Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Gardening oasis in Shaw

Frank Asher, gay news, Washington Blade

‘What keeps me motivated,’ Frank Asher says, ‘is the appreciation of the community.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

At first glance it appears incongruous to see Old City Farm and Guild founder and entrepreneur Frank Asher working atop a concrete urban plaza. Except it’s not.

Asher relocated his popular “full-fledged garden and nursery center” to a spot abutting vacant Shaw Middle School near 9th Street on the busy Rhode Island Avenue thoroughfare in Northwest Washington last year. Opening on the official first day of spring, the non-profit retail operation will soon blossom in vivid colors as the scents of summer become pervasive and the weather warms.

Initiated six years ago in a trash-strewn empty lot across from his nearby home in the rapidly developing Shaw neighborhood, Asher’s enterprise is rooted in a larger philosophy. “It’s very important as the city evolves and grows that we stay connected to green space and the earth,” he says.

True to that mission, a D.C. education grant has enabled creation of an on-site gardening program at Seaton Elementary School a block away. “We teach students to both grow and sell,” Asher proudly says, “connecting them with urban gardening.” Citywide school groups frequently tour the nursery.

The place “where people and plants come together” additionally serves as a community gathering spot, hosting performances by local musicians in a step-down oval space serving as an amphitheater for outdoor neighborhood dances and movie nights projecting films onto a whitewashed wall. Locals can rent an equipped lounging and grilling spot for social gatherings.

Open every day except Mondays at 925 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Asher and a revolving crew of eight welcome both novice and experienced gardeners from the surrounding neighborhood and throughout the District to the high-profile site. The knowledgeable and personable staff is on hand Tuesday through Friday from noon to 7:30 p.m., and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A large hand-painted wooden sign affixed to a wire fence enclosing the area beckons customers and curious alike to the oasis inside. Gardening aficionados or aspirants find everything they need – including a wide variety of seedlings, perennial and annual flowering plants, vegetable plants, fruit trees and vines, edible area-native plantings, shrubs, pre-bagged organic mulches and soils and compost, gardening supplies, propane, pots, garden artifacts and other accoutrements.

The nursery team maintains a small farming operation providing local restaurants with fresh organic produce. They hope to grow this new component by signing on additional establishments. During the winter holiday season, they reopen as a Christmas tree lot.

“Unlike large retailers,” Asher points out, “85 percent of all monies stay in the neighborhood.” Everything is sourced exclusively from organic D.C.-based city farmers and small local producers. A robust assortment of blueberry, raspberry, pomegranate, native currants, grape vines, fig and persimmon and apple and pear trees are available. Okra, tomato, tomatillo, basil, bell pepper, arugula, eggplant, leek, Brussels sprouts and a selection of herbs are among the popular garden offerings.

Asher, a California native who moved to D.C. 20 years ago as a conference organizer, began tending to sidewalk “tree boxes” near his then Dupont Circle home. Storefront merchants would soon reimburse the “guerilla gardener” for supplies, supporting his streetscape labor of love.

“I discovered my bliss was playing in the dirt,” the unexpected green thumb now says. Pleasure with plants would land him a job managing a floral shop. Asher’s newfound profession later led to start-up of landscaping business Fairies’ Crossing, specializing in residential, rooftop and commercial installations.

As Asher’s nursery grows, he balances landscaping projects with managing the enterprise. “What keeps me motivated,” Asher says, “is the appreciation of the community” and joining together to make “the urban environment more responsible and encouraging green space.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

16
Apr
2014

Fallen activist honored in street-naming

Jeff Coudriet, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff Coudriet died of lung cancer in February 2011. (Photo by Phil Attey)

A company that built a multimillion-dollar development project at the site of the historic O Street Market in the city’s Shaw neighborhood has honored the late Jeff Coudriet, a longtime gay rights leader and influential City Council staff member, by naming a street after him.

At a March 21 ceremony, officials with Roadside Development Corp. designated a one-block section of 8th Street, N.W, between O and P streets, as Coudriet Way. Although the street is open to the public and vehicular traffic it is part of the private land obtained by the company to build the project, according to Roadside co-founder Richard Lake.

