City Paper Widget

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

10th and O Streets: "Based on Past Experience, We Don't Have Confidence that We Will Like Your Final Product"

A tidy vacant lot at the northwest corner of 10th and O Streets NW will change from an unofficial dog park to three-story townhouse, if plans by Suzane Reatig Architecture are made reality.

Coming soon: one place fewer to walk the dog
However, a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle said it will "recommend to not recommend approval" of the planned project at 1001 O Street because it is "not consistent with historic preservation guidelines, scaling and massing of elements". ANC2F's Community Development Committee (CDC) passed a motion against the plans as presented at its last meeting on February 25.

Megan Mitchell of Suzane Reatig Architecture led the team that made the presentation to the committee. 

"A significant amount of green will remain on the corner," Mitchell said.

She also said the proposed building would have two "likely to be" condo units with entrances at the front of the building. It will have two parking spaces -- only one is required. The plan is for the building to be "slightly under 40 feet maximum" -- taller than neighboring buildings but still not tall enough to trigger the need for zoning relief.

Mitchell said that corner buildings in DC are often taller than mid-block buildings.

Artists' conceptions of the building show a pink building with windows that wrapped around the front corner. Members of the committee asked if this color was what the finished product would actually look like. The presenter said no, that this color was used in the illustration to make the building stand out against its neighbors. Were there illustrations that would show how the finished building would look? No, a lot of those details hadn't been decided.

"Our understanding is that we don't have to present exact color and materials," a member of the team said. "We change things, we adjust things."

The architects would work with DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) on the details, they explained.

This did not match up with the committee's idea of its own responsibilities, which included approving the materials. Members of the committee asked what materials the presenters were thinking of. A member of the team said ironspot bricks. See an example of a house fronted with ironspot bricks here.

"The committee needs to get guarantees that what is presented is what is built," one member said.

The committee also objected to what appeared, on the artist's conceptions, as an exterior staircase to the second floor, facing 10th Street, which would be on public space, meaning, over the sidewalk.

The architects said they were planning a building in a more modern style, as opposed to something that matched or recalled the styles of the older buildings nearby. The committee wasn't enthusiastic. A member of the team asked the committee if they hadn't ever, when in Europe, been in an old section of a city, and come upon "a little jewel, a little glass box" and been impressed with how beautiful it was? This line of argument failed to win over the committee.

Instead, the committee suggested the design should "pull something in from around it" -- meaning, it should resemble other buildings in the neighborhood.

Members of the committee asked the presenters if they had looked at the ANC's guidelines for presenters, which are posted online. The presenters had not.

"Every single time that firm presents there's confusion about the process," a committee member said after the architecture firm had left.

1232- 1234 10th Street (photo credit: BadWolfDC)
Community members also came to the meeting and cited previous works in Shaw by the same firm with disapproval. See 2012 blog posts about their work at 926 N Street on the blogs Preserving DC Stables and DCmud, and a 2014 post about their work on 1232-1234 10th Street (see photo) on the blog BadWolfDC.

"Based on past experience, we don't have confidence that we will like your final product," a committee member told the presenters.

This item is on the agenda for consideration by the full ANC at its the regular monthly meeting, scheduled for tomorrow, April 1, at 7pm, at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle).

Monday, March 30, 2015

Is Blagden Alley a Street?

The proprietor of the Lost & Found bar (1240 9th Street NW) came to a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle on March 25 to propose an outdoor patio of four tables and 16 seats. The proposed outdoor patio would be in Blagden Alley out behind the building where the bar is located. As proposed, it would take of seven feet of space in the alley and close at 10pm. It would be located in a corner of the alley, near where the alley dead-ends.

Chairs and tables here an impediment?
The discussion at the meeting is only preliminary -- no official application to use the public space has yet been made, nor has Lost & Found applied for the necessary revision to its liquor license that would enable outdoor service.

Members of ANC2F's Community Development Committee (CDC) were reluctant to encourage the application. The main sticking point objection seemed to be that Blagden Alley was a "street right of way" -- also known as a street. Vehicles would have the right to pass, make deliveries, etc., so you could not put tables in Blagden Alley any more than you could put tables in 14th Street.

"I'd want a clarification that you can use that land," said one committee member, directing Lost & Found's proprietor to get an opinion from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which has authority over public space use issues.

One woman, a resident of the 1200 block of 10th Street, told the committee she supported the public space application because the area would be safer if more businesses were open and operating in the evening.

"It would be a real opportunity to make a safe space on the street," she said.

Another person, whose property abuts Blagden Alley, was against the use of alley space for safety reason.

"The determining factor should be: Can you get a fire truck down there?" the property owner said.

The committee directed the proprietor to get a written opinion from DDOT on its right-of-way policies and also to consult the Blagden Alley Naylor Court Association before moving forward with the application.

Friday, March 27, 2015

"Everybody That Goes to Popeye's Must Be Drunk"

When the Popeye's Fried Chicken on 14th Street NW between N Street and Rhode Island Avenue closed recently, some were sad. It was inexpensive, and also had a drive-up window on the neighboring alley.

The leaders of Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church (1306 Vermont Street) were not so
sad. For decades, the back wall of the church has been victimized by drivers in the alley. Many, the church management thinks, might have been customers of Popeye's with the late-night munchies.

How it was (Google Street View)
"We always said, 'Everybody that goes to Popeye's must be drunk'," a representative of Mt. Olivet's building committee told a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle on March 25.

Why were the church and the Community Development Committee (CDC) discussing the sobriety of the drivers emerging from a now-closed business? Because now Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church must spend $100,000 to repair and repoint the rear wall of the church.

It is using $50,000 of its own money on the job, and asking the DC Preservation League for a matching $50,000 grant. A representative of Mt. Olivet appeared before the CDC to request a letter of support.

The church yesterday
The church will be repointing and repairing the whole length of the wall, but it is not clear yet on how high the labor-intensive repairs can go -- assuming the church gets the $100,000 it wants.

"Mt. Olivet has always been a valued member of the community," said a CDC member.

The committee unanimously passed a motion to send a letter of "unqualified support of the matching grant" to the DC Preservation League. The matter will now move to the full ANC for approval, where it will probably meet with little opposition or discussion.

Once repaired, the wall may not be subject to the same level of wear-and-tear, as the proposed new mixed-use building for the location will fill in the alley, as wall as replace the two neighboring buildings. 

See the agenda of the next meeting of ANC2F here. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 1, at 7pm, at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle).

Popeye's will soon open a more upscale version of the franchise across 14th Street from its former location.

See a short video explaining repointing brick walls here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Owner Pledges Cat Cafe Will Not Attract Rodents

On March 24, DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) voted unanimously to support a request for zoning relief by Crumbs & Whiskers (3211 O Street NW), which will become the area's first "cat cafe". Crumbs & Whiskers anticipates an opening this summer, according to its website.

Future site of Crumbs & Whiskers
"What a unique situation!" BZA Chair Lloyd Jordan said at the meeting.

