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Proposed U Street Liquor License Overwhelmingly Opposed at Meeting Called by Four ANCs Covering More Than 70,000 Ward 1 and Ward 2 Residents

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

By Anthony L. Harvey

March madness in two of Washington’s liveliest nightlife entertainment wards was not over college basketball, although the largest public gathering over the issue of a proposed new Alcoholic Beverage license moratorium that this reporter has ever attended occurred in the basketball gymnasium auditorium at the historic Thurgood Marshall Center in the heart of the Shaw/U Street arts overlay district on March 20th.

Billed as a joint ANC listening session on the moratorium petition submitted by the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance (SDCA) and the Residential Action Coalition (RAC), the event was extremely well attended. All of the 100 seats were filled and 40 or 50 persons were standing in the back of the old, and beautifully restored, gymnasium; additional attendees came and went during the more than two-hour session.

With four adjoining Advisory Neighborhood Commissions tasked with commenting on the moratorium petition, presiding were four commissioners representing their respective ANCs — Kevin O’Conner and Noah Smith from Dupont Circle 2B’s nine-member commission, one from Logan Circle 2F’s eight-member commission, and one from the super-sized Cardozo-Shaw ANC 1B, represented by Matt Raymond and Marc Morgan, respectively, who were co-chairing the session,

Following the introduction of a police department sergeant and an Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) attorney, Joan Sterling, SDCA’s president, on behalf of both petitioning organizations summarized the reasoning in support of the proposed five-year moratorium on new ABC liquor licenses within the petitioners’ 1800-foot zone.

Those purposes include: the alleged “concentration” of liquor licenses and its asserted negative impact on peace, order, and quiet; parking; the increase in the cost to taxpayers of city services in areas of high liquor license concentration; the inability or unwillingness of the city’s consumer and regulatory affairs department (DCRA) to enforce the arts overlay restrictions on the number of licenses in each block of the neighborhood’s arts overlay district; and the impact on the availability of commercial and retail spaces in the zone due to the high cost of commercial rents in the area, caused — additionally asserted the petitioners — by bars and restaurants driving up commercial rents.

Sterling further asserted that the proposed moratorium zone already has 107 liquor licenses with 13 more in the pipeline, a greater number than Adams Morgan’s same size zone. She further called for a reduction in the number of liquor licenses through attrition. [Editors note, the same 1800-foot Adams Morgan moratorium zone has 90 ABC license holders.]

By and large, Sterling’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Sixty-three persons in attendance spoke, each for 90 seconds, the co-chairs having announced that an hour-and-a-half remained for audience comments. While just 13 spoke in favor of the proposed moratorium, 47 persons voiced opposition, along with two or three were neutral.

Those opposed expressed disagreement with the proponents assertions, and nearly always asserted the opposite — namely, that the community’s bars and restaurants gave a vibrancy and attractiveness to the neighborhood’s residents and, in fact, made the neighborhoods in the zone safer, and that localized problems could be worked out between residents and proprietors. The opponents also challenged the idea that the proposed five-year moratorium would be temporary, noting that nearby moratoriums in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan were always renewed rather than being allowed to expire. The fact that these moratoriums were soon to be considered for renewal was also stressed.

And, while opponents voiced no calls for “fundamental changes in city permitting protocols,” as has been reported elsewhere, there was an oblique reference, using the example of the Hank’s Oyster Bar expansion controversy, to such matters and several very general complaints about city regulations; otherwise, the subject was barely mentioned by any of the speakers. There was also little if any mention of what might be done by the community and the DC government to attract more neighborhood-serving retail establishments, a concern to many in both the proposed and existing moratorium districts.

Both the Logan Circle and the Cardozo-Shaw ANCs have now voted unanimously in opposition to the proposed moratorium, Logan Circle by a vote of 7-0 with one commissioner being absent, and Cardozo-Shaw by a vote of 10-0 with two commissioners not present. Earlier in March, the Shaw East ANC 6E voted to oppose the moratorium; Dupont Circle’s ANC will vote on the matter next month at its May 8th meeting. On March 20th, the ABC Board ordered that a hearing on the moratorium petition is to be held May 22nd at 1:30pm.