“We worked with Jeff, who helped us bring about this development project,” Lake told the Blade. “Jeff worked tirelessly with us on this and died before the project was completed.”

Lake was referring to Coudriet’s role as committee clerk for the D.C. Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, which is chaired by Council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). Evans has said Coudriet acted as a facilitator on behalf of his office to help Roadside navigate the D.C. government bureaucracy to clear the way for a project supported by the community.

Among other things, it brought to a once blighted area a state-of-the-art Giant Food store, 650 residential apartments of which 90 are reserved for seniors at affordable costs, and a 182-room hotel along with 500 parking spaces.

Coudriet died of lung cancer in February 2011 at the age of 48. He was a longtime resident of the Shaw community.

He is credited with playing a lead role in efforts to repeal the city’s sodomy law and to pass the city’s first domestic partners law during his tenure as president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance from 1992 to 1995. He later served as president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

He joined Evans’ staff in 2001 after having served on the staff of U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.). He left Evans’ staff in 2004 to take a job at the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration before returning to Evans’ staff in 2007, where he remained until the time of his death.

“It is impossible to put into words the contributions Jeff made to our city and its residents,” Evans said at the time of Coudriet’s death.

25
Mar
2014

Bowser or Catania?

David Catania, Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

The race between David Catania and Muriel Bowser for mayor is dividing the LGBT community. (Washington Blade photo of Catania by Michael Key; Blade photo of Bowser by Damien Salas)

D.C.’s overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning LGBT community will likely be navigating unchartered waters this summer and fall as an LGBT-supportive Democrat, Council member Muriel Bowser, runs against a prominent openly gay Council colleague, independent David Catania, in a hotly contested race for mayor.

“I have no idea how it will come out,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“Many people are talking about supporting Catania,” Rosendall said. “At the same time, some people are circling the wagons as Democrats.”

Rosendall is among many activists who see a potential dilemma for LGBT voters in a city in which virtually all elected officials and nearly all credible candidates for public office are supportive on LGBT rights. Many have longstanding records of support on issues that were once considered highly controversial, such as the city’s same-sex marriage law.

Bowser’s decisive victory over D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary appears to have come with the support of large numbers of LGBT voters, even though the city’s most prominent LGBT leaders backed Gray.

A Washington Blade analysis of 18 voter precincts believed to have large concentrations of LGBT residents shows that Bowser won 14 of them, with Gray and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells, a Council member from Ward 6, each winning two of the “LGBT” precincts.

Several of the precincts won by Bowser are located in areas long known as “gay” neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Adams Morgan and Shaw. Other precincts she won are in areas considered up and coming neighborhoods into which many LGBT people are moving, such as the 14th and U Street, N.W. corridor, Bloomingdale, and Ledroit Park.

Everett Hamilton, owner of a local public relations firm and longtime gay Democratic activist, is serving as a volunteer communications strategist for the Bowser campaign. He said he believes Bowser captured the majority of LGBT votes for the same reason that she won the overall citywide vote.

“At the end of the day, LGBT people, like all city residents, are going to vote for the person who can best run the city and who they believe is best for the city,” he said.

With a gay brother and a gay campaign manager, Hamilton said no one can dispute the fact that Bowser and her campaign have strong ties to the LGBT community, Hamilton said.

Other political observers, however, point out that Gray was ahead of Bowser and the other mayoral candidates until U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen took the extraordinary step of implicating Gray in an illegal scheme to raise more than $600,000 for Gray’s 2010 mayoral election campaign less than a month before the primary.

Gray has long denied having any knowledge in the scheme that led to the indictment of businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scheme in exchange for being promised a more lenient jail sentence. It was Thompson who has told prosecutors Gray knew about the illegal activity and approved it.

The revelations by Machen resulted in an immediate rise in support for Bowser that many observers believe led to her victory at the polls.

Catania’s LGBT supporters, meanwhile, have said that Catania’s reputation as a reform politician with a strong legislative record on issues such as healthcare, education, and LGBT rights will have none of the negative baggage that Gray had as the general election campaign for mayor moves forward.

