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ABC Board Issues New Rules Modifying & Extending Adams Morgan Liquor License Moratorium by 3 Years

Accompanying images can be viewed in the July 2014 issue PDF

By Anthony L. Harvey

By a unanimous vote on Wednesday morning July 9th the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ruled that the existing liquor license moratorium in Adams Morgan was to be extended for three years. In so doing, the Board modified the moratorium so as to lift the prohibition on new licenses for restaurants serving alcoholic beverages; however, prohibition on the issuance of nightclub licenses and new tavern licenses was maintained, as were other technical provisions in the current moratorium.

By this action, the Board rejected proposed new moratorium provisions that would have prohibited nightclub-style entertainment endorsements, promoters, and pub crawls, asserting that the Board, ABRA (the Board’s regulatory agency), and so-called “settlement agreements” between the ANC, community groups, and directly affected residents and liquor-licensed proprietors — agreements negotiated by such parties and adopted by the ABC Board on a case-by-case basis — could better deal with these matters than through blanket rulemakin

ABC Board Chair Ruthanne Miller prefaced her presentation of the new rules for the modified moratorium extension by noting that the Board had had before it two formal proposals: one from the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) proposing the lifting of the moratorium on restaurant licenses but at the same time proposing the imposition of a new moratorium on nightclub-type entertainment endorsements, including promoters and pub crawls for such new licensees; the other from the Kalorama Citizens Association (KCA) proposing an extension to the existing moratorium with no modifications to existing restrictions. Both the ANC and the KCA asked for five-year extensions of the moratorium.

Informal proposals from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, board members of the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District (BID), prominent former ANC commissioners, and the BID’s moratorium consultant, the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, all asked that the moratorium simply not be extended.

[For background see “Adams Morgan Moratorium Zone Extension Decision Expected to be Decided by ABC Board Next Month; Strong Community Opposition Revealed at Hearing,” InTowner, June 2014 issue PDF page 1; http://tinyurl.com/ppjgd3d.]

Commenting on the Board’s findings, Miller further stated that the same problems of “peace, order, and quiet” continued to exist in the moratorium zone as well as problems with parking and pedestrian safety issues. At the same time, she noted, the Board found that so-called unintended consequences of the moratorium had caused other problems — for example, economic stagnation. And, although rejecting including the proposed prohibition on entertainment endorsements, the Board stated in the text accompanying its new rulemaking order that it “will not tolerate licensees who seek an Entertainment Endorsement for purposes of creating a nightclub atmosphere when food service ends [and that] furthermore, the Board has the regulatory authority to strip a licensee of its Entertainment Endorsement if the licensee is not compliant with the food sales requirement pursuant to [the pertinent regulations].” Miller also called for a continuing dialogue with the community on the problems of regulatory enforcement.

Although voting in favor of the Board’s order, especially commending the part lifting the moratorium on restaurant licenses, Board Member Mike Silverstein offered the following  formal statement for the record: “I concur with the Board’s decision, but I believe we should do more to protect the residents’ concerns about peace, order and quiet. I fear the Board’s order is a triumph of hope over experience.”

Noting the problems the existing moratorium had created for new restaurants, especially small, neighborhood-serving establishments that cannot afford the high prices being charged by holders of licenses not being used, and how this deprives the community of a wider selection of restaurants, Silverstein applauded the lifting of the restaurant license moratorium, and further noted, “The sticking point, however, is how we can accomplish this without exacerbating the already well-documented problems of peace, order and quiet in the moratorium zone.” Continuing, Silverstein observed, “Too often our experience has been that we have heard the promises of applicants to open a ‘high-end steak house’ or something similar, only to find those promises not kept, and the establishment becoming either a nuisance or worse.”

The complete text of the ABC Board’s Notice of Emergency and Proposed Rulemaking is available on the ABRA website at http://tinyurl.com/pfwb34o.