Housing Complex

24-Hour 11th Street: A “Dangerous Precedent”?

Margot's Chair, the latest offering from Tryst/Diner/Open City impresario Constantine Stavropoulos slated for the ground floor of refurbished condos at 11th and Monroe Street in Columbia Heights, has mostly made it through the regulatory meat grinder. The 250-seat, 7,000-square-foot hangout spot got a "voluntary agreement" with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission that allows 24-hour operation and alcohol service until 3:00 a.m. on the weekends, and is shooting for a late-summer opening.

But that hasn't stopped nearby residents from sounding the alarm. Andrew Krieger, an artist who has lived in the neighborhood for 23 years, says he's got 225 petitions from immediate neighbors against the hours and size of the new establishment. In an attack worthy of the "New York Investor" flyer down on 14th Street, Krieger sent City Paper an email entitled "Big Box Coffee House Coming to Columbia Heights!!!" It reads, in pertinent part:

The 11th Street corridor is currently a low-density mix of commercial and residential properties. A business like Margot’s Chair, with no dedicated parking, would alter the dynamic of the surrounding community. At present, our community already feels the impact of other businesses that draw medium-size crowds, and that stay open late. To bring in another one that is even larger does more than demonstrate a lack of planning; it’s irresponsible.

Residents in Columbia Heights want development, but we want it to be responsible development. We want it to be designed so that all can enjoy the peace and tranquility of their homes. If Margot's Chair comes to Columbia Heights, we welcome it to the neighborhood. But be a good, respectful neighbor, and keep the hours of other existing businesses, and partner with the community. Many already have issues with noise, trash and parking. An establishment of this size—occupying a space that used to house six businesses—will negatively impact residents and local houses of worship. It will set a dangerous precedent for all future business in our community.

An issue of this magnitude needs to be carefully reviewed, weighing the benefit to the city’s coffers against the potential destruction of community. There are alternatives in this eccentric, low-density strip, alternatives that maintain community and foster a strong city. These should be studied closely.

A "group of five" is working on challenging Stavropoulos' liquor license. The Alcoholic Beverage Control board may well throw out the protest. But if those 225 signatures are for real, it appears that a significant chunk of nearby residents have a problem with how Stavropoulos' business plan, which will be the first of its kind on the city's newest hip strip and help make the neighborhood into a vibrant, around-the-clock kind of place. And that raises a question: Do neighbors have a right to dead quiet, abundant parking, and empty sidewalks? If you've lived someplace for a long time, should you have a say in the kinds of businesses that decide to come there and change how it feels?

You could try to answer that question by arguing in favor of what Margot's Chair will create. The strangest part of Krieger's letter is the notion that such an establishment would result in the "destruction" of the community, when these kinds of gathering places are exactly what builds community. Having employees and customers up and around during all hours make a neighborhood still troubled by violence much safer. And surely it's better to have a place that caters to a wide variety of people and uses, rather than just another bar. Et cetera.

But the more fundamental point here is that when you move to an area, you sign up for what it's zoned to accommodate and what the market might attract. Eleventh Street is starting to take on attributes of being a real city. Cities don't have entertainment ghettoes and residential suburbs, they have places to eat, drink, caffeinate, and hang out interspersed with areas where you live, play, and work. When it's hard to park, people adapt, which is healthier for everyone. A lot of people really like that kind of environment. Why should the preferences of the people who've been in an area for a long time trump those of people who are moving in, or those who might come from elsewhere to enjoy them?

  • Ace in DC

    Margot's Chair will be such a great addition to the neighborhood. I would disagree that hundreds of car driving, parking space hogs will be flocking here at 3 a.m. making a huge ruckus as they enjoy some late night eggs. This will serve local folks and help keep eyes on the street at all hours. Welcome Margot's Chair - if you need a petition with 226 signatures in support, just let me know, it won't be hard to find.

  • WardQueen

    "...enjoy the peace and tranquility of their homes."

    Might be a good idea to move out of Columbia Heights which is a drug nest/gang run/gun riddled horror story of a war zone.

    The time to have dealt with these issues was during the
    negotiation of the "voluntary agreement". Presumably Mr. Stavropolos and the ANC, Mr. Krieger's duly elected representatives, reached an agreement in good faith.
    Its why we have such agreements. They have been effective and useful in my neighborhood and are reached in a careful, deliberative, open forum. Usually both sides have to give a little but it keeps the trains running down the tracks. This train has left the station.

