Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Dupont Circle

Retail


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 While the moratorium is a crude and outdated tool, as an ANC commissioner, I strongly believe that it's best to end it in stages to minimize disruptions and conflicts.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.

Arts


Theaters can't find homes? Fix the zoning

Smaller theaters that don't own buildings of their own are having trouble finding places to rent. Can DC's zoning update help fix this?


Great spot for a theater. Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

Nelson Pressley writes in the Post about numerous theater troupes which have outgrown their existing spaces, or are losing their spaces. With heavy demand for office and residential space in DC, there aren't a lot of affordable places to rent that can fit the performing arts.

It would make perfect sense for the arts to expand east of the Anacostia River and to other underserved parts of DC where space is cheaper. An arts space, the Anacostia Playhouse, is even working to open in Anacostia, though it's faced delays including some from parking minimums.

Pressley talks about a few groups which found unconventional spaces, like Spooky Action Theater, which uses a church basement on 16th Street in Dupont. But Spooky Action had to seek a zoning variance to keep performing in the church basement, which is very difficult to get; DC's Office of Planning could change this to an easier "special exception" to foster more performing arts.

Arts performances are not a by-right use in a residential area or in a religious building in a residential area. A variance, however, sets high hurdles for anyone seeking one; you have to prove that not getting the variance presents "exceptional practical difficulties or exceptional and undue hardship" on the property owner.

Neighbors had some concerns about where audience members would congregate before shows and during intermission, but ultimately the theater did get its variance with support from the Dupont Circle ANC. The theater and church agreed not to allow any audience members to use the rear alley entrance of the church, so that any noise would be on 16th Street rather than near the rear neighbors' houses.

In its report, the DC Office of Planning said that it couldn't conclude that the need for a theater rose to the level of "exceptional practical difficulties or exceptional and undue hardship," but the Board of Zoning Adjustment ultimately decided that since the church is having financial struggles, its need to rent out its basement is exceptional enough.

But why should this be necessary? If another church, perhaps one in strong financial shape, wants to rent out a basement to the performing arts, and if they can ensure it doesn't unduly harm neighbors, isn't this a win-win for everyone? Unfortunately, the zoning rules make such a beneficial arrangement extremely difficult.

The DC Office of Planning could solve this problem by simply switching performing arts to a "special exception" standard, which is much lower. Under a special exception, the zoning board simply must determine that a use doesn't harm the public good, but there need not be some "exceptional" circumstance. For example, you can locate a home daycare in a residential zone, but have to get a special exception. The same could apply to a theater.

I live in a residential zone, and there happens to be a theater on my own block. It's a great asset, not a detriment. Theaters won't be able to afford to rent spaces in busy commercial zones when they're competing with restaurants and furniture stores. We can let them use other spaces nearby, spaces not open to retailers, and help the arts while enriching our neighborhoods with fun and culture.

(And go see a show at Spooky Action, or my neighbor the Keegan, or the Studio, Woolly Mammoth, or any of the other great theater groups in DC that put on interesting plays that are new and/or low-cost. There's a lot more to arts besides the Kennedy Center and Shakespeare!)

Public Spaces


Council commitee funds Stead Park upgrades

Parents from around DC who throng Dupont Circle's Stead Park can rejoice: Yesterday, after months of community advocacy, a DC Council committee voted to fund upgrades that will expand play space, install a jogging track, and better utilize the large playing field.


Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Stead Park has an endowment from the Stead Family, which will help maintain the transformational renovations, but the project requires city funds. Mayor Gray originally included $1.6 million in capital funds in his budget, but not until Fiscal Year 2015, which starts in October of 2014.

Residents asked the Council to approve the funding and move it up to FY 2014. Marion Barry (ward 8), the chairman of the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs, was very supportive; yesterday, his committee voted 5-0 to put the funding in FY 2014, which will allow the construction happen over the next year.

The committee report says,

While the Committee applauds the Mayor for funding this initiative, the community and advocates of Stead Park are ready now for the much needed project... In order to not slow down the major progress of advocates, the committee recommends that 1.6 million of funding be moved into the FY14 budget so that the project can begin in the next fiscal year.
While playground is packed, field often goes unused

Stead Park, on P Street between 16th and 17th, has some playgrounds for children, a basketball court, and a large playing field. A few wonderful sports teams and after-school programs use the field loyally and lovingly, and know how rare such space is in this part of the city.

