Greater Greater Washington

Dupont ANC recommends phasing out liquor moratorium

Last night, the Dupont Circle ANC recommended that DC lift a liquor license moratorium for restaurants and stores, but to temporarily keep the cap on taverns and nightclubs. Some commissioners feel it's a step towards phasing out the moratorium entirely.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In 1990, DC first created the moratorium, which applies primarily to establishments along 17th Street NW, to prevent bars and clubs from pushing out stores and to reduce late-night noise and crime. But today, there are fewer retail stores, and neighbors say the street needs more activity, not less. While the moratorium is a crude and outdated tool, as an ANC commissioner, I strongly believe that it's best to end it in stages to minimize disruptions and conflicts.

Other local ANCs are trying to phase out their moratoria as well. Two years ago, the ANC partially lifted one along P Street NW and have since reported no negative impacts, and a proposed moratorium on 14th and U streets faces widespread ANC opposition.

The moratorium is intended to protect local retailers from being bought out by alcohol-serving establishments with higher profit margins. But today, there are far fewer retail stores, largely due to the rise of online shopping. What retail remains serves daily needs, like pharmacies, hardware stores, and grocery stores.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the community is anywhere close to becoming too unsafe or too noisy. Residents of all ages who live close to the 17th Street commercial strip tell us that they are not bothered by the current noise and would be happy for the strip to be more lively. While some residents have concerns about safety, police statistics show that crime has gone down significantly in the past two years, including both violent crime and property crime.

According to the Capitol Retail Group, increased foot traffic can revive urban retail corridors like 17th Street. New or better restaurants can generate more foot traffic, helping all businesses in the area. But under the moratorium, restaurants can't get liquor licenses to open here.

A Dupont Circle ANC subcommittee held three public meetings about the moratorium over the last three months. They came up with a compromise following in the footsteps of the West Dupont moratorium, which lifted the ban on liquor licenses for restaurants, but not for taverns and nightclubs.

Establishments with restaurant licenses must serve food and alcohol and are subject to certain food sales minimum requirements. Many of the popular new places on 14th Street, like Masa 14 and El Centro, have restaurant licenses, even though they have bars, music, and dancing. They may seem like bars and clubs to some, but they face limitations that taverns and nightclubs do not.

Meanwhile, establishments with tavern licenses don't have to serve food, but they're not all the same. Some are peaceful, like Room 11 in Columbia Heights, while others are very fun, but loud dance clubs, like some of the taverns on U Street (one of which has "Boom Boom" in its name, which I enjoy and have no objection to in its current location). 17th Street residents might welcome taverns like Room 11, which probably would not have an impact on noise or safety, but the latter ones may not be as well received.

ANCs and the DC Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) have some tools to try and minimize the negative effects of these establishments, but they aren't perfect. And once a tavern gets licensed, it's not easy to enforce prior agreements, and the immediate neighbors have to face the consequences.

If DC agrees to lift the moratorium on restaurants and stores, I and some of my colleagues will consider it the first stage of phasing out the moratorium entirely. During this first stage, the ANC should strengthen and clarify its policies and tools so that it can ensure that any new taverns or nightclubs on 17th Street are successful, but also responsible members of our community.

Not everyone agrees with lifting the moratorium, but it is not the best tool for making 17th Street and Dupont Circle a better neighborhood and a stronger retail environment. Many people want to eliminate the moratorium, and I agree, but it will be less disruptive to do it in phases. When the moratorium ends, we want the supporters to remain friendly with the opponents, because we have a very convivial community. And we want it to stay that way as we make progress together as a community.

Our recommendations will go before the ABC, which will decide whether to lift the moratorium. To send them your recommendations, visit their website. You can also see a list of recently-awarded liquor licenses.

