November 12, 2019 at 8:26 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Several parties protesting new Town nightclub liquor license
Town, gay news, Washington Blade
The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence apartment building, which abuts the vacant church building that Town wants to move into, is one of four parties that filed a protest against Town’s application for a nightclub license for the church building at 1001 North Capitol Street, NE. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The owners and a group of tenants living in an apartment building for formerly homeless military veterans are among four parties calling on the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to deny a liquor license that would allow the LGBT nightclub Town Danceboutique to reopen in a former church on North Capitol Street.

Also filing an official protest against the license application is Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C, which claims a nightclub at that location would have a negative impact on property values and on the “peace, order, and quiet” in the neighborhood.

The Town owners announced plans in August to open a “spectacular” new club in a space inside the former St. Phillips Baptist Church at 1001 N. Capitol St., N.E. located about a half mile north of the U.S. Capitol.

“After two full years of searching for a potential new space for a nightclub for the LGBTQ community, we are excited to confirm that we have found a space that has remarkable potential,” the Town owners announced in a Twitter post.

The former church building in question abuts the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence apartment building. The apartment building’s owners, North Capitol Commons Limited Partnership, say the building has 124 affordable apartments “with a specific focus on providing permanent housing for formerly homeless veterans of military service.”

“We believe that the proposed use would have a negative effect on the peace, order, and quiet for the residents of the Ker Conway building, as well as in the immediate neighborhood, particularly North Capitol Street and K Street,” the company says in a Sept. 23 letter to the ABC Board opposing the Town license application.

The church building where the Town owners plan to reopen the nightclub is surrounded mostly by commercial establishments and office buildings on all sides except for the one attached immediately to its left, the John and Jill Ker Conway Residences.

In addition to ANC 6C and the owners of the Conway Residences building, a group of tenants of the Conway Residence building and a group of D.C. residents calling themselves “long time members of Mount Airy Baptist Church,” located one block away from where the new nightclub would be located, filed separate protest petitions opposing the license application.

Meanwhile, the ABC Board dismissed two other protest petitions filed by Mount Airy Baptist Church itself and by nearby Gonzaga College High School, which is a Catholic school. The board stated in its ruling that neither the school nor the church have legal standing to protest a liquor license application unless they are an “abutting property” of the building where the nightclub license is being proposed.

In a Sept. 23 letter requesting permission to file its protest, Gonzaga officials cited a D.C. law that “generally precludes” nightclubs from operating within 400 feet of any public, parochial, or private elementary, middle, or high school. The Gonzaga officials noted that their school is within that 400-foot restricted zone.

But Jared Powell, a spokesperson for the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, of which the ABC Board is a part, told the Washington Blade that the same D.C. law also states the 400-foot restriction does not apply if another establishment with a similar liquor license already exists within 400 feet of a school.

Powell noted that another nightclub called Club Elevate, located at 15 K St., N.E., is currently operating within 400 feet of Gonzaga College High School. He said that Gonzaga also holds its own Class C Tavern license. Thus he said the proposed LGBTQ nightclub is exempt from the 400-foot restriction.

“While Gonzaga itself currently holds a D.C. Tavern License, it is reserved for several alumni and parent-focused special events per year,” the Gonzaga officials said in their protest letter. “[T]hose all end well before midnight; have minimal impact on parking or traffic; are contained entirely within our campus; and are not open to members of the general public,” the Gonzaga officials say in their letter.

The letter, signed by Gonzaga Chief Operating Officer Stephen M. Neill and Gonzaga Chair of the Board of Trustees Sean Creamer, also addresses the issue of Town’s role as an LGBT community establishment.

“Our concerns are not based in any way on the fact that Town is a nightclub serving the LGBTQ community,” the letter states. “The Gonzaga community of students, alumni, parents and faculty reflects enormous diversity including diversity based on sexual orientation,” the letter says.

“Furthermore, we recognize the importance of places like Town that allow members of the LGBTQ community to gather in a safe and welcoming environment.”

In its protest letter, which the ABC Board dismissed, Mount Airy Baptist Church says it provides substance abuse services to people who live and visit the neighborhood where the nightclub plans to open.

“For 126 years we, the Mount Airy Baptist Church, have worked to offer the community we serve a pathway for living that is free from Substances which create inebriated actions, behaviors and potential dependency,” the church’s letter states. “Therein lies our opposition for licensing the Town 2.0 LLC Retailer’s Class ‘C’ Nightclub,” the letter says.

Town has been credited with operating as a highly professional and neighborhood friendly nightclub during the 10 years it operated at 2009 8th St., N.W. It closed its door on July 1, 2018 after the warehouse building it rented was sold to real estate developers.

In their Twitter statement in August announcing plans to reopen as Town 2.0 on North Capitol Street in the former church building, the town owners stated, “we are going to take all the right steps, forge all the right relationships, and tackle the engineering challenges…and hopefully soon, we will be able to bring something new and exciting back to Washington’s nightlife.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, the ABC Board held a Protest Status Hearing for the Town license application, which was limited to scheduling and procedural issues. ABC Board Chairperson Donovan Anderson urged the parties protesting the license and Town’s owners to continue a board requirement that the opposing parties engage in negotiations in an attempt to reach a settlement agreement.

Town co-owner John Guggenmos, who’s also an ANC commissioner and who attended the hearing with Town’s attorney, told the Blade after the hearing that Town worked well with its neighbors at its previous location and expects to do the same at the proposed new location.

“We have a great track record and we’re good operators,” he said.
The full Protest Hearing itself is scheduled to be held before the ABC Board on Dec. 4.

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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