Residents Fight Hank’s Expansion; DCCA Protests V.A. Request

by Borderstan.com August 2, 2010 at 9:56 pm 3,755 26 Comments

Hank's Oyster Bar Dupont Circle 17th Street NW

1624 Q Street NW: Hank’s Oyster Bar wants to expand into the empty space shown in the left side of the photo, on the east side of the restaurant. (Luis Gomez Photos)

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 Procedures

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.

Previous Posts on Hank’s

  • Hank’s is the best spot in the neighborhood. The lines of people standing outside waiting are worse than expanding tables to the empty spot next door.

    Sheesh. People will complain about anything. Meanwhile, plenty of neighborhoods would beg to have Hanks over Trio! Maybe she can expand that way.

  • Taboo

    I am speechless. Without words.

  • Yes, one of the best-run, and perhaps the most enjoyable, restaurant along a very mediocre corridor deserves to be protested against and run out of town on a rail.

    Appalling and pathetic at the same time. If an expanded Hanks is too much to handle, then perhaps Spring Valley would be a more comfortable home for you.

  • Sol

    It’s reassuring to know that the folks down on Mass Ave have our backs to protect us from the threatening mob that staggers out of Hanks drunk on seafood. After last call at Hanks, rowdy brawlers pour into the street, and mayhem ensues.

    Tarter sauce, everywhere!

    Thank you, the group of 23, for saving the rest of us. You are worthy for spending the energy to maintain the dignity of the community.

    Now find something better to do.

    Concerned? There is plenty to do in this community. If you want to make a list, email me, I’ll help.

    Would you like to begin with the pathetic excuse for a grocery store at 17th and Corcoran? How about that for a “quality of life” issue?

    Safeway built a brand new store in Georgetown, from the ground up, in a matter of months.

    But the understocked, overcrowded “Soviet Safeway” hasn’t changed a bit during the last 15 years, while almost every home in this neighborhood has been renovated, updated and gentrified. Message: If you don’t care, we don’t care either.

    Of all the restaurants in the 17th Street corridor, Hanks is the one of the best and most responsible. It’s neighborhood owned and operated. The food and service are great–better than most restaurants in the District. Customers come in from the suburbs to eat there because of the restaurant’s reputation. But mostly, when I eat there (Hanks is less than a block from my home), I tend to meet other people from the neighborhood.

    I presume that wouldn’t include the 23 of you.

    Perhaps you might check in to the Fox and Hounds instead. Last call at the bar is at least two hours later than Hanks, about three hours later on Friday and Saturday. It’s an opportunity to meet that element you want to protect us from face to face. No Chardonnay drinkers here. (Sorry George) The Fox is a classic joint and they pour a stiff drink; you’ll love it!

    How about those blurry, shouting drunks puking on the sidewalk while they try to find their cars at 3 or 4 in the morning?

    There’s something to work on! And you can do it yourself! I have. It rarely works, but doing it is standing up for the neighborhood, and yourself.

    We have a successful, reasonably priced neighborhood restaurant with roots. Let’s support it.

  • Mike


  • Mary

    The DCCA protest is a sham. The President decided this on her own without consulting the membership. I’m a member and don’t support this! She should be recalled!

    • Is a membership vote required for this type of thing?

  • Avi

    Are the protestants joking? they want to maintain a moratorium so as to encourage a “a healthy mix of non-licenses, neighborhood-serving retail business.”

    What healthy mix?have they been to 17th street lately? THERE IS NOTHING THERE TO BUY! Retail has essentially dried up, the grocery store is beyond awful, and the only reasons remaining to go to 17th St is to either (a) eat at one of the bars/restaurants or (b) go home if you happen to live in/around there.

    A once vibrant strip is dying because of this silliness.

  • Ace in DC

    Why does a loud minority continually stand in the way of local business owners trying to succeed in DC. Is there any equivalent to a “anti-protest” or a sign of support that can be submitted in response to the protest.

  • Voice It

    @Ace in DC: Concerned residents can voice their opinions by emailing the ABC Board directly. From their website (http://abra.dc.gov/DC/ABRA/):

    How to Reach Us:
    1250 U Street, NW, Third Floor
    Washington, DC 20009
    [email protected]

    Correspondence should be to Charles Brodsky, Chair, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Option is to CC the DCCA and Dupont ANC (both have websites for contact info).

  • dude

    Tammy is right. I used to live in that area but moved to Brookland trading location for space. We’d kill for a stretch like that with shops and restaurants.

  • TwoCents

    This protest in unbelievable. Seems like this small group of residents are trying to drive businesses from the area, for what purpose? Do they want another CVS or nail salon?

    Even more startling is DCCA filing a protest on the VA. Do they want everyone on their annual house tour to quietly march over to Logan Circle for lunch?

  • Hey Jamie Leeds! Please bring Hank’s over to 9th Street in Shaw…convention center and new hotel coming soon…well, we hope. Shaw/Logan would LOVE to have your restaurant in our neighborhood!!