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Kishan Putta is a Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner who is also an avid District cyclist and health reform advocate. He has lived on 16th Street for several years with his wife Divya. He is also an active board member of Friends of Stead Park. You can find out more and contact him at kishanfordc.com

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I know that spot zoning is illegal, but I guess the city could create a "neighborhood serving retail use" zoning "endorsement" to maintain the spaces where such businesses are already functioning. That would help maintain these uses in the face of greater competition for the space, which unless the proprietor owns the building too, they are not going to be protected from it, regardless of the changes in the market due to e-commerce and other factors.

by Richard Layman on Aug 15, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

Totally spot on with your analysis. I do think there is a place for supporting less profitable but beneficial community shops. Maybe targeted tax breaks for a very narrow spectrum of store (pharmacy, grocery, hardware, book stores etc - not sure where to draw the line) if they dont already exist is in order? I also think the DC liquor tax could reasonably be set a bit higher than the normal restaurant tax.

by Alan B. on Aug 15, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

Another way to help smaller margin businesses is to get zoning to allow more commercial uses in spaces that previously disallowed it.

by drumz on Aug 15, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

drumz -- almost by definition such spaces aren't well located and therefore won't help a marginal business all that much.

by Richard Layman on Aug 15, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

@ Alan B:Maybe targeted tax breaks

Nooooooo!!!
No special tax breaks for people with good lobbyists. Just no.

by Jasper on Aug 15, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

Even though I don't see many good reasons to keep the moratorium on 17th Street, I doubt that removing the moratorium will have a profoundly positive effect in bringing more activity to the area either.

by Scoot on Aug 15, 2013 3:26 pm • linkreport

I could definitely see more places moving into 17th. When it comes to nightlife there is definitely a critical mass effect. Bars especially perversely benefit from lots of competition it seems.

Also I don't really buy that my local hardware store has "good lobbyists". I suppose they probably already get some small business perks etc. Or maybe just raise the tax on liquor sales period but I doubt that is going to deter many from opening as long as there is a market.

by Alan B. on Aug 15, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

As a resident of that part of 17th Street (who unfortunately had to miss the ANC meeting yesterday), I mostly want to feel reasonably confident that I'll still be able to do everyday errands without having to hop on a bus/train somewhere (which would eliminate much of the appeal of living in the city in the first place). I'm wary of the feeling I get on the parallel portion of 14th Street that that area is becoming solely a place for date nights for people who live somewhere else instead of also being an everyday place for people who live there.

I guess I also don't want to lose the fact that there are convenient "third places" (in the Great Good Place sense) in the corridor that are ok with relaxing and lingering without feeling a lot of pressure from the staff, like Steam Cafe and Trio for example. I never feel like those are kind of place where the servers are rushing me along or getting in a snit if I don't increase their tip by adding more booze and desserts and so on to my meal, while I do get that feeling with the newer, trendier places. (I don't think Steam Cafe has a liquor license, but Trio does.)

I kind of feel like the more relaxing aspect of the 17th Street places goes along with them being, to some extent, "neighborhood" places with a regular nearby clientele rather than just "destination" sorts of places. (Does Richard Layman have some sort of terminology for this? I feel like I read something on his site along those lines.) And if they have a liquor license, there's the feeling that alcohol is an available option rather than the central focus of the business model. So that's another thing I would like to be able to preserve.

by iaom on Aug 15, 2013 4:49 pm • linkreport

Thanks Alan and others. I heard from several residents who thought we simply voted to continue the moratorium. We most definitely did not side with the moratorium supporters. In fact, they were very upset that we recommended such a big change.

We recommended ending the moratorium for 3 categories of licenses (restaurants, stores, and special uses). We will likely just let the remainder (taverns/nightclubs) expire next time -- and the ABC board may just do that anyway this time. But the moratorium's time has past -- it will either be phased out as we recommended, or it will end this year. I agree with moratorium opponents -- I am a moratorium opponent too -- but I prefer to phase it out -- and intend to support ending it completely next time.

by Kishan on Aug 16, 2013 1:04 am • linkreport

The established party strips in DC are already overflowing with alcohol so what possible good can come from “lifting a moratorium”? Is DC’s economy so dire that only more liquor sales can save it?

by AndrewJ on Aug 16, 2013 6:26 am • linkreport

The established party strips in DC are already overflowing with alcohol so what possible good can come from “lifting a moratorium”? Is DC’s economy so dire that only more liquor sales can save it?

What does this even mean? Not sure what 17th street has to do with the "party strips" "overflowing with alcohol."

by MLD on Aug 16, 2013 8:20 am • linkreport

Putta has unintentionally made the case for ANCs to be abolished. They were created to strengthen hyper local voices on matters impacting their neighborhood. He argues the logic of ending a policy, and grants there's widespread support for ending that policy, but then rationalizes placing himself between the majority and the democratic policy result they wish. ANC2B stumbled into a position directly opposite to the intent of its very creation.

