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ANC gets illegal Uline Arena signs removed

The illegal signs on the west side of the Uline Arena are finally down. Dogged determination from the local ANC, rather than any city agency, managed to get a powerful owner to comply with the law.

Two of the large signs have been removed from the west wall of Uline Arena. Photos by the author.

The arena is at 3rd and M Streets NE in NoMA, just east of the railroad tracks. We first discussed the illegal signs in June 2011. A little over a month later, DCRA fined Douglas Development, the owner of the building, for illegal billboards. More than a year has passed, during which time Douglas appealed the ruling and fines.

While Douglas appeared to be successfully running out the clock by keeping the appeal active, another deadline became more pressing. The company needed an extension from the Board of Zoning Adjustment (case number 17809B) that required ANC 6C's approval. The ANC presented Douglas with a list of items the commission wanted completed before giving its consent.

The items on the list included:

  1. Painting/removing graffiti on the roof
  2. Fixing any openings providing access to the roof
  3. Fixing the leak in the side of the wall along the west side of the building
  4. Rebuilding the sidewalk at the corner of 3rd and M Streets (at the 3rd Street side)
  5. Getting Clear Channel to paint the billboard post (in the plaza area)
  6. Complying with any DCRA orders concerning the (potentially) illegal billboards at the west wall
  7. Installing additional fencing (approximately 4 feet high) to prevent cars from parking in public space at the M Street side of the "ice house" property, along with associated gates, benches and other site furnishings.
Number 6, you'll note, addresses the signs on the side of the building. Douglas Development could have responded that they believed the signs were legal and that their appeal would bear this out. Apparently, this wasn't an action they wished to pursue. Instead, the signs have come down, and other improvements for the historic, yet vacant, shell are underway.

Vines covering the south side of the building have also been cut and are beginning to wither away.

Kudos to the ANC for holding the developer's feet to the fire and getting a substantial set of actions in exchange for support. There's no reason a building can't be minimally (and legally) maintained while it's being warehoused for development, and ANC 6C has proven that's the case.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 


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Why is the ANC requiring Douglas to install fencing to prevent parking on public space, as opposed to the ANC getting DPW to ticket violators?

Kudos to them about the signs, and that too shows how that system's broken. Even after the fines, the signs remained.

by Matt on Oct 2, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

The ANC has had a good relationship with Douglas Development, and I'm pleased with how quickly they resolved these issues after our last meeting with them a few weeks ago.

As for the fencing, DPW rarely fines for cars illegally parked in public space. It's far easier (and can be more attractive) to install fences, planters, bollards, and other engineering controls.

The Uline Arena is one of the most historically significant private buildings in DC, and I know that Douglas is trying hard to find the right tenant for this space. Until then, these little fixes will help remove some of the negative impacts of such a large vacant building.

by Tony Goodman, ANC 6C04 on Oct 2, 2012 2:46 pm • linkreport

Meh. I kind of wish that the ANC would take a bit more of a hostile relationship with Douglas as he lets the building rot and decay.

Almost all of the "improvements" that the ANC has demanded are simply requests that Douglas comply with legal and building codes (as was the case the last time around when we asked the developer to brick up the dangerous gaping holes in the ice house).

How about something meaningful? My suggestion would be to ask Douglas to front some money to make sure that the trees on M St get watered. Every year I've lived here, DDOT and Casey Trees have planted new trees in front of the Uline Arena on M St, only to have them whither and die before the end of the year.

(Oh, and who exactly is the "right tenant" for that space? Haven't the 9:30 Club's owners been trying to buy/lease that space for years?)

by andrew on Oct 2, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

I really don't get anti-sign bias. Look at old pictures of DC (or anywhere else). They are always full of signs.

by Kolohe on Oct 2, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

For the record, here's a photo of Uline's double billboard from 2008:
Billboards in general are a form of blight, but when the ads are for blech stuff like fast food and liquor, it can get really depressing. And for some reason public transportation ads tend to be super depressing too. When I last rode Philly's SUPTA, the ads alone were enough to convince I was risking my life by entering the system.

by M.V. Jantzen on Oct 2, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

While I am more along the lines of Kolohe in terms of signs issues (well, they can be bad or great, but they are a part of the life of the city), I am impressed that ANC6C used the one-time leverage they had to get Douglas Dev. to comply with the law. Most ANCs aren't as adept.

wrt andrew's point about 9:30 Club. Yes, since at least 2007 IMP has attempted to get "a meeting" with Douglas Development and they expressed interest in buying (or leasing) the building. While there may have been meetings, their expressions of interest were never taken seriously by DD.

I suggested in 2003 I think that the building could have been managed in association with XM Satellite as "XM Satellite Coliseum" to build that company's brand and business and bring new life to the facility.

So yes, I do think it is disingenuous the now Douglas Dev. people talk about "their ideas" to use the building for music.

by Richard Layman on Oct 2, 2012 5:11 pm • linkreport

-1 DD

by Tom Coumaris on Oct 2, 2012 6:52 pm • linkreport

IMP has announced that they'll be developing a performance space in the new SW Waterfront complex, so I'd say they've given up on DD/Uline.

by aces on Oct 2, 2012 10:53 pm • linkreport

Can someone in SW work on getting the enormous black Bloomberg billboards removed from Water St/Maine Ave along the waterfront?

by ontarioroader on Oct 2, 2012 11:23 pm • linkreport

Thank you Commissioner Goodman!

by Sunny Florida Avenue on Oct 2, 2012 11:25 pm • linkreport

Great news! Long overdue. Good work ANC.

Douglas can be quite shameful at times, such as in the care of this building.

by H Street LL on Oct 3, 2012 7:35 am • linkreport

One problem was the lack of continued support from Ward 6 councilmember Tommy Wells and his office in pushing for the sign removal. Congrats to ANC 6C in getting the job done on their own.

by Ward 6 Resident on Oct 3, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

I used to think that Douglas Development were saints for revitalizing DC. Now I and my neighbors in Ward 2 think Jemal is a slumlord.

by Steve on Oct 3, 2012 11:01 am • linkreport

aces -- yep, I "forgot" about that. The max capacity I think will be about 6,000, but that's in line with the article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 2003 that influenced the general XM idea (it was about the need for facilities smaller than the typical size of arenas).

WRT DD, I don't think he's a slumlord exactly and should be heralded somewhat for his commitment to investing in the city. OTOH, it's not perfect. He gets ideas for each property and won't deviate from them (mostly) until they come true, even if it takes decades. And he works to get the highest rents possible, that's great for him, but not for variety and nonchain development. E.g., the Fuddruckers rent is $140/s.f.!!!!!!!!!!!!! That sure makes it unlikely a local will outbid them for such a prominent space.

by Richard Layman on Oct 3, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

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