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A new Brookland with 'buzz'? Or just more noise?

Jim Steigman, a business owner in Northeast Washington's quiet Brookland neighborhood, wants to build a six-story, mixed-use development that would take up nearly an entire city block. His plans are not without opposition from longtime residents.

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"The more retail we have, the more life and buzz we'll have," he said.

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 redeveloping 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 19th-century 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.


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