Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Governments get the message


Photo by Matti Mattila on Flickr.
MPD issues cyclist mea culpa: DC's Police Complaints Board found several instances of police officers incorrectly blaming cyclists during collisions with motorists. The board recommends improved officer training and better report filing procedures. (Post)

Maryland getting tougher on bad drivers: Maryland is making texting while driving a primary offense. The state will also allow criminal prosecution of negligent drivers who kill cyclists or pedestrians. Previously, such drivers only faced fines. (Post)

Housing prices are more than supply and demand: Increasing a neighborhood's housing supply won't hold down prices if new neighborhood amenities accompany the new housing. In fact, newcomers may fight newer development projects. (Forbes)

Whither the young preservationists?: Preservationists saved much of DC's beautiful architecture from demolition. Now that the heavy lifting is done, is attention to decks, windows and compatibility of new buildings antagonizing the public? (City Paper)

Arlington hires celebrity planner: Arlington has hired Peter Katz, who literally wrote the book on New Urbanism, as its planning director. Mr. Katz is a strong advocate of zoning codes that focus on physical form more than use. (Arlington Co, Dan Malouff)

ANCs make their own rules: A Ward 5 ANC stands accused of misappropriation of tax dollars, illegal secrecy, and general irresponsibility. Several DC officials admit they have no legal means to force ANCs to obey the law. (Washington Times)

Some stations have 4th, 5th, and 6th rails: WMATA is storing replacement rails on the trackbed so they can install the new rails quickly during upcoming maintenance sessions. The new rails are clamped together lest they get loose. (HuffPo DC)

Is Southwest DC historic enough?: Southwest DC, with its towers in the park and segregated uses, is undoubtedly a product of its time. One preservationist says it's as worthy of historic preservation as Capitol Hill and Georgetown. (City Paper)

It's curtains for the Lincoln Theatre: The Lincoln Theatre on U Street is nearing bankruptcy. Its board blames the mayor for not subsidizing it enough and they demand another city bailout. (Washington Times)

And...: Height limits, historic preservation, and taxes are scapegoated for the pinball museum's closure. (HuffPo DC) ... NPS spokesman Bill Line bikes. (Washcycle) ... Metro faced radio trouble during yesterday's commute. (DCist)

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Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 

Comments

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The City Council needs to better articulate the power and role of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. The term "great weight", while tested in court, is still ambiguous.

The unevenness of different ANCs throughout the city suggests that some serious dialogue take place to clarify the ANC role to the residents, agencies and the Council.

by Andrew on Sep 30, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

One preservationist says it's as worthy of historic preservation as Capitol Hill and Georgetown.

Unless we preserve the horrible planning and development mistakes we've made in the past--and force our children, and our children's children to live with them--how will they learn from our folly?

by oboe on Sep 30, 2011 9:34 am • linkreport

Increasing a neighborhood's housing supply won't hold down prices if new neighborhood amenities accompany the new housing. In fact, newcomers may fight newer development projects.

Doesn't this just come back to housing being *exactly* supply and demand? New amenities drive up demand in a neighborhood, and if the wealthier residents of newer developments block additional new development (i.e. hold down supply), then prices rise with demand.

The answer (as the Forbes column eventually concludes) is to stop the new residents from blocking additional development, not to forgo building new residences and amenities in the first place: "The solution, though perhaps not very political palatable, is to allow densification in already-wealthy neighborhoods, too. [...] Given more laissez-faire urban land use regimes, builders would inevitably redevelop desirable city cores more intensely than the poorer urban belts surrounding them, softening the blow of gentrification."

by The AMT on Sep 30, 2011 9:47 am • linkreport

Mr. Katz is a strong advocate of zoning codes that focus on physical form more than use.

Could someone explain what this means? I thought a major tenet of urbanism was mixed uses. What does focusing on physical form mean (like making sure the building is not ugly?)

by Falls Church on Sep 30, 2011 9:48 am • linkreport

So given the lack of programming and the Executive Director's claim the city hasn't paid enough for it, am I to understand the Lincon Theatre is really a city-funded jobs program for the 6 staff who work there rather than an actual performing arts venue?

Seems like a pathetic attempt to blame Vince Gray for exceptionally bad job performance by the Lincoln management.

by Anon2 on Sep 30, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

Stephen Smith (Forbes) needs to take an Econ 101 class before his next article.

by jh on Sep 30, 2011 9:54 am • linkreport

Licoln Theatre: This was also covered on a story broadcast on WAMU this morning.

I find both stories unsatisfying. Why is DC in the theatre business? They should sell it off.

by goldfish on Sep 30, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

The Council ought to stop providing funds to ANCs until it resolves the auditor's authority and provides better financial accountability for the ANCs.

by ah on Sep 30, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

Time to give AAA some credit:

"John B. Townsend II of AAA said the board’s recommendations made sense. “There needs to be a greater sensitivity not only with law enforcement but also with motorists,” Townsend said. “The people who ride bicycles are as much entitled to the road as is anyone else.”"

by ah on Sep 30, 2011 10:07 am • linkreport

Its board blames the mayor for not subsidizing it enough and they demand another city bailout.

