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.