However, the field currently doesn't get much use during the rest of the day. It's also in bad shape. Holes and dirt patches mar the surface, and large puddles make it unusable after heavy rain.


Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

Meanwhile, Stead's extremely popular playground draws parents from Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, U Street, Shaw, Logan, and Dupont. Friends of Stead Park, whose board I serve on, has been gathering community input since last year. Because the playing field is so underused, many residents without children that we've spoken to didn't even know the acre of greenspace exists behind the playground.

On Sunday, the field hosted a rare community event: a Jewish Music Festival organized by the nearby JCC. But even though the field was bustling, the playground was still very crowded with visitors from all over. Over 20 strollers and dozens of kids and parents were trying not to bump into each other as they crammed among the jungle gyms.

The playground was renovated 6 years ago and is very popular, while the field has sadly been neglected. Many of the parents we spoke to said that while they want to stay in the city and raise their kids here, they worry that there currently is not enough multi-use space or outdoors options for recreation and community building located nearby.

Project will provide fitness, recreation, and entertainment for all ages

With the city assistance, Friends of Stead Park plans to renovate the field with a smoother surface, better drainage, and artificial turf that will hold up better with use. A jogging track with trees and benches around the edge will give people another way to use the field during the day, while it will remain large enough for the organized sports leagues that use it in the evening.

A small part of the field space will become a kiddie splash park. A performance stage behind the existing building will allow the field to host more concerts, films, and cultural programming.


Plans for the park.

Parents and community members are excited to let their kids run around the field safely and reduce congestion on the playground. They are happy that more concerts, films, and cultural programming will come to the performance stage. They were relieved that there will finally be trees, shade, and seating, and places for children to splash on hot days. They are excited to be able to go for a jog without having to battle with street traffic.

Friends of Stead Park told the committee that we are glad the city is upgrading playgrounds, including the Harrison playground on V Street. That is necessary since the number of adults and children is growing so rapidly. Stead's playground is already quite nice and doesn't have much room to expand, but this great piece of green space is crying out for better and more use.

Starting the project this year will go a long way toward encouraging families to stay in the city and to be actively engaged, as community members said recently and during public meetings last year.

We would like to thank Councilmember Barry and the other members of the committee for voting to accelerate the funding. We ask that the full Council retain this relatively low-cost, high-value project in the FY2014 budget when it votes on May 22, so we can move forward this year to start improving the field and provide some much-needed space and options for our families and our community.

Transit


New 16th Street buses will run from Columbia Heights

WMATA has settled on a route for its new 16th Street short turn bus. The new service will run every 13 minutes from Harvard Street to downtown DC, from 7:30-9:15 am. It will begin on March 25.


Selected route. Image by the author.

The new route is intended to relieve extreme overcrowding on the southern portion of 16th Street during the morning rush.

Previously, WMATA had only considered running the route as far north as Meridian Hill Park. Metro bus planner Jim Hamre says that had been based on the assumption that only 2 buses would be available. Since 3 are actually available, they can go a little further north and maintain frequent enough service to make a difference.

Hamre announced the new plan at last night's Dupont Circle ANC meeting. Commissioner Kishan Putta, who organized earlier community meetings to push for the the change, then introduced a resolution of support, which the ANC approved.

The route will not be called the S3, as I originally thought. It will simply be called the "S2 Short." For riders on 16th Street, it will look like any other S2.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Transit


More bus service may come to 16th Street's southern half

WMATA might beef up service on the busy 16th Street (S) line with a bus starting in Columbia Heights, where existing S buses often become too full to pick up passengers. That was one of the options WMATA and DDOT bus planners discussed with riders at a meeting last Monday.


Photo by Jess J on Flickr.

Every bus commuter knows that during morning rush hour, the people who board a bus early in the route are the ones who get the seats. They can get some reading or work done, or fit in one final snooze before they start their days.

But to riders who board the 16th Street "S-line" buses on the the southern half of the route, it's not just a matter of getting a seat. Full buses pass them by, one after another, during the morning crunch. More and more commuters in that section have been giving up on the bus altogether and either waste money and gasoline on taxis and cars, or walk relatively long distances, making them late to work.