  • Mike

    I agree with Mr Q…I live at 9th and U and would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have a great resturant over here. You would have no problems with the neighbors over here..we would welcome you with open arms.

  • Sluggo

    I used to live in that neighborhood, and I miss it, but this sort of thing reminds me why everything that I used to like about it is long gone.

  • Sad

    Dear NIMBYs

    Next time you want to complain about businesses growing and foot traffic in your neighborhood, please do not move into a major urban area.


    Common Sense

    • Common sense does seem to be lacking in a lot of these protests.

  • Ron

    I love…love…love Hank’s. I would support their expansion even if I lived right next door to the empty space. I don’t get why residents that are not located on the same block are complaining. I think that’s just sad. They need another hobby.

  • Lance

    Jack Jacobson, the commissioner of an adjoining (and affected) single member district to the restaurant clarified for me this morning that the licensing from ABRA keeps Hank’s responsible for keeping its promises in the Voluntary Agreement … even if the Voluntary Agreement gets vacated. So if Hanks must still abide by the same promises made to the neighborhood when the Voluntary Agreetment was written up are a pre-req for the original license, why is DCCA protesting the vacating of the Voluntary Agreement? Is there a miscommunication here somewhere?

  • Lance

    The Current just came out and there’s a Viewpoint in the editors page section from the DCCA president, Robin Diener, discussing the benefits of Voluntary Agreements. She makes a terrific case for them. Essentially, we’re enjoying the results of having Voluntary Agreements in place as well as our historic designations … As are the restaurants that operate in a historic district and under a voluntary agreement. A good part of the reason people want to move here to places in the city like Dupont is that they know they have a safe and sane neighborhood to retire to at night … after they’ve finished their dinner. Compare this to other parts of the city where you don’t have neighbors as involved as you do here, and a restaurateur may not even know the specific concerns if its neighbors … never mind be under any obligation to address them. I think her logic is solid, I encourage everyone to read it. Sometimes we don’t know what we have until we lose it. And if the Voluntary Agreements are part of what makes living in this part of the city so great, let’s be real careful about doing away with them.

    • Joel Lawson

      The relentless process fetishists are wrapping their arms around a “Save VAs” message when, in fact, many people in the neighborhood such as myself support good VAs, but also shake our heads at the sad reality: nobody blames Hank’s owner Jsmie Leeds for wanting to be rid, once and for all, with her self-appointed regulatory torturers.

      What DCCA President Diener should

      • Joel Lawson

        [posting error; cont’d] What DCCA President Diener should consider is not the usefulness of her prose today regarding VAs citywide, but the leadership–and indeed, independence of mind–required of her and other persons in the community, to say “enough” to some, and extend a hand to others. Perhaps it’s all too late now.

        Words today are one thing, but what’s been done over the last year? I see a record of brittle and extremist ramblings from her, before City Council and other bodies, which simply demonstrates a like mindedness with that small curious set of Hank’s protest groupies

  • Lance

    Joel, I hear you and understand the point you are making. But what I am struggling to understand is how Hanks has an interest doing away with the Voluntary Agreement. I am hearing from the ANC that ABRA’s licensing has all the elements of the Voluntary Agreement codified in the decree. Eg., Hours of operation inside and outside, trash issues, etc. So, its not like Hanks gets to do anything differently if the VA is vacated. And I’m hearing from the DCCA that they’re happy to help with amending the VA to include the expansion (i.e., extra seats). It seems like that would be the easist route to go down since that would mean no protest … AND no harm would come to the processes that have made the neighborhood what it is today. It’s a win/win situation for everyone. Why ask to vacate the VA?

  • Robert

    Licensees are restricted by what is in their applications and may not make a substantial change without ABC Board approval. Before the Board approves such changes, there must be notice to the public and an opportunity to protest. Voluntary agreements restrict a licensee from even asking to make a change, unless the other parties to the VA agree.
    Presumably, as a matter of principle, Hank’s feels it should have the right to ask, and have a hearing, it it needs or desires a change to its business, rather than being controlled by a few self-selected protestants.

    • Lance

      @Robert, Thanks for the explanation. And it’s understandable that a business should feel it has a right to ask, irrespective of what the neighbors want. However, one slight correction … It’s not appropriate to call the protestants ‘self-selected’. The business after all ‘selected’ them by choosing to locate near their homes … and in this case, to expand into a building which was zoned residential before the restaurant made a decision to expand into it. So while I can understand the restaurant having a right to a hearing before a government entity, the rights of the neighbors effected must be balanced with that right …. which only serves to make more of a case that these discussions need to be done in an open venue such as only a government hearing can provide. So, if the alternative was to give these neighbors the powers that only a government can and should have, then I guess asking to vacate the VA was the restaurant’s only option.

  • Jim

    Who is this Lance guy? And why is he always engaged in pro-NIMBY trolling on all the local neighborhood blogs?


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