Longtime gay Democratic activist Paul Kuntzler, one of the founders of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, surprised many in the LGBT community last week when he announced his support for Catania over Bowser. Ben Young, Catania’s campaign manager, said “many more” prominent LGBT Democrats would soon announce their support for Catania.

Veteran gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, a Blade columnist, has emerged as one of Catania’s leading critics, saying Catania’s status as a former Republican whose philosophy isn’t as progressive as people think will work against Catania in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

Angela Peoples, president of the Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, said the club’s bylaws prevent it from endorsing a non-Democratic candidate when a Democrat is running in a particular race.

Even if the club could endorse a non-Democrat, Peoples said she expects the club to back Bowser, although its members have yet to set a date to vote on an endorsement.

“As always, I will certainly yield to the will of the membership,” she said. “This election poses an interesting situation for many folks and for LGBT folks in the District as there is an LGBT candidate on the ballot,” Peoples said.

“However, I think what I’ve seen thus far coming out of the primary is Democrats are uniting around Councilwoman Bowser. And I think that’s great to see,” she told the Blade.

Peoples said the club would likely adopt a plan for an endorsement vote at its April meeting scheduled for next Monday night.

The city’s most prominent transgender activists, who were solidly behind Gray in the primary, also have yet to say whether they will back Bowser now that she defeated a mayor that many in the trans community considered a champion for their rights.

Although Bowser has voted for all transgender equality measures that have come before the Council, Catania has been the author of several of those measures, including a landmark bill removing longstanding obstacles to the ability of trans people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their transition to a new gender.

10
Apr
2014

Building tension: housing, commerce and parking

traffic, cars, gay news, Washington Blade

A growing tension in the urban confines of a maturing city with a growing population and integrated commercial zones is the battle over cars and where to put them. (Photo by BrokenSphere; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, a 105-unit apartment building planned for a lot next to a Metrorail station at the corner of 7th and R streets in Northwest Washington’s beginning-to-boom Shaw neighborhood east of Logan Circle encountered opposition. The issue? Not enough underground parking.

Some are unhappy that the mixed-use development, with a modest 5,000 square feet of ground floor retail, will include only 40 spaces for rental to residents with likely use of a small number of spots by storefront customers. However, the area neighborhood advisory group is upset that more parking is not being built.

Parking requirements, often higher than utilized, add astronomical construction expense and significantly inflate rents and prices. Each level burrowed into the ground costs significantly more than the one above and the first one eliminates usable space at ground level. Developers seeking permission to provide no dedicated parking is slowly increasing, usually requiring prohibition of tenant parking permit eligibility.

Lowered parking provision in transit-convenient locations is increasingly allowed and the Office of Planning has already approved the Shaw project. Anticipated adoption of new zoning regulations in the works for six years will soon codify this shift in official attitude, if only by limited measure.

Complaints over parking often originate with longtime house-dwelling residents with an astounding sense of entitlement. It’s as if they expect to tie up their horse outside the front gate like exurban gentry – regardless of whether they have a second, or even third, vehicle parked out back off an alley. Increasingly byzantine residential street parking rules leave many a neighborhood visitor or local business customer bewildered, even angry.

A growing tension in the urban confines of a maturing city with a growing population and integrated commercial zones is the battle over cars and where to put them. Following several years of intensifying new residential construction, nearly 17,000 additional apartment units and 2,000 condos are already scheduled for delivery in the next 36 months. More people, and inevitably more cars, are coming.

Although the District’s population increased by more than 40,000 over the past decade, car registrations have remained relatively flat. Offsetting new car-enabled residents is a reduction by some existing households in the number of autos owned. The ratio of all local registered vehicles to driving-age residents remains well over half.

Three-fourths of those moving into the District in the past 10 years have been 18-to-34 year-olds and single-person households are the highest in the country at just under 50 percent. Many of these younger singles do not own cars. Regardless, continuing influx of largely affluent inhabitants will likely maintain net car use at current levels or slightly higher.

