- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

A D.C. Council member’s proposal to allow strip clubs to relocate along the New York Avenue corridor in Northeast has angered residents and businesses who have long been promised redevelopment on the blighted gateway.

Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, has introduced legislation that would allow displaced clubs near the city’s new baseball stadium in Southeast to transfer their liquor licenses and move to a differently zoned area of the District.

The bill paves the way for the clubs to move into mostly industrial areas of Ward 5, where establishment owners have identified potential sites.

“Many of the residents of Ward 5 are appalled that another council member would like to impose a red-light district in our community, in our ward, which is essentially at the gateway of the nation’s capital,” said Kathryn Pearson-West, a resident who opposes the clubs’ moving to the corridor. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

An amendment to the legislation from Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, also allows a strip club within the Skyland Development Project in Southeast to relocate and exempts the affected clubs from the 600-foot minimum distance required between nude-dancing businesses.

Mr. Graham said the clubs — some of which cater to men, others to women — are legal businesses that have an “equity in terms of being relocated.”

“We uprooted them,” he said. “I didn’t pick these locations. I did not send them to Ward 5. I did not even suggest as to where they should go.”

Council member Harry Thomas Jr., who represents the area, opposes the bill and plans to introduce amendments that may include creating 1,200-foot buffer zones between clubs and limiting the same types of clubs moving into the same area.

“The fiber of that neighborhood has been waiting for a lot of change,” said Mr. Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat. “As council member, I’m adamantly opposed to Mr. Graham’s legislation.”

The council is expected to take an initial vote on the legislation June 5. Mr. Thomas yesterday led about 40 constituents through the John A. Wilson Building to lobby his colleagues to oppose the bill.

The group debated with council member David A. Catania, at-large independent who was visiting council member Marion Barry’s office, and caught newly elected member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, on her way to lunch.

“I’m not sure where I am on this, but I’ve got to be honest with you, there is some equity on the part of these businesses,” Mr. Catania told the crowd. “The solution is to find a way to distribute these businesses in a way so there’s no overconcentration.”

An identical bill introduced by Mr. Graham in January 2006 died when the council session ended last year. But that legislation garnered nine co-sponsors, including Mr. Barry and current council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, both Democrats.

Both said yesterday that they had not anticipated club owners congregating in the same area when they co-sponsored the initial bill.

“When I signed on, I was trying to deal with the injustices,” said Mr. Barry, who represents Ward 8. “I did not sign onto the details.”

Mr. Gray said he hoped to help broker a compromise on the bill and have Mr. Graham and Mr. Thomas meet by the end of today.

He said placing the clubs in the same area could create an unwanted red-light district in the city.

“If you wound up putting all the clubs together, there is a possibility for it,” Mr. Gray said. “I don’t think anybody envisioned this kind of concentration.”

Roughly 200,000 vehicles travel along Interstate 295 and Route 50 each day, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration. Route 50 becomes New York Avenue at the D.C. line, and the six-lane thoroughfare that serves as one of the main entrances into the city has long been underdeveloped.

However, development downtown has been moving west. In Ward 5 alone, more than 5 million square feet of office and retail space is planned or proposed, according to a study prepared for the D.C. Office of Planning.

The New York Avenue Metro station and the new headquarters for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at Florida Avenue Northeast is expected to spur development down the corridor.

Farther west, the former Hecht’s warehouse is up for sale and expected to be redeveloped.

Jim Abdo, whose Abdo Development recently received rezoning approval for a massive 15-acre project at the Southwest corner of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, said the clubs aren’t in line with what he and some city planners have outlined for the thoroughfare.

“This community has dealt with underdeveloped, undesirable [buildings] for years,” Mr. Abdo said this week at the International Council of Shopping Center’s annual convention in Las Vegas, where he attempted to negotiate deals with retailers to move to the site.

He said he met with local residents while planning the development.

“We went out of our way to talk to the community,” Mr. Abdo said. “They spoke clearly about what they wanted to see. That’s not part of it.”

Residents say the clubs will strain police presence and detract from a community trying to reinvent itself in a positive light.

“We need to be on the road for improvement,” said India Henderson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner. “By bringing adult-themed nightclubs into the area, especially of that magnitude, it’s going to be problematic [and bring] tons of negativity into the neighborhood.”

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