Georgetown Current

Max’s Ice Cream Gets Summer Reprieve

July 3, 2013

By Alix Pianin
Current Staff Writer

After an outpouring of community support, the 20-year-old Max’s Best Ice Cream will be allowed to remain operating in its current Glover Park location through Oct. 31 — before permanently clearing out.

A legal agreement reached by shop owner Mahmood “Max” Keshani and landlords Gail and Barbara Bassin will allow Keshani to continue running the shop through the fall, according to a statement released Saturday by the Bassins’ attorney, Glenn Bonard.

“Max and Gail and Barbara Bassin, the owners of the property, have agreed that this represents a fair and reasonable outcome for all involved,” Bonard wrote in the statement. “It gives Max and the community the benefit of having Max’s Best Ice Cream in Glover Park for the entire 2013 summer and part of the fall.”

The statement had been signed by all involved parties, Bonard added.

Earlier this summer, the Bassins had informed Keshani that his lease would be terminated at the end of June, at which point the sisters would be establishing a new long-term lease with neighboring Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Co., whose property they also own. The new lease will allow Rocklands owner John Snedden to expand.

Max’s, located at 2416 Wisconsin Ave., has been a go-to for Glover Park ice cream fans for the past two decades. Last month, an online open letter at change.org asking the Bassins to reconsider garnered more than 500 signatures, and a “Save Max’s” Facebook page has more than 860 “likes.” The Glover Park Citizens Association also sent a letter asking the Bassins to reverse course.

In May, Snedden said that Rocklands had become a target for harassment, and filed a police report after two inflamed incidents inside.

Snedden said many of the neighborhood complaints have died down since the landlords released a statement of their intentions for the properties. “It seemed like people calmed down after that, and were more considerate,” he said. “We certainly had people who would like to have seen a different outcome reached, but other people just in passing, walking on the street have offered words of encouragement.”

Snedden also noted that the space will be used by an already well-loved local restaurant, and not interlopers from an unknown restaurant group or national franchise.

When reached by The Current this week, Keshani declined to issue a formal statement for both “personal and legal reasons,” but described the situation as “twisted.”

Still, Keshani had nothing but glowing remarks for his devotees in the neighborhood. “Everything I could do over the past 20 years, I did. … I’m grateful for the people who have been supporting me all along,” he said. “They know I’ve been robbed.”

Keshani accepted the property owners’ Oct. 31 compromise on the advice for his daughter Neda, who has taken on a management role at the store, according to Joe Fiorillo, a longtime Max’s customer who has been following Keshani’s travails.

Fiorillo, who is also a Glover Park advisory neighborhood commissioner but has followed the issue as a private citizen, said Keshani is “really taking [the closing] rough.”

Fiorillo said Neda plans to take inventory of the kitchen equipment currently in Keshani’s shop to determine what pieces of machinery — some of which has a value running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars — belong to the building itself, and which belong to Keshani. According to Fiorillo, the family hopes to either work out an agreement to leave behind the equipment for Rocklands for a price, sell it elsewhere or store it.

Snedden has been operating Rocklands for more than 20 years, and has long expressed a desire to expand table and chair space, as well as to add food runners — effectively making Rocklands a sit-down restaurant. The planned expansion will also allow Rocklands to install bathrooms in the restaurant, and provide more space for its growing baked-goods offerings.

“There’s no right and there’s no wrong here. It’s just two guys who each had a business, but never had a personal relationship,” Fiorillo said of Snedden and Keshani.

He also dismissed some residents’ suggestions that Snedden had secured the lease in a way that was not aboveboard.

“[Snedden is] a squeaky clean guy. He supports the community, and he’s very enterprising. It just came at a bad time for Max,” said Fiorillo.

Community members have been trying to offer alternate suggestions for Keshani to possibly set up shop elsewhere on Wisconsin Avenue, but Keshani has been reluctant to entertain moving his ice cream store.

