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Graham’s Alcohol Licensing Bill Proposes 43 Changes

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

"DC bar"

Graham proposes changes to DC liquor laws, but what will be the final result? (Luis Gomez Photos)

Councilmember Jim Graham (D-ward 1) on Tuesday introduced legislation that proposes extensive changes to DC’s Alcoholic Beverage laws. The much anticipated bill includes 43 changes based on the recommendations of the Alcoholic Beverage Control task force that Graham has led since December 2011.

The changes to alcohol laws and regulations is always of particular interest to Borderstan residents since the major commercial corridors of  our neighborhood — U Street, 14th Street, P Street, 17th Street, 9th Street and Connecticut Avenue NW — are home to hundreds of restaurants, liquor stores, nightclubs and bars. (See DC Liquor Licenses by the Numbers: Ward 2, 40% and Ward 1, 16%.)

The sweeping legislation even replaces terms for certain body parts for establishments that offer nude performances. Noteworthy in the bill are some changes to procedures on protesting a license application, what may be included in a voluntary agreement (V.A.) and the establishment of a noise complaint hotline.

The sweeping legislation touches on nearly every aspect of alcohol control currently on the books, even replacing terms for certain body parts for establishments that offer nude performances. Noteworthy in the bill are some changes to procedures on protesting a license application, what may be included in a voluntary agreement (V.A.) and the establishment of a noise complaint hotline.

The proposed amendment to the current code section on who may protest a license application states “A group of no fewer than five (5) residents or property owners of the District residing or owning property within a 400 foot radius of the Applicant’s establishment.” Borderstan recently conducted a reader poll on the number of signatories required to protest a liquor license application (see Poll: Most Readers Say 5 People Not Enough to Protest Liquor Licenses).

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for is bill on Thursday, July 12 at 11 am in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building at 14th and Pennsylvania NW.

The legislation also adds a new code subsection to address what may and may not be included in a V.A. Among the areas covered in the bill are entertainment, noise, litter, parking, hours of operation and occupancy. The bill further details what a V.A. may not include.

In that section are such items as restraint of trade, attendance at meetings and conflicts of interest. The V.A. is a facet of DC regulatory processes by which residents and community organizations may negotiate with a liquor license holder to set mandates that are not part of standard regulations.

Another new item in the proposed legislation is a noise “hotline” to handle resident complaints. In a press release, Graham said, “This legislation addresses the problem of spillover noise in neighborhoods that are adjacent to entertainment areas. The bill requires a nighttime complaint line and a response team at ABRA (Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration) that will be operational every night until one hour after the legal bar closing time”.

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Posted in News, Politics & Government1 Comment

Hank’s Oyster Bar Case Gets Underway at ABC Board Hearing

"Hank's Oyster Bar patio"

For now, Hank’s can only use half the patio seating area. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

The hearings on the widely reported Hank’s Oyster Bar saga got underway Wednesday afternoon and were still proceeding well into the evening as this story is written. The final outcome could be weeks away for Hank’s ever-patient chef and owner Jamie Leeds, who thought her troubles were behind her when she successfully expanded her popular Dupont Circle restaurant in 2011, despite a protest from a group of six neighborhood residents.

The November 2010 Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC Board) decision allowing the termination of a neighborhood voluntary agreement (V.A.) and ultimate expansion of Leeds’ restaurant was appealed to the DC Court of Appeals by two of the six original protesters (David Malloff and Lex Rieffel). The Court ruled that the ABC Board erred in its order allowing termination, so the case was remanded the back to the Board. The Board now has 90 days to issue an order. The uniqueness of the  case and public outcry in support of Leeds’ situation raises hope for faster action from the ABC Board.

Things began to heat up this past weekend when the ABC Board ordered the restaurant to close half of the venue’s outdoor seating, reducing the outdoor dining space from 40 seats to 20. The Friday shutdown occurred without prior notification on a the review of an ABC Board decision approving termination of the Voluntary Agreement (V.A.) with six area residents. Two of the six residents, David Malloff and Lex Rieffel, appealed the V.A. termination and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals kicked the case back to the ABC Board.

At that point Leeds went public, asking the community for support by emailing and calling DC councilmemers, the mayor and the head of the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. In response, several local organizations supported Leeds.

Criteria for Termination of the V.A.

