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Time for D.C. to extend bar hours year-round

dining, Drafting Table, Washington Blade, gay news

Visit the Washington Blade’s Bar Guide. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It’s now time for the D.C. Council to review the results of the decision a year ago to extend operating hours and alcohol service at hospitality establishments by one hour, limited to specific holiday dates to mollify the objections of some. The partial extension was undertaken with the understanding that the policy would be evaluated for possible expansion after an initial trial.

The results of that self-identified “experiment” are now known and discussion of the District’s budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 has begun. Based on the benefits, the Council should move forward to approve a year-round expansion of the law.

A vocal minority opposing Mayor Vincent Gray’s original proposal were most vociferously represented by Council member Jim Graham. Graham was also the lone vote against a compromise to initially restrict the policy to the night before all 11 federal and D.C. holidays as well as Friday through Sunday preceding Memorial Day and Labor Day and when New Year’s Eve and July 4th fall on a Monday.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the introduction last week by Council member Mary Cheh of legislation to impose a whopping 40 percent increase in sidewalk café public space rental fees. The measure, publicly endorsed by Graham, was in stark contrast to the widely held notion that tax and fee increases are inappropriate in a city with some of the very highest rates nationwide. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, through a spokesperson, opposed Cheh’s proposal, emphasizing that it violated his popular pledge of “no new taxes, fees or fines.”

Following overnight pushback from hospitality businesses, Cheh withdrew the provision the next day. Since she hadn’t even discussed in advance her proposed fee increase with those affected, as is her signature tactic, the quick smack down was as delicious as any meal enjoyed al fresco on a restaurant patio.

Setting aside Cheh’s propensity for ever-larger extraction of monies from local businesses combined with her ceaseless creation of costly new mandates, a simple question emerged. Why would she and Graham promote an additional hospitality industry burden generating only a few hundreds-of-thousands in city fees when a much larger goldmine of money lies sitting on the table for the taking?

In early April, D.C. CFO Natwar Gandhi reported that revenue from alcohol sales had climbed by seven percent during the first half of the fiscal year. A spokesperson for the bean-counter-in-chief advised that the increase was primarily attributable to limited longer bar hours.

During Council debate last spring regarding the modest one-hour proposed extension in the maximum service period at District bars, restaurants, nightclubs and hotels, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier testified there were no public safety or police performance obstacles recommending against adoption. That assertion has proved true with trouble-free results.

Perhaps most compelling are nightlife venue operators urging an all-the-time implementation of extended hours – until 3 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 a.m. on weekends – motivated by an indirect benefit. Ask nightlife entrepreneurs in entertainment districts what single policy change would most improve their ability to provide problem-solving operational management to discover the universal response – uniform extension in the allowable service period.

Despite Graham’s refusal to embrace experiences elsewhere utilizing extended operating hours as a proven strategy to reduce the inherent pressures of simultaneous forced egress of thousands of patrons in popular nightlife areas, it works in the intuitive real-world ways expected. In fact, hospitality businesses often close earlier than permitted on current later-hour dates due to patrons having progressively departed in a manner similar to how they arrived. Venues are less concerned on those nights about post-event crowd control issues occurring on city streets and affecting surrounding areas.

Washington can enhance local entertainment amenities and cement the city’s growing status as a dynamic world-class locale – while also securing its financial footing.

The D.C. Council should act to approve a consistent and commonsense year-round policy.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

16
May
2013

Will Adams Morgan make Dupont’s mistake?

Adams Morgan, gay news, Washington Blade

Adams Morgan (Photo by Aude; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Residents of the District’s thriving MidCity neighborhoods thunderously objected last spring to a controversial proposal by a tiny “citizens group” to impose a liquor license moratorium throughout the area. They quashed the idea by turning out at community meetings and registering opposition on petitions. Some even flipped a shopworn slogan utilized by development objectors.

“We don’t want to become the next Adams Morgan” was suddenly bestowed a new meaning by residents in Logan Circle, Shaw and surrounding 14th and U streets. They demonstrated a desire for convenient new dining, drinking and dancing amenities also offering the best of urban living to guests and visitors alike.

Originally advanced by liquor license protest groups, the phrase had become the battle cry complaint by the organized and vocal few throughout the city suffering suburban cul-de-sac symptoms. It was the meme that symbolized efforts to prohibit and restrict new bars and restaurants. Referencing the destination commercial strips along both 18th Street and Columbia Road intersecting at the center of the Adams Morgan neighborhood in northwest Washington, it was a generic slur against vibrant entertainment zones in densely populated high-profile areas.

The MidCity debate altered those implications. Rather than a whine against progress, residents utilized the phrase to refer instead to toxic moratorium-renewal-time warfare common in the handful of areas with business prohibitions. They considered outdated moratoriums a failed experiment posing obstacles to economic vitality.

Moratorium areas were getting left behind. Who wanted that?

It appears that the advisory neighborhood group for the namesake Adams Morgan of epithetic nomenclature is again likely to refuse shedding its nay-saying notoriety. The odds are long that they will ask the city to terminate a 14-year alcohol-license ban when it expires next April, despite plethoric negative effects on community business development. In fact, a small civic association is demanding that new restrictions be added. It is expected that, at best, only modest revisions will be advanced for city agency consideration.

