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“Regrettably, our building was sold to development groups who plan to evict all of us – the resident artists and organizations – by September 1”

by Prince Of Petworth February 1, 2016 at 12:10 pm 52 Comments

411 ny ave ne
411 New York Ave, NE

“Dear PoPville,

Boutique hotel proposal goes to BZA Monday. Plans to turn Union Arts located at 411 New York Ave NE into an “arts hotel”. Has collected 80 letters of opposition which can be found on the zoning case search #15-19. Facebook group calling for more signatures and stand in at case Monday:

#SaveDCArts – The Union Arts building at 411 New York Ave NE is the last collective art space of its kind in Washington, DC. It has been home to more than 100 artists and numerous organizations for many decades working as a catalyst of creativity for many communities throughout the city.

Regrettably, our building was sold to development groups who plan to evict all of us – the resident artists and organizations – by September 1. They intend to displace us so they can build an 11-story luxury boutique arts hotel. The DBLee and Brook Rose development groups have enlisted Cultural DC to convert the now affordable and diversely accessible art space into a chic hotel, where only 7 art studios will be made available to no more than 20 artists. This is far fewer than the number of artist collectives currently working in the building, who after being displaced will then be forced to compete for studios at a significantly higher price. In addition, the new building will greatly alter the character of the area into another sterile development, not suited for creative inspiration.

What is definite is the building has been sold. The current tenants at 411 New York Ave NE must vacate out by September 1st.


“1) Email the DC Zoning Commission telling them you support the creatives and entrepreneurs at 411 New York Ave and that you don’t want us to be displaced. Voice your frustrations regarding space for community artists in DC. Send an email to [email protected] with the subject, “Comments on ZC Case #15-19” and Bcc [email protected]

“I am ____ and I am/own/make/do ____ in the District of Columbia. I would like to state for the record regarding ZC Case #15-19 my dismay for the displacement of artists at the Union Arts building at 411 New York Avenue NE. The proposed hotel development project by 411 New York Holdings, LLC that you are considering today is a great step back for Washington DC’s creative community.”
2) Come to the zoning hearing this Monday, February 1st at 6:30 pm at Office of Zoning and Planning in Washington DC. If you have performed, exhibited, frequented, worked, or otherwise support the artist activities at 411 New York Ave, come and speak against displacement of the artists you like and on behalf of the ability of artists and musicians to work in Washington, DC. We want to stack the house.

The Office of Zoning and Planning is on 4th Street NW between D and E, right next to the Judiciary Square metro stop. The full address is:

Office of Zoning and Planning
Jerrily R. Kress Memorial Hearing Room
441 4th Street, N.W. (aka One Judiciary Square)
Suite 220-South
Washington, DC. 20001
METRO STOP: Judiciary Square
DIRECTIONS: http://tinyurl.com/harnfoy

3) IMPORTANT – If you are unable to speak at the public hearing, written statements (see item 1) are STRONGLY encouraged, as each will be made a part of the official record.
At this hearing, the public (that means YOU) will have an opportunity to make statements and testify to the truth, beginning 8pm.

The sale and repurposing of the Union Arts space at 411 New York Avenue fits the latest national trend of redevelopment and gentrification that makes existing as an artist in cities across the country, and especially in Washington, DC, a near impossibility.

411 New York Avenue is the last space of its kind in the District. This zoning and planning hearing is a perfect opportunity for artists who are active in DC’s contemporary creative community to make their voices heard to those who need to hear it.

Please come and make your voice heard!

Read the zoning hearing statement. See the plans for yourself.”

  • 9th Street Neighbor

    I am a little confused. Were the TOPA rights (the tenants rights to form a resident cooperative to purchase the building) acted upon by residents?

    • neighbor

      This is a commercial building (not residential) so TOPA doesn’t apply.

    • Anon Spock

      I thought that was only if you live in the space. These are just for working, right?

