From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com.
A local restaurant’s seven-year battle with a group of local residents over “Voluntary Agreements” is causing one area organization to encourage DC Councilmember, Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), to include reform of the District’s alcohol licensing approval process for restaurants and bars in legislation he is currently drafting for Council consideration.
In response to the current deliberations over liquor licensing at Hank’s Oyster Bar, The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) calls on Graham to do away with ad hoc committees when dealing with restaurant operations and licensing agreements.
Instead, RAMW recommends a more appropriate neighborhood forum for licensing review and input, such as the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), elected by area residents.
Current law allows ad hoc groups of as few as five people to intervene in the city’s liquor licensing application review process. “Allowing only a handful of residents to protest a liquor license application results in lengthy delays in review by the ABC Board causing great hardship for local businesses,” said Lynne Breaux, president of RAMW.
According to RAMW, Graham recently convened an “ABC Working Group” of both community and business representatives to review regulatory issues and problems in the city’s alcohol licensing process. The group concluded its extensive six-month evaluation on May 3, and Graham conducted a Council committee hearing on May 8 to review the group’s report.
“Although the recommendations of the broad-based group assembled by Council member Graham include several sensible recommendations, the proposals do not go far enough in correcting the ability of small and unrepresentative groups to hold business owners hostage by threat of long and costly delays,” said Breaux who’s organization was represented on Graham’s committee.
Breaux feels that unless the city council changes its laws, local business owners will continue to face protests by small groups that affect business development and often contradict the opinion of a majority of local residents.
Reforming liquor licensing isn’t the only thing on the minds of residents and industry organizations. Some DC business owners and residents are hoping that the six-day-spirit-city extends liquor sales into Sunday. And in a city home to a large percentage of drinkers, selling liquor seven days a week seems like a sure-fire way to increase sales for local business owners.
But like the Hank’s Oyster Bar case, liquor sales on Sundays in the nation’s capital is held up by a small, vocal minority. Ironically enough, it’s the sellers, themselves.
According to a recent Reason.com article, District liquor storeowners argue that they don’t want to work on Sundays, and that Sunday sales will simply increase their costs while cutting into sales on other days. However, as the article points out, considering most people in DC live about 30 minutes from both Maryland and Virginia (both of which sell liquor on Sundays), sales tax projections and profits would be a win-win for businesses and for the District.