It’s often a simple choice for D.C. residents in neighborhoods with growing populations — street corner drug dealing or local development, abandoned storefronts or new amenities, livable avenues offering community interaction or desolate strips without eyes on the street.
Or so you would think.
That’s the battle currently being waged near 8th Street and Florida Avenue in the rapidly developing Shaw/LeDroit Park neighborhood of northwest Washington — a couple of blocks from Nellie’s Sports Bar, a block south of Town Danceboutique, down the street from the newly refurbished historic Howard Theatre and near the Shaw-Howard University Metro station and the adjacent Progression Place mixed-use 205-unit apartment and 20,000-square-foot ground level retail property with an adjoining 50,000-square-foot office building undergoing construction.
The planned All Souls Bar — to fill a modest empty space at the street corner end of a small retail strip of quaint older commercial storefronts adjacent to a CVS pharmacy, home to both a tailor shop and pizza restaurant — has ignited a liquor licensing conflict fueled by a tiny cadre of neighborhood busybodies.
A small number are opposing the proposed establishment, to occupy less than 800 square feet with a maximum capacity of only 50 seats and serving a traditional American menu. The venture, planned for the deserted space at 725 T St., N.W., originally constructed as stables and featuring an interior tin ceiling, has unleashed an all-too-common overblown regulatory brouhaha.
The conflict was aired again last week at a public meeting conducted by Myla Moss, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) member for the area. One of the most vocal objectors has been a Maryland resident whose connection is limited to his girlfriend living around the corner next to the abandoned retail space.
Most area residents, long frustrated by the neglected storefront — as well as the open-air drug dealing and evening clusters of disreputable characters ruling the corner — welcomed the news announced last October by the Prince of Petworth community blog that respected former Jaleo and Zaytinya restaurants manager David Batista hoped to open at the spot.
Fliers distributed in the area object to granting a liquor license for the restaurant bar due to its location within 400 feet of a school — the Cleveland Elementary School across the street. Normally such proximity would preclude an alcohol license for the business. However, the law allows an exception for licensing in areas where there is a prior license of the same type within the restricted zone. As a result of the property being midway between the bustling 9th Street and developing 7th Street commercial corridors and a variety of restaurants and bars, the location is fully eligible for an alcohol service permit.
In addition to legally required mantra-like objections to “peace, order and quiet,” licensing opponents claim that the business will cause harm to schoolchildren if they witness patrons seated outside sipping beer or wine with their meal, or even if they see alcohol products being delivered to the business.
Never mind that one long-time resident refers to the corner as akin to the HBO series “The Wire.” Protesting residents apparently consider visual exposure to alcohol more worrisome than the drug sales, troublesome loitering and public urination occurring on the street.
To facilitate progress and maneuver around the obstacles thrown up by neighborhood nannies intent on preventing the establishment from opening, entrepreneur Batista has agreed to revise the licensing application to initially restrict the business to a 5 p.m. opening on weekdays and defer a request for early evening outdoor patio service.
This outsized power wielded by chronic complainers confounds area residents desiring an enhanced streetscape and limits the potential success of the enterprise. Batista could also be forced to sign a notoriously inappropriately named “Voluntary Agreement” including further operating constraints.
It is long overdue for the District to reform its overly cumbersome and unnecessarily contentious liquor license labyrinth thwarting economic development and community amenities adding vibrancy and vitality to urban neighborhoods. Fairness and common sense require that the inordinate ability of so few to dictate regulatory policy and city landscapes should end.
I’m willing to bet a craft beer at All Souls Bar — if and when it finally opens — that elected city officials lack the courage to make that happen.
Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.