Freshly renovated only six years ago, the award-winning Cleveland Elementary School at 8t and T Streets NW is beautiful inside and out. The school has served the Shaw community for 100 years. It didn’t always serve Shaw’s black residents but 100 years ago the city was segregated and so were its schools. Within it’s integrated history, Cleveland has done a pretty good job of recognizing the changing demographics of its students–69% African-American, 29% Latino. It is one of very few schools in the DCPS system with a dual-language Spanish immersion program. This all sounds great, right? So, why is it going to close by 2017?
Here it is important to emphasize that the closing of Cleveland Elementary by 2017 is simply a prediction and what’s more it’s my prediction and my prediction alone. I am no expert. On the other hand, one need not always be an expert to read the writing on the wall. In this case, the wall being the Prince of Petworth, which is a lovely blog. Unfortunately, with all its pretty ads for houses and condos, real estate agents, developers and developer-friendly politicians, the blog is an incessant reminder to me that I have been displaced from the Petworth community. It’s got nothing to do with Jim Crow laws that might have once kept me out. There’s no redlining keeping me from buying in the neighborhood. I just don’t have the money to afford a house, a condo or an apartment there. Alas, I’ve digressed into the politics of envy. Forgive me.
What does this have to do with Cleveland Elementary? In keeping with The Prince of Petworth’s focus on development, the Prince interviewed David Batista owner of “All Souls” neighborhood bar which, should it be granted a liquor license will reside directly across the street from Cleveland Elementary School. The article itself is nothing as compared to the 96 comments that follow, which is not surprising given the last sentence of the blog post which reads, “If you live in the neighborhood and have any questions or concerns you can contact David directly via email at dtb1514(at)Yahoo(dot)com and if you’d like to support the plans (to grant All Souls a liquor license) be sure to let your ANC reps know.” Beyond suggesting that those who support the bar contact the ANC and show their support, the conflict between the bar and the neighborhood is not defined. Despite the fact that the Prince of Petworth calls itself a “neighborhood blog,” the post did not include any members of the neighborhood that would be affected. No interview of the Cleveland Elementary School principal who objects to the bar. No interview of any of the parents who also object and are planning to take their children out of the school should All Souls be granted a liquor license. No interview of the future mother-to-be who lives next door, who probably moved into the neighborhood hoping it would be a good place to raise a family and is now genuinely frustrated, to say the least. Since the Prince of Petworth did not define the conflict between the bar and the neighborhood, I’ll do my best to do so here.
The problem as I understand it is not that complicated. Yes, there are folks, like the pregnant lady living next door, who are worried about the noise, undesirable foot traffic, problems with parking, etc. But the really big objection is the proximity to the elementary school. The District of Columbia has a zoning law on the books that prohibits establishments that serve alcohol from operating within 400 feet of a school. All Souls would be 22 feet away. Why is the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration even considering their application? Apparently, there’s at least one liquor store within the 400 foot boundary and since they are allowed to operate, the court says that any establishment that wants to violate the 400 foot law should be allowed to do so. So much for the will of the people who worked to have that zoning law enacted. It seems those community members who think its best if little kids are not forced to watch adults buying and consuming alcoholic beverages–that any substance abuse counselor will tell you is the number one gateway drug–isn’t worth too much either.
This video below, 22 feet is too close, is a visual demonstration of the parents concerns.
Not to appear one-sided, a few of the comments left on the Prince of Petworth blog, which mostly represent a pro-bar position, follow:
Comment Posted by pg23
Here are the email addresses for all 11 ANC members in list form for easier copy and paste. Please join me in expressing strong support for this establishment to all members:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, EGailAndersonHolness@gmail.com
my comments to them …
Dear ANC Members,
I am writing to express my strong support for allowing the All Souls Neighborhood Bar at 725 T St. NW to proceed as planned. I own a row house just down the street between 8th and 9th on T so I pass by this property literally everyday. This corner is currently unkept/overgrown grass and a wall that is constantly covered in graffiti. The addition of this establishment will drastically improve the look of the block, in addition to adding another great option for residents to grab a drink and some good food.