  • Ace in DC

    P.S. where were all these active community members when the place was run into a hellish squalor? Why weren't they petitioning and raising hell as the building deteriorated and become a blight? Why is it we only hear from these folks when something nice is about to happen? Seems strange. The noise from the diner couldn't possibly be any louder than the drunk hobos and squatters across the street at the Trolley Turnaround Park - why not write a petition about that?

  • Ace in DC

    WardQueen - Seriously? Gang run horror story? What ward are you queen of?

  • WhataDisgrace

    Check out the crowds, fights, trash, police and sirens in front of Tryst and The Diner on a weekend night...check it out at 3:30 a.m. this weekend and you'll see your future.

  • 11th

    i'm 1/2 a block away from the place and am all for it, but 24 hours would be out of character or everything around us. yay to the place, nay to the 24 hours. just one thought.

  • readerer

    screw columbia heights. bring it to NoMa! theres no one here to shoot it down.

  • Ace in DC

    The old "Adam's Morgan Apocalypse" prediction. Can any establishment open without heralding the dire prophecy of jumbo slice, people being thrown out of bar windows, and club music blaring out a 3 a.m.? WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A 24 HOUR DINER. "WhataDisgrace" - Since, you are so concerned with what's going on outside of Tryst in AdMo, have you ever looked at what's going on inside of Tryst? People sipping their latte's, eating cafe food, surfing the internet, listening to live Jazz. God, that sounds horrific, we should probably all put up the for sale signs and move out of town before this incarnation of hell on earth opens on our fair 11th St. Now, if the owners of Tom Tom or Grand Central wanted to open a 24 hour dance club then we could all complain. BUT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT PANCAKES AT NIGHT - NOT DISCO FEVER AT 3 AM. AdMo is the way it is because of 20 bars, that are only bars, open within a few short blocks. 11th St is not turning into AdMo, end of story - and if it does, it will take the systematic destruction of 90% of the existing residential properties, massive rezoning, and probably take the next 80 years (at which point will all be dead and not have to worry about it).

  • 11th

    Ace in DC, congrats on tearing apart a straw man. you can be a reasonable person and think that a 24 hr establishment next to your house is not desirable. the letter presented in this article is a little inflammatory, but i don't think it invokes the adams morgan apocalypse. you can desire a walkable, accessible neighborhood and be against 3 am pancakes. it's not crazy. you might disagree with it, but it's not crazy.

  • Ace in DC

    11th, you can certainly have your opinion and disagree with a 24 hour diner for 100 different valid reasons, however, citing the establishment of the chaos of AdMo at 3 a.m. BECAUSE of the diner is not a valid argument. The causality is not correct. Adams Morgan is not a sh*t show at 3 a.m. because of Tryst as WhataDisgrace would lead you to believe. In fact, many would argue that AdMo is a great place to live, because of a place like Tryst. I live on 13th, near 11th/Monroe, and I can't wait for the redevelopment of that whole intersection. It will have such a great impact on the community - it has been a blight for far too long. We should lay the red carpet for risk takers like Constantine instead of throwing up every barrier based on wild hysteria we can think of.

  • http://marketurbanism.com Stephen Smith

    I'm sensing a double standard here. This gentrification is great, but then again, it is the sort of thing that would appeal to young hipsters like you and me. But when we're talking about a different form of gentrification – say, some luxury condos replacing cheaper housing in Logan Circle, which 20-somethings earning poverty wages writing aren't in a position to buy – it's "nothing to get excited about." When the rules getting in a development's way are some busiboddies challenging a liquor license, it's a "regulatory meat grinder," but when the rules getting in the way are de facto rent controls ("inclusionary zoning" and "affordable housing" mandates), it's a-okay.

    The fact is, both of these developments will create amenities in neighborhoods that are becoming more and more desirable, and both developments will raise property values. The 24 diner does it in a more subtle way, while the condos immediately move people out, but the effects of both are the same – poor people of color move out, and well educated people like you and me move in.

    You know where I stand on the issue – I say allow as much gentrification as we can in the core to save existing affordable housing and lower market price levels overall throughout the city and region (call it the "let Columbia Heights yuppify to save Trinidad" strategy) – but it looks like you're playing both sides of the issue.

  • Diomedes

    the only thing this place is bringing is the fact that it is open 24/7. there is already a great coffee shop across the street. why not make it a bookstore/coffee shop or something that the street/neighborhood is actually lacking?

