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.
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.