14th & U: The Arts Overlay, Quick Action, a Reader Poll

by Borderstan.com April 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm 2,226 11 Comments

Policy at 14th and S NW is one of the restaurant-clubs that have opened in the area in the past year. In January patrons lined up to attend a Haiti benefit (Luis Gomez Photos)

Last week the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) announced that it would begin enforcing the 25% limit on the number of bars and restaurants allowed to operate in the Arts Overlay district of the 14th and U Streets NW area. The 25% figure is calculated on the store frontage of businesses in the district, not on the total number of establishments.

According to DCRA, “the 25% cap applies only to eating or drinking establishments located along the lots fronting on 14th Street (between slightly north of N Street and Florida Avenue) and U Street (between 9th and 15th Streets).”

The Arts Overlay was put in place in 1990 to make sure that art galleries and related businesses and groups would have a place to set up shop–and to prevent the area from becoming exclusively a club and restaurant strip. In 1990, though, the 14th and U Street area was much different from today: It was not particularly hip… and it certainly was not expensive.

Reaction and a Fix

Reaction from the MidCity Business Association and other organizations was swift: raise the percentage of street frontage for bars and restaurants to 50%. Councilmembers Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) favor the move. In fact, ANC 2F/Logan Circle formed a special Arts Overlay Committee last year and it reached the same conclusion: raise the limit to 40 to 50%.

Moreover ANC2F/Logan went on record earlier this week supporting the higher number. The headline of the ANC release is “ANC-2F Declares 14th Street ‘Open for Business’ ” and the opening graphs of the release read:

April 13, 2010 -The 14th Street corridor is an important engine for both economic development and arts institutions in the city, and requires the presence of responsible establishments that serve food and liquor. ANC-2F will not allow a poorly-designed and antiquated zoning rule to impede future development that benefits the entire community. Our neighborhood is open for business. The existing law fails to provide amenities that the neighborhood wants and that our Arts District needs. Based on extensive community input last year, ANC-2F asked the city to update this rule to allow restaurants and bars to occupy up to 50% of each zoning square in the Arts District.

City officials recognized that restaurants and clubs (often high-end ones) have played a huge role in the area’s retail development in the past decade; it seems to be a done deal that the 25% limit will be overturned within three months. (You can read the MidCity follow-up statement as well as the news releases from ANC2F and Evans online.)

Implementing a fix to the 25% rule also came swiftly in a city that too often dishes out regulatory and procedural overkill to small businesses. In the case of 14th and U NW, however, the city probably felt it had to act quickly. The area is by no means “finished” in terms of every store front hosting a small business; there are still numerous spots along 14th Street that are empty. The economic recession makes it hard for some business owners to get credit and some of the pioneering businesses that opened in the previous decade went out of businesses due to rising rents and tough economic conditions.

Background

14th & You had a post yesterday that explains the Arts Overlay District and the history behind last week’s decision by DCRA to begin enforcing the 25% rule on restaurants and bars (suggest you read the entire post):

Last week, as reported here and elsewhere, DCRA Zoning Administrator Matt Le Grant issued a letter stating that his office would no longer approve occupancy permits for bars and restaurants along the 14th and U Street corridors, in what is known as the Arts Overlay District. The announcement came at the conclusion of a study by DCRA that showed that the percentage of street-facing retail along 14th and U streets that is devoted to bars and restaurants was just under the 25% threshold permitted under the current Arts Ovelray restrictions. Enforcement of the rule had been advocated by a small group of neighborhood activists, including ANC1B commissioner Peter Raia and ANC2B commission Ramon Estrada, among others.

Borderstan Reader Poll on 14th Street Retail

In early August, we ran a reader poll at Borderstan, asking what types of businesses people wanted to see on 14th Street NW. Readers were allowed to select as many as they desired from the list of 10 choices. You can see the full results here at 14th St Survey Says: Affordable Food, Please! But, here is a rundown of reader choices last August (remember that readers could select as many options from the list as they desired).

August 2009: “What kind of stores and businesses do you want more of on the 14th Street NW corridor… between Thomas Circle and Florida Avenue NW? You can pick as many as you want.”

  1. Lower-Priced Restaurants: 17% (155 votes)
  2. Delis & Food Stores: 16% (150 votes)
  3. Coffee Houses: 11% (103 votes)
  4. Apparel Stores: 10% (93 votes)
  5. General Retail: 10% (89 votes)
  6. Upper End Restaurants: 9% (79 votes)
  7. Theaters: 6% (58 votes)
  8. Clubs & Lounges: 6% (52 votes)
  9. Art Galleries: 5% (48 votes)
  10. Furniture & Home Stores: 4% (38 votes)
  11. Other: 2% (21 votes)

Notably, higher- and lower-priced restaurants together got 26% of all votes and clubs got 6%. Delis and food stores got 16% while coffee houses garnered 11%.

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