And the rationale is, frankly, impossible to align with the history of this moratorium (in any form, whole or in part). He believes it vital for him to put the brakes on neighborhood democracy for the sake of comity, to avoid tensions, when the history of the moratorium has been as a font of division and tension. The vast majority of the neighborhood can see this, and that ending 23 years of a divisive policy is probably the best way to end divisiveness. It's impossible for me to understand how one begins moving forward by stalling that process for another three years.

by LDC on Aug 16, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport

The moratorium in Adams Morgan should be phased out as well. I went to a great new restaurant, Sakuramen on 18th, last week. Wonderful hole-in-the-wall, great food, nice atmosphere, and no liquor license. I don't know the reasons for it, but I can't imagine it's because they don't want one.

Generally, I'm worried that we've reached the point were all the moratorium does is favor the incumbents, while hurting new types of places.

I don't think the liquor moratorium is gradually changing Admo's reputation as a party scene, because the incumbent noise making bars are firmly in place. Other forces are at work, including a maturing, older neighborhood, and competition from other areas. But the places that are opening seem far more interested in providing experiences for all ages, if not slightly older adults.

by kob on Aug 16, 2013 10:06 am • linkreport

Kob has a good point about different neighborhood's fears of becoming "the next adams-morgan" that end up making their fears worse because it concentrates the places where bars can operate. If all neighborhoods were a little more amenable to letting businesses that want to operate go ahead and operate then you'd be allowing competition to better sort out where people want to go. People like the idea of the neighborhood/corner bar and if you are adamant in preventing one from opening then people are going to go with a second choice of going out to Adams-Morgan (or 17th Street, or H Street etc.).

by drumz on Aug 16, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

Kishan makes a big mistake if he doesn't realize that after 23 years we don't need a phase out of the moratorium but it needs to end. The 17th Street commercial strip is not like the "P" street one. This moratorium has hurt the neighborhood and the businesses already on 17th Street.

The time is now and I urge the ABC board to side with the 4 votes on the ANC and end the moratorium now.

by Peter Rosenstein on Aug 16, 2013 11:13 am • linkreport

Here's the short version: "We used to be one of the most successful areas for people to go out in. Then, after we became hyperlocal activists we forced the new places over to 14th Street, U Street and Adams Morgan. How come we are not part of the renewal of the area? Did we do something wrong?" Yep. You sure did. Now you've got a rather boring strip instead of a lively place where people want to be. And Adams Morgan? When the crazy opposition to every new place learned to shut up, more places came in.

Businesses want to be where they are welcomed, not abused.

by AMorganGuy on Aug 16, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

Folks, this is quite simple. Kishan and three other ANC Commissioners chose to side with 30 loud grumpy neighbors, while ignoring the wishes of the majority. In 2009, we collected OVER 450 signatures of residents in 2B who wanted the moratorium to disappear. I appreciate the fact that many Commissions are new in their position, but frankly, I don't care.

Kishan: you, Kevin, Abigail, and Will caved to a small group of neighborhood bullies who have nothing better to do than create a ruckus, harass good businesses like Hanks, and promote a long drawn-out death of 17th Street.

You made your vote. Stop whining and making excuses and stand behind it. This whole "I oppose the moratorium, but just voted to keep it" thing is annoying and childish, and honestly, you should stop trying to appease everyone. You may have won 30 votes, but that cost you 450 votes. We'll make sure everyone remembers next election.

See you in November 2014.

by James Mann on Aug 16, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

@James: and promote a long drawn-out death of 17th Street.

You've got it exactly right. Let's see, what is 17th Street known for these days? A supermarket (big flat brick wall with no windows), a McDonald's (yum?), a couple of restaurants that are not really destinations.

Most important is what is missing. You've lost the vibe 17th Street. You had your moment, but now it's time to turn the keys over to the new kids.... 17th Street, meet your replacement, 14th Street.

I can't remember the last time I went to for a meal on 17th Street.... I can't remember the number of new great restaurants that are opening on 14th Street.

That this discussion is even happening is proof of the moratorium's failure to bring positive change to a neighborhood.

by AMorganGuy on Aug 16, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

You've got it exactly right. Let's see, what is 17th Street known for these days? A supermarket (big flat brick wall with no windows), a McDonald's (yum?), a couple of restaurants that are not really destinations.

