Hill Center Signals Aggressive Strategy in Status Hearing Before ABRA – No Progress Made in Mediation

Hill Center, July 29, 2011

Hill Center Signals Aggressive Strategy in Status Hearing Before ABRA – No Progress Made in Mediation

by Larry Janezich

Yesterday, the Alcohol Beverage Review Administration (ABRA) met with Hill Center and protesting neighbors at a Status Hearing to assess progress in the mediation process regarding the operations of the Center.  The opposing sides informed ABRA that no agreement had been reached.  A full hearing is scheduled for October 5.

At the hearing, the protesting neighbors informed ABRA that the Hill Center attorney had obtained without their consent private emails of the protest group’s participants.  The lawyer, Paul Pascal, declared his intent to use these emails in support of Hill Center in the full hearing if the protest continues, declaring the emails no different than the “tweets” issued by Representative Anthony Weiner which ultimately led to the Congressman’s resignation.

According to Pope Barrow, one of the protestors’ negotiators, obtaining and using the private email of others without their consent is a violation of Federal email privacy laws.  Barrow challenged their use at the hearing; Pascal responded that ruling on the question of privacy law was beyond the scope of ABRA.  The neighbors’ group requested that the Board postpone the October 5 hearing until the matter of obtaining and using private emails by the Hill Center could be investigated by ABRA or other appropriate authorities.  The Hill Center opposed granting a stay, and ABRA resolved to take the matter under consideration.  ABRA also denied the protestors request for a two week postponement of the hearing in order to allow all protestors to be present.

Following Hill Center’s initial rejection of the neighbors’ requests on July 28th, protesting neighbors made a second, more limited request on Friday, August 4th; this was rejected by the Hill Center as well.  With no successful mediation in sight, the ABRA Status Hearing presented the distance between the two sides and, in addition, displayed a level of acrimony and contentiousness not yet seen in the efforts to produce agreement on the operations of the Hill Center affecting nearby neighbors.

Hill Center Foundation President Nicky Cymrot sent the following statement to emmcablog this afternoon; “Hill Center continues to try to address concerns raised by neighbors either through the protest process before ABRA or through our operational procedures. We feel confident that Hill Center will be an asset to our community and that any issues that may arise once Hill Center opens can be quickly and effectively resolved.”


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11 responses to “Hill Center Signals Aggressive Strategy in Status Hearing Before ABRA – No Progress Made in Mediation

  1. Nathan Fennessy

    What’s the story behind the emails? Is anybody really surprised that the Hill Center is taking an aggressive position?

  2. Barrow characterized one of the emails as follows: “One of the emails, sent the day after the Hill Center’s refusal to negotiate, contained advice on what neighbors should do when the Hill Center requests volunteer labor from neighbors. ”

    Larry Janezich

  3. oboe

    Good. I hope they use every legal avenue available to them to circumvent the NIMBYs who are trying to turn my neighborhood into a suburban cul-de-sac.

  4. Frank Young

    The Hill Center was promoted as a “community center” not another venus for rent to acheive funds to support an overblown budget. And no, oboe, we are not trying to turn our neighborhood into a suburban cul-de-sac rather we are working to have a viable neighborhood with a community center dedicate to the needs of the community. What is the true agenda of the Board and staff of The Hill Center? They have used public funds and resources and now appear to be a capital venture in the disguise of a non-profit.

  5. Dan

    The needs of the community could be said to be, turning a nice historic building from an eyesore into a neighborhood attraction, and offering services that will bring people and funding into the project to make sure that it remains so and can offer its space for all the other activities provided there. And I would certainly think that qualifies as “community needs” much more so than someone’s street parking conveniences or the fantasy that anyone in our neighborhood can enjoy perfect peace and quiet after 10 pm.

  6. anon

    Rennovating the building benefits those with access — we’re talking about private rental for personal and corporate use, not “community access.” The space rental portion of their business plan is distinctly different from the community oriented portion. Granted, there are multiple use points for the general community as well, but that’s not the real issue here.

    I agree with those skeptical of the parking issue. It’s a red herring. Even removing the liquor license from the equation, there could still be “community” events drawing large crowds which would impact street parking as much as a wedding, art show or fundraising event.

