A rein­car­nated Brook­land with ‘buzz’? Or just more noise?

Tav­ern owner’s plan for restau­rants, hous­ing, stores proves a hard sell

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY OVETTA WIG­GINS

As Jim Stieg­man peers out the win­dow of his North­east Washington tav­ern, he shakes his head.

“ There’s the Metro, but no­body’s walk­ing in the neigh­bor­hood,” he said. “No­body walks around in Brook­land, be­cause there is no rea­son to walk around.”

Stieg­man, who owns Colonel Brooks’ Tav­ern, a land­mark in the quiet Brook­land neigh­bor­hood of row­houses and sin­gle-fam­ily homes, en­vi­sions a vi­brant ur­ban vil­lage around the Brook­land Metro Sta­tion 10 years from now.

As part of that, he plans to close his bar in the next 12 to 15 months and build a six-story, mixed-used devel­op­ment with apart­ments, restau­rants and stores that would take up nearly the en­tire block be­tween Ninth and 10th streets off Mon­roe Street NE.

The pro­posal to build the 220,000-square-foot project, which needs ap­proval from the D.C. Zon­ing Com­mis­sion, has stirred op­po­si­tion from some long­time res­i­dents, who ques­tion the scale of it and worry that their neigh­bor­hood will be filled with noise, more traf­fic and park­ing chal­lenges.

“I won’t be able to sit out here any­more,” Cur­tis Knight said as he stood on his deck re­cently. Knight’s row­house on 10th Street is one of six that would re­main on the block, sep­a­rated from the project by a new al­ley. “All I’m go­ing to see is this build­ing.”

Del­las Wil­son, who has lived in Brook­land for 34 years, wor­ries about how the build­ing could af­fect the value of his prop­erty. The de­vel­op­ers did not make an of­fer to buy his house or any of the other five row­houses.

“ The scary part is you work so hard to get a house and then some­one comes along with a project like this and puts it in your face and they don’t give a hoot about you,” he said.

Ever DuBose, who lives in one of the six row­houses, said the project is ill-suited for the com­mu­nity.

“It’s just too much for this area,” DuBose said. “It will be too much den­sity.”

Other res­i­dents say ad­di­tional den­sity is what Brook­land needs, es­pe­cially the 12th Street cor­ri­dor and the area around the Metro sta­tion.

David Grosso, who lives in Brook­land, said more res­i­dents and re­tail will in­fuse en­ergy into the sleepy neigh­bor­hood.

“ The more re­tail we have, the more life and buzz we’ll have,” he


Lisa Bonds, who lives on 10th Street, said she moved to the city to have all that a city of­fers, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to walk to stores. In Brook­land, she said, she can’t.

“We have what could be a fab­u­lous neigh­bor­hood, but we lack what other neigh­bor­hoods in the city do — restau­rants, cof­fee shops,” Bonds said. Stieg­man’s plans will ex­pand the re­tail of­fer­ings along the 12th Street cor­ri­dor, she said.

Bonds goes into other parts of the District and Mary­land and Vir­ginia to shop. “We need pop­u­la­tion den­sity to stay in the com­mu­nity,” Bonds said.

Stieg­man said his pro­posal dove­tails with the guide­lines set in the Brook­land/CUA Metro Sta­tion Small Area Plan, which was unan­i­mously ap­proved by the D.C. Coun­cil in March 2009. The plan pro­vides guid­ance for devel­op­ment and re­vi­tal­iza­tion of un­der­uti­lized ar­eas within a quar­ter mile of the Metro sta­tion.

That’s why Stieg­man said rede- velop­ing his prop­erty is the best op­tion— for him and the com­mu­nity. Five years ago, he said, he re­al­ized that he had to ex­plore other pos­si­bil­i­ties af­ter his bar be­gan strug­gling fi­nan­cially. It was a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion, he said, but he re­al­ized that the bar couldn’t es­cape its past.