A source close to Keshani who declined to be identified said that “you can’t really address moving with Max, you can’t look for another space. He doesn’t want to hear that.”

Snedden said he hasn’t yet had access to Max’s store but anticipates being able to check it out within the next couple of months.

Renovations for Rocklands’ expansion will begin after Oct. 31, he said, and he anticipates finishing construction by early December.

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


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Group Seeks OK for Halcyon House Use

June 26, 2013

By Elizabeth Wiener
Current Staff Writer

The S&R Foundation, now delighting visitors with its intimate concerts and recitals at the historic Evermay estate, has laid out very different plans for the more recently purchased Halcyon House on Prospect Street in Georgetown.

In a new zoning application, the foundation says it wants to make Halcyon House the headquarters for its other major effort: research and collaboration on avoiding and managing catastrophes and natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan two years ago.

The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment will hear the case for nonprofit use of the storied brick mansion on Sept. 10, when the foundation will discuss its planned measures to prevent an objectionable impact on the community.  The application is also on the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission’s July 1 agenda.

Dr. Sachiko Kuno and Dr. Ryuji Ueno purchased the Evermay estate in July 2011 for $22 million and the Halcyon House a few months later for $11 million. Since then, the Kunos — who made their fortune with Bethesda-based Sucampo Pharmaceuticals — have emphasized their efforts to be good neighbors as they put the two historic houses to charitable use.

At Evermay, dedicated mostly to the foundation’s arts and cultural interests, they promised to limit the number of events and attendees, with valet parking to ease long-standing traffic and parking concerns. Now at Halcyon, although the uses are different, they promise the same sort of limits to reduce the impact on neighbors, according to the zoning application.

The document notes, discreetly, that previous owners of the two houses used them for many events — some profit-making, and “without zoning approval” — that upset nearby residents. Now Halcyon, like Evermay, will hold limited events, but under conditions spelled out in a zoning order.

“Unlike past events, number, attendees, hours and days of events will be limited by conditions of BZA approval,” the application says.

Most meetings, lectures and other events at Halcyon will include fewer than 50 people, and “often under 25,” it says.

“We don’t do weddings,” said Kate Goodall, spokesperson for the S&R Foundation. “My least favorite part of this job is saying ‘no’ to brides.”

Goodall said the Kunos are “very conscientious stewards” of the two historic properties.

The city’s zoning code allows historic homes with gross floor area of more than 10,000 square feet to be converted to nonprofit use, a provision crafted largely to encourage preservation of large estates that most private owners would find too expensive to buy and too hard to maintain. Both Evermay and Halcyon House fit that definition.

The application explains why Halcyon House is “well suited” for its new purpose: headquarters for the foundation’s International Institute of Global Reliance, a think tank dedicated to improving response to and management of natural disasters and other global catastrophes. It will also house an S&R program called “Illuminate,” which encourages “passionate, forward thinkers” to develop and share innovative ideas in the arts, sciences and international relations.

The latter is “akin to an incubator,” according to the application, and will provide “a limited number of emerging entrepreneurs a base of operations for up to six months, to live, work and collaborate.”

Both programs will host meetings, seminars, lectures and retreats, as well as limited fundraising events “to support their mission.” The house will serve as “a gathering place for international experts, scholars, scientists, entrepreneurs, and innovators,” some needing temporary lodging.  

The 1787 Federal-style house has undergone numerous additions and alterations, and it offers “a vast array of room types, sizes, shapes, and configurations,” offering “multiple settings” for various types of gatherings. The foundation envisions no additions to the house or changes to its exterior.

The property now includes the historic main house, attached apartment units and an adjacent town house, all on one lot, totaling 26,000 square feet. The house also offers a library on the fourth floor and studio beneath, added by a previous owner. And since Halcyon was once used as a dormitory by Georgetown University, portions are already divided into compact guest rooms.

