Posts about Shaw
Church parking is a huge problem in Shaw, especially today. It's commonly said that the churches in Shaw used to serve immediate residents, and thus didn't need as much parking, but as their congregants have moved farther away over time, they need space for their cars on Sundays. But is this true?
Of the 42 churches reporting in the NW Urban Renewal area (see map), only 14 had 40% or more of their membership in the renewal area in 1957. Yes, that is 56 years ago, but as present day churches grousing about parking dredge up members who've been attending for 40-50 years as an excuse to ignore parking violations of members of undetermined tenure, I say it is fair to look at membership patterns from way back then.
In [an Examiner article from October, entitled "Parking conflicts prompting churches to flee D.C.,"] Lincoln Congregational Temple is mentioned as one of the complaining churches. On page 39 of the 1957 survey only 25% of its congregants lived in the area and supposedly of that, most were elderly, people who should be by now at home with Jesus. With the Savior and not driving and trying to find a parking spot.The parking problem has grown especially acute recently. Residents petitioned DDOT to extend residential permit parking (RPP) to Sundays, meaning churchgoers who don't live in the area can only park for 2 hours on RPP blocks and not at all on one side of every street. That has made it impossible for church patrons to use the street parking.
In '57 a majority of their membership [were] up in Brookland and over in Kenilworth. It is possible that the church recruited a ton of members in the Shaw area since the survey, who then moved out of the area and come back on Sundays. However, I don't think that gives anyone a moral right to a parking spot, no more than having the right to use the toilet in your first apartment years after you turned in the keys and got your deposit back.
Shaw is chock full of churches, and some of them have figured out how to worship without double parking and the like. Sadly it is the ones who haven't seriously looked for solutions, other than breaking the law, who seem to scream the loudest. It is embarrassing as a believer, when some church leaders try to make parking a theological issue. Parking ain't in the Bible.
I also suspect that in 1957 Shaw had fewer resident-owned cars, so there wasn't the same level of competition for curb space.
DDOT has been working with individual churches for some time to try to find extra space that can accommodate parking on Sundays, like diagonal parking or space along the medians of wide avenues. But any such parking has to be open to all, not just churchgoers (anything else would be fairly clearly unconstitutional), and just adding more free parking won't ultimately solve the problem.
Many of the churches, but not all, have nearby office buildings or public schools with unused parking capacity on Sundays. There should be a way to work out a deal where the churches can use these lots. However, that parking won't be entirely free.
As we saw with the compromise the Washington Interfaith Network worked out for Columbia Heights churches to use the DC USA garage, once free parking is clearly not an option, suddenly a compromise that involves non-free parking becomes tenable.
The neighborhood parking also isn't entirely full, now that it's so restricted. It should be possible to let some people who want to drive to Shaw park on neighborhood streets, but there isn't room for all. How can DC allocate this scarce resource? The only ways to divvy up a limited resource is lottery, queue, pricing, favoritism (choosing one preferential group), or a hodgepodge.
Right now, it's favoritism for residents, with no option for others. The most sensible approach would be to set up a parking pass that's not free, perhaps also limited in number, which people could purchase to park in Shaw on Sundays. But the assumption that parking must be free, that free parking is a God-given right, is a straitjacket that forecloses better, creative solutions.
Update: The change to the parking included restrictions to RPP holders only on one side of every street. The original article did not mention this feature of the new policy. It has been corrected.
Shaw residents will soon not be able to enjoy resident parking privileges in Logan Circle, while far more distant residents of neighborhoods like Georgetown and Kalorama will get special entitlements. That's the consequence of the recent redistricting and Evans' successful fight 2 weeks ago against a bill that would have kept parking zones from changing.
Shaw moved from Ward 2 to Ward 6 in the recent redistricting. A line in the redistricting committee report proposed keeping parking zones fixed as ward boundaries change, and the Gray administration sent the Council legislation to do just that. But Evans successfully blocked the bill on July 10, which means that Shaw residents will soon lose Ward 2 parking stickers and gain Ward 6 stickers.
Meanwhile, Logan Circle will soon get a pilot program reserving one side of every street for Ward 2 residents only. This will make it far easier for Ward 2 residents to park in Logan, even if they live at the other end of the ward in Georgetown or Kalorama, but harder for residents of other wards to park there, including the people of newly-6 Shaw.