The unfortunate mistake that the Dupont Circle advisory neighborhood commission made last month is anticipated for repetition in Adams Morgan.

The Dupont group finally offered the city an opinion too late to allow for city agency review prior to moratorium expiration, following several pretentiously titled “listening sessions” that nearly no one attended. Due this recurrent failure, the ban will need to be again temporarily extended until the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board can render a disposition decision.

The Dupont Circle advisory group is requesting that the ABC Board renew the 23-year-old “East Dupont” moratorium, voting to ask the city to continue the ban on bars while permitting new restaurants. The irony is that the current moratorium has allowed for two new restaurant licenses since 2010 – for which there have been no takers. The affected 17th Street, N.W., commercial strip has been rendered undesirable after more than two decades of enterprise suppression. A former commissioner called the group’s decision “insane.”

Also controversial was the manner by which the group determined their recommendation. According to Roberts Rules of Order, the 4-4 split vote should have resulted in defeat of the moratorium renewal resolution. However, an unusual provision hidden in the group’s bylaws grants the chairman’s vote extra weight in a tie, allowing the measure to pass. Henry Martyn Robert, author of the parliamentary standards bearing his name, resided in Dupont Circle in the late 19th century. Pity Mr. Robert, now spinning in his grave.

MidCity residents could only scoff at all this folly, witnessing the everyday eastward exodus of Dupont denizens toward an astounding array of retail and hospitality offerings on the business blocks of the adjacent moratorium-free areas.

The ABC Board is expected to soon announce rejection of the MidCity moratorium proposal. They should also terminate both the Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan bans and put an end to marketplace misery.

The two neighborhood advisory groups are apparently not up to the task of asking.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

04
Sep
2013

Opinion: Unfair judgments about Adams Morgan ANC

Adams Morgan, gay news, Washington Blade

Whatever determination we ultimately make with respect to the Adams Morgan moratorium will carefully and thoughtfully take into account all viewpoints. (Photo by Aude via Wikimedia Commons)

By BILLY SIMPSON

In Mark Lee’s opinion piece on Sept. 6, he wrote an assessment of alcohol license moratoriums that included the following assertions:

“It appears that the advisory neighborhood group for the namesake Adams Morgan of epithetic nomenclature is again likely to refuse shedding its nay-saying notoriety. The odds are long that they will ask the city to terminate a 14-year alcohol-license ban when it expires next April, despite plethoric negative effects on community business development … It is expected that, at best, only modest revisions will be advanced for city agency consideration.”

As the chair of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C, the “advisory neighborhood group” for Adams Morgan that you reference, I defy Lee to provide to Blade readers any facts in his possession that he believes support these statements.

To my knowledge, neither the commission itself, nor any of our eight commissioners, has said or done anything that could possibly lead Lee to draw these conclusions, or any conclusion about what we might or might not do. We have been completely neutral in our approach and we are seeking to have a thoughtful community discussion on the topic over the months ahead.

Once that public process has run its course, it may turn out that we end up seeking to extend the Adams Morgan moratorium. Or it may turn out that we end up not seeking to extend the Adams Morgan moratorium. Or it may turn out that we end up seeking to extend parts of the moratorium, not seeking to extend others, and seeking to make adjustments to yet others.

I don’t know and neither does Lee.

He is entitled to have whatever opinions he wishes concerning the pros or cons of moratoriums. But he is not entitled to fabricate assertions about what our Commission is or isn’t likely to do.

We have a talented and dedicated group of commissioners. We put in a tremendous amount of work and effort to take fair and informed decisions on every matter that comes before us.

Whatever determination we ultimately make with respect to the Adams Morgan moratorium will carefully and thoughtfully take into account all viewpoints. In that context, the thing that particularly angered me about the assertions Lee made concerning our commission is that their primary effect will be to inflame the public discussion. Our commissioners put in way too many volunteer hours trying to promote constructive and respectful community dialogue to deserve to be made subject to that.

Billy Simpson is chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C.

12
Sep
2013

Gay couple seeks to block U St. liquor licenses

Marc Morgan, Log Cabin Republicans, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Republican activist Marc Morgan said a moratorium on liquor licenses would hurt economic development in his area. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ramon Estrada and his partner, civic activist Elwyn Ferris, are playing a key role in what many believe will be a heated battle over whether the city should ban all new bars and restaurants with liquor licenses from opening in the rapidly developing 14th and U streets, N.W. corridor.

The recently formed Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, for which Ferris serves as secretary and Estrada is a member, and the lesser known Residential Action Coalition, filed a petition in December with the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board calling for the moratorium.

Gay nightlife advocates, who strongly oppose such a moratorium, acknowledge that the proposal isn’t directed at gay bars or the gay community. But similar to their straight counterparts, they say the proposal would stifle economic development in a vibrant area where large numbers of LGBT people have moved because they embrace the nightlife amenities.

Neither Estrada nor Ferris returned a call from the Blade seeking their views on the issue.