"I'm not a cat person per se," Jordan said. "But I think this is really innovative to me."

The application was unusual in several ways. Beau Archer of the Washington Humane Society wrote a letter and also appeared in person before the BZA to support the project. Two electronic petitions in support with 86 signatures total were submitted. It was also perhaps the first time the BZA received a Powerpoint presentation where one of the bullet points was "Hairballs".

The Powerpoint presentation also detailed the steps the owner would take with trash and waste disposal so that the cafe would not attract rodents and other vermin.

The BZA supported the application on the stipulation that the cafe have not more than 20 cats at any one time, a point the owner Kanchan Singh was clearly comfortable with. The 20-cat maximum was a stipulation in the resolution of support for the cat cafe passed by Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2E/Burleith-Georgetown. The establishment needs zoning relief because it is officially classified as "animal boarding use" since the cats will be there overnight.

The atmosphere of Singh's appearance before the board was very cordial. No one on the board or in the audience objected to the request. The hearing took eight minutes to complete.

After approving the application, Jordan asked Singh how much she was going to charge patrons at the door to enter. Singh said the cover charge hadn't been decided yet. Then he asked what type of beverages would be served. This had also not been decided.

"So, I pay $20 to play with the cats and drink? OK, that works," Jordan said.

The documents related to the case, along with a streaming video of Singh's appearance before the BZA, can be seen by accessing DC's Interactive Zoning Information System and putting case 18954 into the search bar.

In the last three days, articles about Crumbs & Whiskers have appeared on the blogs Washington DC Eater and DCist, plus on the website of WNEW news radio.

Crumbs & Whiskers also has a Facebook page.

(photo credit: from BZA files)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Two Questions about Outdoor Seating for All Souls Bar

CORRECTION: Someone wrote to me that the "neighbor" mentioned below does not actually live in the neighborhood. Whenever he is referred to as "neighbor" in the text below, I changed it to "man". Apologies for the error.

David Batista, owner/operator of All Souls Bar (725 T Street NW), with his attorney Andrew Klein of Veritas Law Firm, appeared at last meeting of the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street on March 18. They wanted to talk about the details of proposed outdoor seating at the corner of T and 8th Streets. They had artist's renderings already on set up on easels, ready to show the committee. But the papers covering the drawings were never removed, and the committee never saw them, as neighbors once again were there to object.

All Souls Bar (grey building left) wants to serve here
"Not much has changed since the last meeting," said committee chair Nick
Baumann. The only development, Baumann said, was that he had received about eight emails total on the topic -- some for, some against.

All Souls Bar has not officially applied to DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) for permission to serve outdoors. The ANC has taken on the task of trying to negotiate between the parties.

ANC1B Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09) urged all parties to try to arrive at a durable solution.

"Everybody wants a patio, a roof deck, a pop up, a pop out, a shoot out," Turner said in exasperation. Turner told both sides the ANC wanted "something we're not going to get a noise complaint about later".

The discussions at the meeting generated two questions...

Was the decision to allow the bar to open illegal?

"ABRA put a bar there even though there is a law against it," said one of the neighbors man about a 2012 decision (13-page .pdf here) that allowed All Souls to open.

Attorney Klein said: "I would suggest that he [the neighbor man] familiarize himself with the law." Klein sarcastically referred to this neighbor man as "the gentleman from Montgomery County".

The law the neighbor man refers to is a DC law forbidding issuance of liquor licenses to establishments within 400 feet of a school -- in this case, the Cleveland Elementary School (1825 18th Street), which is across T Street.

The neighbor man would be wise to take the attorney's advice about familiarity with the law. As this Greater Greater Washington blog post explains, ABRA found the prohibition against a liquor licensee within 400 feet of a public school did not apply in this case, since there was already another licensee (an Ethiopian market/restaurant on 7th Street) operating within 400 feet. This stipulation is clearly laid out in the law -- see DC Code §25-314(b) here.

The neighbor man could, perhaps more accurately, state that enforcement of the spirit of the law -- to protect schoolchildren from seeing and interacting with drunk patrons -- had been violated over a technicality. The Ethopian market/restaurant on 7th Street is around the corner and out of sight of the school, therefore drinking there not a matter of immediate concern to parents. The tavern, on the other hand, is across the street, clearly visible from the school.

However, this argument also is unlikely to gain traction in this case for two reasons: (1) All Souls is committed to operating only outside of school hours, and (2) ABRA's 2012 decision clearly states it is not in the business of shielding children's eyes from seeing establishments where liquor is served.

What's the law on outdoor service near schools?

Rule 23-302.5 of DC Municipal Regulation (available for download here) says
No alcoholic beverage shall be sold or served by a licensee upon any portion of any premises which fronts upon, abuts, adjoins, or is opposite to the premises of any of the institutions or recreation areas mentioned in this section unless that portion of the premises where alcoholic beverages are served is within a building; provided, that the restriction of service within a building is not applicable to Class C or D licensees on non-school days, weekends, and after 6:00 p.m. on weekdays, allowing alcohol products to be served on licensed outdoor patios which are part of the licensee's premises.
All Souls Bar is a class C licensee, so service after 6pm school days, and longer hours on other days, is possible, according to the regulations. So neighbors of the bar will probably make a case for denying outdoor service on the basis of "peace, order and quiet" -- this being the most frequently used language when neighbors oppose a liquor license.

All Souls Bar is located in ANC1B district 01 -- Brian Footer is the Commissioner. It is also borders on district 02 -- Ellen Nedrow Sullivan is the Commissioner. These two will have the task of trying to bring the sides together. Sullivan is on the liquor licensing affairs committee and said she was planning to start meetings with a protesting neighbor in the week following the meeting.

No vote was taken on any aspect of this proposal at the March 18 meeting.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Long-delayed Dog Daycare at Florida and 14th Moves Forward

A long struggle to open a dog daycare facility on the ground floor of the View 14 apartment building (2303 14th Street NW, at the corner of Florida Avenue) appears headed toward a successful conclusion. The aspiring proprietors had to engage in a multi-year struggle to change DC zoning. In addition, they also had a conflict over the name of the new establishment, which was very similar to a local pet care organization of long standing.

From Doozy Dog's submission to DC zoning authorities
The establishment has changed its name -- it will now be called "Doozy Dog". This name was arrived at after much research, the management team told a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street. The research could uncover no establishment with this similar name, not only here in the DC area, but indeed anywhere in the US, a team from Doozy Dog told ANC1B's Zoning, Preservation and Development Committee on March 16.

Doozy Dog is the first branch east of the Mississippi for a Los Angeles-based chain of dog daycare facilities known elsewhere as Citydog! Club. When it first appeared before a committee of ANC1B over a year ago asking for zoning relief -- see SALM blog post of December 18, 2013 -- it used this name. Shortly afterward, a local business called City Dogs Daycare, Dupont Circle-based and open since 1999, objected to the new establishment's name -- see SALM blog post of January 6, 2014. The dispute seemed to lead to the decision to change the name of the local branch of the chain.