As D.C. accelerates its ascent as a world-class destination for shopping, entertainment and nightlife, more metro-area residents are traveling into the District to take part. With an early-shuttering subway designed more for daytime worker inflow offering limited coverage areas and only scattered locations, many residents and most surrounding nighttime consumers rely on four wheels to partake in two-legged fun.

While a vibrant city with a walk-able environment in many areas may slowly see a reduction in car use over time, that process will be both slow and arduous. For those stuck in tedious peak-hour traffic or struggling to find parking space, it already is.

Despite a robust range of alternative options, from bike to bus to subway to a soon-to-be small-scale novelty retro trolley, it isn’t going to get easier anytime soon. In fact, to the chagrin of many drivers, it is explicit District government policy to not make it easy to own a car, or at least to use it – and with good reason. The city simply cannot remain as heavily reliant on them, or see ownership numbers increase, without exacerbating already clogged streets and curbsides.

That Shaw apartment building with easy access to public transit and convenient to commerce is the way to get there.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

18
Sep
2013

Has D.C.’s tolerance for booze bans expired?

Mova,gay news,gay politics DC

The city’s five-member ABC Board unanimously denied the request filed last December to prohibit all new licensing and changes to existing licenses. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

It took nearly a year to quash it, but the threat of a liquor license moratorium halting future bar and restaurant openings in the multiple neighborhoods comprising D.C.’s vibrant MidCity area ended last week.

Although residents of Logan Circle, Shaw and the 14th and U streets area had finally won a long-anticipated victory against a small “citizens group” that had petitioned for a renewable five-year business ban, most assembled for the announcement by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board appeared more relieved than celebratory. As people filed out of the room the mood was one of quiet annoyance that so much time had been spent on the matter by so many.

The city’s five-member ABC Board unanimously denied the request filed last December to prohibit all new licensing and changes to existing licenses. The proposed ban was flatly rejected in its entirety, despite agency authority to recommend D.C. Council approval of a modified ban limiting the types of businesses allowed, size of the affected zone, initial moratorium longevity or to make other revisions.

The Board stated in its official notice that the proposed moratorium “is not in the public interest.” The decision also indicated “the Board does not find that the neighborhood suffers from an overconcentration of licensed establishments or that additional establishments will adversely affect this area.” By every statutory measure, including whether additional licenses “will negatively impact the neighborhood’s peace, order and quiet” – the Board ruled in the negative.

The implication that the nearly 50 additional alcohol-licensed bars and restaurants recently opened or announced as planned for the area during review posed no issue was a clear signal that the Board is disinclined, in their words, to “bluntly impose” prohibition. A request by the petitioner group to halt all approvals during the decision-making period had previously been denied.

In rejecting the proposed moratorium, the Board appears to be signaling a growing impatience with this outdated approach to marketplace interference – and the now-known negative impacts and unintended consequences. The decision frequently references moratorium opposition by residents.

It remains to be seen whether the Board really means it or not.

Next up on the “blunt instrument” schedule is disposition of the 23-year “East Dupont” business ban affecting 17th Street and surrounding commercial blocks, followed by the 13-year Adams Morgan moratorium expiring next April. Terminating these moratoriums, two of five in the District including two in Dupont Circle, would be a first. No moratorium has ever been terminated.

The Dupont Circle neighborhood advisory group recently deadlocked in a tied 4-4 vote on a moratorium renewal resolution. An unusual provision in the group’s by-laws grants the chair’s vote “extra weight” in instances of a tie, overruling standard procedural defeat. Unfortunately, chairman Will Stephens – along with Kevin O’Connor, Kishan Putta and Anti-Alcohol Coalition founder and neighborhood advisory rep Abigail Nichols – voted in favor of renewal.

The ABC Board has previously cautioned that moratoriums were never intended to perpetually remain in effect. Consequently, the group’s resolution seeks to curry favor by suggesting adjustment to current restrictions. While two of the requested modifications are either inconsequential or rendered meaningless by separate zoning limitations, a third recommends eliminating the cap on restaurants.

Those voting in favor of extending the moratorium have said it offers a “transition” to later termination. This notion, however, was previously utilized to justify requesting extension with modification in 2010.

