ANC 6B Set to Consider Eastern Flea Market Next Tuesday – Planning and Zoning Committee Rejects Compromise Language

ANC 6B Set to Consider Eastern Flea Market Next Tuesday – Planning and Zoning Committee Rejects Compromise Language

by Larry Janezich

Last night, ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee rejected a compromise resolution supporting the weekend closure of the 300 block of 7th Street explicitly for the current flea market operators (Michael Berman and Carole Wright) during the construction of the Hine project.  The resolution made relocation of the markets to 7th Street contingent on a contract with the Department of General Services (DGS) and provided that revenue accruing to the city from the contract will go to support Eastern Market.  The vote was 3 to 5, with Commissioners Pate, Frishberg, and Flahaven voting aye.  Commissioners Oldenburg, Garrison, Metzger, Green, and Critchfield voted nay.

The language was an attempt to resolve the struggle over control of the weekend flea markets.  EMCAC, the oversight board for Eastern Market, has long eyed the tens of thousands of dollars vendors pay flea market operators as a source of operating funds for the perpetually cash-strapped Eastern Market.  On the other hand, the current flea market operators do not want to lose control of their lucrative source of income from their businesses by being forced to play a subsidiary role in the management of the flea markets.  EMCAC has supported closing the street for the weekend flea markets by mayoral order which would put the vendors under DGS and the Eastern Market manager; the flea market managers have requested that the street be closed via a special event permit, placing the flea markets under their control.

Commissioner Brian Pate crafted the compromise language on Monday and unveiled it at Tuesday night’s meeting.  It differed substantially from proposed language circulated by Commissioner Frishberg on Sunday.  That earlier language recommended the closure of the block by mayoral order during the construction phase of the Hine project – and possibly afterward – as a market place for vending.  The Frishberg draft resolution stated, “Such market activities should be coordinated with the management of Eastern Market and should contribute to the financial security of the market.”  It also requested closure of the street until the mayor’s order is amended or ended, thus providing for closure to continue after construction is complete.  It would have put the block and the market operations under the Department of General Services (DGS) and its manager for the Eastern Market, but did not specifically refer to a role for the current flea market operators.  The difference between the two resolutions seemed primarily one of defining a role for the current flea market operators, Berman and Wright and laying out some of the contractual conditions.

Judging from comments of the commissioners who attended the Planning and Zoning meeting, the Frishberg language might have passed.  Since Sunday, however, it appears that Pate, cognizant both of the grassroots support for the flea market operators and of EMCAC’s appeal to guarantee the long-term sustainability of Eastern Market, drafted the new language in an attempt to protect the two market managers while ensuring that Eastern Market benefits from the relocated operation.  At Tuesday night’s meeting, the new language received the tacit endorsement of flea market operator Michael Berman.  EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder stated that the Eastern Market manager and DGS are prepared to extend their responsibility to the 300 block of 7th Street.  The several commissioners opposed were not so ready to jump aboard the train, and cited their unhappiness with specifying the two flea market operators and the inclusion of language detailing the nature of the potential contract with DGS as reasons for their opposition.  Critchfield cited technical rather than substantive reasons for his opposition.  The position of absent ANC commissioners Campbell and Glick on the language is not known.

Frishberg supported the new language saying that “the city has exhibited no leadership on this” and noted “there hasn’t been anything out of the Wilson Building.  I don’t see any leadership on Eastern Market at all – I see the opposite.”

Councilmember Wells’ legislation to provide a new Eastern Market managing structure and to consolidate the weekend flea markets under control of Eastern Market remains in limbo.  Last night, Pate said it was his opinion that the bill was “stagnated, if not dead and politicized as part of the future mayoral race.  In my opinion, the there’s not a chance of an ice cube in Hades” the bill will become law.

Asked subsequently to assess the prospects for the legislation, Wells said on August 27, “The Gray administration has not stated an intention to end managing the market.  Most agree that DGS (Department of General Services) through Barry Margeson is doing a good job.  I am setting up a meeting with the Mayor and DGS to determine if the city wishes to continue to manage the market for the foreseeable future.  This will determine the need and timing of the legislation, which I believe is the best solution in the long run for preserving Eastern Market.”

Asked whether he had stated support for either of the two competing options, Wells replied, “I could support either petitioning the Mayor to close lower 7th or applying for a special permit.  Both have pluses and minuses.”  He added, “I believe DGS should be responsible for the flea markets operating on 7th since it is an ongoing activity and DGS has experience in property management.”

Steve Holtzman, Pate’s ANC 6B opponent in the fall election and community representative on the Hine Subcommittee Open Space Task Force said, “The closure of the 300 block of 7th Street seems the only viable option to permit the flea markets to survive during the construction period on Hine, so I’m supportive of the objective of the proposed ANC resolution. That being said, some of the language needs more clarification, for example, on the manner in which the flea markets are anticipated to provide revenue to Eastern Market.”

