Sunday, October 18, 2009

October Items


The October meeting with District AG Peter Nickels and At Large council-member Phil Mendelson was interesting. A note will be forthcoming in a few days. Meanwhile, there were several items that we needed to get out.

Vault Lease Issues

We recently learned that some developers entered into underground vault agreements that may present long-term liabilities to some condominium associations or particular owners who have assigned rights to space within these vaults. These agreements assign limited rights to this space, but preserve the city’s ultimate right to take the space if needed or to charge rent for the space. There is little clarity to this beyond some residents paid for parking spaces without realizing that the space belonged to the city and that the city had the right to charge rent. So far, two buildings have been identified as having such agreements. In one case (555 Massachusetts) , the city charged the residents for back rent and demanded rent for 2010. These residents were unaware that they had purchased public space. In another case (Madrigal Lofts) the public space is mentioned in their bylaws but residents seem unaware that their agreement gives the city the right to charge rent.

It is advised associations with buildings that opened after 2004 check to see if they have public vault liabilities. Currently both Ward 2 and Ward 6 councilmembers Jack Evans and Tommy Wells are working to find resolution.

Carmines Neighborhood Meeting

The Alicart Restaurant Group is bringing Carmine’s, a family style Italian restaurant to 7th Street between D and E street in the space that many had hoped would contain a grocery store. Carmines will serve up to 700 people and will create 220 new jobs for the city. The Downtown Neighborhood Association is organizing a public meeting hosted by the Clara Barton Condominium Association for Tuesday October 27 at 7PM. Jeffrey Bank, the Alicart Chief Executive Officer will meet, discuss their plans and business model, and answer questions. Residents from Clara Barton, Lansburgh, Lafayette, and Terrell Place are encouraged to come. The meeting is open to all downtown residents, so please RSVP to if you plan to attend. For more information on this company and to view Jeffrey Bank’s discussion of their business model, check out the link:

Downtown Streetscape Project

Work has finally begun on the Downtown DCBID Streetscape and Streetlight project. The first areas impacted downtown will be D and E Streets between 6th and 7th Street. The work will include but not limited to upgrading of streetlights, wheelchair ramps, trees spaces as well as repairable sidewalks, gutters and resurfacing of road pavement. This is a project that the Downtown Neighborhood Association provided input and aggressively worked for funding and project approval.

November Meeting

The final meeting for 2009 is scheduled for Tuesday November 10th at Calvary Baptist Church. The lead discussion leader will be Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans who will brief attendees on neighborhood issues and take audience questions. He will be followed by Hadiah Jordan, and Associate with Justice & Sustainability Associates. Her firm is working with the Infrastructure Project Management Administration, a division of the District Department of Transportation, to manage the Downtown DCBID Streetscape and Streetlight project that received stimulus funding. Please RSVP to if you plan to attend.

Miles E. Groves
Downtown Neighborhood Association

Monday, October 5, 2009

Penn Quarter Jewel at Risk

Penn Quarter Farmers Market
The Penn Quarter Farmers Market that is operated by Fresh Farms is a neighborhood jewel serving residents and workers across or downtown neighborhoods. The Market has operated seasonally for seven years on Thursday afternoons on the north end of 8th Street between D and E Streets. It is a great place to go and observe the crowded market a patrons snack and buy from the breadth of the products that can be found.

When the market is not operating, 8th Street is usually quiet with a use that seems dominated by on-street parking and parking garages from the surrounding mixed-use buildings. It is an abbreviated street that is interrupted by the museums, pedestrian malls, the Carnegie Library and the Convention Center. For many, in a city that seems dominated by automobiles trying to get in and out of our neighborhood, this use is a nice pedestrian respite. No doubt, some who lose on-street parking are inconvenienced when the market is open. And, those leaving the garages from the commercial and mixed use buildings who want to go north for a block on 8th Street must take different paths. But, for the majority who live and walk to work or work and take the metro this is market is a great amenity.

Vehicular Dominance
Recently, Mr. Ken Crerar, president of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers contacted the Public Space Manager at the Department of Transportation Public Space Management Office requesting that the Market’s permit be rescinded. Mr. Crerar suggests that the market find another suitable location elsewhere in Penn Quarter. The problem he cites is traffic congestion on 7th and 9th Street can be avoided by using 8th Street northward to E Street where he connects with 12th Street to go Massachusetts Avenue. On Thursdays the congestion costs Mr. Crerar up to 15 minutes. And for this 15 minutes, he wants our Market moved despite the number of people it serves.

