07 Dec 2010

Sober Discussion on Moratorium in 6B

Originally uploaded to flickr by Jeremy Brooks.

Last night at Brent Elementary, ANC 6B’s Norman Metzger moderated a panel experienced in the process and effects of moratoriums on different types of business licenses related to alcohol.  The issue has been raised because of concern about the number of bars and restaurants on Barracks Row as there’s an appearance of declining retail.  The panel included:

  • Fred Moosally, Director of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA)
  • Jack Jacobson, Commissioner for ANC 2B04 including 17th Street, NW in Dupont Circle
  • Jackie Blumenthal, Commissioner for ANC 3B02 in Glover Park
  • Mindy Moretti, Commissioner for ANC 1C04 in Adams Morgan
  • Bryan Weaver, Commissioner for ANC 1C03 in Adams Morgan

Moosally gave an overview of how a moratorium is requested (usually by recommendation of an ANC with input from the Councilmember and MPD, though the process can first begin with a group of five residents or a civic association), how long it lasts (generally 5, but can also be 3 years), and the area it covers (a 600 ft. to 1800 ft. radius from the center point).  According to ABRA’s Moratorium Fact Sheet, the requester must also include the reasons why a moratorium is appropriate under at least two of the four appropriateness standards, which are:

  1. The establishment’s effect on real property values;
  2. The establishment’s effect on peace, order, and quiet, including the noise and litter provisions;
  3. The establishment’s effect on residential parking needs and vehicular and pedestrian safety; and
  4. In the case of license renewal, the provisions of qualification for issuance, renewal of a license, transfer of a license to a new location, or an application for the approval of a substantial change in operation as determined by the Board and that the establishment is appropriate for the locality, section, or portion of the District where it is to be located.

Mossally also noted that while some existing moratoriums are being renewed for 3 years, there have not recently been new moratorium requests, aside from requests to cease the sale of singles from convenience and liquor stores.

Each Commissioner shared their unique experiences with how a moratorium impacted their community and perceptions of the business environment.  Experiences varied, but one conclusion that could be drawn was that a moratorium was not the single answer to any problem.  Blumenthal and Jacobson both noted that moratoriums were perceived to exacerbate problems with filling empty storefronts, though both confirmed that its almost impossible to tell what role, if any, a moratorium may play.  Blumenthal shared that initially, following the moratorium in Glover Park, it seemed to be “business as usual” but as businesses closed (for whatever reason) several storefronts sat vacant.  So while the moratorium helped with problems in the evening, they are now going to study why there are empty retail spaces.  Moretti said that in Adams Morgan they have seen similar issues with vacancies, but sees it as more of a problem to be addressed with landlords, who are oftentimes charging prohibitively high rents.

Moretti, Weaver and Jacobson emphasized that it’s important to first establish what it is that you want to accomplish and then look at the variety of tools available.  Moretti and Weaver pointed out that improvements in Adams Morgan have come about by simply enforcing existing statue.  By way of example, Weaver pointed out that Heaven and Hell, well known as a nightclub that rarely if ever serves food, was operating under a restaurant license when clearly they should have a tavern license.

Jacobson suggested that when there are problems with crime and violence in the target area, then a moratorium may be at the top of the list for consideration, but if the objective is to attract a wider variety of businesses then it may not be ideal.  In that case, he offered, “rather than say ‘No’ to restaurants and bars, find ways to say ‘Yes’ to retail.”  He’s currently working with Councilmember Evans to craft tax incentives designed to foster local retailers.  It was pointed out that similar models have been successful for neighborhoods in New York City and Cleveland.  Currently the District only offers deferments.

One questioner said that approximately 20% of Barracks Row businesses have a license to serve alcohol.  Given their perspective, Weaver and Moretti said that sounds almost ideal to them, though they know that nobody wants to be the next Adams Morgan.  Even THEY don’t want to be the next Adams Morgan.  Additionally, Weaver counseled, “find the exact area where you want to concentrate and focus there.  The worst thing you can do would be to overreact to growth.”

Ultimately, the Commissioners found that moratoriums achieved some goals, but also raised other issues. They certainly couldn’t say it helped attract more retail.  It has given ANCs leverage to negotiate with operators, which is helpful in cases where there are bad actors, but all the panelists said they’ve had the most success addressing problems by liberally engaging good operators, community members and landlords.  Also, most of the problems discussed seemed to come from taverns (or properties licensed as restaurants but actually operating as taverns).  In the case of Barracks Row, of 22 establishments licensed to sell alcohol, only 6 are categorized as taverns with three (Old Siam, Cava, Lola’s) not really operating in the “tavern model” (the others are Jordan’s — which I’d consider borderline — Phase I and Bachelor’s Mill).  There are currently six pending licenses: 8th Street Bar & Grill and Bavarian Beer Garden are applying as taverns; the others, Pacifico, Nooshi, Moby Dick’s and Senarts, are applying as restaurants.

