Embassies, Trees, B&Bs: Be Careful What You Protest?

by Borderstan.com November 18, 2011 at 9:24 am 1,473 14 Comments

BorderstanFrom Michelle Lancaster. Follow her and tell her your news on Twitter @MichLancaster or email her at [email protected].

We posted earlier this week on the demonstration outside of the Congolese Embassy after the embassy paved the front lawn. I drive by it daily and I do miss the trees.

But as Mark Lee writes in the Washington Blade, the same neighbors who protested the lost trees may have had a hand in letting the embassy into the space to make such concrete decisions with the lawn. It’s worth knowing your history in our ‘hood.

The mansion used to house a B&B, until area residents voiced their opposition to renovations that would have added four guest rooms, another employee and other seemingly minor items. Neighbors said they feared delivery trucks, noise and other unsavory possibilities due to the expansion. Four years later, the B&B was shuttered, and the owners sold to the Congolese government.

What say you, tree loving protestors? Did you stand in silence when they came for beds and breakfasts? Would a B&B with 10 rooms have been preferable to an embassy?

  • Avi

    What the anti-B&B crowd failed to factor in: B&B guests bring money with them to spend in DC, which increases the commercial viability of the neighborhood, which also increases/enhances the value of the neighborhood. The embassy & it’s staff do none of that.

  • Americans Are Stupid

    Looks like those neighbors were just a little too clever by half, weren’t they? My guess is that this is the same set of people who are HORRIFIED at all those outdoor cafes on 17th Street. Running that B&B out of business didn’t turn out so well, did it? That was a crime. The owners should have had the right to sue them.

  • Frank

    I assume this is some of the same crowd who objected to JRs expanding into the vacant space next to their bar on 17th Street. I’ve lived here for more than a decade and that empty storefront is — still an empty storefront. Wouldn’t a vibrant business have been better than an eyesore?

    • Lance

      JR’s got permission to expand into that empty space more than a decade ago. They’re not doing so boils down to a business decision including their having become partners in Cobalt/Level One right up the street … and (maybe) a change of demographics favoring areas further east for their business model. But of course, the rumour mills like to come up with their own conclusions … Like the subject of this very article. B&B’s don’t require any special licensing. They’re allowed by right in the area where the Congo Embassy is. What isn’t allowed there is a hotel. And while the public line is ‘4 extra rooms’, the reality is that the permissions being sought at the time was to operate a hotel like the O Street Mansion. I suspect the 4 extra rooms were the least of the concerns of the neighbors living there then. A hotel’s main business is banquets is restaurants and LOTS of stuff going on that amounts to hundreds more people each week than what you’d see with a B&B. But again the rumour mill spins and gets fed by ill-informed posts such as this one.

  • David

    There is a group of activists in Dupont Circle that protest anything and everything. They protested the expansion of JRs, they protested the expansion of Hank’s. They protested the expansion of the B&B. They protested the new Vida. Do these people not realize they live in a vibrant urban neighborhood, where change is a constant and good for the area? Maybe these people should live in a housing development in the suburbs with a homeowner’s association that tells people what kind of plants they can have and how long their grass must be and what color they can paint their house.

  • Hooters

    Some day this crowd is going to protest some innocuous business that wants to open in the neighbor because… oh, just pick an f-ing reason. In place of the [insert name of harmless business here]will be a HOOTERS. Yes, a HOOTERS. With outdoor dining. Waitresses in skimpy outfits serving drinks on 17th Street. I can heard the heads exploding now. Poetic justice.

  • Michelle

    Thanks for the comments! A small, but vocal, minority has worked tirelessly on this issue and the others raised in others comments. Is it not time that they face the same demand that OWS is – what the heck are you FOR? Stasis is not an option in our neighborhood.

  • It baffles me why people move to the city with all the night life, restaurants, bars, theather,retail, then once settled in, they want to change it to suburbia. They do the same thing to the farm lands, they move out into the country, then start bitching about the horses, cows pig and chicken. Are these people never happy or they just the people who never have a single nice thing to say about any one.