At issue in the case are the criteria for termination of a V.A. The appellate court decision said the ABC Board must meet three statutory subparagraphs for termination of a V.A. The original ABC Board order only met criteria (C). The three criteria are:

(A) The applicant (Hank’s/Leeds) seeking the amendment has made a diligent effort to locate all other parties to the voluntary agreement; or (ii) If non-applicant parties are located, the applicant has made a good-faith attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable amendment to the voluntary agreement;
(B) The need for an amendment is either caused by circumstances beyond the control of the applicant or is due to a change in the neighborhood where the applicant‘s establishment is located; and
(C) The amendment or termination will not have an adverse impact on the neighborhood where the establishment is located as determined under § 25-313 or § 25-314, if applicable.

Early in the hearing ABC Board Chair Ruthanne Miller made it clear that on remand from the Court of Appeals the Board must make findings on paragraphs (A) and (B) and any effort to have the case dismissed would be inconsistent with the decision of the Court of Appeals. At the time of the 2010 order the ABC Board had been chaired by Charles Brodsky.

Dupont East Liquor License Moratorium

Leeds’ representative, Andrew Kline, first called Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) Jack Jacobson (2B04) as a witness. Jacobson detailed the 2009 ANC review of the Dupont East liquor license moratorium and its recommendation to allow for two lateral expansions. Later Jamie Leeds was called as a witness and detailed the timeline of how she saw the opportunity to expand her operation. Kline argued that this easing of the moratorium, the rezoning of adjacent space next to Hank’s and the restaurant’s success met the conditions of subparagraph (B).

Testimony

For the criteria in subparagraph (A), Kline presented a letter and email correspondence from February 2010 to his last witness, David Mallof, one of the original signatories to the V.A. The correspondence stated that Leeds desired to expand her business and wanted to meet with the protesters.

Under questioning by Kline about efforts to reach out to the parties to the V.A., Mallof argued that the email chain had been “cherry-picked” and that he had several phone conversations with Kline about Hanks’s. Mallof also explained that he was somewhat confused about the expansion plans and thought perhaps Leeds wanted to expand into the Trio space at the corner of 17th and Q Streets NW. He further explained that he wanted  some sort of proposal or Powerpoint presentation with “meat on the bones” before coordinating a meeting — and had concerns with a suggested weekday meeting during business hours when residents might not be available. ABC Board members questioning of Mallof suggest they did not fully understand why a meeting did not occur despite overtures from Leeds.

Leeds has previously stated, and did so again yesterday, that she felt compelled to sign the V.A. in order to open her restaurant, noting that she would otherwise have had to wait approximately six months for a hearing to resolve the original demands by the protest group; the wait would have been extremely costly for Leeds. At the time she agreed to the terms of the V.A., the liquor license moratorium on 17th Street prevented Leeds from potentially expanding her business. However, when the Dupont East Liquor License Moratorium was later amended to allow for a limited number of “lateral expansions” for existing restaurants; Leeds said she then initiated a request to review the restrictions in the V.A. with the group of six protestants with whom she had signed the V.A.

(Note: I was unable to stay until the end of hearing, which began at 4 pm and did not conclude until 8:30 pm.) According to additional sources who stayed for the entire hearing, witnesses for the protestants who appealed the termination of the V.A. said that their reluctance to meet with Leeds was due to her failure to detail in advance of their agreeing to meet exactly what changes she hoped to make to the business, i.e., the expansion into the adjoining space to the east.

Mallof, plus one of the original protestants, conceded in their sworn testimony that they understood that Leeds hoped to expand to an adjoining space, as informed by correspondence at the time from Leeds’ attorney, but claimed to be confused as to whether this meant an expansion to the adjoining vacant space rezoned for commercial use or whether Leeds planned to take over the Trio restaurant building next door. They also acknowledged their understanding that the expansion would naturally require an increase in the capacity for the restaurant, necessitating a change to the seating limit specified in the V.A.

The big question now is when will the ABC Board reach a decision? Will Leeds and Hank’s Oyster Bar have to operate under the original V.A., or will the ABC Board be able to rule that its original decision to release Leeds from the V.A. was valid, based on the presentation of new evidence at the Wednesday hearing? The Board has up to 90 days to reach a decision.

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Posted in Business, Politics & Government10 Comments

Streetscape Project: U Street Rehabilitation To Begin June 11

"U Street NW"

The Streetscape Project for U Street NW gets underway this month, starting at 9th and working westward. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com and follow him on Twitter@Tomonswann.

