Georgetown Current

Georgetown May Soon Get Electronic Bus Arrival Signs

April 10, 2013

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

The Georgetown Business Improvement District hopes to install small electronic screens in store windows near bus stops that will display projected bus arrival times and other transit-related information.

There is no specific proposal yet, but the business group’s newly hired transportation director, Jonathon Kass, has been working with a contractor and local businesses toward installing the screens — possibly iPads or computer monitors. The organization is prepared to spend several thousand dollars on the program, Kass said in an interview.

“We want to do everything we can to make it as accessible as possible for people trying to get to here, from here, around here,” said Kass. “It’s very valuable for the customer experience with a relatively cheap investment.”

Studies have shown that knowing how soon a bus will arrive makes riders feel they’ve waited for 30 percent less time, according to Kass, and it also allows customers to maximize the time they spend shopping or dining instead of standing on the side of the street.

Furthermore, he said, bus riders will all be looking into the front window of a business with a transit display screen — a handy subtle advertisement for the store’s wares.

As with anything in Georgetown that’s visible from the street, the display screens would require rigorous design review to ensure compatibility with the federally protected historic district. And electronic signage typically faces vehement opposition.

For these display screens, though, the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission voted last week to say that it won’t rule out making an exception for small electronic boards displaying projected bus times. The commission’s resolution will go to the D.C. Department of Transportation as part of the agency’s review of citywide signage policy.

Without the resolution, the Transportation Department could have instituted a broad signage policy that poses problems for Georgetown’s specific preservation needs, commission chair Ron Lewis said. Though commissioners expressed measured optimism that some sign schemes could meet the community’s standards, they voted to request that the bus signs be prohibited pending review of specific designs and locations.

“Certainly we want to promote bus usage and generally overall improve the transportation services that we have in Georgetown,” commissioner Tom Birch said. “And because this is electronic signage that has no relationship to a commercial establishment, I think it falls very much as an asterisk to the comments we submitted about signage overall in historic Georgetown.”

While most commissioners supported the concept, Bill Starrels said he was “skeptical at best,” especially considering that bus-arrival information can sometimes be sketchy. “I don’t see how they could do it appearance-wise, I don’t think it’s accurate, I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.

Starrels ultimately joined his colleagues in supporting the resolution, while emphasizing that it should not be read as blanket support for electronic signs. “I just want to make sure if we did this, we’d have some control about where it would go,” he said.

Because Georgetown is a rare federally protected historic district, the Old Georgetown Board — part of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts — reviews any proposal in the neighborhood that’s visible from public space, regardless of the District’s policies.

Thomas Luebke, secretary to the Fine Arts Commission, said in an interview that he’d need to see an actual proposal to comment in detail, but that he’s not opposed to the idea on principle. “It’s something that could reasonably be accommodated in a way that is not harmful in the historic district,” Luebke said.

Kass, of the business group, said he’s confident the technology could be implemented “very tastefully.” Small screens will be appropriate because Georgetown has narrow sidewalks, keeping pedestrians close to business’s windows, he added.

Neighborhood commissioner Birch said residents of present-day Georgetown are accustomed to seeing modern technology blended in with the historic features of the neighborhood. Electronic bus signs, he said, will likely be no different. “After a while it’s like a pay phone — it’s there,” he said.

 

This article appears in the April 10 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Proposed 7-Eleven Store Sparks Dissent

April 3, 2013

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A new 7-Eleven convenience store is planned for 1344 Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown, with a targeted opening date of August 2013. But after a frosty reception at the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission’s meeting Monday night, the company is working to amend its plans for the building’s exterior.

The location at Wisconsin and O Street, the second 7-Eleven in Georgetown, is part of the company’s nationwide push to increase its presence, spokesperson Margaret Chabris said in an interview. “The D.C. area is one of our growth areas, so we are actively looking for locations and to work with landlords and brokers and developers for good sites that would work well for us,” she said.

7-Eleven has been looking at the long-vacant 1344 Wisconsin site since January 2012, according to Chabris, as the company hopes to draw from the avenue’s foot traffic. It will have 1,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space, with office and storage space on the second floor, she said.

Chabris, and representatives at Monday’s meeting, said the company is working to fit with Georgetown’s historic character and to restore a deteriorated building.

But commissioners and neighboring business owners still aren’t fans. Though the design is more restrained than the typical 7-Eleven, they said it still doesn’t match nearby buildings; they took issue with its proposed multicolored signage, blade sign, masked windows, metal front door, and overly visible mechanical equipment.

Comments were biting at times, particularly from Robert Bell, whose O Street architecture firm is near the planned 7-Eleven. Non-transparent windows give the building “a bombed-out look,” he said, and the signage “looks like a 1952 Texaco sign or something.” Commissioner Bill Starrels added that aspects seem “trashy.”

Chabris said the company “got some good suggestions, so the team has gone back to work on the proposed project a little bit more to incorporate some of those suggestions.”

The project is scheduled to go before the Old Georgetown Board Thursday.

The neighborhood commission and Old Georgetown Board will only review design issues with the plan.

But Bell’s concerns — which he said are shared by five commercial neighbors — go further. A 7-Eleven, he said, just isn’t the sort of business that adds to Georgetown.

