Flea Market Managers Disappointed in Draft Eastern Market Legislation – Future of Flea Markets in Doubt

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

32 Comments

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32 responses to “Flea Market Managers Disappointed in Draft Eastern Market Legislation – Future of Flea Markets in Doubt

  1. The developers proposed space for the flea markets is less than a third of what is currently used.

  2. oboe

    A long time ago, when the neighborhood was in crisis, and the city was bankrupt, there was plenty of vacant lot space. Now there’s not. While the flea market is nice to have, everything is a trade-off.

    As far as:
    “One of the 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…”

    One of the things that irks me is the way that Eastern Market, which is pretty much a unique to DC resource is treated as a source of patronage. In my opinion, vendors who operated inside the Market are given far too many “protections”, never mind those who operate in the flea market area.

    If we want to “protect” vendors, we should give them a limited lease (say 4-5 years) and renew say 90% of the vendors at that time. 10% we say, “Thanks for playing”, and bring 10% new blood in each cycle.

    The folks managing the market have a primary obligation to customers, and residents of DC, not the vendors. And the quality of the offerings from some of the vendors are just not up to snuff–especially when compared to similar facilities in other cities.

  3. SimonSays

    oboe: I am a Capitol Hill resident and I very much like the vendors that are there right now. In fact, I moved to the area and the Eastern Market was one of the factors. Can you clarify which “similar facilities” in other cities you prefer?

  4. J. jones

    I have yet to see or hear how the new buildings can offer much to a large number of persons shopping and living on the Hill. Are we shortcutting a draw from other parts of the city for this development?

    • SimonSays

      Completely agree. There are vacant storefront retail spaces in good locations as it is. All this does is make a quick buck for the developer and add inventory to the market in places like Barrack’s Row and on Pennsylvania

  5. Fake Handle

    As an Eastern Market resident, I would love to see some more permanent businesses during the week and evenings. Additionally, as a renter who would like to buy in the near future, I believe this development brings in some much needed competition.

    While I love the flea market and the vendors, I actually help out with one on a regular basis, their needs are not greater than the entire neighborhoods. Are we really going to prioritize something that is only open 2 days a week, and is really only busy at best half of the year?

    • SimonSays

      How about the need to live in a quiet neighborhood with availability of parking during the week?

      • Fake Handle

        The plans include 2 levels of underground parking… Are you opposed to new and younger residents moving into Eastern Market?

        I have a car and parking is rarely an issue within 2 blocks of my apartment. Try living in just about any other neighborhood in DC and you’ll realize parking is not an issue on the Hill.

      • SimonSays

        Parking for whom? Based on what I’ve seen of the developer’s plans, the vast majority of this will not be public parking but rather for the use of the residents of the condos and office buildings in the development. This is not currently the case with the Hine parking lot being free during weekdays.

        In addition, all of these residents will be entitled to receive residential parking permits, thereby putting strain on a limited supply of what you correctly point out is a good current parking situation for residents.

        I am not opposed to ‘new and younger residents’ moving to Capitol Hill. After all, I am young myself and moved here less than four years ago. What I am opposed to is a worsening in my quality of living for something that I have yet to see how it will benefit the community.

      • Fake Handle

        I have never parked in the Hines lot, but I do recall a meter station somewhere within there. My guess is that this lot is not free, as free parking anywhere in this city is usually a myth.

        It seems contradictory to not oppose new residents, but at the same time be unwilling to compromise on your current parking situation? Welcome to the city, parking will always be an issue.

        This development promises consistent businesses during the week, and week nights, new housing competition, new customers for the flea market, and jobs.

  6. Just one out of thousands of comments from supporters:
    “We lived on Capitol Hill for About 20 years and now live in Alexandria but we go every weekend to Eastern MArket . I buy Christmas, wedding, and birthday gift at the flea market. The range of items is wonderful. Why in heavens name are you trying to kill off this beloved vibrant site!
    When redevelopment occurs there is usually a major effort to insure “place making” Well you already have “place making” which is supplied by these venders, People love the variety of goods, the people , the dogs, the musicians. Accomodate them don’t kill them off! ”
    @fake handle, we are not talking about re prioritization, we are talking about accommodation of appropriate public space for the community.

    • Fake Handle

      From what I have read the development does make accommodations for the Flea Market. They may not be 100% what the Flea Market would want, but I fail to see is any accommodations or compromises being offered by the Flea Market itself. It seems to be a completely binary process of either no development and keep the market or development and no market at all.

      This may be Capitol Hill, but that doesn’t mean some kind of compromise could not be reached for the greater good.

  7. Compromise is exactly what I ask. I do not, and never have, requested 100% of our space. But 20-25% of the space is a loss to the community, as well as the market activity. I believe in the greater good. Decent public space is good for the community, the businesses and the developers project.

    • Fake Handle

      How much space does the developer need to add to accommodate the market sufficiently?