25 residents packed a daycare room at the Jewish Community Center on a cold and rainy night last Monday evening and shared not only their frustrations, but also their thoughtful ideas. Express and Current reporters also were there. Dozens of residents who could not attend emailed me their concerns and ideas, which I shared with WMATA officials.

For example, rider Mary M. wrote,

Just this week (Tues, Wed, and today, Thurs), it has taken me 45-50 minutes to get from 16th & V to 14th & I, and anywhere from 4 to 6 buses have passed the stop each morning because they are too crowded to accept any more passengers. (Also, on Tuesday morning, 2 buses that had hardly anyone standing passed us by in the cold). There are usually 15-20 people waiting at V St in the mornings.
At the meeting, S bus riders heard from WMATA bus planners Jim Hamre and David Erion and DDOT's Steve Strauss. All 3 have a wealth of experience with District bus service. They have worked to make improvements in the past, like the S9 express bus. Rapid population growth in central DC has created challenges for bus service to keep up, they said.

But they offered hope of addressing this problem without affecting service for those who live along the northern half of the route. On Friday, in a follow-up phone call, Hamre also told me that WMATA is working on new proposals which he can discuss with the community around the 3rd week of February.

New route could serve half of 16th, if there's a space to lay over

One possibility discussed with Hamre during the meeting is a rush hour route focused on the morning problem strip: Columbia Road to downtown DC. But one obstacle is layover spacea bus route requires a location for the bus drivers to park, pause, and get ready for an on-time departure. My ANC colleague Noah Smith proposed inquiring about space in nearby neighborhoods.

We asked whether the route could run for only the 8-9 am hour, and therefore perhaps avoid the need for the parking stop. But the availability of a layover space is a very important part of running a bus route, the planners said. Would the elusive search for bus-length parking in one of the most congested parts of town stall this idea?

After the meeting, my wife Divya, who often jogs to Rock Creek and back, suggested asking about using the existing turnaround area on Calvert Street, by the Duke Ellington Bridge, where the 90s bus lines end today. That is less than 5 blocks from Columbia Road, and then just another 5 blocks from the 16th & Columbia intersection.

Hamre was intrigued by the idea when we discussed it by phone. While it's not ideal, he said he'd look into it, among other possibilities. (None of those possibilities include reducing service to the northern half of the S route).

Other ideas that came up at the meeting include posting bus supervisors along the current S line to efficiently reorder buses en route, and consolidating certain stops that are very close together (at least during rush hour) along 16th Street.

We are looking forward to seeing WMATA's proposals later this month. As soon as the meeting is confirmed, we will share it here and elsewhere to hopefully get an even bigger turnout than the one we had last Monday. Thanks go to the Jewish Community Center for providing the space, WMATA and DDOT officials for attending, and Noah Smith, who collaborated with me to organize the event.

Events


On the calendar: White Flint happy hour, Dupont buses, Potomac Ave, Bethesda sidewalk, gentrification and more

What are you doing this week? If you care about the future of the White Flint area, there's a happy hour Tuesday. If you care about gentrification in DC, you might enjoy a panel discussion in Anacostia Thursday.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

If you care about bus service on 16th Street, sidewalks from Friendship Heights to Bethesda, or pedestrian and bike safety around Potomac Avenue Metro, there are local community meetings on important transportation projects tonight and Thursday. And take a tour of Frederick Douglass's Anacostia with John Muller Saturday.

Here are some highlights from the Greater Greater Washington calendar:

16th Street buses in Dupont: WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre will meet with residents about the performance of the S line, where many riders have to endure long waits during rush hour. That's not because the buses take a long time to come, but rather, full bus after full bus pass them by on this extremely popular line.

New Dupont ANC commissioner Kishan Putta organized the meeting, tonight (Monday), 7:30 pm at the JCC, 16th and Q (enter on Q Street). Residents are free to bring up concerns about other bus lines as well.

Sidewalk on Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda: Maryland SHA wants to build a 6-foot sidewalk on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue between Friendship Heights and Bethesda. The Little Falls Watershed Alliance is opposing the sidewalk because it will require cutting down trees, but WABA wants to ensure there's a safe route for pedestrians and cyclists on this road.

