The Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission reached an agreement Wednesday with lesbian chef and businesswoman Jamie Leeds in which the commission will drop its protest against Leeds’ plans for expanding seating capacity at her popular Hank’s Oyster Bar restaurant near Dupont Circle.
The ANC’s action came less than two weeks after the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board voted to end a five-year-old voluntary agreement prohibiting any expansion of Hank’s seating space or operating hours. In 2005, a group of neighborhood residents demanded that Leeds sign the agreement as a condition for opening her restaurant on Q Street, just off the popular 17th Street strip where several gay bars are located.
Both Leeds’ supporters and opponents agree that opposition to her proposal to expand her restaurant is linked to longstanding efforts by some neighborhood activists to limit what they see as an over-concentration of nightlife businesses in the 17th Street commercial strip and is not related to her sexual orientation.
But gay and straight nightlife advocates say Leeds is being targeted for “heresy” by some nearby residents associated with the ANC and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association who strenuously oppose any efforts to curtail or repeal the ABC Board’s system of voluntary agreements between neighborhood groups and businesses with liquor licenses – including restaurants and bars.
Supporters of the “VOAs” say they are needed to prevent irresponsible businesses from creating noise and other disturbances that affect nearby residents. Critics, however, say they are unfair and a form of extortion because they pressure businesses to agree to restrictions like early closing times or bans on music and dancing that are not prohibited by city laws regulating restaurants or bars.
“Hank’s is one or the great recent enhancements of our neighborhood, while the problems are entirely imaginary,” said nearby resident Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance. “That Jamie Leeds is sick of being hobbled by years of gratuitous restrictions should surprise only those with no regard for the obligations and risks faced by a small business owner.”
The Dupont Circle Citizens Association and a small group of residents, most of who don’t live on the block where Hank’s is located, have filed petitions asking the ABC Board to deny the request for expanded seating space. The Dupont Circle ANC, ANC 2B, did not initially move to oppose the expansion proposal. But it rushed to pass an opposition “protest” petition last week after word surfaced that Hank’s representative told the ABC Board the restaurant might consider extending its operating hours on its outdoor patio from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on week nights and from midnight to 3 a.m. on weekends.
ANC 2B Chairman Will Stevens told the Blade the ANC will vote in a special meeting later this month to withdraw its protest after Leeds agreed to stipulate in her ABC license that she will continue Hank’s current closing hours of 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends for its outdoor seating.
ANC commissioner Jack Jacobson, who represents the single member district that includes Hank’s, was the only commissioner to vote against the protest of the Hank’s expansion proposal before this week’s agreement was reached. Commissioner Mike Silverstein, who is a member of the ABC Board, did not vote in keeping with his decision to refrain from voting on issues pending before the ABC Board.
“I am happy to see a slender shaft of reason break through the clouds of obstruction,” said Rosendall in response to the agreement by the ANC to drop its protest.