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Moratorium measure rallies residents for reform

2 Apr

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  This article was originally published at

Neighborhood Dispute Shuts Part of Hank’s Oyster Bar Patio

12 Jun
Neighborhood Dispute Shuts Part of Hank’s Oyster Bar Patio

My comment on the CityPaper website:

“Neighbors” sure is a vague category. Anyone anywhere can smite a successful enterprise out of envy, thereby creating even more unemployment in DC for people without the credentials to be employed as a ‘crat.
I love Hank’s but I will only go there when the weather is good and I can bike or walk. I forgo DC dining often because of DC’s insane parking and traffic regulations and ticketing and its deliberate and planned parking shortage. Willow, Boulevard Woodgrill, Bethesda Restaurant Row and all the Asian and Latin eateries in NoVa often get my dollar, because I can park safely and cheaply nearby.
Anyone actually harmed by Hank’s, for instance by noise pollution, could simply be compensated financially, after proving that they are actually being harmed, or having some other form of redress (sound proofing, limited hours, tenting, a canopy). Until then, I want reparations from all the DC busybodies whose whining harms my soul. They should all be forced to buy me lunch at Hank’s just because they are so heinous to have as fellow citizens and neighbors.

Neighborhood Dispute Shuts Part of Hank’s Oyster Bar Patio

Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators forced Hank’s Oyster Bar to shut down a portion of its patio without warning Friday evening, pending a review of the termination of the restaurant’s voluntary agreement with the neighborhood. The closure came the day before the Capital Pride parade, one of the busiest days of the year for Hank’s.
To sum up, the restaurant moved to cancel its voluntary agreement, which restricted its hours and prevented expansion, when it took over the space next door last year. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B supported the request and the ABC Board approved it, but a small handful of neighbors have since appealed the decision. While that appeal awaits a hearing, Hank’s was forced to close the portion of her patio in front of the expanded space. In a press release, Hank’s chef/owner Jamie Leeds called the action “unwarranted and unfair.”
Leeds also posted this open letter on the restaurant’s website:

Dear community member:
I am the chef/owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar, which I opened in 2005. Before opening the restaurant, I applied for an alcoholic beverage license. Although I had already made my name as a chef in Washington, D.C., and had no intention of operating a nightclub, my application was protested by certain individuals living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Because, at that time, the ABC Board refused to give me a timely hearing date to contest the protest, I was forced to sign a voluntary agreement, or lose the opportunity to proceed with the project. The voluntary agreement restricted my hours, and prevented me from expanding or otherwise increasing the occupancy of my business.
In 2010, seeing an opportunity to expand my successful business, I requested that the ABC Board terminate my voluntary agreement. The advisory neighborhood commission (ANC 2B) whole-heartedly supported the request. After a hearing, and a finding that termination of the VA would not have an adverse impact on the neighborhood, the Board ordered the VA terminated.
The Board then had a hearing on a request to expand my business to include the building next door, and the public space in front of it, and approved that request.
In the meantime, the few neighbors opposed to me appealed the termination of the VA to the Court of Appeals. The Court has now reversed the ABC Board, finding that not only do we have to show no adverse impact in terminating the VA, but also that we tried to work it out with the protestants by entering into an amended VA, and that we need the VA termination because of changed circumstances.
We have our hearing on these last two issues next Wednesday before the ABC Board. We are confident we will prevail, because we did try to work this out with those opposed to us back when we first sought termination of the VA, but they refused to meet. Also, since the Court of Appeals decision was reached, we offered to address their concerns with a more limited VA, but they insist we cut our outdoor occupancy by 25%, even though there have been no complaints. As for changes in the neighborhood, I am sure they are well known to you. Of course, it could take months for the Board to rule.
Last night, as a result of a complaint by the protesters, we were visited by ABC investigators. We were told we cannot use half of our patio seating area, because of the Court of Appeals decision. This happened before we even have had a hearing before the ABC Board.
If you agree that allowing a small number of individuals to dictate what happens in our community is wrong, please contact ABRA, Ward 2 CM Jack Evans, CM Jim Graham, Chair of the committee that oversees ABC, and Mayor Vincent Gray. Let them know that the ABC Board should be urged to make a decision quickly after next Wednesday’s hearing, reaffirming the termination of our VA. Also let them know that it is time to stop allowing a few residents to dictate what happens in a neighborhood, particularly when the duly elected ANC members feel otherwise. The right of a group of 5 residents to hold up a license application should be eliminated from the law. Otherwise the situation I find myself in will undoubtedly occur again.
Jamie Leeds, Chef/Owner, Hank’s Oyster Bar

Photo by Jessica Sidman

Save the Treehouse Today! Join Treehouse Dad at Zoning Meeting at 9 AM today!

30 Nov

November 30, 2011

Save the Treehouse Today! Join Treehouse Dad at Zoning Meeting at 9 AM today!

In October, Fairfax County authorities told a Falls Church father and Iraq war veteran that the tree house he built in his yard had to come down. On Wednesday, Mark Grapin is taking his case, and 1,500 signatures of support, to the county zoning board. After he returned from his last tour of duty in the Middle East, Grapin spent six weeks and $1,400 to build a 10-by-10 foot tree house in his front yard. But after an anonymous complaint, Fairfax County put him on notice that the structure violated zoning laws.

NOVEMBER 30, 2011
WHEN: 9:00 A.M. MARK W. GRAPIN, VC 2011-MA-007 Appl. under Sect(s). 18-401 of the Zoning Ordinance to permit accessory structure in a front yard on a lot containing 36,000 sq. ft. or DH less.

Board of Zoning Appeals Meeting
1200 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA
Main Commissioner’s Auditorium

posted by Heather Smith on 11/30/2011 6:43:01 AM