From Tom Hay
A group of 23 Dupont Circle residents last week filed a protest with the DC Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) opposing the expansion plans of Hank’s Oyster Bar. The restaurant, owned by chef Jamie Leeds, is at 1624 Q Street NW just off the 17th Street NW corridor. The expansion would be into the vacant space adjacent to Hank’s on the east side of the restaurant.
A majority of the protestants to the publicly available letter reside in the 1700 block of Q Street NW and the 1500 block of 17th Street NW, as well as 16th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW. Notably absent from the list of protestants are any residents of the 1600 block of Q Street where Hank’s is located.
Leeds seeks to expand into adjacent space and increase both indoor and outdoor seating. She appeared before Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B-Dupont at the July meeting and the ANC took no action against Leed’s plan at that meeting. Leeds also seeks to vacate her voluntary agreement (V.A.) and the commission has decided not to oppose Leeds’ request. Leeds seeks to operate Hank’s without a V.A. and has noted that the requirements in the current V.A. are already listed in the restaurant’s liquor license.
Reasons for Protest
The protestants’ letter cites several reasons for their objection to Hank’s expansion, including, “The [Alcoholic Beverage Control] Board should continue to prohibit any incremental impacts generated by restaurant and bar seating in the ‘hyperconcentrated’ area on 17th Street between P and Q Streets, NW, including the wrap-arounds along P and Q, which are directly across the street from high-density residential dwellings. Any further restaurant and bar approvals in this hyperconcentrated zone are incompatible with the central objective of the moratorium to maintain a healthy mix of non-licenses, neighborhood-serving retail business.”
The moratorium referred to in the protest letter is the Dupont East liquor license moratorium put in place years ago and last renewed in 2006. However, on March 11, 2009, ANC 2B voted to ease some of the restrictions and allow for businesses to expand laterally. Under those changes, the expansion of Hank’s would not be prohibited by the moratorium.
DCCA Protesting V.A.
The July protest from the group of 23 followed a June 28 letter to ABRA. The June 28 letter was from a group of five residents (who are also part of the group of 23) plus the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) and they are protesting Leeds’ desire to vacate her V.A. In the June 28 letter, DCCA does not protest the the expansion plans–just Leeds’ desire to vacate the V.A.
However, DCCA is asking that a V.A. be required for Hank’s to expand in the space just east of the restaurant. Hank’s has been operating under the V.A.–which was signed with the DCCA and several area residents–since it opened in 2005.
ABRA encourages parties to resolve the protest through cooperative or voluntary agreements. If issues are not resolved, the process moves to a protest hearing where the parties present evidence and testimony on the “appropriateness” of the licensing action. It is incumbent upon the protestant(s) to prove their case. After the hearing, parties may present findings of fact and conclusions of law to the Board. The Board issues a decision within 90 days.
What are Voluntary Agreements?
One of the best-known and sometimes contentious things ANCs are known for is voluntary agreements with local businesses–especially restaurants and bars. For example, ANCs in this area will often automatically protest the granting of a liquor license until the ANC reaches a voluntary agreement with the establishment. The “V.A.” will set certain conditions and guidelines for the operation of the business in order to address concerns by members of the ANC or residents of the area.
Perhaps the new establishment will agree to shut down its outdoor cafe earlier than it closes its inside business–even though the establishment is under no legal obligation under DC law to do so. Once the voluntary agreement is reached and approved by both the ANC and the business owner, the ANC will vote to recommend that that the establishment gets its liquor license or business operating license. The appropriate DC regulatory bodies are then supposed to take this agreement into account when deciding whether to grant the liquor license or operating license.