In addition to changing the name, the proprietors and their attorneys were involved in a successful effort to change DC zoning requirements regarding pet boarding, grooming, and care businesses. As a result, it is no longer required that such an establishment be at least 25 feet from a residence. Another revision to zoning regulations now allows pet care establishments to open in the basement of a mixed-use buildings as a "matter-of-right", that is, without needing any zoning relief.

In addition, the former requirement that such an establishment be in a "sound-proof building" was relaxed -- instead, the establishment must show it will produce no "noise objectionable to residential units" in the same building or nearby buildings. A similar relaxation of standards was made in regard to odor.

With all these problems solved, Doozy Dog is now ready to take the final steps. These involve obtaining an officially-blessed revision of a 2006 Planned Unit Development (PUD) agreement that allowed the View 14 building to be built in the first place. This revision will allow Doozy Dog to open without seeking further zoning relief.

Representatives of Doozy Dog allowed that applying for a revision of a PUD so long after the initial agreement was "unusual".

The ANC committee heard the case for the planned revision of the PUD. The proprietors and their attorney reviewed some details of their planned operation, including disposal of animal waste. Parking was also discussed -- there will be a 15-minute drop-off zone. No other parking mitigation is planned. The proprietors expected most of their customers would come on foot.

The committee voted unanimously to endorse the proposed revision to the PUD. The committee's recommendation will go the full ANC for approval. It will probably be on the agenda of the next scheduled meeting of the full ANC on April 2. The meeting will be at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets) and is scheduled to start at 6:30pm -- 30 minutes earlier than usual.

A hearing before DC zoning authorities on this case is scheduled for April 20. There was no mention at the meeting of when Doozy Dog was planning to open.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tropicalia Assault Case Report: No Blame on Club

The owner of the dance club Tropicalia (2001 14th Street NW) gave a freshly-minted official report to a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street on March 18. This report, the owner said, exonerated his club of any wrong-doing concerning two alleged cases of assault by club bouncers against women customers -- see SALM blog post of January 22.

Tropicalia is in the basement of this building at 14th and U
Jesse Cornelius, Public Affairs Specialist at DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), said in an email the report (see copy here) states that ABRA "took the matter under consideration and decided to take no further action."

The chair of the liquor-licensing affairs committee, Nick Baumann, began the discussion as a part of the committee's regularly-scheduled committee meeting. Baumann had invited both the customers and the club ownership to the meeting to discuss the incident, and both sides were present.

"It's not our role to rule on the facts," Baumann said.

Baumann then said ABRA had not yet ruled on the case. It was at that moment that Tropicalia owner Amanollah Ayoubi first informed the committee of the ABRA report's existence. Ayoubi said the report had been issued that day and had "dismissed the case". He gave the committee a copy of the report.

Ayoubi was given the floor and disputed much of the customers' version of events as presented to the committee in January. The owner's version of events largely agrees with that presented in the ABRA report. For example, one customer stated at the January committee meeting she had been assaulted by the nightclub bouncer. However, the report says the only assault that occurred at that time was when the woman struck the bouncer after refusing to leave.

The owner also said there was no video of the incident. The club keeps surveillance camera video for two weeks. They were notified by ABRA of the investigation 17 days after the incident took place, the owner said.

The owner also accused the customers of waging an unfair campaign against the club on social media.

ANC Commissioner John Green (district 12 -- where Tropicalia is located) asked if the bouncer involved in the incident was still working at Tropicalia.

Another member of the management team said the bouncer involved in the incident had left -- "for unrelated reasons".

The customers who had made the allegations and their allies sat silently while the owner talked to the committee. When he was finished, Baumann asked if they wished to say anything. One of them took up his offer.

"The reason I came before this body was to give you a heads up," she said.

She said she had been "attacked and injured" at the club and a report had been "filed with the prosecutor". However, she said, she understood the owner's perspective.

"I want to prevent that from happening again," she said.

Barring further developments, this seems to be the end of the case. The committee did not take any action or any vote on this matter at the meeting.

(Photo credit: Google Street View)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Problem Liquor Stores at 14th and U and in Columbia Heights Seek Liquor License Renewal

This is the second of two articles published today about renewals of liquor store licenses -- more specifically, about the renewals that the liquor licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street discussed at its March 18 meeting. All DC liquor stores have until the end of March to file applications to renew their Class A liquor licenses.

Many of the applications seemed routine and generated little or no discussion. The two cases below were exceptions.

Bestway Liquors

The owner of Bestway Liquors (2011 14th Street) attended the meeting and reported that his mandatory placard about the renewal application has been up in the window of his store for about a week. Commissioner John Green (district 12 -- also the location of Bestway Liquors) reported "positive and negative remarks" via email about the store. He read the emails to the meeting about the store, which is located on the east side of 14th Street just north of U Street. Some emails said the store "attracts unsavory people", that there were "people loitering", and "drunks passed out" in front of the store.

Bestway Liquors and placard on March 19
The owner of the store said he tried to do everything possible to limit people from congregating in front of his store, but the space was after all a public sidewalk as well as a bus stop. He said it was particularly difficult to get people to clear out of the bus stop, which had a bench. Police had told him not to shoo people away from the store -- he should call the police, because anything on the sidewalk was police responsibility.

The owner and his attorney showed the ANC several "certificates of compliance", which is what liquor stores get when DC authorities attempt a "sting" to get the store to sell liquor to underage or obviously drunk patrons, and the store (complying with the law) refuses to do so. The owner also showed several "barring notices" -- official documents that allow an owner to refuse to sell to specific individuals who have been a problem. On some occasions, the owner says he observes, on the store's security cameras, barred individuals sitting at the bus stop persuading others to buy liquor on their behalf. When the owner sees this, he said, he refuses the sale.

The owner also said he does not sell malt liquor or "singles".

A police officer at the committee meeting said the MPD had a new additional police officer assigned to that stretch of U Street and hoped the officer would reduce the problems in front of Bestway Liquors.

The committee voted to take no action. If there are no official complaints to DC's liquor-licensing authorities, the store will probably have its license renewed.

Fairmont Liquors

"It draws a huge crowd of Howard students," said one committee member of Fairmont Liquors (2633 Sherman Avenue).

"They come in six, seven, ten at a time," the owner of Fairmont Liquors told the committee.

(Google Street View)
The committee noted three cases of selling liquor to minors. In November 2014, Fairmont Liquors was fined $8000 and ordered closed for 15 days for selling to underaged individuals who were probably Howard students -- see SALM blog post of December 9, 2014.

"The problem is a fake ID," the owner said. "They [meaning, the ID cards] come from many states, not just Virginia, Maryland, but Alaska, many states."

The owner told the committee he had gotten a booklet from DC's liquor-licensing authorities to help him distinguish genuine out-of-state IDs from not-so-genuine.