I received fliers and understand that there is a small group that, for reasons beyond any logical understanding, is protesting the opening of this establishment. I can assure you that this protest does not represent the majority opinion of residents in the immediately surrounding area. Please do not let the misguided protest of a few stop this or any future much needed economic development in this neighborhood.
Comment Posted by in the ‘hood
Of course it would be nice for that space to be occupied with a viable business that contributes to the neighborhood like the others on that block. For example, Divine Shine is an excellent addition. A bar is just a poor choice. A bar directly across the street from an elementary school is a bad idea even if there is a loophole that might allow it. There are activities at the school outside of regular hours on a regular basis. (The other licensed places within the 400 feet are over on 9th St. NW.) There is a home directly adjacent to the property. Would any of you really want a bar with a patio right outside your window? I doubt it. It’s great to have one down the street or around the corner but not right next door. There are plenty of bars in the area already. Plenty! We all know that. Lots on 9th St. NW, lots more on U St. NW more coming along Florida Ave. NW. So, let’s leave 8th & T NW bar-free! Everyone in the area has plenty of options. Yes, more development is coming. No, it’s not all bars. We need a mix – shops, services, offices. About noise – some bar and restaurant operators are better neighbors than others. Some adhere to the law and some don’t. We should never hear what’s going on inside a bar from outside. The problem is really the patio idea. That’s where the noise is going to come from and it will affect neighbors. It’s been suggested that a patio on the T St. NW side could be acceptable but the All Souls people so far refuse that idea. The nearby residents don’t want a patio on the 8th St. NW side as it is way too close to homes. A number of groups are protesting this application based on the above concerns. There was a deadline for protesting through ABRA and this was followed. Not sure why so many people are picking on Myla Moss. She has worked on a number of big projects for the area and listens to her constituents. While many people like the idea of this proposed bar, many of those people do not live in the immediate area. Think about it from the perspective of those who do. Why not ask David Batista to come to your neighborhood? It might be easier for him to do business where he is welcome. Or why doesn’t he open up a place close to his own home?
Comment Posted by Anonymous
I live next to the newly opened Boundary Stone and it has been a great addition to the community. I definitely would not complain about any additional noise. I’d much rather have people hanging out in an actual establishment keeping me up at night than just standing in front of an abandoned building doing who knows what.
I don’t really understand the whole elementary school across from a bar argument.. Are you worried that the kids are going to go to the bar? Some drunk guy is going to walk into the school? I’m going to make a generalization and assume that most of the kids who go to that school have probably seen their parents drink before. Maybe it’s just because I don’t have kids, but I am a teacher and I don’t see any issue with it. Again..I would much rather have my students be in an area with established businesses than a place where decent-sized groups tend to loiter.
Comment Posted by **DOLPH STRIKE**
Okay, I’ll think about it from your point of view. You purchased a home next to or near a vacant commercial lot, now something is coming in that benefits the rest of the ward members and the local economy (And long-term development of the area) and you think you can control it because your proximity grants additional weight to your cause. That’s flawed logic. You bought the home/live in the area, deal with the development that comes in and not the development that you prefer. You can’t dictate the rest of the community’s preferences, think about the area in which you live.
You final comments about David Bautista are completely asinine and demonstrate the flawed logic that dominates your mental faculties. I would love for this place to be closer to my home, but there are no vacant commercial lots there. Maybe Davide would prefer opening the place closer to his home but there are no available spots or the price isn’t doable. Stop being a ridiculous control freak. He is welcome to do business in this area because the majority of people seem to support it – it may be your block but it’s OUR neighborhood. We want David and his business to come here.
Your whole point about bars near schools is stupid, too. Like REALLY stupid. The unregulated flow of illegal goods and services is rampant in this area (right next to your house) and poses a far greater threat to the children in the school. DC has some of the strictest ID policies of any state that I’ve been to, the kids are going to suddenly develop alcoholism because a bar opened up nearby. Besides, it’s a legal establishment promoting legal behavior to those who are of legal age. The state enables it and thank god for it. We live in a dense, urban environment and it’s foolish to go about regulating businesses like this because a few people are uncomfortable about it.
