Saturday, July 14, 2007

D.C. Council member Jim Graham is considering a suggestion to allow adult-themed clubs to move into city-controlled property underneath Dupont Circle.

“It’s an intriguing idea,” Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said yesterday.

The proposal would allow clubs to move into the space known as Dupont Down Under, a former trolley complex later developed into a food court but now vacant after protracted litigation.

The streetcar tunnels date back to 1949. After the trolleys stopped running in 1962, the space was once considered for a columbarium — a storage place for ashes of the dead. The food court opened in 1995, but the District terminated its developer’s lease the next year.

Whether the District owns the property outright is unclear.

Mr. Graham said the District owns the space directly underneath Dupont Circle, a neighborhood known as the hub of the District’s homosexual community.

Bill Rice, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Property Management, said only the District has “clear jurisdiction” of Down Under and would have to approve any use for the space.

The plan, reported early yesterday on WTOP Radio, is a possible alternative for several businesses, some of which cater to homosexuals and were formerly located near the site of the District’s new baseball stadium.

Mr. Graham initially proposed legislation that would have allowed the clubs to transfer their liquor licenses to specifically zoned areas of the District, and several owners had eyed properties in the Northeast neighborhoods of Ward 5.

But Council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, in June proposed six amendments to the bill that put stringent limits on where the clubs could relocate. One of the amendments limits the number of clubs to two per ward, granting exception to clubs moving into the District’s downtown core.

Mr. Graham said the area under Dupont Circle, in Ward 2, could accommodate at least two clubs and presents an option to get out of the “pickle” created by the amendments to his bill.

Still, he and Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said any plan to move clubs into Dupont Down Under would have to meet the approval of area residents.

“It would depend entirely on the constituents as to whether they would support that concept or not,” Mr. Evans said.

Bob Meehan, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area, said the community would likely oppose placing the clubs in the underground space.

“To suddenly take what used to be an industrial zoning activity and put it right in the middle of us is not really acceptable,” he said. “There’s something wrong when someone says, ‘Put it out of sight and underground.’ ”

Rob Halligan, president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, also said the clubs would only add to an area already saturated with establishments that serve alcohol.

“I don’t know if that would be the best use of the space,” he said.

Mr. Graham emphasized that putting the clubs under the circle is “the germ of an idea.”

“But it would depend on the community’s [input]. You have to have an engagement process,” he said.

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