The agency was required to temporarily extend the 17th Street moratorium for 120 days following its Sept. 23 expiration, due to a failure by the Dupont advisory group to offer an opinion to the Board in a timely manner. When announced, sometime following an Oct. 24 public hearing, the Board’s determination will be presented to the D.C. Council for an “up-or-down” review. A Board moratorium decision has never been rejected.

It is time to terminate these now out-of-fashion failed experiments and begin to repair a legacy of marketplace misery.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

09
Oct
2013

Classic community retail

Steven Cruse, Sean Reidy, Simon Vintage Furniture & Home Goods, gay news, Washington Blade

Steven Cruse and Sean Reidy of Simon Vintage Furniture & Home Goods. The Shaw store features a wide range of mid-century finds. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Co-owners Steven Cruse and Sean Reidy didn’t worry when they named their shop after one of two dogs in the couple’s life. “Shadow is very secure about himself,” they chuckle, referring to their decidedly independent rock pit bull. “Simon, on the other hand, runs the house,” both quickly add.

Their eight-year-old Miniature Pinscher enjoys namesake distinction at Simon Vintage Furniture & Home Goods on the ever-busier Shaw neighborhood’s main thoroughfare in Northwest Washington, a few doors south of U Street. When the shop was being readied for opening last December, Simon’s image was emblazoned across dual storefront display windows as part of the company logo.

Simon’s uber-enthusiastic and “barky” personality curtails his time helping staff the shop. Most days you will find Cruse running the operation solo, after finishing his early-morning job as a Washington Post agent coordinating a large team of newspaper distributors in suburban Maryland and Baltimore County. Reidy, an architect and project manager at Bonstra Haresign Architects in Dupont Circle, joins his partner after office hours and on weekends, in addition to handling accounting and marketing duties.

The shop, located at 1911 9th St., N.W., fills the street level of a quaint low-rise building typical of the commercial district. Brimming with a wide range of mostly mid-century furnishings and Art Deco pieces, home accent objects, storage units, glassware and other unique treasures of time, locals and others pop by to see what new and novel acquisitions are available.

Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays, the duo’s thriving emporium is open from 2-7 p.m. other weekdays, and from 12-8 p.m. on weekends. Passerby smiles at the sight of bubbles shooting from a machine hidden among items exhibited outdoors are common.

“Customers want to turn a corner and be surprised,” Cruse explains, describing the plethora of diverse items organized in a bountiful maze throughout 1,200 square feet on the main floor and basement level below. “It’s all about the hunt,” he notes, “people are looking for the experience of discovering things for their home and life.” Word-of-mouth referrals highlighting both the broad array of merchandise and the distinctly affordable pricing have helped grow the enterprise.

“Vintage hounds” join inquisitive casual shoppers and those looking to furnish abodes or enliven home decors. Many are residents in the population-exploding areas throughout the District’s mid-section and elsewhere in the city and surrounding suburbs.

Cruse spent several years exploring estate sales, vintage auctions, thrift shops and flea markets while sharing a summer home on the Delaware shore. One of those housemates, along with two other buyers, search for new merchandise. Cruse also continues what was once a hobby, seeking items to replenish the constantly changing stock.

Tables, lamps, chairs, armoires and cabinetry pieces of all sizes and finishes and including contemporary items, unique home accent pieces and an assortment of knickknacks and oddities enliven the space. Patrons of all ages, residence size and design styles are often spurred to re-purpose antique objects for contemporary uses or to embellish more modern environments.

The intimate shop lends itself to the customer-oriented friendly assistance offered by the affable couple. Reidy emphasizes that a welcoming store personality is key to building relationships. “Many of our customers want to know the story behind pieces,” says Cruse, “and a lot of the time our customers educate us.”

Cruse and Reidy have learned the rigors of launching a successful small business, and the time dedicated to a myriad of tasks. It’s easy to discern, however, that both are delighted to be building a venture from the past for their future together.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

13
Nov
2013

Adams Morgan at crossroads over area’s future

Adams Morgan, gay news, Washington Blade

Adams Morgan (Photo by Aude via Wikimedia Commons)

The once-premier D.C. neighborhood of Adams Morgan has fallen on hard times.

