Image by Susan Balding used with permission.

Two restaurants in Cleveland Park shut their doors this weekend because of slow business. With strong support from residents, two ANC commissioners submitted a Comprehensive Plan amendment that would help bring more commercial space to the area. They withheld a proposal that would make it easier to build more housing because it didn’t get quite as much support.

Upscale Ripple and Vietnamese sit-down Nam Viet closed on Sunday, June 24, igniting a discussion among Cleveland Park residents about how to attract and keep businesses in the neighborhood.

Nam Viet was open for 20 years and was beloved as an affordable dining option in the area, but explained in a public letter posted online and in their door that business had lagged in recent years because of competition from restaurants in other neighborhoods. The letter explains:

"In many years as the District of Columbia has grown, we have seen new neighborhoods sprout almost monthly, and commerce move from one end of the city to the other. Competition to remain significant and relevant in this fast-paced DC restaurant market has presented a challenge to Cleveland Park business the past few years."

Ripple, an upscale American restaurant lauded for its adventurous food and up-and-coming chefs, announced its closing just before Nam Viet, also citing slow business as the primary reason.

Amidst the closings, ANC Commissioners Beau Finley (3C04) and Emma Hersh (3C05) released a survey to see if Cleveland Park residents supported addressing the issue by increasing the housing and commercial space along Connecticut Avenue NW. In their view, adding those things would bring more foot traffic, and therefore customers, to local businesses.

The survey asked whether residents support three amendments to the Comprehensive Plan, a document that lays out a long-term vision for growth in the city. The amendments would pave the way for more housing and commercial development and study the segment of Connecticut Avenue that runs through Cleveland Park.

Residents support letting more businesses come to the area

Image by Susan Balding used with permission.

According to the survey results, residents really want more commerce along the Connecticut Avenue corridor. 81% of those who took the survey said they support amending the Future Land Use Map in the Comprehensive Plan to support three to five story buildings that could be shops and offices along the Connecticut Avenue corridor. Right now, the corridor is zoned only to support one to two stories of commercial space.

The survey notes that more office space along the business corridor would be a welcome addition:

"For urban retail to thrive, it needs to maximize income across all parts of the day. With a paucity of office space, Cleveland Park lacks organic daytime foot traffic. Without reliable parking, it finds it challenging to attract daytime retail customers from other neighborhoods. Current zoning allows for just one story of commercial use. Allowing several floors of office space above first floor retail would infuse the neighborhood with a daily supply of customers ready to shop, eat and purchase services. Mixed use development would also satisfy demand for residential housing as well as office space."

Support for building more housing is weaker, but still strong

The second amendment Finley and Hersh proposed would increase the density of the residential area, which is currently zoned for low-rise apartments, detached homes, and garden homes, to allow taller, denser buildings.

The survey points out that “the average single family home price in Cleveland Park is now over $1,500,000” and that “the area remains out of reach to many middle-class families and lacks economic and racial diversity.” Making it possible to build more (and more affordable) housing in the area, it goes on to explain, will go far toward a goal of creating a “well-balanced and diverse urban neighborhood” and as well as “provide opportunities for low income housing through inclusionary zoning.”

65% of residents supported this proposal. On the Cleveland Park listserv, Beau Finley noted that he and Hersh did not submit this amendment to the Office of Planning “after further engaging with neighbors who would be most affected.”

Residents also want DDOT to study Connecticut Avenue

Finally, residents also expressed support for a study of the reversible traffic lane on Connecticut Avenue, which changes direction in morning and evening rush hours to get commuters into and out of DC more quickly. 71% of the neighborhood residents who took the survey supported the study.

The survey noted that this reversible lane “may result in speeding, dangerous pedestrian conditions, and an impediment to commuters stopping to dine, shop or recreate in Cleveland Park.” The survey was also careful to note that the study would not involve the much-debated service lane in the area.

What’s next for Cleveland Park?

While it’s certainly painful, the business turnover in Cleveland Park is an opportunity for residents and the city to figure out how the neighborhood can keep up in a growing city while also holding on to its identity as a quiet pocket of almost small-town charm.

As a resident who loves living in Cleveland Park, I would love to see more businesses and affordable housing come to the area—and as someone who lives in the block that would have been affected by the proposed residential density amendment, I’m disappointed it didn’t ultimately get submitted. I would also be happy to see traffic-calming measures along Connecticut Avenue (and dream of the day when protected bike lanes will run down both sides of it instead of parking).