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Dear PoP – DCRA says no new restaurants on 14th street & U street corridors!

by Prince Of Petworth April 8, 2010 at 12:34 am 102 Comments


A reader sent in a link from the Mid City Business Association. They report:

URGENT: DCRA rules no New Building Permits or C of Os will be issued to eating and drinking establishments in MidCity.

On April 5th, 2010 Matt LaGrant, DC’s Zoning Administrator, issued a ruling that DCRA will no longer grant Building Permits or Certificate of Occupancies for restaurants, bars, diners, coffees shops and carry-outs along 14th and U streets (plus adjacent commercial side streets) because of zoning regulations restricting the availability of space to eating and drinking establishments to 25% of the linear frontage of the greater 14th and U Street area. To see a map of the overlay go here.

What the ruling means

*Anyone seeking to open an eating and drinking establishment (including delis, coffee shops and carry outs) will need to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to seek a special exception.
*Requiring all new projects to go to the BZA will absorb an enormous amount of business, community and government resources as projects seek exemptions to a rule that is widely regarded as outdated and harmful to economic development.
*It will stall new projects and prevent existing ones from expanding
*It will discourage entrepreneurs from investing in the MidCity area, including underdeveloped parts of the district.
*It will send a strong message to local, regional, national investors that DC is business unfriendly

MIdCity Business Association’s Response to the Ruling
We will be sending a letter to CM Jim Graham, CM Jack Evans and other city officials asking for their help in obtaining an urgent text change to the zoning regulations to increase the allowance from 25% to 50% of the total area.

We will be continue to work with our community partners including the Logan Circle Communtiy Association and the U Street Neighborhood Association along with commissioners from ANC1B, ANC2F and ANC2B to develop a constructive and positive response as our community coalition continues to work together to promote positive, balanced economic and community development in MidCity.

We last discussed concerns about development in this area here. Do you think this will hurt the continued revival of the 14th and U Street Corridors?

  • bosscrab


    This should ensure that any empty storefront on 14th Street stays that way.

    Now THAT is good for the neighborhood!

  • Markusha

    Enough with U Street becoming “The Suck” of Adams Morgan! How many bars does it take to misrepresent the flavor of U Street? This space would be ideal in attracting a national retailer or perhaps something family-friendly. Kudos to the DCRA for caring enough stop the excessive bar/restaurant growth of the neighborhood.

    • Leroy

      U Street has never been a National Retailer / “family-friendly” shoppe destination. If you want to go to Filene’s Basement and paint pottery, take the metro to Chevy Chase.

    • Scott

      This is a case of trying to use the wrong tool to address what some think is an over saturation of “bars and clubs” in the area, by people that want an ABC moratorium.

      Applying the 25% zoning limit was attempted in late 2008, and it raised red flags regarding the negative impacts, and that led to a very comprehensive community process to analyze the impacts and to put forward recommendations

      The recommendations that were completed in September 2009, included expanding the limit to 45-50%, and to limit the number of banks that take up prime ground floor retail locations as well as numerous examples of how the enforcement will damage local investment.

      I challenge you to find a neighborhood in the city that has more of a mix of different types of businesses; we have theatres, boutiques, services, restaurants, clubs, non-profits, grocery stores, hardware store, drugstores, fast food, gyms, travel agents, museums, shoe stores, hair saloons, barber shops, shoe repair, etc. They range from regional destinations such as Ben’s, 9:30 Club and Studio Theatre, to neighborhood services.

      However, instead of focusing on trying to address the specific issues that affect the quality of life; noise, trash, peace and quiet that are the real concerns, we are now going to spend our limited community time and resources examining zoning exception requests.

      Scott Pomeroy

  • NewShawNeighbor

    well, i don’t know about that bosscrab. perhaps there’s a middle ground, a way to encourage the development of businesses other than nightclubs and restaurants. i live smack in the middle of all the great stuff happening in u street corridor, and i love it, but i don’t know if all-drinking-all-the-time is the ONLY answer to a sustainable business environment.

    • As long as DCRA is doing this with the goal of assisting other kinds of businesses with opening up on U Street, I tend to agree that curbing eating-and-drinking establishments isn’t a bad thing.

  • Anonymous

    Should highest and best use be so narrow in 2010 ?

    Should liquor revenues govern everything ?

