Looking Back, Looking Forward in Georgetown

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"Twilights Last Gleaming" by Jeff Kouri.

With a year that saw a new Duke Ellington School and a Halcyon Arts Lab, we await the reopening of Dumbarton Oaks Gardens and water back in the C&O Canal — and a lot more.

As part of its new year’s reflections, The Georgetowner looked both back and forward with several community leaders — asking what were the challenges and accomplishments of 2017 and what they expect to see in 2018 — all the while keeping our eyes on the prize: a prosperous future for Georgetown.

“Georgetown Snow” by Roberto Jose Coquis.

STUDYING AND CHANGING TRAFFIC

First, we asked about achievements in 2017. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Palmer named three: working with the District Department of Transportation to secure a promise for a traffic circulation study for key areas in Georgetown; getting approval for modifications to K/Water Street, including installation of a bike lane; and bringing new members onto the ANC.

“While I would have preferred to have said that the [traffic circulation] study has already been undertaken and changes are in the works,” said Palmer, “I appreciate that some of this work, including a traffic light study for K Street, has already begun and the rest will begin this spring. We are pleased to see that DDOT is already active and engaged in working to make getting in, around and out of Georgetown a more pleasant — and tenable — experience.”

She was clearly optimistic about the commission’s new blood, saying, “Not only is our ANC bright, thoughtful and committed, but we also have a healthy respect for each other and each others’ opinions. This respect allows for commissioners to advocate strongly for issues affecting each of our respective districts, while also keeping our collective eye on what is best for our community at large.”

Getting down to brass tacks, ANC Chair Joe Gibbons cited his work with Commissioner Jim Wilcox on the Old Georgetown Board’s neighbor notification requirements.

In October of 2016, a law came into effect establishing notification requirements concerning certain applications for the demolition, construction and alteration of buildings, including applications made to the Commission of Fine Arts for concept and permit review.

Gibbons explained that the law requires the following actions to be taken immediately after an application is filed: (1) a notice of the application must be posted in plain view at the front of each property and building subject to review; and (2) the applicant must provide three items by hand delivery or by U.S. mail with a certificate of mailing both to the owners of record of all confronting or abutting properties and to the affected ANCs.

“From the ANC’s experience in processing and evaluating applications to the Old Georgetown Board and the Commission of Fine Arts, although these legal requirements have been in effect for approximately five months now, compliance appears to have been sporadic and inadequate,” said Gibbons.

PRESERVING HISTORY

A highlight of 2017 for Gibbons was working with Commissioner Monica Roache on the cleanup and organization of the Mt. Zion/Female Union Band Cemetery at 27th and Q Streets last April. Georgetown Visitation Headmaster Dan Kerns organized the Father and Daughter Committee to provide the “muscle”; local architect Outerbridge Horsey worked to map out the cemetery boundaries, graves and tombstones; and

Chris Murphy of Georgetown University and Council member Jack Evans committed funds to carry out the work and help provide long-term financial security for the historic cemetery.

Wilcox, also a long-term member of the Georgetown Business Association’s board of directors, proudly recalled how he and Gibbons interceded when a city contractor attempted to asphalt a brick sidewalk in Georgetown. “Joe and I, along with Joe’s dog, Scout, had to stand in the area about to be covered in asphalt and refused to move unless arrested in order to stop the contractor from proceeding,” he said.

Another ANC success, according to Wilcox, was getting the Department of Transportation to implement a “public inconvenience fee” when dumpsters are left on Georgetown streets for excessive time periods.

GEORGETOWN HERITAGE, GEORGETOWN GATEWAYS

Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, said: “Many of the new ideas that the BID works on were developed during the community-wide planning process for ‘Georgetown 2028’ that we released four years ago. In 2017, working in collaboration with Georgetown Heritage, a nonprofit group that the BID helps support, preliminary plans for the C&O Canal renovation and reimagination were developed for community feedback.”

He listed several “Georgetown 2028” initiatives that moved forward in 2017, including completion of the preliminary plan for Georgetown’s gateways; the approval of the K/Water Street reconfiguration mentioned by Palmer; and expansion of the BID’s communications tools, including the new byGeorge blog.

In 2018, according to Sternlieb, the BID will be launching a project to discuss ways to improve communication about, and the permitting process for, historic preservation reviews done by the Old Georgetown Board (see Gibbons’s comments above); doing more public art projects and focusing more attention on improving

the aesthetic conditions under the Whitehurst Freeway as part of the BID’s Gateway Improvement Project; working with property owners and restaurateurs to expand food and dining options in Georgetown; expanding the hours that “clean team” members are deployed by introducing new mechanical street-sweeping equipment in the morning; and planning a curbside-management pilot along a few commercial stretches, designating loading and Uber or Lyft pickup zones.

Looking further ahead, Sternlieb said he was hopeful that the plans to install artistic lighting of the Key Bridge arches will be completed by 2019.

A MAIN STREET GRANT

“One of the biggest accomplishments of the Georgetown Business Association, to date, is receiving a Main Street grant in 2017,” said Hope Solomon, president of the Georgetown Business Association.

“While GBA continues to lobby on behalf of the entire Georgetown business community, the GBA is thrilled to announce the arrival of a Georgetown Main Street,” Solomon said.

“The mission of GMS is to promote and retain diverse small and local businesses along the Wisconsin Avenue commercial corridor — from K Street NW to Whitehaven Parkway,” she added. “GMS will work collaboratively with the GBA and the Georgetown BID to support the already successful businesses within the corridor, while helping to attract new businesses and strengthen the neighborhood economically. It is a new day for the business community in Georgetown!”

GEORGETOWN COLLABORATORS

Last year saw “the addition of two new security cameras by the Public Safety program, the planting of more than 60 new trees by Trees for Georgetown and three highly successful Concerts in the Parks,” said Leslie Maysak, executive director of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, adding that tells only part of CAG’s story.

“CAG works with many other local community organizations as well as a number of city and government agencies including Georgetown Ministry Center, Georgetown Garden Club, St. John’s Georgetown House Tour, Waterfront Park, Rose Park, Volta Park, Book Hill, Tudor Place, Dumbarton House and Georgetown Village,” she said. “We have partnered with the BID, the ANC, GBA and Georgetown Heritage/National Park Service on various issues throughout the year and are also part of the Georgetown Parking Coalition, Fair Skies (Aircraft Noise reduction) and the Georgetown University Neighborhood Partnership. CAG regularly interacts with the D.C. Council, Historic Preservation Review Board and Old Georgetown Board/CFA on issues related to Georgetown. All of these organizations collectively work to improve life in Georgetown as well as the entire District.”

CAG, GBA, the BID and the Burleith Citizens Association now have a monthly voice at ANC meetings, said Gibbons, who called the arrangement “influential, because the community organizations have a monthly interaction with ANC 2E that is not predicated on a particular issue.”

“The BID tries to do as much as possible in collaboration with our community partners at the ANC, CAG, GBA and Georgetown University,” said Sternlieb. “We have either organized or participated in working groups on the Georgetown gateways, weekend sidewalk widening, Georgetown boathouse planning, holiday lighting, gondola planning, public safety and parking during the last year. In all of these working groups, BID tries to develop a consensus plan that can be embraced by as much of the community as possible.”

PROBLEMS & GOALS

What are the biggest problems facing Georgetown in 2018?

Gibbons said: “I personally think this question might have similar responses in any year: parking, zoning and trash. However, within parking we have traffic flow problems and enforcement issues. In zoning, we have commercial usage in our residential areas that is not limited to alcohol being served, noise — HVAC and garbage, delivery trucks — and privacy concerns. The zoning issues also contain BZA situations that have drastic and immediate effects on our neighborhoods.

“Furthermore, the zoning issues also involve the misuse of public space that has significant detrimental effects on our residents. The trash issues, beside rodent abatement, also include the actual placement of the trash receptacles [and] the type of trash, and recyclables such as glass and paper, not being properly disposed of in the receptacles, which causes the trash to be littered on our blocks.”

An issue for Wilcox is successfully addressing and managing developments south of M Street. “There are overlapping needs and/or desires to improve public safety, enhance bike transportation, ease congestion, restore and maximize the economic potential of the canal, restore or redevelop the West Heating Plant, while protecting the major sewer line running only a few inches below the existing foundation, accommodate a streetcar running from Union Station and enable DC Water to construct major facilities on or near K and Water Streets, which it believes are necessary to reduce stormwater pollution into the Potomac River. Successfully effectuating all of the above presents a challenge.”

Sternlieb said that many of the problems facing Georgetown are similar to those facing other parts of the city and the region. He named three: competition from new retail and dining centers; transportation, mobility and access; and rising internet sales, which “take an increasingly large bite out of brick-and-mortar retail sales.” He pointed out that “Placemaking is becoming a more important part of what we do, to create a great environment where people want to come, and where businesses want to locate.”

“Competition across the city is growing and we don’t want to lose mindshare or heart-share to the other exciting destinations citywide,” said Palmer. “Managing traffic is one of the key ways that we can stay relevant to both our residents and those coming to visit.”

“Three of the current big problems in Georgetown are vacant commercial properties (especially large ones) and high commercial rents, rodents, and a continuing lack of support from the city for high quality public school choices in the immediate neighborhood,” Maysak said.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GOALS FOR GEORGETOWN IN 2018?

Sternlieb foresees a lot of progress on the Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Project, including the launch of the federal environmental impact process by the end of the year, and the beginning of the Gateway Improvement Project’s implementation, starting with some actions on K Street.

Noting that the Georgetown “Glow” exhibition of light art has been extremely popular with both the public and the media, bringing more people into the neighborhood during the month of December, Sternlieb said that the BID intends to expand it further.

Palmer said she was hopeful that the ANC and the Georgetown Parking Working Group will come to a consensus to create and implement a curbside-management plan that prioritizes curbside parking for residents while balancing other stakeholder priorities.

The C&O Canal project was high on Palmer’s list. “While coming to a consensus on this opportunity will be a challenge,” she said, “I believe that the revitalization of this treasured and historic resource is the most exciting thing to happen in Georgetown since the creation of the Georgetown Waterfront Park. Then again, I may be biased — it runs right through my single-member district.”

Maysak concurred: “One of the biggest projects on the horizon is the rehabilitation of the canal and the creation of a vision for its thoughtful redevelopment.”

Another goal for Palmer is “maintaining our neighborhood as one of the safest in Washington, D.C., while addressing and reducing the crime in our neighborhood, which continues to occur in specific locations throughout ANC 2E.”

“I think Georgetown residents and businesses are anxious to see what can be done to keep Georgetown competitive with other rising neighborhoods in the District like the Wharf, U Street and Barracks Row,” Maysak said. “In order to keep up with hipper areas and remain a dynamic destination and place to live, some thinking outside the traditional Georgetown box will be required.”

On the topic of goals in general, Gibbons said: “It seems that goals big or small [once] achieved lead to other challenges, so I would personally want to create understandings of what an achievement of a goal entails. I would like to see our community’s issues always discussed at our meetings and working groups for effective implementations and refinements.”

“I hope we can make a lot of progress during 2018,” concluded Wilcox, likely speaking for all the participants.

Throughout 2018, The Georgetowner will be seeking and sharing opinions on neighborhood issues from other community leaders, both via interviews and guest columns.

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