He suggests that this market be put in front of the Market Square buildings. However, this space is much smaller than the space now used by the market since the area is either the Navy Memorial or a small space between the two buildings. He also suggests that parking be taken from F Street and the promenade on the south side of the Smithsonian Galleries be used. This would be a great idea except that F Street, unlike 8th Street is very busy with parking, pedestrian and vehicular traffic. And, unlike 8th Street, the promenade is not city controlled. But, it is a location with possibilities. However, with the inclusion of the SmartBike racks on F Street and the need to keep access on the South side of the museum open, this suggestion has its on problems.

Pennsylvania Avenue Plan
Jo-Ann Neuhaus, executive director with the Penn Quarter Neighborhood Association (PQNA) notes that the pedestrian focus of 8th Street is consistent with the Pennsylvania Avenue Plan. She is a neighborhood advocate who can claim the honor of “being there” when the plans for Pennsylvania Avenue Downtown were developed. She points out that the Pennsylvania Avenue Plan states:

“Along Eighth Street, as on Square 407, new development would reinforce the pedestrian character of the street . . . .Although vehicular traffic would be allowed, Eighth Street would be treated as a “special street” under the Corporation’s Side Street Improvement Plan, with improvements designed to enhance the residential environment.”

Several residents are concerned the possible loss of 15 minutes could force the entire neighborhood to adapt to the one individual rather than the one individual adapting for a market that serves so many and has become the Jewel of Penn Quarter. The Downtown Neighborhood Association(DNA) agrees with this concern and objects to any effort by the city to move our market. As noted above, this street is intended to serve as a “special street” designed to enhance the residential environment.

Make Our Voices Known
While we anticipate that the city will not rescind the market's permit, this is more certain if we make sure our council members and the Mayor know that we support this market and do not want to see it moved.

Miles E. Groves

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Community Involvment Critical

At our September DNA meeting, we learned of two upcoming meetings that warrant our attention. These are the Mount Vernon Square District Project from the District's Office of Planning and a large-scale public art project that will transform the Gallery Place metro exit at 7th and F streets in Chinatown.

Mount Vernon Square District Project

Patricia Zingsheim, Associate Director of Revitalization and Design, with Emily Yates, Ward 2 Neighborhood Planner from the DC Office of Planning met to discuss the current status of a Project that will impact our needs for public space dedicated to green space, community park space, and playgrounds. Of course, the project covers far more than that - but community space is a critical reason to attend the public open house scheduled fro October 1st from 6 to 8pm at the former Carnage Library located at 801 K Street, NW.

This is a study that warrants our attention. We learned that the project goals are:

Create a distinctive and sustainable place.
Solve traffic and circulation issues to create a multi-modal hub and appealing pedestrian environment.
Maintain a deep sense of history and local meaning
Create clear links in all directions to other key destinations.
Maximize the draw of this area as a local destination.
Improve and activate open spaces.

These are all goals that should resonate with any downtown resident.

Public Art Project
Stephanie Cheng with the Chinatown Community Cultural Center discussed the Chinatown Mural Project. This is a proposed large-scale public art project commissioned from renowned local artist, Martha Jackson-Jarvis. The artist will produce and install this culturally inspired work of art in the Gallery Place Metro at the 7th and F Street exit.

A neighborhood community meeting is being held this Thursday, September 17 from 6PM to 7PM at the Chinatown Community Cultural Center. The artist and representatives from the Center will discuss an overview of the project and the concept of the proposed artwork. If interested in the discussion or what is being planned for the Gallery Place Metro exit, you are urged to attend.

The Center is located at 616 H Street, NW Suite 201. This is an opportunity to interact with the artist and understand what is being planned.

Miles E. Groves
Downtown Neighborhood Association

September Meeting with Chief of Police

Public Safety Draws Interest
We had a nice crowd and some new faces at our September meeting. Not only were we impressed with the bench-strength that accompanied our Chief of Police to our meeting, but we had At-large Councilmember Phil Mendelson and three Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (Commissioners Doris Brooks, Mark Dixon, and Charley Docter.) This was at least the third time Councilmember Mendelson has joined us, so we invited him to return next month to be our discussion leader.

Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier
Our meeting had a full agenda with Chief Lanier and Commander Kamperin updating us on citywide and neighborhood activities. While teens on 7th street continue to be a challenge, the cooperation between MPD, Metro Transit Police, off-duty police and security personnel employed by the Theater, McDonald’s, and Gallery Place helped keep the neighborhood quieter this summer than it was in 2008. One critical change this year was the Chinatown Initiative that started in May. This put Sergeant Peter Sheldon and ten volunteers on the street at night. This group focussed on youth crime and challenges in Chinatown between 5th and 8th Streets, and F and I Streets though they made many adult arrests. Since the inception of the Chinatown unit made over 800 arrests and seized four guns.

There were a host of questions concerning robberies, bicycle and Segway usage, and noise. Overall it was a powerful briefing and discussion.

October Meeting
Our October meeting will be held at the District Chophouse instead of Calvary Baptist Church. Our two discussion leaders will be Attorney General Peter Nickels and At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson. Refreshments will be available.

Miles E. Groves
Downtown Neighborhood Association

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Downtown Establishment Night Noise

Balancing Act to Reduce Noise
An application or renewal of a liquor license in our neighborhood triggers questions on whether DNA should pursue a Voluntary Agreement. The process is time consuming requiring a formal protest so we do not pursue it lightly. We consider the proximity to a residential building, any neighborhood complaints, police Call-For-Service 251 reports, any Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA) complaints, and the type of application. Existing licenses are easier than new licenses because they have a track record while new licenses come with promises of the applicant. These are all considered by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) responsible for the geography where the applicant resides. As a civic association, DNA is required to hold a public hearing with at least ten days public notice so all neighborhood residents have the opportunity to discuss any concerns or present their support for the license holder. After that hearing, the DNA Board votes on whether to submit a formal protest of the application or renewal. It is through this protest that we gain standing before the Alcohol Beverage Commission Board (ABC) to pursue a Voluntary Agreement.

Why Do We Protest?
There is no question that living downtown in any major city brings with it the a level of excitement, public interaction, entertainment and noise that one does not find in less urban environments. Our own research shows that most residents moved downtown because of the cultural and entertainment venues along with access to several metro entrances, buses, trains, and quick access out of town via 395.

We love our restaurants, bars, theater, and the many venues at the Verizon Center. Still, no one buys or rents a downtown residence expecting that they will be living in an environment comparable to the Las Vegas Strip, New Orleans French Quarter, or Fells Point in Baltimore. That is not the history of our neighborhood, though many like to compare it to New York City’s Times Square. However, as someone who worked at The New York Times for a decade, we are no Times Square. Here, we focused on downtown living, attracting thousands of residents into the core of our city. Times Square, though, is not host to thousands of residents. And unlike our great city, they have beefed up their noise regulations and enforcement. Washington, DC, has regulations that are rarely enforced and we deserve a major overhaul of noise regulation.

Noise is a major concern for residents seeking sleep whether it comes from garbage trucks, over-served crowds, nighttime construction, or the local restaurant lounge or nightclub.

Who Pays the External Costs?
Noise is the most pervasive pollutants today. Noise from traffic, garbage trucks, fire trucks, construction equipment, protesters, car stereos, nightclub/tavern operations are among the audible litter that are routinely broadcast into the air. Noise negatively affects human health and well-being. Problems related to noise include hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, distraction and lost productivity, and a general reduction in the quality of life.

The air into which second-hand noise is emitted and on which it travels is a public good that belongs to all of us. It belongs to no one person or group, but to everyone. People, businesses, and organizations do no have unlimited rights to broadcast noise as they please, as if the effects of noise were limited only to their private property. Instead, this is an externality resulting from their private actions for which we pay for through lower quality of life and are harmed by the problems that noise creates.

This concept of external costs is not new concept. Still, there are some ANC commissioners, agency professionals, and many club owners who do not understand that the community has a higher right to reduced externalities than does the creator of the externalities. In short, mixed downtown residential/retail/commercial areas are not “free zones” where those who create noise have greater rights than those who suffer with the noise. This is one of the reasons that active ANC’s and neighborhood civic associations work to create Voluntary Agreements with establishments seeking to reduce the external costs that result from their operations.