$500,000 in DC taxpayer funding a year for the past five years straight, over $9 million in DC taxpayer restoration funds, they're located directly across the street from a Metro station, and they can't stay open more than 5 nights a month? How much is enough subsidizing?

Sell it. Now.

by monkeyrotica on Sep 30, 2011 10:09 am • linkreport

@Falls Church:
The idea that Mr. Katz espouses is that the form of the building matters more than the use within the building.

Think of it this way: A rowhouse on U Street can easily be a single-family dwelling. Or divided into condos (multi-family dwelling). Or a coffee shop. Or a record store.

To Mr. Katz, what matters most is building an urban form with a good quality of place. And that means having a code that encourages good building design, rather than attempts to segregate uses.

So the code might call for a certain set of buildings rather than a certain set of uses. As far as Mr. Katz is concerned, what happens within the buildings doesn't matter as long as their form is good.

Read more about it:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form-based_code

by Matt Johnson on Sep 30, 2011 10:16 am • linkreport

RE: Lincoln Theater

The theater building is a great landmark on U Street, and having a theater is a good thing for the neighborhood I think. It would be a shame if it were torn down and replaced by some generic condos.

That said, the current situation is ridiculous. In the years I have been in DC, I have been to ONE show at the Lincoln, and that was a few years ago. Like many community theaters it is run by a bunch of incompetents who don't appear to actually give a crap whether there's any programming at the theater or not, and have no clue what they're doing. This is spot on:

So given the lack of programming and the Executive Director's claim the city hasn't paid enough for it, am I to understand the Lincon Theatre is really a city-funded jobs program for the 6 staff who work there rather than an actual performing arts venue?

The city spent a bunch of money to renovate it. Put somebody in charge who knows what they're doing and cares and wants to go out and actually get the theater some business. It could be relatively successful, but not with one event a week.

by MLD on Sep 30, 2011 10:19 am • linkreport

Thanks, Matt. I probably should have looked on wikipedia first.

by Falls Church on Sep 30, 2011 10:20 am • linkreport

This landmark theater has only three events for the entire month of October?

I get the impression that they just post up their rental rates and then sit back and hope that the money rolls in.

by JustMe on Sep 30, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

The city spent a bunch of money to renovate it. Put somebody in charge who knows what they're doing and cares and wants to go out and actually get the theater some business.

...and the best way to do that is to sell it to somebody that is risking their own money. AFAIK DC neither owns nor operates any of the other prominent, successful, historical, landmark theatres in the city, and should not try to compete against them.

by goldfish on Sep 30, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

The theater building is a great landmark on U Street, and having a theater is a good thing for the neighborhood I think.

Having an actual theater would be great but I think it's arguable whether you can call a venue that is dark 80% of the time a theater. The Lincoln has a lot of unrealized potential and the city should find a way to hand it off to some organization that can tap that. Otherwise, the city is essentially raising taxes to subsidize an underperforming theater which makes no sense on several levels. If the city wants to spend $500K/year on the arts, there are much better ways to leverage that money.

by Falls Church on Sep 30, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

Matt Johnson provides an intereting link.

I've been saying that about Arlington for a while. Nice place, but the buildings themselves are lame. AlexB says it is all something else, but there is something to be said for asethics.

Wilson Blvd is a pretty anymous corridor of boring buildings. Perhaps Katz can remaking Columbia Pike -- or Crystal City -- into something we will be proud of in 30 years, instead of ashamed.

by charlie on Sep 30, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

@charlie

I said what now?

I'm assuming you mean comments about Ballston and urban design. I would note that form-based codes are aimed at fixing that exact problem.

The challenge with aesthetics (and yes, there is something to be said for aesthetics) is how to address the issue in a zoning code. It's not exactly something you can legally prescribe in a paint-by-numbers kind of way.

You could mandate a design review process, but that can be tricky in terms of procedure, and needs to be balanced against the desire to keep the by-right entitlements to the land simple and easy. We want to make it so that doing the right thing and achieving the good outcome is the path of least resistance for developers.

by Alex B. on Sep 30, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

the best way to do that is to sell it to somebody that is risking their own money.

A better idea would be to lease it to a private management company. That way it would stay a theater, but the management would be forced to cover their costs. Just selling it would mean that it would get sold off for condos.

Plenty of music and performance venues in that precise neighborhood manage to stay in business. The difference is that they have events almost every night of the week.

by JustMe on Sep 30, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

@AlexB; yep, you hit it.

From what I remember about Mr. Katz's book, it was all paint by numbers. And how that will work in Arlington -- I have no idea.

by charlie on Sep 30, 2011 11:14 am • linkreport

Why is it that Lincoln has so few events?

by Boomer on Sep 30, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

A better idea would be to lease it to a private management company. That way it would stay a theater, but the management would be forced to cover their costs. Just selling it would mean that it would get sold off for condos.

