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.