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A liquor license reveals challenges with living on the border

Residents who live near DC's border have Maryland residents as neighbors, but local laws often act as though nothing but desert lies beyond Western, Eastern, and Southern Avenues. In Ward 7's Deanwood community, residents are protesting a liquor license in their neighborhood, but any decision will ignore a critical element: Capitol Heights, Maryland.


Photo from "All Things Deanwood" on Facebook.

Uncle Lee's Seafood and Carry-Out, located on the northwest corner of Sheriff Road and Eastern Avenue NE, has applied for a "Retailer A" liquor license, which would allow for the sale of beer, wine, and spirits. In a ward that has more than 20 times the number of stores with an off-premise liquor license than groceries stores, it is safe to say another doesn't rank on the list of community needs.

Even bigger than the issue of an additional license is that there are already two other liquor stores at that intersection on the Prince George's County side of Eastern Avenue.

Jock's Liquor, located on northeast corner, sells beer, wine, and spirits. Sheriff Carry-Out, on the southeast corner, sells beer and wine.

Despite the existence of these two liquor stores, the Alcohol and Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA) in DC is not required to consider their presence. Because they are located in Maryland, they will not be a factor at the April 13 hearing or ABRA's decision whether Uncle Lee's will receive a liquor license. In addition, Maryland residents across Eastern Avenue are not permitted to testify on the impact an additional liquor store will have on their quality of life.

All of this leads to a larger issue: When considering regulatory actions in communities near a jurisdictional border, should local government be required to engage the community outside their jurisdiction?

Using Uncle Lee's as an example, should the impact to Maryland residents be given "great weight" during the liquor license protest hearing? Should ABRA be required to consider existence of liquor license across the street in Maryland? What role, if any, should the Prince George's County government play in the process?

The issues are likely more complex than the above questions suggest, but there is a clear need for some level of inter-jurisdictional coordination. Maryland and DC have their boundaries, but quality of life issues do not.

Veronica O. Davis, PE, has experience in planning transportation, urban areas, civil infrastructure, and communities. She co-owns Nspiregreen, LLC, an environmental consulting company in DC. She is also the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC, which strives to increase the number of Black women and girls biking for fun, health, wellness, and transportation. 

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MD has two stores on its side of the street, and therefore one more store on the DC side have zero additional impact on MD residents. To put it another way, if MD residents have a problem with liquor stores in their neighborhood, they need to clean up their side of the street first. So even if MD residents could testify, on this specific issue, their opinions should be disregarded.

More importantly, given that liquor is already abundantly available at that intersection, a DC retailer should be allowed to compete with the MD retailers and keep that money and tax dollars inside DC.

I'm a MD resident, BTW, but fair is fair.

by Alan on Apr 11, 2011 10:54 am • linkreport

While they should obviously be able to take the existence of nearby liquor stores in Maryland into consideration, the last thing that we need is for "community input" to be required even when the "community" is on the other side of the border. The ANC/ABRA system has enough trouble as it is with various self-appointed members of the "community" abusing the system to extract concessions.

by JustMe on Apr 11, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

Good old supply and demand which is sad commentary in the form of more Mad Dog 20/20s.

by CapCityPanhandler on Apr 11, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

Aren't there restrictions on how many feet a liquor store can be from a church in MD? Not sure if there is a law in DC which has high concentrations of liquor stores in neighbrhoods with storefront churhces.

What gives here? Shouldn't the Good Book take precedent over the old bottle?

by CapCityPanhandler on Apr 11, 2011 11:22 am • linkreport

@Alan:

More importantly, given that liquor is already abundantly available at that intersection, a DC retailer should be allowed to compete with the MD retailers and keep that money and tax dollars inside DC.

Funny, I was going to write a snarky comment in which I ironically argued the same thing, but you beat me to it!

by oboe on Apr 11, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

A lot of the alcohol control and other zoning laws are used to get concessions from local businesses and is a frequent source of corruption. See PG County. If the problem is public drunkeness, tackle that. If it is alcoholism, open a treatment center.

by SJE on Apr 11, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

I live near here and traverse this intersection often. The last thing this area needs is another liquor store. Ward 7 already has plenty of neighborhood deteriorating liquor stores, and Capitol Heights does as well. The permitting laws should most definitely take all factors into account including those in neighboring jurisdictions. The effects of a liquor store at this location will be felt on both sides of the border regardless of jurisdiction. First of all, DC residents should have a say in stemming the proliferation of these negative establishments on the MD side of the border. In addition, MD residents should be able to give their opinions and offer their support to help DC community leaders prevent another detriment to the community from being established. In areas like this, DC and MD residents share the same issues and we need to work together if we are ever going to be able to clean up these areas east of the river.

by Local Resident on Apr 11, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

I see no reason to interfere with a proprietor's ability to compete with other stores. That is, a store can increase its appeal by making itself more of a "one-stop" store instead of having to visit multiple locations.

by Geof Gee on Apr 11, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

There is not a single thing about this story that isn't f--ed up.

by andrew on Apr 11, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

I was reading a study on obesity in NYC. (Side note -- white people in DC are the fittest, least obese people in America. 9% Obesity rate.)

The study noted that obesity had nothing to do with the number of surrounding fast food restaurants. And I imagine it would be the same for alcohol establishments.

