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How can DC fix the liquor license process?

A number of businesses' recent tangles with DC's liquor license process has clearly shown the need for reform. The long saga of Hank's Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle clearly demonstrates the flaws as well as some strengths of the current system.


Photo by ZagatBuzz on Flickr.

Back in 2005, Jamie Leeds wanted to open a restaurant on Q Street NW just east of 17th Street. However, a number of residents oppose new liquor licenses on 17th. They fear, rightly or wrongly, that 17th could become entirely filled with bars, making it much noisier and pushing out other types of retailers.

Leeds negotiated a Voluntary Agreement with ANC 2B, specifying some limits. However, other residents weren't satisfied and wanted even stricter limits, and the ANC pulled out of the process. Leeds reached an agreement with a second group, and then yet a third pushed for even more, effectively "moving the goalposts" and stopping the restaurant from opening.

The Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) Board, which adjudicates liquor license decisions, kept telling Leeds to continue negotiating with residents, as she explained at the ABC Board hearing (page 164-165). Her savings running out, she felt she had no choice but to agree to all of the demands, and finally opened the restaurant.

Today, Hank's is a very popular establishment that is almost always bustling and fills its patio in good weather with a mix of people having a good time and not causing trouble. Leeds secured the rights to expand into the vacant adjacent townhouse, but again faced the obstacles of the liquor license process.

The VA limited Hank's seating capacity, and some of the residents involved in the original VA weren't interested in allowing expansion. The ANC, on the other hand, didn't object to the expansion, and had previously endorsed the idea of some lateral expansions on 17th. The ABC Board had even extended 17th Street's liquor license moratorium only on the condition that up to 3 existing businesses be allowed to expand.

But in the VA process, any group of residents can force a hearing. After a months-long process, Leeds secured permission from the ABC Board to terminate the VA. All she had left to do was go through one more ABC Board hearing to actually modify the liquor license for an expanded business, and all would be well as far as most neighborhood residents were concerned.

However, another wrinkle suddenly appeared. In Dupont, the ANC habitually negotiates a VA with businesses in residential areas to end outdoor seating at 11 pm weeknights and midnight weekends, though they can stay open later indoors. This is a reasonable balance between the needs of residents and businesses; establishments can keep selling food and alcohol, but need to move inside to cut down on noise. This had been part of Leeds' VA.

The placards Hank's posted for its license renewal included the previous 11 pm and midnight hours. But when the ABC Board terminated the VA, they said Hank's hours could automatically revert to the maximum legal hours of 2 am weekdays, 3 am weekends as in their original 2005 application, and Hank's attorney Andrew Kline started suggesting the restaurant might stay open later. This threatened to undermine the neighborhood consensus in favor of Hank's expansion and the support of all those who had defended Leeds.

To preserve this neighborhood policy, the ANC suddenly had to reverse course and "protest" the license. Now the ANC, formerly an ally, suddenly looked to be an opponent. Fortunately, Hank's agreed to keep its hours at the neighborhood standard, and the ANC expects to support that at a special meeting Wednesday.

What's wrong with this process? Fundamentally, it hasn't effectively handled this situation where most residents support the license or the change with some limited restrictions, while others want no change or no establishment in the first place.

Some think VAs should be abolished altogether. However, DC can help businesses secure their liquor licenses more smoothly without throwing out this tool which is often very useful. Here are some steps the DC Council and/or the ABC Board can take.

Combine hearings and speed them up. If it concludes soon, the entire Hank's process will have consumed an entire year and many, many hours of legal bills. Yet the current proposal is identical to the original one. It shouldn't take so long to make a change.

This process included a number of separate hearings on different segments of the process, such as first removing the VA and then making the change to the license itself. All of these steps could be condensed into a single step. The establishment can put up its required placards to notify neighbors of the proposal, give a reasonable amount of time for people to weigh in, and then have one hearing to listen to testimony and make a decision.

Don't wait for agreement before holding the hearing. The ABC Board back in 2005 hurt Leeds by delaying action on her application until all protesting residents could agree. The fact is that in many cases, there are a few people who won't go along with even an overwhelming consensus.

The board should schedule its hearing and encourage the applicant to work out agreements with others, but if they can't satisfy everyone, the hearing should happen and the board can judge protestants' arguments for themselves. To its credit, the ABC Board has been moving much faster in recent years.

Clearly limit the parameters of VAs. Hank's VA not only regulated hours of operation and seating, but also prohibited any lettering on umbrellas besides the restaurant's name, and demanded certain kinds of materials in tree boxes. These issues should be covered by historic preservation, if at all, not enforced by ABRA (the agency that enforces liquor licenses) and negotiated in the VA.

Elsewhere, some neighborhoods groups of residents or ANCs have asked for requirements that the owner attend certain meetings, join certain organizations, donate to certain local nonprofits, or not play certain kinds of music. ABRA should define a clear set of restrictions that VAs may or may not contain.

VAs are often very long. ABRA could create a very simple one-page form that has checkboxes and spaces to fill in specific parameters: hours inside and out, amount of sitting and standing capacity, whether amplified music can be played, etc. A fairly small write-in space can accommodate any other items, but the vast majority of VAs should be able to simply use this basic form.

Require more residents closer to an establishment to protest. Today, as few as 5 residents can file a protest, and they can live as far away as 600 feet (1.6 football fields). With Hank's, the lead protestants lived 280 feet away and others lived even farther, while two directly across the street spoke in support. Protests other than ones filed by the ANC should require a greater number of protestants from a more immediate radius.

Encourage ANCs to define neighborhood-wide principles for VAs. Today, an ANC has to formally "protest" every liquor license application if it wants to get a VA. This makes the process unnecessarily adversarial. It also has to make this decision on a case by case basis. New business owners often don't know ahead of time what the ANC will or won't protest.

Instead of having every decision made case by case, ABRA could work with ANCs to define a reasonable and general policy about which VA parameters they'd protest and which they wouldn't. This could become a sort of default VA. For example, in Dupont, the general principle could be that outdoor hours are limited to 11 and 12 north of N Street or New Hampshire Avenue, but not limited in the Golden Triangle.

Applicants would get this information when first contacting ABRA. They wouldn't have to follow it, but could know that if the application fits within these parameters, the ANC wouldn't protest and ABRA could move a license application more quickly. The ABC Board could make a point to be more deferential to applications that do comply with this general policy.

On the flip side, if an application doesn't conform to them, ABRA would automatically assume there needs to be a hearing and the Board could give that more scrutiny. Prospective restaurateurs would know what the ANC is probably going to support and what they probably would not, and could write a business plan with more confidence about what would get approval.

Of course, ANCs shouldn't be able to set up a guideline saying that there should be no establishments at all, and applicants could apply for anything they wanted just as they can now. But if an ANC sets up reasonable parameters and is willing to apply them broadly, the ABC Board should give that "great weight."

Require the board to consider residents' needs when terminating a VA. The current law is vague about how the ABC Board should weigh the impact on residents when canceling a VA, as in the case of Hank's and the late night hours. They are required to consider it when granting a license, but that language lies in a different section of the law than the part about removing VAs. The Council should clarify this.

In theory, the process DC has makes sense. An applicant must notify neighbors. Neighbors can then ask for a hearing. Before the hearing, they can come to an agreement, which ABRA will enforce. If they don't, the ABC Board decides what to do at the hearing. The local ANC gets a louder say than others, but still doesn't decide on its own.

The problems come not from this process but when it doesn't work properly. If the ABC Board doesn't listen to reasonable ANCs pushing for sensible compromises, or refuses to overrule unreasonable neighbors, or allows outrageous provisions in VAs, or if the process takes too long, it can hurt businesses and neighborhoods.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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@David, Excellent analysis and great suggestions!

but ... you state:

Her savings running out, she felt she had no choice but to agree to all of the demands, and finally opened the restaurant.

which makes me wonder if you saw the V.A. I did ... I can try to find it if you like. If I recall, there were 5 items on it ... one was the hours limitation for the patio, another was the signage you mentioned, and a third which I specifically remember was to ensure that all patio chairs and tables are stacked when the place closes. (I've been told this is to prevent this outside areas to become impromptu seating areas for folks after the bars close ... ) And I think a 4th was ensuring that all garbage gets disposed of properly ... and the 5th was ensuring that the openable front wall remained closed after the patio closed down. (Otherwise, why have limited patio hours if the restaurant can just open up its front wall and let the noise from inside flow freely out .. up to the 2 oe 3 o'clock closing time?)