The defeated resolution will now go to the full ANC as part of the committee report.  It will be taken up at ANC 6B’s September meeting and undergo the regular amendment process in hopes a new compromise can be reached.  The meeting will be held 7:00pm on Tuesday, September 11, at Hill Center.


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3 responses to “ANC 6B Set to Consider Eastern Flea Market Next Tuesday – Planning and Zoning Committee Rejects Compromise Language

  1. peggy

    not sure why there’s a problem with the EM getting vendor rents over private enterprise. private enterprises should have no weight in this endeavor. the neighborhood’s loyalties should be to the EM. hopefully the EM will absorb the best vendors and the Historic district can be monitored. it’s unfortunately that all the negative attention caused by “save the flea market” has been associated with the coveted EM open air market, and it’s cost the EM vendors business. the “flea market” is NOT part of the historic EM although hopefully they will take the vendors in their expansion. I’m not sure how the weekend managers of a private flea market have pulled the wool over the entire town to believe they’re part of the historic EM. could it be they have positioned themselves that way? I cannot believe this much time and energy from politicians, the developer, and the community has been given to a “private’ flea market? yes they may call themselves BUT THEY Have NOTHING to do with the historic EM and I think it’s a crying shame this isn’t a big deal !!! talk about misrepresenting themselves ! the community surely could help their local historic market that needs their help over a private flea market company. I still shake my head in disbelief this is actually going on !! and a private flea market thinks they have the weight to CLOSE a street ? are you kidding me??????

  2. If I may address Peggy’s comment. The flea markets are integral part of Eastern Market proper. In fact the present Sunday flea market operators were the first to bring business to Eastern Market on Sundays, back in the early eighties, when the market itself used to be closed and there not yet Sunday farmers. The expansion to Sundays was a very significant step in the evolution of the present weekend phenomena. That same group eventually expanded to Hine School lot, and continued to be the sole manager of Sunday flea market at Eastern Market proper until ‘ousted’ (is that the word?) when DC government opted for a variety of reasons to assume management of the market at the beginning of 2009.

    What so many of us at the market find so disquieting about the flea market issue, is not the fact that present operators could lose their businesses, but that a politically generated group could find rationale to take over those businesses, and in turn operate those businesses to generate money for another purpose. Its a very odd and disturbing thing, so much so that it does not really matter what the rationale or how fine the purpose.

    As an Eastern Market artist (Eastern Market proper), I would be very happy to see DGS being paid fair and reasonable rent by the existing flea market managements to operate their markets through the construction period. Thus market would receive the revenue and there would a single strand of continuity left to us.

  3. Bobbi Krengel

    Thank you, Joseph, and thank you, Larry, for pointing out that the number one priority for the Hine redevelopment project since day one in 2006 has been public space for use in part by the flea market.

    This is precisely why guaranteed space for the flea market must be protected from being vulnerable to the vagaries of politics, and the community’s understanding of that danger is precisely why it has always been its number one and unanimous priority, codified in the RFP per its instruction.

    This instruction was to include open public space within the project, NOT “find a way to avoid having to make space for the flea market” or “find some other place to put it” or “find alternative spaces to cram the flea market into or string it out along other streets and sidewalks”. Everybody understands that open public space is not a great profit center, and that is why the community understood instinctively that any developer would try to weasel out of it, and made it their top priority.

    And this is why it is critical for the DCAG to weigh in on the current project proposal’s alignment with the RFP now, before any more damage is done. Why is this taking so long?

    SEB totally threw the 8th Street neighbors under the bus by blaming them as the reason that the promised public plaza “had” to be reduced, ignoring DDOT’s nixing of 7th Street and myriad other pressures. This effectively put neighbor against neighbor, the surest route to prevailing developer desires.

    If that plaza cannot be made large enough to accomodate the flea market, then ditch the problematic north building, integrate the affordable units into the the south building, and make the north parcel the open public space. The private sale of any portion of this land should never happen.

    We are in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Yes, it would be so great if more of the profits generated by the flea markets went to support Eastern Market, but that money grab is endangering the goose that laid the golden egg. Our beloved fresh food market and farmers’ market would never be so vital without the less noble weekend flea markets.

    If the city feels that they are not capturing enough of the profits generated by the flea markets or they are not being used in the right way, then it needs to renegotiate those leases more to their benefit at their earliest legal opportunity; instead of trying to wrest control of those private markets by allowing its chosen developer to squeeze them out of their space. People want those flea markets, and it is very possible that the “real” market would never have survived without them.

    Bobbi Krengel