May 30, 2012 at 3:41 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
When cantankerous dinosaurs roamed D.C.

Rising above vast portions of D.C. are the long necks and swiveling heads of dinosaurs.

Well, not exactly.

The scores of vertical behemoths are actually the again ubiquitous steel construction cranes punctuating the city’s skyline. They represent the renewed and accelerating development underway across the District resulting from high demand for residential housing and the associated amenities necessary to serve a diversifying population.

More than that, they are evocative of the endangered relevancy of small unrepresentative citizens groups, many an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) member and ad hoc gaggles of objectors to progress who have long ruled the land. These prominent structures also serve as totems signifying development intensive areas where naysayers are viewed as hostile by inhabitants.

Threatened with declining influence and vastly outnumbered by those desiring nothing less than their sudden disappearance, they have become reduced to thrashing about like a vulnerable species. As any anthropologist will attest, creatures facing extinction often exhibit desperate behavior.

Evidence of this last-gasp resistance to their citywide evolutionary demise has in recent days emerged in two high-profile neighborhoods.

Bug-eyed astonishment was the prevailing reaction last week to the news announced by Dupont-Logan-U Street neighborhood blog Borderstan that the more than seven-year ignominious battle by notorious “gang of five or more” license protest groups against popular neighborhood restaurant Hank’s Oyster Bar had suddenly reignited. Bitter protracted licensing objections against prominent local chef-owner Jamie Leeds’ highly regarded establishment adjacent to 17th and Q streets delayed both its eventual opening in May 2005 and subsequent expansion last year.

A technical ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals on May 17 involving city regulatory language so poorly written as to be confusing requires Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board review of its prior decision to terminate, after four years as allowed by law, a so-called “Voluntary Agreement” between the business and a group of only six protesting residents. The included restrictions on operating hours, having allowed the restaurant to open without ongoing delay threatening the financial viability of the business, truncated alcoholic beverage service earlier than allowed by law both inside the restaurant and on the outdoor dining area – by two hours and three hours, respectively.

Termination of these restrictions took the ABC Board seven months to decide and was predicated on the evaluation that lifting them would not adversely affect the neighborhood. They must now revisit their 2010 decision. While perhaps likely that the outcome may be unchanged, Hank’s is again subjected to adjudication hearings prior to awaiting a new ruling.

Ironically, “Voluntary Agreement” amendment and termination is expected to become a time-consuming regulatory activity for ABC personnel as more establishments pursue release from license restrictions. Most liquor licenses come up for renewal in 2013 and a substantial number will seek relief – especially from restricted operating hours, many merely pro forma and disallowing extended holiday bar hours included in the new city budget effective Oct. 1.

The anticipated volume of venues seeking revision to restrictions partly results from prior regulatory practice denying standard hearings, instead forcing applicants into endless mediation causing businesses to settle out of necessity. A dysfunctional and unfair system is largely responsible. Recent improvements provide only relatively expeditious resolution without substantive policy reform.

Nearby, more regulatory ridiculousness is underway. Two weeks ago, in the 14th and U streets area, a disgruntled few with a long history instigating licensing protests formed yet another citizens group. These interventionists have carved out an eligibility area for likeminded membership within only six blocks.

The tiny nascent group is almost exclusively focused on pushing an area-wide liquor license moratorium and protesting new applications for restaurants and bars scheduled to open in the dynamic development zone. All beneath a bevy of construction cranes foretelling an influx of residents to a locale already experiencing insufficient hospitality capacity.

It appears this isolated clique is pursuing a “last stand” attempt to impose their will against overwhelming neighborhood opposition. Already, 700 have signed a petition opposing the group’s efforts.

Future anthropological scrutiny will offer scant decipherability as to what spawned elected officials to permit an inhospitable out-of-balance business environment to fester unabated. Thwarting a sustenance sustaining ecology providing economic vitality will manifest history’s harshest assessment of their primitive reign.

In a time of dinosaurs.

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

  • The formation of the Dupont-Shaw Citizens Association is also in direct response to the currently proposed reforms of the ABC regulations that would eliminate the “gang of five” ability to protest licenses, and require a duly incorporated association or ANC to file. By limiting their boundaries and hyper focusing their agenda to their pre-existing priorities they pretty much guarantee that nobody else from the community will either have a say or even want to attend one of their meetings.

  • I am a homeowner in Ground Zero of the proposed moratorium and live smack between Ms Sterling and the U Street Dirt guys who are driving this. Just so it is clear, they do NOT speak for me or anyone else who is not on their membership roll, and this includes the overwhelming majority of their neighborhood. For these folks to be pushing for a moratorium extending well beyond their boundaries is just outrageous. If they want a 600 foot moratorium that covers their own ‘hood, fine, bring that fight on, but 1800 feet? All the way to Belmont in the north and 8th to the east? Seriously? Those neighborhoods are still begging for development. Fortunately the U Street Neighborhood Association has a broader and more thoughtful vision than this fringe group. I’m embarrassed to have them as neighbors.

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