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The Menace of Ping Pong, The Horror of a Bench

The threats to peaceful living along a quiet stretch of Connecticut Avenue NW just keep on coming.

First, as I reported earlier this month, an advisory neighborhood commissioner went after a pizza place that dared to put a ping pong table out on the sidewalk for families to enjoy. Now that same commissioner, Frank Winstead, a man with a special passion for policing violations of public space, has managed to get rid of the benches and patio table that had been outside Marvelous Market for a decade.

Winstead, who has not returned calls or emails seeking comment, emailed the D.C. government a few weeks ago to rat out the shop for having the outdoor seating without a city permit.

"Unfortunately, when we get a complaint, we have to follow-up," says Jeffrey Jennings, the District's Ward 3 transportation planner. "It is clear that this is mere additional frivolous hassling by Commissioner Winstead. Marvelous does not have a public space permit but he could simply approach the management and kindly request for them to work through the [city] channels to accomplish the small task of obtaining one."

In the 10 years that the seating was available outside the bakery and snack shop, no one complained, says Neil Neufeld, chief operating officer for the 10-store local chain. But within days after Winstead's complaint, city inspectors came by and told Marvelous Market's managers to take in the patio furniture. They did.

"We have more than 200 signatures from people in the neighborhood who want us to keep the seating out there," Neufeld says. The shop is now seeking a permit to put the seating back outside, a process that could take several months.

"It's a place to sit and get a cup of coffee," Neufeld says. "We're happy to go ahead and try to do the right thing. If you live in D.C. long enough, you know you just do as you're told."

Jennings says the vitality of street life in upper Northwest is hampered by the presence of local activists like Winstead who are "just waiting for the gotcha moment."

So in the past few weeks alone, the stretch of Connecticut Avenue from Fessenden Street to Nebraska Avenue has gone from a Ping Pong table, chairs and tables, and a steady supply of pedestrians hanging out and keeping a watch over the area to a barren, unpeopled streetscape, thanks to the zeal of a self-appointed monitor of the public space.

Does this story really have to end this way?

By Marc Fisher |  May 23, 2008; 7:57 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

"If you live in D.C. long enough, you know you just do as you're told."

What a sad commentary on the residents of D.C. You can choose to be a citizen or you can choose to be a subject. A serf may be well paid, pampered and live a very comfortable life but they are still just a serf.

Grow a pair and change your government or live with it. Serfs have no right to complain.

Posted by: Woodbridge VA | May 23, 2008 8:34 AM

While this may be a case of an over-zealous ANC commissioner, to call him "self-appointed" is false. He is an elected government official and his actions in regards to public space issues are very much in line with his responsibilities to the constituency which put him in office.

Could he have turned his head and looked the other way? Yes ... But longterm that is not always a good idea. For example, walk down 17th Street in Dupont and you'll see what can happen over time as illegal actions are incremenatlly ignored.

Specifically, look at Annie's restaurant. A whole addition ... with air conditioning ducts, electrical wiring, wall-to-wall carpeting, booths, etc. has been built on public space ... leaving a few feet of remaining sidewalk for people to pass by on ... And how could this have occured? Slowly ... and over a number of years as one person after another just "looked the other way". Mr. Winstead is doing what his constituency elected him to do.

Getting a permit and doing it "the legal way" helps ensure the overview which will prevent the incremental creep that leads to situations such as at Annie's.

Posted by: Counterpoint | May 23, 2008 9:22 AM

Counterpoint, indeed you are incorrect. In representative democracy there are many times when an elected official "goes off the reservation" and indeed Winstead is going against the wishes of people who voted for him because I'm hearing lots of complaints from people who claim he misrepresents them.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 9:49 AM

Justified or not, the guy is clearly a donkey.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 10:13 AM

What he is doing is in is job description as elected by the people he represents. if they don't like that he follows the letter and intent of the law, run against him--that's the process.

Posted by: rs | May 23, 2008 10:26 AM

This cynic needs to get a hobby. Clearly, he has nothing better to do with his time than to enforce policies. People like him are the reason government keeps growing and individual liberties keep fading.

Posted by: Mark | May 23, 2008 10:31 AM

Worst part about the guy is that he refuses to return Mark's calls. If you're an elected official you should have the guts to explain your actions. What a wimp.

