architects.

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

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

About the parking

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Glen's Garden Market Moves towards Beer Garden

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

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

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

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

Good feelings all around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shadow Senator Paul Strauss Represents Dino's Grotto at ANC1B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doi Moi is in Smith's ANC district.

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

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

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

The request now moves on to DDOT for final approval.

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Long-term Street Lane Closures in Shaw Starting 2017

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

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

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

If you can't get to the town meeting

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

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

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

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

Cooper Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

ANC6E Tries to Referee Noise Dispute Between Church, Neighbor

A noise complaint against a church was heard at the regular monthly meeting of ANC 6E/Shaw on April 1. A neighbor told a long but undocumented story of repeated late-night noise. The church answered with a different version of events.

Shaw resident James Brush presented a case against the Church of the Living God (1206 4th Street NW, see photo). Brush lives in a building near the church. He said there is a 15-unit apartment building next to the church, and a 13-unit building backing the church, both of which can clearly hear music. Brush said he cannot watch TV or listen to the radio while the church has services because of the noise.

Brush said the church has amplified music five nights a week, from 7:30 to 11. One night recently, Brush said, the music went on until 11:30.

Brush told the commission he had complained repeatedly to the church about the noise without effect. He says he had called the police (most recently, on March 25) but "the police will not go to the door."

"Everything stops because of the church issue," Brush said. "It's what people directly state: 'We won't deal with the church'."

Brush said he went to the door of the church one evening when the music was playing loudly.

"I opened that door and was tackled by five of their men," Brush said.

The men tackled Brush, he claimed, and then threw him on the sidewalk.

When a group from the Church of the Living God, lead by Elder Kiki Young, had a chance to speak, they told a different story. She said the church had been operating in that location for several decades. Two years ago, there had been noise complaints. As a result, the church had installed extra insulation -- a fact which ANC6E Commissioner Rachelle Nigro (district 04) confirmed.

The church is in Nigro's ANC district.

As for Brush's entry into the church, Young said: "He came into the church to shut the church down."

Young said Brush had come into the church, tried to disrupt the service, and announced he would not leave until the music was turned down. When church members tried to take Brush away, he grabbed a door handle, and refused to let it go while church members tried to force him to leave. The door handle finally broke off in his hand, a member of the church said.

Commissioner Nigro said she had tried to get D.C.'s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to investigate the case, but they wouldn't. As reported in the SALM blog post of March 11, noise ordinance enforcement involves a complicated patchwork of jurisdictions and DC agencies. In an attempt to bring some amount of order to this contentious issue, DC has established a task force of relevant agencies, as well as a single telephone number -- 202-329-6347 -- that people can call with after-hours noise complaints. The task force is nominally city-wide but seemed, at least initially, to be targeting nightclub noise in Dupont Circle.

Several members of the committee repeatedly asked Brush if he had attempted to substantiate his claims with evidence like, for example, readings from decibel meters. The first few times he was asked, Brush did not answer the question directly. Brush finally said he felt the law should be enforced without having to resort to "all sorts of fancy instrumentation".

There was no vote or resolution on the matter. After both sides had stated their cases, it was agreed Nigro would try to work with the police and the parties involved to reach a solution everyone could live with.

ANC6E videos their meetings in their entirety and posts them on its Youtube channel in 30- to 35-minute chunks. The discussion of the case of James Brush and the Church of the Living God can be viewed by following this link and starting at about 30:00. The discussion continues for about 30 minutes. It is spread over two separate Youtube videos -- Parts 3 and 4 of the complete record of the April 1 meeting.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Le Diplomate to Host White House Correspondents' Dinner After Party

Attorney Steve O'Brien and William Washington, General Manager of Le Diplomate restaurant (1601 14th Street NW), came before Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle last night (April 10) to ask for endorsement of a one-day change in operating hours.

Late nights coming to 14th and Q
Le Diplomate wishes to stay open until 5am Sunday, May 4, so it may host a White House Correspondents' Dinner after party. The dinner will be hosted by The Atlantic magazine. It will start at midnight, after the White House Correspondents' Dinner itself on the evening of May 3.