    • Lance

      Lloyd, This house IS NOT in an a block with ‘night life, restaurants, bars, theater,retail’ … it IS in a quiet residential area. The only person looking to change anything here was the applicant trying to put a hotel into the middle of this residnetial area …

  • Rich

    Wasn’t this previously “The Green Door”, a therapeutic community for psychiatric patients? Any B&B would have been shortlived.

    • No, the Green Door was at the northeast corner of Corcoran and 16th NW.

  • Lance

    Btw, the embassy with its staff of less than 10 and only occasional events for dignitaries and their citizens is a far far preferable use for that house sitting in the middle of other residences than would have been a hotel with dozens of events and thousands of guests utlitizing it over the course of a year. Paved over front lawns might not be nice to look at, but they don’t make noise, cause congestion, and overtake residences with the many externalities caused by hotels and their banquet and restaurant activities.

  • Mark

    Lance – Although coming to the party late you have certainly remedied that by the number of posts sprinkled throughout the community discussion of Michelle’s piece and my column on the subject in the Washington Blade!

    Permit me to provide the following information in response to your assertions:

    — As Tom Hay reported earlier for Borderstan, the Republic of the Congo included in its BZA application the request for “one small scale social function each month” — notably, the same request made by the B&B owner which was previously rejected by the BZA — although I don’t think that anyone is really under the illusion that there is any enforcement mechanism should the Chancery decide to host a more frequent schedule of events;

    — As indicated in my column, the B&B owner had only requested a maximum attendance of 110 persons at its proposed once-a-month special event (which was rejected by the BZA), additionally specifying that all chairs and other room equipment would be stored on-site to eliminate the need for such deliveries for the anticipated neighborhood client weddings, organizational fundraising receptions, etc. (a stipulation not proffered in the Chancery application) — consequently, your reference to the B&B hosting “dozens of events” and “thousands of guests” is a fiction — even had the BZA approved the request — also noting that no such limit on the number of guests was stipulated in the Chancery’s BZA application;

    — Your reference to “hotels [sic] and their banquet and restaurant activities” in referencing the B&B is also irrelevant to the actual situation or function of the prior business as it did not, nor did it propose, engaging in those activities; and,

    — The Republic of Congo stipulated that 10 staffmembers would work at the site (not “less than 10” as you indicate) in its BZA application, although, of note, the government’s website indicates that “18 competent individuals” will serve at the location.

    Hoping this helps clarify the facts for the record.

    • Lance

      @Mark “although I don’t think that anyone is really under the illusion that there is any enforcement mechanism should the Chancery decide to host a more frequent schedule of events;”

      ” As indicated in my column, the B&B owner had only requested a maximum attendance of 110 persons at its proposed once-a-month special event (which was rejected by the BZA),”

      Funny how you bring up the matter of enforcement in regards to the embassy but not in regards to the ‘B&B’. As an immediate neighbor, I can tell you that the events it hosted were attended by far more than 110 persons. And this was without the permission granted to operate as a hotel, and as a ‘B&B’ which is NOT permitted by right to hold functions. I can only imagine the frequency and number of guests had the full exception by the BZA been granted. I was not living in that immediate area when the matter came before the BZA but I know neighbors who were and who thankfully looked out for the area to ensure it stayed a residential area and didn’t become commercialized. And to them I am very grateful. That’s not to say that having an embassy there is much better, but we shouldn’t be saying ‘the lesser of two evils is okay’. It’s not. The root of the problem is exceptions being made to the zoning laws which are supposed to restrict that block (and many surrounding it) to residential ONLY. Be the exceptions from the Foreign Missions Act which allows exceptions for embassy office buildings to locate in residentially zoned areas or BZA orders which can allow an exception for a hotel as was being attempted here, both are equally in direct conflict of the residential zoning laws upon which residents rely on when they purchase or rent their property. There are plenty of commercially zoned areas in this city for both the embassies and the hotel owners to avail themselves of when looking for suitable properties. Yes, the cost more because commericial/office use zoned property is inheritently more expensive than residentially zoned property, but that is not a cause for neighbors having to put up with the externalities caused by businesses and ‘offices with flags’ locating in a residential area.


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