By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer
Georgetown and Burleith residents offered various suggestions for improving the area’s parking situation last week, including “performance parking” in commercial areas, charges to visitor parking on residential streets, and a designated parking zone for neighborhood residents.
While opinions varied at the D.C. Department of Transportation meeting Wednesday, one sentiment rang clear: “Do no harm.” Residents, for example, don’t want to see changes that could benefit parking in commercial zones like Wisconsin Avenue or M Street unintentionally make parking more difficult on the streets where they live.
The Transportation Department convened the meeting as it seeks to address the parking shortages that have become a common complaint in the neighborhood. As it looks into new solutions, the agency is asking residents what works and what doesn’t work for parking now. Officials stressed that the future programs don’t have to be permanent, but can adapt to the neighborhood’s needs.
“We are nimble when it comes to implementation,” said the Transportation Department’s Damon Harvey at the meeting. “If we make a change and it doesn’t work, we will change things again to make sure our stakeholders are happy.”
A working group made up of representatives from the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, the Georgetown Business Improvement District and the citizens associations of Burleith and Georgetown has been meeting with the Transportation Department for several months to discuss parking, and the groups joined to host Wednesday’s meeting.
“Our objective is to make on-street parking better,” said the Transportation Department’s “parking czar” Angelo Rao, emphasizing that the agency isn’t looking for a one-size-fits-all solution. “To satisfy this goal, we need you to be our partners and give us your feedback so we can provide the best service.”
A number of business owners and residents embraced the concept of performance parking in commercial areas. The idea is to encourage turnover in places like M Street and Wisconsin Avenue by implementing variable parking rates, charging the highest prices when the spaces are most in demand. Proceeds from performance parking are directed back to the community — a popular advantage of this program. Similar systems are already in place in Columbia Heights and near Nationals Park.
“Turnover is an important issue for everyone in Georgetown — it propels the whole process,” neighborhood commissioner Tom Birch said at the meeting. “Whatever happens in Georgetown, it must be a system that is fair and equitable.”
Rao asked residents what they thought about charging visitors to park on residential streets, either through installing meters or a pay-by-cellphone system that would require installing new street signs. While a few said they were open to that idea, most opposed it.
“We need to dispel the myth that it’s difficult to find parking in Georgetown,” said Birch. “If you ask people to pay to park on residential streets, you will make that worse.” Exacerbating Georgetown’s reputation as a parking nightmare, Birch said, could result in contractors, friends of residents, and consumers choosing not to come to the neighborhood.
Some proposed restricting residential parking only to those who live in Georgetown and Burleith, rather than allowing anyone who lives in Ward 2 to park in the often-crowded areas. But others didn’t like that idea, saying that for public transportation-starved neighborhoods like theirs, it’s important to have options to park elsewhere in the ward, like near the Dupont Circle or Foggy Bottom Metro stations.
Other ideas that had some consensus included reducing the residential parking permit restrictions by one hour, from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m., which would make visitor parking easier for those attending dinner parties or other evening events.
Another popular idea — a plan for shared parking — would identify commercial parking lots or garages in the area that empty after business hours and could be used by visitors to local restaurants at night or to faith-based institutions on weekends.
Still, some residents made it known that they have no problems parking now, and they don’t want anything to change. Instead, they want to see more enforcement of existing parking restrictions.
Representatives from the Transportation Department said the city’s parking enforcement budget has shrunk in recent years, reducing the number of officers on the street. Residents suggested that the neighborhoods’ citizens associations and business improvement district could raise funds for a parking enforcement officer exclusively for Georgetown.
Though debate was vigorous at the meeting, at its conclusion neighborhood commissioner Ron Lewis, who is also member of the parking working group, called the range of ideas “very useful.”
“We’re trying to do the best for the community,” he said.
“This is a pilot, so it’s a flexible, adaptable program — we don’t have to feel like we’re making a right decision or wrong decision when we make changes,” added neighborhood commissioner Ed Solomon. “We can try something and see what works — and if doesn’t work, we can always come back and change it.”