  • JPC

    So, subsidize us via the zoning code because, unlike all the other arts spaces in the city, we’re unique.

    • AERzondzinska

      I find it sad that there’s so little empathy or aspirational thinking in most of the comments here. At least a third are read like Monday-morning-real estate-quarterbacking about the savvy of investing to build a boutique hotel at that site. Another third promulgate the treasured notions of Ayn Rand.

      Cities are about more than real estate development and property rights. With thinking like this, D.C. will never be more than the second-rate city it’s always been, and I say that as a native. Everything serendipitous, stimulating, eccentric, and old is being bled out of this city with the result it will soon be utterly sterile.

      I find it regrettable that CulturalDC was co-opted into supporting the elimination of this hub for practicing artists–but then perhaps CulturalDC is under the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, where so-called economic development trumps everything else.

      • anon

        So the only options are joining the Ayn Rand book club or agreeing with subsidizing your space? Riiight. There are plenty of ways DC sponsors arts. Just because you’re losing out doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end.

      • petworther

        This is complete BS. Most people here and people in DC more broadly support cultural institutions and arts in the city. But this is not some long term/ historic space and it’s also no surprise to the group. Nomad got a cheap short term lease knowing that the owner planned on selling in the near future and they would more than likely have to move.
        Nomad could have garnered more sympathy and support by working with the various stakeholders, but from the beginning their attitude was “we own this space and you’re not taking it”. Completely ridiculous given the circumstances. They should have said from the beginning: “Look what we’re doing here has been really successful and we’d like to work with the city, non-profit groups, and investors to figure out a way keep it going somewhere in DC.” Their attitude is going to (indeed it probably already has) drive away other groups with empty space (e.g. Douglas, Zuckerman, etc.).
        It’s also both beyond absurd (and hilariously verbose) to suggest anyone here seeks to “promulgate the treasured notions of Ayn Rand.” A property owner generously offered short term residency to an arts group. The new property owner chose not to extend that groups far below market rent. Unfortunately tagging “arts” or “collective” onto your name doesn’t make you immune from the laws of supply and demand, nor the laws of commercial leasing.

  • Anonynon

    Have we reached saturation for boutique industrial chic condos/hotels yet?

    • The OP Anon

      WTF is a “boutique arts hotel”? Does not compute.
      Anyone who wants an interesting space is already renting an AirBnB. This area is the pits. Who is their clientele? The investment firm would make way more money building a hotel along U Street/Florida Ave.
      Seems like dumb money desperately chasing yield.

      • Guillermo Brown

        There are over 1000 residential units coming to the Union Market complex over the next couple years, along with a ton of retail and other non-residential uses. It will be an entirely new district that sustains itself. It’s close to NoMa, downtown, and will be a nice walk (once Union Market is built out) to the metro. I don’t think it’s a crazy move; these projects take years to come to fruition so developers have to be forward-thinking.

      • Anonymous

        I stayed at the 21c Museum Hotel Durham last year, and I would categorize it as a boutique arts hotel. There was an arts gallery on one of the floors, and I believe all of the rooms had a unique set of art work.

        • Aglets

          The chain of 21c Hotels is a great example of when this is done right.

      • Anon X

        Im sure the developers didnt do any math and that your diner napkin analysis is far more accurate.

        NY Ave has so many projects in the works and one of the reasons that this area is “the pits”, as you said, is that this building and the next half mile or so, isnt connecting what Douglas is doing down at Hechts to Union Market and Noma. Noma is nearly completely developed, but Union Market is going to explode with growth.

        I dont know whether evicting a bunch of artists is the best way to achieve these ends, but that corridor is getting huge quickly. It enjoys particularly good geographic location.

      • neighbor

        Yeah, this actually seems like a great idea. There are a ton of new developments going in near Union Market so this area will soon feel much busier. It’s a short walk to the NoMa metro and some of the H Street nightlife.
        I think there’s a demand for this kind of alternative to downtown hotels. I’m sure it will do well.
        Anyone who has tried to book a hotel in DC can also tell you that there’s a lot more room for capacity in the area. Even the lesser quality downtown hotels (Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn) are often at over 200$ a night.