Does Ms. Davis like liquor stores? Obviously not. I suspect if ABC licensing was easier, we'd actually see more bars in that area that could sell cheap drinks and happy hours. Much better for everyone that picking up a 40.

by charlie on Apr 11, 2011 2:39 pm • linkreport

Seems to me that Veronica's is driving at a real issue - liquor stores as the norm in black neighborhoods and the problems it brings. So while allowing businesses to compete works well in neighborhoods WOTR, liquor stores in particular breeds a cast of problems that the community can do w/o.

But if we're talking about zoning, I don't see group homes being evenly dispersed throughout the city. Don't they tend to be located in less economically diverse areas?

Or is it really just due to zoning?

by HogWash on Apr 11, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

I have removed an offensive comment by "Nota Racist" which used ad hominem attacks toward another.

by David Alpert on Apr 11, 2011 4:00 pm • linkreport

If the last thing the neighborhood needed was another liquor store, why is someone trying to open one?

by CBGB on Apr 11, 2011 4:02 pm • linkreport

If the last thing the neighborhood needed was another liquor store, why is someone trying to open one?

That's easy! Because it's as profitable as a cupcakery in G'town.

by HogWash on Apr 11, 2011 4:09 pm • linkreport

@Alan... Should DC residents have a say in what happens on MD side of the border? Or does each side pretend that the other doesn't exist when making decisions?

@Justme... I definitely agree that more input only complicates the process.

@Charlie... It's not that I don't like liquor stores. Ward 7 is over saturated and they all bring the same set of issues (loitering and litter). For example, I live in the SE part of Ward 7. There are 4 liquor stores within a 10 min walking distance of my house. But there are no sitdown eating establishments, a place to get a cup of coffee or a place to meet my neighbors for happy hour.

@Hogwash... RE:group homes. At an ANC meeting someone mention the data on group homes is sketchy b/c of confidentiality laws or something like that. I didn't really pay attention since there are none by me. Groups homes are a function of housing stock and zoning.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Apr 11, 2011 4:54 pm • linkreport

Out of curiosity, what's the race of the owner of the store? And have the protestors protested the liquor licenses of any other stores in Ward 7? Do they plan on doing so now? If not, why is this one particular store being targeted?

by Fritz on Apr 11, 2011 6:44 pm • linkreport

Fritz.... This is first retailer requesting a Retail A license (off premise beer, wine & liquor) in the Ward that I know since I've lived here (little over 5 years). From my understanding there is a cap on Retail B (off-premise beer, wine). In recent years, only other new liquor license I know of in the Ward was a Retail C (on premise beer & wine) at Ray's the Steaks, which was supported by the community since it was a sitdown restaurant.

The owners of Uncle Lee's are Korean, but so are majority (if not all) of the other liquor store owners in Ward 7.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Apr 11, 2011 6:54 pm • linkreport

I don't see how you can blame littering and loitering on the liquor stores. I lived in several parts of Baltimore were there were very few liquor stores, but lots of liquor and loitering. I have also lived in areas with lots of places selling booze, but not the problems you identify. Its a matter of culture, not access to booze.

by SJE on Apr 11, 2011 10:08 pm • linkreport

@SJE... In this post I didn't bring up any of those issues. The central theme of this post was a question I posed,

All of this leads to a larger issue: When considering regulatory actions in communities near a jurisdictional border, should local government be required to engage the community outside their jurisdiction?

What is the appropriate level of inter-jurisdictional coordination (if any) for communities on the border?

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Apr 11, 2011 10:17 pm • linkreport

@SJE.... Just realized you were referring to my comment back to Charlie... It could be a cultural issue, but don't know it can be written off that presence of liquor stores have no impact.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Apr 11, 2011 10:24 pm • linkreport

Ms. V, I don't think "should" has much to do with this. People are governed by their consent, i.e., by their agreement. If the residents of DC want to voluntarily consider the opinions of their neighbors, then more power to them. If the residents of DC and MD want to enter into an agreement that provides for reciprocal input on issues near their common border, then more power to them. Otherwise, an act of Congress would be required to force some level of inter-jurisdictional coordination, and that is unlikely to happen. It is BTW illegal in most states to import liquor from out-of-state, so if DC really had a problem with liquor store activity on its border, they could pass a law preventing the importation of liquor and then enforce it, for example, by recording the license plates of a DC cars that pull into MD liquor stores and then pulling the cars over and searching them when they return to DC.

by Alan on Apr 12, 2011 9:53 am • linkreport

@Alan

I think one of the points that Veronica is raising is that such cross-border enforcement schemes are largely impractical.

This is the issue at hand - regardless of the individual policies in play, the border effects present an interesting dynamic for how the city works. For any resident, that border is essentially meaningless for everyday life, but it has a very real effect in terms of the policies that shape the city over a longer term.

by Alex B. on Apr 12, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

Ms V: I am trying to go beyond the question of how to make interjurisdictional regulation work, to asking whether we need the regulation in the first place. If you believe that the regulations are not needed, then you don't need to ask how to make such regulations work.

Re: trash etc. I agree that there is a correlation, but I think that the larger cause is poverty, culture, and lack of services. The correlation between liquor stores and "blight" more likely reflects that few other businesses are profitable in those areas than the presence of the liquor stores, per se.

by SJE on Apr 14, 2011 10:48 am • linkreport

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