Chuck Burger, local resident and a former chair of the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, shared his view of the meeting: “Tonight we see that there are many ways to craft a solution.  This meeting was a great start to developing an informed community dialogue.”  Commissioner Metzger was pleased with the process.  “We had a good meeting with very substantial questions from the audience that probed many important issues.  By no means did we make any decisions about a moratorium tonight; that’s not what this was for.  But I think people came away understanding there’s no such thing as a [single type of] moratorium.  Of critical importance will be continuing to engage the community.”

The Retail Mix Task Force will meet again Monday, December 13th.  Commissioner Metzger said they may have a preliminary report by February.  Larry Janezich of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association also attended last night’s meeting and has a summary on their website.

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8 responses to “Sober Discussion on Moratorium in 6B”

  1. bossman says:

    This is all just circular discussion on matters that are really quite simple. Retail is declining because some of the existing business are outdated. New retail is hesitant to move in because of the lack of foot traffic and lack of parking options to bring in the amount of foot traffic needed to cover their rents and make a profit. Let’s face it, we’re in a relatively low-density part of the city. There’s a reason significant retail ends up in Columbia Heights, DuPont, Georgetown, upper NW, etc. What kind of retail are the pro-retail folks looking for on Barrack’s Row?

    On parking, those options aren’t coming any time soon because there isn’t any space and that’d never fly in “livable walkable” Capitol Hill anyway.

    On the flip-side, this Adams Morganization that everyone seems to decry won’t happen if a few more bars move in the neighborhood because of…you got it…a lack of parking. I don’t think Adams Morgan would be as crazy as it is without the parking garages that allow people to drive in from MD and VA. Barrack’s Row just doesn’t have that capacity, and people know it. Adding a few more bars won’t change anything.

    And if we’re talking about an establishment’s effect on things like peace and litter…Popeye’s and 7-11 are by far the worst offenders, far worse than any existing bar.

  2. jello says:

    Have you tried to drive in to Adams Morgan on a weekend night? It’s hell, but people apparently still do it. And unlike Capitol Hill, it’s not that easy to get to from VA. And I’m not sure what these parking garages are that you speak of… most people either take cabs or circle for a long time trying to find a street space. I live in VA and would drive to Barracks Row a hundred times before driving to Adams Morgan. The parking is really not that bad.

  3. Hillman says:

    I can see wanting to keep retail, but honestly a lot of retail businesses go out of business because of lack of demand. And surly service. And high prices.

    Anybody remember Discount Foods, down in the 500 block if I remember right? It was a convenience store. Perfect retail use, right?

    Except the people that worked there were rude, their selection was terrible. Oh, and they also cheated the District government out of sales tax.

    I’m not sure how punishing property owners on 8th Street by artificially limiting their income is going to solve that.

    Honestly, if I were a property owner on 8th Street and I suffered through the decades of hell that was 8th Street and then when times get good the local ANC artificially limited what I could do with my business I’d make it my life’s mission to un-elect every one of those ANC folks.

    They should have thought of this ten years ago, when planning for Barracks Row. Now imposing it retroactively is rewarding those that got an early start in the restaurant business, and punishing those that say, for instance, had a long term tenant that prevented them from applying for a liquor license.

    Yes, encouraging retail is worthwhile. But if it’s that important how about we propose a property tax break for a retail use? That way we all pay for the use, instead of asking the property owner alone to foot the loss.

    As for parking, that ship done sailed. If you live within a block or two of a commercial strip the expectation that you will find street parking regularly is unrealistic. We just got used to the bad years when no one would come to 8th Street. But to expect that it would never improve was unrealistic.

  4. John says:

    This whole issue is just seemingly ridiculous. And I can’t help but think these reactionist, out of touch and poorly developed policy suggestions (read:Moratorium) are based on the wishes of a delusional vocal minority who are opposed to any new growth on the Hill. Right now their argument is not enough retail, next it will be that we are losing the historical value of Capitol Hill. All in an effort to keep people from discovering this section of the City so it remains the neighborhood they want it to be. In my opinion there would be validity to these arguments if we were talking about expanding the area’s commercial footprint but that’s not what we are discussing.

