By MATT RAYMOND
As the saying goes, there is just no pleasing some people.
D.C. nightlife advocate Mark Lee recently waged a PR offensive against Logan Circle’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F, lamenting in laughably histrionic and demonstrably false terms our supposed anti-business attitude. I urge you to read his piece, and then consider the following.
At issue was the liquor license of the newly opened bar A&D on Ninth Street, N.W. The complaints of Lee and the bar’s owners boil down to the process of negotiating a Voluntary Agreement (VA) between the bar and adjacent residents, and the bar’s operating hours.
I’ll start with the former complaint by conceding that there is some validity to it. Regrettably, ANC 2F didn’t engage with A&D as quickly as we would have liked, owing mainly to leadership transitions on the ANC (one of which involved a serious health crisis).
Yet when Lee stated, “When license protests are lodged, either by small groups or ANCs, it takes a minimum of eight months to a year to resolve,” it is the most egregious of his whoppers.
A&D, located in a zone that mixes residential and commercial uses, applied for its license on July 13, 2012, requesting the latest closing times permitted by law. A mandatory 45-day period followed, during which protests may be lodged. Both a group of neighbors and ANC 2F were granted standing by regulators as affected parties.
Even accounting for those aberrational delays, the elapsed time between the end of that 45-day waiting period (Aug. 27) and the date an agreement was ultimately reached with A&D (Nov. 7) was less than two-and-a-half months. I guess time proceeds at a different rate on Lee’s planet. (Remember this the next time you read the hyperbole of the man who erroneously predicted the collapse of D.C. nightlife after the city’s smoking ban in bars and restaurants.)
When I took over negotiations for the ANC in mid-October, I reviewed an early draft agreement under consideration by the neighbors and the bar and soon found that the views among the neighbors were more divergent than anyone had been led to believe. Some neighbors wanted earlier closing hours than those that were finally agreed to—which themselves were merely one hour short of what is allowed in even the least residential parts of D.C.
I worked to ensure the neighbors were on the same page, and that the VA didn’t unfairly advantage or disadvantage A&D over other licensees. I rushed to present a revised draft to A&D on Nov. 7 for consideration at the ANC’s monthly meeting with the hope of not delaying the matter any further. The terms were essentially identical to what every other licensee in at least the past two years had agreed to—terms, I would add, that are more generous than most licensees received in prior years.
Because of the limited time A&D had to consider the new draft, I offered an unusual motion to allow additional negotiations and approval of the VA without waiting until the ANC’s next monthly meeting. Nevertheless, A&D signed the agreement in a snit, choosing a PR offensive over the possibility of a more favorable agreement.
Liquor licenses in the District of Columbia are a privilege, not a right. Our laws anticipated that allowing every bar to operate with no restrictions was inappropriate, especially next door to residences. So let’s call this what it is: a single business that wanted an advantage over everyone else, and a business that would perversely spin predictability and consistency in the liquor-licensing process as some sort of antagonism.
Logan Circle ranks second citywide behind only Dupont Circle in its number of liquor licenses. We have welcomed a major influx in the past year, while lodging fewer formal protests than any other recent year. We have also established a new committee to speed the process further and add greater transparency.
We are an ANC that believes in fairness and in basic protections for residents who rightfully desire sleep at night, to say nothing about their property values. By any measure, we are also an ANC that is open for business.
But like I say, there is just no pleasing some people.
Matt Raymond is chairman of ANC 2F and entering his fourth term as a commissioner. Reach him at email@example.com.