Please stop attempting to force your will down the throats of the majority. This is no place for tyrants.
Okay, I admit it. I posted those comments because I think they help make the case against the bar for me. If you suspect I’m being one-sided (and I am) you can find the whole list off comments on the Prince of Petworth Blog along with the original article.
This still leave us with the question why I predict that Cleveland Elementary School will close by 2017. Here’s what’s likely to happen if the bar opens up and gets its license. Parents who don’t want their kids to go to a school just 22 feet away from a bar will transfer their kids to another school. A number of parents have already announced their plans to do so. What happens next? Enrollment drops. Those of us who’ve been working to save the neighborhood schools in less affluent neighborhoods know that low enrollment is a death knell to DC Public schools especially in neighborhoods that are at risk of gentrification. Ask the parents of Bruce Monroe or River Terrace Elementary Schools. Why might this happen in communities that have already been gentrified? Greed. Does gentrification ever end? The building that would house All Souls bar is not the only potential money making property surrounding the school. The for-profit developers who seem to have more sway over the city council and mayor than the citizens are only interested in the character of a neighborhood so long as it doesn’t interfere with its money-making potential. I refer to one of the more informative comments from the Prince of Petworth blog:
Comment Posted by volki:
The idea of a bar called All Souls coming to 725 T St, NW across from a Charter School in a residential neighborhood is what I would call bar creep. As the real estate prices go up certain business’s will try to ride off the main street traffic, by moving (try to creep) a block or two inside the perimeter of a neighborhood. Of course based on previous licensing, grandfather clauses and poor DC NO ZONE attitudes, this should be no problem, “a school across the street, come on, get over it.” We all know early childhood education likes to get the kids exposed and involved in all facets of life at a very early stage in the learning process. Try this stunt anywhere else and see what you get.
It kind of illustrates that the investor/owner does not have or cannot get the financing it takes to get to U STREET or 14th next to Pearl Dive or Massa 14. I take it this bar will be like “Cheers” with Norm, Coach, Sam, Carla, Diane and Woody. Yeah, dream on. As I walk down 14th Street, almost every corner building for sale has now been taken and on the window there an application for a liquor license. As soon as the post office closes on 14th that would be a good spot? The old theater costume building across from St. Ex will be a bar restaurant.
So, maybe my prediction that Cleveland Elementary will be closed by 2017 isn’t so crazy. Enrollment drops, more not-so-public-school-friendly businesses crop up around the school, and before you know it the city is saying, “why do we have a school in that area anyway? Why, it doesn’t even make sense. Little kids shouldn’t be walking past bars and liquor stores on their way to and from school. Let’s move the school somewhere less central.” If that happens, I’ll be wondering whether the readers of the Prince of Petworth blog who followed his advice and contacted the ANC to let them know that they support the opening of All Souls “neighborhood” bar will even notice that the school is closed or consider the role they may have played in its demise? How many of those folks, who may genuinely believe themselves to be acting in the best interest of the community, will even be living in the neighborhood in 2017? If you are one of the relatively new and affluent residents of Shaw, you may be able to afford your housing costs now but will you be able to afford it in five or ten years? And what exactly are you getting for your money? Bedford Falls or Pottersville?
This blog has focused more on the school closings in Wards 7 & 8 than the relatively few schools closings in wards 1 – 6, but I think it’s worth noting how schools in more affluent neighborhoods may also be at risk. All of us who genuinely want DC Public Schools to succeed have a stake not only in our own individual communities but the city as a whole. We should be working together. Many of the parents of Cleveland Elementary School would appreciate your help to keep All Souls from being granted a liquor license. Just as the Prince of Petworth asked you to call your ANC’s to show your support for All Souls, I am asking that you call to express your objection. If you don’t live in the neighborhood, you can still show your support by attending the DC Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration hearing at which time the issue will be decided. With any luck, we’ll slowly but surely build a movement of parents and other school stakeholders (i.e. all of us) that will force District government to base it’s school policies in EVERY ward of the city on the wishes of the parents, students, teachers and community members rather than the wishes of the developers who fund their campaigns. Details of the ABRA hearing follow: