Photo by MattHurst on Flickr.

Are liquor moratoriums the only way to address issues of peace, order, and quiet in certain neighborhoods, or are there more creative and more effective ways to address noise and traffic issues without stifling commerce or customer choices through public policy?

Dupont Circle has been struggling with this issue for over 20 years. It instituted the first liquor license moratorium on 17th Street in 1990. There are now also moratorium zones in Georgetown, West Dupont (P Street), and Adams Morgan.

A moratorium zone limits the number of liquor licenses in an area. These were first established to ensure peace, order, and quiet. To a a lesser extent (though equally important to many people), they also address traffic and parking issues and ensure affordable retail space can exist.

Moratorium zones were originally considered temporary. What happens when a moratorium ends?

After over twenty years of experience dealing with moratorium zones, neither the City Council, local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs), the Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration, nor the Department of Transportation have moved to implement any rules or adjust fees to prepare for lifting any moratorium.

In 2009, when the East Dupont (17th Street) moratorium was last renewed, several members of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board stressed that moratoriums were not designed to be a permanent solution to peace, order, and quiet, traffic and parking, and retail space issues. Board members implied that this last three-year extension of the Dupont East moratorium would likely be the last, and that the Dupont ANC should take other proactive steps to address noise, traffic, and economic development issues.

Below are some measures that city agencies, the Council, and the ANC could pursue to address the issues that led to the moratorium zone in the first place. This list is by no means exhaustive, and not all are politically (or financially) viable. But in Dupont, many would like to address the true issues that led to enacting these blanket moratoriums so that we are prepared when a moratorium is eventually, and inevitably, allowed to expire.

  • Install additional Capital Bikeshare stations and personal racks to provide alternatives to cars, which produce traffic and parking issues.
  • Direct the Homeland Security and Management Agency to study alternate emergency routes to reduce siren noise (if a re-designation would have no adverse effects on safety).
  • Designate the main thoroughfare as a “No Buses” route to reduce heavy traffic and noise.
  • Designate former moratorium zones as “retail incubation zones” and provide a tax credit for hard-goods retails or retail service providers, which would put non-licensed establishments on a more even financial footing with more profitable liquor-serving establishments.
  • Increase the fees for endorsements (including entertainment endorsements, sidewalk cafe/summer garden) and overall license fees in post-moratorium zones. Utilize the revenue for additional ABRA inspectors. Post-moratorium fees could gradually reset to the normal fee after five years or so.
  • Increase the fees for outdoor cafes in post-moratorium zones. Increased fees could go to more inspectors, or to install additional bike racks or other alternative transportation measures, such as spaces for Zipcars. Post-moratorium fees could gradually reset.

The East Dupont (17th Street) moratorium zone could be an excellent test case for addressing noise, traffic, and economic development issues through these and other measures in the absence of a moratorium. We’re seeking input on these initiatives, and suggestions for additional activities that could take place at the council, ANC, and agency levels.

If successful, similar plans could be instituted in other moratorium zones around the city, bringing retail diversity, quieter streets, and consumer choices while addressing actual problems without a one-size-fits-all moratorium approach.

Jack Jacobson is in his second term representing Ward 2 on the State Board of Education, where he serves as Vice President. He previously served three terms as an ANC Commissioner in Dupont Circle, where he lives with his boyfriend and their cat, Ghost.