September 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Shopping center owner opposes D.C. Eagle’s move
D.C. Eagle, gay news, Washington Blade

A company created by the Eagle’s owners purchased a new building at 3701 Benning Rd., N.E., on June 11 for $925,000. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The owner of a Northeast Washington shopping center located next to a three-story warehouse building where the D.C. Eagle hopes to reopen this fall is challenging a preliminary decision by the city’s liquor board to approve a liquor license for the popular gay bar at its new location.

Celia Properties Limited Partnership LLC, which owns the small shopping center at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, N.E., said in a March 28 petition filed with the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board that a liquor serving establishment such as the Eagle will “adversely impact” its adjacent property.

The petition said the operation of the Eagle in its proposed location would violate provisions of the city’s liquor law calling for “peace, order, and quiet” in the surrounding neighborhood and would likely create problems associated with litter, residential parking, and “vehicular and pedestrian safety.”

“I know Celia is going to the mat on this,” Eagle co-owner Ted Clements told the Blade on Tuesday. “They will do all they can to oppose us.”

Clements declined further comment, saying he prefers to wait until the first week of October to discuss the Eagle’s plans for its new building and the opposition it’s facing from the shopping center when he will have more time to talk to the Blade.

He acknowledged, however, that many of the details of the Eagle’s plans for the new building’s 16,900 square feet of space have been published on the Eagle’s Facebook page.

The Eagle has operated as the D.C. area’s preeminent leather-Levi gay bar in at least three downtown D.C. locations since 1971. It was displaced from its home of more than 25 years at 639 New York Ave., N.W. in January to make way for the construction of a new office building.

City property records show that a new company created by the Eagle’s owners called DC Eagle Development LLC purchased the new building at 3701 Benning Rd., N.E., on June 11 for $925,000.

“When the new DC Eagle reopens the venue will offer something for everyone in the gay community,” a July 7 posting on its Facebook page says.

A new restaurant on the premises “will offer fine dining and off site catering to the surrounding community as well as the gay community,” the posting says.

“The DC Eagle itself will still cater to the leather and fetish community,” the posting says. “It will have the hottest men in DC, and will be open to all members of the gay community, a place where everyone will be welcome.”

Among other things, the sprawling building will also be home to a dance club called The Exile, a reincarnation of the popular club the Eagle opened downtown in the 1980s before that, too, was displaced by downtown development. The new Exile will include a theater that will host live entertainment and a DJ booth in which “some of the hottest music in DC” will be spun, the Facebook posting says.

Other plans submitted by the Eagle to the ABC Board, which the board has tentatively approved, include a rooftop summer garden with 100 seats and a sidewalk café with 36 seats.

“Types of entertainment include dancing, four piece bands, open mic, contests and fundraisers for charity,” plans submitted with the Eagle’s license application last December stated.

At a hearing before the ABC board earlier this year, Clements provided details of plans to open a separate and enclosed cigar bar within the Eagle building called Terminal Alley for which Clements and the Eagle’s other co-owner, Peter Lloyd, are applying for a separate liquor license.

Celia Properties has also challenged the application for that license. The ABC Board has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 8 to listen to arguments by the opposing parties before making a decision on whether to grant the license.

The board has ruled in favor of the Eagle itself in two separate decisions earlier this year. On July 7 it denied a motion filed by Celia Properties to reopen the period in which a license protest could be filed. Celia’s attorney argued that the Eagle failed to properly display placards on its premises announcing its application for a liquor license in a conspicuous place visible to the public.

The attorney, Roderic Woodson, stated in his motion that Celia Properties missed seeing the placard in time to file a protest against the license application before the deadline for filing a protest had passed.

In a unanimous vote, the board ruled that the Eagle fully complied with the law in its posting of the required placards on its building and there were no legal grounds for reopening the protest period.

Woodson told the Blade on Monday that Celia Properties has petitioned the board to reconsider its decision. He said that if the board denies that request, Celia plans to exercise its right to take the case to court before the D.C. Court of Appeals.

In a separate decision, the ABC Board denied a request in February by Sheila Carson-Carr, then chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7F, to reopen the protest period to allow the ANC to “weigh in” on whether the Eagle’s liquor license should be opposed based on “safety and cultural concerns.”

Carson-Carr did not return a call from the Blade seeking an explanation of what she meant by cultural and safety concerns related to the Eagle.

ANC 7F member Evie Washington, whose single member district includes the Eagle’s property, told the Blade on Tuesday that Carson-Carr filed her petition without the permission or knowledge of the full ANC. Washington said fellow commission members have since voted to replace Carson-Carr as chair of the ANC and have voted to support the Eagle’s license application.

Washington also questioned Celia Properties’ reasons for opposing the Eagle’s license on grounds that a liquor serving establishment would be harmful to the shopping center. She noted the shopping center is the current home to a liquor store where patrons sometimes drink in public and cause problems for nearby residents.

Woodson disputed claims by some Eagle supporters that Celia Properties was citing alcohol, noise, litter, and parking issues as a pretext for its true motive — to prevent the Eagle from opening to clear the way for a mega development project that would combine the shopping center property with the Eagle’s property.

“It’s not an excuse to get their property,” he said. “The fact is that Celia is of the view that the presence of this new business will burden their ability to develop their own property. And that was the reason they objected to the issuance of a new liquor license over there.”

Asked whether Celia’s owners view the Eagle’s status as a gay bar as the reason they think it would be a “burden” on their property, Woodson replied, “No…That really doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Whether they have gay patrons or not, this protest would be proceeding apace,” he said. “It’s not the preferences, the gender preferences of the patrons. It’s the presence of the patrons in that kind of establishment – meaning an ABC nightclub type of establishment.”

ABC Board spokesperson Jessie Cornelius said that assuming challenges to the Eagle’s liquor license application are resolved in the Eagle’s favor, the board would still need to give final approval of the liquor license as soon as the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issues a Certificate of Occupancy for the Eagle building.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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