Northeast D.C. Loses Only DMV Service Center

By Martin Ricard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 9, 2009; 2:37 PM

The lack of interior space and overcrowded parking lot at the District's Department of Motor Vehicles Brentwood Service Center won't be a problem anymore: It's closing Aug. 14.

Many nearby residents who have complained for years about the trash and excess traffic associated with the center give that decision their stamp of approval. "It has been an affront to me and the dignity of every citizen who has had to wait outside of it," said Kathy Henderson, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner who lives in Carver Terrace.

But the closing comes with what some see as an unfortunate trade-off. Northeast will now be the only quadrant of the city without a service center.

DMV officials made the decision in January because the building, which used to house a soul food restaurant, has always been inadequate, spokeswoman Janis Hazel said. The office mainly handles renewals for vehicle registrations, driver's licenses and identification cards. An adjacent building houses the commercial driver's license and road test center, which will remain open.

Officials say the need for the closure is reinforced by the fact that, starting Monday, the DMV will no longer process in-person vehicle registration renewals at any of its service centers. They expect that move to reduce DMV traffic throughout the city. Customers will instead be able to renew registrations only online, by mail or through drop boxes at its facilities. Three centers will remain open, and Brentwood's 11 employees will move to the other locations, Hazel said.

"I know it's going to be challenging," she added, "but the decision was what it was."

One vocal resident, Debbie Smith, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner who lives in Brookland, is lobbying to keep a service center in Ward 5, a mostly working-class area that some believe is often used as a dumping ground for businesses not wanted elsewhere.

In 2007, for example, the D.C. Council was set to vote on a bill that would have allowed as many as eight strip clubs to be established in the Ivy City and Trinidad neighborhoods. Residents' opposition quickly stopped that plan.

Without a replacement for the facility, Smith said, the closure reinforces the perception that Ward 5 is neglected when it comes to city services and development opportunities.

"It seems like the only types of services we get over here are liquor stores and shelters for battered women," she said.

But some say the service center isn't right for the area either.

Earline Frazier, president of the Brentwood Community Civic Association, said residents in her neighborhood view the service center as a nuisance and fought to have it closed. She said numerous complaints were made about trash allegedly left behind by DMV customers and the inability of residents to find street parking because of the traffic overflow.

"We don't need the trash on a residential street," she said, "and we don't need the rude people who come around."

Hazel said the city's Office of Property Management, which handles the DMV's real estate transactions, searched for an alternative site for the Brentwood Service Center but could not find a location officials thought was appropriate.

Henderson agreed it is unfortunate that Northeast residents will no longer have a service center.

To say the city couldn't find a more suitable location, she said, "looks like someone dropped the ball, and they need to pick it up again."

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