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City cracks down to clean up neighborhood

(Published February 8, 1999)


Staff Writer

An army of public works trucks, uniformed police and city inspectors has descended on Nannie Helen Burroughs and Division avenues NE in recent weeks, sending the street characters who usually crowd the sidewalks there scurrying for cover.

Instead of drinkers, drug users, drug sellers and hangers on, the neighborhood has been filled since Jan. 25 with street scrubbing trucks and crews hauling away trash, as police and inspectors instruct local merchants to repaint their stores, clear out their alleys and take down offensive liquor ad posters.

Residents have complained about the litter, vagrants, drug sales and abandoned buildings for years ó and in some cases, decades. But never before has such a concerted effort been made on the cityís part.

On a recent day, one of the areaís regulars approached the crowd of police and public works laborers.

"Excuse me, I donít mean to be nosy, but what are you all doing?" he asked in polite amazement.

"Well, how do you think this area looks? Donít you think this area looks a lot better?" responded Capt. Cathy Lanier of the 6th Police District.

"It does look better," he said, looking around at the trucks and inspectors.

"For a little while," muttered his friend.

Whether the multi-agency cleanup effort at this troubled Deanwood intersection can make a lasting difference in the long run is the real test, said Lanier, who is coordinating the effort.

Many say that for real change to occur, the area must attract new businesses to move into abandoned buildings like the old Strand Theater on the corner of Burroughs and Division, which has been vacant for more than 20 years. Two other abandoned buildings nearby are houses owned by the city that have been vacant for years. Last week, city workers boarded them up and scheduled them to be razed.

Since the multi-agency effort began Jan. 25, crews have cleaned and boarded up three vacant apartment buildings in the 700 block of 51st Street, cleaned up trash and cut down weeds at a vacant lot on the same block; and made one arrest and impounded 45 vehicles in connection with an illegal business selling fake auto inspection stickers, Lanier said. Inspectors issued 19 notices of infractions to the Food Rite supermarket at the intersection and closed an unlicensed business operating in the store, Lanier said. Behind the supermarket, the chairs and sofas that constituted an outdoor "lounge" for drug users were removed.

Workers from the Department of Public Works, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Department of Recreation and Parks, the National Guard, the Metropolitan Police Departmentís Environmental Crimes Unit, the D.C. fire marshalís office and the health department plan to continue their intensive efforts inspecting businesses, cleaning the area and enforcing regulations through Feb. 19.

Lanier, who was transferred to the police district about three weeks ago, said she plans to beef up police presence in the area with a foot patrol and hold ongoing meetings with business owners to ensure the neighborhood doesnít slide back into decay and disrepair.

A task force set up by Ward 7 Councilman Kevin Chavous to develop plans for improving the neighborhood is scheduled to hold its first meeting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Umoja drug treatment center, 5001 Nannie Helen Burroughs Ave. NE. Participants include clinic manager Arthur Melvin, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7C Commissioner Everett Lyles, local businessman James Powell, ANC 7D Chairman William Wright and representatives from the 6th Police District.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator