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Dupont ANC recommends phasing out liquor moratorium

Last night, the Dupont Circle ANC recommended that DC lift a liquor license moratorium for restaurants and stores, but to temporarily keep the cap on taverns and nightclubs. Some commissioners feel it's a step towards phasing out the moratorium entirely.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In 1990, DC first created the moratorium, which applies primarily to establishments along 17th Street NW, to prevent bars and clubs from pushing out stores and to reduce late-night noise and crime. But today, there are fewer retail stores, and neighbors say the street needs more activity, not less. While the moratorium is a crude and outdated tool, as an ANC commissioner, I strongly believe that it's best to end it in stages to minimize disruptions and conflicts.

Other local ANCs are trying to phase out their moratoria as well. Two years ago, the ANC partially lifted one along P Street NW and have since reported no negative impacts, and a proposed moratorium on 14th and U streets faces widespread ANC opposition.

The moratorium is intended to protect local retailers from being bought out by alcohol-serving establishments with higher profit margins. But today, there are far fewer retail stores, largely due to the rise of online shopping. What retail remains serves daily needs, like pharmacies, hardware stores, and grocery stores.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the community is anywhere close to becoming too unsafe or too noisy. Residents of all ages who live close to the 17th Street commercial strip tell us that they are not bothered by the current noise and would be happy for the strip to be more lively. While some residents have concerns about safety, police statistics show that crime has gone down significantly in the past two years, including both violent crime and property crime.

According to the Capitol Retail Group, increased foot traffic can revive urban retail corridors like 17th Street. New or better restaurants can generate more foot traffic, helping all businesses in the area. But under the moratorium, restaurants can't get liquor licenses to open here.

A Dupont Circle ANC subcommittee held three public meetings about the moratorium over the last three months. They came up with a compromise following in the footsteps of the West Dupont moratorium, which lifted the ban on liquor licenses for restaurants, but not for taverns and nightclubs.

Establishments with restaurant licenses must serve food and alcohol and are subject to certain food sales minimum requirements. Many of the popular new places on 14th Street, like Masa 14 and El Centro, have restaurant licenses, even though they have bars, music, and dancing. They may seem like bars and clubs to some, but they face limitations that taverns and nightclubs do not.

Meanwhile, establishments with tavern licenses don't have to serve food, but they're not all the same. Some are peaceful, like Room 11 in Columbia Heights, while others are very fun, but loud dance clubs, like some of the taverns on U Street (one of which has "Boom Boom" in its name, which I enjoy and have no objection to in its current location). 17th Street residents might welcome taverns like Room 11, which probably would not have an impact on noise or safety, but the latter ones may not be as well received.

ANCs and the DC Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) have some tools to try and minimize the negative effects of these establishments, but they aren't perfect. And once a tavern gets licensed, it's not easy to enforce prior agreements, and the immediate neighbors have to face the consequences.

If DC agrees to lift the moratorium on restaurants and stores, I and some of my colleagues will consider it the first stage of phasing out the moratorium entirely. During this first stage, the ANC should strengthen and clarify its policies and tools so that it can ensure that any new taverns or nightclubs on 17th Street are successful, but also responsible members of our community.

Not everyone agrees with lifting the moratorium, but it is not the best tool for making 17th Street and Dupont Circle a better neighborhood and a stronger retail environment. Many people want to eliminate the moratorium, and I agree, but it will be less disruptive to do it in phases. When the moratorium ends, we want the supporters to remain friendly with the opponents, because we have a very convivial community. And we want it to stay that way as we make progress together as a community.

Our recommendations will go before the ABC, which will decide whether to lift the moratorium. To send them your recommendations, visit their website. You can also see a list of recently-awarded liquor licenses.


Most Ward 2 neighborhoods oppose visitor parking passes

Most of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in DC's Ward 2 have passed resolutions saying they don't want a free visitor parking placard program in their neighborhoods. The commissions went on record on this issue up to a year ago, but last week, transportation officials announced that they'll expand the program citywide anyway.