Le Diplomate's settlement agreement (11-page .pdf here) states that it must stop operation at 1:45am on weekends. For this one time only, Le Diplomate will ask to be allowed to serve alcohol until 3am, and continue service until 5am.

Although Le Diplomate has a large outdoor space, William Washington told the ANC all service would be indoors.

The motion to endorse the request passed unanimously. O'Brien and Washington asked for a letter as soon as possible so the request can move on to D.C.'s liquor licensing authorities.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nude Dancing Liquor License Comes Out of Hibernation

Attorney Lyle M. Blanchard of Greenstein DeLorme & Luchs came before Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle last night (April 9) to plead the case of M Street Management Group LLC, operators of the 1819 Club (1819 M Street NW, see photo). The club hopes in to open in four weeks.

Not quite ready for the dancing
M Street Management Group is the holder of a rare item: a DC liquor license with a nude dancing endorsement. The liquor license has been "in safekeeping" since 2005, when the previous nude dancing club on the spot closed. Since then, the owners have been engaged in a long and difficult renovation of the property, which was built about 115 years ago.

Blanchard told ANC2B that M Street Management Group had bought the club in 2004, operated it for a year, and put the license in safekeeping.

Publicly-available documents from D.C.'s liquor licensing authority (27-page .pdf available here) indicate the property was bought at bankruptcy and had a top-to-bottom renovation. Plans had to be approved by D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) because the building is in a historic district. Then there were prolonged water and sewer problems which were eventually solved by digging a trench all the way across M Street, one lane of traffic at a time. There were also dealings with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) as well as building and fire inspectors.

According to this same document, D.C. liquor-licensing authorities gave (on December 11, 2013) a six-month extension to M Street Management Group's liquor license in safekeeping (until June 11, 2014).

Unusually, the residential neighbors have not voiced any objections. This was said to be because existing strip clubs on the street have been extremely scrupulous about honoring their commitments to the neighborhood and are never the source of excessive noise or security concerns.

It was reported some groups had "religious concerns". This did not seem to effect affect the course of ANC2B's debate on the topic.

Public records available here show that, in 2011, D.C. liquor license authorities dismissed a protest of M Street Management Group's liquor license by the group Downtown Cluster of Congregations.

All the ANC2B Commissioners present voted to protest the liquor license application, with the stipulation that the protest would be dropped if certain conditions were met. These conditions included demonstrating the club occupancy and square footage would not increase as a result of the renovation.

Letters of opposition (or support) of this liquor license can be filed at D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABRA) before April 14. A hearing about the liquor license will occur at 10am on April 28 at ABRA's offices on the fourth floor of the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

Washington City Paper Names SALM Best New Local Blog

Thank you, Washington City Paper, for naming Short Articles About Long Meetings as a Staff Pick for Best New Local Blog in D.C.

I would have been at your party last night, but I had an ANC meeting to attend.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mention You're a Shaw Resident for Discount at New Hotel

At its regular monthly meeting April 1, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw granted a stipulated liquor license to the soon-to-open 182-room Cambria Suites Hotel (899 O Street NW) located above City Market at O. The full ANC followed the recommendation of the liquor-licensing affairs committee of ANC6E to grant the stipulated license. The vote was unanimous.

And also a hotel for out-to-town visitors
As part of the presentation in support of the request for a stipulated license, attorney Stephen J. O'Brien of the law firm Mallios & O'Brien told ANC6E that Shaw residents will get a discounted rate at the new hotel if they make reservations directly by phone to the hotel after it opens on May 1. O'Brien conceded residents themselves would have little reason for a hotel room for themselves. This discount is aimed at Shaw residents who are hosting out-of-town guests and cannot adequately house them in their tiny inner-city apartments.

The discount will not be advertised on the hotel's web site.

"The community will have to know enough to ask for it," O'Brien said. If the person answering the phone at the hotel doesn't know about the discount, he added, Shaw residents seeking the discount should ask to speak to Francisco Selles, the General Manager, who would make sure the discount was applied.

There may be blackout periods, O'Brien also said.

It was admitted at the meeting that it is impossible to collect or maintain a full list of Shaw residents. So, the discount will operate on the honor system, meaning, anyone calling and claiming to be a Shaw resident would receive the discount.