      • msus

        This area is the pits? Maybe several years ago, but it isn’t that bad now.

  • neighbor

    My understanding was that this space was only leased to artists with the understanding the use would be temporary and the building would be sold in the near future.
    The groups that are trying to annex the space by manipulation of the zoning process now are giving a huge disincentive for landlords to house temporary tenants in buildings slated for future development.

  • ET

    Why wold someone check into a luxury boutique hotel in that neighborhood? That neighborhood doesn’t seem quite the place for something that fancy. There isn’t much there except the train tracks and it seems to be a bit cut off NY Avenue happenings closer to N. Capitol. And it is NY Avenue which just seems to be a street people use to commute to/from Maryland (except for the cheap hotels about a block or two away). There seem to be a Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn is going up right next door but that is quite a bit different that some luxury boutique place.

    • Hookdntx

      It is about 2 blocks from Union Market and all that development and only about a half mile to NOMA. Its on a direct route into the city and its close to the New developments in Ivy city including all of the new breweries/distilleries.

      • Philippe Lecheval

        Yeah, all the new breweries/distilleries that are bound to get pushed out before long.

    • neighbor

      Yeah, echoing what others have said there’s a ton of development slated here. And unlike Columbia Heights, for example, not a lot of public housing. Expect this area to be unrecognizable in 6-8 years.

    • Anonymouse

      Well, someone has to be the first. Five years ago a lot of people would have probably asked why anyone would want to shop at a gourmet food market in this neighborhood?

    • frank

      “Why wold someone check into a luxury boutique hotel in that neighborhood”

      You could easily say the same about Chinatown or NY Ave 20 years ago or about buying a million dollar condo on U Street 15 years ago. Things change.

      This building was publicly known to be for sale as of June 2014, or 20 months ago. If they aren’t being asked to vacate until September, that means they’ve had 27 months to figure this out and find other space.

      I’ve never understood how people think they can play the victim card when you don’t own the place. You want it to stay a low rent art complex forever, then compensate the owner for the difference between what he can get renting to you, and redeveloping it. No one is under any obligation to undervalue their property and accept less money because you think your hobby is important.

      Do the artists who sell the items they create here, sell them at a subsidized discount to all their customers? I seriously doubt it.

      • jdre

        I think maybe part of the issue is that there is a private building leasing space for what the tenants are claiming is a public benefit (i.e., art in our community).
        It would make more sense to me if there was something along the lines of a community center for promoting and developing the arts — that’s something I would protest the dismantling of.

        As it is, I’m not sure what the goal of this effort is. Objecting turning it from a privately owned property that rents space to a… slightly different proportioned privately owned property that rents space at a higher rent? It’s hard for me to reconcile that – it’s unfortunate, but rents are going up all over, and there’s no real mechanism to stop people from wanting to sell out, renovate, and charge more. That’s just capitalism, for ya.

  • Josh

    The property owner(s) be damned! We want to keep our space as is! There’s never a shortage of people in this town who feel they can direct what other people do with their property…

    • jdre

      I haven’t really formed an opinion yet on this issue, but I urge you to consider (Rand Paul and Ayn Rand be damned) that ownership of land does not guarantee the owner can put whatever they want on it. I can’t buy a house, tear it down, and build a small coal plant on it. It’s the very nature of zoning regulation… which this discussion is all about.

      • FJ

        What is the BZA hearing about? Are they requesting a variance? Is “dismay for the displacement of artists” sufficient grounds to withold a variance?

        • Anonymous

          IT’s a PUD, not a variance request. So there are legitimate reasons for the community to have input on things like value to the community.

      • AG

        Maybe not, but I would be really amused by your teeny coal plant.

