The bustling commercial junction at 14th and S streets in northwest D.C., two blocks south of U Street in the amenity-laden MidCity area, is blighted by a barren vacant lot and streetscape eyesore.
It’s a jarringly unattractive and incongruous corner spot, one of the few remaining undeveloped parcels along the mid-town thoroughfare and currently used for commercial parking. Nestled amid an array of retail stores and plethora of restaurant, bar and nightlife establishments, this void is a paved pockmark.
That empty space has been an ugly sight for as long as anyone can recall and, due to zoning rules limiting development options, is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Unlikely, that is, unless the city approves a planned $3 million investment by a local small business to transform the location with a brand-new building.
Dacha Beer Garden proprietors and gay business partners Dmitri Chekaldin and Ilya Alter hope to contribute a community enterprise offering an innovative neighborhood socializing option. They have operated the popular outdoor seasonal Dacha Beer Garden in the adjacent Shaw neighborhood, at 7th and Q streets, for the past four years.
It would be one of less than a handful of new-construction dedicated-use full-service D.C. restaurant-bar structures built from the ground up during the past five decades.
The business duo’s plan for an additional venue with both indoor and outdoor space enabling year-round operation has been laboriously winding its way through the city’s convoluted liquor-licensing system for months.
Alter and Chekaldin face opposition from both an ad-hoc license protest by a small “group of five or more” and two long-notorious inter-related “civic associations” with few members and even less community support.
These objectors are pressuring the three area Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to recommend that the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board either block the business from opening or restrict operating hours and reduce guest capacity to an unsustainable level in an effort to halt the project. Because the property is located near the boundaries of two adjacent ANCs, a total of three commissions are allowed to “weigh-in” with the Board.
These so-called “citizens” groups, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association and its spawn-like cohort bred from among DCCA members forming an adjunct Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, reflexively oppose new hospitality establishments. Their shameful legacy includes waging an infamous eight-year battle against gay-owned culinary standout Hank’s Oyster Bar along Dupont’s 17th Street commercial strip.
Five years ago, both of these symbiotic naysayer gaggles pushed to impose a total moratorium on all new liquor licenses throughout the entire MidCity area of Logan, Shaw, 14th and U streets and all nearby business zones.
Overwhelming numbers of area residents, however, fought back and successfully derailed the attempted prohibition. Had the community not done so, none of the new bars and restaurants that have sprung up since 2012 would have been allowed to open.
The majority of area residents need to make their voices heard again.
On Wednesday, Dacha unveiled a revised building design and site layout that fully resolves the claimed worries of opponents regarding potential external noise. The number of outdoor seats, now within a small courtyard surrounded on three sides by both an L-shaped new building and adjacent existing business, has been reduced to only one-third of occupancy.
All other seating and service is inside an expanded interior with a 20-ft. building elevation serving as a sound barrier along an adjacent alley and the property-facing side street. There will be no DJs, live music or other performances – only low-volume background music. Dacha is also working with sound mitigation specialists to continue a perfect record of compliance with D.C. noise regulations.
Dacha this week launched an online community effort asking local supporters to “send a message” urging the ANCs and D.C. Council representatives Jack Evans and Brianne Nadeau to endorse ABC licensing for the new venue.
To support #DachaOn14th, go online to “sign and send” a message here.