  • JM

    "Cities don't have entertainment ghettoes and residential suburbs, they have places to eat, drink, caffeinate, and hang out interspersed with areas where you live, play, and work."

    How about sleeping? I think most people would prefer not to be disturbed during the hours of 1am-7am. What's wrong with conforming to the behavior of 95% of the people living around the establishment? Also, keep in mind that retail strips in DC quickly loose their local flavor; sure 14th St. is buzzing now at 1am, but my perception is that most of the kids are arriving from outside Logan Circle. 11th St will eventually be the same way. Why should the residents put up with noise to accommodate an influx of party-ers from VA and MD?

    I agree with 11th... Diner yes; 24-hour no.

  • http://leftforledroit.com Left for LeDroit

    The protestor's rhetoric is a bit disingenuous: "An issue of this magnitude needs to be carefully reviewed, weighing the benefit to the city’s coffers against the potential destruction of community."

    It was. That's what the ANC exists for. That's what the ANC did.

    Just because you don't like the outcome of the process doesn't mean you can pretend the process didn't exist.

  • Anon and On

    Can we just issue a blanket proclamation that if you live in the District and you're next to a dead commercial strip, you can expect it to be revived some time in the near future?

  • 11th

    Ace in DC, are you being intentionally obtuse? blowing apart a claim that "this will make 11th street an adams morgan-like hell" does not simultaneously dismiss less over-the-top, more reasonable concerns about a 24/7 establishment, concerns that many folks have.

    i'm all for what has been an empty space for years being filled by a great business and don't feel the need or think it appropriate to throw up road blocks because of some kind of nimbyism.

    you can be opposed to the diner being 24/7 without being opposed to any kind of development. neighbors have legitimate reasons to oppose a 24/7 establishment. i wouldn't want acuario or meridian pint or grand china or columbia heights coffee to be 24/7. the same goes for the diner. get a grip and get off your high horse.

  • Ermine

    I think Andrew Krieger's letter reasonably states a position and the fact that the neighbors welcome the new business. Hours are the issue. Too bad DePillis can't see the issues for the (advertising) fees.

  • Drez

    I imagine the high density area around 14th street's DC USA would be more suitable for a 24 hour place than would 11th.

  • @SamuelMoore

    @11th I agree, @Ace your points are a little obtuse.

    This won't just be a coffee shop, note they'll be selling booze till 3am. Also yes I would love a late late night coffee / breakfast diner, but I don't want the scores of drunks stumbling, and yelling their way from Wonderland all the way up 11th for some biscuits & Gravy, that's really what we're concerned about.

  • Ryan

    As someone who lives within 50 yards of the building in question, and has watched the nightlife scene explode in the area, I say bring it on. I saw the same arguments against Red Rocks, Room 11, and especially Meridian Pint when they opened. All were boons to the area. Will there be noise? Of course there will. But the benefits far outweigh the costs. I look forward to eating, drinking, and getting to know my neighbors at Margot's Chair.

  • Bob See

    I love how it's being spun like it's going to be a place where people go to quietly sip lattes and read Voltaire, and that a 24 hour establishment is essential for a place to be "vital". Hey, how about 6 stores that people can actually use for day to day living, such as a local grocery store, a small office, a dry cleaner? Why does yet another coffee shop/bar (in this case, one that is intended to monopolize that business) constitute the makings of a real city?

    The people in the neighborhood are right to object to it.

  • Ryan

    (Puts down his copy of "Candide".)

    Bob, all of the things you request are located within four blocks of Margot's Chair.

  • Will

    This idea reminds me of "the House of Pies" in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles. It's a 24 hour diner, and one of my favorite spots. You get a really eclectic crowd, especially late night/early AM. Rockers getting food before their shows, cops getting pie after their shift, scenesters getting dinner at 5 AM while truck drivers get breakfast before their deliveries.

    I live right by Open City, I can attest, it's not wrecking the neighborhood. However, the weekend line for brunch clogs up the sidewalk with hungry families, god help us all.

  • Cavan

    This just in... NIMBY's say "NIMBY!"

  • Lou

    As a new comer to the neighborhood who wants to stay and raise a family there, my gut tells me that a 24hr diner will only add to the safety and livability of the area. Given that the owners went through the ANC process, let the diner open, and if it is terribly loud then lodge noise complaints. If there is a petition to support the ANC's decision and the 24hr diner, sign me up.

