Opinions Offered at Second Meeting on Future Status of Seventh Street SE

Feedback heard on whether street should remain closed for markets

The flea market on the 300 block of Seventh Street SE a few hours before the EMCAC meeting. Photo: Elizabeth O'Gorek

The Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) held its second public hearing on the future status of Seventh Street SE. The Committee continued to seek comment on the issue of whether or not the 200 and 300 blocks of Seventh Street –the site of three outdoor markets – should remain closed to weekend traffic after the Hine School Project is complete. Sources indicated that the Project is expected to be completed as early as September 30 and as late as October 31.

Many of the same parties who attended the first EMCAC meeting on the issue on the previous Saturday were again present. However, some new opinions and news were brought to the attention of EMCAC.

Carol Wright of Washington Arts, Antiques, Crafts & Collectible Associates (WAACA), operator of the Saturday flea market on the 300 block of Seventh Street SE, again appeared. She said the flea market had up to 155 spaces on the Hine School site, and 67 on the 300 block of Seventh Street SE, later reduced to 37 for construction needs. There will be 67 on the 700 block of C Street SE in the Hine Project when that space is complete.

She gave a history of the Saturday flea market’s persistence through the 2006 fire and other obstacles, noting that it had also done fundraising and food drives.

“We have contributed to the neighborhood, and the neighborhood surely paid us back,” she said, calling support for the flea market in the wake of the announcement of the Hine School Project “over the top.”

Wright said that she had been told the development would be complete and the flea market could move to the 700 block of C Street SE as early as September 30 and as late as November 1. She also said she had a contract with DGS to be on the 300 block of Seventh Street SE until October 30. If the Hine School Project is complete by the end of September, the flea markets might be on both blocks for a month.

“If the community decides that the 300 block will be closed, I have been told it will be open to bidders,” she said. “I will be vehemently opposing this. I believe that the two markets that have been there for 27 years are the only markets that should be here, at least in the short term.”

Indoor merchants again stated their opinion that the street should be reopened to traffic, and to parking. William Glasgow of Union Meat spoke again to say that the lack of parking on Seventh Street SE was seriously affecting the business of the indoor merchants. He offered options to improve what he called the accessibility problem, including fifteen minute parking area in the alley between the market building and Rumsey Pool, and a drop-off and pick-up zone.

Glasgow later said that his business had significantly decreased over the last three years. “I’m not talking about one or three percent, either,” he said. “And this last year the decrease has been tremendous.”

Glasgow said that he didn’t want to be told what to do by government, but he would abide by the decision of the community, hoping they would first be fully informed.

On August 12, indoor merchants have circulated a statement signed by several South Hall merchants, farmers and food sellers saying that they recommend Seventh Street SE be re-opened as a southbound one-way street, saying “The road closure has created a real accessibility issue that has had a negative effect on our fresh food sales, is problematic for our farmers, and of great concern to all of us in regards to the long-term viability of the fresh food market.”

One vendor outside the market on the plaza at the intersection of North Carolina and Seventh Street SE asked for the street to be open to traffic. She said her business had decreased tremendously over the last few years. “What I make now in one month, I used to make in two days,” said jeweler Enice Han. She said she used to employ five people, but now works alone, spending much of her time sitting. She said there are so many businesses of varying quality that it confuses the customers, adding that she finds it difficult to sell her “sterling silver jewelry with faceted gem stones next to $3 items made in China.”

Another outdoor vendor, the painter Pridon Goisashvili, described how after moving to America from the Republic of Georgia, he lost his job in the recession of 2008 and has been selling his art at the weekend market on the 200 block of Seventh Street SE ever since. He said his business was growing and that he was grateful for the opportunity. He said he was the sole supporter of his wife and two children, aged 2 and 9. “I take it personally they are telling me after the nine years that I invested here, ‘now we need to open the streets, so you need to go,” he said.

The seven residents who spoke were all long-term residents of the area. Several called for the streets to be opened. One said that she felt the indoor merchants were the backbone of what was intended to be a fresh food market, and she would support whatever they needed. Another said that she was concerned that decisions were being made without public input, noting that Eastern Market was by statute primarily a food market.

Leonard Hacker, a Capitol Hill resident since 1963 and a former ANC Commissioner, said that the neighborhood had specifically been told that the 300 block would be reopened and voiced concerns about access for emergency vehicles. “The residents are going to be in danger if Seventh Street is not reopened,” he said.

Another resident said that the disagreements between vendors, merchants and farmers was her ‘worst nightmare coming true,’ adding that she thought that the flea markets, farmers and indoor merchants all needed one another to survive. She reminded EMCAC of a study by the Project for Public Spaces that found that the only places where fresh food markets continued to survive was where they were located in a market zone.

Residents said that they were unclear who would be making the final decision, or why it seemed like the process was being rushed by the District. They called for additional data and study of the implications of having the road closed and open to traffic, adding that they were unclear of the impacts on either the indoor merchants or the outdoor vendors, or the role of parking at the Hine School site in the future of the market.

When asked for comment, a representative of Stanton-Eastbanc, developer of the Hine School Project said, “as per our memorandum of understanding with the ANC which has been incorporated into the zoning order, 50 parking spots will be reserved for the flea market vehicles on Saturday and Sunday.”

EMCAC continues to accept comments on the status of future closure of Seventh Street SE until August 22. Written comments can be submitted to EMCAC Chair Donna Scheeder by email at Donna_Scheeder@comcast.net

An ANC 6B Special Call Meeting open to public comment on the same topic takes place at the 7:00 p.m. meeting of the Executive. They meet Tuesday August 29 in the Frager’s Conference Room, 3rd Floor, at The Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital (921 Pennsylvania Ave SE). Comments can be submitted by email to 6b@anc.dc.gov