DC parking zones are fundamentally unfair
Unlike almost all other cities, DC sets zones for its resident permit parking (RPP) program based on political ward boundaries, rather than a some objective and geographic standard. Our zones are also very large, larger than many other cities; instead of only helping residents park in their own neighborhoods, people get special rights to park in other people's neighborhoods so long as they are in the same ward.
Some people really like that. When redistricting moved the Palisades from Ward 2, which spans downtown, to upper Northwest's Ward 3 in 2002, residents objected. They were not upset because they didn't want the Ward 3 councilmember to represent them, but because they liked having a special privilege to drive to places like Foggy Bottom or Logan Circle and park with special resident privileges.
However, this is unfair to residents of the more desirable parking areas. At a recent parking hearing, Anne-Marie Bairstow of Woodley Park argued for smaller zones. She said that many people drive from other neighborhoods to Woodley Park, use their resident privileges to park, and take Metro. This deprives actual Woodley residents of the benefits of the RPP system.
It's also unfair to people who happen to live over a line. Palisades residents suddenly lost a privilege. Adams Morgan residents, who are in Ward 1, or Bloomingdale residents in Ward 5 never had that privilege in the first place.
This isn't the purpose of RPP. DC has a program to favor residents of an area in the competition for on-street parking spaces. It could limit that to only the immediate neighborhood, which would be fair, or perhaps it could instead give the privilege to anyone in the District, but giving it to an arbitrary set of alternative neighborhoods is not.
There's reason to be extra sensitive to this issue because redistricting moved Shaw out of Ward 2 and into Ward 6. Shaw happened to be the lowest-income and most-minority section of the ward, which has now gotten even richer and whiter. That gives this policy action an added economic and racial effect, whether or not that was the intent.
When Kingman Park moved from Ward 6 to 7, it stayed in Zone 6, so there is precedent already for keeping neighborhoods in zones other than their ward.
Upcoming Logan restriction will further discriminate against Shaw
Evans' office also recently proposed setting aside one side of every street in Logan Circle for Zone 2 parking only. Normally, most residential streets allow people with the right zone sticker to park all day, and people without it can still park during the day for 2 hours and nights and weekends without limit. But a few years ago, parts of Wards 1 and 6 started having one side of each street restricted so that people without the right zone sticker couldn't
ever park there at all park there at all during RPP enforcement hours.
Evans decided to suggest this for Logan as well. However, his staff and the Logan ANC turned down a suggestion to limit the special privilege to people actually in Logan. If they had done that, this would have put equal limits on the people of Shaw and people of Georgetown (and Dupont, where I live). If this bill had passed, then Shaw would have still gotten the privilege, though people of Bloomingdale, the Palisades, or Columbia Heights would not.
Instead, we have an even less fair outcome than either of those.
Shaw doesn't only lose out; they do gain the ability to park with resident privileges in Ward 6, including H Street, Barracks Row, and around the ballpark. That includes a lot of streets that only allow Ward 6 parkers on one side. However, while there hasn't been any kind of ward-wide poll, at least some Shaw leaders had specifically asked to stay in Zone 2, suggesting that residents preferred 2. Most of 2 is closer to Shaw than most of 6.
The best solution is to let DDOT, or some sort of independent commission, set parking zone boundaries based on neighborhoods and geographically-similar regions instead of political wards, as most other cities do. Or the zones could correspond to ANCs, with a provision that people right near an edge can still park in an adjacent zone.
But taking privileges from Shaw without taking them from other neighborhoods to the west isn't the right answer and isn't fair.
The National Capital Park and Planning Commission, forerunner to today's NCPC, declared most of Shaw, Mount Vernon Square and Triangle, Capitol Hill, Southwest, Buena Vista and other neighborhoods "obsolete" in 1950. Yes, amazingly, they really used that term.
That's some of the astounding information in the 1950 document Washington, Present and Future from NCPPC. ShawNeighborhood listserv participant RayM scanned a number of pages showing plans to radically remove multi-family dwellings from historic neighborhoods and force the kind of low-density, single-use, less walkable pattern of development that permanently destroyed many urban areas.
What was wrong? People lived in neighborhoods with alley dwellings, some of which were less well maintained. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs talked about how planners in Boston declared the North End a similar "slum" simply because people lived at a certain population density per acre, and the view at the time was that government had to force people to live more spread out.