A large crowd turned out for the pre-construction meeting on the streetscape rehabilitationproject along U Street NW. At Wednesday night’s meeting it was announced that the project is scheduled to begin the week of June 11 and is expected to be complete in April 2013. The blocks to be upgraded include both the north and south side of U Street from 9th Street NW to 14th Street NW.

Councilmember Jim Graham (D-ward 1) was the opening speaker and quickly tried to temper the anxiety anyone in the room had by explaining that this project will not be nearly as disruptive at the current 18th Street Adams Morgan project — at least during this first phase. Graham then introduced many stakeholders, including contacts from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Myla Moss of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B and Brian Card of the U Street Neighborhood Association.

When Graham asked for a show of hands, residents slightly outnumbered business owners in attendance at the meeting.

Improvements and Disruptions Detailed

A representative from David Volkert & Associates Engineering walked attendees through the improvements and gave details on what to expect during construction. The improvements will include new curbs, gutters, sidewalks, bus pads, bike racks, storm drains, traffic signals, lighting and multispace parking meters. The $5 million project is mostly federally funded with about 16% coming from local funds.

Construction will begin at 9th and U Streets NW and move west toward 14th Street. Upgrades will take about three to four weeks per block, per side. During that time, parking will be interrupted: first as the curbs are replaced, then as pedestrians are routed into the parking lane as sidewalks are replaced. The sidewalk will be widened where conditions do not meet ADA standards. Planners hope to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction. Steel plates and ramps will allow pedestrians to access affected businesses during the process. Bus stops may be moved temporarily when they are in the construction zone.

Business Owners Are Concerned

During the question and answer period, business owners expressed serious concerns about the impact on their operations. Councilmember Graham pointed out that owners will be able to apply for no-interest loans for assistance. A few commenters dismissed the benefit of the loan program and suggested other compensation such as tax relief. The project will impact a variety of independent stores, restaurants and bars. Among the impacted businesses are such U Street landmarks as Ben’s Chili Bowl, Lee’s Flower Shop, the Lincoln Theater and Nellie’s Sports Bar.

Phase Two and Beyond

The second phase of the project from 14th to 18th Street is scheduled to begin in late 2013. That segment is expected to be more intrusive as there will be deeper digging in the street for upgrades. The upgrades along 14th Street NW are on hold as extensive development currently underway would interfere with the project. The current target for the start of that project is now fiscal year 2015 or 2016.

The Borderstan neighborhoods have seen similar streetscape upgrades over the years. Recent ones include the blocks of P Street west of Dupont Circle, 17th Street NW from P to R Streets and several blocks of 18th Street NW in the middle of the Adams Morgan commercial strip. While the reviews of the improvements have generally been favorable; the disruption to the businesses especially during the P Street and now 18th Street NW projects have been well documented.

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Posted in Business, Politics & Government3 Comments

Court Tells ABC Board to Review Hank’s Oyster Bar V.A. Case

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com and follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

Late last week the blog of LegalTimes reported that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued an opinion related to the seven- year-long battle between a group of neighbors and  Hank’s Oyster Bar at 1624 Q Street NW in Dupont Circle.

"Borderstan""Hank's Oyster Bar"

Hank's Oyster Bar is just off the 17th Street corridor . (Luis Gomez Photos)

The opinion states that the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board was wrong in their decision to allow termination of the Voluntary Agreement (V.A.) Hank’s had operated under based solely on whether doing so would have an adverse impact on the community.

“The neighbors have been overwhelmingly supportive of the expansion. I have not received one complaint since we have opened. I was shocked to hear that the court ruled to overturn the vacating of the voluntary agreement. I thought we had moved forward, but unfortunately it seems we are taking a step back in the growth of this neighborhood,” said Jamie Leeds, chef and owner of Hank’s.

The court reversed the November 2010 ABC Board decision and has ordered them to instead determine if Hank’s made a good faith attempts to negotiate an amended Voluntary Agreement (VA) with the group of neighbors who were parties to the original V.A., which dates back to 2005. Shortly after the ABC Board issued the opinion to terminate the V.A. they also agreed to allow Hank’s to expand operations into adjoining space.

V.A.s have become common citywide as a negotiating tool that sets restrictions beyond the standard regulations in exchange for a liquor license. Most frequently the V.A. limits hours of service of alcohol both inside and outside on sidewalk cafes.