Posted by: Brian | May 23, 2008 10:31 AM

blah blah blah job description blah blah blah more processes about just asking the local people what they think about eating on the patio or playing ping pong on the patio rather than going to "the man" and telling on them? what an ass

Posted by: jea | May 23, 2008 10:34 AM

Or... this guy's reminding us that the books are full of silly, unnecessarily restrictive laws.

Posted by: SA | May 23, 2008 10:43 AM

If this guy really wants to make his community a better place, he should have just gone to talk to the store owners. It sounds like it's not a big deal to get the permit (apart from the waiting time) so why create ill-will when there's an easy solution?

I wonder if this guy is actually welcome in any of the local shops and businesses.

Posted by: gda | May 23, 2008 10:44 AM

To Woodbridge, VA - "What a sad commentary on the residents of D.C"

This constitutes serfdom to you. How are the new roads coming in VA? Serf.

Posted by: Tim from Silver Spring | May 23, 2008 10:49 AM

Roads in VA bad enough to keep the 'bangers in DC where they can do the most good.

Posted by: Stick | May 23, 2008 11:01 AM

Tim -- The new roads are comming along just fine. The expansion of the Prince William Parkway past my house was completed ahead of time and under budget. So was the widening of RT 234. construction has started on Minnieville Rd. and the county has expanded slug lot parking at Tackets Mill. Corry makes a point of attending as many community events as possible and quickly repsonds to all suggestions for new projects. When the county police disrupted the slug lines at Horner Rd. two years ago, one phone call to the department was all it took to get an appolgy from a police captain and the department immediatly scheduled public hearings to craft a more acceptable policy. And the county supervisors have been equally repsonsive to public demands to control illegal immigation. The fact that supervisors are often defeated for reelction if the are not responsive may be part of the explanation. Citizens organize and vote. Serfs complain. BTW, how is the drive from Silver Spring to Rockville these days? I can do Woodbridge to Manassas in under 20 minutes.

Posted by: Woodbridge VA | May 23, 2008 11:02 AM

Maybe this is Frank Winstead's attempt to get more fees by making all the businesses apply for the permits, afterall... it is the bureaucracy that keeps him in business! Clearly the area residents can do a better job making the neighborhood an enjoyable place!

Amanda from DCMetrocentric

Posted by: Samantha | May 23, 2008 11:08 AM

Vote this menace out! He represents nobody except a gaggle of like minded school marms shaking their their finger at everybody else. What a loser.

Posted by: Kevin | May 23, 2008 11:17 AM

"I can do Woodbridge to Manassas in under 20 minutes."

But why would you want to go to either location?

Posted by: Arlington, VA | May 23, 2008 11:27 AM

Arlington -- To get from the cute shops in Ocaquan or the unique wildlife refuge along Belmont Bay to the high paying tech jobs in the northern part of the county. Or to get from the new financial services and government support jobs springing up in the southern part of the county to the antique stores and quaint resteraunts in old town Manassas.

Posted by: Woodbridge VA | May 23, 2008 11:40 AM

This guy has no sense of community in a frequently soul-less city. What is his e-mail address so we can tell him what we think. Better yet, what is his address, so we can deliver old ping pong tables and lawn furniture for his enjoyment!!

Posted by: Former Ping Pong Enthusiast | May 23, 2008 11:43 AM

His address:

4545 Connecticut AVE NW #508
Washington DC 20008

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 12:21 PM

If it's not too hard to get a permit, then get a permit. I find it hard to believe that marvelous did not know about the law. They were just too lazy to go through the process.

I bet he would eagerly look to have the permit laws enforced if a portable cart showed up on his sidewalk selling delicious muffins and coffee at half his prices.

Posted by: Tom | May 23, 2008 12:35 PM

And yet another reason to get rid of the busy-body filled ANC system.

Posted by: DC Resident | May 23, 2008 12:39 PM

But it is probably a typical DC hassle to get a permit, like almost everything else in this dysfunctional excuse for a city.
They did the same thing to Vaces in Cleveland Park. They had two small tables outside for people to eat their pizza on. It was nice. But the same mentality caused their demise.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 12:41 PM

I think it's dumb to remove some patio seating. However, it *is* the law, and like it or not Winstead is obligated to enforce the law. I don't think it's fair to pick and choose what you will and will not enforce.

