Margot’s Chair, the latest offering from Tryst/Diner/Open City impresario Constantine Stavropoulos slated for the ground floor of refurbished condos at 11th and Monroe Street in Columbia Heights, has mostly made it through the regulatory meat grinder. The 250-seat, 7,000-square-foot hangout spot got a “voluntary agreement” with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission that allows 24-hour operation and alcohol service until 3:00 a.m. on the weekends, and is shooting for a late-summer opening.
But that hasn’t stopped nearby residents from sounding the alarm. Andrew Krieger, an artist who has lived in the neighborhood for 23 years, says he’s got 225 petitions from immediate neighbors against the hours and size of the new establishment. In an attack worthy of the “New York Investor” flyer down on 14th Street, Krieger sent City Paper an email entitled “Big Box Coffee House Coming to Columbia Heights!!!” It reads, in pertinent part:
The 11th Street corridor is currently a low-density mix of commercial and residential properties. A business like Margot’s Chair, with no dedicated parking, would alter the dynamic of the surrounding community. At present, our community already feels the impact of other businesses that draw medium-size crowds, and that stay open late. To bring in another one that is even larger does more than demonstrate a lack of planning; it’s irresponsible.Residents in Columbia Heights want development, but we want it to be responsible development. We want it to be designed so that all can enjoy the peace and tranquility of their homes. If Margot’s Chair comes to Columbia Heights, we welcome it to the neighborhood. But be a good, respectful neighbor, and keep the hours of other existing businesses, and partner with the community. Many already have issues with noise, trash and parking. An establishment of this size—-occupying a space that used to house six businesses—-will negatively impact residents and local houses of worship. It will set a dangerous precedent for all future business in our community.
An issue of this magnitude needs to be carefully reviewed, weighing the benefit to the city’s coffers against the potential destruction of community. There are alternatives in this eccentric, low-density strip, alternatives that maintain community and foster a strong city. These should be studied closely.
A “group of five” is working on challenging Stavropoulos’ liquor license. The Alcoholic Beverage Control board may well throw out the protest. But if those 225 signatures are for real, it appears that a significant chunk of nearby residents have a problem with how Stavropoulos’ business plan, which will be the first of its kind on the city’s newest hip strip and help make the neighborhood into a vibrant, around-the-clock kind of place. And that raises a question: Do neighbors have a right to dead quiet, abundant parking, and empty sidewalks? If you’ve lived someplace for a long time, should you have a say in the kinds of businesses that decide to come there and change how it feels?
You could try to answer that question by arguing in favor of what Margot’s Chair will create. The strangest part of Krieger’s letter is the notion that such an establishment would result in the “destruction” of the community, when these kinds of gathering places are exactly what builds community. Having employees and customers up and around during all hours make a neighborhood still troubled by violence much safer. And surely it’s better to have a place that caters to a wide variety of people and uses, rather than just another bar. Et cetera.
But the more fundamental point here is that when you move to an area, you sign up for what it’s zoned to accommodate and what the market might attract. Eleventh Street is starting to take on attributes of being a real city. Cities don’t have entertainment ghettoes and residential suburbs, they have places to eat, drink, caffeinate, and hang out interspersed with areas where you live, play, and work. When it’s hard to park, people adapt, which is healthier for everyone. A lot of people really like that kind of environment. Why should the preferences of the people who’ve been in an area for a long time trump those of people who are moving in, or those who might come from elsewhere to enjoy them?