The tav­ern was the scene of a botched early morn­ing rob­bery that re­sulted in a triple murder in 2003. Three em­ploy­ees — a cook, a dish­washer and the head chef — were led into a walk-in freezer and shot ex­e­cu­tion-style.

The dark, wood-pan­eled bar, which has a wall bear­ing framed pho­tos of Je­hiel Brooks, the 19th­cen­tury mili­tia­man-turned-lawyer for whom the bar and neigh­bor­hood are named, never re­cov­ered.

“Es­sen­tially, 20 to 25 per­cent of my busi­ness went away and never came back,” said Stieg­man, who opened the res­tau­rant in 1980.

The trou­bles forced him to give up on a com­pan­ion res­tau­rant, Is­land Jim, he had opened next door. Is­land Jim closed in 2006.

Even though Stieg­man had fewer cus­tomers com­ing through the door, his prop­erty tax bills were get­ting big­ger as de­vel­op­ers be­gan to no­tice Brook­land.

He said his as­sessed value went from $750,000 in 2002 to $2.9 mil­lion in 2007. His tax bill rose from $8,500 to nearly $30,000.

“ That’s a lot of cheese­burg­ers,” he said.

A mixed-use Main Street

Rather than close Colonel Brooks’ and sell the prop­erty, Stieg­man opted to part­ner with the Menkiti Group and Horn­ing Broth­ers to re­de­velop it, join­ing a host of de­vel­op­ers that have projects on the ta­ble in Brook­land.

They in­clude the con­struc­tion of a four-story build­ing with 41 hous­ing units and un­der­ground park­ing in place of a one-story ware­house where artists rented work space. Brook­land Artspace Lofts, pro­jected to open in the spring, is a joint ven­ture be­tween

Dance Place and the Minneapolis-based non­profit group Artspace Projects. The project, a few blocks from the Metro sta­tion, will pro­vide af­ford­able hous­ing and work space for artists, its de­vel­op­ers say.

On the other side of the Metro sta­tion, plans call for a col­lege main street with 83,000 square feet of street-level re­tail on Catholic Uni­ver­sity-owned land along Michi­gan Av­enue and Mon­roe Street. The $200 mil­lion devel­op­ment will fea­ture 720 apart­ments and 45 town­houses, 15,000 square feet of artists’ stu­dio space and 850 be­low-grade park­ing spa­ces. The city has ap­proved the plans, and de­vel­op­ers ex­pect to break ground this year.

Wil­son, who is concerned about how such de­vel­op­ments will al­ter the com­mu­nity, said, “It seems like when they want to build re­tail, they keep talk­ing about Ward 5,” which in­cludes Brook­land.

A neigh­bor, Ruth Tyler, agreed. Bo Menkiti of Menkiti Group “said he is try­ing to help the city. I say, ‘Go to some of the run-down ar­eas,’ ” she said.

Stieg­man said some res­i­dents have asked that the build­ing he is propos­ing be two sto­ries. But he said that would not make “eco­nomic sense.” In­stead, he has made ad­just­ments to set­backs and cre­ated street-level en­trances to some of the apart­ments to give a “neigh­bor­hood-friendly feel to it.”

“We have some bumps in the road, but I think we are go­ing to nav­i­gate them,” he said. “We are an­swer­ing the call for mixed-use on Mon­roe Street.”


JimStieg­man, owner of Colonel Brooks’ Tav­ern, is part­ner­ing with theMenkiti Group andHorn­ing Broth­ers to re­de­velop the prop­erty.


JimStieg­man plans to close his bar in about a year to pre­pare for the com­plex he wants to build.

A por­trait of Col. Je­hiel Brooks, the name­sake of Colonel Brooks’ Tav­ern and the neigh­bor­hood, hangs be­hind the bar.

“It’s just too much for this area,” says Ever DuBose, who has one of the town­houses on 10th Street that would re­main on the block.

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