      • SimonSays

        I think a better question is how much space the developer is willing to give up in exchange for keeping the community from further opposing this ill-conceived plan.

      • Fake Handle

        This is the type of brinksmanship that has led us to the current point. The development is going to happen, it’s a matter of constructively engaging the developer to get the best ends for the market – not throwing up roadblock after roadblock that will eventually discourage the developer from even considering the market a priority.

  8. SimonSays

    I am asking a very reasonable question that the developer certainly has an an answer to. I have seen their plans and like Mr. Berman said, 20-25% is unacceptable so I think it’s fair to ask the developer if they are willing to make concessions.

    Just curious, do you have any relationship with Stanton/Eastbanc?

  9. Its not just a percentage of space question, its also about logistics and something that fits, provides decent access, space for customers and positively impacts the storefronts that they are proposing. It needs thoughtful planning and design, and the developer has continually ignored suggestions and compromises.

    • Fake Handle

      The developer has to put out specific plans, etc… It’s time for the neighborhood to get specific as well as opposed the blanket opposition demonstrated by your comment.

      What specifically in the logistics needs to happen? What specifically needs to change and in what way that would meet the flea market’s needs?

  10. Fake Handle

    I have no relationship at all with Stanton/Eastbanc and it is pretty lame if you think that is the only reason someone would support this development.

    What I am, however, is a 5 year Capitol Hill resident – 2.5 years directly in Eastern Market (7th and C St SE) who is tired of an empty building wasting my tax payer dollars, lost economic opportunity for the city, and someone who supports more housing competition on the Hill. All of this, for the sake of Flea Market that is only full 50% of the year and for only 2 days of the week.

    The developer put out their number, it would be fair for the market to say no we need…X more space of vendors, X more parking spots, etc… I have little doubt that the developer is trying to use as much space as possible, but I also have little doubt that the cries of the market are being exaggerated as well.

  11. We use 150 spaces and 20 aisles. We are nearly 100% most Sundays between April and December, weather permitting. In winter, of course, we are less. The developer proposed 60+ spaces and narrow aisles. Most of those spaces are blocked by trees, bollards, street furniture and water fountains. So likely the real number of usable space is closer to 40 and no vehicular access for set-up and break down. In other words, the market not viable at all and could not operate, thus it is gone. There is room here for compromise.

    • Fake Handle

      So how man spaces does the market need? Have you recommended that the trees, etc be removed from the plans? What specific vehicular requirements do the vendors need?

      This is my point, be specific with your requests – then the developer has actually to respond to and address. No more of these blanket assertions that there will only be “40 usable spaces” and this will end the market. Trust me, the developer has no desire to kill the market – I am 100% sure it was one of the many compelling reasons they competed for this project.

  12. SimonSays

    To be clear, my opposition is not only due to the reduction of the market and elimination of the weekday parking. I know it is free because I use the lot almost every other day and there is no sign indicating a fee. I’ve seen the machine but it is old and does not appear to be in use.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some things the neighborhood lacks, however what it does not lack is retail space. I can think of multiple storefront properties in very short proximity that have been vacant for months in prime locations. If the city was looking to build say a new library, or a theater, or add park space, I would be the first in line to support them. They are not. Instead they have given this prime real estate to a developer who has been dishonest with the community (look at the EMMCA blog’s article with their FOIA request on the bogus “letters of support”).

    Also, I’ve now seen the term ‘housing competition’ mentioned multiple times. I think we should call this what it is: increased housing supply that will lead to a reduction in values for the entire neighborhood. As a current homeowner I am especially against this.

    Making it harder to find parking will decrease the values in the neighborhood. More empty storefronts will decrease the values in the neighborhood. More traffic in the surrounding streets will decrease the values in the neighborhood. A reduction in the size of the market will decrease the values in the neighborhood.

    And no, I do not take it as a gi

    • SimonSays

      Sorry, meant to add:

      And no, I do not take it as a given that parking will always be tough in the city. The developer and the city are making a conscious decision to build a high-density property in the heart of a historic area. There is nobody who is forcing them to do this.

      • Fake Handle

        1) Why are you using a free lot during the day if you’re a current Capitol Hill resident? I wouldn’t consider this a norm within the city and something we shouldn’t expect to keep around regardless of the development or not.

        2) The development comes with additional office space, which would bring more foot traffic and the potential to fill current empty retail and planned new retail spaces – field of dreams scenario – if you build it they
        will come. Additionally, the plans include a new pre-school and space for a community theater – all greater goods for the area.

        3) Housing competition is exactly what you’re afraid of. Unfortunately, a lot of us cannot afford to buy reasonably priced housing on the Hill. These potential new condos would at least bring the prices in line of the older properties. I wish the opponents of this project would just admit to this fear instead of masking it in arguments for the Flea Market. In the long run this development will serve to create a truer price for housing on the Hill.