"We need to take a serious look at the record," said ANC1B Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 08). Turner noted there were occasions when there was no ID check.

"Is that a good community neighborhood establishment?" Turner said.

During the discussion it was also noted there had been a homicide at the liquor store sometime during the last three years. However, the homicide was unconnected with the store, except for the fact that it took place there, and no one suggested the owner was in any way culpable.

A member of the committee asked if the establishment had security camera. The owner said he had one inside camera and was planning four cameras outside.

The liquor license renewal application for Fairmont Liquors has not started its placarding period yet, so there was no vote at the meeting. The committee expects to take up the case at its next meeting. The owner was advised to prepare as much as possible in order to make a strong case for renewal when he comes before the committee.

Many other liquor stores in the area between U Street and Columbia Heights are coming up for renewal -- see the bottom of today's other post for a list.

Recently-robbed LeDroit Market Gets Community Help, Committee Endorsement

LeDroit Market (1901 14th Street NW) is getting support from its neighbors after it was robbed. It also easily got endorsement for a regularly-scheduled renewal of its liquor license at a March 18 meeting of a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street.

(Google Street View)
Liquor licenses come up for renewal every three years, timed so that each year a different class of license comes up for renewal. This year, it's "class A" liquor licenses -- that is, the licenses that allow liquor stores to operate -- and their application for license renewal must be filed before the end of March.

LeDroit Market seemed to be the first local establishment to file for renewal. At the meeting, Commissioner Brian Footer (district 01 -- also the location of LeDroit Market) told the committee the store had been "amazing" and an "absolute model" of an excellent community business, soliciting neighborhood opinion from the get-go.

The committee voted unanimously to endorse the application of LeDroit Market to renew its liquor license. The application will move next to the full ANC, which is scheduled to meet on Thursday, April 2, at 7pm, at a location to be determined.

Footer also reported LeDroit Market was robbed last weekend. A member of the MPD told the committee the robbers took about $400, but the market had "a good surveillance camera".

Footer told the ANC that LeDroit Park residents were organizing an event for next Wednesday, March 25, between 7 and 9pm. Local residents will make a special effort to go to the store and purchase items at that time in order to show support. The next day, a report of the same upcoming event appeared on the blog Left for LeDroit.

In addition to LeDroit Market, The ANC1B's liquor licensing affairs committee had a list of local liquor stores needing license renewals in its jurisdiction, which runs from U Street up to Columbia Heights and from 15th Street to Georgia Avenue.

Two other liquor stores, Bestway Liquors (2011 14th Street) and Fairmont Liquors (2633 Sherman Avenue) generated some discussion, which is the subject of a separate SALM post today.

A longer list of local liquor stores generated little or no discussion at the meeting, in part because no one from the public showed up to complain, and in part because they haven't completed their paperwork. These establishments include:
  • Dove House Liquors (1905 9th Street)
  • Florida Liquors (2222 14th Street)
  • Gallagher & Graham (1939 12th Street)
  • Harvard Liquors (2901 Sherman Avenue)
  • Joe Caplan Liquors (1913 7th Street)
  • Serv-u-liquors (1935 9th Street)
These will all probably be considered at next month's meeting after they officially apply for renewal of their license. The liquor licensing affairs committee normally meets on the third Wednesday of every month at the Thurgood Marshall Center (1816 12th Street) at 7pm -- next month, that will be April 15th. If you want to see a local liquor store change their behavior, this is an excellent opportunity to try to make it happen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

27 New "Leaning Toward Condos" at 14th and U

Developers The Goldstar Group and Bonstra|Haresign Architects has unveiled a proposed design for a new nine-story mixed-used building at 1355/1357 U Street NW, a stone's throw from 14th Street. A committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street heard a preliminary presentation about the building on March 16. The development has not yet applied for historic preservation review or zoning relief -- the briefing was purely informational.

How the building (top left) might look from the Reeves Center
ANC1B's Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee heard Eric May of The Goldstar Group and Rob McClennan of Bonstra|Haresign tell of their September 2014 purchase of the property and the "somewhat arduous process" of meeting three times each with DC's historic preservation and zoning authorities since then. Any development on the property will require review by DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) because it is located in the U Street Historic District.


The presenters have not officially applied at any government agency yet, but they told the committee they will probably apply for zoning relief for parking. The current design of the property provides three parking spaces, located in the rear of the building. Zoning would require nine. The presenters said the shape of the long, narrow lot would make an underground garage with a ramp a near-impossibility.

ANC1B chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 08) told the presenters the ANC would likely push for building to provide at least nine spaces as required. Turner is not on the ZPD Committee but attended the meeting.

The presenters' calculation of nine spaces was built on the assumption they would end up with 27 new residential units in the new building. At another moment, the presenters said they expected the finished building to have 25 - 30 residential units, and they were "leaning towards condos" as opposed to rental units.


The proposed designs would preserve the existing buildings facing U Street to a depth of 34 foot from the sidewalk, which is their depth as originally constructed. Behind these original structures, there are newer buildings. These would be demolished so the new mixed-use building could be built on the land.

The original buildings facing U Street would be then integrated with brand-new construction to the rear to form one continuous space of 3000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

The presenters said they were considering both office and residential space for the second floor, extending from the old building facing U Street to the rear of the lot in the same manner as the ground floor. If they went with office space, the presenters said, they might have 4600 square feet of office space.

Starting on the third floor, the building facade would be set back 34 feet from U Street for a planned additional six stories of residential space, plus a "mechanical penthouse" (containing air conditioning units, elevator machinery, etc.).

The projected height of the building is 100 feet, which is still not as tall as a neighboring apartment building, The Ellington.

Affordable Housing

The development would also be subject to DC regulations about "inclusionary zoning", also known as affordable housing. The law would require eight percent of the total units -- perhaps two or three units, depending on how many total units the development had -- be set aside for housing available at less than market rates. These units would be considered affordable by families earning 80% of DC Metropolitan Area Median Income (AMI) -- about $70,000 for a family of four. In 2013, two-bedroom condos included in the inclusionary zoning program sold for about $200,000/year average, according to a DC government report here.

Turner said the ANC would push on inclusionary zoning and urged the developer to go beyond the minimum requirement and consider including some units affordable at less than 80% AMI.

One committee member said units at 60% AMI would offer "real benefit" to the community.

More generally, the presenters said they were considering putting four units on each floor -- two one-bedroom, two two-bedroom -- except for the top floor, which would have only two units total.

Other details

The presenters said they had talked to the neighboring Hamiltonian Gallery. The gallery was "fully supportive". The developers will offer compensation to the gallery for disruption that will occur construction. About a neighboring liquor store, the presenters said it had been unresponsive and "we cannot get past go."

Given the building's location, committee members asked the presenters to consider materials than absorb, rather than reflect, sound -- meaning, for example, less use of glass.

The presenters said they had not gotten to the point where they had settled on the details of the design (e.g., color and materials) but "we'd like to go very contemporary".