Even the area’s annual September street festival, a signature event that has drawn more than 100,000 attendees in recent years, was a flop. It may be discontinued.

It’s why MidCity residents who earlier this year successfully defeated a proposed liquor license moratorium for 14th and U streets, and including the Logan Circle and Shaw neighborhoods, voiced anxiety about “becoming the next Adams Morgan.”

As had long been anticipated, the neighborhood advisory group in Adams Morgan voted 6-0 on Nov. 6 to ask the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to again renew, for an additional five years, a soon-to-expire liquor license moratorium in the Northwest neighborhood north of Dupont Circle. One advisory commissioner abstained and another was absent.

The Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC-1B) postponed a separate vote until Dec. 4 on whether to request that the ABC Board revise the moratorium to allow new restaurants. However, ANC-1B chair Billy Simpson has proposed a convoluted litany of restrictions that would likely dissuade potential business interests from opening.

The ANC is undoubtedly hoping that requesting a modest “tweaking” of the moratorium will curry favor with the ABC Board and result in an extension of the ban. This cynically acknowledged approach worked for Dupont Circle ANC-2B when the Board on Wednesday renewed the 23-year-old “East Dupont” ban on 17th Street for three more years while allowing new restaurant applications – despite a prior warning that moratoriums were never intended for such long periods.

The 13-year-old Adams Morgan moratorium on alcohol-licensed businesses was first imposed in 2001, renewed twice, and is set to expire on April 14. The already complex details of the existing ban, including a cap on licenses lower than currently exist, would be additionally complicated by Simpson’s proposed conditions. He hopes to limit the types of restaurants that would be permitted to open, restricting operating hours and service enhancements.

Simpson wants to burden a “failed experiment” with additional stipulations. More limits, like those he has pitched, don’t reflect the trends in popular venues eagerly embraced by residents in newly booming destination neighborhoods.

Simpson’s proposal limits operating hours by forcing any new restaurants to close two hours earlier than allowed by law. He would also prohibit entertainment components, and disallow marketing of special events by promoters – all essential business model features common throughout the city for restaurants. No live music, DJs, dancing or cover charges would be tolerated. In fact, his proposal specifically limits music to “acoustic or instrumental” only.

Apparently Simpson had a bad experience with wailing divas or picked up an aversion to songs with lyrics somewhere along the way to becoming chair of the advisory group.

He’s out of sync with the successful new ventures that are rushing to open in more dynamic sections of the city – the areas that are leaving Adams Morgan behind and cementing perceptions of its commercial and retail irrelevance.

What Simpson and the rest of his cohorts don’t comprehend is that these types of overwrought restrictions have created the situation the neighborhood now confronts. Pandering to a vocal minority of obstinate objectors may make meetings run smoothly, but it won’t solve any actual issues as a contributing, well-managed and vibrant commercial district.

Instead, they’d get what they have – prohibition of new marketplace entrants, lack of competition, stale business models, inferior product offerings, churn-and-burn operators – and everything else that results when you encase an entire area in concrete for what will be nearly two decades if an extension is granted.

It’s no coincidence that areas arbitrarily restricting marketplace development have suffered. These areas are now struggling to attract businesses of all types. Sidewalks have become less populated as even neighborhood residents shift their attention to more vibrant zones when seeking shopping, dining and entertainment options.

Languishing under booze bans, these neighborhoods are no longer the envy of anyone.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

21
Nov
2013

Gay couple seeks to block U St. liquor licenses

Marc Morgan, Log Cabin Republicans, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Republican activist Marc Morgan said a moratorium on liquor licenses would hurt economic development in his area. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ramon Estrada and his partner, civic activist Elwyn Ferris, are playing a key role in what many believe will be a heated battle over whether the city should ban all new bars and restaurants with liquor licenses from opening in the rapidly developing 14th and U streets, N.W. corridor.

The recently formed Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, for which Ferris serves as secretary and Estrada is a member, and the lesser known Residential Action Coalition, filed a petition in December with the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board calling for the moratorium.