The Cambria Suites Hotel would be primarily aimed at the business traveller, according to O'Brien. As a result, the operators expected most of the guests to stay between Sunday and Thursday evenings. More rooms will be available on Friday and Saturday nights which, O'Brien hoped, would compliment the needs of local residents who have out-of-town guests coming for the weekend.

The hotel's web site is accepting reservations for check in after May 14.

On-line information says the hotel project represented an investment of over $40 million and created an estimated 300 jobs in the Washington area. The majority of employees are D.C. residents, according to information presented at the meeting, and there are still "a handful of jobs" left. They can be applied for through the company web site,

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 ANC6E's action, the hotel will be able to legally serve alcohol until its long-term liquor-license application makes its way through the D.C. liquor-licensing bureaucracy, assuming no other party makes an official objection.

Alcohol will be served in the hotel lobby bar, which will be one level up from the street. There will be a summer garden with alcohol service. It will close at 11pm.

ANC6E videos its meetings and puts the videos on Youtube. Watch the section of this meeting that deals with the Cambria Suites Hotel here, starting at time 11:00.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

ANC1B: Quorum Achieved, Some Habitual Absences, Norman Leaves

At its regular monthly meeting on April 3, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street had less trouble obtaining a quorum than last month. There was a quorum nearly from the beginning of the meeting.

(Image from ANC1B web site)
However, some Commissioners are making a habit of being absent. Commissioner Sedrick Muhammed (district 03) missed his fourth consecutive meeting. Commissioner Jeremy Leffler (02) missed his third consecutive meeting.

ANC1B Chair James Turner (09) announced the seat for 1B district 10 was now vacant. There will be a special election to fill it. District 10 was the former seat of Tony Norman. Norman was ANC1B Chair until January, when the ANC voted 5 - 4 to replace him with Turner -- see SALM blog post of January 3.

Attendance record of Commissioners

Commissioners who failed to attend this meeting: Leffler, Muhammed, and Juan Lopez (07).

(Full disclosure: I attended the meeting from 7pm, when it started, until 9pm. By that time, the agenda was over 80% complete. It is possible that Commissioners showed up after 9pm and therefore were not absent for the entire meeting.)

Commissioner Deborah Thomas (04) was 60 minutes late for the meeting.

Commissioners who arrived at the meeting on time: Marc Morgan (01), Ricardo Reinoso (05), Dyana Forester (06), Turner, E. Gail Anderson Holness (11), and Zahra Jilani (12).

Commissioner Emily Washington (08) resigned in February.

Below is ANC1B Commissioners' attendance record for the last six 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): Four present, one absent, one early departure*
  • Leffler (02): Two present, four absent
  • Muhammed (03): One present, five absent
  • Thomas (04): One present, three absent, two late**
  • Reinoso (05): Six present
  • Forester (06): Three present, two absent, one late***
  • Lopez (07): Three present, two absent, one late****
  • Washington (resigned, 08): Two present, one absent
  • Turner (09): Five present, one absent
  • Norman (resigned, 10): Three present, two absent
  • Anderson Holness (11): One present, three absent, two late*****
  • Zilani (12): Six present
* missed at least 30 minutes of meeting March 26
** arrived 40 minutes late for March 26, 60 minutes late for April
*** arrived 20 minutes January, left same meeting after 90 minutes
**** arrived 25 minutes late January
***** arrived 90 minutes late December 2013 and February

Now two special elections

There is at least one candidate for the vacant seat in district 08. Mark Ranslem is aspiring to fill Washington's former seat, according to an announcement made at the meeting. Ranslem was present at the meeting but did not participate.

Candidates for an ANC must gather at least 25 signatures. The signatures must be validated by DC election officials, so candidates sometimes gather more than double the minimum to guarantee their place on the ballot. After DC election officials have validated the signatures, a special election is held. Often, it is on the sidelines of an ANC meeting. The special election for Washington's seat may take place on the sidelines of the ANC1B regular monthly meeting in May or June.

ANC Chair Turner also announced the seat for district 10 -- formerly held by former ANC Chair Norman -- was open. In three other cases I have seen, when Commissioners vacate their seats, they come to a final meeting, announce their departure, say how much they've enjoyed working at the ANC, and are thanked by their ANC for their work. In this case, there was no mention of Norman's name, and he did not appear. In fact, no one at the meeting actually said Norman had resigned -- only that his seat was now up for a special election. Norman had missed the two previous ANC meetings.

Norman was first elected to ANC1B in 2010.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ward One Task Force on Community and Church Parking Created

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street will participate in a Ward One-wide task force on community and church parking. ANC1B Commissioner E. Gail Anderson Holness (district 11) made an announcement about the formation of the task force at the ANC's monthly meeting on April 3.

Florida Avenue Baptist Church
"These problems are not new," Holness said. "They've just become more intense."

Commissioner Holness announced the office of City Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward One) had formed the task force to address how to facilitate parking at churches across Ward One on Sundays and at other times of religious worship. Holness said she expected the task force to meet three or four times. The first meeting will be within the next two weeks, and there will be a town meeting. The task force will issue a final report.

"We want the final report to reflect the entire community," Holness said.

Task force membership

Holness said eight Ward One pastors would serve on the task force. She named several of them, including Dr. Earl D. Trent Jr. of Florida Avenue Baptist Church (623 Florida Avenue NW) and Father Patrick Smith of St. Augustine Catholic Church (1419 V Street).

Holness also asked for "a commissioner other than me" to participate in the task force. Commissioner Dyana Forrester (district 06) volunteered to do so. Forrester said she has attended Florida Avenue Baptist Church.

Forrester compared D.C. police tactics concerning churches and parking to suburban police tactics in the same context.

"In Maryland and Viriginia, police help. They don't write tickets," Forrester said.

Holness on the traffic scene

Holness took the opportunity of the announcement to touch on several traffic-related issues. They included bloggers who complain about suburbanites coming on Sunday to park near historical churches, while not complaining about suburbanites who drive into D.C. from Monday to Friday and park on local streets.

She compared weekday commuters to Sunday church visitors: "Many people who come in on the weekends have lived here at one time."

She also commented on bicyclists.

"I'm 57 and I ride a bike," she said.

However, Holness went on, bicyclists received too much consideration because they do not bicycle in inclement weather.

"You don't see bikes when it snows, when it's raining," she said.

Concerning the historic churches in Ward One, Holness said: "They were here before many of the new residents came. They will be here after they are gone."

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dupont Underground: "If You Don't Have a Prominent Public Entry, It Just Won't Work"

The committee on design review for Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle took a field trip to the tunnels under Dupont Circle on April 2. Down below, partisans of a redeveloped Dupont Underground told the Zoning, Preservation, and Development (ZPD) Committee their vision for the space. There was also a bonus tour of the urban caverns for attendees.

Julian Hunt presenting Dupont, underground
The project is a complex and ambitious operation with a lot of moving parts, involving numerous reports to and permissions from a bewildering variety of D.C. and federal government entities. The space will be renovated in stages, in the hope that revenue and experience from the first stage can help advance a second and third.

"Dupont Circle is not living up to its potential," said lead presenter Julian Hunt, Chairman of the Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground. Hunt is also an architect and founding Principal of Hunt Laudi Studio.

One of the many challenges facing the developers will be constructing and maintaining an entry to the proposed underground development. The current multiple narrow staircases to the space scattered around Dupont Circle are, at best, "very uninviting", to quote a characterization made by D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward Two) at the last ANC2B meeting.

"Every developer said: if you don't have a prominent public entry, people won't see you. It just won't work," Hunt said.

Hunt and allies have ambitious plans, but they'll have to move bureaucratic heaven and earth to make them happen. One example: the case of pie-shaped piece of land bordered by P Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and 20th Street NW, just west of Dupont Circle. The triangular east-pointing tip of this land, now containing a boarded-up entry to the underground tunnel, is owned by the D.C. government. A square-ish chunk of land on the western side, now containing a tiny brick building called the Dupont Resource Center (9 Dupont Circle), is owned by the National Park Service.
Proposed entryway to Dupont Underground

Hunt showed the committee a proposed design for the space (see photo). In order to make this design a reality, Hunt must have the cooperation of both parties, including permission from the National Park Service to demolish the building. The developer's task will not be made any easier by the fact that this building is used during the day as the offices of the Dupont Circle Citizen's Association, a group often objects to new construction in the neighborhood.

