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Liquor License Moratorium Takes a Beating at Listening Session

From David McAuley. Email him at david[AT]borderstan.com.

Lining up to testify at listening session. (David McAuley)

Neighbors line up to testify at Wednesday night’s town hall meeting on the proposed liquor license moratorium for the 14th and U corridor. (David McAuley)

Sentiment ran almost 6 to 1 against the proposed 14th and U Streets liquor license moratorium at last night’s town hall style listening session.  Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) 1B (U Street),  2B/Dupont and 2F/Logan all sent members to attend the meeting at the basketball court of the Thurgood Marshall Center on 12th Street NW to hear what the public had to say.

About 160 people attended the event, filling every chair, then sitting and standing against the walls. My final count was 47 people testifying against, 8 for and 3 neutral. Of the 47 people testifying against, only two identified themselves as not living in or near the moratorium district. On Twitter, other witnesses put the count at 48 against, 8 for; 46 against, 9 for; and 41 against, 7 for.

ANC chairs in attendance were Tony Norman (1B-10) and Matt Raymond (2F-07). All three commissions sent the chairs of their respective alcohol licensing affairs committees: John Fanning (2F-04), Jeremy Leffler (1B-02) and Kevin O’Connor (2B-02). At least 10 other commissioners from across the three ANCs attended as well.

There are currently five liquor license moratorium zones in DC: Georgetown, Glover Park, Adams Morgan, Dupont West (21st and P NW) and Dupont East (17th Street NW). The 17th Street liquor license moratorium is due to expire in September 2013.

Opening Statements

Leffler called the meeting to order at 7 pm and Commissioner Noah Smith (2B-09) explained the meeting guidelines. The original plan was for each speaker to have two minutes to address the listening commissioners, but due to the overwhelming response, the time was cut back to 90 seconds. As a result, the meeting finished at planned 9 pm time.

Before citizen testimony period, the attendees heard remarks by Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Berman of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), Sgt. Iris Beistline of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and Joan Sterling, president of the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance (SDCA), the group petitioning for the liquor license moratorium. SDCA membership is limited to residents living between 12th and 15th Streets and S and U Streets NW.

  • ABRA had found that SDCA satisfied the minimum requirement for filing the moratorium petition, Berman said. He also said that the other group who signed the petition, the Residential Action Coalition, had not qualified for standing before ABRA, and would no longer be considered a petitioner. However, the SDCA may continue the petitioning process before the ABC Board, which will next consider the matter on May 22.
  • In answer to audience questions, Berman said that the normal term for moratoriums was five years, but could be renewed. He then said that, once enacted, no liquor license moratorium had ever been dissolved.
  • Beistline said the MPD could not supply relevant crime statistics because there were none available. A new computer system was being put in place, she explained, and some statistics were still inaccurate.
  • Sterling then pleaded the SDCA’s case for the moratorium. She noted the difficulty in getting the DC government to enforce the law concerning the percentage of street frontage that can be given to liquor licensees on any block. (The Uptown Arts District Overlay limits the square footage of ground-floor storefronts serving food/drink on each block to 50% of all square footage facing the street on that block. The percentage was increased to 50% from 25% in 2010.)
  • Sterling also noted that there are now 16,000 combined seats in the establishments of the liquor licensees in the zone. She said that, since the zone had well over 18 liquor licensees, it met ABRA’s definition of an “overconcentration” of licensees. “Moratoriums are temporary,” Sterling added.

Testimony from Attendees

After Sterling’s statement, the floor was turned over to the public. “Let’s keep this civil,” Leffler reminded. People lined up in an orderly manner to speak. Nearly every person stated his or her name and address or ANC district. Here is a selection of comments:

  • “I oppose the moratorium. I vote and I’ll remember.”
  • “This process draws in thousands and thousands of man-hours. It’s a complete waste of resources. Six people made us come here. It’s time to reform the system.”
  •  “I have been awakened at all hours of the night by music I can literally sing along to.”
  • “I’m strongly opposed. I love the vibrancy. It’s just awesome.”
  • “The moratorium is too blunt an instrument.”
  • “There’s no actual evidence that the moratorium will lead to prosperity.”
  • “A lot of people are saying that there are other solutions. What? Will someone pick up my trash?”
  • “Why stall development in the neighborhood?”
  • “Remember the Georgetown moratorium. It didn’t fix the noise, the parking, the litter.”
  • “A moratorium is not right. Hold each bar and restaurant responsible.”
  • “It’s anti-small business, anti-competition. I’m inalterably opposed.”
  • “It’s good to see people getting involved.”
  • “It’s kind of a joke that we’re here tonight.”
  • “I like vibrancy.”
  • “My fear is stagnation in the community,” said a man identified on Twitter as the owner of DC9 nightclub. He went on to say that retail space should be encouraged, ways should be found for rents to be lower, there should be tax relief, and ABRA should be convinced to work on “bad apple” liquor licensees.
  • The only sign of incivility occurred toward the end when one man, a moratorium supporter, decided to take aim at the newly opened Matchox restaurant at 14th and T NW. He disparaged the restaurant and its food, much to the surprise of other attendees.