Voluntary Agreements Reduce Externalities
The Downtown Neighborhood Association works with neighborhood establishments to develop agreements that reduce these externalities. The key issues that we approach include noise, crowds, operating hours, and public safety. Our efforts target establishments that are near residential buildings and whose operations will disrupt the lives of local residents who we believe have a higher right to peace and quiet than an establishment that seeks to profit by disrupting that peace and quiet. Any noise reduction involves either a change in their operations, investment in noise containment technologies, or both. Sadly, city regulations are a poor mediator for this conflict.

All of our agreements have clauses concerning disruptive noise that establishments agree too manage in order to get a liquor license. But, enforcement is a challenge. Much is blamed on the availability of noise measurement instruments, properly trained police officers, and the workload of DCRA measurement professionals. But these are not required at night. If a police officer agrees that the noise is loud enough that it may break the limit, a ticket can be issued without any measuring device. Even if they decide it is not worth the effort to generate a ticket, they can ask the establishment to turn the volume down and, as we have learned at our PSA meetings, can shut the establishment down if they fail to comply. So, there is no reason that noise should be a problem from dance clubs, night clubs, or Taverns if the police apply the authority they have.

Still, the permissible noise level that the city sets for downtown is high. Since Voluntary Agreements are enforceable by ABRA investigators and MPD officers, they provide an important quality of life component when they include more restrictive rules for establishment related noise. This takes an active community that works together to ensure that MPD is aware of these agreements so that they, along with ABRA, can help reduce the noise levels from these establishments.

Note: For a good source for information on the impact of noise, check out

Miles E. Groves

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Playgrounds for Children

Panel to Kickoff Family Amenity Effort
The DNA Family Amenity Panel was the primary focus of the July meeting. Four district agencies along with the Downtown Business Improvement District were represented. The panel moderator and co-chair of the DNA Family Amenity Committee and resident of the Ventana Condominium, Giles Beeker, led the discussion. The participants included Geraldine Gardner, Associate Director for Neighborhood Planning with the Office of Planning, Jeff Hinkle, Community Planner with the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), Nithya Joseph with the District Parks and Recreation Transition Team, Rick Reinhard, Deputy Executive Director for Planning and Development with the Downtown Business Improvement District, and Jose Sousa, a Project Manager with the office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development.

Giles Beaker started the panel with commentary on the importance of finding ways to keep families downtown rather than losing them to the suburbs. He posed a question to the panel asking whether there was a plan for families downtown; whether existing plans factored in the growth of this segment of the neighborhood. Garner explained that families, diversity, open space, and recreation were all part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan and the Center City Action Agenda. Hinkle added that part of the concern of the NCPC was not only a good working environment for federal employees, but a great civic life, too. The maintenance, programming, accessibility, and overall quality of the federal parks that exist in our community is the focus of the Capital Space project that includes NCPC, District, and the National Park Service. Joseph noted that there were plans for a playground in nearby Shaw that residents could use, though the location on the corner of 7th and N Streets, NW are not within a reasonable walking distance of most downtown residential buildings. Sousa suggested that there may be opportunities to identify pilot projects collaborating with the District and our neighborhood collaborating with the National Park Service. Lt. Royal recommended that any actions taken to bring playground programming to the neighborhood involve the police department to ensure systems were in place to provide a safe environment. Reinhard suggested that there may be opportunities to gain family programming in one of the 34 national parks located downtown through temporary installations of playgrounds. He offered, though, that that neighborhood needs were a subset of a larger problem of the lack of investment in Downtown Parks by both the District and the Federal Government. He noted that the 34 parks covered 22 acres requiring $15 to $20 million in capital improvements and $1.5 to $2 million annually in programing dollars.

All agreed that a critical factor was that someone needed to take leadership of this issue if we are to make any headway in improving the quality of life for Downtown residents. While there appears to be a commitment for help, none of the panelists were prepared to take the challenge and accept responsibility for bringing family programming and playgrounds into our neighborhood. However, the meeting was a good first step to assessing neighborhood concerns and discussing alternatives.

Next Steps
The leadership needs to come from downtown residents. As Giles Bleeker suggested, resources should not be a problem given who the breadth of downtown stakeholders we can seek funding from. Downtown residents need to work with the city agencies to identify opportunities that will address our family amenity needs and then seek ways to make it happen. We have been successful in pursuing other challenges to improve our neighborhood with the help of District Agencies, our activist ANC6C, and support from our councilmembers. This may be the most challenging project yet and it may well be the critical measure of our success as a neighborhood association. So, if you are concerned about greenspace, flowers, playgrounds, and nice places for quiet contemplation then this is the project for you to step up to.