    I think there is a bigger discussion about American cultural perceptions that is at play here. In Mr. Krieger's letter, he refers to the area as "a low-density mix of commercial and residential properties". I think the density of the neighborhood is one of its greatest assests, but I wouldn't describe it as low; I'd reckon its one of the denser neighborhoods in the city. I think there is a misconception in the American psyche that low-density equals community and family friendly while high-density equals really tall buildings and lots of traffic. However, some of the densest places in the world are very human scale, 4 storys or less, and are incredibly child and fammily friendly. How that density "feels" is more a question of design rather than a number.

    Children can't drive, and neither can many elderly folks. The more walkable a nieghborhood is, the more a pain in the ass it is to drive and park, true. But the positive trade-off is that you need a car less, or not at all. If we enact policies that ensure housing affordability and equitable development, then dense human-scale neighborhoods are actually ideal community and family settings. The threat is not more density--we need that if we hope to create sustainable communities--but the growing social inequity and the new developments that ignore equity issues.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/ Mr T in DC

    I live a couple of blocks away, have lived in Columbia Heights for 8 years, and I'm all for the 24 hour diner. I don't know who these NIMBY activists are, but Columbia Heights never was, and never will be some pastoral, sleepy suburban bedroom community. Bring on the continued redevelopment!

  • readerer

    spot on it.

  • Doug

    I work the mid shift at an IT help desk usually get home at midnight everyday and go to bed around 4am. My wife is a nurse works a similar shift. There are many other IT and healthcare workers who work crazy shifts and are up in the middle of the night and we really appreciate the existence of 24 hr businesses. We could definitely use a lot more of them. Not everyone who's up at 3am on a weeknight is some kind of gangster. To the critics of 24 hr establishments please think about other people besides yourselves.

  • deedle

    It's laughable that people call these diners. It's like they're trying to smuggle their restaurateur cuisine wrapped in a Trojan pancake.

    Last time I went to Open City, I had a salmon BLT and a chardonnay. Excellent stuff, btw. But, can you imagine a scene from the movie Diner in which the guy orders a martini and a plate of veggie quinoa during last call at 3 am? People are going to go their for alcohol and fine food and more alcohol, not for meatloaf on a blue plate and a and cherry coke before they get back in their 18 wheeler.

  • ColHght84

    I have been resident in CH for 15yrs and for anyone to oppose the development of this intersection is insane. Stavropoulos is taking a risk in opening a 24hr establishment and I have to give him credit for taking the gamble. If people really are against noise, traffic, 24hr activity then move away, this is a city neighborhood, and zoning along 11th is setup that way, enough already.
    In the meantime this new place will have 3 shift, 7 days a week of work for people. These aren't glamorous jobs, but people still need to work! Can we move our efforts to cleaning up the Trolley Turnaround Park which is across the street?

  • Eric

    Why are people getting all out of shape over a 24-hour diner that sells beer and wine? Maybe that's the real question here. DC needs more 24-hour places. As it is all we have are a) The Diner and b) an IHOP. What about all those Silver Diners selling beer and wine in the suburbs? Do kids in Rockville deserve a late-night diner more than kids in CoHi? I think not. BRING. IT. ON.

  • Eric

    Not to mention the Tastee Diners in Bethesda and Silver Spring. They serve beer and wine, as well.

  • Pingback: 11th Street Debate: 24 Hour Diner? « North Columbia Heights Civic Association

  • billindc

    The article mentioned the one truly definitive fact of this debate...caveat emptor. Those who bought next to a commercially zoned strip should have taken into account that commercial activity would occur there. Those who did this also probably paid less than those who chose to avoid living right next to commercially zoned space and paid a premium for that real estate.

    But now, when neighborhood commercial revitalization is resulting in new business some five or so folks on 11th might not like, the rest of the community is expected to go without because they want to re-cut the deck.

    NIMBY-ism at it's most petty.

    And btw, if you want to see what the end result of a stubborn refusal to allow any reasonable businesses in your community go take a look at Mount Pleasant Street.

  • Julie P.

    Two years ago I lived across the street from where this proposed diner will be. I am now a homeowner that lives ~2 blocks from here and I fully support this coming to the neighborhood. In the time I've been here, I've had my old housemate beat up and robbed on this corner, saw a guy masturbate while walking my dog, and received a good amount of cat calls & harassment. Eyes on the street.