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New Citizens’ Organization Seeks Different Path for 14th and U

by Borderstan.com May 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm 1,949 22 Comments


The intersection of 14th and U Streets NW. What does the future hold for one of the city's most desirable locations? (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Matty Rhoades. You can email him at matty[AT]borderstan.com.

Borderstan first learned earlier this spring that a new neighborhood organization was being formed, one whose mission was to change the course of the rapid pace of development along the 14th and U corridor — including a possible push for a liquor license moratorium. (For another view, see Online Petition Opposing Liquor License Moratorium Draws Support.) Moreover, changes are being considered to DC’s zoning laws as recently noted in the City Paper’s Housing Complex blog.

The new Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance (SDCA) held its first meeting May 21. The boundaries for membership in SDCA are from 12th to 15th Streets and from S to U Streets NW. Joan Sterling is president of the board of directors and some of the other names on the board are familiar to people who follow neighborhood politics and community organizations — Elwyn Ferris (partner of ANC 2B09 Commissioner Ramon Estrada) is secretary, and Doug Johnson and Craig Brownstein of U Street Dirt are on the board of directors.

The entire 14th and U corridor has been undergoing rapid change in the past decade, with numerous residential-retail complexes still under construction, from S Street past Florida Avenue NW; the strip of 14th below S Street saw the first wave of new construction on empty lots earlier in the decade. One such complex just getting underway is the Lous at 14th and U Streets NW (see Plans Unveiled for the Louis at 14th/U; Will Remake Famous Corner.) Another project, spanning 14th from S to Swann Streets is expected to be completed this fall. Demolition work will soon begin on the project at the southeast corner of 14th and Wallach NW. And there are more projects under construction or on the drawing board (13th and U NW, for example).

Not surprisingly, not everyone in the area views the changes — or the trajectory of the development — in quite the same way.

SDCA Organization’s Message Points

The membership application for SDCA is quite blunt in terms of the message points it drives home to potential members, with the following Q&A on the membership applicaton:

Q: Finding it increasingly difficult to park?
A: Local developers are being granted variances from the required parking regulations!

Q: Is late night noise and disturbance increasing?
A: New establishments are requesting operating hours till 4 and 5 AM!

Q: Are you concerned about the drastic increase in street crime?
A: Three stabbings of local restaurant patrons in the past year!

Q:  Did you know that new development almost caused us the permanent loss of our Post Office.
A: A vocal group of citizens (our members, and our neighbors, just like you) fought it, and saved it!

Q: Are you aware that new legislation could strip away the legal standing residents have in alcohol licensing?
A: The right to negotiate a reasonable Voluntary Agreement may be permanently eliminated!

Interview with SDCA President

Borderstan asked SDCA President Joan Sterling about the new organization, its priorities — and why its members felt the need to form the organization instead of working through three neighborhood organizations in or near the 14th and U corridor.

Borderstan: What is your organization’s top priority as of now?

Sterling: Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance (SDCA) views this neighborhood as a residential community, a historic treasure, an educational center, and a vital component of the District of Columbia’s retail and tourism economy. The association seeks to maintain a unique mix of missions for the community, while seeing that the views and interests of residents and homeowners are well represented in the neighborhood’s continuing evolution. DSCA’s mission is to preserve the historic character, quality of life, and aesthetic values of this area with a particular eye toward protecting the interests of the neighborhood’s residents and homeowners. We all welcome the new businesses and the exciting development. At the same time we also have some concerns about the impact of that growth on the quality of life in the neighborhood.

As a newly incorporated organization we are very busy with membership and organizing our committees in a way that will reflect the varied interests of the members. We have had a lot of feedback regarding things such as parking, new development, new retail, improved daytime activity in the neighborhood, and concerns related to the significant late night activity that borders the residential areas.

Borderstan: Are you actively pushing the DC Government for a liquor license moratorium in the 14th and U area?

Sterling: That is one of the options that the members have discussed as a possibility to get a little ‘breathing space’ while trying to find a way to improve the implementation of the ARTS Overlay and Comprehensive Plan for the neighborhood. We hope to work with both Councilmember Graham [D-Ward 1] and Councilmember Evans [D-Ward 2], along with the Office of Planning, BZA [Board of Zoning Adjustment], ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration], DCRA, DDOT and the other agencies that all have a piece of the puzzle. We are interested in having a vibrant and safe community during both the daytime and the evening hours. (Editor’s note: 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).

Borderstan: How would you respond to Bryan Martin Firvida’s claim that liquor license moratoriums are ineffective?