Joan Sterling, president of Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, said Estrada and Ferris are working with her in advocating for the moratorium. She said the moratorium is needed to help reverse what she believes is an alarming rise in crime, parking problems, trash and neighborhood disturbances due to the “over concentration” of liquor serving establishments.

“The issuance of further licenses in the zone would only exacerbate the problems that already affect our neighborhood,” said Sterling, who co-signed the 18-page petition her group and the Residential Action Coalition filed Dec. 10 with the ABC Board.

Opponents of the moratorium have lined up close to 800 people who signed an online petition urging the ABC Board to reject the proposal. Many of them, including gay nightlife advocate Mark Lee, argue that it’s unfair to blame all or most of the crime and other neighborhood problems on bars and restaurants.

They note that existing liquor license moratoriums in Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and Adams Morgan have not curtailed the problems they were supposed to address and, in some instances, resulted in vacant buildings that could have been occupied by restaurants.

“The Logan Circle, U Street and Shaw neighborhoods with large numbers of gay and lesbian residents overwhelmingly support the diverse dining, socializing and entertainment options we enjoy much more than we are willing to tolerate a tiny pseudo citizens group claiming to represent us while pressing for a liquor license moratorium,” Lee told the Blade.

“We don’t want to freeze development in a huge swath of our city with a rapidly growing population,” he said. “We want existing venues to grow and new establishments opening to meet rising demand and attracting other retail businesses…We want to preserve the vibrant community life that caused us to make these areas our home.”

Lee is a regular Blade columnist.

Sterling dismisses these arguments, saying there are 107 existing liquor licenses in the proposed moratorium zone.

“How can anyone claim this won’t remain a vibrant area for bars and restaurants?” she said.

The proposed moratorium would cover a circular area with an 1,800 foot radius, with the middle of the 1200 block of U Street being at the center. Small sections of neighborhoods in Dupont Circle, Logan Circle and Shaw would be covered along with U Street between 15th Street and 8th Street and surrounding streets.

In its northern most point, the area would extend to Clifton Street and its southern boundary would extend to R Street.

Gay ANC Commissioner Alexander Padro, who also serves as executive director of the community group Shaw Main Streets, Inc., said the proposed moratorium’s ban on new restaurants would have a harmful impact on Shaw.

“Restaurants are an important part of the quality of life that residents are seeking and supporting with their dollars,” he told the Blade. “Making it impossible for a newly constructed or newly vacant retail space to house a restaurant or bar could result in a long-term vacancy that would have serious repercussions for the property owner and the community.”

Under provisions of the city’s liquor law, the ABC Board is required to give “great weight” to the views of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions on liquor licensing matters, including a proposed moratorium. Padro’s ANC, ANC 6E; ANC 1B, which covers the 14th and U Street area; ANC 2F of Logan Circle, and 2B of Dupont Circle will all be weighing in on whether or not the moratorium should be approved.

Representatives of each of the four ANCs told the Blade they are currently assessing the views of the residents of their districts on the matter. Matt Raymond, chair of ANC 2F, and Noah Smith, a member of ANC 2B whose district is within the proposed moratorium area, said the four ANCs may hold a joint public hearing on the moratorium proposal in the next month or two.

“If we come to similar conclusions, our great weight will be ever greater with the ABC Board,” Smith said.

Gay Republican activist Marc Morgan, who was re-elected in November to his ANC 1B01 seat, said he too believes a moratorium would hurt businesses and economic development in his ANC area.

“We want to come up with a strong plan to address the problems raised by the advocates for a moratorium,” he said. “I don’t think a moratorium is the best way to address those problems.”

None of the ANC officials contacted by the Blade were willing to predict how their commissions would vote on the moratorium. However, sources familiar with the ANCs impacted by the moratorium have said at least three of the four ANCs are leaning against such a moratorium and would likely vote to oppose it.

If the ABC Board should vote to deny the moratorium petition, the matter would end, according to observers familiar with the process. However, if the board votes to approve it, the D.C. City Council has the authority to make the final decision on the matter.

Gay D.C. City Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who chairs the committee that oversees liquor licensing matters and in whose ward most of the moratorium zone is located, said he wants to hear from his constituents on the issue before taking a position. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) feels it is “premature” to weigh in on the issue, according to his communications director Mark Bjorge.

Kathryn Eckles, president of the Residential Action Coalition, told the Blade that although she and her group strongly support the moratorium, the RAC did not hold a meeting to officially vote to file the moratorium petition with the ABC Board.

ABC licensing consultant Andrew Kline, who specializes in liquor licensing and liquor law issues, said the law requires organizations filing a petition seeking a liquor license moratorium to hold a meeting with an advance notice to give all members of the organization an opportunity to vote on the issue.

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether the RAC’s apparent failure to hold a meeting to vote on the issue would disqualify the group from having legal standing to file the petition.

31
Jan
2013

Logan Circle ANC is not anti-business

By MATT RAYMOND

As the saying goes, there is just no pleasing some people.