Gay nightlife advocates, who strongly oppose such a moratorium, acknowledge that the proposal isn’t directed at gay bars or the gay community. But similar to their straight counterparts, they say the proposal would stifle economic development in a vibrant area where large numbers of LGBT people have moved because they embrace the nightlife amenities.

Neither Estrada nor Ferris returned a call from the Blade seeking their views on the issue.

Joan Sterling, president of Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, said Estrada and Ferris are working with her in advocating for the moratorium. She said the moratorium is needed to help reverse what she believes is an alarming rise in crime, parking problems, trash and neighborhood disturbances due to the “over concentration” of liquor serving establishments.

“The issuance of further licenses in the zone would only exacerbate the problems that already affect our neighborhood,” said Sterling, who co-signed the 18-page petition her group and the Residential Action Coalition filed Dec. 10 with the ABC Board.

Opponents of the moratorium have lined up close to 800 people who signed an online petition urging the ABC Board to reject the proposal. Many of them, including gay nightlife advocate Mark Lee, argue that it’s unfair to blame all or most of the crime and other neighborhood problems on bars and restaurants.

They note that existing liquor license moratoriums in Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and Adams Morgan have not curtailed the problems they were supposed to address and, in some instances, resulted in vacant buildings that could have been occupied by restaurants.

“The Logan Circle, U Street and Shaw neighborhoods with large numbers of gay and lesbian residents overwhelmingly support the diverse dining, socializing and entertainment options we enjoy much more than we are willing to tolerate a tiny pseudo citizens group claiming to represent us while pressing for a liquor license moratorium,” Lee told the Blade.

“We don’t want to freeze development in a huge swath of our city with a rapidly growing population,” he said. “We want existing venues to grow and new establishments opening to meet rising demand and attracting other retail businesses…We want to preserve the vibrant community life that caused us to make these areas our home.”

Lee is a regular Blade columnist.

Sterling dismisses these arguments, saying there are 107 existing liquor licenses in the proposed moratorium zone.

“How can anyone claim this won’t remain a vibrant area for bars and restaurants?” she said.

The proposed moratorium would cover a circular area with an 1,800 foot radius, with the middle of the 1200 block of U Street being at the center. Small sections of neighborhoods in Dupont Circle, Logan Circle and Shaw would be covered along with U Street between 15th Street and 8th Street and surrounding streets.

In its northern most point, the area would extend to Clifton Street and its southern boundary would extend to R Street.

Gay ANC Commissioner Alexander Padro, who also serves as executive director of the community group Shaw Main Streets, Inc., said the proposed moratorium’s ban on new restaurants would have a harmful impact on Shaw.

“Restaurants are an important part of the quality of life that residents are seeking and supporting with their dollars,” he told the Blade. “Making it impossible for a newly constructed or newly vacant retail space to house a restaurant or bar could result in a long-term vacancy that would have serious repercussions for the property owner and the community.”

Under provisions of the city’s liquor law, the ABC Board is required to give “great weight” to the views of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions on liquor licensing matters, including a proposed moratorium. Padro’s ANC, ANC 6E; ANC 1B, which covers the 14th and U Street area; ANC 2F of Logan Circle, and 2B of Dupont Circle will all be weighing in on whether or not the moratorium should be approved.

Representatives of each of the four ANCs told the Blade they are currently assessing the views of the residents of their districts on the matter. Matt Raymond, chair of ANC 2F, and Noah Smith, a member of ANC 2B whose district is within the proposed moratorium area, said the four ANCs may hold a joint public hearing on the moratorium proposal in the next month or two.

“If we come to similar conclusions, our great weight will be ever greater with the ABC Board,” Smith said.

Gay Republican activist Marc Morgan, who was re-elected in November to his ANC 1B01 seat, said he too believes a moratorium would hurt businesses and economic development in his ANC area.

“We want to come up with a strong plan to address the problems raised by the advocates for a moratorium,” he said. “I don’t think a moratorium is the best way to address those problems.”

None of the ANC officials contacted by the Blade were willing to predict how their commissions would vote on the moratorium. However, sources familiar with the ANCs impacted by the moratorium have said at least three of the four ANCs are leaning against such a moratorium and would likely vote to oppose it.

