Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mike Brown Black Lives Matter rally on the Civic Plaza tonight at 6:30

Just saw this on Facebook, folks are organizing a Black Lives Matter rally on the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza (the plaza in the triangle at 14th/Park/Kenyon.) It's organized by a St. Louis native named Lydia Marie, and she says:
Friends -
As a St. Louis native, its only right that I invite you to gather with me to express solidarity with the family of Mike Brown, the Ferguson Community, and all Americans who have suffered and will continue to suffer at the hands of police brutality. Lets show our support and inform the D.C. community.

Signs will be provided, as well as informational flyers. We'll take a group photo to send to the people of St. Louis to show them they aren't alone. St. Louis NEEDS your support! 
Please invite anyone and everyone to join us. We need your voice.
Here's the RSVP.

So far 200+ people have RSVPed. It's a smaller area than the large rally at Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park last week, but sounds like it'll be a big crowd.

(And minor thing, it's not called "Columbia Heights Square," it's the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza.)

Co-working space Cove coming to the old Dunes location at 14th and Meridian

There's a new place to work in the neighborhood: Cove, a coworking space, is coming to the old location of the Dunes gallery and art space at 14th and Meridian. If you recall, the Dunes was located above the Getaway and closed in April of this year while the Getaway closed on New Year's Day, 2014. 

We haven't heard anything lately about the Getaway space, but this sounds like a good addition to the area.

The idea with Cove is:
Meet cove, a network of neighborhood productive spaces with a community defining how to be productive together. Ditch the busy coffee shop, boring cubicle, and lonely living room. Come join the cove community and get things done! 
DC - we're starting with you.
There's already three locations in town, this being the 4th.

You pick a monthly plan (the hours per week that you need a space), pick a space, then use a QR code from your phone when you get there. The rates go from $24/month for 8 hours to $124/month for 50 hours, both of which seem pretty reasonable. They also offer conference rooms and are currently offering a free trial.

From the video on their website, they seem to have coffee and such, or you could just go down the street to Le Caprice.

I feel like the area could use something like this. I often see folks working from coffee shops, and wrote about good places for teleworking a few weeks ago.

Hat tip to PoP for the news, the company tweeted at him with confirmation.

Weird ATM at 14th and Spring


This seems legit.

There seem to be a fair amount of weird ATMs in our area (like this other one next to Five Guys), and the other day I spotted this freestanding one at 14th and Spring, next to the Carolina nightclub. Yikes. Even if it was working I'm not sure I'd use a freestanding ATM next to a rowdy nightclub.

It's interesting what you see in the neighborhood when you walk around.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Update on Bacon Funeral Home: construction underway, next hearing Sept. 10

A couple of weeks ago I noticed some work at the Bacon Funeral Home, the cement block construction site at 3447 14th Street NW. The building has been a shell for years, with no progress at all. The only work that has been done was to secure it against vagrants and to finish a roof, both ordered by the city because it's abandoned. 

The company's plan for years has been to complete that building as their new facility, then turn the existing one next door into a parking lot. Of course, very little has changed as the building sat abandoned, aside from that city-ordered work. But now there's finally some news.

Last week I got an update from Councilman Jim Graham, who forwarded emails from Todd Starke with DCRA, which manages sites like this. The next hearing is to see if they are making progress on the building.

...I contacted a Mr. Torrance Colvin of The Colvin Law Firm. According to Mr. Colvin the property in question is currently under active construction. He also stated they have all of the proper permits which were signed off on in the beginning of June. I informed him of the next hearing date which is September 10th. He stated he or someone from the property will be there on that date with the building permits and evidence of progression. 
At this time, we have no updated information for this property. We can only wait until the 10th of September. An inspection will be conducted a few days prior to the meeting. Any violations the inspector notices, he will site. A 30 day re inspection will be conducted. Once the re inspection is conducted, if the violations are not abated at that time and/or there is no evidence of work being performed  to correct the violations, a Notice of Infraction will be issued. This will place a lien on the property owner’s taxes.
We'll see what happens, but this seems like a tiny glimmer of hope to make this longtime eyesore into something productive. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Columbia Heights house, condo sale prices keep going up; some are 78% higher than 2009

If you bought a house a few years ago, it seems like you're in luck. Slate Properties, a local real estate firm, just published a chart of historical house sale prices for our area.

Basically, the average list and sale prices have increased dramatically for houses and condos over the past 5 years: a three bedroom house sale went from $308,852 in 2009 to $539,231 this year so far, a 78% increase, while houses with more bedrooms have gone up about as much, 71% and 68% for four and five or more bedrooms. If you compare this to inflation between 2009 and 2014, which is 11%, it's still quite large.

The differences between list and sale prices have also gone from negative to positive, meaning people used to have to reduce prices to sell, and have now been increasing them -- I would guess either due to bidding wars or just high demand. The average time on the market has declined too, from 49 days in 2009 to 13 this year. Houses are really jumping.

Condo prices have also gone up, though one bedroom condos are not up as much, just 7% since 2009 (or, if I'm using these numbers the right way, less than the 11% inflation, so they're technically down.) However, two and three or more bedroom condos have increased by 27% and 63% since 2009 respectively. Like houses, condos have also been on the market for a much shorter time, and their sale prices are higher than their original list prices.