D.C. nightlife advocate Mark Lee recently waged a PR offensive against Logan Circle’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F, lamenting in laughably histrionic and demonstrably false terms our supposed anti-business attitude. I urge you to read his piece, and then consider the following.

At issue was the liquor license of the newly opened bar A&D on Ninth Street, N.W. The complaints of Lee and the bar’s owners boil down to the process of negotiating a Voluntary Agreement (VA) between the bar and adjacent residents, and the bar’s operating hours.

I’ll start with the former complaint by conceding that there is some validity to it.  Regrettably, ANC 2F didn’t engage with A&D as quickly as we would have liked, owing mainly to leadership transitions on the ANC (one of which involved a serious health crisis).

Yet when Lee stated, “When license protests are lodged, either by small groups or ANCs, it takes a minimum of eight months to a year to resolve,” it is the most egregious of his whoppers.

A&D, located in a zone that mixes residential and commercial uses, applied for its license on July 13, 2012, requesting the latest closing times permitted by law. A mandatory 45-day period followed, during which protests may be lodged. Both a group of neighbors and ANC 2F were granted standing by regulators as affected parties.

Even accounting for those aberrational delays, the elapsed time between the end of that 45-day waiting period (Aug. 27) and the date an agreement was ultimately reached with A&D (Nov. 7) was less than two-and-a-half months. I guess time proceeds at a different rate on Lee’s planet. (Remember this the next time you read the hyperbole of the man who erroneously predicted the collapse of D.C. nightlife after the city’s smoking ban in bars and restaurants.)

When I took over negotiations for the ANC in mid-October, I reviewed an early draft agreement under consideration by the neighbors and the bar and soon found that the views among the neighbors were more divergent than anyone had been led to believe. Some neighbors wanted earlier closing hours than those that were finally agreed to—which themselves were merely one hour short of what is allowed in even the least residential parts of D.C.

I worked to ensure the neighbors were on the same page, and that the VA didn’t unfairly advantage or disadvantage A&D over other licensees. I rushed to present a revised draft to A&D on Nov. 7 for consideration at the ANC’s monthly meeting with the hope of not delaying the matter any further. The terms were essentially identical to what every other licensee in at least the past two years had agreed to—terms, I would add, that are more generous than most licensees received in prior years.

Because of the limited time A&D had to consider the new draft, I offered an unusual motion to allow additional negotiations and approval of the VA without waiting until the ANC’s next monthly meeting. Nevertheless, A&D signed the agreement in a snit, choosing a PR offensive over the possibility of a more favorable agreement.

Liquor licenses in the District of Columbia are a privilege, not a right. Our laws anticipated that allowing every bar to operate with no restrictions was inappropriate, especially next door to residences. So let’s call this what it is: a single business that wanted an advantage over everyone else, and a business that would perversely spin predictability and consistency in the liquor-licensing process as some sort of antagonism.

Logan Circle ranks second citywide behind only Dupont Circle in its number of liquor licenses. We have welcomed a major influx in the past year, while lodging fewer formal protests than any other recent year. We have also established a new committee to speed the process further and add greater transparency.

We are an ANC that believes in fairness and in basic protections for residents who rightfully desire sleep at night, to say nothing about their property values. By any measure, we are also an ANC that is open for business.

But like I say, there is just no pleasing some people.

Matt Raymond is chairman of ANC 2F and entering his fourth term as a commissioner. Reach him at matt@mattraymond.com.

07
Feb
2013

D.C. Council reprimands Graham, strips him of committee duties

Jim Graham, Democratic Party, Ward 1, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council voted 11 to 2 on Monday to reprimand gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) on grounds that he violated a Council ethics rule in 2008 by improperly intervening in a contract approval process.

In a separate action, the Council voted 10 to 2, with one member voting “present,” to strip Graham of his committee responsibilities over the city’s alcoholic beverage regulatory agency and liquor law policy.

The reprimand and sanction against Graham’s committee responsibilities were approved in the form of separate resolutions introduced by Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large). Mendelson argued that action against Graham was needed to maintain the confidence of the pubic in the “integrity” the Council and the city government.

“It is time to move on,” Graham said in a statement released after the Council session adjourned.

“I have very important responsibilities as chairman of the human services committee and all the responsibility of representing Ward 1,” he said. “Going forward, I will continue to represent the people who elected me to serve with the same passion and fervor as I have from my first day in office.”

Graham and Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) were the only two of the 13 Council members to vote against the two resolutions. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) voted for the reprimand resolution but voted “present,” which is considered a form of abstention, on the resolution taking away Graham’s committee duties on liquor law matters.

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, who attended Monday’s Council session, said he is uncertain whether the Council’s action and the ethics board opinion that Graham violated city ethics rules would have a harmful impact on Graham’s longtime support from LGBT voters.

“This is not about LGBT issues,” Rosendall said. “Jim has been a strong and committed ally on that.”

Rosendall, as did Mendelson, also noted that the ethics related allegations against Graham do not involve a breach in the city’s criminal laws and no one has accused Graham of such an allegation.

Some political observers note that Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large), who defeated incumbent Council member Michael Brown (I-At-Large) last November following a campaign that attacked Brown on ethics related issues, won in nearly all of the city’s precincts with large numbers of LGBT residents.

