Saturday, February 2, 2008

Addendum to "Sketchy"

I should clarify a some points about my last post. I realized after seeing a couple of comments that quite a few people are going to take the "what happens behind closed doors is none of your business" stance. I'll give some credit to the argument, though I don't entirely agree, but I have plenty of problems with 1618 14th Street.

The condition of the building is what originally drew my attention to the property. We have other empty lots in our neighborhood, buildings that have been under "renovation" for years, and houses in disrepair. Now that I've found the address of the owner (McMansionville) and know that he got some sort of disaster relief payout after the fire, I'm particularly cranky about the condition of the building. In theory he has the financial wherewithal to keep it up. He's not a small time real estate investor who got in over his head or someone without the income to keep up his building.

I'm also upset about the apparent attempt by the owner to evade taxes. Before the fire, the property was classified as residential. The fire led to some inquiry, so the building is now classified for tax purposes as a store. The trouble is that the business is a nonprofit because it is a private club. If there truly is a steady membership and the taxes are filed correctly, I guess that's fine. If, by filing false property taxes and claiming nonprofit status the owner is deliberately evading taxes, that stinks. DC could get a lot of revenue off of that property if it were a for-profit business.

The building was, and may still be, unsafe for its occupants. Firemen reported that garbage blocked the only back exit and that there was exposed wiring. It seems like the garbage is still there
not just a safety issue but a sanitary issue for all of the nearby properties. The lack of building permits or any other evidence of construction makes me doubt whether the fire damage was repaired. Faulty wiring could lead to more issues and closed off sections could lead to vermin infestation. Not to mention, it's a bummer that folks would go into a dark, dank, unsafe place to have group sexual encounters. It's not really an issue that affects me, but DC does have laws about the safety and upkeep of buildings open to the public. It's a public health issue.

Classifying the business as a private club potentially creates crime and public safety issues. Any crime occurring on the property drug transaction, physical assault, sexual assault, etc. is less likely to be reported because a patron may not want to reveal his identity, and the club probably doesn't want MPD poking around. Nor can any other DC codes be enforced regarding alcohol, smoking, or cleanliness.

If the ANC, particularly the crime and public safety committee, have been going after other dilapidated properties and those who are delinquent on their taxes, it's reasonable to pursue Stephen Jaffe as well. If nothing else, he should clean up the back yard. And, yeah, a lot of people aren't pleased about having a sex business in the area. A few blocks east, Shaw residents were successful in getting the Fun Fair video store shut down on the basis of a zoning violation. If nothing else, making an opportunity for a new business increases the likelihood that there will be more neighborhood patronage and the building will look better.

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