Overall, these seemed to me to be more than reasonable restrictions which neighbors should be able to demand in exchange for allowing a new business to open so close to their homes and bedrooms. I do think it should be the ANC leading the whole process and being the signatories to avoid unreasonable demands, but I think in this case it's pretty clear that they weren't unreasonable demands. Which of course makes me wonder why Jamie Leeds so strenuously objected to them and made such a big deal about it in the press.

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 12:18 pm • linkreport

This whole liquor license business is a boondoggle of the city government yielding too much power to local ANCs and shows why too much citizen input is bad for everyone. The fears of 5 citizens should not be able to block the legitimate establishment of a business.

These should be one liquor license office in the city government that rules the entire city with a simple clear set of rules so that applicants know what to expect. The liquor license office could touch base with the local ANC to see if there are serious issues and can way those against the other interests.

The problem I see with many ANC interactions as described here and elsewhere, is that ANC members are incapable of thinking beyond their own narrow-minded interests. Furthermore, they react to individual cases only, and never way the overall impact of their voices. In other words: The desires of people often contradict each other in different cases and leads to incomprehensible inane rules that are unfair to everyone, and design solely for the microcosm of that particular case.

Simply put, this is not a way to run a city. Especially not a large city.

by Jasper on Nov 30, 2010 12:25 pm • linkreport

@Jasper The fears of 5 citizens should not be able to block the legitimate establishment of a business.

If you were one of the 5 people who's sleep could be interupted by a new business setting up shop under your bedroom window, you might feel differently about this.

This question came up recently at a local citizens' assoc. meeting where Gray was speaking. He made a very strong comment along the lines that 'Our residents are the heart of our city ... and the businesses are here to serve them and not vice versa ... the interests of residents will always come first'. He made this comment after being informed that the chair of ABRA (I think?) had made a statement along the lines that 'This city needs tax revenues, and one family's sleep shouldn't get in the way of a new restaurant opening which can bring in added tax dollars.' To say Gray was shocked when he heard this is putting it lightly. I see good things coming with this new administration.

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 12:31 pm • linkreport

These sound like good suggestions. I think that grudge holding citizens far from the area of impact should hold less weight. Mount Pleasants mainstreet vitality has been decimated by VA's. The MPNA had beaten back restaurants to the point of not being allowed live music in a neighborhood historically known for it. This all while the head of the MPNA was living in Cleveland Park! Meanwhile the vast majority of the residents would love another bar and a few more restaurants that would raise the profile of the street and increase our dinning options. But all it takes is 5 people to bully new restaurants into a VA.
However, those choosing to live by a commercial corridor should be expected to understand what they are getting into. Is it fair for the few that live within ear shot of MTP street to deprive those residents who live in the quieter reaches a maintstreet with dining and nightlife options they can walk to?

by John on Nov 30, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

In the vast majority of cases VAs are anything but voluntary and should be abolished. The system, as it exists now, allows small groups of people essentially blackmail restaurant and bar owners into accepting regulations far stricter than the laws (which were enacted through the democratic process and should represent the will of the majority of the citizenry.)

by Jacob on Nov 30, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

I suspect in practice this works a lot like the sorts of bickering we see in congress all the time.

You've got a handful of NIMBY people (who may or may not even be directly affected by what's going on) who will protest anything and everything.

Then you've got a business owner who probably would be perfectly content with a business plan that's reasonable (e.g. limited outdoor hours, keeping things clean).

From the point of view of the business owner, if you just go in asking for the bare minimum of reasonable, you find yourself fighting from the baseline of what you can live with. You have no room to concede anything, and you know that you will be challenged no matter what you ask for.

The fact that a small contingent of people will protest anything forces business owners into the position of asking for more than they really need, in order to have something to concede. I am sure this is why Leeds came back with the late hours thing - because she had run out of negotiating power against unreasonable people.

There is a policy of "automatic protest" in many neighborhoods that creates this confrontational environment for people who want to open businesses and offer services that, actually, most residents want.

It is definitely too easy for people to protest. There will always be crackpots, and the rules need to treat them as such.

I agree with your suggestion that there be a higher standard for what can constitute a formal protest. There should also be a point at which a protest from a tiny group can be overruled by the ABC and/or the ANC, much like zoning variances: the nearby residents have a say, but they don't make the decision.

The current situation places too much power in the hands of a tiny minority. Filibustering a business opening is not reasonable and can create an extraordinary burden on people opening businesses which, in most cases, the vast majority of residents approve of.

by Jamie on Nov 30, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

There are people who want all of the conveniences of living in a city (and a central neighborhood) without all the hassles of living in a city -- like traffic, noise, and other people. The city and the neighborhoods should not have to pay the price for this and should not be held hostage by a few complainers. Otherwise all of DC will look Tenleytown someday.

by aaa on Nov 30, 2010 12:42 pm • linkreport

True story: the voluntary agreement for the Modern Lounge in Georgetown prohibits any "beefcake contests".

by TM on Nov 30, 2010 12:42 pm • linkreport

Great post. I endorse all of the proposed solutions. In case she happens to read this, thank you to Jamie Leeds for your persistence in the face of a handful of NIMBYs. As a 17th Street resident and patron, I appreciate your willingness to do business in the neighborhood and look forward to visiting the expanded restaurant.

by Adam L on Nov 30, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport

"the chair of ABRA (I think?) had made a statement along the lines that 'This city needs tax revenues, and one family's sleep shouldn't get in the way of a new restaurant opening which can bring in added tax dollars."

The ABC Chair said nothing of the sort. The above is a re-phrasing of an out-of-context quote provided by DCCA's president, for little more than dramatic impact, at the mtg with Gray. The ABC Chair's actual quote can be found in the transcript of the Hank's hearing. He was simply asking one of the protestants to run through a list of VA items and quantify some things, and the protestant kept avoiding the question (a habit the protestants exhibited continuously throughout the hearing), and kept talking rhetorically about resident's sleep, and the Chair expressed some exasperation and then confusion at how that might be quantified.

The fact that the Hank's protestants failed to understand what was said, what was asked, and who's really to blame for their loss, shouldn't be surprising really.

by VAwatcher on Nov 30, 2010 1:07 pm • linkreport

I am glad that ABRA reform has cropped up on Greater Greater Washington's radar screen. Vibrant streets often require bars and restaurants with hours and facilities that can serve everyone from seniors and families out for an early dinner, to young people who like a dynamic social environment to meet new people.

From my own observations, my main complaint is that the Board is not consistent in applying rules, precedence or even reason in their decisions. Too often, they take King Solomon's approach and simply decree that the baby should be split.

The Mount Pleasant Responsible Hospitality Initiative, that was funded by a grant from ABRA that Council Member Jim Graham secured, recommended something similar to what David suggests: that the neighborhood come together and establish a uniform code of conduct for an area so that existing business owners and new entrepreneurs have a level playing field as well as understand the rules of the game in advance.

In Harriet Tregoning's testimony on the Mount Pleasant Small Area Revitalization Plan, she indicated that OP included that recommendation in their plan and that OP was willing to "roll up its sleeves" to try and make something like that work. Chairman Vincent Gray who conducted the hearing expressed great interest in seeing the progress of such an initiative.

I believe very strongly that our approach to liquor licensing in this city ignores opportunities to build stronger neighborhoods and commercial distrincts. There needs to be greater inter-agency cooperation, so that we can avoid problems like what Madam's Organ or Bobby Lew's went through; so that we can avoid putting good, struggling businesses through the ringer, like Hank's Oyster Bar, or the old Red Bean in Mt. Pleasant; and so that we move away from "gotcha" regulations towards a more cooperative and collaborative approach to integrating such an important industry into our residential and commercial fabric.

by Phil Lepanto on Nov 30, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

@Lance: I don't see good things coming from this Administration, unless you consider another Control Board a good thing. Gray has promised too much to too many to deliver.

by Dave J on Nov 30, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

"Gray has promised too much to too many to deliver."