If the ABC Board should vote to deny the moratorium petition, the matter would end, according to observers familiar with the process. However, if the board votes to approve it, the D.C. City Council has the authority to make the final decision on the matter.

Gay D.C. City Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who chairs the committee that oversees liquor licensing matters and in whose ward most of the moratorium zone is located, said he wants to hear from his constituents on the issue before taking a position. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) feels it is “premature” to weigh in on the issue, according to his communications director Mark Bjorge.

Kathryn Eckles, president of the Residential Action Coalition, told the Blade that although she and her group strongly support the moratorium, the RAC did not hold a meeting to officially vote to file the moratorium petition with the ABC Board.

ABC licensing consultant Andrew Kline, who specializes in liquor licensing and liquor law issues, said the law requires organizations filing a petition seeking a liquor license moratorium to hold a meeting with an advance notice to give all members of the organization an opportunity to vote on the issue.

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether the RAC’s apparent failure to hold a meeting to vote on the issue would disqualify the group from having legal standing to file the petition.

31
Jan
2013

What’s in a name?

By TED SMITH

When I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, my civic booster grandmother would often tell me, “You know dear, they call Pittsburgh ‘the San Francisco of the East.’” And it’s true that our fair city, with its cozy ethnic neighborhoods clustered on various hills and valleys around the city, and our two cable cars climbing the side of Mt. Washington, might have had a slight resemblance to the City by the Bay. But as I used to retort, “Maybe, Grandma. But no one ever calls San Francisco ‘the Pittsburgh of the West’!” (Except maybe in jest.)

I call this phenomenon of borrowing the prestige of someplace by extending its name to another slightly similar or neighboring place, “gilt by association,” and it goes on a lot in real estate. It’s interesting to see how Realtors’ names for the same neighborhood have changed over time, as the place has acquired or shed prestige. For example, Capitol Hill (at least in real estate terms) used to extend all the way north to H Street, N.E., and east and south to the Anacostia River (at least, until the I-395 freeway cut those neighborhoods off). But on MLS listings, you can still see various permutations like “North Capitol Hill” or “Capitol Hill—North” to distinguish properties north of E. Capitol St. from those below. That’s now being replaced in some instances with the H Street corridor (or the Atlas District) as that neighborhood has grown in prestige.

The place names for real estate neighborhoods don’t necessarily correspond with the political boundaries for a neighborhood. For example, I live on 10th Street, N.W., between M Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Sale properties in my neighborhood are variously listed as being in Logan Circle (the gilded lily name), Mt. Vernon/Convention Center (my preferred name), Shaw (really?), or that old development standby for a neighborhood without a distinct identity in mid-city D.C., Old City #2 (not to be confused with Old City #1 to the east of us). If you’re a long-time resident of the District, you might pretend to be able to precisely differentiate those neighborhoods. But, though each of them may have a distinct geographic center, their boundaries are fuzzy—partly because their names come from and are used in various political and economic contexts.

Why is all this significant? Because naming is power. To identify a place with a distinctive name is to be able to increase or diminish its political and economic clout. Don’t believe me? Want to know how much extra you can get selling a property with a “Georgetown” neighborhood name? In an interesting negative twist on this, the Park View neighborhood south of Petworth almost disappeared (oh, the signs on Georgia Avenue were still there) when the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership omitted it from the 2012 Neighborhood Profiles and Maps. (It was replaced with Petworth/Park View after residents raised a ruckus with their Council members.) Why would it be important if the place name disappeared? Because a way of distinguishing one neighborhood from another (whatever the relative real estate prestige of either) would be gone.

What this means to sellers and lessors of real estate property should be pretty obvious: Borrow the best neighborhood name for your property that you can legitimately claim; it will mean an increased price for your home. For buyers and renters, the lesson is to either use zip codes or a map search when looking for a property in order to avoid any confusion over place names.

The power of names to elevate or deprecate the value of objects has long been recognized.  Many people will know the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But would it? Not in real estate.

Happy hunting!

13
Dec
2012