FIRST, I WANT TO commend your reporter, who sat through a three-and-a-half hour meeting at the Public Space Committee and did such a fair and competent job of balancing the views presented (“Who Fought J.R.’s?,” The District Line, 9/8). However, several comments in the article need some clarification.
First, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) Chair Henry Fernandez states that the controversy over the J.R.’s application for use of public space “could almost be seen as a gay versus straight issue.” He goes on to develop a scenario of conflict: the ANC vs. the Dupont Circle Citizens’ Association (DCCA) and the DCCA vs. local (i.e., 17th Street NW) businesses. Fernandez is inaccurate—and in fact is adding unnecessarily to an atmosphere of conflict by these irresponsible characterizations. There are gay and straight men and women on both sides of this issue, just as there were last year when a more diverse ANC soundly voted down the J.R.’s application. His contention of a gay/straight conflict simply lacks any shred of evidence and merely serves to divert us all from the basic issue: How much does a deteriorating quality of life for residents in this neighborhood weigh against the desire for a commercial interest (based in Texas, far from our neighborhood) to expand its already successful business? When do we take action to draw a line to preserve the vibrant—but delicate—ecosystem that is 17th Street?
Fernandez’s suggestion that the DCCA is anti-business is preposterous. DCCA President Marilyn Groves and 17th Street Merchants Association President Danny Callahan have worked successfully and harmoniously to build understanding and to come to agreement over issues like Trumpets’ patio. They were also instrumental in making sure a neighborhood forum at the Sumner School earlier this summer did not turn into a business vs. residents free-for-all. In fact, outside of ANC meetings, relations between neighbors and most merchants are quite neighborly and positive.
Later in your article, you report ANC Commissioner Brad Haransky’s reference to “a very mean-spirited position being taken by the residents.” While I am not sure what Haransky considers “mean-spirited,” I believe he is trying to describe a group that is large, diverse, persistent, committed, thoughtful, and resourceful. What this ANC does not seem to understand yet is that we are not protesting anything, on principle, in the way that several ANC commissioners are determined, on principle, to support the J.R.’s expansion plan. We are concerned primarily with very tangible and practical issues: noise, litter, parking, sidewalk access, etc. We are concerned about the value of our property and the quality of our lives.
Sixteen nearby residents lost a half-day of work to sit through a difficult Public Space Committee meeting. Dozens and dozens more residents—over the last 18 months—have gone to ANC meetings, written letters, petitioned city officials, held neighborhood get-togethers, hired an attorney and a sound engineer. These are the actions of deeply concerned and committed residents, not cranks.
At Sept. 14’s ANC meeting, Fernandez moved to strip ANC Commissioner Kyle Pitsor of his vice chair position to punish him for testifying last month before the Public Space Committee, the only place he could fairly represent his constituents. Now that is mean-spirited.