This is not the only highly-visible part of the Circle that the group wishes to transform. Another slide in Hunt's presentation depicted a "cap park" on a wide median between Dupont Circle and Q Street, created by covering over the Connecticut Avenue underpass. Yet another replaced the magnolia trees which bloom in concrete boxes on the center median of Connecticut Avenue just south of Dupont Circle with a long, gradual pedestrian ramp into Dupont Underground from the N Street intersection.

Hunt talked some about the unique difficulties mounting a project of this size in the district.

"This is something that would be kind of normal in a normal city," he said. "If we had a Senator who would say 'it's my project', it would happen automatically."

This project's above-ground problems are only a few of the many problems it will face. Hunt's subterranean talk to the ZPD Committee covered many, many other topics related to this ambitious development. Read a good report summarizing them (with great pictures) from District Source here.

More coverage of the development can be found on page one of the latest edition of The Dupont Current -- available as a 32-page .pdf here (click on "No. 14 April 02, 2014").

Assisting the presentation were Braulio Agnese, Managing Director of the Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground, and Patrick Smith, a developer who is seeking to bring a 41-unit "pod" hotel (rooms 180 square feet each) to the first phase of the project.

Also attending were ANC2B Commissioners Kevin O'Connor (district 02) and Leo Dwyer (district 07). Dwyer is also Chair of the ZPD Committee meeting.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

ANC6E Endorses Longer Opening Hours for Dacha Beer Garden

At its regular monthly meeting on April 1, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw endorsed longer opening hours for Dacha Beer Garden (1600 7th Street NW).
This mural presides over Dacha Beer Garden.

Dacha Beer Garden sought three changes to its settlement agreement with ANC6E. Specifically, it wanted the ANC to
  • remove restrictions on opening hours
  • allow the Beer Garden to close later (i.e., have weekend hours) on the Sunday evenings of three-day weekends and the days before holidays like Fourth of July
  • allow music to be played outside
Of these, ANC6E voted to endorse the first two suggested changes only. (Outside music was vetoed.) The endorsed changes will now go D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board for final approval. 

The motion to endorse the first two changes was made by ANC6E Chair Alexander Padro (Commissioner for district 01). Dacha Beer Garden is in his ANC district. The local civic association had no objections, according to Padro.

"The neighbors had absolutely no objections," Padro also said.

But some Commissioners were not so enthusiastic. If restrictions on opening hours were completely removed, Dacha Beer Garden would legally be allowed to start serving alcohol at 7am. A few Commissioners worried there would be early-morning drinking.

Dmitri Chekaldin, co-owner of the Dacha Beer Garden, told the ANC repeatedly he had no intention of serving liquor so early.

"We're not going to open the beer garden before noon," he said. "We're going to open in the afternoon."

So why, he was asked, was he seeking permission to open at 7am?

Chekaldin explained his eventual plan to build a structure on the site. (The beer garden is currently open to the elements.) Once the structure is built, the plan is to open at 7 and sell coffee in the morning, while continuing to operate as liquor-serving establishment in the afternoons and evenings. Chekaldin did not want to have to come back again to seek separate permission to open at 7am.

Some Commissioners were not convinced of the wisdom of granting 7am opening right away. In the end, there was a roll call vote. The motion to endorse Dacha Beer Garden's request for longer hours passed by a vote of 4 - 2.

Commissioners voting to support the request: Padro, Kevin Chapple (district 02), Marge Maceda (05), and Alfreda Judd (07).

Commissioners voting against: Frank Wiggins (03) and Rachelle Nigro (04)

Liquor-serving establishments often enter into settlement agreements with local ANCs and other parties as a condition of their liquor license. These agreements often dictate the hours an establishment can stay open, use of public space like sidewalks, method and frequency of vermin control, operation of valet parking, and other details of licensee operation that can have an impact on the neighborhood.

(Photo credit:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Campaign to Improve Disabled Access to Restaurants Starts at ANC2F

Eliot Imse, Director of Policy and Communications at the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR), kicked off a new campaign in Logan Circle on March 26 to improve access by the disabled to restaurants. Imse told a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle his office had released, that same day, a guidebook for restaurants who wish to increase access for the disabled. The OHR will also ask restaurants to take a pledge to be "accessibility friendly".

