Sunday, September 21, 2008

The District’s Bloomingdale neighborhood was known largely for its open-air drug market and other crimes for most of the 1980s and ‘90s.

Longtime residents still point to apartment buildings and row houses that during the past 20 years have gone from crack dens to homes for families and young professionals.

But a proposed tavern — the first of its kind in this Northwest community — threatens to return the neighborhood to its more seedy days, say residents concerned about the plan.

“This has been a struggling block,” said Bertha Holliday, a 19-year Bloomingdale resident and Bloomingdale Civic Association member. “We just got rid of the open-air [drug] market about three months ago. And my concern is that if you bring a bar here that lets out at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, it will bring that right back.”

Other concerns include the potential for less street parking, more trash and noise, and the type of alcohol license sought by the proprietor Aleksander Duni that would allow for the majority of the tavern’s revenue to come from alcohol sales.

The gradual transformation of the neighborhood — including the Window’s Cafe and Market, on the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and First Street Northwest — has been a welcome change for residents of Bloomingdale, where the selling price for a row house is now in the mid-$500,000 range.

Mr. Duni — who owns the restaurant Veranda, Heller’s Bakery and Marx Cafe in the District — envisions his Baraki tavern, on the corner of T and First streets Northwest, as a bar that serves pizza and kebabs and meets the needs of residents.

“The idea of the place is that you have a small neighborhood bar that somebody can come in and have a bite anytime,” he said. “I’m not a downtown person; I’m a neighborhood person. When I first decided [to open it], I didn’t really know the neighborhood, I just saw the neighborhood was underdeveloped. It’s not a matter of coming there and getting drunk, it’s a matter of going somewhere and enjoying yourself.”

Mrs. Holliday and other residents hope to reach a memorandum of understanding with Mr. Duni about their concerns and go before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to limit the hours of operation.

However, because of inconsistencies in Mr. Duni’s alcohol application, some residents are worried about his motives.

“I want a business to come into the neighborhood, but I don’t want a business that will take away from the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood,” said Robert Brannum, chairman of the 5th District Citizen Advisory Council.

Mr. Brannum also has doubts about the effectiveness of such a memorandum.

“It’s easier to stop someone from getting a license than taking it away,” he said. “I’ve never seen a license taken away from an establishment without [a patron] having been shot.”

The ABC board has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 29.

The debate also continues on a local blog, imgoph.blogspot .com, that had 78 comments posted Thursday.

The situation turned heated Wednesday when resident Gloria Westpoint confronted Mr. Duni outside the tavern, saying he duped residents into thinking he was opening a bakery. Mr. Duni replied that was his intention until one opened around the corner.

Amy Luxner, president of the Providence Condo Association, whose residents have a clear view of the corner property, said she has concerns but thinks Mr. Duni knows what he’s doing.

“He understands the value in building up this area,” she said. “I don’t want it open till 2 a.m. on a Tuesday night because I have work the next day. But I’m young; I want to be able to get a drink. I think it could be a great thing for the neighborhood.”

Despite the transformation of Bloomingdale and such nearby neighborhoods as Shaw and Eckington, the area still has crime problems.

The Metropolitan Police Department in November 2007 designated Eckington, just east of Bloomingdale, as one of three “focused improvement” areas, as a result of the exceptional amount of crime and poverty.

Since then, Patrol Service Area 501 — which comprises Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood, LeDroit Park and Catholic University and Trinity University neighborhoods — has experienced relatively low crime.

The PSA has had seven homicides since November, and the two leading violent crimes have been strong-arm robbery and assaults with a deadly weapon not involving guns, with 71 occurrences of each. Since January, there has been one homicide in Bloomingdale and five fatal shootings within walking distance of the neighborhood.

At a recent community meeting, Mrs. Holliday expressed the thoughts of many older Bloomingdale residents.

“It’s too fragile, this level of peacefulness and calm and cleanliness,” she said. “We’ve had that less than six months and to bring in a major thing like that and the drug dealers are right back.”

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