In January, a group of residents in two small community associations proposed a liquor license moratorium zone for the 14th and U Street NW corridor — an initiative that started a new chapter in an ongoing debate amongst local businesses and those residents in favor of further development.
In the moratorium, the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance (SDCA) and the Residential Action Coalition (RAC) request a circular zone be established that extends 1,800 feet (about 1/3 of a mile) from 1211 U Street NW — the location of Ben’s Next Door and adjacent to the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant.
At the end of the January, we published an article about a locally-run website that popped-up in response to the proposed moratorium, called In My Back Yard DC (IMBY). We recently chatted with the man behind the website to hear about his motive for establishing the site, as well as his plans for the future of the platform.
Michael Hamilton moved to DC about two-and-a-half years ago and currently lives in Columbia Heights. He works in an administrative position at a 501(c)(3) downtown, which he assures us is not at all related to the alcohol, restaurant or development industry.
Hamilton officially launched his website on January 24 and currently has 480 members. He says he launched his site after reading the initial moratorium post on Borderstan.
“I bought the domain and created the site that day,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t plan to publicize it very much until I had recruited a hundred members and selected a few people to join me in leadership positions. However, people discovered the site and it started attracting attention from bloggers.”
Hamilton says he established IMBY because he believes that allowing development in the District is important in keeping the city affordable and exciting.
“DC is growing quickly right now, so what gets built and where (it’s built) will affect the city and region for the long term,” Hamilton said. “If the NIMBYs have their way, DC will become increasingly expensive as the population rises faster than the housing stock. If we go down a different route, and allow home builders and entrepreneurs to meet consumer needs, we can have a District that’s both more affordable and more interesting.”
However, Hamilton is sensitive to ideals behind the residents who do not want to see more development in the neighborhood and in the city, in general. He acknowledges that they have a lot at stake as new restaurants, bars and development communities are built around them.
Hamilton says his next move is to select people for the IMBY executive board.
“My goal in the short term is to use the site to coordinate an effort to fight the proposed liquor license moratorium for U Street. In the longer term, I plan to use the site as a place to write about development and land use regulations, and to comment on issues affecting IMBYdc members,” he said. “We will also speak at hearings and file petitions with various government entities involved in the entitlement and licensing processes.”
“I’d like District lawmakers to acknowledge that while the NIMBYs may be vocal, they don’t speak for the entire community. As the overwhelming response to IMBYdc demonstrates, there are a lot of people who are happy when they have more options for to choose from. A good first step would be not approving the liquor license moratorium for U Street.”
According to Hamilton, those who sign-up for the newsletters, offered on his website, can expect to read the latest news on the issue. Hamilton says he will also use the newsletters to coordinate new projects.
“For example, if there’s a new building going up I will recruit members who live in that ANC for their perspective and work with them to file petitions and make statements at hearings,” he said.
Originally, IMBY started as an anonymous site. However, that is no longer the case. Hamilton recently published his full name on the site, and, of course, is now talking to the media.
For the time being, Hamilton is running the site by himself. Once all the leadership positions for the initiative fill-up, he hopes to have some additional help with expanding the site.
The heated debate over liquor licensing between some local residents and neighborhood businesses is nothing new to the Borderstan area. However, a recent push from two neighborhood groups to establish a liquor license moratorium zone for the 14th and U Street NW corridor added fuel to the already lit fire.
The proposed moratorium appears to be the reason behind a new anti-NIMBY website, In My Backyard. This site, whose owner is only given as “Michael,” is “a group designed to counter the small-but-powerful NIMBYs in your neighborhood,” according to a message on the landing page.
“What an amazingly stupid idea,” wrote one commentator, in reference to Borderstan’s piece about the proposed moratorium, posted January 22. “Let’s distort the market and discourage further development. If these people need something better to do with their free time, maybe they could do some volunteer work around the area. I’m sure there are some kids who could use tutors.”
Another commentator wrote, “Harming and estranging local small businesses takes away both their incentive and the financial wherewithal to meet the expense burden of sustaining a business-oriented entity such as a BID.”
One commentator posted a link to an opposing petition on the matter. So far there are 775 supporting signatures. (See New Citizens’ Organization Seeks Different Path for 14th Uand Online Petition Opposing Liquor License Moratorium Draws Support.)
Of the 22 commenters on Borderstan’s story, none spoke in favor of the moratorium.
In My Backyard
In My Backyard says, “It has been too easy for small groups that do not represent most DC residents to derail any kind of new development in DC,” says the website’s homepage. “With just a few signatures and some complaining, these groups successfully stop businesses and homebuilders from serving the needs of DC residents. It’s my opinion that DC will be better off with more options for consumers, not fewer.”
According the website, its primary function is to submit petitions and comments to City Council, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and the Alcohol Beverage Control Board in support of the new developments that “can provide homes and jobs for our growing community.”
So what say you, Borderstan? Are these comments and is this website representative of the majority of the neighborhood’s feelings? Or is the issue of liquor licensing a divided issue in the neighborhood?
And “Michael,” email me — we’d like to interview you.