Opinion: What Happened to Historic, Safe, and Clean Georgetown?
By February 12, 2024 3 601•
I have lived in Georgetown for more than 30 years – first on 32nd Street with my wife, Noel, and then on P Street where I raised my three children. By my rough estimate, I have run the same five-mile route at least 10,000 times – down P Street to the intersection with Wisconsin Avenue by Thomas Sweet, down Wisconsin Avenue past CVS towards the river, along M Street to Key Bridge. And as I run — tripping over bricks, dodging pedestrians, dogs, and bicycles, and greeting neighbors — I reflect on how very lucky I am to have lived and raised my family in such a unique and historic neighborhood.
So it is with great distress that I write to point out that our historic commercial streetscapes look terrible right now. On Wisconsin Avenue, I see heavy concrete “jersey” barriers jutting out into the streets. I see shoddy planters, used to mark outdoor dining areas, so called streateries, filled with trash and dead plants (and the occasional well-fed rat). I see plastic outdoor chairs seemingly randomly chained to streetlamps, and plastic deck-style sidewalk extenders with mis-matched outdoor furniture. On M Street, plastic deck-style sidewalk extenders are used to store large blue trash bins. Cyclists are forced into traffic by jersey barriers. Delivery trucks are blocked from unloading. The overall look in our commercial district is cluttered, tacky and haphazard, completely unbefitting one of the nation’s most treasured historic neighborhoods.
I represented Georgetown on the DC Council from 1991-2020. During that time, I was responsible for completely redoing M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. I made sure we had great infrastructure (remember the exploding manhole covers and the “Big Dig”?), that all sidewalks and gutters were brick, and that commercial development was consistent with Georgetown’s historic character. By 2018, we had changed Georgetown to the historic neighborhood it should be. All of this is now threatened.
In 1993, along with Councilmember Charlene Jarvis, I introduced and eventually, in 1996, got passed the “Business Improvement District” (“BID”) legislation. The BIDs were supposed to focus on Clean and Safe. Lately, however, the BID in Georgetown has far exceeded its mandate by seeking to control and regulate public space and determine the aesthetic character of historic Georgetown.
The views of the vast majority of Georgetown’s residents on streateries and sidewalk extenders have been ignored by the Georgetown Business Improvement District, ANC 2E, our Councilmembers and the District government. The Georgetown BID received an initial emergency permit in 2021 during the Covid pandemic, but – like the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent – is now leveraging that initial emergency permit into the right to change the face of historic Georgetown permanently. The Georgetown Coalition for Public Spaces collected almost 1,400 signatures of Georgetown residents opposed to the cluttered, tacky, haphazard outdoor dining installations and sidewalk extenders.
A deeply divided ANC, however, ignored the views of its constituents and supported the BID’s request for a two-year extension. The deciding votes on the ANC were cast by Georgetown University’s two student members, who will likely leave our community upon graduation.
The Old Georgetown Board, the expert body created by Congress to protect Georgetown’s historic buildings and streetscapes, recommended only a one-year extension and much better aesthetic standards and enforcement. Shockingly, however, the District’s Public Space Committee disregarded the Old Georgetown Board’s recommendation and the views of most Georgetown residents and gave the BID a two-year permit. The District government seems remarkably willing to let the BID do whatever it wants with the public’s space, regardless of the views of Georgetown’s residents or how it affects Georgetown’s historic character.
I ask those who agree with my view of the sorry state of Georgetown’s historic commercial streetscapes to join me in confronting our elected officials on this issue. Bring it to the attention of Mayor Bowser and Chairman Mendelson. And since it’s an election year, condition your support for candidates for the ANC and City Council on their willingness to reverse the Office of Planning’s position.
First, the District Department of Transportation, which is responsible for our streets and oversees the Public Space Committee, needs to immediately remove the extended sidewalks and restore M Street and Wisconsin Avenue to its pre-pandemic condition, parking and all. We can’t tolerate the status quo for two more years!!
Second, most residents and businesses support the streateries — not the extended sidewalks, period. The community, not the BID, needs to come up with an idea that works for historic Georgetown.
Third, the BID needs to focus on its mission – CLEAN and SAFE.
Together, we can create a beautiful and historic commercial corridor in historic Georgetown.
Jack Evans served as Ward 2 Council member from 1991-2020 and has been a Georgetown resident since 1992. He told The Georgetowner on Jan. 15 he’s no longer running for a seat on the DC Council. Guest opinions published by The Georgetowner do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the paper’s editorial board.
The writer’s email address is JackEvans1@aol.com.