EMCAC and ANC6B Cross Swords Over Control of Flea Markets – Former Councilmember Sharon Ambrose Backs EMCAC
by Larry Janezich
Last night at the September ANC6B meeting, the lines were drawn in a dispute between Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) and ANC6B over control of vending on the 300 block of 7th Street.
The ongoing issue of adequate space to maintain the size of the flea market, as well as the control over that space, poses issues of real consequence. Tens of thousands of dollars in annual vendor fees collected by the current market managers who enjoy cut-rate access to public space to host the weekend markets are on the line. The weekend market managers have considerable community support from those who do not want to see the markets diminished and those who question the city taking over what has heretofore been a private enterprise. Many of these supporters of the current weekend flea market are constituents of the two ANC6B Commissioners – Ivan Frishberg and Brian Pate – who have taken the lead in negotiating the community benefits and amenities package with the developer of the Hine project. Perhaps also at play is a desire to assert the authority of ANC6B in a vacuum left by the lack of city leadership.
Last week, the ANC P&Z Committee defeated a resolution sponsored by Pate that would have requested that the 300 block of 7th be closed on weekends by mayoral order during the construction of the Hine project to accommodate the weekend markets which would be under the control of the two current market managers, with revenues accruing from the resulting contract going to Eastern Market. Though this had the support of the market managers, the resolution was defeated on 3-5 vote.
Subsequently, EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder wrote to Deputy Mayor Hoskin’s office, DPMED, citing DC law and asserting EMCAC control over vending on the block, saying the law makes clear that retailing on any public space associated with Eastern Market – including 7th Street – “should not be permitted without written consent of the Department of General Services (DGS) and the review of EMCAC.” The letter went on to state, “While I am sure that ANC6B will want to weigh in, according to the DC Code they are not the primary advisory body for this issue.” And, “As you may be aware, EMCAC supports vending on this block of 7th street on the condition that it be under the jurisdiction of DGS management and the Eastern Market manager. We do not approve of allowing 2 private management companies to control the space, especially during the construction on the Hine site.”
Councilmember Tommy Wells has also gone on record that vending on 7th Street should be under the control of DGS.
At last night’s ANC meeting Pate introduced a new resolution staying neutral on who would manage the weekend market. He said he would postpone consideration until the October ANC6B meeting to allow time for the “brick and mortar” merchants on the 300 block of 7th Street to formulate a collective position.
Former Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose rose from the audience to say that the ANC did not have a role in closing of the street. “There is no request for a street closure – no zoning issues – there is simply nothing here on which you have a role to play.” Donna Scheeder agreed, saying there is a process in DC code for considering closure of the 300 block and the process should be followed. She noted that the reason ANC has a seat on EMCAC (occupied by Pate) is to help determine how taxpayer assets can best be managed to preserve Eastern Market, implying that Pate’s first duty was to Eastern Market. She stated, “I would be remiss in my responsibilities as Chair if I say anything other than the DC Code sets out that EMCAC has primary jurisdiction over retail on the 300 block of 7th Street.”
Commissioners Frishberg, Pate and Garrison disagreed that the ANC has no role. Frishberg cited the lack of city leadership saying, “If we wait, something will happen and it will be beyond us. We could have just restated our position on closing the block. That would have left questions on table. Where the money goes. How construction would be coordinated. We were proactive and chose to get out ahead. The risk of not doing something is that something will happen some night – the Mayor’s pen….” Pate added that, “As long as I’m involved, we will have a role in the closure of 7th Street.” Garrison sharply disagreed with Ambrose, saying, “We’re on solid ground to take action if we choose to do so.”
The decision to postpone any ANC6B action until the October meeting comes at a time when EMCAC is scheduled to meet on September 26th at 7:00 p.m. in the North Hall; EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder suggested Tuesday night that it is likely EMCAC will take up this issue when it convenes.