At Monday’s Council session, Grosso said he would favor more stringent sanctions against Graham, noting that large numbers of his constituents urged him to push for a censure rather than a reprimand against Graham.

Graham has been highly popular in Ward 1, where he has been credited with playing a key role in improving neighborhoods and boosting economic development, especially in the Columbia Heights neighborhood that has become one of the city’s popular retail and entertainment centers.

The Council’s vote for the reprimand and committee sanction came after a 40 minute debate in which Barry, a former D.C. mayor, was the only member to speak against the two resolutions.

Marion Barry, Jim Graham, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) speaks with his colleague, Graham, before the session. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I’m arguing that Jim Graham has not been given due process,” Barry said, adding that he believes Graham was denied his constitutional right of due process under the law because both the Council and the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability didn’t hold hearings to allow Graham to dispute the allegations against him.

Mendelson and Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), a law professor at George Washington University Law School, disputed Barry’s argument, saying Graham was given an opportunity to present his case against the allegations during deliberations of three separate entities that have investigated the allegations.

Mendelson said he was prompted to introduce the reprimand and committee sanction resolutions after the ethics board issued an opinion saying it found a “substantial body of evidence” that Graham violated the code of conduct for a city employee or official in connection with the contracting matter.

He noted that the ethics board, an investigation conducted by a private law firm on behalf of the Metro Transit board, and the city’s Inspector General each looked into the matter.

All three entities concluded that Graham acted improperly by allegedly attempting to pressure businessman Warren Williams into withdrawing a bid for a Metro land development contract in exchange for Graham’s support for Williams receiving a D.C. lottery contract.

Graham has denied interfering with the contract approval process. He has said he favored awarding the Metro contract to a competing businessman, but has said he did so because the other businessman’s company was better qualified to carry out the terms of the contract.

Through his attorneys, Graham last week filed a lawsuit against the ethics board on grounds that it violated the city law that created it by issuing an opinion on Graham’s case without holding a hearing in which Graham had the opportunity to contest the allegations and evidence used against him.

Graham told his colleagues during the Council session Monday that he plans to move forward with his lawsuit but hopes to continue working amicably with them on future Council business.

Although he declined Mendelson’s offer to allow him to speak on the reprimand resolution before the Council voted on it, Graham spoke at considerable length on the resolution calling for taking away his committee responsibilities on liquor law matters.

Saying he is “very proud” of what he and his committee have done to improve the city’s laws regulating bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, he urged his colleagues not to strip him of those responsibilities.

“There is no relationship between my reprimand and the role I play on these committee issues,” he said.

Mendelson told the Blade after the Council session ended that there was “no question” that the decision to strip Graham of his liquor law responsibilities was a form of “punishment” linked to the reprimand.

“It’s a diminishment of his committee responsibilities and goes with the reprimand,” he said. “That’s why they were both on the agenda today.”

Gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who voted for both the reprimand and the committee sanction but didn’t speak during the Council debate, told the Blade following the Council session that he strongly disagrees with Graham and Barry’s claim that Graham was denied due process rights.

“I thought that was nonsense,” said Catania. “This is a disciplinary proceeding, not a criminal justice proceeding. And the notion of a lack of due process is laughable,” he said.

“Candidly, I think this whole thing could have been handled much differently at the onset if Mr. Graham would have acknowledged that, in hindsight, he perhaps was a little over zealous and perhaps went too far [in the contract matter] and apologized,” Catania said. ‘He’s been defiant all along. Had he apologized two years ago we might not be here today.”

25
Feb
2013

Gay man seeks Dupont ANC seat Wednesday

Dupont Circle Fountain

A little-noticed race for a vacant ANC seat in Dupont Circle will be held Wednesday. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay restaurant manager Eduardo “Dito” Sevilla and civic activist Abigail Nichols have expressed differing views on the city’s liquor licensing policies and nightlife issues in a little-noticed race for a vacant seat on the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

The new commissioner for the ANC’s Single Member District 2B05, which covers most of the 17th Street, N.W., commercial and residential strip near Dupont Circle, will be chosen in a special election Wednesday, March 13, between 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. during the ANC’s regularly scheduled meeting at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.

District 2B05 stretches from Q Street, N.W., between 15th and 17th streets on its northern boundary along part of 18th Street at Massachusetts Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue, almost to the White House gate, as ANC observers like to point out.

Sevilla has worked since 2004 as restaurant and bar manager at Floriana’s, a popular restaurant on the 1600 block of 17th Street, N.W. in the heart of the 17th Street commercial strip. Sevilla also lives on 17th Street one block from where he works.

Nichols has lived a few blocks away on 18th Street near Connecticut Avenue for 33 years, according to information posted on her website. She has worked for 20 years as a policy analyst and manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She serves as treasurer of the D.C. Chapter of the League of Women Voters and is co-founder of the Alcohol Sanity Coalition D.C., a recently formed group that, according to its website, favors stricter city regulations over bars, restaurants and nightclubs. She has also served as chair of an ANC 2B committee that monitors liquor licensing issues.