Back in 2010 Leeds said that the major operational restrictions under the V.A. were that Hanks’s had to stop serving alcohol two hours before the restaurant’s closing time, and that dinner could not be served outside one hour before closing time.

Since the November 2010 decision the Board has several new members including a new chairperson, Ruthanne Miller. No word yet on when the ABC Board will review the case again.

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Posted in Business, Food & Drink6 Comments

Mila Clothing: Zoning Variance For 14th and U Street Property?

"Store""Mila""Borderstan""14th Street"

Mila at 2015 14th Street. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com and follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

Mila Clothing store owner Zahir Rahimi recently sent out a plea for support for a zoning variance for his store to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, and also appeared before the U Street Neighborhood Association at their monthly meeting last week.

Rahimi explained that he plans to close his 3,500-square-foot store at 2015 14th Street NW due to changing demographics in the neighborhood. His plans to lease the property are complicated by the decades-old Uptown Arts-Mixed Use Overlay District centered around the 14th and U Streets NW intersection.

Rahimi says the only tenants interested in his space are restaurant owners, so he hopes to obtain relief from the Board of Zoning to lease his space to a restaurant.

In a nutshell, the arts overlay limits the amount of eating or drinking establishments to 50% of the ground floor retail on a block within the  Uptown Arts District. The goal of the overlay is to “encourage retail, entertainment and residential uses that require pedestrian activity; an increased presence and integration of the arts and related cultural and arts-related support uses.”

When first conceived, the overlay had a limit of 25%. When that cap was reached the limit was raised to 50% in an effort to spur development along 14th Street.The problem now for landlords like Rahimi is that the  2000 block of 14th Street where Mila is located has hit the 50% limit. The strip is home to Busboys & Poets, Marvin, Gibson, Blackbyrd and Lost Society, to name a few.

The zoning decision is sure to be closely watched by both residents and developers. The area comprising the Uptown Arts District is undergoing rapid change with major development on nearly every block. Most of the larger projects in the pipeline are mixed-use — ground-floor retail space and residential units on upper floors — which make the retail spaces prime locations for restaurants and bars. It is now common in the neighborhood for developers and restaurants to commit to leases long before projects are complete, rather than face being shut out if no zoning variances are approved.

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Posted in Business, Politics & Government2 Comments

14th and U: Petition Opposes Possibility of Liquor License Moratorium

"Borderstan" "U and 14th Street NW", Luis, Gomez, Photos, liquor, licenses, DC, nightlife

The 14th and U corridor has become of DC’s most popular destinations for restaurants, music and clubs. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com and follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

Late last week, on April 25 news of an online petition opposing the possibility of an Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) license moratorium in the 14th and U Street / MidCity neighborhoods landed in Borderstan’s email box. Bryan Martin Firvida created the petition on the site Change.org petition on Wednesday and it is already has almost 400 signatures as of Monday morning.

Martin Firvida is a past president of the U Street Neighborhood Association (USNA), elected president four times, 2002 to 2004 and again in 2010. He also served as chair of USNA’s Business Development and ABC Committee and served on the USNA Board of Directors. Martin Firvida also spent four years as a Special Assistant in the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Office of the City Administrator working on neighborhood issues.

In their comments, the petition’s signers overwhelmingly expressed their support for the growth, diversity and development of the U street area. Former president of the U Street Neighborhood Association, Martin Firvida, a resident of the U street area,  appears to have created the petition as a preemptive measure to the possibility of a moratorium.

Martin Firvida told Borderstan, “I set up the petition as a way for my neighbors to both proactively express their support for our neighborhood, and for addressing the issues we face in a smart and comprehensive way, while also registering their opposition to an ABC license moratorium. Just like any of the vibrant neighborhoods here in the District, we have a complex mix of quality of life issues that can really only be effectively managed through ongoing collaboration — which is accomplished by bringing residents, businesses and government to the table to work together. A moratorium does none of that.”

Another factor at play in the area is a current zoning restriction, which limits the total square footage of restaurant, club and lounge storefronts to 50%. This restriction was raised from 25% in 2010, and is part of an arts overlay district that was put into place a number of years ago.

The 14th and U/MidCity neighborhoods could prove to be a tricky area to navigate for any community group hoping to build support for a moratorium. The area includes blocks in Wards 1 and 2, at least three different ANCs (1B, 2B and 2F) and just as many neighborhood associations.

