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