To the editor:
As a member of the citys Waterfront Committee, I recently submitted to that Committee and to the Planning Commission my minority position against an application to put a restaurant in the vacated building formerly occupied by Olssons book store at 106 S. Union St. Unfortunately the Commission, as usual, paid very little attention to my comments and approved the development 6-1. What follows is my rationale for voting against it.
Converting all of our vacant retail properties into restaurants in the Old and Historic District is an extremely bad practice. Currently there are 82 eating establishments along a one-mile strip of King Street, running from the Potomac River to King Street Metro Station. In other words there is no shortage of restaurants, but there is a shortage of individually owned retail shops. According to the Old Town Small Area Plan, the Commission must find a reasonable mix of diverse uses when deciding the merits of each special use permit request.
The Planning Commission and City Council are currently obliged under the amended 1992 Small Area Plan to maintain diversity of occupants. It cites that The City should do whatever possible to retain a mix of restaurants and shops providing a diversity of goods and services in the King Street area.
All the streets in the Union-Strand-King-Wales Alley traffic hub are a traffic nightmare on any Friday or Saturday night. All this is going on while your local police enforcement representatives at the corner of Union and King streets do very little to alleviate the situation. When Olssons bookstore was the tenant at 106 S. Union, they obviously did not generate a lot of car traffic. However, with a 350-seat restaurant (300 inside and 50 in Wales Alley) plus the 130 seats in the other new restaurant, Pizza Paradisio, in the middle of the 100 block of King Street, you will end up with roughly 500 additional people who could generate about 300 cars.
In addition, the for-comment Waterfront Plan eliminates the 90 parking spaces across the street from Chadwicks. There are insufficient places to park all these additional cars. Many of them will exacerbate an already serious residential parking problem by parking on streets where tax-paying citizens reside.
The city-concocted licensing scheme that allows the potential restaurant tenant to seat 50 patrons in Wales Alley is ludicrous. Taking away half of the alley to further economic development is tantamount to the city using eminent domain. This is really no different than the Kelo verses New London case wherein the Supreme Court allowed the city of New London to take away Susette Kelos home so that a Pfizer plant could be built. This is considered by many to be the worst Supreme Court decision ever.
Of course, the taking in the Wales Alley case is a taking of public property from the citizens access.
For the reasons stated above, the application for an SUP for this development should have been disapproved. The overwhelming traffic and lack of sufficient parking spaces alone should have dictated the demise of this request. Add to that the fact that the city intends to invoke imminent domain through a phony-baloney license agreement skirting a law on the books disallowing the alley or any portion to be shut down should have provided additional ammunition for the defeat of this application.
This commission has got to go. They will approve anything the developers put before them and could care less about our historic district.
Townsend A. Van Fleet