In an interview published by the Dupont Circle news and civic blog Borderstan, Nichols said she didn’t have a position on one of the most contentious issues facing the Dupont Circle ANC — whether a longstanding city-enforced moratorium preventing new businesses with liquor licenses from opening along the 17th Street strip should be continued or allowed to expire.

She said she would study the issue and talk to residents before making a decision on the matter when it comes up before the ANC later this year.

Sevilla, when asked about liquor moratoriums by Borderstan, said he doesn’t discuss moratoriums. He told the Blade on Saturday that he personally favors allowing the 17th Street moratorium to expire. But he said he would recuse himself from voting on the issue if he’s elected to the ANC because his job at Floriana’s, which has a liquor license, would be viewed as a conflict of interest.

Ironically, Sevilla said, a continuation of the moratorium would be advantageous to Floriana’s and all other existing bars and restaurants on 17th Street —  including three gay bars and a gay restaurant — because it prevents competitors from opening. However, as a resident and concerned citizen of the neighborhood, he said ending the moratorium would improve the area by allowing responsible and “resident-friendly” restaurants and cafes to open in several spaces along the street that have been vacant for a long time.

“I think a little café or a bakery that served beer wouldn’t be the worst thing on earth,” he said. “It would be better than the vacant spaces that have been left there.”

The moratorium is scheduled to expire later this year unless the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) renews it. Under city law, ABRA makes the final decision but is required to give “great weight” to the views of ANCs.

Nightlife advocates, both gay and straight, have expressed concern over Nichols’ positions on liquor licensing issues as the lead spokesperson for her group Alcohol Sanity Coalition D.C. The group opposed a number of provisions in a City Council bill last year seeking to reform the city’s liquor law.

One of the provisions Nichols opposed called for disqualifying ad hoc groups of as few as five citizens from having legal standing to challenge a liquor license application or renewal of an existing license if the applicant and the ANC reach an agreement and the ANC approves the application.

D.C. Council observers say support for the provision in the liquor bill to restrict the powers of small, ad-hoc groups to block liquor licenses emerged from a bitter fight over a proposal by Hank’s Oyster Bar, a popular seafood restaurant at 17th and Q Streets, N.W., to expand its outdoor patio.

An ad hoc group blocked the proposal for several years, even though nearly all nearby residents and the 17th Street community as a whole supported the patio expansion, according to residents familiar with the dispute. In December, over the objections of Alcohol Sanity Coalition D.C., the Council voted to retain the provision restricting the authority of ad-hoc groups to challenge licenses. The Council passed the bill itself by a unanimous vote.

Sevilla said Nichols, who lives in a condo building just off Connecticut Avenue next to a bustling commercial area where nightclubs and bars are located, appears ready to support overly restrictive regulations on all businesses with a liquor license on the entire ANC district.

“We don’t have the issues on 17th Street that she has where she lives,” Sevilla said. “I absolutely believe in my heart of hearts that [the moratorium] should be discontinued. I think some people like to jump on a bandwagon that lifting the moratorium would immediately turn us into Adams Morgan,” he said.

“I think that is a little bit alarmist and ridiculous,” said Sevilla. “Seventeenth Street is not 18th Street [in Adams Morgan]. We don’t have that many commercial spaces…It’s just two or three new spaces that could take hold.”

Nichols disputed claims that she would impose excessive restrictions on bars and restaurants located in ANC 2B.

She told the Blade on Monday that the Hank’s Oyster Bar case was not a representative example of how groups of five citizens handle ABC license challenges. She said she has organized groups of five residents in her apartment building that negotiated agreements with at least seven bars or nightclubs after the groups of five filed a protest, or challenge, to the club’s liquor license application.

“We say up front that we do not want to stop them from opening,” Nichols said. “Our objective is to work out a common sense agreement to cut down the noise.” In several cases, she said, the agreements called for the clubs, whose main entrances are on Connecticut Avenue, to close their rear entrances on 18th Street at 10:30 p.m. Her apartment building, the Palladium at 1325 18th Street, is close to the clubs’ rear entrances and subjected to noise by patrons entering or leaving the clubs, she said.

“We don’t blame the owners, who usually run good businesses, she said. “But you can’t avoid noise from liquor serving establishments, and that’s why you need these agreements.”

“Voters should ask both of us about the positions we already hold and whether we have any conflicts of interest that might affect our ANC service,” she told Borderstan. “How would we handle such conflicts?”

The ANC 2B05 seat became vacant when incumbent Victor Wexler, who was running for re-election last year unopposed, dropped out of the race in October due to a back ailment. It was too late to remove his name from the ballot in the November election.

Nichols announced her candidacy as a write-in candidate for the seat, but it was uncertain whether most voters were aware that Wexler had dropped out of the race. He received 530 votes; 112 votes were cast for a write-in candidate, which was presumed to have been Nichols.

11
Mar
2013

Moratorium measure rallies residents for reform

As a result of pushing for a contentious business prohibition in D.C.’s most densely populated and rapidly growing center city neighborhoods, a small anti-development group has inadvertently illustrated the need for additional reform of city alcohol licensing regulations.

Not anticipating the widespread community opposition they would generate, it’s likely they now comprehend that their actions have energized and united hundreds calling for fundamental changes in city permitting protocols for popular local dining and socializing amenities.

For the first time and amid one of the District’s largest assemblages of vibrant commerce, residents have joined in large numbers to battle imposition of a liquor license moratorium. Five restricted licensing areas exist elsewhere, most for more than a decade with negative economic development impact, and not a single one has yet been terminated.

A total liquor license moratorium proposed by the tiny group of longtime hospitality business objectors for a nuclear-bomb-blast-sized zone encompassing multiple MidCity neighborhoods appears unlikely to be approved by either the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board or the D.C. Council. The regulatory request would prohibit the opening of any new restaurants or bars and restrict expansion or other changes at existing establishments for at least five years.

An outpouring of community opposition among residents of Logan Circle, Shaw, and the 14th and U streets areas to a regulatory petition filed in December by a controversial citizens association appears to have stunned those requesting the ban. Negative advisory recommendations to the ABC Board by all four affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) groups are also anticipated. The Shaw ANC already voted on Feb. 6 to urge rejection.

However, the real worry for the renegade cadre of business licensing opponents has undoubtedly expanded beyond merely defeat on the moratorium proposal.

Entrepreneurs seeking to open a restaurant or bar are quick to discover the obstacles in navigating unduly cumbersome licensing procedures affecting the city’s largest private sector industry. That’s the lesson learned by neighborhood resident Rose Previte while seeking a liquor license for an aptly named Compass Rose tavern adjacent to the corner of 14th and T streets. She now understands why local business owners had forewarned her that the regulatory experience would be protracted, extremely expensive for a small business enterprise and, perhaps worst of all, soul sucking.

Previte’s small eatery and low-key bar to feature global street foods in a comfortable neighborhood-scale environment is planned for a commercial property that until September was an alcohol-licensed café, situated next to the landmark Café Saint-Ex and across the street from recently opened Matchbox restaurant.

The dynamic young businesswoman, with Capitol Hill’s The Pour House tavern co-owner Mike Schuster partnering as an investor, has encountered license protests by both an ad hoc “Gang of 5 or more” and the “citizens group” behind the proposed moratorium. Yet the more numerous supportive neighbors surrounding the business-to-be below the residence of Previte and her husband and NPR “Morning Edition” host David Greene, are excluded from standard licensing review procedures.

Until the D.C. Council acts to eliminate the special “legal standing” of self-designated license protest groups to directly intervene, unrepresentative and unreasonable obstructionists will continue to plague the city’s business environment. While the Council imposed some restrictions on license protests late last year, it is clear that those measures are insufficient to ensure regulatory fairness.

Further reforms allowing all residents to weigh in utilizing the open forum provided by elected ANC members are needed. A remedy allowing all voices to be heard within the existing framework of ANC opportunity to offer the ABC Board an advisory opinion on licensing applications is the commonsense solution.

MidCity neighborhoods are the latest to demonstrate that resident tolerance for the shenanigans of license protest groups has expired. Failure by D.C. Council members and the mayor to enact regulatory reforms in response to this development will only imperil their own community standing as well.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

27
Mar
2013

Doing to development what broke down booze

Jaws dropped on Tuesday when D.C. Council member Mary Cheh made clear she wants to do to private real estate development what was done to the city’s largest hometown industry.

Cheh is no longer merely pondering introduction of legislation adding layers of regulatory review for moderately large residential construction projects, as she had begun musing less than two weeks ago. This week she introduced a bill designed to mimic the city’s notoriously dysfunctional alcoholic beverage licensing process for bars and restaurants.

Someone might want to remind her how well that turned out.

Cheh wants both self-identified citizen and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) groups to have 120 days to weigh in on project approvals that include multiple city agencies. ANCs alone are given an opportunity to offer an advisory opinion on approvals required by zoning variance requests and those for commercial and mixed-use projects. Cheh’s bill would subject all “matter-of-right” residential buildings of more than 150,000 square feet to this new auxiliary review obstacle, in addition to commercial or mixed-use projects larger than 50,000 square feet.

Her proposal will burden affected agencies with the task of specifically responding to each objection and add delays of at least half a year. In the business world, that’s an eternity – and will weaken development partnership interest in the District, threaten project financing and loan arrangements, endanger retail tenant commitments, increase the overall cost of doing business and slow the city’s growth and lessen its economic vitality.

These are apparently considerations of little interest to D.C.’s “Queen of the NIMBYs.”

Cheh held a Council committee hearing on March 27 to examine broadening public intervention in “matter-of-right” development projects not requiring special review due to a zoning variance request or exception. She heard solely from three development objectors from her district fighting an upscale 263-unit residential building in Chevy Chase on upper Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Cheh repeatedly bemoaned that they were unable to directly intervene in the city’s zoning, design and permitting procedures. They commiserated on a citywide restructuring of the process.