    Serious, very difficult questions arise regarding quality of life, economic development, jobs, and real property owner’s rights within dense urban environments in our nation’s capital.

    The plate is full.

  • Chris

    Remember the earlier post where so many bashed the poor quality of the food at Alero?

    This is exactly why Alero (and Sala Thai, etc) are able to get away with being teh suck.

  • Bloomingdale

    I never knew this 25% rule existed – but I’m happy to see it does. I suppose the street could absorb a few more less expensive eateries, but I think everyone views 18th Street in Adams Morgan as a “cautionary” tale of how to wreck a neighborhood retail strip.

    If there is really no market for small retail other than bars, we should admit that our 20th century zoning no longer makes sense, and rezone some of the strip as residential. That would get rid of the empty storefronts.

    • TruxRes

      So true. Half the bars in Adams Morgan change ownership every two or three years, as hapless entrepreneurs try to cash in. The mantle of failure is passed just passed around, with no net positive result for the strip itself.

      It never ceases to amaze me how no one clues in. Bars fail year after year, while a place like Tryst offering something novel and needed by the community is busy all the time.

      If we let the dumb money work their magic on U Street, we’re going to watch it turn into Adams Morgan South. Some regulation is necessary.

  • New2CH

    Ideally, I’d love to see butcher shops and bakeries and local record and book stores and cool local clothing and thrift stores and stuff like that. I just don’t think, alas, that is financially viable for many of those places to exist in the era of online retail and superstores like Target gobbling up the retail market. Consumers have spoken with their feet, and what is going to change to suddenly make these businesses profitable paying market rents in a place like U Street? In the future, a higher and higher percentage of consumer dollars will be spent online, not lower. I just don’t see remaining empty spaces filling up any time in the near future with hoards of non-existent small, local retail business opportunities, even if in the ideal world that is what we’d all like to see.

    • Ragged Dog

      It can work. Plenty of people pay more than necessary for food from farmer’s markets and such. There’s a bakery on H st that sells $30 pies for christ sake. The problem is that too many bars and restaurants were allowed to go into AM and U St so that tilted the economics for rent towards those types of businesses. It also turned the area into a kind of 20-something restaurant ghetto.

      People vote pretty efficiently with their feet. If you and your neighbors are on a tight food budget, then you’re going to chose Target. If you like to or are capable of spending your disposable income on quality food, then someone will come in to feed that need. The biggest problem you have on U St is demographics. There are too many young people who haven’t hit their stride professionally and spend their disposable incomes on beer and not good meat/cheese.

      • Anonymous

        I prefer a 20-something restaurant ghetto over the burned-out post-riot ghetto that used to be 14th and U any day.

        • Ragged Dog

          Right, agreed. I’m not saying either or. I’m just saying don’t expect Tiffany’s to open up on U St anytime soon.

      • “There’s a bakery on H st that sells $30 pies for christ sake”

        Yeah… bets on whether it will be there in a year?

        Anyway, bakeries and expensive butcher shops are, actually, most likely among the types of stores that CANNOT open because of this legislation:

        “including delis, coffee shops and carry outs”

        Something like Vace certainly qualifies as a “deli.”

        I think it’s stupid even if it’s just restaurants and bars, but to lump basically anyone who sells food into the prohibited class of stores is that much more egregious.

  • This is precisely the same anti-business, NIMBY regulation that has kept Cleveland Park’s retail scene in a moribund state for years, and the same unrealistic viewpoint that has kept Mt. Pleasant Street a substandard retail strip for decades. These 25% overlay districts should be relaxed, and such regulations shouldn’t exist in the first place, if we want to live in a vibrant city with a critical mass of restaurants, bars and yes, retail stores.

    • Bloomingdale

      “Vibrant” shouldn’t mean overrun with bars. “Vibrant” means a well-balanced mix of retail, cultural, food, and entertainment options. Maybe the 25% overlay isn’t the best way to achieve that goal, but I’m pretty sure that getting rid of the overlay isn’t going to help either.

      • Anonymous

        This new rule isn’t only keeping out bars. It is keeping out delis, coffee shops, take outs, etc. U Street has a lot of trendy expensive places to eat, but how about some variety. If keeping out bars is what the city is worried about, they should look to regulating through the issuance of liquor licenses.