Next Steps

“That was fantastic,” Jeremy Leffler said after the final testimony. “I’m impressed by the turnout, passion and research.” To conclude the meeting, each ANC briefly outlined their next steps.

  • Leffler said that ANC1B’s liquor license affairs committee would meet tonight, March 21, at the Thurgood Marshall Center. A vote on the proposed moratorium is on the agenda. The committee’s recommendation would then be considered when ANC1B has its regular monthly meeting on April 4 at the Reeves Center.
  • Raymond said that ANC2F would have its regular monthly meeting on April 3 and a vote on the moratorium would be on the agenda.
  • O’Connor said that ANC2B would consider the issue on its May 8 meeting, before which he hoped to have one or two more listening sessions.
One after the other neighbors lined up. (David McAuley)

Attendees lined up to speak at Wednesday night’s town hall. (David McAuley)

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This post was written by:

- who has written 23 posts on Borderstan.

McAuley currently teaches English as a Second Language at the International Center for Language Studies in south Borderstan. He has been a Foreign Service husband for 27 years. He lived in Bulgaria, Thailand, Laos, Moldova, Romania, England, and exotic Arlington, Virginia, before moving to Borderstan in 2012. Make his day by liking his book reviews on Goodreads. Email him at david[AT]borderstan.com.

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12 Responses to “Liquor License Moratorium Takes a Beating at Listening Session”

  1. Gotcha says:

    Just want to thank 1BANC12 Comminssioner Zahra Jilani for voting to oppose the SDCA U Street moratorium tonight; the vote was 10 for, 3 against (2 absent). Zahra’s commented that her decision was based on the enormous amount of residents opposed to the moratorium, both at the town hall last night, and the emails she received. Thanks Zahra, for fulfilling your promise to me that you listen to your constituents and support the majority view, as opposed to just following the squeeky wheel of a loud and small minority!

    • Pat says:

      I agree one hundred percent. Thank you, Zahra! And remember that one of the three votes in favor was the SDCA’s president herself, so the vote against was even more lopsided than it appeared.

  2. Bodiddly says:

    The issue is not liquor licenses. The issue is Taverns that just create a place for losers to hang out until the wee hours of the morning, and scream at each other at the top of their lungs so that they can be heard over the ear-splitting “music” coming out of these places. Then they try to stab people on the street, take their money, piss on your lawn… until next weekend when they can do it all over again.

    I’m all for a liquor moratorium if it would make it more difficult for these places to open. The problem is that nobody wants to open a store or nice restaurant on U St. U St. is for thugs.

  3. T Street says:

    “Six people made us come here. It’s time to reform the system.” Truer words were never spoken. Our neighborhood is being held hostage by a small group of anti-development fanatics with very loud voices and too much time on their hands. I’m grateful that so many anti-moratorium supporters showed up last night to make sure that the majority can finally be heard.

    • DB says:

      Now who’s sounding fanatical?

    • Curious says:

      I would have loved to have heard the whining and self pity coming from the pro-moratorium crowd after last night’s meeting. This must have come as a complete shock since their manipulation of the system has served them well in the past.

      • Michael says:

        They were really caught off guard by the opposition. They seemed to think that the SDCA gets to run the neighborhood because their members attend every ANC meeting.

        • Gotcha says:

          Interestingly enough, the SDCA President and another member are on the ANC1B ABC committee. Talk about a conflict of interest!! They should be barred from influencing the this committee, since they vote according to their CA’s wishes and not the constiuency they are supposed to be serving. Those people have an agenda, one that representa about 3% of B12. I’d like to find a way to kick them off the committee, since they have a direct conflict of interest. We don’t accept this from our elected officials, why should they be allowed?

        • Just Me says:

          The committee voted to oppose the moratorium last night 10-3, I wonder who the three were. The ANC ABC committee is where this discussion needs to be occurring and as warped as I believe their views are, they do have the right to be voiced, heard and represented. Also, show me an elected official that doesn’t have an agenda, they all do.

          I personally think ANC committee members should be appointed by the individual ANC members, They don’t have to be from the SMD’s, but should be an extension of the elected officials, not just who signs up to be on the committee. I also think the ANC needs to staff these committees with paid admin. Fewer grants and better management would make the ANC more effective.


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