The property is the former location of the nightclubs Republic Gardens and State of the Union.

Goldstar and Bonstra|Haresign told the ANC they had presented the new building designs to the U Street Neighborhood Association the previous week -- see March 13 article from the blog Urban Turf.

(photo credit: detail from documents submitted to the ZPD Committee)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Shaw Restaurant Wants Public Space, ANC Wants Security Cameras

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw endorsed a request for 50 seats of sidewalk seating for the Shaw branch of Beau Thai restaurant (550 7th Street NW, at the corner of P Street) at its regular monthly meeting on March 2. However, it included the stipulation that Beau Thai should install outdoor security cameras -- apparently not part of Beau Thai's plan or request.

Interior of Beau Thai Shaw (photo credit below)
Andrew Klein of Veritas Law Firm represented Beau Thai. He told ANC6E the request was for 750 square feet of unfenced sidewalk space with umbrellas. It is located on the P Street side of the mixed-use building where Beau Thai is located, between 7th Street and an alley. The space will close at 11am Sunday to Thursday evenings and midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Tables will be brought inside or secured once outdoor seating hours have passed.

The normal DC requirement for urban sidewalks is a ten-foot gap for pedestrians to pass between the edge of sidewalk space and the nearest obstruction -- in this case, a sidewalk tree box. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has the discretion to reduce it to as much as six feet.

In this case, Klein said: "We'll be asking them to reduce it to nine."

Klein told the ANC they had already received the necessary separate permission from DC's liquor licensing authorities to serve alcohol outdoors.

A Commissioner brought up the possibility of installing outdoor security camera, sighting the May 2013 case of a man to robbed two people sitting at the sidewalk patio of Pizzoli's Pizzeria (1418 12th Street NW) in Logan Circle. The establishments outdoor security camera caught the robbery, which led to the arrest and convicting of the hold-up man -- see SALM blog post of September 23, 2013.

"I'm sure [the owner] will consider it," Klein said.

The Commissioner said such camera were not expensive.

"Yes, they're only like about $200 apiece," said ANC6E chair Marge Maceda (Commissioner for district 05).

Commissioner Alexander Padro (district 01) made the motion to endorse the outdoor space request with the provision that security cameras be installed. The motion was approved unanimously, with two abstentions.

Beau Thai Shaw is in Padro's ANC district.

The initial liquor license for the Shaw branch of Beau Thai was the subject of an SALM blog post of September 18, 2014.

(Photo credit: the blog BadWolfDC. Used by permission.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Darnell's Signs Agreement with U Street ANC, Protests Dismissed

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) 1B/U Street has signed a settlement agreement with Darnell's Bar (944 Florida Avenue NW), which will attempt to limit the noise coming from the establishment. As a result, the ANC withdrew its protest of Darnell's liquor license renewal as of March 11th, the date the agreement was officially recognized by DC's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABRA).

Image of Darnell's from Google Street View
Protests by the ANC and other groups had threatened to close the establishment -- see SALM blog posts of October 22 and December 10, 2014.

Beside the ANC, three other parties were protesting the renewal. Two of these three protests were also dismissed on March 11th. One of the dismissed protest was that of a group of five or more neighbors. Any protest by a group of five or more is automatically dismissed when an agreement between the ANC and the establishment is signed, as set forth in Section 25-609 of DC Code.

The second dismissed protest was that of an abutting neighbor, who lives above the establishment. This neighbor's protest was dismissed because she failed to attend an ABRA hearing on February 18. Information gathered from an ABRA official transcript of the hearing indicates that the neighbor had gone "way down in Virginia" to visit family during the long Presidents' Day weekend immediately previous, and then was unable to return to DC due to a February 17 snowstorm that brought the area to a halt, closing schools and the federal government.

The third protesting party attended the hearing. He told ABRA about the upstairs neighbor's inability to make it back to the city, but said he had talked to the upstairs neighbor. She wished to remain a party to the protest.

He was asked if he had anything in writing that stated this.

"I couldn't get anything in writing. She left before the snow come," he replied.

He was asked if he had any email that stated this. He didn't.

"I'm not computer literate anyway and neither is she," he said.

According to the same transcript, the upstairs neighbor's protest was then dismissed. The neighbor who attended the hearing was advised that an appeal of the decision was possible if filed within 10 days of receiving notification. However, a March 11 ABRA document (page seven of an 18-page .pdf here) says that the neighbor's request for a reinstatement was unanimously denied. No reason for the denial was given.

On the same day, the protest of the upstairs neighbor was officially dismissed. See the order dismissing the protest here.

One protesting party remains -- a second abutting neighbor. This neighbor will get to make a case against Darnell's at the ABRA protest hearing, scheduled for April 8 at 1:30pm at ABRA offices at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

The text of the settlement agreement between ANC1B and Darnell's can be seen as on the last page of the order dismissing the protest of the group of five or more here.

ANC1B voted to enter the settlement agreement with Darnell's at its regular monthly meeting in January -- see SALM blog post of January 12.

ANC1B Commissioner Resigns, Special Election to Be Held if Necessary

At its regular monthly meeting on March 10, James Turner, Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street, announced that Kevin Cain, Commissioner for district 04, had resigned that day. No reason for the resignation was given. Turner further announced the timeline for filling the seat.

The opening will be advertised in the DC Register on March 20. Blank petitions for the open Commission position will be available at the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) starting March 23. Candidates must gather at least 25 registered voters who live in the ANC district. Deadline for filing the petitions will be April 13. There will be a three-day "challenge period" for signatures on the petition. The qualifying candidates will be announced on April 22.

If there is only one qualifying candidate, DCBOEE will declare the position filled. If there is more than one candidate, a special election will be held of the sidelines of the next ANC1B meeting after the challenge period ends. ANC1B normally meets on the first Thursday of the month, so the election might take place on Thursday, May 7. ANC1B normally meets at 7pm. The location of the May meeting has not yet been announced.

According to DCBOEE information here, candidates must be a registered voter in the ANC district they wish to represent, and they must have lived in that ANC district for at least sixty days prior to the day the nominating petition is filed.

District 04 is located just north of the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets NW), north of V street, west of 15th, east of 12th -- see map above.

Monday, March 16, 2015

St. Thomas Parish Church Gets Conditional Endorsement from Dupont ANC

"That was a little more civil than I've become accustomed to," said a supporter of St. Thomas Parish Episcopal Church (1772 Church Street NW) on the way out of the last regularly monthly meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle on March 11.

Proposed church design as seen from across 18th Street
The ANC had just passed a conditional endorsement of a design for both a proposed new church at the corner of 18th and Church Streets as well as multi-unit residential buildings next door. (A 39-page .pdf of the endorsed design is available for download here.) A series of SALM posts explaining the progress of the proposal since last February --  against stiff community opposition -- is available here.

Many of the points of disagreement about the project seemed to have been resolved -- as much as possible -- in numerous previous meetings between the interested parties, including, most recently, a meeting of ANC2B's Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee the previous week.