That said--- I completely agree w/ Mr. Jennings.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 12:59 PM

This story really should be about why it takes several months to get a routine permit.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 1:05 PM

"However, it *is* the law, and like it or not Winstead is obligated to enforce the law"

Gee, Thanks for the civics lesson.

The DC website states - "The ANCs are the body of government with the closest official ties to the people in a neighborhood." Really? Then why is this government official hiding behind a hotmail account and not answering inquiries about his actions? The ANC system is a total disgrace, and rarely represents the majority of it's constituents.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 1:13 PM

This guy has GOT TO GO! I would run against him myself, but I don't live in that district. Is anyone running against him? If so, I would gladly make a campaign contribution.

Posted by: JMG | May 23, 2008 1:16 PM

ANC elections are being held this year. Let's throw this freak out on his sorry ass! I will contribute to anybody opposing him.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 1:33 PM

Woodbridge - why the DC hating and defensiveness? ...cute shops in Ocaquan...quaint resteraunts in old town Manassas... Who are you trying to convince?

Counterpoint - I would welcome the Dupont/17th street life vibrancy on the stretch of Connecticut Avenue near Nebraska Ave. That's why I live in DC and not Woodbridge.

Frank - I'm sure you mean well, but stop it.

Posted by: Fessenden Dad | May 23, 2008 2:18 PM

The frustrating thing about reading this is that nobody seems to actually DO anything about the problem. Winstead files a complaint so the benches are removed, and it will apparently take months to get a permit (to say nothing of the hassle). But why did the city have to give in to Winstead's demand? Why did Marvelous have to pull the benches in the interim? Why can't Jennings pull some strings and get Marvelous a temporary permit to cover things until the full one is issued? Everybody seems to agree this situation is ludicrous but they're all standing around waiting for somebody else to make it go away.

Posted by: Andy | May 23, 2008 2:36 PM

Why would you think he means well? Coming across a link -
I am more persuaded that he is a sick little man. A bored, freaky, scary shell of a person. He has NO business in elected office, and for that - the neighborhood IS to blame.

Posted by: Kevin | May 23, 2008 3:04 PM

It does seem a shame that it'll take several months to get this permit. That's the whole summer with no outdoor seating. Can't something be done about that?

Posted by: THS | May 23, 2008 4:56 PM

I agree with the blog entry and with Counterpart. I can't believe that about Annie's! That is such a shame. They needed more of Frank Winstead's spirit there. Things can happen incrementally, can't they? People should've spoken up beforehand. I doubt the same thing woulda happened to MM though up in T'town. ANCs are not useless. They are oftentimes very helpful. Depends on who it is. Some ANCs just spout off their opinion and do everything they can to avoid listening to their constituents. Others get very very involved in their n'hoods, doing lots of the heavy lifting and non glamorous work.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2008 9:54 PM

Why shouldn't people do it right and apply for the permit?

Posted by: Downtown Rez | May 25, 2008 3:26 PM

According to Marc, marvelous had 10 years to apply for the permit.

Imagine if it took the DC Government 5 years to process the permit. Then Marvelous would have had the permit for 5 years already.

I hate paperwork too, but, that's the cost of doing business. The fact that there won't be any tables this summer is not the DC Government's fault. The Market has had permit free outdoor dining for 9 years. Count your blessings. Now get in line because Ceasar has come to get his due.

Posted by: Tom | May 27, 2008 8:19 AM

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Posted by: zhtf1g172g | May 28, 2008 8:13 PM

Someone please run against Winstead!!! Let's get him out of office.

Posted by: andrew | May 29, 2008 12:47 PM

It would be sweet justice indeed if somebody in the neighborhood self-appointed themselves to prevail upon every single shop owner on that strip to apply for permits, and then shepherd the applications through the DC process. By fall the sidewalks could be revitalized with benches and tables,sandwich boards and ping pong tables, doggie water bowls and banners, and all manner of neighborly accoutrement. It works in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood just fine. And Mr. Winstead would be forced to spend his time looking for other scofflaws, if not another job altogether.

Posted by: abinitio00 | May 29, 2008 2:49 PM

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Posted by: zcn0dy4tgz | June 3, 2008 7:47 PM

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