        • Anonymous

          Exactly. However Commissioner Raia, who took office in Jan 2009, and immediately became the ANC 1B – ABC Committee chair, has only held 2 official ANC ABC meetings in 13 months.

          So this growth is occurring under his watch and he states ““Most people there will say, we think we have enough restaurants and bars,” Raia explains. “Even when I talk to licensees, they even feel there’s enough restaurants and bars. They can’t make enough money, because there’s too many of them. It’s killing some that are trying to survive.”

          And yet we cannot get him to announce and hold public meetings to actually discuss these issues, we have to rely upon his opinions. We are one week into the new month and still no announcement at the ANC general meeting last week and no place or date for a meeting.

    • dcdude

      Say what you want about Mt. Pleasant, but you’ve got to admit that at least we’ve got a pretty decent retail mix, as opposed to just a bunch of bars and restaurants (e.g., hardware store, shoe repair, dry cleaners, dentist, pharmacy, clothing, bakery, etc…)

  • Vron

    So the U Street corridor is in danger of becoming either Adams Morgan or Cleveland Park? There’s definitely a happy medium and I think U Street has already found that niche. It already has a huge number of bars and eateries that draw a huge number of people. It’s closer to downtown and more convenient to get to than Cleveland Park, so tighter zoning regulations aren’t going to cause business to dry up, at least until the yups find a new place to spend their money. (*ahem* H St *cough*)

  • da poo

    i knew that whole adam smith’s “invisible hand” of the market was bullcrap. why do they even teach that to kids anymore?

    free market economy my arse. it’s because of crazyness like this that DC isn’t allowed a vote.

    • Anonymous

      we’ve never had a free market economy, and other places all over the country do this.

    • Anonymous

      In all likelyhood, the free market would preclude anything except liquor serving establishments. Take a look at the rents that building owners are charging. The small mom and pop shops people dream about aren’t going to happen at those rates.

      • Ragged Dog

        The rates are what they are because restaurants can pay them. If restaurant influx saturates (or is capped), then the remaining properties will have to adjust down the rent they charge.

        “principles of microeconomics”

        • NAB

          …but they won’t because owners are better off waiting for the saturation to dwindle before committing to a multi-year commercial lease at a lower rental price

        • NAB

          Owners don’t want to commit to multi-year leases at lower rental prices, so they’re more likely to just wait out the market, leaving their bldgs vacant. Meanwhile, all the vacant buildings and non-competitive businesses bring down the whole retail district and, well, I think we know what happens next.

          • Ron

            And as we’ve learned over the past couple years, if you wait too long, someday it will be too late.

          • Ragged Dog

            yeah, but the ability to wait out a better deal is a function of the city having lax tax enforcement and Mr Graham and Co. giving preferential treatment to existing developers.

            Any small property owner can’t really afford to sit on a property for a year and pay taxes on it. Only the big guys and the guys who aren’t paying taxes can afford that.

  • Question

    What does this mean for new restaurants that are already under development, like the Brixton at the corner of 9th and U?

    • Anonymous14

      It means that they cannot open or move forward with any new construction that requires a building permit.

      In order to proceed they would have to enter into the Board of Zoning Appeals process, which takes 4 to 6 months.

      Sad news is that unless they have exceedingly deep pockets, they probably will go bankrupt before they can open with this new layer of very thick red tape.

      • they arent grandfathered in?… way to harsh. this is my problem with d.c aside from the nickel and diming of their citizens..

        • Scott Pomeroy

          We don’t know yet. We are waiting for the actual survey to be released to see what is and is not included in their work.

          That survey had not been made public yet.

  • Anonymous14

    This is deeply troubling to me. I never write my council person but I will today.

    I just can’t see places like the building on the NE corner of 14th and U, the empty place next to the black cat, or the long abandoned convenience store on 14th and T to name a few, being viable under these new rules.

    It’s a real shame, especially since there was a broad coalition of every neighborhood group and ANC in the neighborhood, http://www.anc2f.org/arts/, which months ago recommended raising the limit on eating and drinking establishments from 25% to 40% or 50%.

    We all need to figure out how to get these recommendations implemented, lest our neighborhood turn into some place with the character of Cleveland Park, which also has a 25% limit on eating and drinking establishments that has resulting in very high retail vacancy (see http://www.clevelandparkdc.org/zoning.htm).