    That said, the neighbors have a reasonable concern over late night operations with liquor service. The Hill Center is talking out of both sides of its mouth — on the one hand they’ve informally agreed to scale back hours and ensure the lowest impact possible on their neighbors. On the other, they’ve taken a bellicose legal stance and refuse to enter into a VA based on the terms promised to the neighbors. That just doesn’t speak good faith actor, no matter how many leaflets they drop on their neighbors’ doorsteps.

    Right now it sounds like Hill Center is arguing against its own position. They’ve already largely agreed to the terms but won’t sign the VA to that effect.

  7. Kathleen

    I agree with Frank that on the face of it, there seems to a larger set of questions to be raised. On the one hand, the Hill Center has taken a public asset and relied, in part, on public funding; on the other hand, no one outside the board is privy to finances, decisions on programming, etc., and there really does seem to be some profit element at stake. The more pugilistic the Hill Center is in negotiations, the more pointed these questions become.
    At the same time, I don’t quite understand the email angle. Did the Hill Center hack into someone’s email program? I doubt it. More likely an email found its way to the Hill Center by accident or because someone decided to give it to them. Do privacy protections still apply in the latter case? Also, just what did the email say? Is it genuinely damning? I find that difficult to believe, but I guess on email, one can never know.
    The Hill Center might want to get a new lawyer. I’m sure any reasonable court would find twitter, distributed to an unknown public, distinct from a person-to-person message and the privacy expectations that accompany it. Also, did liquor license protestants relay risque photographs of themselves to underage children? If so, then I’m wrong. I thought this story was getting too much attention, but if there are salacious pictures involved, then maybe it’s not getting enough. If not, then isn’t the lawyer kind of…(hmm..I’m trying to be mindful of emmcablog’s posting etiquette here…hmm).. isn’t he kind of going out on a limb?

    • Pope Barrow

      The email being argued about was an email from one of the members of the neighbors’ group to another member who lives across the street from him. It was in response to a solicitation from the Hill Center for volunteer help. One other neighbor on the same block was copied on the email so there were 2 intended recipients and one sender, all on the same street. No twitter or Facebook or anything else was involved. No pictures were involved. One very common 4-letter word was involved. This is what the hard core attorney for the Hill Center considers to be the same thing as Anthony Weiner’s twitter. He stated that anyone sending an email to anyone else has no right to expect that to remain private. The law says otherwise, but in the world we live in…who knows?
      All of this is, of course, totally beside the point. The real point is that the Hill Center insists on retaining the absolute right not to close before 3 AM weekends and 2 AM weekdays. That is important enough to them to create a lot of bad will in the immediate neighborhood by refusing to negotiate at all about anything with the neighbors who have protested these hours..

  8. Heather Dixon

    How on earth do you expect the Hill Center to operate without charging “high prices”? Having for-profit programming during times when the community won’t be using the building is a great way to keep costs down for community programming.

    It seems the neighbors are being short sighted. The Old Naval Hospital Foundation and the Capitol Hill Community Foundation have long been supporters of our community. They were instrumental in getting Eastern Market refurbished; they fund grants for schools and community events on Capitol HIll and raised enough revenue to renovate 8 public middle school and elementary schools on the Hill.

    The people involved in the Hill Center want the very best for the Hill. They are committed to improving our community. Dig a little bit deeper here folks and check out some of the things they’ve funded over the years.

  9. ThomThom

    Oboe, neighbors have had to deal with trash and 2am motorcycle wheelies from Fourth & Goal and intimidation and violence from Heart & Soul. Neighbors are not NIMBY w/o a cause.

    That said, what bothers me is Hill Center’s belligerence. The surprise leap for a C class alcohol license. The stiff arm neighbors are receiving in a simple request to quit serving alcohol (Not the same thing as closing down and cleaning up!) at a more reasonable hour. The likelihood of using a mole to gain inside neighborhood information (i.e. the emails). The Hill Center started the adversarial situation. They’ve done everything except taken their ball home.

  10. anon

    I’m less concerned with what they’ve funding than what they are currently proposing. Renting the outdoor space is a potentially terrible burden on their neighbors and a poorly calculated decision. I actually think their promises are reasonable, but do not see any justication for witholding those promises from their VA. If they want good will from their neighbors they should offer a little by putting their promises into writing and taking ownership and responsibility