DDOT decided not to listen. Photo by sokabs on Flickr.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans also opposes the plan. He citing the opposition of "most of the ANCs" in his ward, while saying he only has gotten a few messages from constituents who support the program.

Georgetown's ANC hasn't passed such a resolution, but that doesn't mean they support it, either. Its chair, Ron Lewis, told residents and the media that "this came as a total surprise to us." Lewis has been working for years with Georgetown residents and DDOT parking planners to find agreement on a set of parking proposals that everyone would support.

Shortly before DDOT's announcement, the agency's planners in charge of parking, Damon Harvey and Angelo Rao, left or were fired. Harvey and Rao had led two parking town halls in Georgetown and dozens of meetings of an ad hoc Georgetown Parking Working Group made up of residents and business representatives. I was involved in these meetings, and all parties felt that the group was very close to a set of consensus proposals after years of negotiation.

Free visitor parking passes for all Georgetown RPP holders was never a serious proposal in these discussions, and community leaders communicated concerns about expanding these passes into Georgetown several times.

We've been here before

Last year, a similar process played out. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez told reporters that the agency intended to expand the trial citywide. In response, ANCs throughout Ward 2 passed resolutions opposing the idea and sent the resolutions to DDOT.

For example, here is Dupont's ANC 2B resolution from last October.

DDOT ultimately pulled back and did not expand the program to these neighborhoods in 2012. Rao promised to devise a replacement system before this fall. However, with no new program on the horizon, DDOT announced it would offer visitor passes to all neighborhoods by October 1 and proposed regulations making that possible.

You can provide feedback on DDOT's expansion of the visitor parking program through the mandated 30-day comment period for all such regulations. To tell the agency how you feel about their regulations expanding free visitor parking placards citywide, email before September 8.


DC Water proposes sewer improvements, new roads

Major infrastructure projects, such as sewer construction, can cause a lot of disruption without many tangible benefits. But in Upper Northwest, proposed sewer repairs could result in new bike paths and connections to local parks.

Glover Archbold Park today. Photo by l r on Flickr.

DC Water needs to repair disintegrating sewer lines in Glover Archbold Park and the Soapstone Valley, which could include building an access road. Not fixing the lines could cause sewage to build up in the park. But both conservationists and the National Park Service, which owns the land, are afraid that it will require losing trees and disrupting wildlife habitats.

Another proposal, to completely move the pipes and build pumping stations, has residents concerned that DC Water and NPS are not fully considering all policy alternatives. At a public presentation in July, ANC3B Commissioner Mary Young, who represents Cathedral Heights, said the proposal could violate Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. "No one has spoken much about the enormous carbon footprint that the city will face with the pumping stations," she said.

At the meeting, DC Water presented several options for the repairing the sewer. Their intent is to find a way to do so while also preserving parkland. Options include lining the pipes to repair them, daylighting some of the stormwater pipes, removing the lines completely, and building pumping stations.

If the pipes are abandoned and left as they are, sewage could build up in the park and become hazardous to everyone. In an email, DC Water spokesman John Lisle says the existing pipes and manholes are structurally compromised.

While the repairs may be disruptive, they present an opportunity to make it easier to reach Glover Archbold Park and the Soapstone Valley. The proposed pipe lining option will require an access road, which could provide connections to Glover Park. ANC3D Commissioner Kent Slowinski, who represents Wesley Heights, suggests that an access road created in consultation with NPS could have bike lanes and link to the future bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue, creating a direct route between Georgetown and American University.

The access road could accommodate other users as well, like visitors with disabilities. Today, the park is "totally inaccessible" to wheelchairs because of a lack of paved paths, said Young.

As with many infrastructure projects, DC Water and NPS will need to find a solution that creates needed sewer infrastructure while minimizing impacts on the ecosystem and neighbors. But the added benefit of a paved, multi-use path in the park could make this project much more attractive to the community.