Over the next three to four months the agency will synthesize the ideas from the meeting and come back to the community to discuss which proposals are feasible. For more information or to provide feedback, email email@example.com.
This article appears in the Jan. 23 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Elizabeth Wiener
Current Staff Writer
A hastily drawn agreement between Pinstripes Bowling and residents of Georgetown Park Condominiums cleared the way yesterday for zoning approval of a 12-lane bowling alley and bocce ball courts at the redeveloping Shops at Georgetown Park mall.
The Board of Zoning Adjustment unanimously endorsed the plan after viewing a detailed — and legally binding — set of operating conditions for the bowling alley and its various eating and drinking facilities. The agreement was being finalized right as the zoning hearing began.
The upscale bowling alley, complete with bars, an Italian bistro and upstairs banquet facility, is a key part of Vornado Realty Trust’s effort to transform the underused mall at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street into a more attractive shopping and entertainment destination.
Pinstripes, which already has four venues in the Midwest, envisions using 28,000 square feet of space on two levels of Georgetown Park, sandwiched between a parking garage below and condos above, for its first East Coast location. Dale Schwartz, Pinstripes’ founder and chief executive officer, said the concept “redefines entertainment and dining,” and said more than 80 percent of the business is “beverage and dining,” with bowling only offered as one option.
“Bowling alleys historically attracted the Harley-Davidson crowd,” he told the board. “That’s clearly not what we do.”
But the plan initially ran into significant resistance from the condominium association, which feared a bowling alley would create disturbing levels of noise and vibration. Already frayed by the noise of construction elsewhere in the mall, the condo owners united in opposition to a venue they feared might make the disruption permanent.
Their opposition swayed the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission to vote unanimously on Jan. 2 to oppose Pinstripe’s zoning application. Normally, that would merit “great weight” in the zoning board’s deliberations, but the commission also indicated it would withdraw its opposition if Pinstripes and the condo owners reached a mutually acceptable operating agreement.
There was a bit of drama inside and outside the hearing room Tuesday as Pinstripes attorney Allison Prince and condo association attorney Marty Sullivan scrambled to finish the long agreement — and an attached set of conditions — before the zoning board could act.
“We’re very close to agreement, 98 percent there,” said Sullivan as the day opened. When the case was called about an hour later, Prince said: “We have crossed that 2 percent threshold.”
Sullivan told the zoning board that his clients had formally withdrawn their opposition. And with the agreement in hand, board chair Lloyd Jordan noted, “the ANC moves to the support column.”
Among the agreement’s conditions, Pinstripes is pledging to:
• allow the condo association’s own sound engineer complete access during construction, to make sure all soundproofing specifications are met.
• limit the number of people who can use outdoor patios on both levels, and end outdoor operations at 10 p.m. on weekends and 9 p.m. on weekdays. None of the facilities, indoors or out, would open before 8 a.m.
• put screening around the patios to protect “the privacy of neighbors” on both sides of the C&O Canal, which flanks Georgetown Park. Movable walls will be used to prevent noise from escaping whenever amplified music is used inside.
In addition, as Prince pointed out, the entire operation will be bound by D.C. code requiring any establishment serving alcohol in Georgetown’s waterfront zone to limit noise escaping its doors to essentially “the level of the human voice.”
And even though only the bowling alley requires zoning approval, Prince said the agreement covers much more. “We took a global approach with conditions that address the totality.”
Even so, board members had some doubts about the noise controls, and whether they would work at Georgetown Park. Despite a lengthy report by Pinstripes’ sound engineer, Jordan noted, “I don’t see any actual readings from this facility.”
But members seemed reassured when Vornado official Scott Milsom described the 12-inch concrete slab between the bowling alley and floor above, and another thick slab between the banquet level and condos. “Any vibration and noise will be completely eliminated,” Schwartz said. “The goal is this is essentially inaudible in the residential space,” his sound engineer said.
After the board granted approval, Schwartz said Pinstripes hopes to begin construction in the next few months, and to open by the end of 2013.
This article appears in the Jan. 16 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer
Plans to bring an upscale bowling alley to the Shops at Georgetown Park mall are facing opposition from neighbors concerned about noise.