There are certainly reasons to believe race played a part as well; these neighborhoods were predominantly African-American. The solution, people thought at the time, was to tear down the old neighborhoods and build new ones in the "towers in the park" style of the housing projects we all know and loathe today. Here is their plan for Shaw:
Fortunately for Shaw, a thriving neighborhood with beautiful old row houses and some of DC's best-preserved carriage homes, most of this plan never came to pass. It largely did, however, in Southwest:
Besides wholesale demolition of neighborhoods, planners tried to push people out of so-called "blighted" neighborhoods with zoning. On Capitol Hill, for instance, the zoning plan wanted to take the fabric of different size buildings coexisting and declare that illegal. Instead, all commerce in the NE quadrant of the Hill would be restricted to H Street, Massachusetts, and a 2-block stretch of 8th, and all multifamily to Maryland Avenue.
They also wanted to widen 11th Street and demolish everything for 2 blocks on either side of East Capitol to create a new extended Mall. (This is the reason that the street between A and C NE is Constitution, not B, and likewise in SE is Independence, even though the original L'Enfant plan called them B Street).
Restore the zoning code to legalize historic neighborhoods
The current DC Zoning Update is rewriting the 1958 zoning code that came from this era. When evaluating it and other proposals, it's important to recognize that some characteristics of the District today come directly out of explicit "social engineering" decisions that planners pushed on the District at the time.
Rules against accessory dwellings and corner stores, parking minimums and single-use zoning were all efforts to zone many of the people, mostly African-American, out of the neighborhoods. When the Office of Planning suggests relaxing certain rules, often that's because the rule doesn't describe what's in the neighborhood today, or what was there in 1950, since the 1958 code was deliberately trying to zone out historic uses.
Accessory dwellings, corner stores, and more are all ways to let the city be what it naturally grew to be, before people around 1950 decided to force it to change. You can help by joining Pro-DC today.
The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board will grant a license for All Souls, the proposed restaurant to occupy the long-vacant storefront at 725 T Street NW in the Shaw neighborhood. While most liquor license applications face protests over noise and trash, several residents had objected on the grounds that children at the school across the street would be harmed by merely viewing adults consuming alcohol.
The objection seemed like a quaint, Puritanical reaction incongruent with a diverse, secular city. All Souls thus became a lightning rod for unexpected opposition in March, drawing crowds and TV news coverage to its liquor license hearing. Long before the hearing, however, the proprietor agreed to only serve alcohol inside and only serve after 5 pm.
DC law does, however, recognize that alcohol-serving establishments near schools merit at least some level of extra scrutiny. In fact the law prohibits the issuance of liquor licenses:
within 400 feet of a public, private, or parochial primary, elementary, or high school; college or university; or recreation area operated by the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation (DC Code §25-314(b)(1)).The protestors, legally referred to as "protestants", thought this provision would damn the All Souls application. The same section of the DC Code, however, lists 10 exceptions to the 400-foot rule, including this important one:
The 400-foot restriction shall not apply if there exists within 400 feet a currently-functioning establishment holding a license of the same class at the time that the new application is submitted. (DC Code §25-314(b)(3))The board found that the Mesobe market on 7th Street NW is indeed already within 400 feet of the school. The distance measurement, the board's ruling stated, "'shall be the shortest distance between the property lines of the places.' 23 DCMR §101.1 (West Supp. 2012)."
The existence of Mesobe within 400 feet of the school provides a precedent that satisfies the exception for All Souls, the board decided in its ruling.
With that argument down, the board addressed the general assertion that it is unsafe for children to view adults consuming alcohol. Here is where the board delivered its most scathing criticism of the objectors:
Finally, we reject the Protestants' unsubstantiated assertion that the mere sight of the Applicant's tavern will be detrimental to the students of Cleveland Elementary School... Indeed, if we accepted the Protestants' argument that the mere sight of adults in a tavern consuming alcohol is harmful to children, the Board would similarly have to ban children from:The board further described the objection as "unworkable, unreasonable, and not in accordance with current societal practices."
- entering restaurants that serve alcohol to patrons;
- attending sporting events where alcohol may be consumed by adult fans;
- eating dinner with their parents if wine is served with the parents' meal;
- participating in religious ceremonies where wine is part of the service; and
- walking through neighborhoods with large concentrations of liquor-serving establishments during the daytime, such as Adams Morgan and U Street.