Presentation at the meeting

ANC2B Chair Noah Smith (Commissioner for district 09) opened the section of the meeting devoted to St. Thomas by asking for a shorter presentation that the one presented at the ZPD Committee meeting, with an emphasis on the outside of the structure.

Architect Laurence Caudle of Hickok Cole Architects seemed to think that it was necessary to see the inside to understand the outside. The ANC and roughly 80 members of the community in attendance saw some renderings for the inside as well the outside, all projected on a wall on the side of the auditorium at the Brookings Institution (1775 Massachusetts Avenue) where the meeting took place. Caudle explained the rationale behind both components (i.e., the church and the residential) of the project.

"We've really scaled down the building," Caudle said.

Commissioner Justine Underhill (district 07) then put forward the formal motion to approve the resolution as drafted and distributed at the meeting. (ANC Chair Smith apologized that the 75 paper copies of the resolution he had printed were slightly less than the amount needed for everyone at the meeting to have a copy.) St. Thomas is in Underhill's ANC district.

About the resolution, Underhill said: "This is something we have worked hard to craft."

"It is not a rubber stamp," she said.

"We're saying that [the project] does not necessarily echo the neighborhood," said Smith.

The resolution

The resolution states the ANC supports the proposal "if and only if" conditions stated in eight separate bullet-pointed paragraphs are met, including:
  • Alterations to "the corrugation of the Church Street buildings' facades", "the rhythm of the Church Street buildings' roof lines", "the church and residential exterior", "the articulation of the residential bays", "the small, dark window panes", and "the horizontal terra cotta panels"
  • the residential building should not appear to be taller than 59 feet, meaning, tests should be done to make sure any roof structure over this height is not visible from the street
  • a setback or other solution to offset anticipated addition congestion caused by traffic coming and going to 33 additional parking spaces in a proposed underground parking garage with an entrance in an alley off 18th Street
  • continued consultation with the community about zoning, "quality-of-life", and traffic
The text of the resolution is available about half-way down this page.

Commissioner and community discussion

Not everyone loved the newest compromise. Commissioner Mike Feldstein (District 01) called the design of the church "ugly" -- at which several members of the audience shouted "here here!" in approval. A member of the community, while supporting the ANC resolution, commented sarcastically on the church design: "If you google Best Buy, I'm concerned there will be copyright infrigement."

Another community member said: "This does not fit in."

A representative of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) said the residential component was "incompatable" with the area and "wholly inappropriate in the Dupont area or anywhere in the L'Enfant city". The DCCA asked the ANC reject the design completely.

Other commenters said the problems of the alley space were not yet addressed. Another commenter objected to "lack of green setback at the pedestrian level".

But more frequently the comments were summed up by one Church Street resident: "I don't like this resolution but I can live with it. That is the essence of the democratic process. I wish there were something more we could do with the church design."

Other former categorical opponents to the project came to the microphone and said they could live, however reluctantly, with the ANCs resolution on the design. Some thanked the newly-elected Underhill for her work.

The leadership and advocates of the church sat silently through the entire process. Finally, as the ANC was gearing up for a final vote, Smith asked if anyone from the church wanted to say anything. A man identifying himself as the chair of the church's building committee asked the ANC to support the resolution as written and thanked Underhill.

The vote

Commissioner Feldstein felt that two sentences recommending specific changes to the design and materials went into "too much detail". The ANC considered two separate motions by Feldstein, each to delete a sentence. His motion to delete the first of the two died for lack of a second. His motion to delete the second of the two sentences failed, two votes to seven.

After that, a motion to pass the resolution granting conditional endorsement to St. Thomas Project passed by a vote of seven to zero, with two abstentions. The abstentions were Feldstein and Commissioner Stephanie Maltz (district 03).

This endorsement now moves to DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) for consideration. Assuming the historic preservation aspects of the project are eventually agreed on, the project will be back before the ANC, probably more than once. The ANC has agreed to help negotiate a memorandum of understanding about details of the construction project, like hours during which construction work will be permitted. In addition, the project will almost certainly require zoning relief, which will give the community and the ANC another opportunity to examine the project.

(photo credit: detail from documents presented to ANC2B by developer CAS Reigler)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Dupont ANC Holds the Line on 14th and U Pedestrian Space

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle has voted to protect the crowded sidewalk space near 14th and U Streets NW. At its regular monthly meeting March 11, ANC2B voted to recommend that The Wydown Coffee Bar (1924 14th Street) be required to array proposed sidewalk tables to allow a gap ten feet wide for pedestrians on the 14th Street sidewalk, just south of U Street. Wydown had made a request at the meeting for an eight-foot gap, scaled back from its original proposal of a six-foot gap.

ANC2B Chair Noah Smith (Commissioner for district 09) said, "While we
normally ask for ten feet, we are instructed to consider requests on a case-by-case basis."

Wydown is in Smith's ANC district.

There is currently a gap of 13.5 feet between the front of Wydown and the planter boxes that border 14th Street (see photo). Wydown's owners said the planter boxes were not in the design for the space when they agreed to occupy the property.

The ANC publicly reviewed the precedents. Last summer, ANC2B voted to dramatically scale back a sidewalk space request from the nearby branch of Taylor Gourmet (1908 14th Street NW) for outdoor serving space -- see SALM blog post of July 15, 2014. Smith also noted the case of Doi Moi restaurant (1800 14th Street) -- most of their tables create a ten-foot gap but they were allowed a few tables at eight feet.

Members of local community organizations spoke against reducing the gap.

"I think with that precedent you are going to have to be very conservative," said Ramon Estrada, President of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association.

"Fourteenth Street is almost impossible to traverse without going Indian-file," said Tom Bauer of the Dupont Circle Conservancy. (Bauer made it clear that, in this case, he was speaking for himself only, not for the organization.)

The commissioners were split. Commissioner Daniel Warwick (district 02) said he would vote in favor of more sidewalk space for Wydown, i.e., in favor of a smaller gap.

Commissioner Nicole Mann (district 08) agreed: "I don't think it's a huge issue."

Commissioner Mike Silverstein (district 06) thought the density of the location required special consideration: "This is about as busy as area as can be. I'm not sure whether I'm comfortable with eight feet."

Smith's original resolution supported an eight-foot gap. Silverstein made a motion to change the eight-foot gap to a ten-foot gap. Silverstein's motion to amend the original proposal passed, six votes to three. Then a motion to pass the entire resolution as amended passed, eight votes to one, with one abstention. Warwick was the vote against both the amendment and the entire resolution as amended.

ANC2B's recommendation will now go to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which has final authority over the commercial use of public space.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

U Street ANC Asks Attorney General Opinion on Liquor License for Shared Office Space

At its regular monthly meeting March 10, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street voted unanimously to ask the the office of the DC Attorney General to weight in on the matter of the requirement of a liquor license for DC branch of WeWork, located in the Wonder Bread Factory (641 S Street NW) in Shaw. This may set a precedent for all shared office space establishments in DC.

