From Tom Hay and Rachel Nania. Email Hay at Tom[AT]borderstan.com and follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com.
The DC Council will vote this week, possibly today, on a controversial bill addressing liquor licensing for local businesses and residents’ roles in the process.
Currently, there is no distance requirement for protesting a liquor license, meaning that a resident in Cleveland Park could protest a license application for a restaurant near Logan Circle.
The new bill would significantly change the current regulations by limiting protests of liquor licenses to those living within 400 feet of an establishment. If passed, the new bill would also allow for Voluntary Agreements (VA) negotiated by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) to override agreements made by a group of residents.
The Current Newspaper reports that there are 43 provisions in the omnibus bill, which was constructed by a group of representatives from the alcohol industry, businesses and neighborhood groups, as well as a group focusing on noise issues. This group that provided input on the bill includes representatives from wards 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8, and Jim Graham worked as the sponsor on the bill.
A newly-formed group called the Alcohol Sanity Coalition DC, founded by Dupont Circle resident Abigail Nichols, is fighting several amendments proposed in Graham’s bill. In a November press release, the group raised concerns about a provision that would limit any resident protest if a VA were negotiated by the ANC. The group is also targeting provisions related to noise complaints and fines.
In addition to leading the Coalition, Nichols is seeking election to the ANC Commissioner seat in Single Member District 2B-05, a position now held by Commissioner Victor Wexler who withdrew from the race shortly before election day. Wexler’s name appeared on the ballot and he received over 80 percent of the votes in his District.
The DC hospitality industry has countered with its own assessment of the amendments. The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) issued a plea to push for changes to reduce the regulatory burden imposed by current regulations and curtail the power of arbitrary groups to limit operations.
The RAMW release includes a quote from Hank’s Oyster Bar owner Jamie Leeds who has become the poster child for alcohol regulation gone wrong. Leeds’ effort to expand her Dupont Circle restaurant was well documented on Borderstan and citywide. Her expansion plans became a three-year regulatory and courtroom battle in which she ultimately prevailed.
Mark Lee, coordinator for DC Hospitality, published a guest column on PoPville, stating that “it’s time to end an out-of-balance licensing system that puts limits on dining, drinking and entertainment choices for the many by the few – slowing the city’s forward progress and hurting the local economy!”
D.C. Hospitality is also asking to supporters of the reform to “Tell D.C. Council + Mayor Gray to Reform Unfair Licensing Laws” on this online petition. Hank’s Oyster Bar and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) both issued statements calling for support of the proposed bill.