‘Unmitigated hell’ on hold

The end may be in sight for a standoff over the carriage house on the grounds of the Old Naval Hospital on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The head of the rehab outfit Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Community Action Group (CAG), which has been headquartered in the two-story building for 17 years, says he is willing to give it up if the District helps him move into a new building.

Hal Gordon had previously threatened to raise “unmitigated hell” over what he said was an unfair bidding process for the site. In August, the city selected a proposal by a coalition of neighborhood activists to turn the neglected building into a community center and Gordon’s carriage house office into a café.

Gordon said he changed his strategy after a recent meeting with Ward 6 D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells and D.C. Office of Property Management (OPM) director Lars Etzkorn. Etzkorn told Gordon flat-out, “There’s no way that CAG will remain in the carriage house.” So Gordon identified a for-sale commercial property on the Hill and said CAG would move there if the city would help make it happen.

Gordon told Hillscape that Etzkorn and Wells left him hanging after promising to meet again. He said the city’s request for proposals to develop the site treated CAG as if it didn’t exist, and that the city’s 30-day proposal deadline could be met only by an organization that had long had designs on the hospital.

OPM spokesman Bill Rice said his agency is doing its part. “We will make sure that we are in touch with him and his organization,” Rice said. “We apologize in any way if there was a breakdown of communication.”

The Old Naval Hospital Foundation, the community group funded with $2.2 million in congressional earmarks to the D.C. budget, saw its “Hill Center” proposal accepted by the city in August. It had unsuccessfully proposed a similar concept years before.

OPM granted Gordon’s request for a 15-day extension and CAG submitted a proposal, but a preliminary review panel gave its approval to the Hill Center plan. Gordon and his supporters protested the panel’s decision, and protested again after the city confirmed it.

Gordon had said he would sue the District over the process and raised the possibility of chaining himself to the building. Still, the fact that he is amenable to relocating at all is good news for the Hill Center folks. The Old Naval Hospital Foundation’s board members hope Gordon gets what he wants and are looking forward to starting their project.

“Hal Gordon and CAG are critical assets to Capitol Hill and deserve the facilities necessary to continue their important work without interruption,” wrote Foundation board member Mark Gitenstein in an e-mail to Hillscape. “I know that the members of the Naval Hospital Board agree with me in urging the city to make them whole by finding alternative space.”

 


Hardcore quibble-fest

 

A battle is escalating over the fate of 7th Street SE: Will it go back to the way it was before the fire gutted Eastern Market’s South Hall, or will it stay closed on weekends forever?

The District shut the street down on an emergency basis after the April 30 fire. Car access remains closed, but the street is filled with non-food vendors from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Lots of people like the new arrangement, calling it livelier and safer. But to some food vendors in the newly constructed East Hall, it’s the apocalypse.

“Ten or 15 years from now we’re going to say, ‘What the hell happened to the Market?’’’ said Bill Glasgow at a Nov. 1 meeting of the Eastern Market Parking and Transportation Task Force. Glasgow, who owns Union Meat Company, said having the street closed has hurt business because of the diminished car access and parking. He called closing the street the Market’s “absolute downfall.”

Ellen Opper-Weiner, chairwoman of the task force, agreed that the street should probably be re-opened. “There is a lot that happened as a result of the fire,” she said. “My concern about that decision is that it was made in haste and without public comment.”

Larry Gallo, a non-food-selling stakeholder on the task force, said reopening 7th Street would be the “worst decision” the city could make.

Opper-Weiner said the task force is bringing in Lou Slade of Grove/Slade Associates, the consulting firm that is developing parking and transportation plans for the new baseball stadium, to review the situation on 7th Street.

 


Halloween of McGruff and politics

 

Hordes of little monsters and their parents converged on Capitol Hill last Wednesday to demand candy from helpless, terrified residents, dozens of whom darkened the fronts of their houses and hid, trembling, in interior rooms. East Capitol Street fell into utter chaos as four-foot Frankensteins devoured seized goods. So total was the mayhem that at one point a D.C. police SUV rolled up to the 700 block with its lights flashing, and out stepped the Metropolitan Police Department’s most fearsome anti-riot weapon: McGruff the Crime Dog. He had candy.

An impressive number of people from other neighborhoods near and far come to Capitol Hill for Halloween, where it’s safe to walk and lots of residents set up elaborate displays in their front yards. East Capitol Street is the main drag, with neighbors striving to outdo each other with colored lights, audio effects and fog machines.

The most impressive display this year was set up in front of a townhouse on the 600 block on the northeast side of the street. Life-sized villains from the Batman franchise sneered, their beady eyes shining bright red through plumes of fog. But it wasn’t just the Penguin, the Joker, the Riddler, and Catwoman — it was Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice in disguise!

But wait! Behind this row of villains lurked liberal avengers Hillary and Bill Clinton, as Batwoman and Batman. Creepy stuff.


CORRECTION: 

Art Spitzer is the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for the National Capital Area. Incorrect information appeared in last week’s Hillscape.