“This is the first time I ever thought of a building better as vacant than with this tenant,” said Bell. “The kind of dollar store, Big Gulp people this is going to bring in are going to do nothing for this block we’ve worked so hard on. … I think it’s a disaster.”

An article posted yesterday on the Georgetown Patch website quoted some residents saying they wanted a grocer at the corner. In her interview with The Current, Chabris said 7-Eleven fills that need.

“Someone who was quoted, I don’t think they’ve been in one of our stores lately,” she said. “We do have fresh foods — we have fresh fruit delivered every single day.”

7-Eleven stores normally cater to customers already in the neighborhood, she added. “Typically we draw from the existing traffic right there,” said Chabris. “Our trade area is usually about a half a mile, so it’s people who are already working, shopping, living in that area.”

A 7-Eleven store at 1600 Wisconsin Ave. closed several years ago and was eventually replaced by Edible Arrangements.

 

This article appears in the April 3 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Fillmore Backers Decry Impact of Budget Cuts

March 27, 2013

By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer

The D.C. Public School system’s proposed budget for Fillmore Arts Center includes cuts so significant that some fear the multi-school arts program won’t be viable next year.

For the 2013-14 school year, Fillmore is projected to provide arts education for approximately 3,000 pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade students from eight different schools. That’s the same number of students the program served in 2011-12 — but the proposed budget would reduce its funding by more than $300,000 from that year. The program’s total budget for the 2014 fiscal year would be $1,063,370.

The cuts would be “devastating,” according to Friends of Fillmore, a volunteer group that functions like a PTA for the arts school. The center could be forced to replace four of its five full-time teachers with part-time hourly employees, and stakeholders fear the school would be stripped of its renowned high-quality programming.

The change would leave Fillmore with “no hope of viability,” according to an online petition the friends group launched last week on change.org.

D.C. Public Schools spokesperson Melissa Salmanowitz said in an interview that “DCPS expects to have more information about Fillmore’s budget next week, after the mayor releases his budget.” She noted three fewer schools will attend Fillmore next year, which impacted its initial budget allocation.

But Friends of Fillmore treasurer Peter Eisler argues that it’s not the number of schools participating that should impact the budget, but rather the number of students who attend.

Fillmore currently provides music, visual arts, drama and dance programs to Stoddert, Key, Ross, Marie Reed, Hyde-Addison, Garrison and Houston elementary schools and Raymond Education Campus at two locations: Fillmore West, co-located at Hardy Middle School in Georgetown, and Fillmore East, co-located at Raymond Education Campus in Petworth. Another three schools — Burrville, Drew and Ludlow-Taylor — host classes taught by Fillmore instructors.

Garrison, Houston, Burrville and Drew were not on Eisler’s list of next year’s schools; Nalle Elementary will be a new participant.

Fillmore’s resources include a black box theater, a kiln, musical instruments and a computer lab for digital art projects. The program began in 1974 at a facility adjacent to the current Georgetown site, when school system officials determined that offering arts education in a central location could provide a stronger curriculum than the neighborhood schools could offer on their own. It was also a way to bolster public support for neighborhood schools that were experiencing reduced enrollment; the original Fillmore site on 35th Street had previously been a neighborhood elementary school.

Friends of Fillmore launched its online petition late last week, asking community members to urge D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to restore the program’s funding to the 2011-12 level. The group also states that Fillmore has been consistently defunded over the past four years, saying that budget has decreased more than 40 percent during that time based on per-pupil funding allocations. The petition had 724 signatures as of the Current’s deadline yesterday.

This year’s cuts to arts and music education at the eight schools come at a curious time: When Henderson announced her citywide school closure and consolidation plan last November, she that said by shuttering 20 schools (reduced in January to 15) the school system would be able to fund more programming, including arts and music, at those that remained open.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” said Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans. “The school system has plenty of money — it has more money than any school system in America. … It has everything it had last year plus a 2 percent [annual] increase, and they closed a bunch of schools, so what are they spending their money on?”

“It’s surprising to say the least that they would cut any school, anywhere in the city,” Evans added. “It just sinks the confidence of the parents in the system when they do things like this.”

Evans said he would work to restore funding to Fillmore, and he noted that at-large Council member David Catania, who chairs the education committee, needs to figure out what’s going on. Catania’s office didn’t respond to The Current’s request for comment.
Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh also voiced support for Fillmore, saying the decision to cut the program’s budget is “worrisome” and seems to “run counter to what [Henderson] said about providing enrichment through arts programming.”

Fillmore’s community members are also puzzled by the budget cuts.

“What we’ve seen with Fillmore’s budget over the past several years absolutely flies in the face of what we’re hearing from DCPS about its commitment to arts education,” said Eisler of the friends group. “Fillmore’s per-pupil funding has been cut steadily and dramatically in each of the past four years, and the cut that they’re proposing for next year is the biggest one yet.”

“Individual schools aren’t able to provide the kind of service and programming Fillmore offers,” Eisler added. “Fillmore can operate on the budget provided, but we fear that we’re going to lose some of our best and most experienced teachers, and there’s no way that we can run the same program that we ran two years ago for this number of children for $312,000 less.”

This article appears in the March 27 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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