I don't disagree with the points you're making about 17th Street, and I don't want to drag this thread off-topic. But if you don't think Komi and Little Serow are destination restaurants, you're out of your mind.

by dcd on Aug 16, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

17th St is great. I have been going there for 10 years and I haven't seen any slow decline. I mean sure comparatively it hasn't changed while places like 14th St are near unrecognizable. Is that a bad thing? I mean I guess an established stable (ok maybe a little boring even) neighborhood doesn't appeal to everyone but not exactly a disaster. Sure it's lost out to development on U st and 14th but personally I'd rather live a few blocks away rather than right on top of either of those strips.

by Alan B. on Aug 16, 2013 3:59 pm • linkreport

In 6 years I have not seen a slow decline either. I think it's hard to really pin the changes in a neighborhood on the liquor moratorium as there are so many other variables in effect -- changes in demographics, property values, tastes, the retail landscape, etc.

With respect to 17th street I think a major driver has been property values and a steady movement of the LGBT community father east and north.

by Scoot on Aug 16, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

Agreed with Alan B. and Scoot, for the reasons I gave yesterday. AMorganGuy, you're welcome to keep your neighborhood how it is, and I like my 17th Street neighborhood how it is. Not that I'd fanatically oppose any change, but I would oppose changing 17th Street into a neighborhood that's wall-to-wall "great restaurants" for suburbanites to visit and nothing left for the people who live in the neighborhood.

by iaom on Aug 16, 2013 5:10 pm • linkreport

Well, I live very near 17th Street, and I'd love to see a little change. It's got a pair of the absolute top-rated restaurants in the entire region and a couple very good places (like Hank's), but a lot of restaurants that have been around a long time and are pretty mediocre.

We rarely go out to eat on 17th as compared to going in other directions or, more and more often lately, over to 14th. You can't go to Komi more than once in a while and have to be willing to stand in line for a long time for Little Serow, so it's not so rich in options for getting together with a couple friends for a dinner or grabbing some food one day when you don't want to cook.

I'd like to see the Safeway stay (or even expand to have a 2nd below ground level), want the CVS to stay (and maybe get cleaner), and the hardware store and Mr. Yogato to keep thriving, but we could use a little turnover in some of the other sit-down eating options.

I have no idea if changing the liquor moratorium can help or hurt that. Probably it won't do either, and thus is not really relevant to the general question. Unless the moratorium is the only thing stopping the hardware store from turning into a bar or the moratorium is actively preventing some aspiring good restauranteur from opening up there, it's not the main driver of what happens on 17th.

by David Alpert on Aug 16, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

In a city, stasis is decline. So are empty storefronts btw. The restaurant ruminations are moot, nonetheless, as you may note the article above is about a proposal to lift the cap on restaurant licenses. And by repeating the false choice of status quo v Adams Morgan, you're indicating where you might come down on all this. BTW since when are 14th Street's restaurants not also patronized daily by residents of the corridor? I see them every single day. Unless, of course, what you're really hinting at is some general resistance at the notion of more people coming to 17th, more vibrancy.

by LDC on Aug 16, 2013 5:36 pm • linkreport

David makes an excellent, and the most important, point: what should drive a neighborhood is what the residents want, not arbitrary barriers that have now proved to be failures. Residents have wanted some new and different hospitality and retail options for many years. The moratorium failed them. Nearly 500 residents petitioned for expiration in 2009, and that sentiment has only grown.

It is worth noting, btw, that the same unrepresentative clique of hardline moratorium proponents on/near 17th also strenuously opposed, in yrs past, any expansion of the Safeway.

by LDC on Aug 16, 2013 5:50 pm • linkreport

Also, the even more valuable thing that could happen on 17th is to add people. If I owned the Safeway building and the CVS building I'd look into whether one could tear them down (what eyesores) and build a new 2-story Safeway with housing on top and a new CVS with housing on top. Maybe the whole CVS could be in the basement, but larger, or could also have 2 floors.

I don't think anything is even remotely historic about the buildings. The Safeway arched windows are cool, maybe the building could keep those.