Lisle notes that the design process has just started, nor have any decisions been made. It's possible that construction may not happen for at least 2 years, he says. That means now is the best time for the community to weigh in. The National Park Services will take public comments on the proposal until August 18. After that, ANC3B will host representatives from DC Water and NPS at their next meeting September 12.


Adams Morgan gas station gives way to condos, retail

For almost 90 years, 1827 Adams Mill Road welcomed drivers with an Exxon gas station. Soon, this lot at the heart of Adams Morgan will make way for a new condominium with several features to encourage future residents to bike or use transit instead.

Rendering of 1827 Adams Mill Road. All media from PGN Architects.

Neighbors generally support the 36-unit building, which will be built in a partnership between PGN Architects and Perseus Realty. They're excited about what establishments could fill the project's 8,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space. But others worry that losing the gas station and repair shop, which first opened in 1926, will make it hard to get their cars fixed.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment agreed to give Perseus and PGN an exception to the height limit, allowing them create a rooftop communal space, which should have great views of downtown Washington. They will also allow the developers to build just 24 parking spaces instead of the required 37, which will reduce the cost of building expensive underground parking.

In April, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C, which represents the surrounding neighborhood, voted 7-1 in favor of the project with several concessions, including that they don't want nightclubs or taverns in the building's retail space.

Residents will get 18 of the building's parking spaces, while the rest would go to commercial tenants. The residential parking spaces will be sold separately from the units, meaning people without cars won't have to pay for space they won't use. Everyone in the building will have to get a chance to buy one parking space before anyone can buy a second, and non-residents will be able to rent any excess spaces.

To reduce the amount of car trips future residents will make, everyone will get a $75 SmarTrip card or one year membership to Capital Bikeshare or a car sharing service. According to the building plans, there will also be 20 bicycle parking spaces.

The developers will pay to repair the "Pueblo Desmuralizado" mural, shown in 2007. Photo by Keith Ivey on Flickr.

In addition, the developer will set prices for any required Inclusionary Zoning units at a level that people making 50% of the average median income in Adams Morgan can afford. They'll also hold a public meeting with ANC 1C residents about their proposed construction traffic plan, and provide a one-time contribution of $2,000 to repair the "Pueblo Desmuralizado" mural on Columbia Road, otherwise known as the Ko Gi Bow Bakery mural.

After the building's finished, they'll continue to pay for upkeep at the pocket park at Adams Mill Road and Lanier Place NW, including periodic irrigation, fertilization, mulching, seasonal plantings, and installation and maintenance of tree boxes.

The developer's agreement with ANC 1C ensures that this project will make a great contribution to Adams Morgan, by supporting new residents who don't drive and giving current residents more shops within walking distance. This is just one of several condo projects in the works in the neighborhood, which altogether will add 175 units.

Any ideas on what you'd like to see on the ground floor?


ANC 3D votes to support bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue

Last night, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D voted 5-4 to support adding bike lanes to New Mexico Avenue and Tunlaw Road in northwest DC. They also voted in favor of wider sidewalks on Nebraska Avenue, and asked DDOT to do a traffic study of New Mexico Avenue to help improve traffic flow and safety around Ward Circle.

Rendering of proposed bike lane on New Mexico Avenue from Greg Billing of WABA.

Ultimately, both sides on this issue wanted the same thing: a safer, less congested New Mexico Avenue. But some residents and ANC commissioners believed that bike lanes and sharrows would exacerbate the current "chaos" and "Armageddon" on the road.

Supporters, meanwhile, argued the opposite: that the project will bring more order to the street, clearly delineate a space on the road for cyclists, remove cyclists from sidewalks, and make cycling a more attractive option to people who currently drive.

As we wrote yesterday, the bike lanes would improve traffic and make cyclists and pedestrians safer. In the audience, speakers who supported the bike lane outnumbered those who opposed it by 4 to 1.