Scant consultation was sufficient for Cheh to immediately call for new regulatory protocols. Utilizing her trademark worry-about-the-implications-later approach, Cheh wasn’t concerned with real-world business practicalities.

Nor does Cheh seem to care about the extraordinary costs for private and public sectors and case litigation expense, or city agency staffing requirements. If successful, her efforts will gum up government with the same havoc-wreaking interference by small groups that is the signature of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) licensing.

Having conducted a lonely and unsuccessful fight opposing initial reforms of alcohol licensing approved by her colleagues last December, Cheh now wants to mandate the “ABC-ization” of construction.

It’s no wonder why the District holds the title for least business-friendly state jurisdiction in the country.

News that this misguided maven of regulatory ridiculousness had dreamed up a new scheme to make doing business in the District even more difficult and capricious never arrives as a surprise. The stunner is that she doesn’t comprehend the city’s evolving zeitgeist or the lessons to be learned from a broke down and out-of-balance hospitality business licensing system that her colleagues grapple with how best to repair.

Regulatory reform is an intensifying focus of other city officials, and is now the mainstream position of D.C. Council colleagues and competitive political candidates.

The District is evolving into a vibrant, confident, upbeat world-class city and residents expect our politicians to encourage continued development, economic expansion, modern regulations and commonsense governance.

It’s time for Mary Cheh to get off her carnival bandwagon battling economic development and equitable application of city laws.

The D.C. Council should quickly dispense with her proposal.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

10
Apr
2013

Tide shifts against hospitality objectors

After a decade of controversy, the D.C. Council late last month finally made meaningful revisions to the city’s much-maligned and long-unpopular alcohol-licensing process for hospitality and nightlife businesses.

Due to the high-profile battle waged by a notorious Dupont Circle “Gang of 5” ad hoc license protest group against chef/restaurateur Jamie Leeds’ Hank’s Oyster Bar warranting mention from the dais by multiple Council members, the approved reforms might justifiably bear her name. Better to also include the many others subjected to similar foolishness.

Took ‘em forever. Some would say the legislative repairs are far too modest a measure of regulatory relief given the District’s dysfunctional and out-of-balance licensing procedures.

One thing is clear – the political dynamic has now changed. No longer will self-proclaimed size-shrunk gaggles of the few, purporting to represent the many, hold unbridled sway over entire neighborhoods. Their days manipulating the system to impose their own edicts while abridging fair and consistent application of citywide laws are numbered.

Not that they won’t try. But the reforms to be signed by Mayor Vincent Gray within a week for immediate implementation make obstruction more difficult.

While the D.C. Council failed to eliminate legal standing for tiny “Gang of 5” protest groups and small unrepresentative citizens associations, allowing them to directly intervene in the licensing process, they took alternate steps to mitigate their outsized influence.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, chair of the Council committee with oversight of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) matters, discarded the recommendation of a “working group” he had assembled to review existing regulations requiring that ad hoc license protest group members reside or own property within a 400-ft. radius of the target establishment. While this cheered license protesters, the provision was considered to be of nominal value by hospitality supporters. The seven-year licensing struggle suffered by Hank’s, for example, would not have been affected.

Although citizen association and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) representatives outnumbered hospitality business and Business Improvement District (BID) representatives by nearly two-to-one, the working group’s proposal primarily served to confirm the need for regulatory repair as a widely supported public proposition.

Instead, with encouragement from the business community along with residents and patrons calling for reform, the D.C. Council initiated more substantial revisions.

First, the application process for new businesses will be subject to statutory timeframes, reducing the threat of long licensing delays by protest groups or ANCs used to extract operating restrictions. No longer will bankruptcy before beginning be the interventionist weapon of opportunity. Businesses won’t face coerced early closing hours, limits on music and entertainment, restrictions on outdoor space use, downsized guest counts or other prohibitions as the price of expeditious license approval.

The process remains unwieldy and inordinately lengthy. But new venues are now guaranteed a shortened process and definitive schedule. After an initial period of application announcement and protest filings, businesses proceed to an ABC Board hearing within 60 days, a new requirement. Instead of the board having 90 days to subsequently issue a ruling, decisions will be required within 60 days.

Second, in a change more about policy implications than mere semantics, the widely reviled scourge of so-called “Voluntary Agreements” no longer exists. Misused by protest groups to extract operating concessions and by ANCs to legislate turf rules as a perceived licensing protocol, the option for a business to enter into such an arrangement has been renamed “Settlement Agreement” – a functionally accurate moniker implying nothing else.

Third, should an existing licensee or new business reach an agreement with the applicable elected ANC, any protest by a random “Gang of 5” will be discarded. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to citizens associations, but the message is unmistakable – past shenanigans will no longer enjoy countenance.

Limits have also been placed on the types of restrictions permitted in an optional Settlement Agreement, should a business choose to negotiate rather than proceed to a now accelerated adjudication.

Is it enough? Hardly. Will it restore some fairness for the city’s largest private sector industry, soon-to-be largest employer, and primary revenue producer? Absolutely.

The signal is clear – outdated enterprise regulation in a growing modern city is as much a relic of the past as those who support it.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

09
Jan
2013