City Desk

Neighborhood Watch: 14th Street and the Arts Overlay District Committee

The Issue: The Uptown Arts Overlay District Committee has been struggling with how to keep 14th Street—between Thomas Circle and U Street—an artsy mecca. The booming restaurant scene stands accused of provoking rent hikes, a development that leaves arts and retail struggling. According to a new committee report, "by the end of 2009 this district is at serious risk of losing almost one half of its existing contemporary visual arts uses."

The report suggests increasing the limit on restaurant frontages from 25% to 40-50%. And—in certain circumstances—lifting the restrictions on heights for buildings used for art-related activities. But is it inevitable that smaller galleries will be driven out?

No: Andrea Doughty, chair of the Arts Overlay Committee, says: "Art galleries are always at the vanguard, searching for cheaper areas. But we want to incentivize so they remain here.... Everybody benefits from these art uses."

Yes: Sandra Truesdale, proprietor of the Emma Mae Gallery says: "People are coming to the neighborhood with more money. Developers see that and put up rent.... I think that the galleries that are not funded and are directed to lower income people, perhaps they will close. The city should come forward and support small galleries."

Next step: The new Arts Overlay District Report is being presented at the ANC 2F meeting on Wednesday, September 2.

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