03 Nov 2009

Councilmember Tommy Wells Talks Development with THIH

Map of 1400 Maryland Ave, NE.  From www.shell-no.com.

Map of 1400 Maryland Ave, NE. From www.shell-no.com.

Recently, THIH spoke about a range of issues with our local councilmember, Tommy Wells.  We have separated the discussion into four topics: transportation, development, crime and schools.  Over the course of this week we will be sharing the contents of the discussion.  Today we will focus on development.

There have been no shortage of posts about development in this blog over the past few months:  Hine Junior High and the Eastern Market metro plaza alone could consume one’s attention.  With these topics having already been discussed in a number of forums, THIH chose to focus on a couple of areas under development in Northeast.

If you’ve been in the vicinity of 14th Street and Maryland Avenue, Northeast, anytime in the past year you have likely seen a number of signs declaring, “Shell No!” The signs are part of a campaign meant to stop the owner of this parcel from putting a Shell gas station at this intersection (formerly home to a used car lot).  Further, if you’ve ever walked by the lot, like I often do on the way to the Argonaut, you’ll see a veritable living room set up outside, complete with chairs, couches, a table, a grill and man sometimes sweeping the area.  The group of squatters who claim this al fresco living space are often rowdy, asking for money or shouting at passers-by.  This topic brought a grimace of dissatisfaction and frustration to the face of Wells and his chief of staff, Charles Allen.

For more on the status of the Shell gas station and inquiries of local squatters, follow after the jump.

As far as the Shell gas station is concerned, according to Wells, the footprint has been dramatically reduced so that it no longer extends beyond private property.  Despite the scaled-back plans, Wells was still quick to point out that this landowner “hasn’t been a good neighbor.”  Rather than being the outcome of compromise with the neighbors, he said the owner has reduced the footprint to avoid having to get approvals from the city and council.  ANC 6A, along with neighbors who actively oppose the gas station, have given city leaders ammunition to block this development.  (See letters opposing a permit and opposing a BZA application.)  However, now that the design will be confined to the landowner’s private property, there are fewer avenues for throwing up permitting or other procedural hurdles, Wells told THIH.

As far as the squatters go, Allen has worked with police but, again, the fact that they are on private property is a barrier.  Despite what one might assume, Allen says the police have inspected the area, including coolers used by the squatters, and have not found any alcohol.  So, he says, unless the private property owner asks for the squatters to be removed, there isn’t much else to be done.

In this writer’s opinion, the answer for how to deal with squatters is unsatisfying.  In conjunction with the 14th and Maryland Avenue, NE, squatters we also mentioned some living in 1387 H Street, NE — the soon-to-be Angelico la Pizzeria.  This is not only a nuisance, but a safety issue (including anecdotal evidence by neighbors and customers of nearby establishments; as well as mention of a fire at 1400 Maryland, NE, attributed to suspected squatters and a fatal shooting earlier this year).  Community-supported development cannot seem to come too soon to this pocket of Northeast.

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  • Kyra

    I just don’t see how a gas station fits into the vision the city has for the corridor. I wish it were as easy as DAG being denied the right to build based on their inability to care for the space. How are we suppose to believe they will be a good neighbor when they can’t even manage an empty piece of land and a boarded up building?

  • Sharee Lawler

    Though I’m in NE, I’m not close enough to the site to know much first-hand about it, but I got the impression from our discussion that neglecting the space is an element of the owner’s strategy. The owner is certainly not taking the high road here.

  • What’s wrong with a gas station there? The argonaut is the eastern most tip of H street’s night life. That is a great place for a gas station.

  • ibc

    What’s wrong with a gas station there? The argonaut is the eastern most tip of H street’s night life. That is a great place for a gas station.

    Why the h*ll would we want a gas station there when there are three others up Bladensburg within a couple of hundred yards?

    Hey, how about putting 3-4 gas stations on Barracks Row / 8th Street? Lots of folks use that as a way out of the city via 395-S, and many of them will want to fill up before getting on the highway, so it’s a natural fit. And if we can attract several, they’ll have to compete on price.

    Great place for gas stations!

  • oboe

    “I wish it were as easy as DAG being denied the right to build based on their inability to care for the space. How are we suppose to believe they will be a good neighbor when they can’t even manage an empty piece of land and a boarded up building?”

    Yeah, I live several blocks south of there. As far as I’m concerned, regardless of the merits of the gas station proposal, I will do anything legal in my power to make life miserable for the landowners who’ve had such contempt for their neighbors.

    To be absolutely clear: screw…them…

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