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ABC Board Loosens Liquor Restrictions; Cuts Back Moratorium Renewal Period

By Anthony L. Harvey

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

In dramatic contrast to the crowded presence of Dupont Circle civic activists, business owners, and other concerned Dupont residents at the Alcoholic Control Board’s April 15th hearing on the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s proposal to extend by five years the 18-year-old East Dupont Circle liquor license moratorium, less than half-a-dozen spectators were on hand on April 22nd to hear the ABC Board announce its decision to further liberalize the existing restrictions on new and existing restaurant liquor licenses. By its ruling the Board refused community requests for a prohibition on any additional seats in sidewalk cafés, rooftop decks, and summer gardens within the moratorium zone — including the 17th Street neighborhood business strip.

With a carefully crafted written order, read by Chairman Peter Feather, the Board took note of the Dupont Circle ANC’s recommendation that the moratorium be continued, but in granting that request cut it from five to three years in duration. The Board granted the requested two lateral expansions-permission for licensed establishments to expand into building space adjacent to existing restaurants or bars, and continued a third, grand-fathered pending application for such expansion. The Board declined to add “vertical expansion” to any enumeration of prohibitions or restrictions on existing licensed restaurant establishments. The Board also ruled that an additional restaurant license, either for one with full liquor service or beer and wine only, will be allowed in the moratorium zone.

“The Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) also supported the renewal of the…moratorium and the approval of no more than two requests for lateral expansion of existing licenses,” observed the Board, as well as taking note of the 2nd Vice President of the DC Federation of Citizens Association of the District of Columbia Dave Mallof’s “reaffirmation of their support for the full renewal of the [existing] moratorium for five years [and] making it clear that any granting of a lateral expansion should be limited to the inside of the establishment without any increase in the overall number of seats.” Mallof’s three moratorium recommendations were rejected by the Board.

The Dupont Circle Merchants and Professional Association (DC Map) — which shares the concerns of the ANC, asserted the Board — nonetheless concluded in its testimony “that past moratoriums have not solved the problems nor has the current moratorium created a more vibrant local neighborhood commercial center.” In its order, the Board highlighted the views of “Jon Caley, a resident at 17th & S Streets, NW [who] believes that the moratorium is unfair, unwise, and unnecessary to Dupont Circle. Mr. Caley collected the signatures of over 450 residents in ANC 2B who support abolishing the moratorium.”

The ABC Board concluded its order with powerful words for the future prospects of the East Dupont Circle Moratorium, stating:

“Lastly, the Board would note that while it gave great weight to the ANC and considered heavily the concerns of the residents who live most closely to the commercial corridor, it is the Board’s position that moratoriums are not meant to be in place indefinitely. The existing East Dupont Circle Moratorium has been in place for over 18 years and there has been a great deal of change in the neighborhood it is intended to preserve. The Board recognizes that the moratorium has worked well for the neighborhood, but it will also closely examine the need to renew the moratorium when it expires in 2012.”