Supporters said that bicyclists tend to support local retail and that the bike lane is a vital connection between Glover Park, American University and Tenleytown, especially now that the N8 Metrobus between those areas has been canceled.

Opponents, meanwhile, declined to support the lane because DDOT didn't perform a traffic study beforehand, as the ANC had asked in 2011. Some stressed their support for bicycling and environmentalism, and claimed that by opposing the lane, they were actually supporting cyclist safety.

There are some traffic issues on New Mexico Avenue today, like trucks unloading outside the Foxhall Square commercial center and blocking the street. But fixing these problems should not be a precondition to move forward with a bike lane, as opponents say. Commissioner Rory Slatko passionately defended the plan, and said that since bicyclists are already riding on New Mexico Avenue, any additional delay to the project puts them in danger.

While the debate over better bike infrastructure may not be settled, this chapter is over. By supporting bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue, ANC 3D took a positive step to improve conditions for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians and endorsed a much-needed connection in DC's growing network of bike infrastructure.


Bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue will benefit everyone

Tonight, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D will vote on a proposal to add bike lanes to Tunlaw Road and New Mexico Avenue between Calvert Street and Nebraska Avenue in Northwest DC. The lanes will benefit cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians alike.

Rendering of proposed bike lane on New Mexico Avenue from Greg Billing of WABA.

New Mexico and Tunlaw form the only connection between two dense but transit-poor neighborhoods, Glover Park and Wesley Heights, and American University and the Department of Homeland Security's campus at Ward Circle.

While New Mexico Avenue is currently signed as a bicycle route, it has no dedicated space for cyclists. Each street has only one lane in each direction, meaning that drivers often get stuck behind bicyclists pedaling up the steep hill on New Mexico near Nebraska Avenue.

Portion of the DC bicycle map showing the New Mexico/Tunlaw route. Click for full map (large PDF).

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) proposes adding a mix of painted bike lanes and sharrows, as the corridor's width changes several times. They do not plan to take away any parking spaces, though planners say they may have to narrow the travel lanes to 10 feet in order to make room for a bike lane.

Portion of plans along the hill, with a bike lane for slow climbing cyclists and sharrows for those riding downhill. Image from DDOT; click for full plans (PDF).

Some have been skeptical about bike lanes

ANC 3B, representing Glover Park and Cathedral Heights, voted to support the proposed bike lanes in February 2011. But ANC 3D, which covers Wesley Heights, Foxhall, and Palisades, voted against it a month earlier. Then-chairman Tom Smith urged DDOT to work closely with the community before going forward.

Since then, current ANC 3D commissioners Mike Gold and Joe Wisniewski and the DC bicycling community have worked with DDOT to improve the plan. Mike Goodno from DDOT's bicycle facilities team discussed it at the board's May meeting, while commissioners held a site visit on New Mexico Avenue with DDOT representatives and local bike commuters in June. DDOT staffers revealed that month that after working with the public, they've decided not to remove any parking spaces on New Mexico Avenue.

However, some residents and ANC commissioners remain skeptical of the DDOT proposal. Many are concerned that bike lanes will add to a sense of chaos in the area and make it more difficult to turn off and onto New Mexico Avenue.

There are also numerous concerns about how the bike lane will coexist with the Foxhall Square commercial center, where delivery trucks frequently park illegally for long stretches in the bus zone. But this an issue with enforcement, not bikes. The building has 3 loading docks in the back and a wide driveway on the side that delivery trucks could use. ANC 3D should press to resolve this, as the illegal deliveries already block a bus zone as well as the sidewalk.

Bicycle lanes will create order, not chaos

We know from experience that drivers can share the road with cyclists. DDOT has built on-street bike lanes throughout the city, most with minimal disruption or confusion. This shouldn't be a contentious proposal, as no travel lanes or parking spaces are being lost. ANC 3D has pressed DDOT for answers and compromise at 3 public meetings, and DDOT has responded and adjusted its plans to address citizen concerns.