Sterling: It’s an interesting position to take considering Mr. Firvida provides no data that supports that opinion – the petition language is long on hyperbole, but short on facts. Existing Moratoria have been renewed which would indicate that, in the areas that have them, the residents are happy with the results. Moratorium zones as defined by ABRA can only be in a radius of 600 feet, 1,200 feet or 1,800 feet. Implying that because online petition signatories are in a particular zip code means that they live in a moratorium zone is far from accurate. It does not correctly reflect the very small sizes of ABRA defined zones compared to the much larger areas covered by zip codes.

Signatures of approximately 600 DC residents is just not reflective of those residents that are directly impacted by the current over-concentration of licenses in this particular small area. We are very interested in all ideas that can actually be implemented to help alleviate the problems that residents are experiencing and are eagerly awaiting Mr. Firvida’s alternate suggestions. We are aware that Mr. Firvida has authored other online petitions such as D.C. Council and the D.C. Taxicab Commission: Make “Red” the standard color for Taxicabs in Washington, D.C.

(Editor’s note: 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. )

Borderstan: Why did you decided to form a new organization instead of working through existing community associations, such as the U Street Neighborhood Association, the Logan Circle Community Association and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association?

Sterling: We felt that we needed a residents association to address the things that are of interest to our neighborhood. Because the area straddles two different ANCs and two Wards it made sense to start an organization that could represent the neighborhood in a more cohesive way. Both the Dupont Circle Citizens Association and the Logan Circle Community Association represent residents in different areas than SDCA. The residents in those areas are clearly ably represented by their associations and we hope to follow their examples.

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  • Anonymous

    It would have been nice if you had asked him more pointed and difficult questions about the group’s positions. They represent only a small, but vocal, group of residents in the area. Their anti-development and general NIMBYism is well known.

    • Lord Help Us

      I don’t think he had to ask them more difficult questions. It’s pretty easy to see through them. And, Lord Help Us, it’s the same bunch of people, and a small one at that. Do they really think that with thousands of new people moving in that we don’t need new restaurants, bars, etc.?

  • logan19

    I was uncertain, but this convinced me to sign Martin Firvida’s petition.

  • Scott

    I’m guessing she didn’t live near 14th and U Street in the early 90s, when the local group CSNA (now USNA) was desperate to attract ANY local food & drink. All we had was the 20 seat Polly’s Cafe and Ben’s Chili Bowl, for God sake.

    With 40,000 new residents in the neighborhood, the moratorium would fill each restaurant/bar to capacity: long waits at each, hard to get dinner reservations, and maintain the tight cluster found there today. It’s a major city, and each and every storefront should be full. If you don;t like city life (and noise), why did you buy there in the first place? It reminds me of the retired Air Force generals that bought at the end of the runway, and then complained about the noise!

  • dcredhead

    It is good common sense that competition is stifled and service suffers in areas with liquor license moratoriums. When was the last time anyone had a positive dining experience in the West End or 17th street moratorium areas? They are few and far between.

  • JT

    SDCA is exactly what U St does not need. Count me in as one that just signed Martin Firvida’s petition because of Ms. Sterling’s interview.

  • Long time U St

    The agenda for this “Citizens Association” was set before their first meeting. Resolution to support a liquor lincense moratorium, resolution against new propsosed ABRA rules. What is the members of the group didn’t support those positions. Also, if they want a moratorium for all of 14th and U, why aren’t residnets in those areas included in their association. The boundaries were made to include the few residents who they know support their veiws.

    • Long time U St

      Sorry – lots of typos. What *if* the members …?

  • Joseph Martin

    Attention Business Owners, you are most welcome to come to Georgia Avenue in Petworth or Park View. We like you. ANC 4C likes new businesses. We want you.

  • Logan Res

    Oh Lord, not the U Street Dirt guys… This group is just opposed to people PERIOD. They contradict themselves constantly. One complaint will be that one of the apartment buildings has too many smaller units which will attract too many undesirable people! Then when the developer changes the plans and adds larger units, they’ll complain that the developer isn’t helping those who need affordable housing. So, basically it’s all about people…..these guys just don’t want anybody at all coming to or moving into THEIR neighborhood.

    • 13 & T

      Logan Res-

      You are spot on. Keep up the good fight.

  • Ben

    As a general rule of thumb, I view any official statements or releases from purported “citizen organizations” with a high degree of suspicion if they include one exclamation point in their communications. I write them off entirely if they contain two or more. I have no patience for hyperbole and hysteria in neighborhood politics.

