Photo by vincentgallegos on Flickr.
Last night, ANCs 1B, 2B and 2F heard from residents and business owners at a joint town hall listening session on a proposed liquor license moratorium for U Street. The vast majority opposed the moratorium.
The community addressed this issue as recently as 2009, but the newly-formed Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance and the Residential Action Coalition have brought it back to the table, citing concerns about parking, crime and trash they believe arise from a concentration of liquor licenses in the area.
These issues are real, but other communities around the District offer proof that a moratorium is not the right way to address them.
Community leaders opposed to the moratorium presented a petition to the ANC leaders with more than 1,100 signatures. More than 150 people attended and 58 people spoke at the town hall. An overwhelming proportion, approximately 5 to 1, opposed the moratorium.
The crowd was as diverse as the community, with life-long residents and newcomers alike speaking in opposition to the moratorium. Fewer than 10 people spoke in support of the moratorium. Comments were impassioned, but civil.
According to the meeting announcement from the ANCs,
The moratorium, as proposed, would seek to prohibit all future liquor licenses with the exception of full service grocery stores, it seeks to cap CT and CN licenses as well, and has been requested to be a 5-year moratorium. The boundaries of the moratorium as proposed and filed with ABRA, extend 1800 feet in either direction from Ben’s Chili Bowl. This goes north to Clifton Street, south to R Street, east to just before Georgia Avenue. between 7th and 8th streets, and west to just west of 16th Street. overlapping New Hampshire Avenue. NW.
The community discussed a liquor license moratorium for the neighborhood in 2009, when a committee of residents studied the “ARTS” zoning overlay for 14th and U streets and made recommendations to modify it. There were 8 public meetings, and the 27 area ANC commissioners advised increasing the number of liquor licenses in the area.
Moratorium brings harm in Adams Morgan
Business leaders in Adams Morgan are now preparing for an upcoming March 2014 review of the moratorium in their community. A major nightlife destination, Adams Morgan is often invoked as a sort of boogeyman for policy impacting commercial districts, a warning of what might happen on U Street if something is not done to curb issues of noise, trash and crime. But along 18th Street, the heart of Adams Morgan, a moratorium means that the kinds of businesses that might actually mitigate some of these issues — like higher end restaurants — aren’t able to move into vacant spaces unless they wish to purchase an existing liquor license, something that can cost up to $75,000 in the market the moratorium has created. In 2010, the Alcoholic Beverage Control board unanimously lifted a similar moratorium in Georgetown. There are better solutions than a moratorium Those of us who have served the U Street community understand that there are serious issues that need to be addressed as our commercial district continues to thrive. But a liquor license moratorium serves as a blunt instrument in a situation where more precision is needed. There will certainly be cases when a proposed liquor establishment is not the right fit for the space it wishes to occupy. The community will often support an establishment but with certain caveats that can go in a legally-binding “settlement agreement,” which serves as a rider to the liquor license. We already have tools to address these issues. But we also need to pursue long-term solutions to the other impacts when residents and businesses are situated so closely. We should seek funding for hospitality initiatives that train and support business owners. We should support opportunities to create more daytime foot traffic that would support retailers such as offices or hotels. And we should come together around green initiatives that would reduce trash, noise and pollution. A liquor license moratorium is not the solution to all of our problems. The community has spoken on this issue in the past as it did last night, and it’s time to put it to rest so we can focus our attention on real solutions. Real collaboration is what helped U Street begin to thrive more than 10 years ago and it is what will help us continue to grow in a way that fosters business growth while also making our neighborhood a great place to live.