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Bowling, Banquet Plan Brings Noisy Objections

By Deirdre BannonCurrent 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.