Why So Many Vacant Storefronts? Cleveland Park’s Got a Zoning Problem
Last week, we discussed vacant properties on U Street. This week, Cleveland Park's taking the hot seat.
As we reported in August, several prominent businesses—Starbucks, Magruder's, 7-Eleven, and others—have abandoned this comfy, prestigious neighborhood over the last year. (Watch Jason Cherkis above prod innocent pedestrians with questions like: "Do you think you might be partly to blame for the 7-Eleven closing?" )
Many Cleveland Park residents and business owners say the biggest factor behind the empty storefronts is a 20-year-old zoning rule limiting neighborhood restaurants and bars, which many say they think is being enforced too strictly. After all, most businesses in other parking-starved areas, such as Dupont Circle and Georgetown, appear — so far, at least — to be weathering the economic downturn. In Cleveland Park, 11 of 64 storefronts are vacant.
The rule states that "bars and restaurants [should occupy] no more than 25 percent of the area's total linear store frontage, a threshold that the neighborhood has reached." And when an eatery shuts down, the space remains zoned as a restaurant until, say, a yoga gear store or doggie daycare moves in, prolonging the zoning designation.