From David McAuley. Email him at david[AT]borderstan.com.
The liquor licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont held an additional listening session on the proposed 14th and U liquor license moratorium yesterday evening, April 17. About 20 people attended.
If you subtract ANC Commissioners, citizen members of ANC 2B’s liquor licensing affairs committee, members and supporters of moratorium petition originator Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance (SDCA), former commissioners, spouses of commissioners, and Borderstan, the total number of citizens who got listened to was less than eight.
The meeting was co-chaired Commissioners Kevin O’Connor, 2B-02, and Noah Smith, 2B-09. O’Connor is the head of ANC 2B’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) Committee, which handles liquor licensing affairs. Smith’s district partly falls inside the proposed moratorium zone.
At its May 8 meeting, ANC 2B will decide if it will join three other ANCs in voting against the moratorium petition.
Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance Presentation
- The SDCA was given a chance to lay out its case once more. Joan Sterling, SDCA president, repeated her contention, made at the March 20 town-hall-style listening session on the moratorium and elsewhere, that DC law has changed in regards to how many liquor licensees in an area constitutes an “overconcentration.”
- It was formally 18, Sterling said, and now the law merely says “several.” This interpretation of DC law has been disputed by moratorium opponents.
- One of the citizens who was listened to confessed that he no longer lives in ANC 2B. He has moved from ANC 2B to the corner of 14th and Belmont, in ANC 1B. “When a moratorium happens, here’s what happens. Fifty to 250 thousand dollars goes into the pockets of current liquor licensees,” he said. He called instituting a liquor license moratorium “rewarding bad behavior. To legislate this is to me really unhealthy. It’s not the way a free society should be doing these things,” he said.
- An ANC 2B resident from the 1800 block of Corcoran Street spoke against the moratorium. “A moratorium is too drastic a step to take,” he said. “It doesn’t make a distinction between good and bad players.”
- Later, another man, identifying himself as a 12-year resident, also recommended that ANC 2B vote against the moratorium. Speaking about the two other liquor license moratoriums now in place in the Dupont Circle area, he said: “The moratoriums have been a factor in displacing the gay community.”
Not the Tool to Fight Crime, Noise
- Later, speaking about the crime and noise associated with a concentration of taverns and restaurants, Smith said: “A moratorium is not the tool to fix these problems.” He then asked, “What will happen the day after the moratorium?”
- SDCA Secretary Elwyn Ferris replied, “I don’t know if it will alleviate the problem, but it will not aggravate the situation.”
- A woman with a baby said that neighboring ANC 1B was at fault. “I’m totally for the moratorium. ANC 1B is very dysfunctional, not like [ANC2B] Dupont Circle. There is only one tool left to put a break on what is going on. There are lot of new families on the U Street corridor who have the same opinion as myself.”
- A former ANC 2B vommissioner said about the moratorium: “It’s a safety net thing. It can just be there and not be a force for good or bad. A moratorium is protective of individual rights.”
- Another former commissioner said: “People who are affected by noise need our protection. This is a tool whose time has come.”
Everyone Agrees: Enforcement is a Problem
- Partisans of both sides seemed to agree that troubles getting effective law enforcement on existing rules is a big part of the problem.
- One person complained that, when there is a concentration of liquor licensees near one another, police will not act on noise complaints because they say that they cannot determine who is the offending party.
- There was a discussion of another example of ineffective law enforcement, concerning the rules governing the Uptown Arts-Mixed Use (ARTS) Overlay District, which say that more than 50 percent of the frontage in any block in the U Street area cannot be liquor licensees.
- Enforcing these rules requires coordinated action between multiple DC agencies. This does not occur frequently. (See 14th & U: Approval for More Bars, Restaurants Expected.)
O’Connor closed the meeting by saying there would be no vote that evening. He said that he might try to convene a liquor licensing affairs committee meeting before May 8. This is the date of the meeting when ANC 2B will decide if it will join three other ANCs in voting against the moratorium petition.
Other ANC 2B commissioners in attendance were Stephanie Maltz, 2B-03; Kishan Putta, 2B-04; Abigail Nichols, 2B-05; and Chair Will Stephens, 2B-08.
From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com and follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.
Mila Clothing store owner Zahir Rahimi recently sent out a plea for support for a zoning variance for his store to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, and also appeared before the U Street Neighborhood Association at their monthly meeting last week.
Rahimi explained that he plans to close his 3,500-square-foot store at 2015 14th Street NW due to changing demographics in the neighborhood. His plans to lease the property are complicated by the decades-old Uptown Arts-Mixed Use Overlay District centered around the 14th and U Streets NW intersection.
