by Mary Beth Ray
Many readers of the Forest Hills Connection pass the former Van Ness Walgreens (4225 Connecticut Avenue) on a daily basis, and it is symbolic of both our frustrations and future. Walgreens closed the Van Ness store in July 2015, and the empty retail space is a reminder of our underperforming retail corridor. Sadly, Walgreens ignored the weeds, vines, and out of control shrubs for months, resulting in an unsightly blighted mess.
At least two homeless people have taken the overgrowth as a cue that the ignored space can provide them with cover. Others have taken advantage of the site by adding graffiti. Given the huge “for lease” sign, it seemed oxymoronic that the landowners would put so little effort toward showing the property in the best light. Fortunately, a team of concerned citizens took action.
ANC Commissioners Shirley Adelstein and Mary Beth Ray, together with Van Ness Main Street Executive Director Theresa Cameron, have worked together for months to encourage Walgreens to take action. Finally last week, Walgreens sent in a team to clean up the mess.
As a Master Gardener, Commissioner Ray had requested that the team notify her when they would be on site, so that she could assist in identifying which trees and shrubs should be pruned. The team instead proceeded full steam ahead, weed-whacking the roses and indiscriminately chopping the crepe myrtles. Commissioner Adelstein, who lives near the site, notified Ray that the work had begun, and Ray was then able to intercede to help guide the remaining work. Michael and his team at TLC Services of Clinton, Maryland, worked hard to clean up the area on one of the hottest days of the year.
The homeless man in front has taken the cleanup as his cue to move. As for the homeless man in the back of the building, he is no stranger to Van Ness. Once again, we have sought the help of Friendship Place, MPD, and the mayor’s office to connect him with the appropriate city services. Because he was blocking a fire exit and he is on private property, Walgreens is working directly with MPD to have him and his encampment moved, and the company will take steps to secure the property to avoid a recurrence.
Commissioner Ray has requested that Walgreens mulch the flower and tree beds, and that they send a maintenance crew once a week to keep the property looking clean. Next Realty, the leasing agent, advises that they are close to securing a new tenant for the property but they are not able to identify the prospective tenant because negotiations are still in progress. We will continue to hope for a locally-owned business, perhaps a much-needed beer garden, Soul Cycle, or even a curated hardware store?