I don't own the buildings, of course. But that's always what crosses my mind.

by David Alpert on Aug 16, 2013 5:59 pm • linkreport

(And I meant to say that last comment is agreeing with and building on LDC's point @5:36)

by David Alpert on Aug 16, 2013 6:00 pm • linkreport

I had two well-known (some would say notorious) activist residents of the 17th Street corridor tell me, in 2008, of their actions in past years to oppose an increase in height of the Safeway building. They both proceeded to threaten/promise to get their old band back together if any new proposal were to emerge.

by LDC on Aug 16, 2013 6:05 pm • linkreport

Phasing this out seems like the smart way to go. We need new restaurants and restaurant competition so I appreciate this change. Let's allow bars and clubs too -- but let's give new restaurants a chance first. People seem to care most about new restaurants. Phase out seems better to me than ending it completely immediately.

by Charlie on Aug 16, 2013 6:29 pm • linkreport

It has already been phasing out, for four years. Jack Jacobson is a former ANC2B commissioner, and was lead coordinator of the ANC's moratorium renewal consideration in 2009. As he pointed out in another discussion today: "Dupont has BEEN phasing it out for the last two go-arounds. Six years ago 2 new licenses were added. 3 years ago three lateral expansions were added, since there were 2 unused licenses." This discussion inevitably centers upon fear of rapid change, of rapidly and finally dispatching even, now, the last crumbs of the moratorium. Someone please explain the tension that will arise, when the moratorium proponents are already upset at the ANC's recommendation. Someone explain the flood of restaurants that is feared, when the ANC's recommendation already eliminates restaurant caps, and we still have unused restaurant licenses. Someone please explain the detriment that even, say, an upscale whiskey tavern with high-priced nosh would bring? More vibrancy and options? More foot traffic that might spur interest from non-licensed retail?

by LDC on Aug 16, 2013 6:54 pm • linkreport

What's the rush? Sounds like the moratorium is going to go. Personally I like the relative quiet of 17th street and I'm excited about the prospects of Stead Park (with maybe an entrance being added to 17th). If the community wants a change, ok, but what's wrong with a thoughtful approach? Does everything (like 14th) have to be a boom?

by KW on Aug 17, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

DuPont wrote its own obituary with those rules and regulations. Ha ha

Ha

by NE John on Aug 17, 2013 5:37 pm • linkreport

As a resident of 16th street just a block from the corridor, I think this phased approach makes sense. Seems like a reasonable compromise.

by EG on Aug 18, 2013 10:01 pm • linkreport

An incremental change is the best approach. No need to rush anything--especially since the neighborhood seems to have different views on going about it. Phasing out the moratorium would foster a nice balance between neighborhood staples and new pop-ups. I agree that we shouldn't aim to re-create the 14th St corridor, but a few new businesses benefits everyone. Do it right, not fast.

by NPGR on Aug 19, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

David, I'd just add a point that while a lot of the restaurants are perhaps mediocre, there is a long history of that stretch being a gay neighborhood so they retain an important place in the minds of especially older residents. Which isn't to say they shouldn't change just that that line of argument would probably get you in trouble with some very annoyed residents. Also I mean not every restaurant needs to be 4 stars. Some of the cities long standing treasures are holes in the walls like Adam Express in Mt P, Ben's Chili Bowl, etc especially since the comparably alternative is usually chains.

by Alan B. on Aug 19, 2013 4:41 pm • linkreport

From what it seems, the approach to phasing out the moratorium appears as a reasonable compromise. Too much change too soon can lead to chaos.

by Gayan A on Aug 19, 2013 9:00 pm • linkreport

Explain this "chaos" please.

by LDC on Aug 20, 2013 9:56 am • linkreport

KW - page 9 of today's EXPRESS (http://www.readexpress.com/2013/08/in-its-stead/) says that there WILL be a 17th Street entrance. Great idea to integrate the social/rec space with the commercial corridor.

Have you heard about Duke's - the new pub/sandwich joint opening around the corner: http://www.popville.com/2013/07/east-london-style-cafe-coming-to-former-cafe-green-space-on-17th-street-to-be-called-dukes-grocery/

Should be a nice alternative to Subway/McDonalds for food-to-go that we can take into the park and enjoy there.

The ANC is supporting Duke's liquor license -- will be great to have another nice place to drink on 17th -- hopefully some good U.K. whiskey/scotch...!

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/youngandhungry/2013/07/23/dukes-grocery-will-bring-east-london-to-east-dupont/

by Charlie on Aug 27, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

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