Five Moratoriums in Effect

The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) lists five moratorium actions in DC. The neighborhoods with liquor license moratoriums are Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Glover Park, Dupont West and Dupont East (17th Street NW).

The moratorium discussion and process begins at the level of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) or neighborhood association. Martin Firvida’s petition states, “Once again, we’re hearing the idea of a Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) License (a/k/a “a liquor license”) Moratorium being discussed for the Greater 14th and U Street Neighborhoods.”

The commercial corridors of 14th and U Streets have seen rapid residential development in the past few years and have, as a result, drawn many new restaurants and bars. New businesses that desire an ABC license must navigate their way through the choppy waters of the public protest process. In most cases, businesses end up signing the now ubiquitous “voluntary agreement” or VA and agree to limited hours in serving alcohol in order to expedite the process.

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Posted in Business4 Comments

ANC 2F Adds Audio Recordings of Meetings to Website

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com. You can follow him on Twitter@Tomonswann.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F (Logan Circle) has added the audio of proceedings of their April 2012 meeting to the Advisory Neigbhorhood Commission (ANC) website.

ANC, 2F, Geoff Hatchard

ANC 2F will add two new commissioners next year due to population. Click for live map with details on Google Maps. (Maps by Geoff Hatchard)

Commissioner Matt Raymond (2F04) posted the file to the ANC website and adds that he hopes to continue the practice for future meetings to encourage community involvement. ANC 2F meetings are usually held at 7 pm the first Wednesday of the month at the Washington Plaza on Thomas Circle NW.

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No Hotel for 13th and U, Project Will Be Residential Says JBG

JBG, Cos., U, Street

Architect’s rendering of the proposed residential-retail complex at the southwest corner of 13th and U Streets NW. (Courtesy JBG Cos.)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

See list of related stories on JBG Cos. projects and development in the area at the bottom of this story.

Nearly 50 people turned out Tuesday evening for a community forum at Busboys & Poets on 14th Street to hear the latest plans for the development at the southwest corner of 13th and U Streets NW. The presentation was by the developer of the project, JBG Cos. and the architect, David M. Schwarz Architects.

Things heated up a few weeks ago when JBG announced at the March meeting of the U Street Neighborhood Association that they were indeed going forward with a plan — originally presented back in 2008 — for a boutique hotel at the site. About a week later information was circulated that suggested a hotel was off the drawing board and the building would instead be residential.

The hotel concept is indeed off the drawing board. JBG’s James Nozar explained that the proposed 250-room hotel would not be financially viable given the pressure from neighbors to reduce the size of the building. JBG is exploring other sites in the area for a hotel.

Not entirely surprising for JBG; the nimble developer has been known to react quickly to market demands. Late last year JBG announced that they were changing course on the 14th and S project and would market the units as luxury apartments rather than condominiums.

History of the Site

The site is a one-story commercial strip built about 20 years ago at the corner of 13th and U. The corner is anchored by the Rite Aid drugstore and sits opposite the Ellington Apartment building. The last storefront impacted on the western end of the site would be Al Crostino restaurant at 1324 U Street NW, which is about mid-block.

The back of the site faces the rear yards of the residential row of two-story townhouses on Wallach Place. James Nozar of JBG, and now a frequent fixture before Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and community groups, started things off with an update on their plans. The hotel concept is indeed off the drawing board. Nozar explained that the proposed 250-room hotel would not be financially viable given the pressure to reduce the size of the building. JBG is exploring other sites in the area for a hotel.

Plans for Residential Building

The residential design presented Tuesday night would have 138 units, 72 underground parking space and ground floor retail. Rite Aid would remain as the primary tenant at the corner. The floor plans would be a mix of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with potential to combine units. No efficiency units are planned. The overall building height would be 90 feet with an 18-foot mechanical penthouse.

Many people inquired about the possibility of an office building for the site; given the need for more daytime foot traffic to support businesses. Apparently the lot dimensions would not allow a floor plan suitable for office suites.

The plan will allow for a 20-foot alley along the rear. David Schwarz, the architect, said the facade of the building will have the same spirit and character of the  earlier hotel design, with a few changes to the overall massing. Specifics on the material and color are still being developed. Schwarz explained that the building will have almost have three front facades given the site — U Street, 13th Street and the alley-facing facade, since it would be so visible as you head north on 13th Street.

