Residents of Washington's U Street Corridor Tired of Area's Growing Noise

By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 24, 2009

Mark Kelner moved to the U Street corridor to be in the city's center but now keeps his windows closed and a small noisy fan going all weekend to drown out the loud laughter, booming music and constant car horns that seep into his apartment.

A resident of Langston Lofts, a condominium complex at 14th and V streets NW, he is one of several people in the corridor calling for greater enforcement of noise codes. They worry that U Street will one day become like Adams Morgan, where traffic and crowds brought in by clubs and bars make living in the area almost unbearable.

In 2007, the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership reported that more than 26,000 people called the area around 14th and U streets NW home. Langston Lofts, a 5-story, 80-unit building, is one of several recent condominium projects.

Now, some residents who were drawn by the area's revitalization fear that the commercial development that attracted them could overwhelm them.

In the early to mid-1900s, the U Street corridor was a major entertainment center for African Americans across the city. In 1968, riots destroyed the area's infrastructure, and the neighborhood became a dicey, and at times, dangerous place. In recent years, through rapid redevelopment, U Street has seen a resurgence of its past as a nighttime hot spot.

The development brought with it thousands of newcomers who are seeking to balance the area's entertainment history with its growing residential identity.

Most weekends, people who live there say, they can hear the sounds of U Street inside their homes: Bar patrons crowd inside the area's more than a dozen clubs, loudly singing along to favorite songs. People talk raucously as they stroll. From Thursday to Saturday nights, cars fill most street parking spaces. Sunday mornings, trash from the weekend often lines the streets.

Investigators from the District's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration routinely patrol the area at night for noise violations. If an investigator discovers a violation, a business could be fined or its license suspended. The process often takes 60 to 90 days. Cynthia Simms, community resource officer for the agency, said information on the number of citations it has issued was not immediately available. She said the agency will intensify its enforcement efforts next month by allowing investigators to fine violators $250 on the spot.

"The noise laws are not well enforced," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who wants better enforcement. "We try to work with those that are the source of the sounds, but it's been very frustrating."

Graham's office has received noise complaints about the neighborhood for years. "It's a challenging terrain," he said of the council's efforts to balance residential and entertainment interests. "We have to deal with it and come up with some new answers."

Peter Raia, the area's advisory neighborhood commissioner, said he is working on creating that balance. "We want to bring in businesses that know what the community wants," said Raia, who would like more family-oriented businesses such as day-care centers, libraries and bookstores.

One resident, Richard Fishman, who has lived above Busboys and Poets in Langston Lofts for four years, said having too many places serving alcohol will hurt the neighborhood's quality of life. His concern is a new restaurant, Eatonville, and its attempt to get a license to serve alcohol outdoors. The restaurant's small patio, which can seat as many as 34 people, is across the street from one of Fishman's windows.

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