First opened in 1805, the Maine Avenue Fish Market in Southwest D.C. is among the oldest open air seafood markets in the country, a go-to spot for locals in pursuit of crab legs, shrimp, scallops or clams.
Now its owners say developers of the $2 billion waterfront mega-plex under construction next door are trying to push them out of business.
Owners of three businesses at the Fish Market have sought an injunction against and sued the D.C. government and the two development firms behind the project, called the Wharf, in federal court. They allege that the developers have blocked their parking lots, obstructed their customers and begun illegally trying to evict them.
The disagreement comes as something of a surprise because executives at PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette have pledged for years that they would include the Fish Market businesses in the new development, drawing renderings of the seafood storefronts along a newly constructed boardwalk with access to a series of new marinas.
But problems for Fish Market businesses began as far back as in 2011, according to the complaint, when the D.C. government agreed to shut down Water Street SW, the main access road to the Fish Market, in preparation for construction of the project, one of the largest mixed-use developments on the East Coast.
In 2014, when construction began next door, the Fish Market businesses said in the complaint that they felt immediate impact from construction crews blocking parking and access to customers and delivery trucks, including the erection of a fence on the property; ticketing and towing of customers’ cars; and the proposed digging of a “large hole” in the Fish Market’s common area.
During a series of meetings last spring and summer, according to court filings, owners of the businesses met with representatives of PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette to try to iron out their concerns.
Attempts to reconcile failed, said an attorney for the Fish Market businesses, Wendell Taylor of the law firm Hunton & Williams.
Taylor said the developers have since moved to try to evict two of the businesses, one called Salt Water Seafood Inc. and another called The Wharf Inc. (unrelated to the development project, which bears the same name).
Spokespersons for Chase Communications, the developers’ public relations firm, initially said the company “does not discuss current litigation.”
Later Thursday, they issued a statement from Monty Hoffman, chief executive of PN Hoffman, saying that “with any large-scale project in a dense urban area, some temporary disruption is inevitable.”
“From the start of construction of the project, we have been in regular contact with stakeholders, including the operators of the Fish Market, and have worked with all of our neighbors to minimize any temporary disruptions to the extent possible,” Hoffman said in the statement “We are sensitive to ongoing business at the Fish Market, as well as its historical significance, and we have taken great lengths to incorporate both the history and existing operators into our future plans.”
Despite the eviction proceedings, Hoffman also said he expected “the operators to remain and be vibrant pillars of the community as we redevelop along with all of the waterfront for years to come.”
Taylor said the tenants were up-to-date on their rent payments and that the eviction attempt was part of an effort to put the companies out of business.
“When the developers felt like they were not going to be able to run us over and take our common area, that is when they began taking actions to evict our clients,” he said.
The request for an injunction asks the U.S. District Court for D.C. to prevent “further blocking, altering, or eliminating any entrances to or exits from Plaintiffs’ leased property including the Common Area.”
The Washington City Paper previously covered the dispute.
The story has been updated to include a statement from the developer. It has also been corrected to show the complaint was filed in federal court, not D.C. Superior Court. The eviction proceedings are in D.C. Superior Court.
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