If interested in being part of this effort, contact Miles Groves at or Giles Beeker at

Miles E. Groves
Downtown Neighborhood Association

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Downtown Neighborhood Association June Meeting Notes

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night .. .
The regular second Tuesday June meeting attendance was hampered by heavy rains and lightning. However, with Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Lt. Craig Royal, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, and District Consumer Regulatory Agency (DCRA) Director Linda Argo, those who attended were served a spirited discussion on noise measurement, noise regulations, and their enforcement. There was a second public meeting held on Thursday, June 18 to consider the liquor license applications from the owners of Muse Lounge, located at 717 6th Street NW and Levels, located at 315 H Street NW.

Patrol Service Area 101W
The meeting started with a discussion of the Chinatown Initiative that First District Commander Kamperin introduced in May. A team of volunteers including ten police offers and sergeant Sheldon who provided an update of the program. This team has been working nights in and near the Chinatown section of downtown focussing on youth-crime along with a host of quality of life crimes that are not always addressed in our neighborhood. There has been greater enforcement of parking violations, public alcohol consumption laws, public urination, curfew violations. The initiative will continue to provide focus on the neighborhood for at least a year.

We learned that DCRA has started training of MPD officers on how to measure noise with calibrated decibel reading instruments. Their plan is to provide instruments and trained personnel throughout the District to enable better response to noise complaints by providing tools and police qualified to determine whether a noise source is within the legal range.

Discussion Leaders
Councilmember Evans provided an update on the state of city finances and discussed the emergency crime bill that was coming before the council. Then, with Director Argo, Councilmember Evans, and Lt. Royal a discussion ensued on noise violations determination and measurement. There appeared to be confusion over the need to measure noise levels after 9:00PM and a MPD officers ability to use a “reasonable persons” determination that the noise was too loud. Evans noted that the police already have the authority at night to ask the source of loud noise to reduce or turn it off. He shared that if a nightclub was producing loud noise that a reasonable person would believe was above the legal range that they could ask them to turn it down or shut the club down. Director Argo agreed. However, Lt. Royal was concerned with the ambiguity of this and the potential liability it presented. He also noted that there was a problem with the process since tickets written for noise violations were routinely thrown out by the court so officers were resistant to issuing tickets for noise violations. We learned that since there were no formal “noise violation tickets” or a court the focused on these type of quality of live crimes that issuing tickets was a waste of time. This perplexed Evans and many of the neighborhood residents attending the meeting. It was clear that despite efforts to draw up rules concerning noise, the enforcement process fell short of the council intent and needed further legislation.

Special Public Liquor Application Meeting
As required by the Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration, ten days notice for this meeting was provided with all neighborhood residents invited as well as the owners of the clubs making application. The meeting was held in the lobby of Madrigal Lofts with over 50 people attending. There is an excellent report on the meeting on the Mount Vernon Triangle blog, “The Triangle” at that details the discussion that occurred at the meeting. Several were concerned by the comments of Dimitri Mallios, the attorney for both establishments, that the neighborhood residents meeting was unnecessary and a waste of time. He argued that we should rely solely on the ANC that was already protesting the license application for Levels and that the request from Muse Lounge to stay open to 3:30AM weekdays and 4:30AM weekends didn’t impact those attending the meeting.

July Regular Second Tuesday Meeting
Mark your calendar for our Tuesday, July 14 Meeting which will be at Calvary Baptist Church starting at 6:30PM and over by 8:00PM. We are developing a panel to discuss downtown family amenities - parks, playgrounds, and other elements that our children, grandchildren, and visitors desire. The invited participants are from the National Capital Planning Council, DC office of Economic Development and Planning, Downtown Business Improvement District, the District Office of Planning, More details will be forthcoming. Refreshments will be provided.

This meeting will also include PSA 101W officers and questions.

Miles E. Groves

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Downtown Business Improvement District: Time to Join?

Looking Back
When we moved into Penn Quarter in 1995, with the exception of the nightclubs a few blocks away on E and F Streets, our neighborhood was relatively quiet. We had noise issues with the use of Pennsylvania Avenue for what seemed to be an endless series of events, but while that may have been an inconvenience, these were not late night venues. Our problems were related to street-people, skateboarders, drugs and prostitution on C street, rats and trash. The city did not seem to have a grip on any of these issues. At least, that was the perception that I recall. There were not many of us then - probably less than 1,500 residents while now we surpass 8,000 residents.