The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission voted unanimously on Jan. 2 to oppose an application for a zoning exception that would allow the bowling alley project to proceed. Commissioners said they might reverse that decision, however, if bowling company Pinstripes can reach an “enforceable agreement” with condo owners who live above the mall.
The proposed 12-lane bowling alley would include an Italian restaurant on one level with bowling lanes and bocce ball courts underneath, using 28,000 square feet of the mall. The residential units are located directly above the planned restaurant and a banquet hall space.
Because bowling is not a “matter-of-right” use for the commercial property at 3222 M St., Pinstripes needs a special exception from the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment to open at the mall. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 15.
Georgetown Park Condominiums owners showed up in droves at last week’s neighborhood commission meeting to object to the project, voicing concerns that sound and vibrations from the bowling alley would travel up to their units. Residents said their nerves are already frayed from excessive noise due to the mall’s construction project that has so far lasted eight months.
Condo owner Diane Miller said at the meeting that she has lived with “deafening noise” from the construction, hearing “every hammer strike all day long.” She called mall owner Vornado Realty Trust “a horrible community partner” in the project.
The building’s steel-beam structure causes noise to resonate inside the residential units no matter how far away the construction work is, Miller said — which gives her every reason to believe that sound and vibrations from the bowling alley would be equally disruptive.
Pinstripes founder and chief executive officer Dale Schwartz said at the meeting that the Chicago-based company would use advanced engineering practices to “attenuate and eliminate all bowling noise,” and said that the company has had no complaints from neighbors of its four Midwest locations.
But the condo owners weren’t convinced. Miller told Schwartz she wouldn’t back the project “unless you can give me a 100 percent guarantee that I won’t hear noise from bowling” — adding that no sound engineer or business owner “in his right mind” could give that assurance.
Andrew Peak, another condo owner, said noise from the construction project has been “absolute hell,” adding that “the last six months have been worse than sleeping in Afghanistan,” where he recently served in the Army.
He said residents are looking forward to the work ending in eight or 10 months — but they’re worried the bowling will then create a never-ending noise problem. Peak told commissioners that he and fellow residents are “throwing ourselves on your mercy” to stop the project.
Residents became equally concerned about plans to include a banquet hall, located directly below the condo units, that could accommodate more than 300 people for special events such as weddings, birthdays and corporate functions. Pinstripes also plans to have live music at the venue on weekends and would provide outdoor areas for clients. Schwartz outlined the plan with The Current and other media outlets last fall, but residents said no one had shared these details with them.
Commissioner Tom Birch said that prior to the meeting he wasn’t worried about the project because he thought the bowling alley “would be buried in the depths of the property, and now I find out that it’s not, which is concerning.”
The banquet operation “is just as much of a concern if not more,” Birch said, later adding that it was an untested model — no other Pinstripes locations have residences located above the bowling alley.
The restaurant and banquet hall would not need special zoning exceptions to operate. However, commissioners are asking the zoning board to consider the “objectionable impacts” of those operations in their decision. If the board approves the exception but declines to rule on the banquet hall, the commission and residents would have another opportunity to address concerns during the liquor license application process.
Condo owners said they want a binding agreement with Pinstripes that if noise from the bowling alley is heard inside their residences, the business will agree to cease operations until the problem is fixed.
“The devil is in the details,” said condo owner Rebecca Xia. “If we don’t have practical enforcement, I don’t see how this will work.”
Commissioners agreed that noise enforcement is a problem.
“The only way this could possibly fly is if we have Vornado agree to legally binding letters of understanding,” said commissioner Bill Starrels.
Vornado vice president Scott Milsom said at the meeting that the company would work with residents, paying for a sound engineer of the condo board’s choosing to evaluate the building and the proposed bowling alley. Schwartz said he has alleviated similar concerns at other Pinstripes locations, and vowed to do the same in Georgetown.
Commission chair Ron Lewis noted that he’s also concerned about the impact on visitors to the abutting C&O Canal Towpath. “I really do hope [all parties] can get together on this,” he said.
This article appears in the Jan. 9 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.