Monday, February 9, 2009

More on The Space

Wow, The Space conflict has drawn a lot of comments. I do think, however, that we need to give some additional information and respond to some comments, so that all of those reading and commenting can better understand the hows and whys of this issue.

Voluntary Agreements
You have all seen businesses with their applications for alcoholic beverage licenses posted in front windows. Of course, the very reason that these applications must be posted publicly is to allow an opportunity for public comment. Any group meeting certain criteria can protest the license either before it is granted or before it is renewed. Also, a neighborhood group can elect to avoid a protest by requesting a voluntary agreement with the establishment. A voluntary agreement can include any terms that all involved parties agree to. If the members of a condominium association properly execute a legal agreement to not cook with garlic, it is enforceable regardless of how odd one may believe the provision to be. In the end, The Space is in violation of a legal document that it chose to sign. In the case of most contracts, a civil suit is the only way to force compliance. However, because of the way DC liquor licensing works, the voluntary agreement with The Space is on file with ABRA, and it has enforcement power as well.

Crackhouses and Other Woes
Yes, if there is a crackhouse down the street, it should shut it down. Yet, for all we know, residents have pursued action against the alleged crackhouse. It is quite possible that the police have been called and/or that complaints have been made to the appropriate DC agencies. It is also quite possible that the same people who have complained about The Space have taken action against the crackhouse. I and most of our commenters simply have no way of knowing. Also, a crackhouse down the road does not make what The Space is doing an more legal or ethical.

Residents, new to the neighborhood and well-established all care very much about crime. The new blog, Borderstan, which exists primarily to bring attention to crime issues, has been incredibly popular. As well, the ANC 2F Crime and Public Safety committee is quite active. If you attend meetings, you will find that as much time is given to crime as any other subject — even alcoholic beverage license requests. Being concerned about one topic does not make one any less able to be concerned about another topic. On this very blog, we often write about crime, but we also devote a lot of space to less serious topics like shopping and dining.

This Neighborhood vs. That Neighborhood
There have been liquor license protests launched by every type of group in every neighborhood in DC, even in areas known for nightlife. For example, the very well-known, quiet, high-end Georgetown restaurant 1789 could not build a deck because its neighbors objected to the potential noise from outdoor diners. On 17th Street in Dupont, you can not enjoy an alcoholic beverage outside after midnight due to voluntary agreements between the local ANC and area bars and restaurants. And though DC law does not require drinks to be off of the bar until 3 a.m., there are very few bars that can stay open that late due to restrictions placed on them by neighborhood groups. Love it or hate it, these restrictions are just a part of life in DC.

That said, these stipulations are not unique to DC. Alcoholic beverage control boards exist not just to extract licensing fees but to protect citizens from some of the negative impacts that bars, clubs, and restaurants can have. I would love to limit the potential for protests without merit to interfere with alcoholic beverage licensing. In this blog, we have written about voluntary agreement proceedings and protests that were excessively burdensome to local businesses (Black Cat, Stoney's, Queen of Sheba). But not all protests are created equal. It is unfair and illogical to equate the protest of a sleepless neighborhood resident to the protest of an ANC overly cautious about a small cafe adding seating.

Because of limited inspection resources, ABRA relies on citizen groups to provide information prior to and after licensing. It makes sense that Shaw, now more populous and active than it has been since the 1968 riots, is now home to more people who would protest an alcoholic-beverage license. Propensity to protest is probably correlated to factors like familiarity with the ANC, knowledge of DC regulations, comfort with writing complaint letters, and the amount of free time one has available to make a protest. There is nothing inherent in one's race that should increase ones likelihood of protesting, and I find it upsetting that one anonymous commenter feels the need to claim that there is.

Profit brings with it responsibility
The primary reason a business opens is for financial gain, therefore it behooves a potential business owner to do all that he can to mitigate loss. It is the business owner's responsibility to either learn all of DC's complicated codes in order to avoid fines and legal action or to hire attorneys to guide the process. If Mitchell Cox did not abide by applicable laws and regulations then he either failed to conduct his due diligence as a business owner or he hoped not to get caught. Either way, it is not the responsibility of his neighbors, the ANC, or the DC government to limit the damages to him from legal actions.

Also, when it comes to the inconveniences created by businesses — mostly noise, garbage, and crowds — the burden should fall on the business, not residents, to moderate those inconveniences. The party who receives the most benefit (profits) should bear the greatest costs. So, while The Space's neighbors could invest in white noise machines and sound proofing or plan to spend every weekend away from home, it does not make sense that for the limited benefit of one business on their block that they may or may not patronize that they bear those substantial costs and inconveniences. As well, in terms of overall economic burden, the net cost to the Space of modifying its building and operations is far less than the net cost to residents of home modification, sleeplessness, and loss in home value.

Most neighborhoods in DC have more homeowners than businesses. And many, if not most, of those homeowners regardless of their neighborhood prefer to be able to rely on some peace and quiet, particularly at night. Generally speaking, excessive noise lowers a property's values, even in dense urban areas. Just as we want to encourage business ownership in Shaw, we should also want to encourage potential homeowners to be comfortable enough to invest in the neighborhood. Even in Manhattan, I imagine there is limited demand for housing directly adjacent to un-soundproofed nightclubs.