        4) The city and developers are making it a point to build a high-density mixed use project directly across the street from the metro, because that makes complete sense and is a responsible use of a currently vacant building. The reduction in parking will be minimal, especially when you compare the parking situation on the weekends! There is nothing historic about the empty Hines school and the entire lot it sits on, again an empty argument to stop progress.

  13. annie k.

    I think the flea market will stay together, they just may get relocated like vendors always do. the area is rich with the arts/treasures and with the new development it will be a beautiful place for all creative vendors on C street, on 7th, the pool area. the entire area deserves a facelift. who knows, we may even get a dogpark in the deal. as a citizen I say let the professionals handle it. as an eastern market vendor I am happy with the recent improvements to the market and 7th street. keep the ball rolling. with having it’s own metro stop it’s going to thrive and prosper and become the toast of the town.

  14. For local residents, the redevelopment project started with a series of meetings organized by former Mayor Fenty, in which a certain kind of redevelopment was already assumed as necessary: Hine would be replaced by a building with expensive residences, a first floor of businesses, some room for potential non-profits or a boutique hotel, and the city-regulated few residences for moderate-income and very few for low-income individuals or households. At these meetings, political officials presented this redevelopment model without any real discussion or any real imagination. The options have been presented as only 1) new urbanist high-density transit-oriented development or 2) local NIMBYism and lack of development. Developers and politicians have pushed and continue to push this redevelopment plan forward, presenting it as inevitable and good for Capitol Hill. What if we stopped for a moment and really talked about the redevelopment of Hine Jr High?

    Yes, a delay would make many people anxious, but the Hine site is a spectacular space that invites us to think in a more imaginative way. A delay would make the architects and urban planners nervous because, as I spoke about in my last post, they have no role when there is no building going on and many of them make their money when building is moving forward. City officials are also looking for tax revenue. People will likely say that we don’t have time for delay because the abandoned building will attract crime. People might say that such a discussion is a waste of time, it won’t go anywhere, there really are no alternatives, and we already have the Hill Center and CHAW. But can’t we do better than the current plan? We don’t have to be perfect, but the site is a spectacular space and deserves some real discussion.

    What is a more imaginative vision of the neighborhood? Is it just a desire for expensive town houses and high-end boutiques? Or is it something else? Something that might draw even more people to the area? Such imaginative models emerge from real discussion, not orchestrated discussions with already set agendas. Here are some ideas inspired by a commenter on my last post:

    Give adequate space to the flea market. Think about how the flea market might be expanded, not reduced, in interesting ways.
    Keep the views of Eastern Market open from 8th Street, not blocked by new buildings. Without this view, we can only view the glorious front of Eastern Market in a cramped way, right in front of the building. Think about how to improve and highlight this wonderful view with new walkways and plantings.
    Return the tennis courts, the basketball courts, and the playground to bring a lively non-commercial aspect to the area. Maybe even include picnic tables and benches to create a new social space.
    Learn from other cities. Lots of Hill residents have seen cities all around the US and abroad; they could bring these experiences to the table. Rome’s Villaggio Globela provides so many activities far different from those offered by the great CHAW and Hill Center. Many other interesting experiments could be found.
    Develop the site over time. We don’t need to have the answer right now, but we can open the discussion up and invite, for example, students from area schools and universities to talk about possibilities and experiments from other cities in the United States and elsewhere. We can develop parts of the site and think about other parts. We can work to stop the intrusion of crime, trash, and any ugliness. Most importantly, we don’t have to have the perfect solution. The current solution is also in no way perfect, but it will be permanent.

    Want to have a real discussion? All you have to do is start talking tonight:

    • This is actually Johanna Bockman. For some reason, I couldn’t put in my real name. http://sociologyinmyneighborhood.blogspot.com/2012/05/cant-we-do-better-than-this.html

      • goldfish

        @Johanna: I still think the hotel is great idea. It would bring in visitors to support the local retail, and it could be small enough to provide the space needed for the flea market and the tennis courts. And since the Navy yard and DoT and EPA are nearby, there is no shortage of visitors. The current Federal hotel perdiem is $224/night — with visitors paying that, there should be plenty of money to develop something nice.

        A landmark hotel (not too large) would really sit well, and add a lot to the community.

  15. annie k.

    sorry but in my opinion parking is such a thoughtless issue and waste of mention. the eastern market has it’s own metro stop and more and more people are riding bikes all around town to support a greener alternative to dirty nasty fumes, drippy oils…not to mention a healthy, safe AND fun thing to do. the market is a wonderful family place with roving buskers and street artists. they need more street space, dog parks and open spaces, not more parking spaces.
    .

  16. +1 @dc cooperative/Johanna

  17. rick wright

    @MikeBerman – How much do you stand to profit from the current contract structure with the District? Shouldn’t that money be going to the Eastern Market Trust? I know you have a sweet deal right now as the operator of the current market – its a little disingenuous that you are not revealing this.