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Adams Morgan ANC Seeks to Further Extend Liquor Moratorium by 5 Years

Accompanying images can be viewed in the December 2013 issue PDF

By Anthony L. Harvey

In a marathon late evening session of the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) at its December monthly meeting, the commission voted without opposition to recommend to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) that the existing moratorium on the issuance of new liquor licenses be extended for five more years with the exception of new licenses for restaurants. (The moratorium resolution as adopted can be found on the ANC’s website by visiting http://tinyurl.com/l67fd9d and clicking the link to the PDF document.)

As shown in the graphic that accompanied our report last month (“Adams Morgan Liquor Moratorium Expires in 2014; Extension Yet Again Embroiled in Controversy,” http://tinyurl.com/lqs8u3x), the primary area affected within the moratorium zone extends along 18th Street from Florida Avenue to Adams Mill Road at Calvert Street and west on Columbia Road to Mintwood Place.

With respect to the question of allowing for new tavern licenses beyond the now 15 in the moratorium zone, the  commissioners voted that the existing prohibition should continue until such time as there were less than 10 licenses. In addition, they further asserted that the absolute ban on nightclubs should be continued.

There are already an estimated 58 restaurant-issued liquor licenses in the moratorium zone.

Having delayed a formal vote on the moratorium matter for a month since its November meeting to allow for more time to reflect on underlying issues surrounding these prohibitions, the commissioners voiced unanimity on the question of whether or not Adams Morgan is a club zone or entertainment district.

Commissioner Ted Gutherie, who serves on the ANC’s ABC and Public Safety Committee, emphasized for the benefit of the other commissioners that the perception of Adams Morgan as a club zone or entertainment district is prevalent across the city, and that it needs to be reaffirmed that the commercial area within the moratorium zone is one “that integrates quality and diverse dining, complemented by moderate entertainment, with neighborhood serving retail.” It is neither, asserted the commissioners, a club zone nor an entertainment district — nor should it be, echoing the “overwhelming shared vision of the Adams Morgan community, including residents and businesses.”

The commission’s formal statement of findings regarding the liquor license problems necessitating the moratorium’s continuance focused on those problems negatively affecting the immediate neighborhood’s peace, order, and quiet which, according to the commission, “arise principally from the fact that although there are no nightclub licenses in Adams Morgan, numerous alcohol serving establishments in the Adams Morgan Moratorium Zone have been permitted to operate as though they were night clubs through entertainment endorsements, the failure to enforce food sales requirements, and the failure to enforce the District’s noise ordinances and other applicable requirements of District law.”

Surprising to many, the commission than voted to allow entertainment endorsements for new, additional restaurant licenses without restrictions on hours or live music that is deemed to be an accompaniment to dining or dancing at those new establishments. This, argued Commissioner Brian Hart, who chairs the commission’s ABC committee, is necessary to attract the kind of new restaurants desired by the community and in order to further foster the competition that would improve existing liquor serving restaurants.

Previous discussion by the commissioners had referred to those prospective new establishments as being of the “fine dining, white table cloth type” now being proposed to be allowed late night hours, live music, and dancing in order, it was further argued, to compete with existing restaurants on an equal footing.

The Commission’s resolution also recommended “that promoters and bar crawls be prohibited.” Other concerns of the Commission were incorporated in a separate statement– not part of the moratorium resolution — calling for “such matters as petitioning ABRA, the Office of the [DC] Attorney General and the ABC Board to enforce the conditions of licensure of the existing alcohol serving establishments in Adams Morgan, perform regular audits of questionable food sales reporting, and utilize the sanctions provided in [the District’s municipal regulations], namely revoking the entertainment endorsements and reducing the operating hours of establishment that fail to satisfy their food sales requirements.”

A leading recommendation in the document calls for the ANC to “work with ABRA, the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District and Adams Morgan residents’ associations to develop criteria for what constitutes a ‘good operator’ vs. a ‘bad operator’ so that establishments can be assessed going forward.”

Recent events in Adams Morgan would seem to make the development of such criteria imperative. During 2013 alone, the 18th Street moratorium strip has seen a spate of what residents and community leaders characterize as horrendous events occurring in alcohol-licensed establishments.

These have included: the disappearance of a patron later found dead at the bottom of a nearby air shaft; the murder of a patron attempting to calm another patron who had become  violent; the knifing of a patron by a member of an establishment’s security contingent; a seven-day license suspension for an establishment with numerous infractions for serving underage patrons; fines and suspensions for establishments with repeated hours of operation violations; bar fights in licensed establishments continuing from one night to the next; a $1 million judgment against an establishment for over-serving an intoxicated person who subsequently pled guilty to drunk driving shortly thereafter and causing an accident at 18th Street and Florida Avenue that struck two persons, killing one and seriously injuring the other; and repeated calls to fire and EMS to transport to emergency rooms patrons who had passed out on an establishment’s dance floor.

In addition to the incidents noted above there are the crowds, noise and disorderly conduct occurring in the street, especially after establishments close, as well as noise and disruptions emanating from within the restaurants and taverns at night and early the next morning each weekend of the year and resonating throughout adjacent and nearby residential streets.

According to many, therefore, over-concentration of liquor licenses in the neighborhood is obviously only part of the problem.