There was an organization led by Charley Docter named Downtown Housing Now. I was on its board because the Pennsylvania Condominium Association was a member and I was board president. This group worked hard to lobby the city council and mayors office to honor and promote the downtown residential commitment rather than let developers swap residential investments due our neighborhood with other neighborhoods. We also had developers who understood the importance of downtown residents to open the neighborhood into the thriving potential we enjoy today.

Two Changes
There were two seminal events that helped our development. First, we had the development of the MCI center which helped make downtown an entertainment destination center. Second, in 1997, we had the development of the Downtown Business Improvement District (DBID). As a downtown resident, we experienced an improvement in services without a corresponding increase in taxes. Instead of relying on city services to deal with rats, trash, street-people and club noise, the DBID became the central organizing group to respond. The DBID members were the commercial property owners and we benefited by being in mixed-use neighborhoods served by this organization. There were not many residential buildings so the additional cost to serve our streets was small; we enjoyed a free ride. The DBID took over many of the city responsibilities and the commercial buildings were happy to have cleaner streets and the corresponding army of SAMS to have a presence and to help the growing bounty of tourists who came for the host of cultural and entertainment venues that fill our neighborhood. In addition, the DBID works closely with downtown stakeholders and city agencies to keep focus on our neighborhood streetscape, safety, and parking concerns.

Should Residential Buildings Join?
In 2007 and 2008 we collaborated with the Downtown Business Improvement District, the Penn Quarter Neighborhood Association, and the Downtowner Newspaper to produce a survey to help us better understand the profile and needs of downtown residents. In both years, the survey found that over 80 percent of downtown residents would support joining the DBID if residential membership was offered. Our member buildings in the Mount Vernon Triangle section of our neighborhood belong to a Community Improvement DIstrict (CID) that provides some of the services of the DBID. It was set up to ensure that the neighborhood would have resources to be clean and safe. This CID has been instrumental with bringing more trees into the neighborhood as well as park improvements and funding off-duty police officers to improve safety. Residents pay $10 per month for these services.

In the past, I have heard presentation about the value of residential buildings joining the DBID. It has usually been couched in terms of beefing up the number of SAMS and later hours to provide a better street presence. In my personal view (not an official DNA view) it makes sense for all neighborhood beneficiaries to be a member of the DBID. However, I do not see it in terms of more SAMS on our streets or in terms of funding the existing level of services. I think we should join, but only if the DBID can “step up” their efforts for a clean downtown to a beautiful downtown with a defining theme of flowers, trees and greenery throughout our neighborhood. I would like to see their collaboration with the National Park Service to expand to provide us with cleaner, safer parks that can be destination places for neighbors to meet along with playgrounds so that our children, grandchildren, and young visitors have fun urban amenities.

In short, the Downtown Business Improvement District is a resource that we benefit from. The time has come to define our relationship in a way that further improves the quality of life in our neighborhood and gives us a voice in the future of the DBID.

What do you think?
Comments are encouraged, especially concerning whether the Downtown Neighborhood Association should take an active position on this question.

Miles E. Groves

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trash Collection Noise Abatements Act

Most Common Complaint
The most common complaint we receive relate to noise from events, dance clubs and taverns, and early morning trash haulers. Apparently, at least in terms of trash haulers, the council passed legislation that provides some protection. DCRA is working the Office of the Attorney General to create the regulations and process by which the law will be enforced. We have no clue of when these regulation will be ready or what kind of neighborhood training will be developed. However, you can now file a complaint by going to site and selecting the Trash Truck Noise option.

Guidance from DCRA Director Linda Argo
Last year the Council enacted the Trash Collection Noise Abatements Act (DC Law 17-259, effective November 19, 2008), whereby residents fill out a complaint form and attach photographic evidence of after-hours trash collections. DCRA will review the complaints and evidence, and then could issue a citation to the alleged violator without the need for a DCRA inspector to witness the violation. DCRA is working with the Office of the Attorney General on the regulations and forms for implementing the law. Once the law is implemented, DCRA will conduct an education campaign to let residents know the procedures for filing a complaint.

The relevant trash collection regulation (20 DCMR 2806) prohibits noise from trash collections between the hours of 9 pm and 7 am, Monday through Saturday (with the exception of holidays) in residential, special purpose, or waterfront zones, or within 300 feet of any of these zones. Violators can be issued citations by a DCRA inspector or an MPD officer.