To be sure. He has to pay the bills from the previous administration, but the coffers are dry.

by Jamie on Nov 30, 2010 1:47 pm • linkreport

@ Lance: If you were one of the 5 people who's sleep could be interupted by a new business setting up shop under your bedroom window, you might feel differently about this.

How about the 5 people not working in that business now? How do they feel?

'Our residents are the heart of our city ... and the businesses are here to serve them and not vice versa ... the interests of residents will always come first'.

And residents have no interest in businesses creating jobs where they can work and prosper? Residents have no interest in bars?

The problem is that in a big city, people will have to live next to things they don't want next to them. Nobody wants to live next to the jail, yet everybody wants to have criminals jailed. Nobody wants to live next to the homeless shelter, but nobody wants homeless people on the street. Nobody wants to live next to a Fire Station, with fire trucks running out with screaming sirens regularly, but everybody wants a fire department. Nobody wants to live next to a bar, but everybody wants to go out to bars.

The placement of these places needs to be viewed on a city-wide scale, not on a microscopic level.

Note: I am not in favor of allowing any business to open anywhere, anyway, anyhow. But I believe it is up to the city (local jurisdiction) to make sure there are city-wide rules that balance the interests of everyone. And that is exactly why we live in a democracy. We hand the power to to take these difficult decisions over to elected folks who can then weigh all interests.

Finally, if you want to live quietly, don't live in a big city. Move to a rural area and accept having no fire stations, malls, bars, and other sources of noise around.

by Jasper on Nov 30, 2010 1:51 pm • linkreport

The logical extension of some of these arguments is that because this is 'city life', any thing goes.

by Stan on Nov 30, 2010 2:23 pm • linkreport

@Jasper Note: I am not in favor of allowing any business to open anywhere, anyway, anyhow. But I believe it is up to the city (local jurisdiction) to make sure there are city-wide rules that balance the interests of everyone. And that is exactly why we live in a democracy. We hand the power to to take these difficult decisions over to elected folks who can then weigh all interests.

Funny thing is I heard essentially the same exact statement made by one of the lead protestants in the Hank's case ...

He believes that if the District accepted its responsibility to do all the proper planning exactly in the manner you state he wouldn't have to be out there "doing the District's job" as he put it. And you know what, he might be right ... And you too.

For example, he said he feels that if the District were setting the rules, they'd not permit ANY establishments to have patios open past 11 weekdays or 12 midnight weekends where there are residences within a certain distance of them. He also pointed out that if the District were doing its job, they'd be the ones pulling licenses from restaurants and bars that didn't properly dispose of their trash. (That's a big problem because if not handled properly, rats have nightly feasts in the alleys.)

So, maybe you're on to something. However, beware ... the other side of the coin is that when you have a District-wide body making rules that are applicable to all parts of the District under all circumstances, you're sure to end up with more conservative rules ... especially since this Board is ultimately responsible to the politicians who place them there, and the politicians are still subject to those who scream the loudest.

I suspect if it ever comes to where you and the lead protestant against Hank's get your way, that the restaurants nowadays working so hard to kill the V.A.s might end up regretting them. Nowadays they have someone at the local level to deal with the get some flexibility in the rules. When they're set from on high, that flexibility will be gone.

Sometimes you get what you wish for.

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 2:24 pm • linkreport

An additional note ... If the ANCs in each neighborhood stood up to the plate and took control of the V.A. process for their neighborhoods (and sub-neighborhoods ... like 17th Street), they could be in charge of 'making the rules' for their areas. And they could do this simply by having a template (of hours, trash handling, etc.) which they'd tweak on an applicant by applicant basis ... And thereby excercise the 'local' regulatory uniformity which you brought up in your post Jasper.

And no one would have to make any regulatory changes to implement this. The ANCs by law get great weight. Any other protestants don't. The applicant (and the ANC) could essentially tell the neighbors 'this is a neighborhood issue and the V.A. will be worked out in collaboration with everyone, but the ANC will sign it, and what goes in there in the end will be what the ANC and the applicant agree to. And because the other neighbors don't have great weight before ABRA, ABRA would have to give this ANC V.A. the primacy it deserves.

All it takes is the ANC taking control control of the process ...

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 2:31 pm • linkreport

And for those who don't know (perhaps not DC residents), the ANCs are elected commissioners on the most local level in DC. Generally, each neighborhood has its own Advisory Neighborhood Commission which is composed of commissioners elected by voters in what are called Single Member Districts. They don't have true legislative power, but they do have the power to 'make recommendations' to District and Federal boards and agencies. And those recommendations must by law be given 'great weight' by District agencies and boards ... incluing the liquor licensing board.

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

@ Lance: Once again you are not answering me questions. Again: what about the 5 people not getting a job due to the 5 NIMBYs?

especially since this Board is ultimately responsible to the politicians who place them there, and the politicians are still subject to those who scream the loudest.

But at least on a city-wide level, more than 5 people will have to scream loudly.

the other side of the coin is that when you have a District-wide body making rules that are applicable to all parts of the District under all circumstances, you're sure to end up with more conservative rules

Only until enough people start going out in surrounding jurisdictions. Or until people vote out the conservative council. Furthermore, it is better for residents and business to have a more transparent process, with a more predictable outcome. Clear rules are always better than opaque ones.

He also pointed out that if the District were doing its job, they'd be the ones pulling licenses from restaurants and bars that didn't properly dispose of their trash.

Fine with me.

The ANCs by law get great weight. Any other protestants don't.

And that's bad, because ANCs do not have decent transparent processes. They behave like kids playing football.

All it takes is the ANC taking control control of the process ...

Yeah. And you know that they don't because they consist mostly of obstructionist NIMBYs.

by Jasper on Nov 30, 2010 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Lance

As a current (and soon to be former) ANC Commissioner, I can tell you that the ABRA Board does not routinely respect the wishes or statements of the ANC. Commissioner Gregg Edwards from my neighborhood and former Commissioner Jane Zara have been fighting a court battle with ABRA for the last two years over how they ignored a ton of written ANC resolutions.

Moreover, ABRA does not give ANCs automatic standing in any protest hearing. They are also required to "protest" applications even when they are in support of the requested application.

by Phil Lepanto on Nov 30, 2010 2:45 pm • linkreport

In practice, very few ANCs act in the interests of their constituents but rather in their own self-interest. Most commissioners run unopposed, and are generally elected by margins of tens of votes. Upsets (as rare as they are) generally happen only as a result of extreme personal, single-issue, or vendetta situation, e.g. Frank Winstead.

The Mt. Pleasant ANC is a perfect example of one that actually is among the more active and involved in the community. Please review the archives of the Mt. Pleasant Form for endless controversy over the actions of the ANC and infighting among commissioners there.

Now that's an ANC where more than a handful of people may actually show up to a meeting once in a while. In most, it's pretty much the commissioners doing (or not doing) whatever they want.

The construct is unfortunately pretty useless because it has no oversight and too few people care to be involved in its actions. I really doubt their recommendations carry "great weight" in practice either, as a result of this reality.

by Jamie on Nov 30, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

Maloff and Diener : I hear there are some great condos in Falls Church (both East and West) where you can hear the crickets at night! I'll post a link if you'd like!

Get out!

by Rick Mangus on Nov 30, 2010 2:52 pm • linkreport

"The MPNA had beaten back restaurants to the point of not being allowed live music in a neighborhood historically known for it. This all while the head of the MPNA was living in Cleveland Park!"

Ah, so that's why she's been so obsessed with rebuilding Klingle Road, for a fast corridor between her home and her "day job."

by Bob on Nov 30, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

@Jasper ... Your comments about the ANC are 'a little' inconsistent with what you initially said you wanted.

Note: I am not in favor of allowing any business to open anywhere, anyway, anyhow. But I believe it is up to the city (local jurisdiction) to make sure there are city-wide rules that balance the interests of everyone.

In the context of DC, the ANCs are the local jurisdiction ... They represent a neighborhood's interests (like a 'commune' or 'arrondissement' in France).

As for the '5 people who won't get a job if an establishment doesn't open' ... I think that is a red herring of a question. What about the 400,000 people (i.e., soldiers) who don't get a job if a country isn't invaded? Surely, you wouldn't judge the correctness of that action on the jobs it created? Whether a new licensee (or an expansion) is good for the neighborhood has to be judged on factors other than if it'll create 5 jobs ... 5 jobs which will likely be filled from people either from other neighborhoods or outside the District anyways ...

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 3:40 pm • linkreport

The protestants of Hank's expansion application lied in their protest, warning of problems that would not exist, making a farce of the entire process.

By having ANCs control the process, we'd actually see a slight improvement over the control of the process by self-important, self-appointed community representatives running around with VA agreements in hand. It would not be hard at all for a coalition of local businesses to fund and organize ANC candidates who are rational and business minded in order to displace the Frank Winstead-esque cranks and gadflies.

In any case, this should not be the domain of VA-fetishists and ANCs at all: ABRA should be stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility rather than passing the buck to ANCs and the VA-activists.

they said Hank's hours could automatically revert to the maximum legal hours of 2 am weekdays, 3 am weekends as in their original 2005 application

Does this mean they planned to stay open on the patio until 3am or were the forced to close at midnight inside because of the VA?

by JustMe on Nov 30, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport

Lance,

The Paris commune has 2.2 million people living in it. It covers more than 40 square miles. The smallest arrondisement in Paris (the First) covers less than a square mile, yet has nearly 18,000 residents.

ANCs, by contrast, cover a few square blocks and have about 2,000 residents, max.

So, you're completely wrong. A French Commune is the equivalent of an American city. A French arrondisement is equaivalent to an American ward within a city.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2010 3:55 pm • linkreport

First off, Mt. Pleasant has live entertainment and has had it for over 3 years. Second, it was the HEAR MOUNT PLEASANT VA that was violated by Don Jamies. It was HEAR MOUNT PLEASANT VA who, because of the violation, Don Jamies was fined. It wasn't the MPNA.

For those of you who continue to have a hard on for that beauty who moved to Cleveland Park, wow, if you want to see real NIMBY action you now get to deal with ANC Commissioner Greg Edwards. No thank you.

by Bill on Nov 30, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport

Excuse me - the SMD's each have about 2,000 residents, max.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport

Bill- Nobody said that live music wasn't back on MTP street. It gets brought up because it is a perfect example of nimbyism run amok. It highlights the dangers of a relatively small group of nimbys with an axe to grind (and a stick where the sun don't shine) effectively hijacking a neighborhoods voice and ruining its reputation. I'm glad I can have a beer and listen to music on mount pleasant street once again, but i'll be waiting for the day that I can have a decent meal there too, and that may be awhile off as most with the means to open such a place are still turned off by the anti restaurant/booze reputation MTP has. Residents with legitimate concerns should have the avenues to voice them. But it should not be as easy as finding 4 other curmudgeons to bully out some VAs.

by John on Nov 30, 2010 4:32 pm • linkreport

@Alex, the Dupont Circle ANC is roughly the size of the 'smallest arrondissement' ... 18,000 residents ... I'm not sure what point you are trying to make. Communes equal towns out in most of France (and can be anywhere from a few hundred souls to many thousands) ... and in Paris, arrondissements equal neighborhoods with their own mayors and other 'local' government ... which because all power is centrally derived from the national government, actually are in many ways very similar to our ANCs which can't actually pass any laws on their own, but can 'customize' District solutions down to the neighborhood level via their recommendations and other advocacy. I was simply trying to explain to Jasper that the ANCs aren't 'busy bodies' or the like as they ARE the local government ... Getting involved in this kind of stuff is what they're elected to do.

I'd suggest that we here without the qualification of having been voted in are more the 'busy bodies' than the ANC members ... Not that any of us would ever admit it ...

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 4:35 pm • linkreport

@Lance

Except that the largest arrondisements have north of 200,000 residents - which shoots your entire theory to pieces.

Arrondisements are subdivisions of a municipality. In other words, they are exactly like wards. Actually, since arrondisements have their own councils, the better comparison would be New York's boroughs.

The comparison to an ANC is absurd.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2010 4:43 pm • linkreport

The NYC boroughs don't have their own councils though. There are just community boards, which are like ANCs except even less powerful and everyone is appointed by the local councilmember or the borough president, which is another powerless office.

by David Alpert on Nov 30, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

@John, your original comment was 5 years old, so I'm not sure why you even posted at all.

Isn't it time to speak about what's happening today? You say you can enjoy music and drink a beer, but the food sucks. Whose fault is that?

It is people like you who can't get past the past and keeps bad shit alive by posting how Mt. Pleasant has this anti booze/entertainment reputation. Why not be positive and see where we have come in the last few years rather than blaming others.

As to the ANC, they are a big problem that is recognized by the neighborhood and city officials. You are not allowed to speak during an ANC meeting in Mt Pleasant, only in the beginning and are allowed only 3 minutes. Then you have to sit and watch Greg Edwards manipulate his puppets.

by Bill on Nov 30, 2010 4:49 pm • linkreport

The two key elements to ANCs are their extraordinarily small, hyperlocal focus (unlike an arrondisement or borough), and their lack of any affirmative mandate or procedure, triggering the kinds of adversarial relationships David documents in this post.

This is entirely the point - if each ANC had the same number of people as the average Parisian arrondisement (which is about 110,000 people - which is larger than the population of any of DC's Wards, by the way), then you'd have a body politic of sufficient size to avoid the hyperlocal problems from these super small bodies like ANCs.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2010 4:55 pm • linkreport

And Alex, how do you explain the small communes of a few hundred to maybe 2000 people throughout most of France. Are you saying they are incapable of self-determination because they are too small? Your argument doesn't seem to make much sense. Is a small country like say Iceland not entitled to self determination because it is not 'of sufficient size' to make decisions like a country the size of the US can? I don't see where absolute numbers come into play here ... at all ...

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 5:07 pm • linkreport

Perhaps ABRA could create more well defined options for liquor license classifications. Right now a Tavern license with entertainment endorsement can easily operate like a quasi nightclub. With a CT-Tavern license and no V/A an establishment can stay closed all day, open at 5pm, charge cover and have lines out the door, sell little to no food, play loud music indoors and outdoors, and dump people outside at 3am.

A business owner can say their concept is not a quasi-niteclub but if the license without V/A is loose on restrictions the residents are at risk of bait & switch. My neighborhood did have an applicant try this. It was very predictable too. His background was VIP nightclub promoter at MCCXXIII and Lotus. He claimed to want to open a Tryst like coffeehouse. Who couldn't like Tryst? But as the V/A negotiation went on he eventually fessed up that he wanted to have an 4 story dance club and lounge like Muse with DJs every night. Even putting the concept aside who is eager to welcome a business owner when he initiates his dialog with the community with fantastic lie after fantastic lie? He was trying to con everyone from the start.

Anyway, if ABRA created a license that asked for 20% food sales (instead of 45% with the CR), music with no cover, and the *outdoor hours* close at 11pm on weeknights and midnight that would be a good option for a true pub. An applicant approaching the community applying for that license is going to meet alot less resistance in many neighborhoods.

If the applicant is dead set on having the most liberal regulation possible with the CT-Tavern license then they can still apply for it. They may just get more opposition if the community doesn't support that use.

by PS on Nov 30, 2010 5:16 pm • linkreport

Small local legislative districts in small towns makes sense. Small legislative districts in Big Cities (like Paris) do not.

You're the one making the absolute argument, not me. All I'm saying is that power emanates from the people, and therefore should be scaled in proportion to the number of people represented.

I don't see what any of this has to do with self determination. Nor do I see what self-determination has to do with ANCs - we have Wards and ward-based councilmembers for a reason.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2010 5:19 pm • linkreport

Lance, your first comparison was to Paris and thats what Alex responded to. Now you're comparing to 'throughout France'. I'm sure there are plenty of small towns in France with <=2000 people just like in the US. Alex's point is about the limitations/weaknesses of 'superlocal'-ized power in a dense city neighborhood, not that a group is too small to self-govern, more that too few voices can coopt self-governance when that superlocalized power doesn't really represent the greater neighborhood whose majority of voices are not represented. Its insane that as a few as 5 people in a dense neighborhood, who don't even live within 100yards of the proposed restaurant, can keep it jumping through arbitrary hoops indefinitely.

by Tina on Nov 30, 2010 5:30 pm • linkreport

@PS

It would be interesting for this community to weigh in on the idea that the ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE REGULATION ADMINISTRATION should limit its regulatory purview to the regulation of the transport, service and consumption of alchohol. Food sales, dance floors, types of music, outdoor patios, etc. would seem to be prima facie outside of their jurisdiction. After all, DCRA, FEMS, and DDOT all get first passes at regulating those aspects of an establishment.

Small Businesses already have a hard enough time navigating the obstacles put in place by the DC Government. It seems like bad policy to add a second layer... particularly when the entire structure of ABRA and the ABC Board is REACTIVE rather than proactively trying to manage an industry.

by Phil Lepanto on Nov 30, 2010 6:05 pm • linkreport

@Phil - I don't get your comment about ADDING a layer. ABRA already has there hands in these parameters. You can advocate removing an existing layer if you wish but to portray my thoughts about existing tools as adding a layer is disingenuous.

by PS on Nov 30, 2010 6:17 pm • linkreport

@PS

I apologize for the phrasing of my post. I did not mean to assign any characterization to what you had written.

I was simply excited to see the conversation turn towards a discussion of ABRA's regulatory activities and structures.

To clarify, it is my belief that ABRA should constrain itself to a more narrow range of regulatory activities.

by Phil Lepanto on Nov 30, 2010 6:25 pm • linkreport

Small city communities would be far more livable with smaller bars, alcohol shops, and other retail. Why ANCs don't want them is really been a mystery to me.

This is the classic externality issue -- and clearly the answer here is to remove the ability of the liquor control board to object.

by charlie on Nov 30, 2010 6:51 pm • linkreport

Small city communities would be far more livable with smaller bars, alcohol shops, and other retail. Why ANCs don't want them is really been a mystery to me.

This is a strawman if ever I saw one ...

by Lance on Nov 30, 2010 9:19 pm • linkreport

ANC's and even individual neighbors have way too much say in these matters. For Pete's sake- these folks have bought houses and/or moved into these neighborhoods adjacent to commercial districts with their eyes wide open! Where do they get off trying to limit what a business does in their lawful, licensed location?! Residents need to stay out of the business of the parameters of a liquor license, and whether or not bar or restaurant can stay open until the lawfully determined closing time, for instance. Enough with the intrusion on businesses rights- move to the suburbs if you can't stomach city life!

by KevinM on Dec 1, 2010 8:01 am • linkreport

@KevinM: Some people bought their homes BEFORE these restaurants/bars/nightclubs opened up in what used to be maybe a clothing or hardware store. They have every right to protect the intrusion of the outfall of a business that now could change their peace, order and quiet until all hours of the night. And I'm not referring to Hank's.

by Bill on Dec 1, 2010 9:15 am • linkreport

"They have every right to protect the intrusion"

do they? as I said, this is the classic externality issue. Pay the landowner for the damage to their property.

Except, as I said before, having more bars/restaurants/high end wine stores around will actually INCREASE your property's value. YOU might not like living there anymore, but somebody else would. So there are no market based damages to pay.

by charlie on Dec 1, 2010 9:20 am • linkreport

Bill, sure, such cases do exist. So which of the protestors in this case bought their house before Fox & Hounds opened in 1950?

The use of this area is well established. We're not talking about something like the 9:30 club opening, we're talking about businesses that fit exactly into the existing character and use of the commercial corridor.

Obviously, something that represents a substantial change in use for an area should receive substantial critical evaluation for its appropriateness. But that is not the case for Hank's, or the vast majority of such cases that get protested, and to generalize this discussion to every conceivable situation is a straw man.

by Jamie on Dec 1, 2010 9:23 am • linkreport

@ Lance: In the context of DC, the ANCs are the local jurisdiction ... They represent a neighborhood's interests (like a 'commune' or 'arrondissement' in France).

There's actually quite a difference between a commune and an arrondissement, but who am I to explain that to you? As far as I understand communes have very little to say in France's centralized egalitarian top-down power structure.

But as for the ANCs, it's simply a layer too much. ANCs represent too small of an area, create to many different mini democracies and are dominated by very few people that have no realistic motive to actually represent all the interests of the residents. It is too complex to have people represented by their ANC, their ward, and then a few at-large people and a mayor.

As for my inconsistency (why the quotes around little?), I should have been more clear: I meant the District.

5 jobs which will likely be filled from people either from other neighborhoods or outside the District anyways

And your problem with that is? Would you like to mandate that all jobs are filled by locals or something? Unemployment is quite high in the District. Job creation should be a prime target for any DC jurisdiction. Even if the jobs are filled by people who live out of whatever mini-environment you choose to pick, the business itself will still create tax revenue for the District.

Again you run into the problem that everybody wants more jobs, but nobody wants to live next to a company. Or students. Or a CaBi station. Or a jail. Etc.

by Jasper on Dec 1, 2010 10:02 am • linkreport

Furthermore, what Phil Lepanto, Jamie, Bob, and Alex B said.

As for the comparison of the US and French political divisions, it is very hard. I'd say arrondissement is like a county in the US, while a commune is like a township. Paris is, like DC, an exception within the French system.

Furthermore, it is even very hard to compare similarly named entities within the US, because state law varies so much. In VA, cities are more or less equal to counties, which is not the case it most other states. In MI, the state is very powerful, while in OH and HI the counties and even lower entities have full home rule.

Nevertheless, I doubt there are many places with such complex microdemocraZies are DC's ANCs, especially within a big city environment.

In fact, the new Dutch government is canceling the sub-cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, because they caused too much silly bureaucracy. Local politics caused inexplicable policy differences between adjacent areas, and citizens did not appreciate being tossed back and forth between the city and sub-cities for local issues.

If you want to see what too many democratic layers lead to, go to Brussels. In Brussels, you are subject to your municipality, the city of Brussels, the region of Brussels-Capital, the National Belgian government, and the EU government. Furthermore, Brussels is simultaneously the capital of Belgium, as well as it's three regions: Brussels Capital Region, Flanders and Wallonia. Finally, Brussels is the de facto capital of the EU. Oh, and Belgium has had no stable government for the last three years because Belgian politicians can't figure out how to deal with the voting rights of all those jurisdictions.

by Jasper on Dec 1, 2010 10:28 am • linkreport

1. Abolish ANC's.

As one for many years I can attest they are a terrible waste of money and ineffective and boring dog-and-pony shows. Their recommendations are seldom given "great weight".

2. Tighten ABC Rules.

DC's ABRA is a perfect example of regulatory capture. Compare Arlington and Montgomery counties to DC and it's obvious DC's liquor licensing is out of control.

3. Better Distinguish "Cafes" from "Bars"

Few people oppose unlimited legitimate restaurant liquor licences. But in DC they often drop food and become nightclubs. The public does have an interest in regulating placement of nightclubs. They can disturb residents and create daytime "deadspace" in business areas. Encourage nightclubs in 2nd floors, basements and industrial areas and discourage them on prime business street frontage.

4. Allow 24-hour liquor service

The 3am Thundering Herd is what disturbs residents and police most. Throwing all drinkers out on the streets (and to their cars) at the same time is a disaster.

5. Get more tax revenue

Yes we need the $ but anyone familiar with the problem of taxing cash transactions knows that much is untaxed. Place the weight of the tax on a higher sales tax on liquor sold by establishments and lessen dependency on voluntary reporting.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 1, 2010 11:00 am • linkreport

@Charlie Except, as I said before, having more bars/restaurants/high end wine stores around will actually INCREASE your property's value.

That's only true if you can similarly use your property to similarly house a "bar/restaurant/high end wine store". Because we have zoning, that is not possible for most homeowners abutting a commercial area because their area is zoned residential. And the reason it's zoned residential is that otherwise the market would eventually win out and an area would gradually change from residential to commercial as people who peace order and quiet was affected turned their homes into commercial establishments and the dominos started falling. How do you think places such as K Street and south of Dupont Circle, once some of the best residential areas in the city became instead office pars with almost no life after 5 pm?

Yes, zoning is 'artificial' and requires that we 'plan' and that as part of that planning we get to review what changes are occuring (such as Hanks' expansion) and it's not fair ... but becomes more fair when the people to be most affected by these changes (e.g., the protestants in the Hank's case) get a chance to be involved in the change and make mutually agreeable commitments to that change instead of it being forced on them for the benefit of others who won't be affected by the externalities. It's called looking at the big picture and understanding that we need planning and we need citizen involvement and we need concurence from the neighbors who otherwise stand to be the ones taking all the losses so that the rest of us can benefit from these changes. It's about balannce and compromise. It's about being adults and realizing in a city where we're all up on top of each other, we have to work to together to ensure we all get a good deal out of change.

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 11:12 am • linkreport

@Lance your assumption is that the only increase in value due to commercial proximity is if you can actually use your property for that reason. That's flawed. The availability of services in a neighborhood is directly related to its desirability and hence its value.

Have residences abutting U Street become more or less valuable in the last 15 years?

Can you think of any area where commercial development has caused nearby residential property values to decline rather than increase?

Even for individual cases of the single property abutting a new commercial conversion: do you think that the residence immediately abutting, for example, Red Rocks is more or less valuable since RR opened?

Let's look at 3331 11th Street, two doors down, which I have watched for the last few years.

Most recently sold for $510K. Zillow shows the listing at $399, and it was offered at $350 when I first moved to Columbia Heights. In 2008 it sold for $385.

When I looked at it, it had had many improvements done but the work wasn't finished, so I assume it was renovated completely when they sold it for $510. And this is even as the real estate market generally has gone to crap.

Then look up and down the block, there's no trend in variation in sold prices based on proximity to Red Rocks.

http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/3331-11th-St-NW-Washington-DC-20010/473006_zpid/

I am sure that there's some incremental hit in value to directly abutting a bar/restaurant, but that would only be measurable if the market was perfect: each property on the block was the same, and there were enough on the market at any given time to make a direct comparison reasonable.

This never happens in reality. I am sure that being next to a bar/restaurant will have some minor effect on the price you can get for your house, but it's far less than the benefit that the entire neighborhood (which includes you) will see from that.

Red Rocks and Meridian Pint have unquestionably had a dramatic effect on the "peace and quiet" around 11th and Park.

I don't see anyone complaining.

In places like Dupont, a new restaurant is a drop in the bucket and there will be no such effect anyway.

by Jamie on Dec 1, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

@Lance; I usually agree with you on the need for compromise in the political decision making space.

And my point about commercial increasing property value does have limits. Putting a new days inn/McDonald/Nazi gay sex club in a quasi-suburban neighborhood isn't going to be the same as Hanks or a fancy wine club. And so yes, getting the zoning right is absolutely needed.

But the larger point is HOW local homeowners can complain. And ANC process is broken and has been for a while. * The problems of accommodating new retail won't go away -- take Arlington for instance which has it own onerous and stupid requirements.

But removing the alcohol pressure point would make many places in DC better. We need more local bars, not less, and this remenant of blue laws needs to stop.

And as Jamie says, that type of retail pushes everyone's value up, rather than down. We can see that with, say, Traders Joes in Arlington, where despite the long lines it will create on Wilson, it makes the neighborhood even better. Or that stupid walkscore rating.

* and yes, it is the people on the ANC that are the problem. Sorry, ANC members. You are busybodies.

by charlie on Dec 1, 2010 12:10 pm • linkreport

@Jasper The availability of services in a neighborhood is directly related to its desirability and hence its value.

I agree. And I am a couple blocks from these kinds of etablishments. Having Hanks expand increases that value of my property. But that is not the point here ... It is an issue of fairness ...

I am sure that being next to a bar/restaurant will have some minor effect on the price you can get for your house, but it's far less than the benefit that the entire neighborhood (which includes you) will see from that.

And that is the issue ... in most cases. Just because most of us will benefit from these changes, doesn't mean we can't work with those most negatively affected to lessen them impact that the negative externalities have on them. And that is what the V.A.s do ... I noticed no one bothered to comment earlier on the (in my opinion) rather beign restrictions which the V.A. imposed on Hank's which Jamie Leeds claimed were so imposing. Here they are again:

1. Patio closes at 11 on weeknights and 12 on weekends. (This is a patio with residences across the street, directly adjacent to it, etc.)

2. Garbage has to be in closed containers and disposed of regularly.

3. Chairs and tables have to be stacked when the patio closes (to keep the folks who are exiting at 3 pm from having a spot to have an impromptu conversation at 3 in the morning.)

4. The openable front wall has to be closed when the patio closes (to keep the noise from inside from going outside when the adjacent neighbors might be wanting to sleep or relax and watch their tv or read a book or whatever).

5. The not use their umbrellas and the like as advertising billboards. (I noticed this is the one David used as an example because yeah, it makes the least sense ... And is actually totally unnecessary to be in a V.A. since this is already prohibeted via the historic district rules ... Not that it's much enforced ... which may be why it was put in ... And the underlying reason for this rule is of course that we don't want the District to become suburbanized with this 'commercialization' of its public space for advertising purposes ... Yes, in case we'd forgotten, the patios are on PUBLIC space ... not private space ....)

Again, will anyone care to tell me what is so 'terrible' about these restrictions worked out between Hanks and the affected neighbors?

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

... and just to repeat what I stated earlier, that is my recollection of the V.A. having seen it only once a few months ago. (It was a pdf doc, so I cannot post it even if I find it.)

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 12:16 pm • linkreport

It might be nice if ANCs could take control of the VA process, but they can't, not if the local civic organization, or "group of five", resists. As for ANCs, while they certainly have their faults, the commissioners are chosen by the voters, and must return to the voters every two years. Yes, ANC elections are commonly fiercely contested. The "mere handful of votes" argument is bogus. By my last count, votes for ANC commissioners added up to 75% of the number of votes cast for Mayor. The numbers are small, but only because single-member districts are small. The popular vote for ANC commissioners is in fact a substantial and significant vote.

The Mount Pleasant ANC continues its long and hard battle to bring live music and dancing back to our restaurants. That's not because the restaurants need these features, but because residents of Mount Pleasant want late-night live music and dancing. The MPNA continues to oppose any expansion of live music and dancing, even though there's no detectable harm done to the neighborhood by the limited amount of live music and dancing allowed since the April 2008 ABC Board decision.

Yes, people are singing and dancing in Mount Pleasant. It's shameful that the VA process allowed a small number of residents to ban singing and dancing in Mount Pleasant for close to a decade.

by Jack on Dec 1, 2010 12:17 pm • linkreport

Here's typical MPNA text:

"Licensee will permit no live music, no disc jockey(s), cover charges or charges for admission to the establishment, and shall not provide a dance floor for dancing, or permit the moving of tables and chairs for the purpose of dancing."

There's one of the many problems with the existing VA process: a handful of residents can impose restrictions such as these, without having to offer any justification for them. Why the ban on dancing? Why prohibit patrons from moving "tables and chairs for the purpose of dancing"? Why should even immediate neighbors care if somebody's dancing in a restaurant?

What's commonly forgotten in these discussions is that these restrictions are not just restrictions imposed on restaurateurs, but on their customers, the public.

by Jack on Dec 1, 2010 12:33 pm • linkreport

@Lance, the issue is not what Hank's agreed to, it is the larger issue of a process that can be obstructed by anyone.

The situation is summed up here. None of the basic points you are trying to say are reasonable (an I agree) are at issue here: the obstruction was against any expansion at all.

More importantly: "Notably absent from the list of protestants are any residents of the 1600 block of Q Street where HankÂ’s is located."

I agree that the positions of people who are directly affected by a proposal should be given greater weight.

But this didn't pass that laugh test: not a single person on the actual block where Hank's is located voiced opposition.

Here's there rationale: "The [Alcoholic Beverage Control] Board should continue to prohibit any incremental impacts generated by restaurant and bar seating.."

Is that a valid position? They came right out and said it: they're against everything, no matter what it is.

It is hard to sympathize with a coalition of folks from the "general dupont circle" area who object to an expansion of an outdoor cafe on principle. Many already exist, and certainly places like Fox & Hounds/Trio which are in immediate proximity, and have been for a half-century, are a far greater burden already. The use of the area is well established, and it is not even arguable that adding another dozen outdoor seats would substantially impact quality of life for the neighborhood at large.