    -Concerned 14th street resident.

    • Ragged Dog

      How do we know that it’s the 25% cap that has limited Cleveland park? There were plenty or restaurants that went out of business on their own –not because they were forced out.

      I think you’re seeing the normal ebb and flow of neighborhood changeover.

      • Anonymous14

        I disagree. This issue was studied extensively in Cleveland Park. There have been multiple articles in the various DC papers about it–just google it.

        I think the problem in Cleveland Park is that the small businesses that aren’t restaurants simply can’t stay open there because they lack the foot traffic that restaurants would bring. Similarly, with just a 25% limit on restaurants, you have a similar negative effect on restaurants already in operation–Cleveland Park simply isn’t a big enough “destination” to draw the customers that the restaurants need to stay in business.

        I don’t think anyone is advocating for 100% restaurants, on 14th or in Cleveland Park. But the Cleveland Park experiment with a 25% limit has caused the community to languish. The empty storefronts and the vacuum cleaner repair shop right there in the middle of the strip are the outcome.

        • Agreed, I lived in Cleveland Park in the 1990s and it was the same story then. A new restaurant (not even bars, usually) would want to open up, but couldn’t get a waiver of the arbitrary 25% rule, and would then fade away, leaving a vacant storefront for years. Stores like the vacuum cleaner place and the lamp store are being artificially propped up while restaurants struggle to get their foot in the door. Like it or not, the reality of the situation is that people buy things online. A used bookstore, everyone’s favorite example to trot out in situations like this, is a chimera. A used bookstore simply cannot make a profit or pay rent unless they have a cafe or bar like Kramerbooks does in this economy. If I need a vacuum or lamp, I’m buying one at Target, not at a dusty, overpriced shop with weird hours and limited selection on Connecticut Avenue. You can’t fight the massive economic forces at work here.

          • Ragged Dog

            CP suffers from proximity to Dupont Circle, impossible parking and rent that exceeds the quality of the location rather than 25% cap on restaurants hurting foot traffic.

            The argument that “If we just had more restaurants we’d have more foot traffic and we’d be successful” is the kind of circular argument you get from property developers. The guys that own the petco retail side keep trying to put big suburban chains in that predictably fail in 5 year cycles. It hurts the entire strip.

            Woodley park does just fine with restaurants, has less retail space, and has the same 25% restriction. CP is just an undesirable location and lifting the restriction on restaurants is not going to draw quality restaurants from dupont circle.

          • Riggo

            Wow Ragged Dog you really have no idea what you’re talking about!

  • Anonymous

    How is the 25% measured? Is it that only 25% of the storefront on that map can be restaurants? 25% of each city block can be restaurants? It seems like there are areas of U Street where restaurants are more densely located and maybe not adding anymore there would be a good thing. However, some parts of the area still have lots of empty storefronts (closer towards where U Street becomes Florida Ave) and restaurants should be encouraged to open there.

  • …will no longer grant Building Permits or Certificate of Occupancies for restaurants, bars, diners, coffees shops and carry-outs…

    First – here is a HUGE difference in these types of businesses (a coffee shop is NOT a bar) and the zoning regs should recognize that…

    U and 14th are major commercial corridors and people that think “something else” is going to take the empty spaces besides bars and restuarants because a few people have decided to enforce an arbitrary 25% limit are dreaming…now we’ll have bars, restaurants and abandoned buildings…40 – 50% is much more reasonable for these corridors…

  • SG

    Is this NOT a late April fool’s?!?!

    Just when I thought the city turned the corner, we’re regressing back to anti-business BS for the sake of “regulations” that make no logical sense.

  • Darrel

    This just gives the restaurants already there more of an excuse to stay shitty.

  • SG

    Also- if DCRA isn’t the absolute worst DC agency- what is? Maybe Youth Services?

    DCRA makes the city a nightmare to do business. I almost want to run for council with the sole platform of gutting DCRA and using best practices from other jurisdictions to make it work for, not against, the citizens.

    • ontarioroader

      No, DCRA is the worst. They do heavy-duty damage control by twitter now though, so I expect they’ll pop up here any minute and give us some bs about how this isn’t as bad as it seems.

  • Anonymous

    This is terrible. Who can we write to about this?

  • This is ridiculous.