As to impact, the foundation envisions various activities throughout the year, but most with only 10 to 20 attendees. Because the programs are “internationally based,” some participants will stay at Halcyon but very few are expected to bring private cars. There are 15 parking spaces on site, more than will be needed by the nine employees expected to work there.

The foundation is also promising a traffic study before the zoning hearing, coupled with a pledge to follow its recommendations. There are already plans to direct drivers to off-site parking lots with a shuttle service for the few events with more than 50 attendees.

The zoning application does state that the Halcyon House is “an ideal venue for corporations sharing the foundation’s goals to host corporate events, meetings and retreats.” But the number of attendees will be restricted, and — as with all events — “attendees would arrive and depart outside peak traffic hours, and under conditions that do not impact surrounding residents,” the application says.

This article appears in the June 26 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Georgetown BID Undertakes ‘2028’ Planning

June 19, 2013

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Where does Georgetown want to be in 15 years?

As the community faces increased competition from new, transit-friendly hotspots around the city, the Georgetown Business Improvement District is seeking ideas to boost the neighborhood’s appeal to visitors and make it easier for them to get there.

The “Georgetown 2028” planning process, which drew about 70 people to its first public meeting on Thursday, is relying on crowd-sourced suggestions as well as pitches from the business group itself. A community task force, managed by the BID, will study the ideas and feedback in order to issue draft recommendations in September, followed by a final report in November, according to Joe Sternlieb, the business group’s CEO.

The process has already generated a wide variety of ideas, including improving transit connections, widening sidewalks, lifting the moratorium on liquor licenses and adding amenities to the C&O Canal. But in an interview, Sternlieb said the BID is not prepared to endorse any of the ideas yet, and that the task force will likely weed out many based on practical objections or community opposition.

“We’re not trying to sell people on ideas,” said Sternlieb. “We’re trying to float lots of things and see what rises to the top.”

Transportation issues have been the most widely discussed so far, he said, because without a Metro station or obvious bounty of parking, Georgetown is too often seen as an inconvenient destination. Popular ideas have included pushing for a Metro station and streetcar service — with the latter ideally reaching to Georgetown University. Also under discussion are a gondola connecting to Rosslyn — modeled after a similar service in Portland, Ore. — and a pedestrian bridge or water taxi to Roosevelt Island.

To improve the pedestrian experience and safety, some participants in Georgetown 2028 have called for reducing parking on M Street to accommodate wider sidewalks, and for instituting “Barnes Dance” traffic signaling at M Street and Wisconsin Avenue that would stop all car traffic at times to give pedestrians free reign at the intersection.

Other transportation proposals have included higher-priced on-street parking and construction of a new parking garage.

But it’s not enough to make it easy to get to and around Georgetown — the neighborhood also needs amenities to encourage visitors to come in the first place, according to participants in the planning process. Sternlieb said he was particularly enthusiastic about suggestions to boost the appeal of the C&O Canal as a destination by improving signage and adding walking tours. Other suggestions have also included replacing the historic canal boat — presently out of commission — and allowing canoeing and kayaking within the canal.

Besides soliciting feedback on the ideas, the business group must also weigh practical measures, said Sternlieb. “People might come up with stuff that they really love and want us to work on — and it costs $3 billion,” he said.

Many initiatives will involve the BID lobbying for a particular change or new program, or facilitating another group’s efforts to implement it, he said. Smaller steps, such as efforts to make it easier for visitors to find parking, and real-time bus arrival displays, can be handled by the BID on its own in the near future, Sternlieb said.

Ron Lewis, who chairs the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission and attended the Thursday meeting, said he hopes the process will lead to long-term improvements for Georgetown.

“It has that potential, but it’s too early to say,” said Lewis. “Certainly some of the low-hanging fruit can be dealt with in the short term — good ideas that are just waiting to be articulated and set forward. Others will take more careful study. I think overall some good things can come of it.”

The BID will accept new proposals as well as feedback on existing ideas at the project website, plan.georgetown2028.com.

Current staff contributed to this report.

This article appears in the June 19 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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