On hopping 14th Street, beer garden clashes with homeowners
By RACHEL CHASON
Oct. 21, 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) — When Marge Allen and her husband moved to the 1400 block of S Street NW in 1988, they worried about vacant homes and drug dealers.
These days, it is the prospect of 600 beer-drinkers on the end of the block north of Logan Circle that makes them nervous.
Allen and about 30 neighbors are fiercely protesting the possible arrival of an outpost of the popular beer garden Dacha at the corner of 14th and S streets NW, which is currently a parking lot. It is one of the few vacant parcels in a corridor that has been transformed over two decades into a vibrant strip of restaurants, bars and shops.
The debate over Dacha has underscored residents' concerns about development even as they recognize that their property values have benefited from the business boom.
"We are at a tipping point," said Allen, 75, who retired from a career in urban planning. "People will move onto another neighborhood. We are trying to preserve this vibrant place that we worked to create."
But Dmitri Chekaldin, who opened Dacha's Shaw location in 2013 with his business partner Ilya Alter, says Dacha would be a "social amenity" where friends and family could gather, and a much-needed new option in a neighborhood where lines for bars and restaurants are increasingly long.
Chekaldin said his opponents, who have distributed "No Dacha" signs throughout the neighborhood, have declined to consider concessions he and Alter have proposed during nine meetings with Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and seem resistant to any sort of large business on the block.
"They want to create their own suburbia, their own Falls Church," Chekaldin said.
The Logan Circle and U Street Advisory Neighborhood Commission districts and a group of nine neighbors protested Dacha's request for a liquor license, and 20 neighbors, including some who filed the protest, testified earlier this month against the beer garden at an Alcoholic Beverage Control Board hearing that lasted until 2 a.m.
Neighbors recognize that recent commercial development along 14th Street has benefited the neighborhood and increased the value of their homes — "there's no doubt about it," Allen said.
She and her husband bought their house for $280,000 in 1988, or nearly $600,000, adjusted for inflation today. She estimates 20 percent of the houses on the block were boarded up then, vacant following the 1968 riots that consumed much of the 14th Street and U Street corridors. Over the course of nearly 30 years, Allen watched the neighborhood transform. The city now estimates their home is worth $1,350,520, which includes the value of a third-story addition.
The surge in property values resulted from the investment of time and money from neighbors as much as from businesses, Allen said.
In the early 1990s, she was part of a group of neighbors that patrolled the streets at night in bright orange hats, calling police about suspicious activity and making themselves a presence on the street to deter drug deals. She said neighbors were some of the first to open businesses nearby, including the home decor shop Home Rule and Cork Wine Bar.
"It was the investment of the neighbors that made this community what it is, so of course it is hurtful to hear we should go move to the suburbs," Allen said.
On the other side, Chekaldin, 42, who grew up in Perm in what was then the Soviet Union and came to the District 23 years ago to study at George Washington University, said he is offended by online comments from longtime neighbors that suggest he and Alter are just "transitory young people."
On both sides, there is anger and distrust.
"The owners did not negotiate in good faith with us," Allen said.
"The ANC commissioners did not negotiate in good faith with us," Chekaldin said. "They never intended to make a deal."
ANC commissioner Jason Forman, who represents Logan Circle and led negotiations, said residents and the Dacha owners were never going to agree on the size of the beer garden.
Dacha's current location in Shaw, which is 3,500 square feet, has a 250-person capacity, Chekaldin said. The new space on 14th Street NW would be 7,000 square feet, with a 3,000 square foot restaurant/bar, a 2,000 square foot outdoor beer garden and a 2,000 square foot enclosed sidewalk cafe. In total, the business would serve a maximum of 600 customers.
Forman said the residents he represents wanted a limit of 200 people.
That would make it impossible to pay the lease on the land as well as construction loans for the $3 million building they plan to construct, Chekaldin said.
Chekaldin said he agreed to some concessions, including decreasing capacity in the outdoor beer garden from 450 to 250, having his staff pick up trash in the immediate vicinity and opting against music for the sidewalk cafe.
Because the commissioners chose to take the case to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Dacha will not necessarily have to make those concessions if the board grants the liquor license.
"They decided it was a zero-sum game," Chekaldin said. "They are taking a gamble here."
The board expects to decide whether to approve, deny or modify the application within 90 days, said spokeswoman Jessie Cornelius.
The board makes decisions on licenses based their on impact on peace, order and quiet, parking needs, safety, property values and whether "there is an overconcentration of licensed establishments," Cornelius wrote in an email.
Many of the opponents seized on the "overconcentration of licensed establishments."
"On a Friday or Saturday night, it's almost impossible to walk on the sidewalk," said David Conklin, who has lived in the 1400 block of S Street for 15 years and never before felt the need to protest a business. "We have an overconcentration of the same types of businesses."
Whitney Fisler, a lawyer who has lived in the neighborhood for four and half years, said that "adding a large venue will significantly overconcentrate an already overconcentrated area."
Chekaldin, who brought a real estate agent, two sound engineers and the ANC commissioner from the Shaw location to speak in support of Dacha, said that argument is "ridiculous."
Anyone who has been on 14th Street and seen the lines at bars and restaurants on the weekends should realize the strip needs more — not fewer — businesses, he said.
Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com