    You simply cannot legislate what type of businesses are sustainable in a given place.

    This is not 1950. Shoe repair, office supply, news stands, whatever – these businesses are few and far between these days. It’s the internet, silly. You don’t go to a vacuum repair shop to get a vacuum bag, you buy it online. You seek out specialty shops, you don’t expect one in every neighborhood.

    Seriously, how does that vac repair place in Cleveland Park survive?? They must own the building…

    You can write a law that says “there can be no more than 25% of storefronts that are food service.” And the result will be that a great many storefronts will be vacant.

    Every business district is different. You can’t just legislate that a certain kind of business is appropriate or viable. Well, you can, but it seems pretty obvious that the result is empty storefronts, not a better variety of businesses.

  • neighbor

    Of course I am not sure, but from reading more information on the initial link provided in this post, it seems as though the city is already in the process of rewriting the regulation and is open to the possibility of expanding it beyond the current 25%. If that is the case, the real outrage here is that they are putting forth the effort to enforce this regulation in the interim.

  • Tree Spoonduck

    They should take the Columbia Heights route and add more chain businesses to accompany the bar scene. U Street is fun, but seriously, I would never go there for anything I need to buy – on the other hand, I love living in Columbia Heights because the stores there allow me to get what I need and I can have fun at night at some of the bars.

    Well I set myself up with all the fodder: Supports chain businesses, supports bar scene, supports getting rid of awful stores that jack up prices even though their products are terrible. Bring on the backlash idiots.

    • ontarioroader

      Unfortunately chain businesses usually want [or in the case of DCUSA/Target, demand] large amounts of parking, even if a majority of it ends up going unused. For the most part they’re stuck in a suburban strip-mall mentality.

      • I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. DCUSA was literally a first-of-its-kind development in any city. Nobody really knew how it was going to work out. There’s a huge amount of money at stake and for a business that doesn’t know any other model other than surface parking lots in the burbs, their approach wasn’t exactly surprising.

        The “failure” that is too much parking (which, really, is a small blemish in an otherwise amazing development) shouldn’t be looked at as anything more than a learning experience. I am sure that the lessons learned in DCUSA will drive planning for future efforts.

        Whole Foods, for example, demanded a lot of parking reserved specifically for themselves, and were not granted that concession. In retrospect, this was as stupid thing for them to demand, and for the city/DCUSA to not concede.

        Given our knowledge of how most people are getting to DCUSA today, do you think that would be a holdup next time around? I seriously doubt it, since both parties lost in this case and both parties have a lot of information they didn’t have before.

        • victoria

          DCUSA is suffering from terrible access to parking, not too much of it. It was just horrendously poor planning.

          Trying to drive into the parking garage entrance on Park Road can take 10 minutes just from 14th St. Even longer on Sunday when the Kelsy church lets out and blocks the street to let all the Md. SUVs out of their parking lot.

          The Hiatt place entrance likewise, turns drivers out into horrible congestion through Irving & 14th or Park Rd.

          I’m not actually eager to have hundreds more drivers in the neighborhood, but I do think we have to acknowledge the actual problem.

          • Jamie

            I don’t disagree that the parking lot entrances kind of suck – Park Road was frequently backed up even before the massive construction began, and having the primary exit force you onto it (instead of the much more accesible 14th Street) was a mistake.

            But even so, most of the congestion problems around there are due to the construction that’s been going on for years now. I wouldn’t dream of driving anywhere near there except late at night. Things should be a lot better when (if??) it’s ever finished.

    • anonymous

      I live on U Street and if I want the big boxes, I hop on the circulator and go to Columbia Heights. They have a regional market and adding them to U Street would damage those locations. I like U street the way it is now. How many theatres and live music venues can you go out to every night of the week?

  • BP

    DCRA should simply leave well enouth alone. Three cheers for economic liberty!

  • MikeInDC

    I cheer this decision. The reason that there are so many empty store fronts is that every landlord is asking for rediculously high rents that only restaurants, banks and CVSs can afford. If they realize that not every space is going to realize those high rents, they will be forced to lower their expectations and small retail businesses and galleries will be able to afford the to stay in the area, creating a thriving, interesting neighborhood.

    • Eric in Ledroit

      don’t hold your breath. this is a seriously naive viewpoint.