Wonder Bread Factory in 2013
"This is actually a very important issue to tackle," said ANC1B Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09).

DC's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board has reviewed the case and issued a temporary liquor license to WeWork, according to page six of this March 4 document. This would allow WeWork to continue its practice of supplying beer free of extra charge to the tenants of its shared workspace for tech start-ups.   The ABC Board is presumably considering the issuance of a long-term Class C multi-purpose facility liquor license, which normally might cost around $2000 and be valid until March 2016.

WeWork, a multi-national company specializing in shared office space, had been providing a common refrigerator stocked with beer, as well as non-alcoholic beverages, to clients at its three DC locations until it was visited by the enforcement branch of DC's liquor-licensing authorities -- see SALM blog post here. While WeWork will probably not have difficulty getting a liquor license, the ANC brought up the possibility that WeWork doesn't actually need a liquor license as long as meets certain basic requirements -- similar to the 2014 case of a U Street art gallery reported here.

ANC1B voted to send a letter to the ABC Board supporting the contention that WeWork did not need a license. However, it was reported at the meeting that the ABC Board found aginst WeWork, meaning, WeWork is required to get a liquor license. This decision sets a precedent for all providers of shared office space in the district.

In addition, Commissioner Brian Footer (district 01) said: "It doesn't make sense."

Commissioners also reported advocates for WeWork had been given bad advice and had "made a poor argument during the basic finding hearing" at the ABC Board.

The DC Attorney General's office is not obligated to agree with ANC opinion, of course, but it is obligated to respond to a letter from the ANC.

In addition to the Wonder Bread Factory location, WeWork also has branches in Dupont Circle (1875 Connecticut Avenue) and Chinatown (718 7th Street).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shaw ANC Tries to Solve Persistent Liquor-Licensing Problem

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw is trying to develop a solution to a chronic city-wide liquor-licensing problem. The problem is: restaurants "morphing" into nightclubs late in the evenings, meaning, restaurant proprietors clear away the tables, turn up on the music, and serve mostly or completely alcohol into the wee hours of the morning. Fear of these stealth nightclubs is what drives many objectors to restaurant-category liquor licenses -- see, for example, the May 16, 2014, SALM blog post about a proposed Florida Avenue establishment.

(photo credit below)
In response, ANC6E, with the help of the liquor-licensing lawyers they deal with, has developed a new template for settlement agreements between the ANC and restaurant proprietors. These agreements often dictate to what hours a liquor licensee may operate, as well as where and when they can feature live or recorded music.

The ANC6E template allows the counter-parties to these agreements to feature live music on a limited number of occasions. They may have live music at all weekend brunches and New Year's Eve. In addition, they are allowed twelve private parties with live music every year. After that, they are allowed six further instances of private parties every year which must be applied for as a "one-day substantial change" to the liquor license at DC's liquor-licensing authorities.

DC liquor-licensing rules limit the number of one-day substantial changes for an establishment to six per year. They involve additional paperwork, often notarized, to file with DC liquor-licensing authorities, as well as an additional fee of up to $300 per instance, all of which is probably a sufficient deterrent to filing for one unless absolutely needed.

The advantages seem to be: the restaurants have the flexibility to feature music late weekend mornings (when late-night noise and rowdy behavior is not an issue) and host a limited number of wedding-related events, office parties, etc., without having to petition the ANC for each event. On the other hand, the ANC gets a guarantee that late-night music and dancing will not be a regular occurrence.

Most recently, ANC6E used this template to come to a settlement agreement with, and endorse the liquor license of, Ottoman Taverna (425 I Street NW, at the corner of 4th and I Streets). The endorsement came at ANC6E's last regularly-scheduled meeting on March 3. Attorney Steve O'Brien of Mallios & O'Brien represented the applicant and said that the existing template made it much easier to negotiate the new agreement.

"It took me three minutes to prepare this version," O'Brien said.

O'Brien also told the ANC the new establishment would have inside seating for 166 and planned a sidewalk cafe with a capacity of 74. Service would continue until 2am weekdays and 3am weekends inside, and 11pm weekdays and midnight weekends outside. There would be no recorded music outdoors.

ANC6E's liquor-licensing affairs committee had review and recommended approval of the settlement agreement and endorsement of the liquor-licensing application, and the full ANC voted unanimously in favor, with one abstention.

Ottoman Taverna will be the third establishment in the same block by restauranteur Hakan Ilhan, joining Alba Osteria (also 425 I Street NW) and L'Hommage (450 K Street). L'Hommage received its liquor license endorsement and signed a settlement agreement with ANC6E last month based on the same template -- see SALM blog post of February 12.

(photo credit: from Labelled for reuse on Google Images.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How Many People Can Live in a Logan Circle Row House?

At its regular monthly meeting March 4, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle heard from Logan Circle residents who believe a neighboring row house at 1517 12th Street NW was about to a used as a rooming house. The neighbor asked ANC2F to pass a resolution asking DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to deny the owner a rooming house permit, should one be applied for. The ANC did not vote on the matter as requested, but passed a resolution asking DCRA to give the matter "special attention".

The property last Saturday
A neighbor reported that the property had been advertised as a shared house for eight people on Radpad and Craigslist, with leases beginning March 1. These ads (which no longer appear) advertised an open house on February 18. According to the neighbor's written statement to the ANC:

...I and three other neighbors in the area went to an open house on the property. That is when we discovered that the new owner had converted the single family row house into a shared house with 9 or 10 bedrooms -- 2 bedrooms on the first floor (where the dining and living room were), 3 bedrooms on the second floor, 3 bedrooms on the 3rd floor and another unit in the basement, which they decribed as for 2 people. There is one kitchen on the first floor and one in the basement and 3.5 bathrooms (1 is attached to a room). Each room was being rented from $995-$1095/mo. (Each room had a piece of paper taped to it with a dollar amount written on it.)
Neighbors take action

The neighbors did some research on DCRA regulations with the help of the ANC and the office of DC Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward Two). They discovered the legal occupancy limit for a two-unit single family house is eight -- six in main unit, two in the basement -- but could not operate as a rooming house without a business license and an inspection. Furthermore, the owner had a license that would have allowed him to rent the house to a single family only. On February 23, he applied for a two-family rental license, the neighbor's written statement says. DCRA records also show that the first recent permit for electrical work on the property was issued on February 27.

The neighbors lobbied DCRA who issued a Compliance Notice to the owner, also on February 27. DCRA also monitored a March 1 open house and passed out copies of the Compliance Notice to people coming to view the house by appointment.

"It's not a legal unit at this point," said a neighbor.

"We're very concerned about the safety and integrity of the house," said another.

An abutting neighbor reported that the fireplace in the house had recently been used, and smoke had come into the neighbor's house -- indicating that the fireplace was not adequately vented. There was some question whether the owner had gotten the necessary permits for improving the house.