      • Josh

        I agree with you, there are zoning codes for a reason and I support those. If I bought a house in a city like DC (as oppose to Houston, which has very lax zoning), I would expect that there would be limitations of what I could do with my property. In the least, I could look up allowable uses and decide then if I wanted to purchase the property knowing the limitations. So no coal plant for me on the Hill. ;) But what I don’t support are people who, having no ownership interest in the property other than a tenantship, attempting to block the owner from maximizing the use of their property in a reasonable manner. The reasonableness here being a hotel development in the middle of a growing city and not a coal plant. Just my opinion though. All of that said, I do support the arts and wouldn’t be oppose to expanding opportunities for artists, but not at the expense of forcing it on a landowner.

  • Anonymouse

    Well, one huge problem is that Union Arts does not have a concrete plan for what it wants the ZC to actually do. Since the building has already been sold and the plans for the hotel have been drafted, Union Arts will need to compromise with Cultural DC and with the developer to see any kind of positive outcome from this. Going to the ZC meeting and saying “Don’t approve these plans” is not really the way to go here.
    The hotel plans are actually a bona fide attempt to integrate the arts community into the new development. It provides 3000 square feet of space for art studios, which may be less than are present at the site now, but the development also brings a number of benefits that Union Arts cannot provide. Creating a more pedestrian friendly environment in the area, bringing tourists and additional visitors to the area, and so forth.

  • Craig

    I thought gentrification meant including spaces for artists in communities.

  • jdre

    Curious. The attached hearing statement describes the details of C-3-C differently than the DC Office of zoning (linked below) – perhaps those are details that can be discussed:


    • jdre

      That is, the proposed development does not fit the requirements of the zone they’re trying to get it changed to.

    • jdre

      Or am I reading them wrong? It wouldn’t surprise me if zoning in DC was operating in a slightly wishy-washy way, where zoning restrictions were sort of bent and lenient, and then oh, whoops, the wrong kind of building is built, and shoot, we can’t ask them to tear it down and start over, so I guess it’s just gonna have to stay being taller and different than we should have enforced.

      But C-3-C, by my reading, looks a little different here:
      and here:

      (To be clear, I’m confused by what seems to be a discrapancy; I still don’t have a real opinion on the artist space and whatnot)

      • Anonymous

        There are lots of wishy washy rules enforced in DC but zoning isn’t one of them. The Zoning Commission and BZA take this seriously and it’s strict. Though, of course, the zoning administrator nowadays is super lax for anything that doesn’t require the ZC/BZA and any violation requires non-existent enforcement from DCRA.

        Anyway, this is a planned unit development. The standards are different for PUDs in C-3-c are different than matter of right construction. Your file has the matter of right standards, the the public hearing notice has the standards for a PUD in C-3-C.

        By statutory regulation, a PUD is designed to encourage high quality developments with public benefits. In exchange for extra height/density the project should offer a commendable number of benefits (in this case, it’s the below-market rents)

  • Marty

    Free market. If the developers want to turn their space into a slaughterhouse/ tannery, more power to them. If a “boutique arts hotel” is what they think will maximize their profits, who am I to say no?

    • jdre
      • Marty

        Well, that doesn’t affect how I believe land owners should be permitted to use their property. This blog post is asking for our support to alter how an owner can use their property. I don’t support that.

        • jdre


          • anon

            Yes, America is definitely not the Soviet Union. Thankfully.

  • TropicBird

    What you can do: Find affordable studio space somewhere else, maybe Hyattsville? Cottage City/Riverdale/Brentwood, maybe the warehouse area further up along the train tracks or along the Metropolitan Branch bike trail?
    I can see both sides of the argument. Former ANC rep Bryan Weaver used to talk about how the gentrification of Adams Morgan was driving out seniors, artists, musicians, the poor, the “interesting people” who give a neighborhood flavor. And in Texas where they don’t do a good job with zoning (because it interferes with liberty I guess) you will have a hideous circus-themed car wash right next to a row of beautiful historic buildings that survived Hurricane Gilbert.
    But is there any neighborhood more in need of redevelopment than that depressing streak of New York Avenue? And there are already hotels there, even if they are the sad kind where dreams go to die. If there was never any chance of the artists or arts supporters banding together to acquire the building, I am not sure what the zoning fight will accomplish except to extend the blight.

