Older District residents feel ignored by businesses aimed at the young and the hip

(Michael S. Williamson/ The Washington Post ) - Jackie Parham, 80, looks out the window of her apartment that is directly above a planned TGIF restaurant. She fears the noise and congestion will be disruptive to her quiet life.

(Michael S. Williamson/ The Washington Post ) - Jackie Parham, 80, looks out the window of her apartment that is directly above a planned TGIF restaurant. She fears the noise and congestion will be disruptive to her quiet life.

As 80-year-old Jackie Parham waited to speak at her local Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting Wednesday night, a man in a suit held up placards showing slick renditions of a new TGI Fridays proposed for Columbia Heights — exposed brick wall, large circular bar, giant flat-screen for sporting events.

Parham had no complaints about the design. But the restaurant, which proposes to have karaoke music and DJs and to stay open until 2 a.m., would be directly under her home in the Kelsey Apartments, a five-story, 150-unit senior residence on 14th Street NW.

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“I have trouble sleeping,” Parham, a slender, white-haired retired physical education teacher told the ANC. “I have sleep apnea. I would like for them to close at 12 o’clock.”

But amid the loud buzz of development that has resounded through the Washington area in recent years, attracting young people in droves, older people such as Parham say their voices are increasingly drowned out.

Many are longtime residents who persisted in the District through grittier, more-dangerous decades. Now, they fear that the city they helped revitalize is slipping away.

New condominium units are marketed to young people. New boutiques carry clothing in tiny sizes and hipster styles. New bike lanes share space with car lanes. And new restaurants keep their inside lights frustratingly dim and the music deafeningly loud.

“It’s a shame to live here and not even go out to eat because the noise is so bad,” said Alaire Rieffel, 68, who has lived near Dupont Circle for 40 years and says she and her husband have trouble finding restaurants where they can have a conversation. “I think almost all of them are geared toward young people. . . . I suppose young people drink more and the profit margin is with the alcohol.”

Noise complaints

In a survey by Dupont Circle Village, a nonprofit group that provides services for older neighborhood residents, 88 percent of respondents complained about noise levels in local businesses. But Rieffel also feels squeezed out by the offerings at new shops.

“There used to be, all along Connecticut, stores that had a nice range of sizes and a nice range of tastes,” she said. “Not being 19, I don’t like close-fitting clothes, and you unfortunately can’t find that around here anymore.”

From 2009 to 2012, the Washington area had the highest average annual net gain of millennials — people ages 25 to 34 — of any large U.S. metropolitan area, according to a new Brookings Institution analysis. And although some empty nesters are also moving to the area’s revitalized urban corridors, most of the District’s population growth in the past decade has been spurred by people in their 20s and 30s.

The millennials’ presence has consolidated gentrification in once-gritty neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights, Petworth, Shaw, H Street and Bloomingdale as bikram yoga studios, retro home-decor shops and at least one sherry-and-ham bar have popped up to fulfill young urbanites’ desires.

But sometimes their desires conflict with those of their elders. In Cleveland Park, a 50-year-old service road along four blocks of Connecticut Avenue NW has become the focus of a generational clash. A group of largely younger residents seeks to replace the service road with a wider sidewalk that would allow for outdoor cafe seating and provide more space for pedestrians.

An informal neighborhood survey showed opinion divided loosely by generation: 77 percent of residents younger than 45 want the service lane changed; 60 percent of those 45 and older want to keep it as is.

“You can’t hold a kid’s hand and walk down the sidewalk without clotheslining someone. It feels like a parking lot,” said Herb Caudill, a resident with two young children who is lobbying the District Department of Transportation to close the lane.

But the lane provides extra parking right in front of shops and restaurants, which older residents say makes their lives easier.

“I live five blocks away, and I have two titanium knees, so being able to park there is very important to me,” said Eleanor Oliver, 76, a self-described “neighborhood gadfly” who has lived in the area for 50 years. “We’re all going to be older someday,” she said, adding that the lane’s opponents will appreciate it as they age.

But Caudill, 43, said younger generations have grown up with different priorities, which are unlikely to change as they grow older.

Different worldviews

“These two generations see the world differently,” Caudill said. “They have an affection, an emotional attachment, to the automobile that the younger generation does not have. They eat out less. . . . They are less likely to embrace an urban lifestyle, a walkable lifestyle.”

Oliver — who is part of the contingent that has deployed “Cleveland PARK” lawn signs and buttons — said the younger residents have been dismissive of them.

“They keep referring to us as ‘the olds,’ and they forget that we were the generation that stopped the Vietnam War,” she said. “So if they thought that they were going to beat us on this little service lane, forget it. They treat us like such ancient people, and they think we don’t know anything. But we were smoking marijuana illegally long before they were a gleam in their parents’ eye. . . . The city is what it is today because all of us old folks stuck around and made it that way.”

DDOT is expected to come out with a recommendation this month; Caudill and Oliver said they think the service lane is likely to stay in place.

But the older generation doesn’t always win.

After passionate testimony from supporters and detractors of the proposed TGI Fridays, the ANC voted unanimously Wednesday to support a settlement agreement. The restaurant could keep its late hours and pursue a live entertainment endorsement, but it would have to adhere to a promise to soundproof the space. Next, TGI Fridays has to go to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration for approval.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents Columbia Heights, said he is proud that the neighborhood has been attracting new businesses but said he is opposed to a live music venue with an outdoor patio in a building full of seniors.

“There’s going to be a large number of people who want to cater to individuals who want night life. All of that is going to contribute to the city, but what is going on at Kelsey, I don’t know. . . . I know of no bar in the District of Columbia with live entertainment that is below a senior center.”

Graham said he will push for the settlement agreement to include language that would halt the amplified music if the soundproofing in the 8,000-square-foot space is inadequate.

A price of prosperity

William Frey, the senior fellow at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program who did the analysis on millennials moving to Washington, said such clashes are “part of the price of prosperity” as more young people move into an area.

“Community leaders and developers need to figure out how to make the other parts of the community good with it and how to draw them in,” he said. “You have to accommodate the young people as much as you can without making the older residents feel ignored.”

One solution is to prioritize development that caters to several generations at once, said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a national nonprofit organization that promotes intergenerational strategies in public policy.

“Businesses might cater at different times of day to different generations,” she said, noting that a restaurant could be quieter and brighter in the early evening and louder and dimmer in the late evening.

Butts applauded communities that plan for the needs of multiple generations, with different types of housing and a mix of amenities; she named Reston, Va., as an example of a place that has made such planning a priority. And Columbia, Md., has a service-exchange program, or time bank, in which younger people might teach computer skills to older people and older people might teach them about child care or offer babysitting services, she said.

But for Jackie Parham, who is already bothered by the noise from a bar across the street, the prospect of a hopping new establishment right below her apartment is hardly an example of harmonious generational integration.

“I like to say I have two TVs, and my TV outside is better than inside,” she said.

Parham said she has nothing against the TGI Fridays chain, and actually likes its food, but added, “I think what they’re interested in is the money . . . and my concern is my health.”

 
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