Rather than create chaos, the bike lane helps to create order. Cyclists get a dedicated right of way, keeping them safe and separate from drivers, which is particularly important on the steep hill south of Nebraska Avenue where the speed difference between the two modes is the greatest.

It will also keep cyclists off the sidewalk, making it safer for pedestrians, especially senior citizens and young children. And by making the area more attractive for walking and biking, fewer people will drive, leaving more road space for those who prefer to drive.

DC has embarked on an ambitious program to add bike lanes and infrastructure throughout the city, and New Mexico Avenue and Tunlaw Road are an important part of making a citywide network. ANC 3D has done its job deliberating about this issue and hosting community meetings, and DDOT has done its job being responsive and improving its proposal. Now it is time for ANC 3D to support this worthwhile proposal to improve bicycle infrastructure in Ward 3.


Community supports bike lanes around H Street

DC transportation officials would like to help cyclists avoid the streetcar tracks, heavy car traffic, and pedestrians along H Street NE. Yesterday, the transportation committees of both Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) along H Street supported a plan to let cyclists ride in both directions on G and I Streets, while keeping car traffic one-way.

2-way Montreal bike traffic on a 1-way street for cars. Photo by Joe McCann.

G & I Streets NE are both one-way for cars and bicycles for their whole length from 2nd Street NE to their eastern ends, at Maryland and Florida Avenues in between 13th and 14th Streets. Each are 30 feet wide along most of their length, with a few 35-foot-wide blocks at the west ends. Even for the narrower sections, the current travel lane is 16 feet wide versus a typical 9-foot travel lane.

Bicycle planners from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created 4 options. All add painted sharrows in the primary direction of travel (west on I, and east on G). They differed on what to do about traffic in the opposite directon.

  1. Make no further changes and keep bicycle travel only one-way
  2. Maintain parallel parking on both sides of the street and add a contraflow bike lane on either side of the parked cars, depending on the road width
  3. Convert parking to diagonal, back-in along only one side of the street with none on the other side; add a contraflow bike lane on either side of the parked cars depending on the road width
  4. Allow 2-way traffic for both cars and bicycles.

The preferred option, 2. Drawing from DDOT.

The committees favored option 2, as did an informal audience poll. There are smaller sections similar to this option already in place on New Hampshire Avenue and R Street NE near the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

Any of these options could be mixed within the corridor, such that the wider blocks use different layouts or G & I receive different treatments. DDOT bike planner Mike Goodno presented one such hybrid option, "3A," which combined portions of options 2 & 3. This would eliminate only 7 parking spots, and was the second choice of the committees and in an audience poll.

Option 3A drawing by DDOT.

Each of the affected ANCs will take up this issue at their next full commission meetings, and DDOT will continue to refine these options and solicit community feedback. Ideally, DDOT will be able to install this new bicycle infrastructure sometime later this Summer or early Fall.

Disclosure: I am a commissioner for ANC 6C, but not a member of its transportation committee. I did not participate in the audience or committee votes.


Should corner stores require a hearing?

The ANC for southern Capitol Hill, ANC 6B, formally endorsed almost all provisions of DC's zoning update proposal, including removing many parking minimums, but it also wants to require a special exception to add a corner store in a residential area.

Photo by jacdupree on Flickr.

From their letter,

ANC 6B recommends changing the test to a special exception for certain commercial uses in residential areas in any building, including so-called "corner stores", if they meet the certain conditions set forth in OP's proposal.
A special exception for corner stores is far less onerous than the variance it requires today, but still is a significant burden to a small business owner. If the Zoning Commission does choose to require a special exception for any new store in a residential area, however, then we don't also need the long list of restrictions OP created to limit corner stores and their impacts.

Corner stores are very hard to open today

Today, it is almost impossible to put a store in a residential area, even in a location that historically had one, but the store closed. That means neighborhoods that once had walkable retail have lost the opportunity.

