Allow a D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) an inch and eventually they fancy themselves rulers.
Along the Barracks Row commercial corridor on Capitol Hill, it’s more like being beaten with a yardstick.
The area’s ANC-6B has taken umbrage at the refusal of popular and well-regarded Matchbox restaurant, on the 8th Street, S.E., business strip near Eastern Market, to kowtow to demands for new restrictions on operating hours. Advisory commissioners are startled by the establishment’s strong backbone. It appears that many neighborhood residents, however, are cheering Matchbox for its courageous and welcomed resistance.
With any luck, the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board will simply toss aside the liquor license renewal protest filed by the ANC. Better yet, the Board should school the group on the legitimate basis for a license protest in an effort to stem a growing tide of regulatory system manipulation by ANCs.
What offense caused the ANC to file a protest opposing the restaurant’s license renewal? What problem generated reports that ANC-6B01 sub-area representative David Garrison exclaimed he was “flabbergasted” at the “audacity of the move” by the restaurant?
Nothing more than Matchbox’s refusal to roll back its existing sidewalk café closing time by two hours each evening in order to comply with an ANC attempt at coercing adherence to a nascent “policy” to extract restricted hours from all existing licensees and new applicants. Not surprisingly, neighborhood reaction has not been favorable to Garrison, his ANC cohorts, or the small number of supporters backing the renegade effort.
A disturbing trend among some ANCs is accelerating moves to impose “cookie-cutter” restrictions on operating hours for hospitality establishments. Logan Circle ANC-2F, for example, previously undertook a similar stance – demanding “compliance” in certain areas with a standardized “policy” requiring early venue closing times throughout the week in exchange for not protesting liquor license applications. Incredibly, this so-called “neighborhood policy” is proposed even on commercially zoned corridors.
These demands are foisted upon businesses not yet open and existing venues in full compliance with city laws. Restrictions in advance of operation or without any substantive evidence of serious violations, legitimate complaints, real problems or even a rational legal justification are egregious.
ANC overreach does not comport with justification for a community review process designed to rectify quantifiable issues or demonstrable problems resolved by restriction. Utilization of a “Settlement Agreement” implies that there is actual evidence both that a problem is real and that an imposed license limitation would serve to solve it. They are not intended as instruments to establish special regulatory policy within an area at the whimsy of neighborhood nannies.
Thrusting a litany of operating restrictions, notably truncated hours of service, at business owners new and longstanding while simultaneously threatening to protest licensing approval absent surrender, is not what city law envisioned. It’s a hell of a way to treat the District’s economic golden goose also providing the amenities for which most residents are clamoring.
Inadequately supervised by the D.C. Council and insufficiently reined in by city agency adjudication boards, ANC delusions of power have spawned the behavior of “mini-legislators” intending to set arbitrary uniform regulatory policies for their small jurisdictions. A lack of oversight and appropriate control has allowed ANCs to circumvent equitable application of governing regulations.
The result is capricious rule-by-the-few and a citywide patchwork of variable operating rights – placing businesses at a competitive disadvantage with venues in adjoining areas or elsewhere in D.C.
The “great weight” consideration that is required to be given ANC advisory recommendations has always been the “great burden” of local businesses and neighborhood development. Even more so as ANCs have been allowed to gradually encroach on the fair and equal treatment of community enterprise.
ANC abuse of the merely advisory role embodied in their name, contrasted with efforts to stealthily expand their power, should be halted. More important, their grandiose power grabbing underscores the need for long-overdue regulatory reforms in this arena.
Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.