Tag Archives: ANC1B

The Long View

Faces tell the story

Faces tell the story

First off, I hope nobody got their hopes up.

Over the last week or so, a large portable “Pod” container had been parked in front of our house on Wallach. It wasn’t ours, yet I can’t help but suspect that a few of you faithful readers may have put two and two together, erroneously, and thought we were moving. Sorry to disappoint.

It wasn’t ours, but a neighbor’s just about four houses down. He and his wife and their happy slobbery dog were great neighbors. But they have had enough of the unending late-night street party that our corner of the neighborhood has become. They live elsewhere in the District now, as do several others who have left recently. “It’s just too much, and we’re the ones feeling it most,” said another neighbor as we bumped into each other on the street recently. “Nobody else seems to understand.” She and her husband are also debating a move.

Unlike the recent joint ANC “listening session” – in which hardly anyone, including the ANC commissioners present who already had their minds made up, listened to anyone else – it seems there are several things that can be learned about where the neighborhood is moving, but only if people listen to each other.

I was there, and heard many voices; although to be fair, those speaking seemed less “diverse” as one speaker noted and more homogenous than a walk around any four blocks around here. Regardless, there were generally three types of comments – from liquor moratorium supporters and opponents alike.

First was the appeal to good policy. Impact on crime, jobs created, long-term area growth; appeals to reason, basically. Of course, no serious policy discussion is premised on :90 second time limits, and by and large a lot of those arguments marshaled on both sides seemed rather spurious. That’s OK; it’s really no different than how committed partisans in our larger political contests engage.

Second was the “too blunt” argument, whose theme and variations were essentially “Yes, we can see how some of these things are getting a little out of control, but the moratorium is too blunt an instrument. Let’s just use existing laws to go after the bad actors.” Which would be fine, noted opponents, if it were possible. Personally, I suspect that if anything could have been done in the past under the existing laws, it would have. As in: if only the ANC 1B actually worked and wasn’t a complete mess losing filings and forgetting meetings and just plain making crap up, but alas, we know different. And the truth is that a moratorium is a blunt instrument. Perhaps not a cudgel, but certainly as fine as a hammer.

The third general sentiment seemed to me, at least, the most honest. Namely, that many new residents moved here specifically for a certain kind of urban lifestyle, and that those pushing the moratorium were attacking that life, and as a result, the new residents in turn. In other words: saying you don’t want any new bars is like saying you don’t want me. This candor, it seems, deserves some attention.

The moratorium was never my thing. It was an issue I could have (and did) go back and forth on. The District regulations it’s based on are cumbersome and complicated and, while not as absolute as some worry, just too ponderous for anyone’s good. Thus, winning arguments aren’t really based on policy or facts or convoluted processes, but emotional appeals.

In this case, a large segment – although I’m not convinced a majority, despite the dog-and-pony show – of residents share that emotional sense that the moratorium is somehow an attack on their values, their choices and at some root level, who they are as individuals.

This, I sense, puts this moratorium in a different space than the previous successful efforts in Adams Morgan, Georgetown and Cleveland Park. There, the populations were largely stable, there was little or no new influx of residents, and many of those drinking there and causing problems were from other areas of the region. Here, however, there’s a new building going up every week, and many of the younger, relatively successful newcomers are the ones rushing the tables and bars counters.

I really do get all that, as well as earnestly respecting those who let feelings be their guide on this issue.

Which brings me to what has been lacking – at times shamefully so – in much of the discussion from those vehemently opposed to the moratorium: any attempt at empathy or understanding.

When my partner spoke of the “online jihad” aimed at those proposing the moratorium – and was booed and hissed by those gathered to ‘listen’ – this is what he was speaking of. “Tyrants,” “busybodies,” “old nobodies,” “idiots,” “fascists”; these are just a few of the many more choice terms moratorium opponents have flung at proponents. And save one exception, with the courageous conviction that online anonymity provides.

In fact, it was frequently the anonymous commentors here and elsewhere that publicly singled individuals out by name and address; bravely while remaining cloaked themselves. Truly profiles in courage. Boo and hiss that.

Understanding and community-building work both ways, which is something this neighborhood is in desperate need of. Just as some opponents felt attacked personally by this issue, so, too do many residents who have watched their life choices be disrespected in puddles of vomit, exponentially more trash, drunks arguing and urinating right in resident’s front yards and so on with the explosion of establishments serving liquor.

Those neighbors moving out of the neighborhood aren’t happy to do so; several have commented they feel the neighborhood no longer cares about them and nobody is willing to listen. Successful communities work to build bridges, not burn them down. No individual or group should get everything it wants, and to hell with everyone else, as some seem to believe. We all must live together.