So, what does this mean? It's good for current homeowners, as their houses are worth more. We don't know for sure that this will always continue, though it doesn't seem like there's a bubble coming either (then again, I'm no economist.) At the same time, it means it's tougher for people to buy houses since prices are going up and time on the market is lower, meaning you have to move fast.

I figure most affordable housing isn't sales but rentals, but this could also mean bad things for affordable housing in the area as it prices go up, presumably developers will build more (and bigger) homes since they can get more money from them. That one I'm not as sure about, however.

Friday, August 15, 2014

This baby on bus stop ads looks like Macklemore

I noticed something a bit ago on the bus stops at Georgia & New Hampshire: this baby looks like Macklemore.And I think it's more than the haircut -- the baby looks older than a baby, or something, and they even kind of have the same face.

That said, Shiners Hospital is a good cause. I wish them luck.

Residential development heating up on Spring Road

Looks like Spring Road in northern Columbia Heights is starting to heat up as a location for residential development.

A couple of years ago we heard about apartments coming to the southwest corner of 14th and Spring, to wrap around the existing corner store and Chinese takeout. Those are making progress, there's workers out there a lot and the building is covered in tarps. Then we heard about two sets of condos coming to 14th and Quincy, a block north of Spring -- one replacing the burned C&K transient hotel, (said to include a 7-Eleven) and the other replacing the Austin Royster Funeral Home.

And recently there's new work: the house on the southeast corner of 14th and Spring, 3619 14th Street NW, was just recently demolished (seen above in progress), and workers have been gutting a house down the street at 1337 Spring. Neighbors told me the project will consist of renovations to 1337 and construction of a new building in the small, empty lot next to it, with about 6 units total.

I guess residential development is catching up to all the bars and restaurants moving northward, like Mad Momos, the Red Derby and newer spots like Lyman's and the coming Laotian restaurant, Thip Kao.

(Before and after of 1337 Spring below.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Recap: Big, peaceful rally at Meridian Hill Park for Mike Brown and Ferguson, Mo.

This Thursday night starting at 7, hundreds of people came together in Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park in solidarity of Mike Brown, the teenager killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. The rally was a nice scene: many people united by anger and pain, agreeing to do something non-violently about it.

It was difficult to judge the crowd size, but to me it was at least a thousand people, and there was a lot of diversity -- young and old, black and white. Folks filled the area around the Joan of Arc statue, stretching into the playing field. Starting about 7pm, a couple of young organizers led the crowd in a number of call-and-response chants like "What side are you on, my people? We on the freedom side," while one of the main themes was non-violence: "turn anger into power and pain into organizing." Others talked about using this incident and the response as a launching pad to get things done. Chants included "black lives matter," and the organizers read stories of other young people who were shot by police.

That was followed by a moment of silence, which was somewhat interrupted by a couple of angry men shouting, despite being asked to be quiet repeatedly.

But rather than being an anti-police rally, it was more of a call to action and against police brutality. People focused much more on that, with chants like "hands up, don't shoot" and a poignant, emotional speech by another Howard student who said he was a friend of Mya White, a Howard student who was shot two days ago in Ferguson, where she was protesting. I tried to get his words, but this may be paraphrasing: "Do something, but don't do violence. Do your piece. You're here for a reason. Nobody asked you to come. This shit is crazy. Wake the fucking world up." Others talked about being respectful of others' pain and not listening to violent voices and organizers circulated sign-up sheets for people who wanted to do more.

All around, it seemed like a very positive but emotional event. Organizers talked about marching, but quickly changed their minds, maybe they didn't have a permit. People stayed in the area for about an hour, including some music and singing. A couple people yelled on a megaphone saying a civil war was coming and something about weapons, but those two were the tiny minority overall. There was a small police presence, maybe 4-6 officers, but the only time I saw them near the event was when a few were near one of the militant guys who was having a loud argument. After that, they were all farther away in the middle of the park chatting.

Overall, it was a good event about a sad topic. People were especially enthusiastic when speakers talked about organizing, and I hope they make that happen. See below for photos and tweets from the event.

Moment of Silence tonight for Mike Brown and Ferguson, Mo. at Meridian Hill Park

The recent events in Ferguson, Mo., where police officers shot an unarmed young man, followed by unrest and protests, has some local reactions as well. Today a large group of Howard University students took a picture of themselves with their hands up inside Burr Gymnasium as a show of solidarity. The photo happened during the midst of freshman move-in day.

And tonight, some folks have organized a moment of silence for Brown at Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park starting at 7pm. 1,800 people have said they're going so far, so there may be a big crowd.

h/t DCist

Big fire in an apartment building on Belmont: here's how to help fire victims

Last Thursday, the DC Fire & EMS Department responded to a fire on the 1400 block of Belmont Street NW in southern Columbia Heights. It turns out an apartment building caught fire in a two-alarm blaze and dozens of residents were displaced. Thankfully only three people had minor injuries, but in total 74 people were forced to leave their homes.

