Georgetown Current

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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37th and Tunlaw Work to Kick Off Soon

March 20, 2013

By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer

Construction to reconfigure the problematic 37th Street and Tunlaw Road intersection is expected to start by March 28, likely generating short-term traffic problems on the way to its long-term goal of increased safety and traffic calming.

Calls for changes to the distinctive X-shaped intersection intensified recently when drivers avoiding Wisconsin Avenue increasingly cut through Glover Park’s north-south side streets. The D.C. Department of Transportation’s redesign aims to improve vehicular and pedestrian safety by slowing traffic at the intersection.

Construction work will take about four weeks, and during two, northbound traffic on 37th Street will be diverted to Wisconsin Avenue at Whitehaven Parkway, Paul Hoffman of the Transportation Department said at last week’s Glover Park-Cathedral Heights advisory neighborhood commission meeting.

The D1 and D2 bus routes will also be impacted, and signs directing riders to temporary bus stops will be posted at 37th Street stops ahead of the change.

“There will be long delays coming up 37th Street while the work is happening,” Hoffman told attendees at Thursday’s commission meeting. “We’ll watch it and will provide [traffic control officers] to help with traffic during construction.”

While a firm start date is not yet confirmed, Hoffman said his department would notify the public and other government agencies at least a week in advance of any construction, and would do the same for any traffic detours. Changeable message signs will be installed near the intersection to keep drivers updated.

Hoffman noted the team would try to begin construction work as early as possible in the day, perhaps by 8 a.m., in order to complete the project more quickly.

The intersection has been a longtime safety problem for drivers and pedestrians in Glover Park. Spillover traffic from the Wisconsin Avenue streetscape project only exacerbated congestion at 37th and Tunlaw as drivers cut through the neighborhood to avoid construction delays on the commercial corridor. Complaints from residents and a push from advisory neighborhood commissioners prompted the Transportation Department to commit in August to reconfiguring the intersection.

The redesign will create two new intersections instead of one, forming an elongated K-shape in an effort to improve the problematic crisscross. Two concrete islands will be removed, while four new stop signs and two extended curb lines along the east side of Tunlaw will be installed to slow traffic as it enters the intersection.

The roads will then be resurfaced and new high-visibility crosswalks will be added, along with two left-turn-only lanes on Tunlaw and 37th.

The Wisconsin Avenue project separately made news earlier this month when two D.C. Council members, Ward 2’s Jack Evans and Ward 3’s Mary Cheh, attended the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission meeting to discuss complaints about traffic headaches that arose from the new lane configuration on Wisconsin, particularly northbound from R Street to the Washington National Cathedral. The redesigned lanes were intended to calm traffic and make the corridor safer for pedestrians, but planners did not anticipate such congestion.

“Wisconsin Avenue is not performing like we thought it would,” said Hoffman. “It’s taking two minutes longer to travel northbound than we anticipated. We understand it’s a problem, and we’re working to fix it.”

Glover Park commissioner Jackie Blumenthal, who also attended the Georgetown meeting, said that for the most part, Glover Park residents aren’t the ones complaining. People who live to the north and south — in Georgetown in particular — have raised the most objections, she said.

“We’re willing to wait until after the intersection at 37th and Tunlaw is finished to see how it turns out,” Blumenthal said. “DDOT has been responsive to our concerns and is fixing things that can be fixed, and I’m hopeful the traffic issues will be ironed out with safety as the priority.”

Blumenthal also said her neighborhood commission brings to Hoffman’s attention every complaint or concern it hears from residents.

While northbound traffic on Wisconsin has been a problem, southbound travel has not.

“I hope the reason southbound traffic is not a problem is not because people are instead cutting through on 37th and Tunlaw,” said J.P. Montalvan, who co-founded the neighborhood group “Glover Park Residents for Pedestrian Safety” soon after the spillover traffic increased last summer.

By slowing traffic, the redesign of the 37th and Tunlaw intersection is intended to influence shortcut-seekers to stay on Wisconsin Avenue instead. If the Wisconsin lanes are reconfigured again to ease northbound congestion, stakeholders want to make sure the southbound lanes don’t feel the impact and push more drivers onto the residential streets.

Commissioner Brian Cohen suggested that the Transportation Department consider changing rush-hour parking restrictions on Wisconsin to free up an extra travel lane.

“The peak traffic hours and restricted parking hours date from 20 to 30 years ago,” Cohen said at the meeting. “Now we have schools getting out at 3:15 or 4 p.m., and they create their own unique traffic challenges.”

Cheh, who chairs the council committee with oversight of the Transportation Department, will host a public roundtable discussion on the Wisconsin Avenue project May 1 at the John A. Wilson Building.

The 37th and Tunlaw intersection project is one of the last elements of the Wisconsin Avenue streetscape project, which started last spring and which Hoffman says is now 86 percent complete. Besides that intersection and the traffic tweaks needed for northbound Wisconsin, the remaining work includes replacing streetlight bulbs that proved too bright, fine-tuning the timing of traffic signals and improving pedestrian features.

 

This article appears in the March 20 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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