DCRA Actions
Because DCRA has received several complaints of noise from after-hours trash collections, they are taking the following actions:

First, if they receive complaints that identify the trash collection company, DCRA will check their business records to see if the company is licensed to operate in the District. If it is, then a letter will be sent to their corporate address notifying them of their legal obligation to comply with the trash collection provisions of the D.C. Municipal Regulations. If they are not licensed, then we will send a letter to their corporate address notifying them of their legal obligation to properly license their company and their trucks if they are doing business in the District, and the amount of fines they can be issued for failure to comply.

Second, where complaints of after-hour trash collections regularly occurring at certain times in a particular location, DCRA can send out an investigator to visit that area. If the investigator finds any unlicensed trash operators or any after-hours trash collections, he or she can issue citations.

Third, DCRA will be sending a letter to all licensed trash collection companies operating in the District notifying them that we have received complaints about after-hours trash collections, that such collections violate DC noise control laws, and that the company risks a fine for any future violations.

Will This Work?
It is great to see legislation addressing a problem that plagues us throughout our Downtown Neighborhood. The critical challenge will be responsiveness and enforcement. DCRA Director Linda Argo will be at our June 9th meeting and we hope she can address the enforcement process fully, then. If you are having problems, check out their web site and file a complaint. You can also send me a note that you have filed a complaint and together, we can track the result.

Miles E. Groves

Monday, May 4, 2009

Deputy Mayor Neil Albert Comments

April Discussion Leader
Our primary discussion leader at our April meeting was Neil Albert, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Planning. He covered the breadth of public space development across downtown including the convention center hotel, CityCenterDC, The Arts at 5th and Eye Streets, Franklin School, and the Louis Dreyfus 395 air rights project. In short, despite the slowdown, we have a lot of development activity in the pipeline.

City Economy in Good Shape
Deputy Mayor Albert shared that our city economy is in good shape, especially when compared with neighboring Virginia and Maryland and we continue to benefit from lots of development. He discussed the mayor’s commitment to no tax increases, buttressed by efforts to reduce overhead by 15 percent and a focus on efficiencies. He noted that city government had been growing at an unsustainable rate of 8 to 11 percent over the past decade.

Development Projects
He discussed many of the projects that are currently in some phase of development in our neighborhood. Those he discussed include:
  • The Convention Center Hotel, funded by $152 million in Tax Increment Funding dollars will not be completed until 2012. In order to be competitive, our convention center must have the hotel.
  • CityCenterDC is moving forward and the deputy mayor was 85 percent sure that we would have a ground breaking this year.
  • The Arts at 5th & Eye negotiations continue between the developer group and the city. The deputy mayor was 99.75 percent sure that an agreement would close and that the project would go forward.
  • He acknowledged our interest in the development of the Franklin School property. There will be a request for expressions of interest going out soon to help the city review possible uses for this property before any formal RFP process begins. He promised to engage downtown residents in the process as it goes forward.
  • The Louis Dreyfus project puts a top on highway 395 with mixed-use development including commercial, retail, and residential uses included. They had shared at an earlier ANC meeting plans to locate the Jewish Historical building to the west lawn of The Building Museum, a plan that DNA had objected too. He shared that they would prepare the new location and that there would be no intermediate temporary location.
Deputy Mayor Albert was asked about the possibilities of bringing more flowers downtown. He suggested that this was a local neighborhood issue where residents could work together to plant and care for flowers as community effort. He offered his services to help with the planting and noted that some funding might be available. It was something, though, that the city would not do beyond providing help for residents.

Overall, we were treated to a candid, educational, and occasionally humurous discussion and a commitment to include us in the developement process.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Noise: Special Benefit of Downtown Living

Blaming he Victim
I am not a native Washingtonian, though my wife and I adopted this great city as our home many years ago and have been living downtown since 1995. Whenever I share the challenges our city faces from oversight by “state” politicians who like to make their political points at our expense, I am usually queried with “You knew that you were losing voting rights when you moved to DC do it is your fault, not the blame of those politicians representing states.” It is not a good argument and my friends ceased using it many years ago especially since I am generally enraged by “blaming the victim” arguments.