    A brief look at that ridiculous “Q&A” posted above indicates where this so-called “citizens organization” resides on my ‘Do I take them seriously?’-list.

  • 13th & T

    I am a homeowner in Ground Zero of the proposed moratorium and live smack between Ms Sterling and the U Street Dirt guys who are driving this. Just so it is clear, they do NOT speak for me or anyone else who is not on their membership roll, and this includes the overwhelming majority of their neighborhood. For these folks to be pushing for a moratorium extending well beyond their boundaries is just outrageous. If they want a 600 foot moratorium that covers their own ‘hood, fine, bring that fight on, but 1800 feet? All the way to Belmont in the north and 8th to the east? Seriously? Those neighborhoods are still begging for development. Fortunately the U Street Neighborhood Association has a broader and more thoughtful vision than this fringe group. I’m embarrassed to have them as neighbors.

  • It’ll be interesting when every neighborhood has a YIMBY and a NIMBY group claiming to represent the view of all.

    • 13th & T

      The “Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance” truly is NIMBYism taken to the extreme. According to its website, the new oganization is run by 6 officers and and 4 board members. The treasurer and one of the board members are next door neighbors. Two other board members are also residents of the same street, living in the same house just a couple of doors away and, as Logan Res has observed, doing everything in their power to halt development of virtually any kind in the neighborhood. And the Vice President’s house is right across the street! Finally, as noted in the Borderstan article, the secretary is the partner of ANC2B09 Commissioner Ramon Estrada, who lives less than a block away from Wallach on the other side of 14th.

      How dare this group purport to speak for anyone but themselves? And how dare Mr. Estrada seek to encroach on the territory of ANC1B02 through this bogus organization?

  • North of U

    I am a homeowner in the physical block where Ben’s is located and am definitely against the moratorium as are most of my immediate neighbors that I have spoken to about this effort. It is real nice of these folks to use our block for their purposes and then create boundaries for their organization that then exclude us from being possible members. Not that I would want to be a member of a group that is so backwards in their approach to community.

  • Hal9000

    Keep in mind that ANC Commissioner Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling (ANC 1B-02) lives on Wallach Place, right in the heart of NIMBY-land and is no doubt connected to this group. Although she purports to represent all of 1B-02, it is clear that she is aligned with the anti-development crowd who live on that one-block street in her district. We need a new ANC Commissioner (she ran unopposed in 2011) who will represent all of the residents of the area.

    • Scott


      I would be interested in any details you would have that support your assertion that she is aligned with the anti-development crowd other than geographic proximity. I know a number of folks on Wallach that are not aligned with the extremes. She came in mid-term when Aaron Spencer moved, he was at best a distracted commissioner that never had the time for the position. I have appreciated the level of communication and transparency provided by Alexandra, using the existing lists, creating her own, and seeking outside input.

      Peter Raia, her predecessor from Wallach that got voted out in 2010 had a clear track record of alignment with this group and was easily the least transparent and open commissioners. He sought the chair for the ABC committee and then refused to have meetings of the committee, even excluding businesses from an open ANC meeting. He continually misrepresented this groups small minded opinions as “representing the community”, even using letters he solicited only from them as proof of his statements.

      Raia intentionally continued to misrepresent details about the hotel development project using the penthouse height of 120′ compared to the legal zoning of 60′ during the vote for approval, even though he knew that the Arts Overlay allowed 75′ and the proposed height for zoning purposes was 103′. Please present some details like these to support what you are saying.

      Influenced by them, how could you not be when they are screaming the loudest, but I require a bit more than guilt by goegraphy.

      • 13th & T

        I’m with Hal9000 on this one. In fact, I can attest from personal experience with Alexandria that she is NOT aligned with the Wallach Place fringe group. Quite the contrary.

      • 13th & T

        I’m sorry, I mean I’m with Scott. Hal is wrong about this.

  • Rut

    Send this woman to Petworth where it’s quiet. Leave U Street alone. Moratoriums destroy neighborhoods. Just look at 17th street with 5 pharmacies and 5 dry cleaners and a bunch of mediocre restaurants because NO NEW LICENSING IS ALLOWED. Get a clue lady.

  • dcvoterboy

    Really? “… the residents are happy with the results.”? I think facts beg to differ over along 17th Street. As documented here on Borderstan and elsewhere, the successful Hank’s Oyster Bar is in the midst of a lawsuit by neighbors over a “voluntary agreement” and now have had to close a portion of their business due to continuing complaints by these 6 protesters.

    Yup, everything is fine in moratorium land…

    “Saga of Hank’s Oyster Bar’s Outdoor Seating Continues”


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