    The ANC is horrendous, I understand wanting to be responsive to a portion of your residents but the actions of a moratorium are insulting and overly simplistic. It is not the job of ANC’s or elected officials for that matter to handpick winners and losers in the form of which businesses are able to open in specific sections of the city.

    But perhaps I am the out of touch one. If that is the case, please everyone compel your ANC reps to pass a liquor ban and other unfriendly policies for business. I for one long for the days that storefronts were vacant, streets were uninviting and lurking with criminals and no one would go past 6th street, SE.

    In fact, I am now a convert. Everything on the Hill needs to stay the same. In that vain let’s turn the Hill Center back into a hospital for wounded civil war soldiers. Not doing so would be a disservice to all of our veterans.

  5. chris says:

    I am sympathetic to the argument that we should encourage more retail on Capitol Hill.
    But, I have yet to hear a credible plan for how to go about it.

    As was pointed out by Bossman, the conditions for retail are not there. The low density limits local demand and the lack of parking limits outsiders.

    Old Town Alexandria is often held up as a model and I agree it would be great to see Barracks Row looking like King Street.

    But, Old Town has a couple advantages over Capitol Hill:

    1) Old Town is a regional draw for much of NoVa. Capitol Hill has to compete with Gallery Place, Georgetown, Dupont, etc.
    2) There are several parking garages for people from outside the neighborhood to park in.
    3) Most of the retail is….chains (Banana Republic, Gap). The activists calling for a moratorium on bars would be calling for one on chains.
    4) Old Town has the advantage of already being established. It is much harder to create something from scratch than to keep some existing going.

    Unless the moratorium is part of a broader plan to encourage retail it seems a waste of time (at best).

  6. Tyro says:

    Many areas of DC, including the neighborhood around Barracks Row, keep a strong cap on the area for which any commercial activity is allowed. So because retail/commercial space is at an extreme shortage, only the highest-margin businesses that can afford to rent space are going to go in there, and that’s going to be alcohol-serving food establishments. If you want more retail, open more space for commercial development.

  7. Hillman says:

    Tyro is absolutely correct. What I love about some other cities is that you can have a great little neighborhood store or shop on every corner.

    In DC we rarely allow that.

    If we really want to encourage retail then we should allow corner properties to become retail.

    Yes, we have the occasional drycleaner on a corner.

    But other cities have a lot more. You’ll have the corner bodega. The corner store. The corner shop.

    Here? We have the corner drycleaner and that’s pretty much it. Outside of established commercial strips.

    But if our real goal is to preserve onstreet parking on the blocks adjacent to 8th Street, then we should admit that’s our goal. Dressing the argument up in ‘preserving neighborhood retail’ is a bit disingenuous when we won’t consider allowing retail establishments in the area generally.

  8. Eric says:

    Putting some sort of arbitrary moratorium on liquor licenses would do nothing to encourage retail growth and will likely hurt landlords and building owners.

    I’m always amazed, but sadly not surprised, when people want to step in a slow growth. I haven’t lived in DC my whole life, but I’ve lived/worked on the Hill long enough to remember what 8th street used to look like. Were it not for all these restaurants and bars that revitalized Barracks Row it still would be a place unsafe to walk at night filled with little more than cheap carry out food.

    I too would love to see more retail space on 8th (and surrounding) streets. Limiting liquor licenses will do little to make that happen. I don’t have the answers, but perhaps some tax incentives to help retail owners afford the high rent. Just preventing restaurants from opening with no effort to encourage retail to move in will only result in empty buildings. Is that the 8th street these people want?

    As far as parking is concerned, I don’t see any solution that problem. There will never be a parking garage built (unless it’s underground somehow,) so street parking is about the best we can hope for. Getting the Circulator to come to Barracks row is a great improvement, but it’s not going to free up street parking. Adams Morgan, Georgetown and Dupont Circle all have the same restrictions on available street parking. I think all 3 are far worse than Barracks Row/Eastern Market. Those places seem to make a go of it. I think you need an anchor store (like a Gap or Banana Republic) to bring in other retail. Of course I’m sure people would protest that as a sign of corporate takeover.

    Anyway you chop it up, a moratorium on liquor licenses is a half-cocked solution to bring in retail. It’s bad policy and it should be opposed by any rational person.

    On a side note, I live in Barney Circle (near the Harris Teeter.) I’d welcome any and all restaurants in my neighborhood. There is a great empty building on PA Ave and 15th just asking for a tenant. I’m sure Trusty’s and Wisdom wouldn’t mind some neighbors.

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