Now, the owner one house right next door might have something to say about this, even though the property in question was already commercial. In the case of Red Rocks, I heard through the grapevine back then that they did indeed make a financial settlement with them in exchange for their support. That is how it should be: the people who have a legitimate complaint should be addressed directly. Those who do not, should not be taken seriously.

But the owners of the house nextdoor didn't say anything. Nor did anyone on the whole block.

by Jamie on Dec 1, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

Lance: Didn't the VA also prohibit expansion of the restaurant and patio?

I have no problem with the items you listed except for the stuff that should be enforced by HPO, DCRA, and DDOT's public space branch which shouldn't go on the VA. But #1 through #4 in your list are all fine, and the sorts of things that could go on a standard form VA.

by David Alpert on Dec 1, 2010 12:40 pm • linkreport

And to build on Jamie's post, how much did it cost -- in terms of time, hired help, and delays -- to get these to the VA? That is a big barrier to anyone wanting to start a new business.

I think what we really need is Christmas markets -- where food trucks can serve as much booze as possible.

by charlie on Dec 1, 2010 12:41 pm • linkreport

@Jack: You, like John, live in the past. There are no longer such provisions of restricting live entertainment. There has been live entertainment in Mt Pleasant for over 3 years now.

Why not speak about what's happening NOW in Mt Pleasant? For example, the current ANC and Hear Mt. Pleasant VAs (which were violated and licensees have been fined) states:

1. That art must be placed on the walls only by local artists.
2. That there must be a night manager there from 9pm until closing and that person is required to post their telephone posted on the wall.
3. The licensee is required to have a noise impact study done.
4. Signs have to be posted in the bathrooms to be kind to residents.
5. Force them to join Hospitality Group.

As to "The MPNA continues to oppose any expansion of live music and dancing" that's just false. The ANC VA and the Hear Mount Pleasant VA restrict live entertainment until midnights, Sun-Thursday, and 1:30a on weekends.

by Bill on Dec 1, 2010 12:56 pm • linkreport

@Jamie Now, the owner one house right next door might have something to say about this, even though the property in question was already commercial.

From what I've been told he is not happy about the situation, but not being American he is afraid to make waves. (No, he's not from the Netherlands --- smile directed to Jasper --- but from a country where speaking out against such matters could get you shot.)

And incidentally, this property was RESIDENTIAL until the ANC and others helped it get rezoned for the expansion.

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 12:58 pm • linkreport

@Jamie That is how it should be: the people who have a legitimate complaint should be addressed directly. Those who do not, should not be taken seriously.

But that happens to be exactly how it is now ... I know that at least 2 of the 5 protestants are within easy shouting range of the patio. They can see (and hear) it from the fronts of their homes. Additionally, the neighborhood's civic association, which has an interest in all parts of the neighborhood, and how changes affects its residents was a party to the V.A.

You're saying that the people who have a legitimate complaint should be addressed directly but what you're maybe not connecting the dots to is that the V.A. is their only way of doing this ... Do you really think Hank's would take their concerns into account if Hank's could get licensed without the input from these neighbors? What would incentivize Hank's to do so?

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert Lance: Didn't the VA also prohibit expansion of the restaurant and patio?

Not from what I can tell. (I just found the pdf.)

I have no problem with the items you listed except for the stuff that should be enforced by HPO, DCRA, and DDOT's public space branch which shouldn't go on the VA. But #1 through #4 in your list are all fine, and the sorts of things that could go on a standard form VA.

And that's why if the ANCs stepped up to the plate, they could enforce that only the right things went into a 'standard form VA' for each neighborhood (and sub-neighborhood ... like 17th Street.) And they could even tweak it to address concerns maybe very specific to a specific case. And we wouldn't even need to change any laws since the law already says the ANCs are supposed to get 'great weight'.

Now, would it require stepping up enforcement of existing laws and regs? You betcha ... We'd need to be sure HPO (or maybe DCRA) enforced the rule on using umbrellas and the like on public space to be sold to advertizers as advertizing space. We'd need to enforce the law that says ANCs must be given great weight. But enforcement is a separate issue ... one which needs to be addressed else we're just wasting our time with any of the 'solutions' we come up with if there's never a mechanism for enforcement.

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 1:16 pm • linkreport

@Lance: 1622 Q Street

It's clear that the property was reconfigured long ago for commercial purposes. Similarly, there are a great many existing businesses in DC that operate outside their legal residential zoning, that was the topic of another post her not long ago.

The point is that using this property as a storefront will have minimal impact to the area. It's not like they will be tearing down an historic townhouse at the end of a row. Someone already did that a long time ago. The zoning change in this case seems like little more than a formality.

Finally, if you look at the zoning overlay map here which shows the property zoned residential, it is clear that the zoning overlay was drawn to match the actual use of the property at the time, and not what the "best" use would be. There is a notch around that house. On R Street, one block north, and on P street, commercial zoning extends to the first 3 buildings, not 2.

I'm not really sure what your point is about the owner. Is it the job of government to help people conquer their fears? He chose to stay out of the process.

by Jamie on Dec 1, 2010 1:16 pm • linkreport

"I know that at least 2 of the 5 protestants are within easy shouting range of the patio"

So the article that said none of them lived on the block was inaccurate?

Likewise, they are also within shouting range of Trio's next door, which has a much bigger patio and a much more drunk patronage. It's also been there since 1950.

Why do you think that adding a few seats to a restaurant should be a legitimate noise concern to people who almost certainly chose to live withing shouting distance of a big outdoor patio where people get drunk, unless they've been there since the first part of this century?

As I keep saying, the use is already well established. The impact will be inconsequential except to the actual person who lives nextdoor, who chose not to participate in the process.

by Jamie on Dec 1, 2010 1:21 pm • linkreport

@Jamie So the article that said none of them lived on the block was inaccurate?

YES

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 1:36 pm • linkreport

clarification ... they are something like 4 houses down the SAME street, across the street, in the adjacent (1700) block ... I.e., they're probably a distance of less than something like 100 ft ...

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

okay ... I just checked Google Maps ... 285 feet ...

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

Uh, ok, Lance. So you think someone who lives here, actually across 17th Street from where Hank's is, will be an any way whatsoever affected by a dozen people sitting outside at a restaurant?

Again, do you remember where you are? There are a half-dozen bars within the same radius, there is foot and automobile traffic at all hours.

That just does not pass the laugh test in any way. There is no way someone that far away (and the closest residence on Q Street across 17th is about 200 feet away, not 100) could ever discern a voice from that patio above the noise of the city and everything else going on around there.

by Jamie on Dec 1, 2010 1:43 pm • linkreport

@Jamie Why do you think that adding a few seats to a restaurant should be a legitimate noise concern to people who almost certainly chose to live withing shouting distance of a big outdoor patio where people get drunk, unless they've been there since the first part of this century?

I don't disagree with you on this. But for starters, what Hank's is adding isn't 'a few seats' ... it's a bar and 'many' seats. I personally think they should be allowed to do this. I think it's a great thing for the neighborhood to have more such places. BUT I also think that in order to do this, Hank's should be working with the folks who will be most affected by the addition of another bar and a lot more seating so that the impact on these folks gets minimized. It's all about balance and fairness and an open process. You take away the V.A. process and Hank's has no reason to want to deal with these folks. It's as simple as that.

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 1:46 pm • linkreport

Lance, what you said @1:46 is reasonable in every way.

But there are two definitions we seem to disagree upon.

1) "most affected" does not include people who live 300 feet or more away, a pretty significant distance when you consider the existing mix of businesses and residences in the area.

2) "working with" does not describe the approach taken by the opposition. To reiterate their position:

"The [Alcoholic Beverage Control] Board should continue to prohibit any incremental impacts generated by restaurant and bar seating.."