There are a few important lessons from this case. The most important is that District boards don't always cave to the flimsily argued demands of a vocal few. A common complaint, especially among the business community, is that DC's various boards, such as Zoning Commission, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), the Old Georgetown Board, the ABC Board, etc., exercise their discretion in ways that are too often inconsistent or outright bizarre.
The most frustrating experience with these boards is encountering unsupported opinions. In cases before the HPRB, many opponents argue that a proposed building is "incompatible" with the historic district while they fail to elaborate why it is allegedly incompatible. Georgetown resident Topher Matthews explained this sentiment that I have also encountered when following historic preservation cases:
Time and time again, neighbors use the historic preservation design review process to object to the size of the project rarely out of any genuine concern for the preservation of the neighborhood's historic character but rather because they simply just don't like the project. The basis for the complaints would be no different than if the project were in a brand new development with no historic character: it blocks my view, it's too big, you'll be able to see into my garden, et cetera.In the All Souls case, the school proximity argument failed to establish harm to students to a degree that would warrant killing off a fledgling local business. It is a non sequitur to many people that children are harmed by catching a glimpse of adults across the street sipping wine at 5 pm. Merely believing that something is true doesn't necessarily make it true. In rejecting this claim, the ABC Board rightly stood firm in the factual evidence presented to it.
The entire licensing process, which was unusually protracted in this case, certainly cost the proprietor of All Souls a hefty sum in legal fees. When the proprietor attended community meetings on his proposed license, he usually had his attorney with him to address the fine legal distinctions, especially as it applied to the somewhat complicated 400-foot rule.
In fact I pitied the man. All he wanted to do was open up his small businesses. His modest license request unleashed the histrionic vitriol of a few strident Furies who spoke as though he were defiling the sanctity of childhood itself!
The board ratified a voluntary agreement between All Souls and three neighbors uninvolved in the school-proximity protest. The text of this side agreement is not currently available, but if it is like most other voluntary agreements, it likely negotiated closing hours and restrictions on indoor music volume, not moral arguments about child psychology and societal vice.
For all the complaints about DC's regulatory bodies, the regulatory system worked rationally in this case. The board ratified the agreement with the neighbors willing to compromise. It rejected outright the protest of people who refused to believe the business should even exist.
The good news is that even the opponents who lost their case actually won. Cleveland Elementary School is a great school and will continue to be a great school long after All Souls has poured its inaugural beer. The conversion of the vacant storefront into an occupied business will deter the loitering and drug-dealing along that block of T Street and will remove a visible physical blight from the neighborhood.
The neighborhood and the school will both be better off once All Souls opens.
Cross-posted at Left for LeDroit.
Shaw's Tavern closed last week because the restaurant has not yet been granted a liquor license. Several commentators blamed DC's liquor license regulatory system. But Shaw's could be serving alcohol already if the management had done a little legwork.
The tavern got into trouble with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) for allegedly serving alcohol without a license during a charity event, and even altering documents to mislead alcohol suppliers into believing Shaw's had the necessary permission.
Facing this, ABRA refused to provide a license until the ABC Board, which sets policies and rules on contested cases, can weigh in. It held a hearing on August 10th, and has up to 90 days to rule. Not making enough money from food alone, Shaw's closed its doors and laid off its staff.
Megan McArdle and Matthew Yglesias blame the government. Yglesias says that there's plenty of demand for bars and lots of vacant storefronts, but ABRA policies are "a sign to would-be entrepreneurs everywhere that their potential investments are much riskier than a superficial read of market conditions would suggest." McArdle says,
Punishing a restaurant owner for a liquor license violation with an open-ended maybe-we'll-give-you-a-license-maybe-we-won't delay is equivalent to giving someone the death penalty for a parking violation. Moreover, it punishes the neighbors and the employees right along with the owner.Their arguments, though, ignore management's responsibility for the pickle they're in, and instead push the idea that the city should turn a blind eye to the situation rather than acknowledge any infractions. McArdle, Yglesias, a number of City Paper commenters, and others seem to believe we should simply let bygones be bygones and give Shaw's its license.