If you like The Space . . .

and do not want to see it close, direct your anger at Mitchell Cox. There is nothing about our ANC or about DC laws and regulations that prevent him from operating an elegant club in Shaw. All he had to do was to operate legally and ethically. Personally, I'm not interested in patronizing The Space; it is just not to my tastes. That said, I would be more than happy if several such establishments opened up nearby provided they operated legally. Our immediate area would indeed benefit from more businesses.

Cox has become a bit of a lightening rod not only because of what he has done but because of how people feel he has treated them. He appeared at an ANC meeting swearing incessantly and violating the rules of order. It is hard to be sympathetic toward Cox or want to work with him when he has a record of such unpleasant public behavior.

Western Shaw will not only survive but thrive without The Space.
The Space is not the one critical pioneer business that will revive Shaw. Yes, Shaw has had a tough past and, no, it is not as safe, elegant, or commercialized as Georgetown. But within three blocks of The Space, Veranda, Azi's Cafe, Queen of Sheba, Vegetate, Old Dominion Brew House, and Corduroy are already well established. On the way is the new Giant/O Street Market complex and the Marriott convention center hotel. As for the allegation of one anonymous commenter that the young professionals living on and near 9th Street NW are anti-development, I have found that most people support development around the convention center. Surely anonymous has not been to the ANC meetings where residents are salivating to know when the ground will break for the hotel complex and the O Street Market. The thing is, a hotel with an underground ballroom and proper parking management is not going to keep nearby residents up all night.


O.D.B. said...

Thank you for the reporting in general and this nice distillation after the meeting and the comments from the last post.

I live two blocks from The Space. I am not a "member" but I have been to The Space about 5 times, never paid a cover, and on one occasion noticed I was being photographed by the neighbors while on the back deck. Now I know why and support all legal efforts to either force The Space to comply with the voluntary agreement or be shut-down involuntarily.

While I would love to see more establishments like The Space in the neighborhood, I will not be going back to this one until they comply.

Tom Lewis said...

This article is a great summary of all of the comments and details from previous posts. Well done!!!

JTS said...

"The party who receives the most benefit (profits) should bear the greatest costs."

Oh really? Have you ever been to the United States of America? In that country, the party who receives the most benefit usually spreads the costs to everyone else. This is also known as capitalism, and it is a miserable failure that has entrenched a generation of people in abject poverty and propelled a select few to the highest echelons of society. If you really believe this, I've got shares in recently bailed out General Motors I'd love to sell you. While I'm at it, I will throw in some lucrative highway and military contracts.

Otherwise, great post! This guy is definitely part of the problem and the space needs to go.

Anonymous said...

Most of the people who comment about the space don't live in lower shaw and the space does not affect them. Where was the outrage when every resident of the building next door would come to the space and Mitchell Cox would serve his neighbors in good faith, they would jump from there patio onto the deck of the club. Whut good would it serve mister cox to point out the harrasment by his neighbors during legal operating hours, the assult on his staff by a non resident of 905 who had to be subdued by her boyfriend. Everybody should grow the F#@% up. Sit down with mister cox and find a way to make this work. As small and petty as mr. cox has been proclaimed the actual neighbors have proven to be just as PETTY.

Mr. 14th & You said...

Mitch, is that you?

Anonymous said...

Good People,

Does the Space actually make much profit? How could they? They do one maybe two big events, on the weekend, that's it. Next door neighbors taking pictures: Absolutely dispicably violating, pathetic & rude. I left the Space a week ago. I was having my picture taken by a late 20s something neighbor, sitting on his stoop, dressed like he was out drinking somewhere. It was 2 in the morning. Before last call. If you are a late 20s something, dressed up, sitting on your stoop @ 2 am, You really Must be pitiful and pathetic. It's 2 am on a Sat nite. Who in their right mind under the age of 30 is asleep? Don't you dare take my picture again!

What did I do wrong as a patron of an establishment? I do not know about neighborhood agreements or ABRA or ABC or all that. I do know that the Space get's harassed by police called by the pathetic neighbor, who apparently used to drink at the Space before his p"*ssy whipping girlfriend moved in, & every time the Police come, the papers are shown, the Police are cool & apologize..... So hmmm.... Where is the harassment here..... It seems like there are always multiple sides of the story.

Whether the Space gets shut down or not, Lame Neihbor who is p*ssy whippd, PLEASE stop taking pictures & sitting on your stoop next to the place you used 2 drink before your girlfriend moved in. Thank you.

14th & You said...

Anon., I will concede that I do find photographing Space patrons to be distasteful. But I really can't say what the intent of that resident is. He may simply be trying to document that patrons of The Space are around after the operating hrs. agreed to in the voluntary agreement.

That said . . . the type of attitude you display will always risk drawing the ire of others, and is precisely the reason why so few people are empathetic toward The Space and its patrons.