As one of the neighborhood “provocateurs” — more than 30 and counting — protesting the Vida Fitness liquor license application for a rooftop bar/pool at 1612 U St., N.W., I must respond to Mark Lee’s misleading and ill-informed commentary.
Whatever reputation David von Storch earned as owner of the Dakota discotheque in Adams Morgan in the late 1980s, I can tell you that his reputation in my neighborhood recently has taken a nosedive. His failure to properly manage the health club’s construction, his divisive words to our community, and the outright falsehoods in his liquor license application have generated considerable ill will and opposition.
But first, Lee’s assertion that it is somehow unfair for a group of neighbors to protest a liquor license is absurd. Wealthy developers and bar owners like von Storch cannot just march into any neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and open any kind of alcohol-serving establishment they want. And for good reason — the neighborhoods belong to the entire community. The liquor licensing process ensures that all voices are heard, and that all possible impacts on a neighborhood — noise, litter, parking, real estate values — are considered before a license is granted. This is basic democracy.
Now to the situation at hand: The first hints that a nightclub might be in the works for the new Vida Fitness facility came late this past winter when von Storch’s marketing campaign for his “wellness center” began in force. The signs advertising an outdoor “pool/club” on the building’s roof caught everyone’s attention. When copies of the liquor license application itself surfaced, people were aghast.
It reveals von Storch’s plan to operate a nightclub until 2 a.m. every weeknight and until 3 a.m. on weekends. What’s more, each member of his club may bring up to eight friends with them and any member at any time can hold private rooftop parties. The noise alone is sure to be intolerable.
Concerns deepened as demolition and rebuilding of the existing structure got underway in March. From the start, von Storch’s contractor has been in violation of the city-issued construction permit. Most often, the violations have consisted of working beyond the designated hours, both in the morning and the evening — sometimes on Sundays. To the people like me who have been waking up to the sound of jackhammers for the past three months, there is not a lot of appreciation for von Storch as a “community leader.” I and many others have complained repeatedly to him, the D.C. Office of Illegal Construction, the Dupont Circle ANC, and to Council member Jack Evans’ office, all to no avail. Incredibly, the night before von Storch’s woefully late June 2 meeting with neighborhood residents, his contractors were once again breaking the law and working well past 8 p.m.
Von Storch began the community meeting with a lengthy ramble about his understanding and concern for our neighborhood. One of his assurances was that we need not worry because his health club/pool/bar would only attract the kind of people who can afford to pay the more than $100 a month in dues that he is charging. To hear that sort of “people like us” argument in our culturally and economically diverse neighborhood was alienating to say the least and demonstrates his ignorance of what our neighborhood is really about. There are many people, including many families with children, who could never afford to set foot in von Storch’s club. And yet, he exhibits no remorse in his willingness to trample on our quality of life as he reaches for the most profitable establishment possible.
When von Storch was finished with his speech, I asked his attorney Andrew Kline to read from von Storch’s liquor license application. The form asks for a detailed explanation as to the effect of the proposed establishment on peace, order and quiet in the neighborhood. Von Storch’s answer: “No negative effect. The site is surrounded by business and retail establishments.”
Confronted with this blatant falsehood, von Storch tried to evade responsibility until his signature on the document was pointed out to him and he had to admit, in front of city officials, that the document is not true. Nonetheless, this is the legal instrument that has been filed with the city. Unless rejected by the ABC board, it will unfortunately become the starting point for negotiations with residents of the many condos, apartment buildings and private homes that actually do surround Vida Fitness and who will be directly impacted by von Storch’s bar, if it is approved.
For those of us who live in the 17th and U Street, neighborhood — people who have invested in the real estate, put down roots, tended community gardens, planted trees, all of the things that neighbors do to contribute to a vibrant and peaceful urban community—it is David von Storch who is the provocateur.
William Schulz is president of the Wilton Condominium Association at 1931 17th St.