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Adams Morgan Liquor License Moratorium Up for Renewal; Proponents Petition Seeking 5-Year Extension & Additional Restrictions Granted

By Anthony L. Harvey 

In a powerfully argued 12-page petition, the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), joined by the Kalorama Citizens Association (KCA) and the Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association (RCNA), formally asked the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) at its April 2, 2008 weekly meeting to extend the existing emergency moratorium on new liquor licenses in Adams Morgan for five additional years. 

Editor’s Note: Shortly before the print edition went to press, the ABC Board released its final ruling granting the relief sought by the petitioners. For detailed information about the reasoning of the Board and also the text of its final ruling, see accompanying article, “ABC Board OK’s 5 More Years for Moratorium” posted in this on-line issue’s Lead Stories section.

Additionally, the petitioners also were seeking an extension of the recently established cap of 10 tavern licenses, the establishment of a zero cap on nightclub entertainment licenses, and a new prohibition disallowing any existing license holder from bringing an outside the moratorium zone liquor license into the Adams Morgan zone.

The petitioners — ANC Vice Chairperson M. Mindy Moretti, KCA President Denis James, and RCNA President Maureen Gallagher — further requested an absolute prohibition on any new restaurant liquor licenses (CRs and DRs), any further conversions of those classes of licenses to taverns (CTs or DTs), and that no class of license should be allowed to convert to CNs, the nightclub category.

The petition was uncontested — meaning that no party with legal standing had filed a brief in opposition to the applicants’ petition for the moratorium extension even though several persons active in Adams Morgan affairs appeared before the Board in opposition to the extension.

In both the text of the petition and in oral testimony during the ABC Board’s April 2, 2008 proceeding, petitioners laid out their concerns regarding the perceived and documented adverse affects on the community’s “peace, order, and quiet” from the impact of patrons of the neighborhood’s 68 liquor-licensed establishments presently operating in the moratorium zone, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, continuing through the early mornings when the taverns and restaurants close. No expansion of these geographical boundaries was proposed.

The moratorium zone as presently established is roughly located in that part of Adams Morgan stretching from the north side of the Florida Avenue and U Street intersection northward on 18th Street past Columbia Road to Calvert and Cliffbourne Streets.

Petitioners listed the problems “of the congregation of so many C and D licenses having located in such a small geographic area: Litter and noise. . . . A severe rat infestation. . . . Alleys partially blocked by private dumpsters on public space. . . . Litter from ‘flyering’ of cars and residences. . . . Pizza-by-the-slice litter. . . . The dull roar of the combination of patrons. . . . Over-service that leads to loud and abusive patrons, fighting and serious crime…[and] driving while intoxicated. . . . Quality of life disturbances and crimes, such as excessive noise from street musicians, public urination, and destruction of property. . . .” Residential parking and vehicular and pedestrian safety issues were furthered identified and elaborated on in the petitioners’ written brief as major problems for those who live in the blocks adjacent to the moratorium zone.

And, concluded the petitioners, “the five year period being requested is essential for the following reasons: (1) Commercial landlords will continue to attempt to ‘wait out’ the Moratorium in the hope of obtaining a high volume (and thus higher rental) ABC [licensed] tenant. If the Moratorium period is longer, landlords are more likely to allow other uses of their properties . . . and (2) A shorter term than five years puts the neighborhood through a wrenching and divisive struggle before the moratorium’s effects can be fully discerned. . . .”

Other testimony followed, with ANC Chair Bryan Weaver poignantly recounting to the Board human tragedies in the moratorium zone during the past five years; these have included murders, a stabbing, and a young man left a paraplegic after a violent fist fight in the course of late night bar patron rowdiness. The KCA’s Denis James offered the Board further evidence in the form of video tapes and letters from several proprietors of restaurants and taverns who support the moratorium extension. Among them are, according to James, Perry’s, Asylum, Mixtec, Bourbon, The Little Fountain, and San Marco’s.

Lisa Duperier, President of Adams Morgan Main Street, speaking for herself, mentioned three new restaurants with new CR licenses that have recently opened in the moratorium zone, all three serving to strengthen the diversity of the zone — O-Tasty Chinese, the 90 Minute Soccer Bistro, and Casa Oaxaca.

Dr. Charles Brazie, an officer of the Adams Morgan Business and Professional Association (AMBPA), also speaking for himself, provided the Board with his statistical analysis of reported crime in the neighborhood’s nightlife area over the past several years. His statistical analysis offered a different and less alarming picture than that of the ANC’s, especially in its comparison of crime in Adams Morgan with that of other nightlife areas in the city.

Both Duperier and Brazie expressed opposition to the moratorium extension. Bill Duggan, owner of the popular Madam’s Organ, argued for more niche restaurants in the zone but expressed support for the moratorium on taverns and nightclubs. Bossa Bistro’s Rob Coltin, unaware of the recently expired deadline for CR to CT conversions, plead for the opportunity to protect his business from a possible failure to meet the recently announced “soon to be strictly enforced” food sales requirement which distinguishes CRs and DRs from CTs and DTs.

Other proprietors weighed in with endorsements of the extension, with Dennis Barton, general manager of Perry’s restaurant, asserting that his business was down because of patron fear of Adams Morgan violence. Tavern owner John Androtti of Asylum asserted that he had seen a marked deterioration in neighborhood’s style, tone, and quality; when asked by ABC Board member Mital M. Gandhi if he would open a new establishment in Adams Morgan, Androtti responded, “Not just no, but hell no.” And MPD Police Lt. Jack Kominski offered his personal opinion that while weekend crowds were under control, more ABC liquor-licensed establishments in Adams Morgan would simply bring more crime and congestion.

Eloquent testimony was provided the Board by Joyce Douglas, who lives in the last remaining residential townhouse in the moratorium zone on 18th Street. She recounted the unpleasant affects on her quality of life due to over-concentration and the weekend crowds of unruly patrons. Yet, after all of this testimony, from 3 to 6:30 p.m., only Bossa Bistro’s Rob Coltrin raised the question — which went unanswered — of what the criteria from success or failure of the moratorium might be.

What seemed to be the consensus of the assembled was the unstated answer: Things hopefully won’t get any worse! And even more surprising was the fact of only bare mentions and no substantive discussion of the concerted efforts well underway by the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District (the BID) — in collaboration with Main Street and AMBPA and backed by a reimbursable BID contract for additional weekend police officers and one with a private street cleaning firm — to improve public safety, street and sidewalk cleanliness, and aesthetic improvements to store fronts and signage through Main Street’s façade improvement grants to owners and proprietors of 18th Street and Columbia Road commercial structures.

ABC Board Chairperson Peter B. Feather closed the over three-hour session by announcing from the dais that the Board would issue its ruling on the requested extension and expansion of the Adams Morgan liquor license moratorium at its next weekly meeting on April 9, 2008.