Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

The Dupont Circle ANC (2B) has created some clear and sensible guidelines for liquor licenses and public space applications in that neighborhood. This approach is far superior to the ad-hoc protest opposition common elsewhere in the city, and DC’s agencies should encourage such behavior by recognizing and respecting these guidelines.

The guidelines, adopted in March, lay out a clear set of principles for what the ANC would and would not support for outdoor seating for bars and cafés.

They’d like all outdoor restaurant and bar seating to close by 11 on weekdays and 12 on weekends in residential areas, though they can keep serving patrons indoors if they put in sound-resistant windows and keep them closed. In areas like the Golden Triangle which are entirely commercial or where the only “residential” buildings are hotels, later outdoor hours are fine.

The ANC supports sidewalk cafés, but wants to see 10 feet of sidewalk space between any café and nearby treeboxes, light poles, etc. Permanently enclosed cafés are not appropriate, but temporary enclosures like awnings with plastic sheeting can be okay as long as they keep the open feel as much as possible.

Yesterday, Natalie Avery wrote about some of the problems with Voluntary Agreements (VAs), especially ones prohibiting certain types of music and other micromanaging restrictions. The pro-music group Hear Mount Pleasant still negotiated some VAs, however, and ANC 2B enforces rules like the neighborhood closing hours using VAs.

VAs still serve a purpose under our current regime. They’re the only way to create consistent neighborhood-wide limitations that don’t exactly match the citywide liquor license rules. It makes sense for different neighborhoods to customize their own rules, as long as those rules are reasonable and consistent, just as we don’t have one single liquor license rule for the entire nation.

As I explained in a November post about the liquor license process, though, the current system for creating those VAs is flawed. A new restauranteur might look at the laws and just apply for the maximum allowed, not knowing what a neighborhood wants. Then the ANC has to formally “protest” the license, and start negotiating with the restauranteur. Some ANCs are unreasonable about it, but even the reasonable ones can seem adversarial given this process.

The Dupont ANC’s guidelines suggest a better way. ABRA, the agency that regulates licenses, and its decisionmaking board the ABC Board could adopt these rules as a sort of nonbinding “neighborhood default.” Anyone considering applying for a license in the boundary of 2B would get a copy of the guidelines before making the application.

ABRA and the ABC Board would give some weight to these guidelines, easing the process for applications which conform and giving extra scrutiny to those which don’t. Someone could still try to ask for an exception, but they should need to convincingly explain to the ABC Board why a policy that generally works for the other establishments in the area shouldn’t apply to them.

The ABC Board could also judge whether a blanket policy is a good one or not. If the Mount Pleasant neighbors wanted to set a general policy disallowing all dancing, like the old VAs, the ABC Board could (and should) refuse to adopt it as a general principle. But the Dupont ANC’s guidelines are the reasonable kind.

Our agencies should reward such ANCs that do good work like this by trying to apply these policies. Then, neighborhoods could get the consistency and balance between residents and businesses they desire, while avoiding the ad-hoc and adversarial VA process.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). 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 lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.