      • Ragged Dog

        Actually it’s supply and demand.

        And the hulked out ruins that we all remember from the early 90’s was as much a function of crime and the middle class flight to the suburbs. There was no reason to put in a business.

        With a net inflow to DC and the changing demographic patterns of the younger generation, DC is not going to return to that anytime soon.

        • Eric in Ledroit

          I’m sorry but I have observed the pattern of landlords sitting on vacant properties for years too routinely in DC for me to buy the idea that a rule such as this will do anything except generate empty storefronts.

      • Jamie

        So basically you think that certain kinds of businesses should be subsidized through what amounts to rent control?

        The reality is, if your retail store sells things that most people don’t buy very often, then there is little value to that store being near your place of residence, compared to someplace that sells/serves food.

        I can just go to where the store is in some ratty suburban mall the one time a year I need beads, or I can order whatever it is online.

        And if you sell stuff we do need all the time, then a big-box store almost certainly has a far better selection and lower prices.

        Why are kitchy shops that you rarely go to desirable to have where you live? Before the Internet and Big Box, of course, we had no choice. But perhaps you may have noticed, the face of retail today is A LOT different than it was 50 years ago.

    • landlords can write off most costs of vacant properties for years..also they hate to back down and lower rents it is an anathama to them unless they are granted concessions on taxes ect. we are always hearing in mt pleasant how high the rents are, but i wonder?

  • Kevin

    This is stupid. So empty storefronts are better than restaurants? If more retail wanted to be on U Street more retail WOULD be on U Street.

    Newsflash, NIMBYs: U Street is historically a nightlife area. Deal with it.

    I’m a 40-something U Street area resident of 12 years and I say repeal this absurd restriction.

  • JohnGalt

    The laws of economics will not be violated. Setting artificial limits will not stop the natural flow.

  • Cindy

    The think is, 14th St already is a retail area with, florists, Cork Market, several furniture, clothing and housewares shops, theaters and studios…. what more do you want? The bars and restaurants along that corridor are already at capacity every weekend, which should be a sign that more are needed. Larger stores are opening in the area as well, isn’t some kind of CB2 or other national furniture retailer opening up in that vacant warehouse? The existence of these stores will encourage further retail in the neighborhood. The imagined \problem\ is already being solved.

  • RD

    Attention business owners: open your new eateries, that would have gone on u street, on GA Ave, upper 14th, or 11th st. Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Yep! GA Ave near metro is about to boom w/ new eateries and bars

    • Anon

      H St. NE is also a great street and welcoming to newcomers!

    • j

      yes! listen up, retailers. we’re up here waiting for you.

    • TruxRes

      Finally, RD. I was waiting for one person to (implicitly) mention that some kind of cap would push development into areas that need more development.

      I’m all for positive growth on U, but frankly, the kind of revitalization U Street has seen should be more widespread.

  • ET

    A vibrant and healthy retail corridor involves a mix of businesses. A mix is not 50% food/eating and 50%all others. Maybe 25% is too low but 50%?

  • mj

    As a small retail business owner in Georgetown, I welcome the ruling. The landlords on 14th st and U st have priced the rent so high that only resturants can afford to locate there. Thats why so little other businesses can move over there, I have been trying for two years. Maybe this will put a better balance back into the street life if the landlords have to deal with businesses that cant afford the hugely overpriced rents.

    • Ragged Dog

      Bing Bing Bing!

  • Eric in Ledroit

    how far east does this idiotic ruling extend?

    • anonymous

      7th Street.

  • victoria

    mj – what is your business? What rent do you currently pay in G’town and what are they asking for comparable space on U St.? Most of us really have no idea of the actual dollars and “sense” of this.

    Would love to hear from actual small retailers here. I loved to browse at Go Mama Go, but just didn’t really need to buy any of that stuff. I did buy a great table at Good Wood – and now will have it forever.

    If I owned commercial property I would certainly want maximum rent. If I were a smart owner, I would realize the mix of businesses that contribute to a dynamic area and work with other business owners to try and establish that. For example, how would St. Ex have fared in the early days without all the established traffic on that corner from Ruff N Ready?

    Smart or dumb however, I would pick up my toys and go home if DCRA got any more intrusive and obstructionist that it already is.

    • Ragged Dog

      This isn’t really a DCRA issue. It’s a Jim Graham issue.

