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U Street Vida Fitness Construction, Rooftop Pool and Club Raising Ire

By Ben Lasky*

There has been much controversy lately concerning the construction of the new Vida Fitness health club in the large building at 1612 U Street, NW formerly occupied by Results Gym. Originally scheduled to be opened on June 1st, the construction has inconvenienced nearby residents who complain that work is being done outside of the legally allowable hours. A neighborhood meeting, called by Dupont Circle ANC 2B08 Commissioner Will Stephens to address those frustrations, was held on June 2nd in the still under construction lobby area. No required hard hats were made available for the approximately 50 persons attending, most of whom had to stand for lack of but 10 folding chairs.

According to various residents of the immediate area, workers have been performing construction earlier than they are permitted to in the morning and working later than allowed at night. (The applicable DC regulation restricts work to the hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily except Sundays.) This has reportedly been going on for several months.

Addressing David von Storch, Vida’s owner, resident Bill Schultz said, “I think what’s going to matter is how you treat us. I told you three months ago and you were ready and available to meet with everyone by the sound of it, but you haven’t until tonight.”

And, given how the progress of construction appeared to passersby as of June 4th, it is not surprising that  neighbors were skeptical the facility would be completed in time for its still projected, though delayed, June opening. This will be the fourth Vida location; three others already are going concerns downtown, with yet another downtown location planned.

Several residents complained that they had notified the appropriate parties when construction was going on when it shouldn’t have been, and nothing was done. Andrew Huff, the communications director for Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans informed the meeting that one can either report working hours violations by calling the consumer and regulatory affairs department’s illegal construction hotline at 442-STOP or by calling the police –- possibly more effective, he stated, since it “will be evidence to a future judge that illegal construction was taking place.”

Illegal construction was not, however, the only problem about which the residents were lodging strong objection. As part of his plan for his fitness club, von Storch is installing an unenclosed swimming pool on the building’s roof with an adjoining bar and lounge. An application for a tavern (Class CT) license has been filed with the Alcohol Beverage Control Board; hours of operation, sales and service to be 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Thursday, to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.

While many residents complained that a large group of people drinking on weekends would create problems in terms of noise, von Storch assured them that the pool level would only be open to members who pay for the privilege of using it. He also said that he is willing to negotiate the amount of people allowed on the roof and the hours of operation on weekends; The InTowner has subsequently learned that club members will be allowed up to eight guests.

He was also adamant that his intent is not to create a posh new nightclub or disrupt the quiet neighborhood. In his mind it would be a place where friends could gather on a hot summer day and relax. The Vida website describes this outdoor area as a “rooftop Penthouse Pool Club with private cabanas, lounge & conversation areas, fire pit and poolside cocktail & food service.” Total capacity will be 299 persons and will be available for special events rental.

Andrew Kline, von Storch’s attorney, assured residents that live music would not be allowed on the roof or anywhere else inside the building.

“Those of you who know me know that I’m a local guy,” von Storch stated. “I’ve lived here 25 years and I’m not the kind of guy that’s gonna come with full guns blazing with a legal team and say ‘the heck with you. Were gonna shove this down your throat.’ That’s not how I work.”

But that did not satisfy many at the meeting. At one point someone asked von Storch if he was willing to give out his phone number so that they could wake him up at 2 a.m. on a weekend, to which he responded that anyone wanting the number could ask him for it.

Based on what was observed at this meeting, no matter what happens with the liquor license, or the pool deck, or the construction site, it is clear that the relationship between von Storch and residents has become strained. Already, at its May 11th monthly meeting, the Dupont Circle ANC voted to protest the tavern license application on the basis of disruption to peace, order, and quiet, subject to the successful negotiation of a voluntary agreement. Protests have also been filed by a group of neighbors making them participating parties in the liquor licensing process.

*Ben Lasky, a contributing writer for The InTowner, is also a staff writer for The American University’s student newspaper, The Eagle, while he pursues his degree in communications and journalism at AU.

Copyright (c) 2011 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Ben Lasky. All rights reserved.