Arts Desk

Mendelson Denies Anacostia Playhouse’s Request for Emergency Legislation

Earlier this week, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson rejected Anacostia Playhouse's attempt to work around a parking requirement that's holding up construction on the theater.

As City Paper previously reported, the Ward 8 playhouse is facing significant delays due to a regulation that requires the playhouse to acquire 15 on-site parking spaces for its 150-person capacity theater. Anacostia Playhouse CEO Adele Robey and COO Julia Christian Robey secured the necessary parking spaces, but later discovered that they sit on a separate tax lot. The playhouse's lot and the parking spaces are separated by a public alley, making those two lots hard to combine.

The Robeys filed an appeal to D.C.'s Board of Zoning Adjustment, but the zoning hearing won't take place till April 23. Construction can't begin until the zoning variance is granted. Why is this a problem? Well, a construction delay could set off a damaging domino effect for the groups that have already signed up to use the theater after its planned June opening. The Robeys, too, are at risk of having to pay $5,000 in monthly rent on a theater that can't open for business.

So the Robeys reached out to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells for help. On March 14, Wells and Barry (who represent the playhouse's present ward and the playhouse's previous home on H Street NE, respectively) requested that Chairman Mendelson add emergency legislation to the council's March 19 session. The proposed legislation would allow construction to begin immediately, but offer a 60-day window for the playhouse to come into compliance with the Office of Zoning's parking requirements. The request said, "There is an immediate need to allow the District to grant or issue construction permits for the Anacostia Playhouse ... to relieve this business of a costly administrative hurdle that threatens delay and loss of economic opportunity in Historic Anacostia."

Chairman Mendelson denied the request. His office's director of constituent services, Celeste Duffie, informed Christian Robey that the chairman did not want to agendize legislation that would allow the government to grant a permit that's not in compliance with zoning.

So now what? Robey Christian writes via email that their next step is to try to push their request into the next legislative session on April 9. "That would at least get us started two weeks sooner," she writes. Failing that, all the Robeys can do is wait till the April 23 hearing and hope that a variance is granted that same day.

Mendelson's office did not respond to Washington City Paper's specific questions, but said that the chairman had scheduled a meeting with Adele Robey for this afternoon.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Anthony Lorenzo Green

    I guess it's absolutely fine for emergency legislation to be passed for the new Walgreens in Chinatown to be issued a stipulated liquor license to carry through until the formal liquor license is granted by ABRA. But it's not fine for the council to pass emergency legislation to assist Anacostia Playhouse with this zoning issue? Really??? Screwed up priorities in this city.

  • M.C. COwans

    It's just foolish to hold up something that could really help Anacostia and the neighborhood's image over a silly parking regulation. CMs Barry and Wells did their jobs. Chairman Mendelson, I'm disappointed.

  • disappointed2

    C'mon, City Council, do your job here. It's nonsense to force a one-month delay on a cultural institution. Did they do something to you? Are you mad at them? Make this right ASAP.

  • Kim

    Here is where rules and regulations override common sense, a slippery slope. We see what just happened when the nursing home attendant stood by an let a human being die, because the "rules" said not to administer first aid in this particular nursing home.
    Jeez Mendelson, does common sense ever prevail?

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