That's a tough situation, and luckily there's a few ways to help them. NBC4 reports that the Latin American Youth Center, a really good local nonprofit, is taking donations for the displaced residents and families. You can donate here, and make sure to select "Columbia Heights fire victims." Glad some folks are helping.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pretty funny truck: giant tomato-head man the electrician

Last night I was at Looking Glass Lounge for trivia, and we spotted a funny van outside: advertising a company called Tomato Electric, the van featured a red man with a tomato for his head with a lightning bolt going through him, plus another on his chest, and the tagline "We're ripe for your business." He's smiling and winking, too.

We used it for our trivia team name, but sadly did not win the prize for best team name. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a funny sign.

Here's the same logo on their charmingly lo-fi website. They get good reviews online, too.

Meeting on 1125 Spring housing: city adding a new building, most people want senior, some affordable housing

Old Jewish Home on Spring RdLast night was the community meeting on the redevelopment of 1125 Spring Rd NW, the old Washington Hebrew Home. As you may recall, the city plans to make it affordable housing, but at the meeting it was clear that local residents disagree on how much it should be. 

The meeting also included a new detail, that the total project will have about 200 units, with 70-80 in the old Hebrew Home and the rest in a new building to be constructed adjacent to the existing building. I hadn't heard that before.

As I wrote yesterday, one group called Friends of the Hebrew Home is arguing for very little affordable housing, about 20%, while another called Neighbors for Affordable Housing advocate for a larger percentage. (The city's plan calls for the housing to be for people making less than 60% of the area median income.)

In my opinion, the FOHH group is using misleading tactics, and at the meeting last night, according to the City Paper, those two camps got into it a bit, with one person yelling, "Friends of the Hebrew Home, you are no friends of this community!" while others accused the Neighbors group of being from outside the neighborhood. The City Papers says most are from nearby but some are from farther away, and the group was organized by Jews United for Justice. (The name of the "Friends" group is also strange to me: what are they friends of, the building itself? And I had never heard about this group before, either.)

The city's Department of General Services, which handles buildings and such, revealed the results of the survey from a few weeks ago. Eighty percent of people wanted housing on the site, and 80% wanted some senior housing there, while 26% of people wanted only 10% to be for lower income people while 16% of people wanted the whole thing to be affordable. Others argued the survey wasn't representative, since it was just an only Survey Monkey and might exclude older people, poorer people, people without computers and the like.

It sounds like there wasn't a resolution, but at least the city (and local residents) have a better idea of what locals want, which seems to be a mix. What do you think?

WAMU's Martin Austermuhle and the City Paper's Aaron Wiener were both on the scene, so I made this rundown of their tweets from the night.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Holy crap! Progress on Bacon Funeral Home!

I never thought I'd see the day. A couple of weeks ago I was walking by Bacon Funeral Home's vacant concrete block expansion, and it seemed like some construction had been happening there, but I wasn't certain. Then I walked by again the other day and there had definitely been some work done, all of the junk had been cleared out and they were starting to lay down a floor.

Pretty amazing. Of course, a floor doesn't mean there's actually going to be significant progress on the building, but after being completely unbuilt and a terrible eyesore for seemingly longer than anybody can remember, this a great start.

If you recall, the plan is that they're going to finish this building as their main office, then turn the existing one into a parking lot. They've faced a number of fines and complaints in the past, including a few orders that they finish the roof and secure the site so people don't sneak in and squat or do drugs or whatever. The last we heard, they were working on getting financing, so maybe that's actually come through.

Of course, the other thing is if them using this concrete block building as their main office and demolishing their existing one to use a parking is a good idea. But I have a feeling that may be a ways away.

Here's photos from a couple weeks ago, the photos above are from a few days ago.

Here's what it looks like from the street. 

Community meeting tomorrow on affordable housing at old Hebrew Home -- locals disagree

There's a bit of a fight brewing about affordable housing in the area. If you remember, the city plans to redevelop the vacant Hebrew Home building at 1125 Spring Road NW as affordable housing. There's a community meeting tomorrow at the Raymond Rec Center at 3725 10th Street NW about it, and it looks like two camps have formed, both of which are advertising the meeting.

On one side are proponents of making the building 100% affordable. They have a Facebook group and argue that the city's house prices are going up and despite growth, there are fewer affordable units in the city (they also quote statistics.)

On the other side are a group distributing flyers (pictured above) that say the city is "quietly pushing plans" to turn the building into 100% affordable housing, and that concentrating low income housing in one place is bad for everybody -- they also include a picture of Park Morton, the troubled housing complex on Park Road, which is not related to this at all. In my opinion, that's basically a scare tactic: this is what could happen!

While I don't disagree that concentrating poverty is not good, this certainly isn't some kind of nefarious secret plot by the city to sneak the plan past local residents. This is at least the second meeting about it, and the city also put out a survey to judge opinions of the community. Could they do more to advertise it? Sure, but community meetings and surveys are a good way to let people know.

The second group argues that the building should be a combination of senior, affordable and market rate housing, which sounds a lot more reasonable than the rest of the flyer.

In any case, it should be an interesting meeting.