August 14, 2015 at 11:38 am EST | by John Shaw
Limiting Dacha’s growth won’t hurt Shaw
nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

Dacha Beer Garden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Twice in two weeks, I read a misrepresentation of an ANC meeting that I attended from a Blade columnist. I decided to write a clarifying rebuttal of the selective, “disingenuous” memory of the two authors.

The meaning of “disingenuous” – a word used in the second article, would be: 1.) where two business owners agree to voluntarily limit occupancy to 100 (later expanded by ABRA to 126), in an arrangement brokered by an ANC member among the business and its neighbors, and then 2.) when those two owners renege on the agreement, to the point where the D.C. government has eight or nine cases pending against them for exceeding occupancy. This is the definition of “disingenuous.”

The writer dismissed these cases as “bureaucratic obstacles” — D.C. government enforcement of regulations. Just to be clear, we are talking about our D.C. government, which we love but cannot with confidence say is aggressive in the enforcement of regulations. If there are eight or nine cases against Dacha, then probably the authorized occupancy was exceeded on many more occasions. So if there was an original “disingenuous” act, the transgressor was the business. The second “disingenuous act” would be the slanted reporting of the ANC meeting by the opinion writer.

The owners of Dacha have leased the three-floor building next door, and a site-specific occupancy of 474 might be reasonable. But in equally “disingenuous” fashion, the owners (and their lawyer) did not ask for an occupancy of 474 for the three-story building, rather they asked for an undivided occupancy of 600.  It would not take a third grader’s math skills to detect the guile in not dividing the occupancy between the two very different venues. The same third grader could then deduce that the owners planned to move 500 people outside when the weather is fine (codifying the current excess-occupancy transgressions), and then move the 500 people inside when the weather is poor.

A particularly absurd claim made by one patron during the ANC meeting was that Dacha was responsible for the revitalization of 7th Street. Please! The revitalization of 7th Street was assured from the moment the dotted green line appeared on the Metro subway map. To call Dacha a “founding pillar” of Shaw’s rejuvenation is ridiculous; this has had many players. In what might be a wakeup call for Dacha and its patrons, to restrain Dacha would in no way “check economic vitality” on 7th Street.

Some of the Dacha clients stressed that the intersection of Q and 7th streets is safer now due primarily to the beer garden. No one mentioned the renovation in residential housing Shaw-wide, the removal of the complex of substandard housing across Q Street, the renovation of the abandoned storefronts across 7th Street, the modernization of Bread for the City, and the renewal of the O Street market.

The night of the ANC meeting, Dacha patrons painted a pathetic picture of their dependence on this business as a venue to socialize, like their social and psychological lives would come apart if Dacha were not to continue to grow like some cancerous form of the sitcom “Cheers.”

Much was said about the fact that the owners of Dacha were gay. Being a rowdy neighbor knows no sexual orientation. Gay people can be disagreeable neighbors just as well as meticulous gardeners who keep our front doors freshly painted green.    

Will confining (legal) growth of Dacha to the inside of its new building limit growth in Shaw? No. Will confining growth of Dacha to the inside of the new building limit the growth of the owners? No. Will profit be maximized? Maybe not. But neighborhoods do not exist for the maximization of business owners’ earnings. It’s a balance. Winner doesn’t take all; nobody takes all. With reason and moderation, there is room for single-family homes, high-rises and businesses in Shaw. With “dis-ingenuity,” greed and the sense that more and bigger is always desirable, maybe there isn’t room for all.

The highlight of the evening was when ANC Commissioners Kevin Chapel and Alex Padro spoke eloquently, that the rights of the minority (adjacent property owners) cannot be trampled by those of the majority – Dacha patrons. Is this not the basis of our society and form of governance? Patrons of a business can go home; neighbors are permanently attached at the hip.

I suggest that the patrons go back to sipping their beers in Dacha, within the legal limit of occupancy, and allow the business to claw back trust with its neighbors. Then under experienced and competent ANC commissioners, come up with a solution (divided occupancy totals, slow and thoughtful step-by-step increases in occupancy, each followed by an evaluation period, etc.).  Now that is not disingenuous.

John Shaw is a D.C. resident.

  • I suggest you move your NIMBY ass to exurban Virginia.

  • I think most folks– residents and visitors alike– are more concerned now about their public safety in Shaw. If the public safety isn’t secured, biz turf battles won’t matter much anyway.

  • This article offers a much appreciated perspective. In 2013 neighbors supported Dacha; testifying for them at the ANC and with the city to help them open. They took an enormous risk with their homes and families, trusting that Dacha’s owners would keep some very basic promises that would allow them to have a wildly profitable beer garden, with minimal up front investment, that could coexist with residents. In return, Dacha’s owners have disregarded their liquor license capacity, broken their settlement agreement, and run a social media campaign against the same people who supported them before they poured their first beer.

    I agree that Dacha being a “founding pillar” of Shaw’s rejuvenation is revisionist history. By 2013, Shaw’s economic revitalization was no secret. Billions of dollars had flowed into the neighborhood, hundreds of millions in the surrounding blocks, and millions by individual families directly impacted by Dacha. Dacha might have been a shingle on the roof, but the foundation had already been laid by others who invested more up front, took greater risk and have been much better neighbors.

    Lets keep the situation in perspective; no one is trying to take away anything that Dacha already has. No one even objects to the expansion into the indoor space. Neighbors are not pushing to break our agreement with Dacha. Dacha is pushing to break their commitments with a major expansion of outdoor space and capacity that they do not *need*, and promised they would never do.

  • 1) I don’t think separating the license is an option, legally. One venue, one capacity, with no distinction of inside or out.
    2) As a neighbor within a few hundred feet, I would argue that Dacha – with its outside presence – is the single greatest factor in why I no longer feel it necessary to escort guests to the nearby Metro after dark. O Street Market gets the credit, but that design essentially abandoned 7th Street. Dacha picked up that urban-planning slack.

    • 1) They could do it with a settlement agreement. The greater questions is, what does the licensed capacity or a new settlement agreement mean, when Dacha willfully ignores both? There’s no objective excuse for that.

      2) I would argue that is way off base, without even looking an entire block away to O Street Market. If Kelsey Gardens was still a haven of drugs and violence right across the street (or was still the boarded up shell of KG), the block would be drastically different and Dacha would not exist. If the house directly next to Dacha was still a full-blown crack house – one of the biggest problem houses in all of Shaw – Dacha’s patrons would not feel the least bit comfortable locking their bikes up. If the guys that hung out on the other side of the block dealing, because there were 3 abandoned buildings there with no real witnesses and little police-calling foot traffic, you’d still be walking your neighbors to the metro. If Lincoln Westmoreland II was not converting to “Heritage at Shaw Station”, your friends would see a lot more police lineups when you got them to the Metro (this was a regular scene just a few years ago).

      No one business has been a panacea to the neighborhood’s problems; we are indeed amid a crime wave right now. However by 2013, Jefferson Apartments was rising out of the ground, the crack house had been immaculately rehabilitated by a family along with all 3 of the abandoned properties that made the block an untenable place for drug dealers. Half of the properties on the surrounding blocks have turned over, and half of those had major renovations. Those are the investments that paved the way for a business like Dacha to be tenable. Not the other way around.

      Pouring gravel on a parking lot, with a trailer and portapotties, several years into a multi-billion dollar overhaul of a neighborhood that was receiving national coverage for its revitalization, is not picking up the urban-planning slack. It also has nothing to do with Dacha adhering to their liquor license or settlement agreement.

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