Someone can get a variance, but there is a very high legal bar that the owner essentially has to prove they can't use the property without it; since the building works fine as a residence, that's not possible. So even if neighbors are eager for a store, there isn't a path to get one.

One approach would be to allow a special exception, where the owner still has to go through a time-consuming and costly legal process, but the standard is lower. That gives residents a say, which is what many people want to see happen. Still, the process can be a burden; Aaron Wiener's story on the Anacostia Playhouse shows how waiting for a zoning hearing can block something even if people support it and the zoning board is almost sure to approve it.

The Office of Planning took a different approach. They instead said, if people are really concerned that a store will bring trash, noise, and smells, let's just set strict limits to avoid the impacts, but if someone can open a store with minimal effect on neighbors, then allow them to move forward without the time and expense of a hearing.

OP ended up placing so many limits on the stores, though, that it's possible we will see almost no corner stores. In particular, the stores now have to be in actual corner buildings, or buildings originally built as commercial; they also can't be within 500 feet of a commercial corridor to avoid competing with the commercial space.

The proposal also only applies in medium density house zones, but not detached house neighborhoods or higher-density apartment neighborhoods. All told, that leaves very few eligible spots for stores.

Here is Harriet Tregoning explaining the reasons for the corner store proposal at the recent DC Council oversight hearing:

An alternative: special exception, but more broadly

The Zoning Commission (ZC) ought to accept OP's proposal or even loosen the set of restrictions. However, if that board decides they aren't comfortable with any matter-of-right stores and wants to require a special exception, then potential retailers should be able to ask for a special exception to some of the restrictions as well.

In other words, if we believe that it necessary to have a zoning hearing that gives residents a chance to weigh in, and that forum can balance residents' desire for the store against the potential impacts, then we should trust the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) to have the leeway to decide how many square feet is too much, or how close to other stores is too close, or whether the store can include something on the second floor of a building.

OP devised a set of restrictions they thought would ensure stores had minimal impact. They suggested allowing stores as of right in only these extremely narrow circumstances. If ANCs or the ZC don't like this approach, fine, but then we don't really need this extreme set of restrictions.

Instead, make these general criteria the BZA should consider, but give the BZA freedom to allow a corner store even when it doesn't meet all of these criteria. Instead of a rule limiting the stores to corner buildings and historically commercial ones, let the BZA consider the impact on neighbors, understanding that a corner building may be less likely to affect neighbors.

Instead of forbidding stores within 500 feet of commercial corridors, let the BZA decide if the store is going to sap nearby commercial space. Sometimes there's commercial zoning nearby but few or no actual stores, not because the properties are vacant but because they're filled with other things. The BZA could have the power to decide whether a store is going to detract from a commercial strip, or not.

ANC 6B seems open to loosening some of the restrictions:

During ANC 6B's deliberations on this issue, there was discussion about the restriction in OP's proposal that a proposed use not be within 500 feet of a commercial zone and whether a different or more flexible standard might be worth considering. ANC 6B also discussed whether to recommend that "purpose built structures" should be matter-of-right rather than require a special exception. ANC 6B will investigate these questions and may propose further comments and recommendations at a later stage of the consideration of these zoning changes.
Basically, there are two approaches. One is to make zoning define what is and isn't allowable and let people plan their houses and stores around that without having to ask some board for permission each time. Under that approach, it's important to have clear and specific zoning rules to allow what you want but don't allow what you don't want.

The other approach is to pass the ball to a group of people who make a case-by-case decision including resident input on a case by case basis. In this situation, you don't need a lot of detailed rules, just guidelines, because the board can use its discretion.

There's no reason to do have both a very tight set of rules and also require a hearing even to open a store that meets all of those tests. Either go with OP's proposal as is, or replace it wholesale with a rule that you can create a corner store in a residential area under a broader set of circumstances, but need a public hearing and a special exception to do it.

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