    • Jamie

      “I loved to browse at Go Mama Go, but just didn’t really need to buy any of that stuff. I did buy a great table at Good Wood – and now will have it forever.”

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. Most small retail establishments don’t sell things you need very often. Those that do are competing with Target and CVS, which will inevitably have a much better selection and lower prices.

      You can’t write a law that would turn U Street into Georgetown or Mazza Gallerie. Georgetown and Mazza have a huge retail mall with dozens of national chains that make them retail destinations.

      Kitchy shops can do well in a place that has the benefit of a huge retail draw, because you have lots of foot traffic from outside the neighborhood.

      Not so in most neighborhood business districts. They aren’t big enough, nor do they have the parking infrastructure. U Street will never have enough daytime draw from outside the neighborhood to support a store that you might buy something from once a year. Writing a law that tries to mandate the sorts of businesses than can open somewhere will not magically make that sort of customer base appear.

      Most people who live near a small business district want shops that sell things they buy frequently. The reality is, the things that people buy most often are food. If you need a table, it’s not a big deal to go to the store wherever it is because you rarely do it, so I’d rather that space in my neighborhood business district was a new deli or restaurant or bar than a furniture store.

      • Anonymous

        There are plenty of neighborhoods in other cities that have a small business district with kitchy stores that do just fine. Go to Portland, Oregon; Richmond, Va, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, etc, and you’ll find them. DC just doesn’t have the will to create the environment for them.

      • saf

        Hardware stores and food, if you live in my house.

        Oh, and plants. And there’s always something you need at Home Rule. And at Reincarnations. And about every 4th visit, there’s something you need at Go Mama Go. There’s always something at Pulp….

  • rob

    believe me this is great news, I live in the neighborhood and it is already turning into a nightmare with all the B + T crowd. They should concentrate on cultivating better business’ for mid city anyway….we do not want another Adams Morgan!!! We don’t need any more bars and restaurants, we need book shops, galleries, studio space etc…There is a reason Williamsburg in Brooklyn is so desirable and it isn’t the bars!!

    • Jamie

      “There is a reason Williamsburg in Brooklyn is so desirable and it isn’t the bars!!”

      Wikipedia says: “The first artists moved to Williamsburg in the 1970s, drawn by the low rents, large spaces available and convenient transportation”

      Sounds exactly like U Street in the 1990’s

      Wiki: “Beginning in the late 1980s and through the late 1990s a number of unlicensed performance, theater and music venues operated…. These events eventually diminished in number as the rents rose in the area and regulations were enforced””

      Sounds like U Street

      Wiki: “Low rents were a major reason why artists first started settling in the area.. but that situation has drastically changed since the mid 1990s…. Higher rents have driven many priced-out bohemians and hipsters to find new creative communities further afield in areas like Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Red Hook.”

      Sounds like U Street. Just replace those places I’ve never heard of are Columbia Heights (until recently), Petworth, H Street.

      The Village Voice:

      “The growth of Williamsburg restaurants in the last dozen years has been meteoric, and, where once there were a dozen or so places that might be worth trying, now there are probably 200 or more. ”

      Sounds like U Street

      Sorry dude. There’s nothing new under the sun, and Williamsburg is not the idyllic, cozy community it once was.

      • Anonymous

        Except that U Street and Columbia Heights were never really filled with artists. In DC, the gentrifiers are usually hill staffers and lawyers, not creative types. Comparisons to NYC fall flat because this city is too small and singularly focused on government work to match up.

        • Riggo

          This is the real truth, DC is mostly populated by dull lawyer and government types, not the bohemian artist types that other cities seem capable of harboring.

        • Jamie

          Well, in the relative “DC” scheme of things, it was. There used to be a lot more music venues (other than generic jazz and gogo) and there were some galleries and whatnot.

          “In DC, the gentrifiers are usually hill staffers and lawyers”

          Yeah… lawyers and hill staffers are slumming it in group houses in Trinidad and Petworth. Umm, no. There are, actually, a lot of people who live in DC other than hill staffers and lawyers.

          Sure, DC doesn’t have the same arts scene as NYC, obviously because it’s much smaller. That doesn’t mean the same market forces don’t apply in our own scale.