We'd like to see Shaw's obtain a liquor license. The building it occupies was vacant for years, and was an eyesore on Florida Avenue. Today, it's a handsome façade on the edge of the Shaw and LeDroit Park neighborhoods. And there's no doubt the restaurant struggled to stay open without a license. But the fact remains that the ownership is solely at fault for the delayed licensing.
To gain insight to the liquor licensing process, we spoke with Matt Ashburn, who owns Capital City Diner in the Trinidad neighborhood. Ashburn has had extensive experience dealing with city agencies to get his restaurant up and running. He's not afraid to speak his mind regarding problems that come from dealing with the city, but has nothing bad to say about ABRA.
Ashburn says they are the most professional, straightforward city agency he has dealt with, and challenged us to find one more customer-friendly. He described the agency as one that's "run like a business," and that the process to obtain a "stipulated" liquor license, which is the temporary license that an establishment can get if there is no community protest, is quite fast and simple.
ABRA employees are available to walk you through the process if you need help, and the 20-page application form (PDF) is only that long because of the helpful, step-by-step instructions embedded in it to make the process as simple as possible. Capital City Diner received its stipulated license by going before the local ANC (5B), requesting a letter of support, and then filing the application. The restaurant was able to legally serve beer after a 3-day turnaround.
Is Ashburn's experience typical or is ABRA's process an impediment? When it comes to fights with neighbors, Phil Lepanto has said ABRA is too reactive instead of proactive, and Natalie Avery argued ABRA needs to work to be more collaborative. But in this case, neighborhood opposition was not an issue.
Shaw's Tavern is located within ANC 2C. The minutes of their April meeting report a unanimous vote to provide a similar letter of support for the tavern.
It's not clear what happened between the April meeting, when the ANC gave their blessing for a stipulated license, and the July 16th "soft launch" that got Shaw's in hot water.
More than 3 months passed with no license, while Capital City Diner got one in just 3 days. What did the management do regarding the license in that 3 months? Why didn't they have a stipulated license as quickly as Capital City Diner did?
Since then, the ABC Board had a hearing on August 10th, with the understanding that a ruling would come down regarding the license within 90 days. In the end, we don't know how the ABC board will rule regarding the restaurant's liquor license.
If we had to hazard a guess, we'd wager that they'll be given a slap on the wrist and a license. All of the hand-wringing we're reading and writing about now could be a small bump on the road when looking back in a few months. But make no mistake, as chef John Cochran told Eater, "All I can tell you is that the alcohol board was making their decision and they had every right to take their time. Shaw's was in the wrong."
Carter G. Woodson is often known as the "father of black history" due to his contributions to African American scholarship. His historic home on 9th Street, NW sits vacant and unused, but the National Park Service owns and could restore it.
In 1912 Woodson became the second black American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University. His industrious scholarship led to the founding of multiple academic journals that are still published today. He prepared many of his most important works from his home at 1538 9th Street, NW, where he lived from 1922 to 1950.
The house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, but according to the Washington Post such designation "brought little more than a plaque on the facade." The decaying property remained accessible to squatters and vagrants until 2005, when NPS bought the home.
The same Post article notes that "the Park Service figured that renovation and development of exhibits and a visitors center would cost $2.9 million and that the historic site, which could draw 10,000 to 30,000 visitors annually, would cost about $100,000 a year to operate."
But where's the money?
The Park Service's plans identify community partners and charitable organizations as potential supporters. Possible partners might include the University of Virginia's Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American & African Studies, the African American Experience Fund, the United Negro College Fund, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library's Black Studies Division, and sponsors of the $1oo million Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Some organizations could help by lending their support in name only, while others could help to raise capital.
One important partner may be the Shiloh Baptist Church, which sits at the corner of 9th and P, NW on the same block as the Woodson home. The church has been an important center of social services for decades, but it has also not always been a good neighbor. The church owns several vacant properties in the area, and is sometimes called a slumlord.
The good news is that the Omega Psi Phi fraternity recently made a $5,000 donation towards renovations at the Woodson home. Unfortunately, while generous in ceremony and sentimentality, $5,000 is akin to the ceremonial first pitch at the beginning of a baseball game. First pitches start the game, but don't impact the game played or the final score. The Woodson house will need millions more.
Meanwhile, the Woodson house and the 1500 block of 9th Street wait. The house has the potential to become an important destination for cultural tourism and education, but it needs funding. How long will it be before there is serious movement? Hopefully, where there's a will, a way will follow.
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