Imse told the Community Development Committee (CDC) of ANC2F the new campaign as a "smile-friendly, business-friendly approach". He said that 11 percent, or about 70,000, of D.C. residents have some kind of disability. Seventy-five percent of people with disabilities eat out at least once a week. He also cited a statistic which said that people with disabilities spend over $35 billion in restaurants yearly (a statistic that appears to come from this 2003 study).

The guide (available here) contains a list of best practices for restaurants and a questionnaire to determine an establishment's level of accessibility-friendliness. It was developed with assistance for D.C.'s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.

Imse said his office would encourage restaurant owners to support the campaign by putting up an OHR-produced sticker in their windows. It says: "We pledge to be Accessibility Friendly".

A wheelchair-bound woman spoke up at the meeting to say the level of handicapped accessibility for restaurants on nearby 14th Street NW was not adequate. Restaurants often had one or more steps up into the establishment, which effectively prevented people in wheelchairs from entering.

Only three restaurants on 14th Street are handicapped accessible, she said. It was not clear to what stretch of 14th Street this remark applied.

Imse said, if the woman wished to improve accessibility on 14th Street, D.C.'s Office of Disability Rights (ODR) "is a good first stop".

After the meeting, I made a completely unscientific study of an area of popular restaurants on 14th Street. Here's what I found:

Rice Restaurant (1608 14th Street) has a step up - not wheelchair friendly.

Pearl Dive (1612 14th Street) also had a step up from the sidewalk.

The soon-to-open Red Light Dessert Bar (1401 R Street) has two steps up from its patio.
Barcelona (1622 14th Street) seems to be more accessibility-friendly.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1450 V Street (Portner Place): "We Don't Want to Be near Partygoers"

The entire board of the tenants' association of Portner Place (1450 V Street NW) turned out at the March 25 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street. They were there to tell the ANC the design of the proposed development was OK with them.

"We want to be on V Street," the President of the Portner Place tenants' association said. "We don't want to be near partygoers."

An image from the February meeting
Portner Place is now a group of garden apartments next to the Reeves Center (14th and U Street), on a piece of land that stretches from U to V Street. The proposal is to raze the garden apartments, and in its place build two separate high-rise buildings. Facing V Street would be 96 units of affordable housing. Facing U Street would be 270 units of "market rate" (i.e., much more expensive) housing. The buildings would share a common back wall but not a common entrance.

This design led a member of ANC1B's Design Review Committee to say the project "implied segregation" -- see SALM blog post of March 3.

But this is what the residents want

"Stop telling us what we are," a Portner Place tenants' association Board member said. "Let us tell you."

The five women of the tenants' association board made very clear that separate buildings was the design they wanted.

"We're happy with the amenities and support the massing," one said.

Board members said it was now very difficult to maintain security on Portner Place, and they looked forward to living in a building that was more secure.

"Portner Place is the building we deserve," a Board member said. "We've waited such a long time."

Presenting again

A team from Somerset Development Company, led by Principal Nancy L. Hooff, made an abbreviated presentation to the ANC. It was the second time this month Hooff and the team presented. The first presentation was at ANC1B's meeting of March 6, but the ANC could not vote on the matter because not enough Commissioners were present to establish a quorum -- see SALM blog post of March 10. ANC Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09) asked for an abbreviated presentation for the benefit of commissioners who had not attended the earlier meeting.

Commissioner Juan Lopez (district 07) asked where the residents will go during the construction of the high-rise.

"We own a lot of properties," Hooff said. "The idea is to find one or two buildings. We will master lease 47 units somewhere."

They need an endorsement now

Somerset Development was asking for ANC1B's endorsement before they pitched the project to D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The hearing at HPRB was scheduled for less than 48 hours after the ANC meeting. This meant the ANC would have to produce a document of support at faster-than-normal speed.

"We'd really appreciate something by tomorrow," Hooff said.

The ANC voted unanimously to endorse the concept and massing of the project.

"I hope we allayed your fears," Hooff said.

The blog District Source has reported on Somerset Development's subsequent appearance before the HPRB. The reception was generally favorable.

See the HPRB staff report on Portner Place here.