Eastern Market Flea Markets Still Without Permanent SolutionSetbacks and Temporary Solutions for Neighborhood Institution
by Larry Janezich
Since the first community meeting on the Hine project hosted by Councilmember Tommy Wells in the Hine cafeteria on April 30, 2006, the preservation of the flea market has been among the community’s top priorities.
Attendees at that meeting left, feeling assured that the flea markets would be provided for. And, indeed, when the Request for Proposals for development of the Hine site appeared, there was a requirement for adequate space for the flea markets. Additional language requiring space for the flea markets was written into the term sheet outlining what the city required of the Hine developer.
As the plans for the project unfolded, the available space for the flea markets shrank. As the ANC6B noted in its letter to the HPRB of July 27, 2011, “While the size of the plaza itself has not changed since February, the number of tents it is designed to support has changed from presentation to presentation.” The letter noted that RFP plans depicted support for over 100 tents but by July, 2011, the number of tents had shrunk to 68.
The story the developer told the community – which was passed on by some members of the local media – was that the 8th Street neighbors refused to permit an entrance to the parking garage on 8th Street, requiring the entrance to be placed on C Street, resulting in a reduction in the number of spaces available for the flea market. What was less talked about was the decision of the DC Department of Transportation nixing the developer’s plan to put the entrance to the underground parking on 7th Street, requiring its relocation.
In meetings between community leaders and DMPED it became clear that as far as the latter was concerned, 68 tents met their criteria that adequate space be provided for the flea market.
Community members who opposed reducing the size of the flea market brought political pressure to bear on their ANC representatives and Councilmember Tommy Wells to remedy the situation. Wells’ response was to amend his proposed legislation providing a new governing structure for Eastern Market to give the new body (the “Trust”) authority to site the flea markets on 7th Street between North Carolina Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue on weekends. He chose this route rather than directly approaching the developer to discuss the possibility of more space for the flea market.
Instead, Wells’ plan incorporated 7th Street between North Carolina and Pennsylvania Avenue in the “Eastern Market Special Use District,” which would be under the control of the Trust. The legislation was fast-tracked and headed for a hearing, when the resignation of City Council Chair Kwame Brown resulted in a hearing postponement.
On July 2, at Muriel Bowser Government Operations Committee hearing on the bill, a representative of Mayor Gray announced the mayor was opposed the to the legislation.
This was problematic, since the support of ANC6B for the Hine project before the Zoning Commission (ZC) was contingent on approval of the legislation which offered a remedy to the halving of the weekend flea markets occasioned by the construction of the Hine project.
As September 10 (corrected) approaches – the day the ZC will announce what changes to the Hine project will be necessary to grant the developer’s rezoning request, maneuvering to find a way forward on the flea market intensified. A way was found, but a way that once again appeared to set back the prospects for continuation of the flea markets. When the final version of the ANC6B’s Memorandum of Agreement on the Hine project was filed with the Zoning Commission, approval was no longer contingent on passage of the Eastern Market legislation. A proposed temporary fix for the flea market through the Hine construction phase had apparently satisfied the ANC. Effectively, the responsibility for finding space for the flea market has been passed from Councilmember Tommy Wells, who had agreed with neighborhood concerns regarding the market, to the ANC, which vowed not support the Hine Development unless adequate space was found, to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development – who is just fine with 68 tents on C Street and the Plaza. The temporary fix gathering momentum anticipates the likely closure of 7th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and C Street during the construction of the Hine project by mayoral order to accommodate the weekend flea markets.
Two points are not being openly acknowledged in the maneuvering. First, temporary fixes tend to become permanent. If this in fact happens, this would leave the current market managers looking to the city’s Department of General Services for a flea market management role. Second, it may well be that DMPED may find reasons for not closing the 300 block of 7th Street on weekends on a permanent basis. A lot will depend on who is Mayor in 2015 when the project is scheduled for completion – which may be the subtext of much of the debate concerning the Hine Development.
Emmcablog will post the details of this summer’s maneuvering for control over the market in a subsequent posting.