    • I Dont Get It

      BTW I would totally go to a circus-themed car wash! I was born in Texas so maybe it’s genetic?

    • Brentwood!

      There’s so much under-used space in Brentwood and the Rhode Island Ave stretch. There’s also some empty spaces along 12th NE going into Brookland. I know Scrap DC went under because of rent… I don’t know what the Union Arts rent budget is, and whether that neighborhood is feasible.

      I’m not involved enough in the local arts to know who are friends and who are competitors, but there’s a group, ReCreative Spaces, that does more of a pop-up gallery model, going into spaces that are currently for lease for a set period of time. Maybe worth giving them a call and finding out some reality contacts? Menkiti & Gilchrist are both prominently represented in the area.

  • Aglets

    In full disclosure, I use to work in this building. As an artist. Before it became Union Arts.

    I agree we need dedicated space for artists- the mismanagement of the Millennium Art Center on I street *still* chaps my hide but this is a crummy building. I’m also convinced it’s a sick building. Let the developers have it.

    • Guillermo Brown

      Why do we “need” space for artists? What’s the prevailing argument, because I hear it all the time. (Not trying to be a jerk, just asking)

      • Aglets

        Because creating art takes space. And artists (according to some DC zoning) are not permitted to create in their apartments or homes.
        If you would like to live in a city with no working artists (meaning no murals. no shops or markets featuring things made locally. no galleries) then that’s your prerogative but that’s not the city I would chose to live in.
        I want to live in a city where there is space for artists to rent (this is not uncommon, many cities have state run studio spaces) to create work that welcome the public. Off the Beaten Track is a fantastic place in NE DC that does this and I think has a great vision and a tremendously visionary owner. I wish more opportunities like that could exist in the city.
        I don’t want to have to go to Hyattville or Riverdale, or Reston, or Falls Church. I moved to DC 20 years ago to be a part of what was a really thriving and interesting art scene.

      • Aglets

        And to reiterate: Gail can do what she wants with that building. I don’t think she owes anyone anything in terms of offering up space. Asking to have people be out of the building by the 1st of Sept. is generous. When the building my last studio was in was sold, I had less than 2 months to leave.

        In my pie in the sky ideal, I would love to see some of the schools that have been shuttered taken over by the city and parsed out into artist studios. THe Randal School in SW was that way for a few years as the Millennium art center. It was such a great, fun, environment. Painters, musicians, printmakers, some theatre all working together. Art can’t exist in a vacuum. I would like to see that happen again with someone more responsible at the helm.

        • That’s a great idea. Many of those buildings are in areas unlikely to be developed otherwise.

          • Aglets

            There’s got to be a way to make this happen. When Eastern Market had the fire, DC’s OPM really stepped up and took it over, including managing the artists and importers who set up on the weekends. There has to be some way to view that as a pilot program to turn into the basis for creating affordable artist studios.

        • petworther

          Yeah, I think if they had gone to the city and some non-profits when they got the nearly year notice and said: “Look how successful we’ve been, can you help us find a way to continue doing this elsewhere?” They might have had some success. At this point though, I’m guessing their intransigence in the face of all logic has soured most in municipal government and all potential landlords.

  • Anon

    This is everything wrong with DC. Evict the artists, put up an art boutique hotel. Does no one see the irony here!?

  • SassyinDC

    I’m sorry to hear this is happening to these artists. Another solutions for some of these artists may be to take a look at the Anacostia Arts Center. Lots of great things happening in that place.


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