In the end, communities change. They follow at times unpredictable paths of both opportunity and loss. Ultimately, there will come another issue, another debate, where those who find themselves feeling in the superior position today will need those they once disrespected and called terrible names tomorrow.

It’s important to remember that, especially in this town, memories are long. Only fools choose to make enemies they don’t have to.

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The Sad Tale Of 1330 U Street

This story begins and ends with an empty building at 1330 U Street, and all its possibilities.

Before there was a Gold + Williams or Vastu, Muleh or Room and Board, there was an empty building on U street, right by what used to be Pollys, now Desperados. At the edge of the area’s renewal, a new store opened up that proved to be a treasure on the street – Urban Essentials. Sure, they had a stunning offering of contemporary furniture, somehow mixing comfortable and chic, old and new. But just as much, Urban Essentials played a role in opening up the neighborhood, giving residents both a store they needed and an early step in rebuilding U.

Yet another store forced from the neighborhood

Yet another store forced from the neighborhood

They were, in short, a company that got it – quality interior design and purposeful community building.

When they opened rents were *relatively* inexpensive in the area. But with every new restaurant and bar came more and more landlords looking for the quickest way to make the most money possible. Say what you will, but food & beverage service – notably the latter – make large bill.

You know what happens next. Several businesses, more and more, begin closing as landlords, envious of the higher rates that bars can command, begin pushing out those who had helped make the area desirable in the first place. And that’s what exactly what happened at 1330. The landlord raised the rates for Urban Essentials, even though the owner was public in his desire to remain in the neighborhood. When that failed, he tried to negotiate with JBG, the firm seeking to build yet another apartment building right next door. That, too, went nowhere. UE eventually relocated, down to 14th near Rhode Island Ave., and the neighborhood had yet another victim of mono-development; namely, an over concentration of one type of business in a concentrated area.

Knowing exactly who was interested in 1330, a restaurant developer with some success in Georgetown who wished to open a new restaurant & bar called The Fainting Goat, several local residents (as in those right behind the proposed establishment) met with the new team to try and negotiate a settlement agreement, or what used to be called the Voluntary Agreement. Here the residents and the entrepreneur negotiate basic things such as hours of operation, outdoor seating, live music, trash, noise and parking issues. Just what being good neighbors is all about. And in fact, according to both sides, while agreement wasn’t final, negotiations were going very well, were civil, and close to agreement.

At the same time, however, a few voices on the Internetz began a plaintive cry, saying in essence: “What ever are we to do with an empty space in the heart of U?” Here, the idea goes, was someone who wanted to make use of an empty space…if only those certain nasty, terrible blah blah blah people would stop standing in the way of everything! I guess for these pious few the idea of citizen input and democracy means little.

Regardless, here is where the tale turns sadder still. Enter the ANC 1B.

For years now, some parts and some commissioners have valiantly pressed forward, working hard at jobs most people would never willingly accept. Unfortunately, other parts, and other commissioners, have largely slept at the wheel, making up rules and procedures as they go and letting important agenda items simply fall through the cracks.

This has been known to the very small number of committed residents on all sides of any issue who regularly attend not just the big meetings, but the innumerable sub-committee hearings. (Lesson: attending hearings is not much fun.) But as last Thursday’s public meeting laid bare, the ANC 1B is in serious need of repair.

Borderstan has an excellent summary of the rumpus that ensued, but in short, nobody seemed to have any firm knowledge about specifics of the proposed settlement agreement – several members said they never even saw it – or any votes that may or may not have been taken in the ABRA sub-committee. Unfortunately, the Fainting Goat was caught in the confusion, leaving everyone concerned, on all sides, discouraged.

Here’s the truth: for years, the liquor licensing sub-committee has largely failed to work, at times being uncertain of who actually sat on the board, failing to muster quorum for meetings, and in a number of cases, simply letting license applications pass without any hearing or action at all. Last Thursday is only the latest example of mismanagement.

If a government or private corporate board acted in this way, the stakeholders would be justifiably upset and demand improvements. In an odd twist, however, a few have taken their fight online to blame those who pointed out the errors, and who were actually close to sealing the deal with the Goat. Easier, I guess, to just vilify than lay out the truth of the matter.

And now, nobody trusts anybody else. Some supporters of the Goat (I number myself a supporter, by the way) want to pick up the negotiations again, but noticing the chaos at the ANC have been forced to take the only action they can; to oppose the license for the moment so that everyone and all sides will negotiate in good faith. Can locals trust an ANC that appears to simply make up votes or agreements? Can license applicants trust either supporters or opponents who seem to be fighting a larger battle? Can people on all sides stop making claims – much like Limbaugh makes of Obama – that their opponents simply want to ruin the neighborhood, only before telling them to move?

That, perhaps, makes me saddest of all.

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