Rahimi says the only tenants interested in his space are restaurant owners, so he hopes to obtain relief from the Board of Zoning to lease his space to a restaurant.
In a nutshell, the arts overlay limits the amount of eating or drinking establishments to 50% of the ground floor retail on a block within the Uptown Arts District. The goal of the overlay is to “encourage retail, entertainment and residential uses that require pedestrian activity; an increased presence and integration of the arts and related cultural and arts-related support uses.”
When first conceived, the overlay had a limit of 25%. When that cap was reached the limit was raised to 50% in an effort to spur development along 14th Street.The problem now for landlords like Rahimi is that the 2000 block of 14th Street where Mila is located has hit the 50% limit. The strip is home to Busboys & Poets, Marvin, Gibson, Blackbyrd and Lost Society, to name a few.
The zoning decision is sure to be closely watched by both residents and developers. The area comprising the Uptown Arts District is undergoing rapid change with major development on nearly every block. Most of the larger projects in the pipeline are mixed-use — ground-floor retail space and residential units on upper floors — which make the retail spaces prime locations for restaurants and bars. It is now common in the neighborhood for developers and restaurants to commit to leases long before projects are complete, rather than face being shut out if no zoning variances are approved.
From Tom Hay
Area residents, artists and business owners packed the Langston Room of Busboys and Poets Tuesday night for the first of three townhall discussions on branding and marketing the Arts District centered around the 14th and U Streets NW corridor.
Andrea Doughty, project leader and Carol Felix, lead branding coordinator, opened the public dialogue with an overview of the project. (See PDF map with proposed boundaries.)
Last year ANC 2F-Logan conducted a study to examine the zoning and economic development needs of the 14th, U and 7th Street NW corridors, collectively called the Uptown Arts District. Among the noteworthy findings of the study was the desire for more daytime foot traffic, to help struggling arts and retail establishments, and the need for a strong, visual brand at street level.
Neighborhood Investment Fund Grant
The only economic development program that the area qualifies for comes from the the District of Columbia’s Neighborhood Investment Fund (NIF), administered by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development.
It appears that the DC Zoning Commission will soon give its okay for more bars and restaurants on the 14th and U Street NW corridors that are within the Uptown Arts Overlay District. The Housing Complex blog at the Washington City Paper reports that the Thursday hearing on the matter was a “smooth ride” for the proposal to raise the amount of building frontage in the area to 50% from 25% for bars and restaurants.
A temporary increase has been in place and the Zoning Comission is expected to vote on June 28 to make the 50% number permanent.
The irony, as reported by the Housing Complex, is that no one showed up to oppose the increase to 50%. The matter came to light in April when several residents and ANC commissioners (from two different ANCs) brought the 25% limit to the attention of the DC Zoning Commission and demanded that it start enforcing the limit. One of the lead proponents of keeping the 25% cap in place was Ramon Estrada, ANC 2B09 commissioner; he did not show up for Thursday’s hearing.
Some opponents of the 50% rule raise the specter of another Adams Morgan-18th Street-style strip of bars and clubs that change the character of that neighborhood on weekends.
After the group asked the Zoning Commission to enforce the 25% limit in the area, there was a tremendous amount of attention on the issue. The MidCity Business Association, ANC 2F-Logan and Councilmembers Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) all urged the Commission to raise the limit to 50% for bars and restaurants along the two streets. On Wednesday night, ANC 2B-Dupont voted unanimously to recommend that the Commission approve the increase (a small panhandle of territory that is part of ANC 2B and represented by Estrada borders on 14th Street NW).
The two major issues around how many restaurants and bars to allow along the 14th and U corridors are (1) how to encourage mixed-use retail in the area, and (2) the reality that rents and property prices have become so expensive that the primary types of businesses able to open in the area at present are bars and restaurants, and furniture-home decor stores. (Room & Board will open a huge store Monday, June 14, at 14th and T NW.)
As noted in the Housing Complex blog story yesterday, the specter of another version of Adams Morgan’s 18th Street strip was raised–and not in a positive way.
About the Arts Overlay District
From the DC Zoning Commission website: “The Uptown Arts-Mixed Use (ARTS) Overlay District is applied to the commercial and Mixed Use Districts in the 14th and U Streets, N.W. area. The purposes of the ARTS Overlay District are to: Encourage a scale of development, a mixture of building uses, and other attributes such as safe and efficient conditions for pedestrian and vehicular movement. The overlay encourages uses that encourage pedestrian activity, especially retail, entertainment, and residential uses and provides for an increased presence and integration of the arts and related cultural and arts-related support uses. Commission Order Nos. 632, 632-A, 632-B and 632-C, for more details.”