"Any further restaurant and bar approvals in this hyperconcentrated zone are incompatible with the central objective of the moratorium to maintain a healthy mix of non-licenses, neighborhood-serving retail business"

If the folks who you need to work with are starting from a position that nothing is acceptable, why on earth would Hank's or anyone else even try to deal with them?

by Jamie on Dec 1, 2010 1:51 pm • linkreport

@Jamie ... So it sounds like you might agree with me that if the ANC stepped up to the plate and owned the VA process on behalf of the residents ... ALL the residents we might have a reasonable manner for the applicant and all potentially affected parties to sit down and hammer out something that is reasonable and based on a template VA which the ANC would have put together in an open an democratic process?

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 2:16 pm • linkreport

and yes, I realize that some ANCs may not be very democratic and well functioning (and I guess I am lucky to live in Dupont where it is), but if that is a problem, then that is a far larger problem which needs to be dealth with first since ANCs are supposed to be the front-line, grass-roots, neighborhood body ... and if a neighborhood has a non-functioning ANC or a non-representative ANC than that will harm the neighborhood in many many ways far and above anything their action or inaction on a voluntary agreement can do. But that is a separate issue.

by Lance on Dec 1, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

Another element of ABRA and Liquor Licensing Reform that should be made is the reactive nature of enforcement.

Currently, ABRA sends an inspector to an establishment every time a complaint is received related to that establishment. In speaking with officials at ABRA over the years, I know that sometimes this is a legitimate response to a legitimate complaint. But, they will also tell you that often times the system is gamed by civic associations trying to harass an establishment, sometimes even competitors on the same block.

Depending on how the inspector operates, this can be very disruptive to the business, often occurring right at very busy times (That's why competitors will call in complaints). Moreover, a significant number of inspections creates the impression with the ABRA board that a licensee or applicant is troublesome, EVEN IF EVERY INSPECTION FINDS NO FAULT.

ABRA has too many inspectors and only a small staff dedicated to Community Outreach. Instead of having so many inspectors, they should have designated outreach coordinators for each entertainment district. These coordinators to should be the first line of response to complaints, making sure the operator understands all of the rules and regulations. But more to the point, the coordinator should work with neighboring ABRA licensees to make sure that there is some assistance provided to the licensee in terms of understanding procedures and rules. If the complaints continue to roll in, then it makes sense to send in an inspector.

***

We can talk about the need for ABRA reform in the context of specific regulatory actions or decisions, but as you can see from the dialog that erupts from Mt. Pleasant, it often degrades into a shouting match. I've always like GGW as a forum where policy can be debated in the abstract. To offer my list of reforms:

* Limit ABRA Regulatory Review to the consumption, service, and transport of alcoholic beverages. Using external indicators like food sales flies in the face of accepted best practice.

* Switch agency from a "gotcha" relationship with operators to a more proactive "Help Ya" relationship. Set up inter-agency coordination teams with DDOT, FEMS, MPD and DCRA to ensure that the establishment remains in compliance with all laws, but leave enforcement to respective agencies.

* Limit Citizen Protest Groups to 15 or more residents within 660 feet of the establishment or the local ANC. ANCs should be given automatic standing in any ABRA hearing concerning a licensee in the jurisdiction.

* Allow ANC Stipulated licenses to stand throughout the protest period until any hearings have been concluded and decisions to the contrary have been rendered.

* Allow ABRA professional staff to take a first pass at making decisions with regard to fines or resolving Cooperative/Voluntary Agreements. The full ABRA board should only hear appeals of these decisions.

* ABRA should work with the Office of Planning to establish "Herd Management" strategies across districts and neighborhoods (as one poster called it) to mitigate crowds on streets without access to viable transportation options.

* Establish a more rational approach to licensing that differentiates establishments by alcohol sales volume, rather than by class of service. These new license classes should be enumerated rather than named to avoid lightning words like "nightclub". Also, sales volume numbers should be indexed to inflation.

* Create a cooperative agreement template that ANCs and Civic Associations can use that confines itself to things that ABRA can legally enforce and that remain within the purview of its regulatory authority over alcohol service, consumption and transport. This means things like whether windows are open or whether art is on the walls are off-limits to Cooperative/Voluntary Agreements. THESE TYPE OF THINGS ARE EXTERNAL TO ABRA'S MISSION AND THEY CREATE AN UNFAIR SET OF EXPECTATIONS AMONG THE OPERATOR, THE REGULATOR, AND THE COMMUNITY.

by Phil Lepanto on Dec 1, 2010 2:30 pm • linkreport

@Lance, in theory, yes. In theory communism works, too. But the very existence of a VA process that often is completely independent of agreements worked out with the ANC, and is generally representative of only the interests of a few select individuals who have a lot of time on their hands, but may or may not have legitimate cause for obstructing the process, belies that goal.

We cannot easily fix the way ANCs operate. What we can fix, though, is the fact that there is no consistent, process-driven approach to how these things get worked out.

I don't have a perfect solution, but what is clear is that there needs to be more structure to this process than "anyone can throw a wrench in the works at any time." Perhaps if the ANCs were given this responsibility solely, the citizens they supposedly represent would take more of an interest in their proceedings. Perhaps not.

I really don't know why this can't work the same way it does when someone wants to build something that requires a zoning variance or an historic board approval. The ANC makes a recommendation, individuals who are directly affected may make their case to the zoning board, the historical review committee works with the homeowner and will also make a recommendation. But after some designated period of time, everyone has had their say, and the zoning board makes a decision. You can't come back at the 11th hour and start a new round of protests.

What happens here is that nobody seems to have the authority to say "enough is enough" and make a decision. You can't please everyone all the time. You should certainly listen to everyone, but at the end of the day you have to do something that will hopefully balance the needs and concerns of everyone.

Someone's going to be pissed off, of course, that is inevitable, but the current process lets a few cranks who openly admit they will oppose any new restaurants hold things up indefinitely, to the great detriment of the vast majority who do not oppose it. Not to mention the great expense to the business owner -- with the net effect of stifling business development by creating extraordinary burdens on those who want to open something.

by Jamie on Dec 1, 2010 2:33 pm • linkreport

"Do you really think Hank's would take their concerns into account if Hank's could get licensed without the input from these neighbors? What would incentivize Hank's to do so?"

A large percentage of your average bar/restaurant's revenue comes from repeat customers. Neighbors of an establishment are typically the biggest repeat customers, for obvious reasons. This is why many places have token "neighborhood" discounts of 5-10% or so.

Neighbors are also likely to share their opinions of the establishment, positive or negative, with one another. Thus, needlessly pissing off the neighbors is a bad business practice regardless of whatever regulations are in place.

by Phil on Dec 1, 2010 2:35 pm • linkreport

1. FWIW, the issue of residents abutting commercial districts and quality of life issues will never go away. Especially as residents age. In a place like the Warehouse District in Cleveland, people move out once they reach about 35 years of age. People don't do that around places like 17th Street because the property is so expensive. They stay put. And the older they get, the more they are turned off by the vitality/excitement quotient of night life that originally attracted them.

2. WRT the Mt. Pleasant ANC suing ABRA. ANCs are strictly advisory. Look up the statute. So the resolutions, reports, etc. are part of the process and record, but aren't directive--they aren't promulgations that are law.

3. This piece would have been better had it contrasted the experience in Dupont Circle with the Mt. Pleasant Street stuff as well as the activities of ANC6A and its involvement in similar matters. WRT ANC6A, they have an issue with a citizen wackjob, Robert Pittman, who pulls together his own groups of protestants and gets involved in the ABRA processes in ways counter to the overall approach put forward by ANC6A.

4. I've been a protestant before, but on Class A and B licensing, not restaurants-taverns. A lot of the problem is that typical residents have a difficult time distinguishing between the different issues involved based on the type of license.

For the most part, my own concern is nuisance consumption of alcoholic beverages in the public space. WRT evening establishments, especially in night life districts, the issue is different, having to do with security, dealing with crowds, violence and/or its potential, etc. Those are serious issues and they need an overall plan and perspective.

WRT to the mention of the Mt. Pleasant initiative, people should check out the Responsible Hospitality Institute.

by Richard Layman on Dec 1, 2010 7:17 pm • linkreport

I am all for reaturants having liquour licenses, I rather not have liquour stores.

What it makes a city a real city is the entertainment which includes retaurants and bars.
There is always a great option to live in a quiet, alcohol-free neighborhood:
Moving to the suburbs

by Mar on Dec 1, 2010 8:17 pm • linkreport

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