Flea Market Managers Disappointed in Draft Eastern Market Legislation – Future of Flea Markets in Doubt
by Larry Janezich
The two managers of Eastern Market’s weekend flea markets are unhappy with the draft version of legislation to create a new governing authority for Eastern Market circulated by Councilmember Wells.
According to Michael Berman, manager of the Sunday flea market, and Carol Wright, manager of the Saturday flea market, the bill is “sloppily written,” leaving them and their vendors without the protection offered to the vendors who operate inside the Market, on 7th Street and on the sidewalks around Eastern Market and the Natatorium; the draft bill also makes no provision for continuing the weekend flea markets at anything more than half the size of the current markets.
As written now, the legislation would create a new Eastern Market Historic Special Use District encompassing all of the area currently occupied by vendors, including those operating on the Hine playground, as well as other areas such as 7th Street between C Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, and the to-be-reopened C Street between 7th and 8th Streets, SE, which will or could be used for future locations of the flea market once the construction and operation of the Hine Development begins.
All vending operations in the newly defined Special Use District would come under the control of the Trust, an entity that the bill will establish to govern Eastern Market. The legislation does not prohibit the Trust from contracting out the flea market operations to Berman and Wright, but it offers no guarantee that it will do so.
Regardless, Berman asserts that the developers of the Hine project – Stanton Eastbanc – have raised unrealistic expectations about how many of the current flea market vendors can be accommodated in the only space that is presently allotted for their use: part of the newly reopened C Street and the “public plaza” which is represented by a widening of C Street where it meets 7th Street, diagonally across from Eastern Market.
The developer claims there is room for 68 10 x 10 foot tents – a little more than half of the current Sunday flea market on a busy day. In their original proposal, Stanton Eastbanc provided for 90 10 x 10 foot spaces, but the current design yields only the lower figure (68). Berman says that the plan is not workable because it does not take into account the logistics of setting up tents in such a confined space, provides aisles which are too narrow, does not take into account impedances such as trees and bollards, and notes that there is only one elevator to service the vendors who will have 50 parking spaces set aside in the project for their use on weekends. Berman estimates that not more than 40 vendors will be able to set up on C Street and the public plaza and predicts a logistical nightmare for setting up these few.
The Eastern Market Legislation holds out the possibility that 7th Street between C Street and Pennsylvania Avenue could be closed to accommodate vendors who will not find space on the newly opened C Street. Berman estimates that perhaps 50 vendors could set up on this section of 7th Street, but the legislation says nothing about authority to close this part of 7th. How the “brick and mortar” merchants on the west side of the street between Eastern Market and Pennsylvania Avenue will react to a proposal to close the street is unknown – but their counterparts opposite Eastern Market are known to be unhappy about former Mayor Fenty closing that section of 7th on weekends by fiat.
Councilmember Wells will address community concerns on these and other issues at a public meeting on Tuesday, May 22, from 6:30pm – 8:00pm at Brent Elementary School, 301 North Carolina Avenue, SE.
Important dates in the development’s future are as follows:
June 7, 2012 – DC City Council Committee of the Whole hearing on Eastern Market Bill
June 14, 2012 – Planned Unit Development (PUD) Hearing before DC Zoning Commission
January – October 2012 – Construction Drawings Completed
September 2012 – Submit request for Building Permits
April 2013 – Start Building Construction
Spring 2015 – Completion