There's a public meeting tonight (Monday), 7:30-9 pm at Somerset Town Hall, 4510 Cumberland Avenue, Chevy Chase, where SHA will present plans and hear from residents.

Friends of White Flint happy hour: On Tuesday, Friends of White Flint and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are having a happy hour to talk about how to make the suburbs "hip," or much more than "hip."

The happy hour starts at 5:30pm at Seasons 52, 11414 Rockville Pike, a short walk from the White Flint Metro station. Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner will be there; RSVP here.


Image from DDOT.
Potomac Ave "circle": DDOT has been studying ways to improve the intersection of Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues, at the Potomac Avenue Metro. A previous study recommended a sort of square with 5-lane roadways around the edge; at this meeting, DDOT will present its new ideas, which it hasn't yet released, and hear from residents.

The meeting is Thursday, January 31, 6:30-8:30pm at Payne Elementary, 1445 C Street, SE.

Does redevelopment mean gentrification? River East Emerging Leaders (r.e.e.l.) is convening a panel discussion on the positive and negative effects of redevelopment, and lessons learned for the future.

The panel will include NBC's Tom Sherwood, planning head Harriet Tregoning, Clinton Yates of the Washington Post, and a number of other community and city leaders. It's Thursday, January 31, 7 pm at the DHCD Community Room, 1800 Martin Luther King Avenue, SE in Anacostia. RSVP at info@reeldc.org.

Frederick Douglass's Anacostia: Greater Greater Washington contributor John Muller, who recently wrote a book about Frederick Douglass and his years in Anacostia, is giving a tour Saturday of the places Douglass frequented, including majestic views of the Capitol, and historical explanations of Douglass's life. The tour runs from 1-2:30 pm and costs $30.

MoveDC Idea Exchange: And don't forget, Saturday, February 9th is the big "Idea Exchange" for DDOT's moveDC citywide transportation plan. You can stop by the MLK Library for fun and even family-friendly interactive transportation booths anytime from 9:30-3.

An organized program begins at 10:30, including a panel discussion at 11 featuring PolicyLink's Anita Hairston, author Chris Leinberger, and Slate blogger Matthew Yglesias.

Have an event for the calendar? Post it in the comments or email it to events@ggwash.org.

Public Spaces


Neighbors alarmed when old oaks suddenly disappear

Residents really value the trees in their neighborhoods, and when the city cuts them down, it's an irreversible decision. Dupont Circle Nord Wennerstrom wrote in about trees at Ross Elementary, on R Street, suddenly disappearing:


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.
Three years ago GGW's David Alpert wrote an article about tree removal on the 1700 block of Corcoran Street, NW that caused a neighborhood uproar. Well, three years later and one block north, it's happening again.

On Dec. 31, 2012, on the grounds of the Ross Elementary School, contractors for the Department of General Services (DGS) chopped down one large failing oak and then chopped down two large perfectly healthy oaksamong the largest trees on the block. DGS, which maintains DCPS buildings and grounds, did not notify the neighborhood, the school's principal, the DCPS Chancellor's office or Councilmember Jack Evans. DDOT/Urban Forestry was similarly unaware.

Neighbors intervened to prevent a complete clear cuttingtoday one last oak still stands. Councilmember Evans' office has gotten involved along with ANC 2B03 rep Stephanie Maltz. The contractors on site, Andersen Tree Expert Co., said an arborist had certified the need for the trees to come down. Actually, the arborist is an Andersen employee, and Andersen got the job for chopping down the trees and was paid by the tree.
Wennerstrom's detailed explanation about the DGS's and Andersen's stated reasons for taking down the trees (which Wennerstrom finds dubious) are below. Certainly the biggest issue is not communicating about the issue ahead of time. Further, there is the question of whether arborists tend to be overzealous about taking out trees.

I've talked to several arborists, both at DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration and private arborists I've hired to prune the tree on my own property. You might expect someone whose job is caring for trees to want to do everything possible to maximize tree life, but I've found that many arborists would take down a lot more trees, and a lot earlier, than most residents would.

