From David McAuley. Email him at david[AT]borderstan.com.
Sentiment ran almost 6 to 1 against the proposed 14th and U Streets liquor license moratorium at last night’s town hall style listening session. Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) 1B (U Street), 2B/Dupont and 2F/Logan all sent members to attend the meeting at the basketball court of the Thurgood Marshall Center on 12th Street NW to hear what the public had to say.
About 160 people attended the event, filling every chair, then sitting and standing against the walls. My final count was 47 people testifying against, 8 for and 3 neutral. Of the 47 people testifying against, only two identified themselves as not living in or near the moratorium district. On Twitter, other witnesses put the count at 48 against, 8 for; 46 against, 9 for; and 41 against, 7 for.
ANC chairs in attendance were Tony Norman (1B-10) and Matt Raymond (2F-07). All three commissions sent the chairs of their respective alcohol licensing affairs committees: John Fanning (2F-04), Jeremy Leffler (1B-02) and Kevin O’Connor (2B-02). At least 10 other commissioners from across the three ANCs attended as well.
There are currently five liquor license moratorium zones in DC: Georgetown, Glover Park, Adams Morgan, Dupont West (21st and P NW) and Dupont East (17th Street NW). The 17th Street liquor license moratorium is due to expire in September 2013.
Leffler called the meeting to order at 7 pm and Commissioner Noah Smith (2B-09) explained the meeting guidelines. The original plan was for each speaker to have two minutes to address the listening commissioners, but due to the overwhelming response, the time was cut back to 90 seconds. As a result, the meeting finished at planned 9 pm time.
Before citizen testimony period, the attendees heard remarks by Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Berman of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), Sgt. Iris Beistline of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and Joan Sterling, president of the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance (SDCA), the group petitioning for the liquor license moratorium. SDCA membership is limited to residents living between 12th and 15th Streets and S and U Streets NW.
- ABRA had found that SDCA satisfied the minimum requirement for filing the moratorium petition, Berman said. He also said that the other group who signed the petition, the Residential Action Coalition, had not qualified for standing before ABRA, and would no longer be considered a petitioner. However, the SDCA may continue the petitioning process before the ABC Board, which will next consider the matter on May 22.
- In answer to audience questions, Berman said that the normal term for moratoriums was five years, but could be renewed. He then said that, once enacted, no liquor license moratorium had ever been dissolved.
- Beistline said the MPD could not supply relevant crime statistics because there were none available. A new computer system was being put in place, she explained, and some statistics were still inaccurate.
- Sterling then pleaded the SDCA’s case for the moratorium. She noted the difficulty in getting the DC government to enforce the law concerning the percentage of street frontage that can be given to liquor licensees on any block. (The Uptown Arts District Overlay limits the square footage of ground-floor storefronts serving food/drink on each block to 50% of all square footage facing the street on that block. The percentage was increased to 50% from 25% in 2010.)
- Sterling also noted that there are now 16,000 combined seats in the establishments of the liquor licensees in the zone. She said that, since the zone had well over 18 liquor licensees, it met ABRA’s definition of an “overconcentration” of licensees. “Moratoriums are temporary,” Sterling added.
Testimony from Attendees
After Sterling’s statement, the floor was turned over to the public. “Let’s keep this civil,” Leffler reminded. People lined up in an orderly manner to speak. Nearly every person stated his or her name and address or ANC district. Here is a selection of comments:
- “I oppose the moratorium. I vote and I’ll remember.”
- “This process draws in thousands and thousands of man-hours. It’s a complete waste of resources. Six people made us come here. It’s time to reform the system.”
- “I have been awakened at all hours of the night by music I can literally sing along to.”
- “I’m strongly opposed. I love the vibrancy. It’s just awesome.”
- “The moratorium is too blunt an instrument.”
- “There’s no actual evidence that the moratorium will lead to prosperity.”
- “A lot of people are saying that there are other solutions. What? Will someone pick up my trash?”
- “Why stall development in the neighborhood?”
- “Remember the Georgetown moratorium. It didn’t fix the noise, the parking, the litter.”
- “A moratorium is not right. Hold each bar and restaurant responsible.”
- “It’s anti-small business, anti-competition. I’m inalterably opposed.”
- “It’s good to see people getting involved.”
- “It’s kind of a joke that we’re here tonight.”
- “I like vibrancy.”
- “My fear is stagnation in the community,” said a man identified on Twitter as the owner of DC9 nightclub. He went on to say that retail space should be encouraged, ways should be found for rents to be lower, there should be tax relief, and ABRA should be convinced to work on “bad apple” liquor licensees.
- The only sign of incivility occurred toward the end when one man, a moratorium supporter, decided to take aim at the newly opened Matchox restaurant at 14th and T NW. He disparaged the restaurant and its food, much to the surprise of other attendees.
“That was fantastic,” Jeremy Leffler said after the final testimony. “I’m impressed by the turnout, passion and research.” To conclude the meeting, each ANC briefly outlined their next steps.
- Leffler said that ANC1B’s liquor license affairs committee would meet tonight, March 21, at the Thurgood Marshall Center. A vote on the proposed moratorium is on the agenda. The committee’s recommendation would then be considered when ANC1B has its regular monthly meeting on April 4 at the Reeves Center.
- Raymond said that ANC2F would have its regular monthly meeting on April 3 and a vote on the moratorium would be on the agenda.
- O’Connor said that ANC2B would consider the issue on its May 8 meeting, before which he hoped to have one or two more listening sessions.