          My point is just that whatever it is that anyone thinks is/was so great about U Street, it’s probably a memory, and either way you can’t regulate supply and demand. Anyplace you can point to as being super-awesome and having low rent, bookstores, and neighborhood restaurants side by side is probably in a Frank Capra movie.

        • the white yuppie conspiracy

          as an artist living in the area, am i now justified to ask all of you non-creative suits to get the fuck out?

          • victoria

            As an artist who has lived in the area for 23 years, am I now justified to be kind of happy that the neighborhood has developed to the point where I can get good enough rent for my spare rooms that I don’t have to bartend and wait tables anymore?

            How many books did you buy last year? How many paintings? How many cool, unique handcrafted whatevers? How many plays did you go to?

      • This is not really a fair comparison as much of Williamsburg was still industrial when people started moving in. U street was always residential w/ light retail. That said the policy is too heavy handed – just limit liquor licenses going forward

        • anonymous

          What, U street was always residential. Black Broadway, multiple theatres. 14th Street and auto showrooms. Commercial/mixed use/destination

  • dcdirewolf

    This is great news. DC is overrun with bars and it’s about time the laws on the books were enforced to put the brakes on. The culprit here is overpriced rents. If the developers didn’t hold out for ridiculous rent levels, you’d have all the small businesses asked for in this thread and more filing up those empty buildings. But, as usual, greed is carrying the day.

  • U Street has been a nightlife/entertainment area since at least the 1920s. Imagine how much of a scene it would have been with both the Howard and Lincoln Theaters letting out, and all the jazz places like Bohemian Caverns going full blast, while DC was at its peak of population. The streets must have been crowded and lively. Let’s keep it that way and drop the artifice of 75%(!) of storefronts set aside for uneconomic businesses.

    • Anonymous

      We don’t have to imagine it, we can see it, it’s called 18th Street in Adams Morgan.

      • anonymous

        Not even close. 18th is a residential neighborhood made commercial. 14th & U was designed for commercial.

  • Former econ major

    Call me crazy, but why doesn’t the DC government stick to the things that it should be doing (you know- educating children, maintaining roads, etc) and stop it with the delusional Pyongyang School of Economics bullcrap that’s trying to micromanage the retail sector of the city?

    I’d love it if we could wave the magic wand and have 1950s era Mom and Pop stores everywhere. But as lots of people have already pointed out, this is a different time and place, and we can’t just close our eyes and try to recreate the retail scene from bygone days. It won’t work.

    But more to the point: why do we want the DCRA determining the retail composition of the city? Was there a vote on this that I wasn’t aware of? I’m as lefty as they come, and I support government in many instances, but this is a case of wrongheaded legislation enacted by people who don’t understand the issues facing small businesses. These are the same people who ask to see sample menus when a restaurant wants to open. Excuse me, but why is it the city’s business what a restaurant wants to serve and what prices they intend to charge? Crazy. And people wonder why businesses aren’t clamoring to open up in DC…

    • Anonymous

      Clearly you are not “as lefty as they come.” The city represents the people. The people have a very strong interest in what prices are charged, what rents are charged, the makeup of their neighborhoods. Businesses ARE clamoring to open up in DC, but the artificially high rents keep them from doing so. More government intervention is needed, not less.

  • LJ

    I’m pretty much with Jamie, New2CH, Eric in Ledroit and others in thinking this is ridiculous for reasons already expressed, but to add something that I don’t think has been noted yet:

    The ARTS Overlay district is way too big. Even though I think any kind of regulation like this is too heavy-handed, I could kinda see the justification for it on U St between say 16th & 9th. But 14th St between U and N isn’t really exactly over-run with restaurants & bars. There’s a few, but it’s mostly furniture stores and vacant space. And 11th, 9th, & 7th are certainly not suffering from an over-abundance of dining & drinking establishments.

    Also, that this includes delis/coffee shops, etc also is ridiculous.

    • Anonymous

      I half agree with you, but the area of U St btw 9th and 12th could use some more development as well. It’s not exactly overrun with restaurants at this point either.

  • Mac User

    Dear Steve Jobs,

    Please give us an Apple Store on the corner of 14th and U Streets.

    • Scott Pomeroy

      Amen, have been trying to get the city to use the Reeves Building to bring the apple store to U Street as a way to seed daytime uses. Instead we have relatively dead retail that dies with the building closing at night.


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