Poll: Most Readers Say 5 People Not Enough to Protest Liquor Licenses

by Borderstan.com June 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm 1,540 9 Comments

How many people should be allowed to protest a liquor license and force a Voluntary Agreement? (Luis Gomez Photos).

From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com

Last week we asked readers to take a poll on the extent to which neighbors should be able to control the liquor licenses of local businesses. The results are in, and 80% of you said, “No, it should be more than five people,” while 9% of survey respondents said that “Yes” five neighbors is enough to warrant the protest of a liquor license before the ABC Board. The Other option (with comments) was selected by 10% of respondents, with details below.

After all, it’s already been a heated summer between local establishments and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board. (Read our recent posts on All Souls and Hank’s Oyster Bar. You can also review the current DC laws and regulations for liquor licensing in the city.)

Currently, just five residents living up to 600 feet away from a restaurant or bar with a liquor license can bring a case to the city’s ABC Board, and ask to negotiate a Voluntary Agreement (V.A.). These are used to set certain limitations on the business, often to limit hours of operations as well as outdoor seating. (See page 180 of the DC code.)

This contentious law enables some neighbors to fight to maintain what they consider the a certain quality of life. At the same time, the process can also obstruct local businesses — even if the overwhelming majority of surrounding residents approve or simply don’t mind.

So we asked readers, should just five residents have this power to bring cases to the city’s ABC Board, or should that number be increased? Interestingly, about 10% of respondents selected “Other” response for their answers. Here is a summary of what these respondents said. Most thought protests and V.A.’s should only be between businesses and governmental bodies:

  • Only ANCs (Advisory Neighborhood Commissions) and/or local government organizations should be able to bring a case to the ABC Board.
  • Business owners should enter into Voluntary Agreements (VAs) with a public entity, not private complaints, such as ANCs or the Metropolitan Police Department.
  • The number of people filing a complaint should be dependent on the population density of the neighborhood. For example, if only five people live in the vicinity of the license applicant/holder, then a complaint is warranted — but if only five people out of hundreds or thousands living within 600 feet of the business, then they should not be allowed to protest the license.

This past week the troubles surrounding All Souls dwindled, while the drama overwhelming Hank’s Oyster Bar continued. An online petition in favor of Hank’s was posted on June 18 and has already received about almost 1,700 signatures.

The petition calls on the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration Director Fred Moosally, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and and DC Mayor Vincent Gray to change the law and end the ability of a small number of residents to hold up liquor licensing.

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  • Lance

    I think the problem with the current law, and hence the predictable response, is the 600 foot inclusion zone. Zoning uses 200 feet as it’s parameter for affected neighbors. I think if the question got re-asked as ‘Do you think 5 residents within 200 feet should have a right to negotiate factors of the licensed establishment’s operations which would affect their peacable and quiet enjoyment of their homes?’ You’d end up with a different result. Limit it to something like ‘within eye-sight and ear-shot’ and you’d get even a more different result.

    • Sean

      Lance I think it is time to realize that the majority voice is standing up to the ridiculousness of a small few. People are sick of a few trying to rule a neighborhood – its time for the majority to stand up for what is right.

      • bugagoo

        Unfortunately, I get the impression that the members of the Council are still terrified of the neighborhood associations. Most of them still have not grasped that DC is on its way to becoming a world class city. They don’t get it.

    • Restore Thomas Kinkade’s 17th St!

      It makes all the sense in the world for the poll to have been based on the current regulations. What a bizarro suggestion that this poll about liquor regs should have used something out of zoning regs.

      After all, how many VAs and protest cases have existed all over town that were brought by signatories living up to 600 feet away? Quite—-a—-few. Should protest rules be changed? Changed, as in, what is the rule now, and then should it be changed? What about this is hard to understand?

      If this blog does a poll on whether Sunday sales should be allowed, maybe it should be worded using the word Sunday, and not Thursday, if that’s ok with everyone.

    • DupontRes

      I’m 100% certainl most people wouldn’t see much of a difference in 600 feet and 200 feet.

    • Ruth

      Three comments:
      1. I believe citizens should have the right to negotiate voluntary agreements since they are the ones who are affected. It actually seems to me to be a violation of constitutional rights for them to be disallowed. I will say however that the ANC does a great job of representation.
      2. The problem with more than 5 people is that the ABC can mandate that 5 protestants appear before them – which anyone who has participated will tell you is very difficult to have happen. I would not object to more participants if citizens can have representation just as the bars/restaurants do.
      3. As someone who lives around the corner from 2 late night lounges I (and my neighbors also) will tell you that our biggest problem is with people saving their fights and boisterousness for outside the parameters of the club for the quiet residential streets on which they’re parked. 200 is not nearly enough. I will also say, however, that we have one late night club manager who will actually come down to our street to quiet his patrons – which we greatly appreciate.

  • logan19

    I am with the 10% Why the hell are businesses forced to deal with any group of craziness with time to spare on their hands? Voluntary Agreements should only be with ANCs. PERIOD. No business should be put into these kinds of situations. In the meantime, ABRA and the ABC Board need to spend more time worrying about the bars that cause problems and less time focusing on the good neighbors.

  • bugagoo

    Only ANCs or the DC Police should have the right to protest a liquor license and then form a V.A. What other place besides DC would put such a ridiculous law on the books? Maybe it’s because there is not one single small business owner on the Council? Because local business owners don’t run for ANC? Look at who sits on the Council. Which one of them ever made an honest dollar in their lives?

    • DupontRes

      Wait, wait. So you argue that only the city/government should negotiate with business owners while simultaneously disparaging those who run the city/government? Hmmm.


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