Residents Wary of Project

Attendees asked pointed questions to the presenters — some barbs were even directed at other attendees. Only a few people asking questions identified where they live, but it was obvious residents from Wallach Place and the adjoining blocks of 13th Street were well represented. Questions were raised about the building’s alley access, planned retail tenants, roof deck and affordability.

Many people inquired about the possibility of an office building for the site; given the need for more daytime foot traffic to support businesses. Apparently the lot dimensions would not allow a floor plan suitable for office suites. There were grumbles of protest when Schwarz suggested that the new building is better than the current uninspired strip of retail with a row of dumpsters along residents rear yards. The new building will have an enclosed loading dock in the rear for deliveries, which only seemed to impress a few people.

Many inquiries concerned zoning variances that JBG will need to proceed, the presenters explained that they will pursue a Planned Unit Development (PUD). for the project. The DC Zoning Commission defines a PUD as “a planning tool which allows a developer greater flexibility in site planning and building design. This flexibility permits the developer to incorporate amenities in the project that exceed those that could have been achieved under the general provisions of the Zoning Regulations.”

Other Nearby projects in Pipeline

Wallach Place residents and nearby community groups went through several rounds of negotiations with another developer over the appearance and size a planned residential building on the stretch of 14th Street between Wallach Place and T Streets NW. Plans were eventually downsized by about 10 units.

The effort and surrounding development in the area even prompted the creation of a new neighborhood blog, U Street Dirt. JBG is embarking on a building frenzy in the blocks surrounding 14th and U. At least five projects are either underway or in the development pipeline: The District apartments at 14th and S, The Louis at 14th and U NW, an unnamed project at 8th and Florida NW, the 13th and U project and another planned for the “Atlantic Plumbing” lots near the 9:30 Club.

The developer will continue to make the rounds of neighborhood meetings and DC agency reviews, and adjust plans to respond to the recommendations.

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Borderstan People: Rauzia Ally on Design, Sustainability, Preservation

"Borderstan" "Rauzia Ally"

Rauzia Ally was recently appointed to the  District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

For our latest profile on noteworthy local residents, Borderstan had an opportunity to catch up with architect Rauzia Ally. Most will agree, this local resident’s star is on the rise, both locally and nationally. Ally came to the DC area from her native Guyana for school, and then settled with her husband in the Dupont-Logan area, just off 14th Street NW.

Locally, after serving many years on the Dupont Circle Conservancy — the non-profit whose mission is to promote preservation of the historic and architectural character of the Dupont Circle historic districts — Ally was appointed by Mayor Vincent Gray to a term on the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. She will be the only representative from Ward 2 on the board.

Ally will also serve as director for a team of local college students competing nationally in the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon challenges each team to “design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.” The competition will take place in October 2013 in Irvine, California.

On top of all these projects, Ally also runs an architecture and design firm with her husband Gregory Rubbo and serves on the faculty of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Catholic University of America.

Borderstan:  Tell us a little bit about your background and why you came to DC.

Ally: My family came to DC because my grandfather’s brother went to Howard’s Dental school here before going back to Guyana to begin his own practice in 1947. Since then all of my mother’s family came and they also studied dentistry. So we all ended up here. I still remember though growing up in Guyana, when family would visit, they would bring back the souvenirs, the Washington Monument or a snow dome of the White House. Those memories of dreaming about what Washington was like upon touching those objects are still very much embedded in me.

Borderstan:  What made you and Gregory choose to live in the Dupont Circle area of Borderstan?

Ally: We love the quality of the row houses and the small streets like Swann, where we live.  The homes are beautiful, and the trees are lovely. It’s a joy to walk around, walk to Georgetown or down 14th Street, know all your neighbors, and be a part of the fabric.

Borderstan: You recently served on the board of the Dupont Circle Conservancy. What is your favorite building in the area?

Ally: Historic would be many but likely the Masonic Temple is very beautiful. The Finnish Embassy is also quite lovely. I love the houses on New Hampshire Avenue too.

Borderstan: What is the biggest challenge in reviewing changes or additions to historic buildings?

Ally: Really trying to forge a relationship between the old and new without copying just the look of the old, a stylized version. So keeping honesty in materials and methods of building while honoring the historic.

Borderstan: There is development along every block of 14th Street in our neighborhood. Do you see that as a threat to the historic fabric of the area?