Sadly, I have been hearing a similar refrain since moving downtown. Complain about noise to a club owner and their response is “if you want quiet, you should not live downtown.” I have received similar advice from city agency professionals who see a commercial zone and choose to ignore the growing number of people who actually live downtown rather than commute from a state or live in a more residential ward. Since I chose to live downtown, then I should expect the bass laden beat from a nearby club and be amused by the whims of DC WASA as they prepare for the midnight dance of the jackhammer. I was once advised by a Ward 6 commissioner that downtowners should expect the lively 3AM club crowds and not complain - after all, living downtown is a choice. Clubs first, local residents last. More blaming the victim.

Bait and Switch
Nearly two years ago, I attended a hearing with other downtown neighbors on noise. An amendment was being considered that would put some limits on the volume generated by amplified non-commercial speech. There is no limit on how loud one can be if the speech is not amplified. There used to be a 60 decibel limit for amplified non-commercial speech that was remove at the behest of local unions who were, or were believed to have been, abused by police officers for being above the limit. I do not know what the facts are for the union grievance, but it only impacted daytime office workers since most of the protests were downtown. The change, though, enabled unions and other protesters to be as loud as their amplifier permitted throughout the city.

When a group of hate preachers took hold on H Street NE in Ward 6, residents joined together and after over two years of hard work and the support of Councilmember Tommy Wells, they were able to get some relief with the adoption of a 70 decibel limit for amplified non-commercial speech. They made their point by fostering their own demonstrations in neighborhoods like Georgetown and drawing attention to the harm by the change. Unfortunately, the amendment that was passed could only pass with union support. Since unions are not focused on residential venues, they were willing to give it up if they could continue to be as loud as technically possible in downtown locations. We actively supported protections that we believed would benefit all district residents. In the end, it only offered protection for some district residents. This seemed appropriate since, after all, in the blaming the victim mentality, we chose to live downtown. We chose to have less rights.

Discrimination Institutionalized
So, a bad bill was created that discriminates against those who have been at the center of city revitalization. When the vote was taken, the two sponsors, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and Ward 4 Councilmember Mary Cheh voted against their own bill. I know they both were sincerely disappointed at the outcome. What we are left with are regulations that are unfair and treat those of us who sleep downtown and receive less city services than our residential neighbors with less protection, too. This isn’t fair; can it really be legal? But hey, just by moving to DC we willingly gave up political rights just as moving downtown gave us zoning laws that do not acknowledge our existence. So, perhaps blaming the victim is the right argument. It still makes me angry.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Changing Stakeholders

Our great neighborhood is the result of the efforts of several stakeholders who pushed the idea of a living, thriving, energetic downtown. Many still compare it to New York City’s Time Square. While that comparison is descriptive, Times Square is a destination people visit. Our neighborhood is that too, but it is also a place where people come to live. At our March DNA meeting, a senior executive with Western Development discussed the history of the Gallery Place project, starting from a city development task force that explored the possibilities of Chinatown. The result of that effort was the mixed use development that includes residential, commercial, retail, restaurant, and entertainment near Verizon Center. Once Gallery Place was more than a promise, a host of other rental and condominium residential buildings began to form. The broad result is that we have moved from about 1,500 downtown residents to over 8,000 residents and growing.

The list of the developers who helped frame our neighborhood is a long one. The city council responded to the vision with Tax Increment Financing and abatements. The small base of early resident activist under the leadership of ANC 6C Charley Docter pushed to keep the required residential units from being swapped to other neighborhoods. Political redistricting freed much of downtown from the burden of Shaw control. With the metro and quick access out by way of 395, residents flowed into our neighborhood as quickly as units could be built.

In short, a lot has happened since the Gallery Place construction cranes arrived.

We know that part of the vision for Gallery Place includes advertising signage. Indeed, the type of signage proposed required new legislation that the council passed before most of our residents arrived. While Gallery Place condo documents appear to have adequate notice of the advertising signage plans, it was not a prominent part of the original sales process. The reality is that this is not 2003. Now we have stakeholders who care about the vibrancy of our neighborhood and deserve to be part of shaping its future. We need signage legislation that addresses the entire downtown area and a moratorium on any new advertising signage until we have it. Similarly, we need legislation that reflects the hybrid nature of our downtown with signage, noise, public space usage rules. We are less a commercial zone with a few residential buildings, but several residential buildings mixed with commercial and retail properties.

We must push our elected officials to support new legislation the recognizes that Downtown is more than Times Square NYC. It is much more; it is a place that many call home.

Miles E. Groves
Downtown Neighborhood Association