I think we all agree that it should stay a theatre. And you might be correct that a management company is the best way to book the events it needs to cover costs. But I still think the building should be sold, to get it off of the dole -- the whining by their board for a bailout was truly ridiculous -- and on to the tax rolls, like most theatres in DC.

by goldfish on Sep 30, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

@Lincoln Theater
The LT was one of several venues for Arena Stage while the main theater in SW was being renovated. Now that Arena Stage in SW is open again, the LT is dark. I agree that the city needs to sell it to a good theater company that can make it work. The city shouldn't be in the theater business; I don't think it has the experience.

by dc denizen on Sep 30, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

Running a community theater is tough, and I know they're always on the brink of closing. But Atlas on H St is making it work, and they're not getting a half mil a year. I'm all for supporting the arts, but this is a good cut.

by Tim Krepp on Sep 30, 2011 12:14 pm • linkreport

I hope Mr. Katz is open to more experimental design, like the inspirational Via Verde social housing project designed by London-based Grimshaw in the Bronx.

I fear he might push more historicist design (a la Old Town Alexandria). There is already too much red brick "colonial-inspired" schlock in the county. There are a number of small, experimental architecture firms in DC that should be encouraged to work with the various stakeholders to improve the county's architecture.

by JP on Sep 30, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

I don't think that the "heavy lifting" has been done at all in terms of historic preservation.

However, the HPB does seem to have an almost-pathological focus on certain small areas of the city. On the other hand, they barely lifted a finger after an entire block of well-maintained historic rowhouses in Capitol Hill (the 700 Block of 2nd St NE) were demolished to make way for a building project that never existed beyond a few sketches on paper, and ended up becoming a parking lot.

So, yeah. When the HPB is focusing their efforts on patios in Dupont Circle whilst historic structures in Northern Capitol Hill are demolished by neglect (*cough* *Doug Jemal* *cough*), for parking lots, or to be replaced by obscenely-incompatible high-rise buildings (ie. The Loree Grand on K St NE), I'd have to argue that the board is no longer performing its stated function.

Oh, and I suppose I'll repeat my concerns about The Howard Theatre, which will be completely gutted and have its facade modified to the point of being unrecognizable from its the original design in the name of "historic preservation," and retain its original use as a jazz theatre, for which there has been no demonstrated demand in the U Street corridor.

by andrew on Sep 30, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

Just a side comment: The awful aftermath on 2nd NE is not actually a parking lot -- at least it isn't one yet and shows no signs of being made into one. It does abut a parking lot (from 2nd to 3rd along H) that's been that way for decades.

by davidj on Sep 30, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport

@andrew

Curious - is your objection to the Loree Grand based on the aesthetics of the structure, or simply the size and massing?

by Alex B. on Sep 30, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

Form-based codes say things like, "instead of a setback line, there's a 'build-to' line," and "instead of a maximum number of stories, there's a minimum number of stories." A example of the latter is that retail buildings on a commercial street must be at least two stories.

by Paul on Sep 30, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

@Davidj: After the demolition of the houses, the parking lot next to the overpass was expanded to be approximately twice its original size. It doesn't cover the whole block, but they've been slowly expanding it.

@Alex: Both. The new building on 300 K St NE next door to the Loree Grand is only 2 stories shorter, does not have "compatible" architecture with the surrounding neighborhood, and is yet a vastly less intrusive building.

There are just too many WTFs about the Loree to enumerate. I wonder if they're having any trouble leasing the space...the apartments are fantastically expensive.

by andrew on Sep 30, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

@andrew

I can't say I care for the look of the Loree, but that's just me. I love the size. It fronts on K St NE which is tremendously wide - tall buildings are appropriate there. I don't find its massing intrusive at all.

by Alex B. on Sep 30, 2011 2:38 pm • linkreport

@andrew

The Loree Grand is a great addition to the neighborhood. It has individual entrances for many of the units, ground floor retail, affordable apartments, and a day care center and public courtyard in Phase 2. They have even graciously allowed the neighborhood to use their future-phase area for movies and other events.

The first phase is 100% leased because the units are relatively large, with huge closets and lots of interior architectural flourishes. This building is exactly what was intended by the NoMa Vision Plan because of its step-backs, multiple entrances, and mix of uses. (= form based zoning)

Seriously, what's not to like?

by Tony Goodman, ANC 6C04 on Sep 30, 2011 4:29 pm • linkreport

The Loree Grand has a surface parking lot. And so does the equally new residence hall across the street.

by Turnip on Sep 30, 2011 8:03 pm • linkreport

@Turnip

The surface parking lot at Loree Grand is temporary, until Phase 2 starts (which may be soon). That area will be the public park area. The Washington Center across 3rd Street does, however, have an ugly surface lot at the corner of 3rd/L which is rarely filled. It would be great if they built on that lot some day.

by Tony Goodman, ANC 6C04 on Sep 30, 2011 10:15 pm • linkreport

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