Ally: No not at all, in fact it helps to upkeep historic properties when once blighted areas are redeveloped. I love seeing the new that is done well right next to the old.  It’s exciting.

Borderstan: Who’s your favorite living architect and who’s your favorite deceased architect?

Ally: Peter Zumpthor for living. He’s a master builder and a master of meaning and beauty as well. Frank Lloyd Wright for deceased as an embodiment of the American Spirit of individualism and zest for life.

Borderstan: How did you become involved with the Solar Decathlon?

Ally: Living in Guyana, where sustainability is not a buzz word but part and parcel of everyday practice, it’s easy to understand the principles. So it was naturally a project I wanted to be a part of and direct. After the BP disaster, I felt we truly have to be serious about alternative energy, and it was around that time we were studying at CUA the viability of the project. I feel that true environmental sustainability cannot rely on technologies, but on culture, society and art and humanities as the backbone. So trying to personify what that means in a project was very important to me. Our Solar Decathlon home exemplifies humanistic, scientific and spiritual ideas and you must have all three for sustainability to mean anything.

Borderstan: How many students are currently involved and what schools do they come from?

Ally: We have had in the past year about 40 from our school and 30 from George Washington University. Currently we have 20 from CUA, another 20 from George Washington University and about 15 from American University. All told, it will be likely about 200 students involved over the course of the project and a large host of professionals as well. Already we have students working in the professional offices like Arup Engineering, so the project is already accomplishing its intentions, to foster those kinds of relationships. You can follow our progress on Facebook, TeamCapitoldc or Twitter @dcharvesthome. Even though DC has hosted the Solar Decathlon since 2002, we’ve never had a team before. Team Capitol dc is the first DC team.

Borderstan: What do you think is the biggest misconception about solar power? How about the biggest misconception about historic preservation?

Ally: Solar power – that it is essentially impractical and that there are dim prospects for it. I don’t think anyone realizes how much energy solar power currently provides. All three universities in Team Capitol dc  are racing to put panels on as many campus buildings as possible. Historic Preservation – that you could care about it and champion it while desiring modern architecture for new buildings at the same time, both in harmony.

Borderstan:  You have a very full schedule. When you do have free time, where do you like to relax or eat out in the neighborhood?

Ally: I like to sit with my husband and while awayat Meridian Hill Park or go to the garden of the Smithsonian Castle or the Botanic Gardens. Living in Bordestan it’s easy to get to those venues. But I also love just sitting in my front stoop area and talking to neighbors on a Sunday morning. To eat, I love Plume at the Jefferson Hotel but Posto’s outside area on a balmy day is also nice.

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Business Roundup: Hunted House, Mimilah Leaving, JBG Forum

"Borderstan""U Street NW"

What will JBG Cos. build at the southwest corner of 13th and U Streets NW? (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com. You can follow him on Twitter@Tomonswann.

"Borderstan""Hunted House""14th Street NW"

Another one gone: Hunted House departs for H Street NE. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Hunted House Departs for H Street NE

Vintage furniture store Hunted House had their last weekend in the neighborhood after five years at 1830 14th Street, NW. Owner Mark Johnson reports that he will move the store to 510 H Street, NE and plans to open on or just before May 1.

Mimilah Pop-Up Leaving Space Above Miss Pixie’s

Mimilah also announced their last weekend. The pop-up shop was located on the second floor of Miss Pixie’s Collective at 1626 14th Street NW (former site of Mid City Caffe). Owner Lish says fans can like Mimilah on Facebook to keep up-to-date on where you can find her merchandise locally and for information on future pop-up shops. The space above Miss Pixie’s will be the future home of an expanded Body Smith gym.

April 10: JBG forum on 13th and U Project

A few weeks ago it was reported that the dormant plans for development at the southwest corner of 13th and U Streets NW were being revived. Originally slated to be a hotel, more recent information is suggesting rental apartments. Developer JBG Cos. will be hosting a community forum to discuss the “conceptual architectural character” of the building.

At recent neighborhood meetings discussing the project, numerous attendees had serious concerns about the height of the proposed building. JBG is the developer behind several other major projects in the area: The District apartments at 14th and S, The Louis at 14th and U, and an unnamed project at 8th and Florida. The meeting on the 13th and U plans will be held Tuesday, April 10 at 7 pm at Busboys & Poets at 14th and V Streets NW.

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