Our block, not far from Ross, has a number of very large oak trees. Some of them have fungus starting to grow near the roots, which will eventually kill the trees. However, they could last many more years before that happens. On the other hand, over time this will weaken the roots, and eventually, one might fall in a large storm, damaging nearby houses.

When we had a private arborist to look at our private tree, I asked him about some of the street trees along the block. He said he would probably recommend taking several of those down (not the one closest to our house, fortunately) sooner rather than later.

The experts would often choose to take trees down as soon as anything seems wrong. Meanwhile, residents love their trees, and want to keep them up. DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration has to balance residents' desire to preserve trees against the profession's predilection for removal.

It's hard to know who is right. The arborist profession might know what we don't. On the other hand, they could fall victim to orthodoxies around an arbitrary "standard." Certainly, DDOT has its standards, like cutting all branches up to 8 feet away from houses, just as the traffic engineering profession has controversial standards for road curvature, clear zones and more. The 8-foot tree standard keeps branches from hitting the houses, but also yields odd-shaped trees and cuts down on the shade that helps keep houses cool.

Here is the rest of Wennerstrom's letter:

On Dec. 31, Andersen reps on site and contacted by telephone offered several reasons for the demolitionincluding root rot due to excessive ground moisture, the poor health of the trees, the trees were causing basement leaks and, what turns out to be the real reason, trenching needs to be done around the perimeter of the building to remedy the leaks, an action that will endanger the trees.

In fact, on Dec. 26, an Andersen inspection determined there was no root rot yet on Dec. 31 their reps insisted root rot was the cause; the Ward 4 arborist Joel Conlon, who inspected the trees on Dec. 31, and says there's no evidence the trees were in poor health, contradicting what Andersen reps were telling the neighbors; and landscape architect James Urban, one of the nation's leading authorities on design with trees and soils in urban settings, questioned the aggressive trenching/leak remediation plan proposed. Urban says tree and root pruning, along with careful trenching would permit the need leak remediation without destroying the trees.

Attempts to get information from DGS continue to be frustrating. For example, we requested the written evaluation that justified the trees' removal and we only received a cover letter and a crudely drawn schematic diagram. Not included, and crucial to the discussion, were Andersen's eight pages of tree evaluation forms with several questionable observations.

Now DGS has come up with a new reason for the trees' removal. In the Jan. 9 edition of the Dupont Current, DGS spokesperson Kenneth Diggs is quoted as saying the trees are causing the sidewalk to buckle. That's completely untrueno sidewalks are buckling. Mr. Diggs and DGS made that up.

We enjoy having Ross Elementary as our across-the-street neighbor and recognize the school's need for building improvementswe've already lived through three months of a very noisy and filthy renovation this past summer.

DGS may have done everything "by the book", but they continue to do a really poor job of communicating with the public.

This weekend, Wennerstrom followed up with an update:
On the Ross front, I've heard from another DGS spokesperson. The bottom line is that DGS never considered any basement leak remediation methods that would also have saved the treesthey were doomed from the outset. Their arborist's certification that the trees had to go was a pro forma move.

Nevertheless, in a January 2, 2013 email response to Ward 2 Council Member Jack Evans about the Ross situation, DGS Director Brian Hanlon wrote: "I never take lightly the removal of any tree." (Imagine if DGS were in charge of RGIII's healthcare, rather than microsurgery for his knee, they would have amputated his leg).

Transit


Transit fights crime

A lot of suburban areas around the nation once (and, in some places, still) opposed building transit lines because they feared it would bring crime. We know that's bogus, but got another piece of evidence today.


Photo by alesacm on Twitter.

DCist reports that a man robbed a Wells Fargo bank on K Street this morning, then tried to get away by Red Line train. MPD asked Metro to hold the trains, and the agency promptly robbed the man of his choice of getaway vehicle.

This is an example of what was already obvious to most thinking people: transit is a less appealing mode of transit for robberies, not an invitation to commit them. Generally, the people who used (or still use) this argument against transit were (or are) white suburbs afraid of they darker-skinned people they associated (or still associate) with transit.

They warned that a rail line to a wealthy town would lead people from the scary inner city to take the train up, rob people, then speed away by train. This ignores the obvious fact that any criminal who tries to escape by transit is putting himself in a perfect container for police to close off and capture him.

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