"[W]e are very concerned that the excessive occupancy and density of a 1870s rowhouse presents issues that must be closely examined, such as the burden on public utilites, sanitation, parking, etc.," the neighbors statement to the ANC says.

"I don't think we're doing anybody a favor putting nine to twelve people in there," Sherri Kimbel told the ANC at the meeting. Kimbel is a Logan Circle resident who is also Director of Constituent Services at Councilmember Evans' office.

ANC not quite sure what to do

"It's sort of a bad message if we take action," said ANC2F Chair John Fanning (Commissioner for district 04). Fanning worried about the precedent such an action would set.

"I think that the precedent we are setting is that we are insisting that people follow the rules," said Commissioner Pepin Tuma (district 03).

A motion to send a letter as requested by the neighbors -- that is, to ask for the denial of a rooming house license -- was not made by any Commissioner or voted on. Instead, the ANC unanimously voted to send a letter to DCRA asking them to give the matter their "special attention". Chair John Fanning also promised to follow up personally with phone calls.

1517 12th Street is in Fanning's ANC district.

The house seemed unoccupied as of last Saturday, March 7.

Monday, March 9, 2015

CORRECTED: Prestige Restaurant Patio Space at 11th and O Streets Endorsed

CORRECTION (5:30pm, 3/9/15): When originally posted this article (and the March 4th post referenced below) erroneously said the planned outdoor space was on the corner of 11th and Q Street, not O Street. A reader corrected. Apologies for the error.

David Dale of Dale Management and Development came before Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle last week and convinced it to revise a decision on outdoor space for a proposed mixed-use building planned for 1337 11th Street NW, the southeast corner of 11th and Q  O Streets NW. Dale's request and subsequent decision occurred during the last regularly-scheduled meeting of ANC2F on March 4. 

How the space looked two days ago
The previous week, Dale had appeared before the Community Development Committee (CDC) of ANC2F -- see SALM blog post of March 4. At that time, Dale asked for endorsement of a plan that would brick over the entire space between the north side of the building and the sidewalk, and then set a decorative fence and hedge around it. This would create an area which was ideal for a restaurant patio, with seating for perhaps 50-60 people. Dale said previously he's had expressions of interest in the space from "household-name chefs who I cannot divulge".

The CDC refused to endorse Dale's request as submitted. Instead, they modified his plan and passed a resolution endorsing a smaller space -- roughly 65 percent of what Dale asked for. Over Dale's objections, the CDC's plan located the patio entirely on the western part of the requested space, toward 11th Street (right of photo), away from the neighboring residences on Q O Street.

Dale came back before the full ANC to explain why the CDC decision was unacceptable for him. The CDC's resolution, as written, would prohibit Dale from using a fire exit door that opens onto the east side of the proposed patio space (see left of photo). DC regulations require that such a door open onto a paved area. The door would be a requirement should a professional kitchen want to operate in that space.

Dale came back with an revised proposal, designed both to allow him to both have the required fire door as well as meet the CDC's desire to have roughly 65 percent of the originally-proposed space bricked over. The result was the creation of a patio with an irregularly-shaped green space in the northeast quarter, which would hold two newly-planted trees and an herb garden.

 "It is the exact number of square feet that was approved," Dale said.

There was some discussion about whether endorsing the design of the patio, as Dale had submitted it, obligated the ANC to endorse a future public space permit by a restaurant tenant.

"We're buying into the notion of some café space," said Commissioner Kevin Deeley (district 08).

"I don't think this is an implicit approval of outdoor space," said Commissioner Kate Gordon (district 01).

The ANC considered sending the decision back to the Community Development Committee. Dale told the ANC he had put $1.2 million into the renovation of the property and he needed to move forward.

"I have to be able to show something built to a restaurant tenant," Dale said. "I can't just hang on forever."

The full ANC approved Dale's proposal as presented without audible dissent. Dale will now take the ANC's endorsement to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which has authority over public space issues, for a final decision. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

"Either Stay in the Suburbs or Find Another Place to Live!"

CORRECTION (3/8/15): I listened to a recording of the meeting on ANC6E's Youtube channel after this blog post went live. The title is slightly inaccurate. The actual quote is: "Either stay in the suburbs or find another place in DC."

The owner of 440 Ridge Street NW needs zoning relief to expand her house back by 20 inches in the rear, and up in the rear by less than half a story. She eventually got Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw to endorse an application for zoning relief for lot occupancy at its regular monthly meeting on March 3, but first she had to endure some abuse from a neighbor.

440 Ridge Street (Google Street View)
Her architect, Catarina Ferreira of Archi-Textural, Pllc., that the plan to expand the house a been through "a few revisions" and trips to the DC bureaucracy. Substantial changes to the house have to be approved by DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), because the building is located in the Mount Vernon Square Historic District. Most recently, a plan to add a third story seven feet in height, set back 16 feet from the front of the building, was passed by the HPRB with substantial modification, meaning the proposed roof addition had to be smaller and situated further to the rear of the building.

The HPRB decision occurred on January 29, 2015. See an unfavorable review of the project from HPRB staff, written before the January 29 meeting, here.

The owner of the building explained she had owned and lived in the building, and then moved to the suburbs after she got married and started a family. She retained ownership of the house and rented it out. Now, the owner said, the suburban traffic had grown intolerable, so she and her husband had made the decision to move back into the District with two children.

However, the house, which was built sometime before 1870, is a little cramped for a modern family of four. Therefore, they are attempting to expand it. Following the suggestions by HPRB, the architect and owner agreed on a plan that expands the building further back but not as far up -- a concept more likely to get historic preservation approval.

However, the 20-inch rear expansion will put the house over limit for percent of lot occupancy, so zoning relief is necessary.

The ANC had requested letters from the directly abutting neighbors saying they had no objection to the project, and also a written guarantee that work would not start before 8 am. The applicants supplied these.

ANC6E Commissioner Rachelle Nigro (district 04), in whose district the property is located, said that several neighbors had come to the meeting and wish to speak. They were allowed to do so.

One, who said he pushed for the historic district designation in 1998, expressed outright support for the expansion. Another remarked that the personal details of the family should not influence the decision, meaning, the zoning rules should be applied uniformly whether the applicant was a family or a developer.

The person who spoke the longest was against the application. She identified herself as a 37-year resident, and was later acknowledged to be a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.

"I came to talk generally about how the neighborhood should be," she said.

The purpose of zoning, she said, was to maintain places for people to live. Ridge Street was one of the few places left in Shaw that people could afford. Now, people were coming and making the housing prohibitively expensive by building them out.

"Either stay in the suburbs or find another place to live," she said.

This remark created a commotion in the room. People shouted "Rude!" and "That's not nice!"

After the audience comments were finished, Commissioner Nigro made a motion that the ANC oppose the request for zoning relief, but it died for lack of a second.

Then Commissioner Alexander Padro (district 01) made a motion to support the request for zoning relief, which passed by a vote of 6 - 1. Nigro was the only vote against.